17th Sunday after Pentecost October 6, 2019
16, 370, 347, 410
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
“Scientia potentia est,” is a Latin phrase usually attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. It means “knowledge is power.” We hear much about the value of knowledge and a good education today. The popular thinking is that if the world were more educated, especially the struggling third-world countries, the world would be a better place. We’re told that if more people were better educated and thus, had the power to make the right choices, there would be fewer wrongs and evils in the world.
But there are different kinds of knowledge, aren’t there. There is the head knowledge that many scholars have, but may lack real-world knowledge, they may lack experience. They may be able to tell you how an engine works, but be unable to change the oil themselves on that engine.
This morning Paul writes of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” This is more than head knowledge. This is more than a religion professor talking about the so-called “historical Jesus.” The Greek word for “knowing” that Paul uses here is the personal, intimate knowing in a real way as “my Lord.”
The question we are left to ask is, what could possibly begin to compare with this knowledge? For each of us, we don’t simply want to know the facts about Jesus, but know Him as our Lord, our Savior, our Good Shepherd. NOTHING can compare to that intimate, personal knowledge which is ours by faith in Christ. Let us consider that very thing this morning, that knowing Christ our Lord we have perfect righteousness from God; we attain the resurrection of the dead; and how God has called us heavenward. May God the Holy Spirit help us by His Word to see that NOTHING can compare to knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord.
“What a waste! He had everything and threw it away!” Have you ever known someone to do that. Someone who worked so hard for a goal, only to give up on it just before the finish line? Maybe it was the music student who was a few credits away from his master’s degree in music, only to drop out of school. “What a waste of all that time and effort!” we may think.
Before Paul was brought to faith in Christ Jesus, he was a very religious Jew. A “Hebrew of Hebrews,” he refers to himself. He worked hard to know the law of God and live an outwardly blameless life. He had been faithful in keeping all the requirements of the law. He worked tirelessly and zealously to serve his God.
But all those seemingly good deeds, his life as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” Paul now calls rubbish, garbage. He agrees with the Prophet Isaiah who writes, “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Is 64:6) We might compare his life to that of an extreme hoarder—filled to the brim with his “treasures.” His “treasured” works, all his best deeds, he now sees as rubbish. How can he say that? Because he knows now, something he didn’t know then. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Nothing that Paul could ever do, could possibly compare to knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord! He viewed his previous hard work and blameless living as a loss, as rubbish, yes, as a waste.
In Christ, Paul found something much greater, much more valuable than anything we could ever do, even on our best day. Now he wanted only to be “found in (Christ) not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” In Christ, Paul found something that far exceeded his best deeds. Through faith in Christ, he had received righteousness from God.
When you came to know Christ Jesus as your Lord, God gave you the exact same thing—we have righteousness FROM God! Perfect righteousness! Now, who would want to exchange the hoarding of our garbage deeds, for the divine righteousness which God Himself gives us through faith in Christ. NOTHING can compare to knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord!
What does the resurrection from the dead mean to you? We confess that we believe in it every Sunday. But on a day to day basis, how much do you ponder Jesus’ promise of the resurrection of the dead? Not nearly enough. But we should! Jesus’ promise of the resurrection of the dead is a central teaching of the Christian faith. It is the promise that Jesus will return and raise our mortal, corruptible bodies of sin, glorified, immortal, and incorruptible. We will be like glorified Jesus after Easter, for we will see Him as He is.
Paul writes of the resurrection in verses 10 and 11, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” Few Christians have suffered as much for following Jesus, than did the Apostle Paul. Yet, Paul took up his cross and followed Jesus. As he shared in Jesus’ sufferings, he also wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul wanted to keep the promise and power of rising from the dead before him, especially in the midst of his suffering with Jesus.
Do you remember how Jesus would speak of His own suffering and death in Jerusalem? On more than one occasion He told His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.” But how did Jesus finish this discussion about His cross? “…and be raised the third day.” (Lk 9:23) Jesus knew the sufferings that lay before Him in Jerusalem, but He also knew how it ended. He knew He would rise victoriously from the dead on the third day. Therefore the writer to the Hebrews speaks of the “joy that was set before” Jesus as He endured the cross.
Let us strive to keep this same “joy set before us.” As we struggle in our trials and sufferings, keep the power of the resurrection before you. Whatever the outcome of your current trial, in Christ you will rise from the dead on the last day. As we deny ourselves, deny the sinful impulses of our flesh, deny the temptation of our friends and peers, as we take up our own cross and follow Jesus, keep the power of the resurrection before you. And even as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, know that with Jesus as your Shepherd, you need fear no evil. Jesus has already walked through this valley, and rose to life again. Let the power of His resurrection and His promise that you too will rise, strengthen your heart in the midst of your suffering. Indeed, NOTHING can compare to the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord!
In the 1976 Summer Olympic games, United States Olympian Bruce Jenner had a gold medal all but wrapped up. After competing in 9 of the 10 decathlon events, Jenner had enough points to win the gold. All he had to do was simply complete the 1500 meter dash. He could have walked it and still won the gold. Yet, Jenner didn’t walk it. In fact, he ran his fasted time in the 1500 meters, and won the race. I understand that as the cameras focused on Jenner’s face, it was focused and determined, but with a hint of a smile. He was determined on finishing this race, even though he already knew he had already won the gold.
The Apostle Paul has that same kind of look on his face in our text, because he had the knowledge of Christ Jesus as his Lord. Jesus Christ had already laid hold of Paul. Through faith in Christ Paul had perfect righteousness from God. In Christ and because of Christ, heaven was already his. And yet, Paul continued to run his race with focus and determination. Listen again to the closing verses of our text, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
What a remarkable thing to hear from a remarkable Christian! Paul was a very mature Christian and one of the greatest Christian missionaries. God had even allowed the Apostle Paul to see heaven before he died. Though Christ had done everything necessary for Paul to be saved, he keeps pressing forward in the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. He presses toward the goal of heaven. He knows Christ has won the gold for him, but he keeps straining forward until his race is over.
If you know Christ Jesus your Lord, it is because He has laid hold of you! His Holy Spirit has brought you to faith in Him. Your Lord has paid your debt of sin by His suffering and death on the cross. Through faith in Him you have perfect righteousness from God. In Christ, God has given you the heavenward call of eternal life. Heaven has been won and secured for you through Christ. Jesus has already won the gold medal for you.
But as far as we are concerned right now, let us have the mind set of the Olympian and the Apostle Paul. We’re not there yet. Were not yet perfected or complete in the faith. Each one of us has more growing to do. Let us press on in Christ. Let us strain forward in the faith. Let us make use of the Means of Grace. Join us in our Bible Classes here on Sunday mornings. Grow in the Word at home as you read the Scriptures and make use of Scripturally sound devotions. “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” (1 Pt 2:2) Keep pressing toward that goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ, until that blessed day when by God’s grace we cross the finish line in heaven! Thanks be to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has made us His own! Amen!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.