We’re going to be in Philippians 3 this morning.
During the season of Lent,
we’ve been trying to let two questions guide us
as we reflect on Jesus heading towards the cross to save the world:
What is Jesus saving us from?
What is Jesus saving us for?
Philippians 3 is in the Church’s readings today,
and I think it may shed some light on these questions.
So Philippians 3:
(3.4b-12) If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
What we read today is
a bit of an ancient letter from the first century
that has been handed down to us.
It’s a letter written by Paul of Tarsus
one of the most important and influential voices in the early church.
Paul is said,
“I want to make sure non-Jews know about the Jewish messiah.”
“I want to make sure non-Jews know about Jesus.”
To which most of the world replies,
But Paul hadn’t always been interested in doing that.
From what we know about Paul, there was a time in his life when
his mission in life didn’t look like telling non-Jews about Jesus.
His mission in life looked like
stamping out the Jesus movement.
He was a good Jew, after all.
A devout Jew.
A Pharisee (v5).
And that meant he would persecute the early church (v6).
That was what you did as a good, zealous Jew—
you followed Deuteronomy 18 to the letter of the law
and you put false prophets to death.
“Jesus had gotten exactly what he deserved, and now
his followers are getting exactly what they deserve.”
If you were going by the letter of the law (end of v6)—
Paul was blameless,
he was faultless,
he was righteous.
His life was on track.
He was knocking it out of the park.
That’s what Paul’s life had been.
But then Paul met Jesus.
The story is told and alluded to in several places
but—in a nutshell—Paul has has a strange experience
where he meets the living Jesus.
He meets Jesus.
Not ideas about Jesus,
not programs around Jesus,
not life lessons from Jesus,
he meets Jesus.
The living Jesus.
A man who was dead
and is no longer.
A man who reshapes his entire understanding of the world—
of who the One True God of Israel is
of what the Scriptures are about,
of what his life should be about.
In every retelling of the story,
he wasn’t looking for Jesus—
he was trying to stamp out the memory of Jesus.
He wasn’t looking for Jesus
but Jesus lays hold of him (v12).
He’s overwhelmed by the living presence of Jesus—
and it reshapes his entire life.
Suddenly he looks at his life differently.
He sees his life differently.
He regards his life differently.
He considers his life differently.
He looks back on his life and says,
“What was I thinking?”
He says that twice in verses 7-8:
“I now regard—I now consider—
what was central to my life
and it’s all garbage.
It’s all “dung” is the way the King James translates it.
That’s how Paul now regards everything in his life
in comparison with who has he glimpsed in Jesus (v8).
What he at one time considered gains
he now considers losses.
Everything he once considered a net positive in his life—
in comparison to the loving, life-giving presence of Jesus—
he now considers even those assets liabilities.
who had lived in a dark basement
for their entire life.
They do everything in a dark basement.
They wake up in a dark basement,
they eat breakfast in a dark basement,
they play games in a dark basement,
they file their taxes in a dark basement,
They know what light is.
They’ve seen it here and there—
the glimmer of the alarm clock,
the light from the stove at breakfast,
the glow of their laptop while they’re using TurboTax.
Can you imagine
leading a person like that
into the sunshine of Denver?
“Oh. My. Goodness.
I did not know there could be such light in all the world.”
It would be blinding at first.
(That’s the way Paul describes meeting Jesus.)
But then afterwards—
once their eyes had adjusted—
they could never view the world in the same way.
They would probably say something like:
“I’ve suffered the loss of all my lights—
because I know what true light is now.
“Everything that I once considered bright I now consider dim,
because I have seen the sun.”
I think that’s what Paul is getting at here:
Paul has glimpsed the sun.
The loving, life-giving presence of Jesus
makes every other thing in his life
pale in comparison.
The love of Jesus outshines
all the love he has ever known.
The faithfulness of Jesus outshines
all the faithfulness he could ever muster.
The living Jesus—the love of Jesus—
has changed everything.
And as we’re coming to table this morning,
this is what I want to lean into:
A lot of times
we give a lot of energy and attention
to Jesus saving us from our bad days.
From those days when we’re screwing it up,
from those times when we’re breaking everything,
from those moments when we’re hurting others.
And on bad days,
this is really good news!
Jesus saves us!
From our helplessness,
from our brokenness,
from our rebellion and guilt and shame.
Jesus saves us from our sin—
and that means our bad days.
But what Paul is talking about here in Philippians 3
is something a little different.
He’s not talking about Jesus saving him from his worst day.
He’s talking about Jesus saving him from his best day.
The surprising thing
about what Paul is talking about here
is that he’s talking about all the good stuff in his life.
He’s talking about gains.
He’s talking about assets.
He’s talking about his good days.
He’s not talking about
what we would typically think of as “sin.”
Oh sure, stoning Christians wasn’t great,
but (v6) as far as “doing right according to the law” went
Paul was bang on.
He was blameless.
“I’m just obeying Deuteronomy 18.”
