Fifth Sunday in Lent March 26, 2023
Worship Supplement 2000: 721, 380, 151, 445
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, because of Your tender love toward us sinners You have given us Your Son that, believing in Him, we might have everlasting life. Continue to grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may remain steadfast in this faith to the end and finally come to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, who is most important to us, dear fellow redeemed:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness!” (Matthew 6:33) Those words, quoted from Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, are an evangelical admonition of our Savior. What do they mean practically speaking? Do they mean that we ought to be in church every Sunday, and that our church offerings should be the top priority in our personal or family budgeting? They could mean that, but I could do those two things and still miss Jesus’ point. Jesus was implying something far beyond mere externals. Jesus wants us to give our hearts and minds completely to God out of love for Him and in view of the precious gift of righteousness He bestows upon us by faith. Then all our words and actions will reflect a genuine desire to seek God, serve God, thank God, and ultimately be with God!
Paul’s words in our text reflect that goal. Paul was converted to Christianity as an adult. He spent nearly forty years as an apostle to the Gentiles. At this point in his life, he was in prison. After all this, Paul was more convinced than ever that there is nothing more important in life than Jesus Christ and His kingdom. From his prison cell, Paul encouraged his fellow Christians to join him in pursuing the goals of that kingdom. Today, as we examine Paul’s words, I would encourage you: LET US PRESS TOWARD THE GOAL OF THE UPWARD CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! Let us do so that we might gain Christ and be found in Him, and so that we might know Christ and the power of His resurrection!
Our theme today is taken from the final words of our text: “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” There was nothing more important to Paul than achieving that goal and receiving that prize for which he was called by God. He was willing to give up his life to that end! To understand fully why, let us go back to the opening words of our text: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
Humanly speaking Paul had lost a lot! He was the son of a wealthy businessman. He had led a privileged life as a young person in his hometown of Tarsus, which was one of the leading cities in the Roman Empire. He attended the best of schools, both in Tarsus as a youngster and then in Jerusalem as a teenager. He was a prominent member of the religious party known as the Pharisees and had quickly risen to a position of leadership within that party. In fact, some suggest that he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. This was the greatest privilege any Jew could enjoy! All this Paul lost when he was converted to Christianity. He was disowned by his family and defamed by his peers. His promising career ended, and now he was imprisoned. Yet, he said he was more than willing to give up all these things—to count them as just so much garbage in comparison to the knowledge of Christ, if only he might gain Christ and be found in Him.
What does it mean to gain Christ? It means to possess Him by faith as your Savior from sin and your Source of eternal salvation. It means to know Him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6) and to possess through Him a right relationship with your heavenly Father. It means to have Jesus as your Good Shepherd, who bestows upon you the gift of everlasting life and who holds you safely in His hands (John 10:27-28). It means to rejoice in the fact that Jesus is your “Advocate” (1 John 2:1), who intercedes on our behalf before His Father.
What does it mean to be found in Him? Paul explains when he speaks of giving up his own law-based righteousness and receiving by faith the righteousness of Christ. That by itself made the knowledge of Christ excellent. Prior to his conversion Paul had trusted in his own merit as a zealous Pharisee. He assumed that if he kept all the laws, he would thereby merit the acceptance and salvation of God. But Paul now knew such thinking was a lie. It failed to understand both the sinful human condition and the law’s demands for perfection. Man is utterly corrupt by nature. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, even man’s best attempts to keep the law are flawed and cannot impress God. It is impossible for any man to meet the perfect standard that God’s law demands, which means that any man trusting in his own good works is deluded and destined to be condemned when he stands before God on the last day. But when we receive the righteousness of Christ by faith, we receive everything we need to stand before God and be assured of our eternal salvation. Paul tells us: “You are complete in Him (Christ).” (Colossians 2:10) Isaiah proclaims: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10a) Paul knew that with Christ in his heart and Christ’s righteousness covering his soul, he was standing on solid ground and not sinking sand! He was ready to press forward, even if it meant simply continuing his ministry from prison. LET US likewise PRESS TOWARD THE GOAL OF THE UPWARD CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! Let us do so that we might also gain Christ and be found in Him!
Let us do so, secondly, that we might know Christ and the power of His resurrection! Paul writes: “I also count all things loss…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” As mentioned earlier, Paul was in prison. What lay ahead for him was a trial before the Roman Emperor and possibly death by execution. While Paul remained confident of his acquittal (Philippians 1:25-26), a confidence that proved justified for he was ultimately released to continue his service in God’s kingdom, how could he maintain such confidence in the face of possible death? He revealed the reason later in this epistle when he wrote: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Paul had come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection! There is no greater foe to face in this life than death, yet Christ had overcome death through His resurrection. Jesus has removed death’s “sting” (1 Corinthians 15:55), for the sting of death is its seeming finality—all hope of life is over. Yet, Jesus rose from the dead. Death could not contain Him. Because we are His brothers and sisters by faith, death will not be able to contain us either!
That is the power of Christ’s resurrection! Our death has been “conformed to His death,” which means that it is but a temporary condition. Yes, if Christ does not come first, we will all face death and endure the pangs of death, but we can do so knowing that we too will be raised from the dead. While we live in this sin-filled world, we will still endure sufferings. But this, too, we can endure from the perspective of Christ’s resurrection. Thereby we share in “the fellowship of His sufferings.” Just as Jesus endured His sufferings with the goal of our good in mind, so we can endure our sufferings confident that God will work good out of them.
My dear friends, to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, allows us to approach our lives, wherever they may lead us and under whatever circumstances we find ourselves, with courage and confidence. God has called us into His kingdom and given us each a purpose. It is an “upward calling”—a calling not confined to the mundane matters of this life, but to the greater issues that will impact our futures. It is a calling that keeps God’s goal of heaven ever in mind.
Consider our callings as parents or perhaps the calling of being Godparents. Children are gifts of God entrusted to parents for such a short time, and yet the impact that good parenting can have upon children has eternal consequences. That being the case, we want to realize that while we are to provide for the physical welfare of our children, their greater welfare will move us to care for their souls and see to their spiritual upbringing. If our children have the best shoes and clothing, the latest toys and technologies, and the certainty of a college education…but do not know Christ, then we will have failed. Consequently, Christian parents often ask fellow Christians to serve as Godparents to assist them in this important calling. Traditionally, Godparents are asked four questions: 1) As your godchild grows up, will you remind him of his baptism and its importance? 2) Will you keep your Godchild in your prayers? 3) As your godchild grows will you remind him of the importance of staying close to God through the study of Scripture and prayer? 4) If your godchild’s parents should die, will you assume the responsibility of raising your godchild in the truths of our Christian faith as embraced by our congregation?
Ours, in all the various spheres of life, is an upward calling, the goal of which God has set—the salvation of our immortal souls! Like Paul, we have not yet attained God’s goal or been perfected in our efforts to achieve that end. But with Paul we are to strive to “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of (us).” Our lives are a marathon race that must be run well. Such a race takes time and careful preparation. It takes endurance and perseverance. Christ wants us to be reunited in love with our Creator both now and forever! That is why He came, so that we might be reconciled to God, walk with Him through this life, and accomplish all the goals He has for us before He decides to take us home! Let us, therefore, forget any failures or sorrows of the past, and strive simply to look forward. Yes, LET US PRESS TOWARD THE GOAL OF THE UPWARD CALL OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS! 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.