That’s the whole point of what Paul is saying—he’s saying that he of all people
had the best reason to have confidence in sarka, in “the flesh,”
in what we as human beings can accomplish.
he was born into the right family in the right country
his parents did the right religious things for him when he was baby,
and he did all the right religious as he became an adult.
He was doing everything right.
No joke, no mistake, no pulling the punch,
he was legitimately doing all the right things.
He was a devout part of God’s people in the world.
And now he counts all of that as rubbish—as garbage, as dung—
as something that he’s been saved from.
now he’s found a righteousness (v9), a right-standing,
that comes from faith in Christ,
from trusting in Christ.
In fact, he’s realized
that this is the only right-standing in the world—
the only secure place, the only immovable place,
the only I-can-finally-rest-my-weary-soul place,
and it wasn’t through anything he could do.
Jesus takes our death
and gives us his life.
And Paul had met Jesus.
He met the sun.
In Jesus, Paul found someone
who illuminated what true life looks like.
What true righteousness looks like.
And it looks like loving people
to the point of death—even death on a cross.
That’s what God wants—
God wants love willing to shoulder a cross.
God wants that so much
that God comes and does it himself.
And Paul sees that kind of God—
when Paul meets this kind of man—
he finds someone who sets lifts his head on bad days
but who also makes his good days pale in comparison.
And the same is true for us.
This is simply what meeting Jesus does.
Jesus saves us
from our worst days
and our best days.
And this is really good news.
We need saving from both.
When we meet Jesus’ blazing heart of love—
we find someone who burns away our worst days,
but who also outstrips and outshines our best days.
Most of us think
that if we can just string enough good things together in a day
that we make that day a good day.
And most of us think
that if we can string enough good days together
that we’ll make that week or month, whatever,
a good week, month, whatever.
And if we can just do that enough—
string enough of those good whatevers
then we’ll be ok.
something, somewhere deep within us—
“we” will finally be ok.
Things will be right.
some kind of right standing
in the universe.
We almost certainly wouldn’t use this word,
but we’re looking for some sense of “righteousness.”
We’ll find some kind of “rightness.”
Some sense that things are all right.
And that what Jesus gives us.
Jesus finds us
and gives us a rightness
that wasn’t ours.
Jesus is where we find
Not from what we do.
Not from what we fail to do.
Not from stringing together enough good whatevers.
We find our right-standing
when we trust Jesus.
Our “ok-ness,” our “rightness,” our justification,
does not depend on your good days
and it is not threatened by your bad days.
Our rightness is simply a gift—
a gift from God in Jesus.
A gift we’re invited to trust.
Think about that.
That’s such a relief.
God declares that we righteous—
that we forgiven, that we are part of his family.
In a real, ultimate, definitive sense.
The more we believe this,
the more we allow Jesus to set us free.
That Jesus saves us
from our worst days AND our best days
is a way of saying that
Jesus saves us
from despair and pride.
our ok-ness before God,
our right-standing in the universe,
does not hinge on us.
On our worst days or our best days.
And that sets us free
from the twin terrors
of despair and pride.
Despair that might rise
from our worst days.
And pride that might rise
from our best days.
Pride and despair are really just two sides of the same coin—
that our future, our safety,
our justification, our lives,
depend on us.
But they don’t.
Everything rests on a man
who has already shouldered all things.
Everything rests on a God
who has already died that you might live.
Our darkness is dire enough
that Jesus had to die.
And his love is so large
that Jesus chose to die.
Our darkness is dire enough that Jesus had to die—
that’ll drive us to our knees and break our pride.
And his love is so large that Jesus chose to die—
well, that’ll lift your head and melt the clouds of despair.
The more we begin to really see this,
the more we begin to really believe this,
the more this reality works its way into our souls and into our bones,
the more we believe this good news,
the more we are set free.
Jesus gives us the freedom
to press further into
the love of God.
That’s what Paul says in verse 12,
at the end of this passage.
That’s the logic of the gospel.
We don’t do a thing to justify ourselves—
to make ourselves ok.
Jesus has laid hold of you—
before you were looking him,
before you cared about him,
before you do anything—
Jesus lays hold of you.
When Paul was still breathing out murderous threats against the church—
what was Jesus doing?
Jesus was breathing out love over Paul.
And Paul eventually saw it—
he eventually saw the sun.
Love has already found us.
We can’t do anything to secure it—
it’s just always already there,
But we’re invited to press
more and more deeply
into this gift.
Into this love.
We’re invited to lay a hold on what’s already ours.
This table is a picture
of what we’re invited to do
every moment of every day.
We receive from this table.
The life broken in this bread
is not something you secure or earn or string together.
This love poured out from this cup
is not affected by your good week or your bad week.
and every moment—
you are invited to believe the good news:
that God is breathing out love over your life.
Right now. Already.
You don’t have to do a thing.
And as we begin to believe this love—
as we begin to breathe in this love—
we begin to breathe out this love.
To give to others
what we’ve already been given.
May we all learn to do that—
to lay hold of the love that has already laid hold of us.
May we know Christ—
the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.
May we become like Jesus in his death—in his willingness to shoulder a cross—
until that unthinkable, unspeakable day
when we become like him in his resurrection.