Forgetting What Lies Behind!

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 21, 2010
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“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.” [Philippians 3:13b]

 Do you remember the Burger King Song from the 70’s?  If so, sing it with me: “Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce; Special orders don’t upset us; all we ask is that you let us serve it your way.  Have it your way, have it your way.” That was Burger King’s strategy towards winning the American burger eating market and defeating their biggest competitor, McDonalds.  They were trying to highlight their flexibility against the supposed rigidity of McDonalds.  They were playing on the inherent individualism of the American consumer.  Have it your way!  

 Unfortunately, they weren’t far off the mark.  We Americans do demand to have things our way.  We demand it from our politicians, from our auto manufactures, are computers, our schools, and I’m afraid even from our Creator!  But this morning, God wants us to know that our faith life is not like Burger King.  If we want it our way, then we can’t have it God’s way!

 This morning, we will be talking about our faith and our Christian life… God’s way.  This morning He is telling us to forget about our past… our former way of thinking and doing things.  He is saying, “Don’t consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” [Isaiah 43:18-19]   If you don’t perceive it, maybe it’s because you haven’t let go of your past?  Maybe you want to have your cake and eat it too?  Maybe you want the blessings of a relationship with God and not the change He is bringing into your life?  Maybe, just maybe, you want salvation on your terms and not God’s?  If so, then God wants you to know that you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you!

 In our Epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul say’s that he “counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of know Christ Jesus as (his) Lord!”  He also says that for (Christ’s) sake, (he) has suffered the loss of all things, (and what’s more) he count(s) them as rubbish, in order that (he) may gain Christ and be found in him.”  [Philippians 3:8]  Wow!  Those are strong words.  I know personally, that there are several people here this morning who know what it means to lose everything.  One moment you were on the top of the world and the next…bang…the world is on top of you!  Everything you loved and cherished was stripped away.  Or was it?  You’re here this morning aren’t you?  So Paul would tell you that the most important thing you can ever have, the most important thing you’ll ever need is still yours.  That most needful thing is of course Jesus Christ! 

But Paul still has more to tell us.  He still has his heart set on something deeper… something that gets to the core of the matter.  Listen: He says I lost everything that was important to me so that I would be presented to God “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.” [v. 9] But why was he stripped of everything?  Paul answers that question as well, “(So) 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.” [vs. 10-11]

 What was Paul stripped of?  Well, it was something that left no room for God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness… it was his own view of goodness and success; it was his self righteousness!  Paul back then was named Saul; he was a religious leader… he was a teacher of God’s Law.  He went to the finest schools and hung out with the most influential people.  He was living life his way!  He thought though, that he was living a life that pleased God.  He was teaching others how to do the same, and punishing others who refused to follow his example.  We could say that Saul was pleased with his life… he was having things his way!  But he forgot something very important… there is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads only to death… eternal separation from the very God he thought he was serving. [Proverbs 14:12]

 Saul didn’t need to have things his way, but God’s way!  So on a dusty road to Damascus, which he was traveling on to find and punish Jews who believed Jesus was their Lord, he instead found Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ… Him crucified and resurrected.  In a flash of bright light, he was blinded and heard the voice of the Living God speak these words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” And (the voice) said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [Acts 9:4]

Just like that, Saul was converted.  The supper religious Jewish teacher Saul became a humbled blind Christian named Paul.  “So what?” you say.  “It’s only a name change and a change of religion.  What’s the big deal?”  The big deal friends, is that now he became the hunted instead of the hunter.  He was now a Christian… hated by the world, but loved by God!  Now He knew Jesus Christ as He truly was… the living Son of God!  Now he knew Him as His Lord and Savior.  Paul would tell you that he found an inward possession that was more precious than everything he lost.  What was that inward possession?  It was the forgiveness of all of his sins.  Paul was forced to admit what he always knew… all of his self righteousness was like filthy rags before his creator.  All of his hope in pleasing God through religion was useless.  On that dusty road, he had only one hope, to throw himself at the feet of the living God and call out for mercy and forgiveness!  And miracle of all miracles… God forgave him through the very person he helped kill and was now persecuting… he was forgiven through Jesus Christ! 

 Paul was a wanted man.  He lost his home, his family, all of his possessions, his prestige and his standing within the community.  Paul lost everything, but he counted all that he lost as garbage compared to what he gained.  What did he gain?  Well he got his eye sight back but that was nothing compared to the surpassing knowledge of God through Jesus Christ.  The one thing he searched for all of his life, the one thing that eluded him in all his searching was now his… peace with God!  Paul now knew a God that loved him and spoke to him as a friend and as a brother.  Paul’s most prized possession was now given to him as a gift from God; forgiveness of all of his sins—past present and future—were now his through Christ’s work upon the cross.  Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, were now Paul’s suffering, death and resurrection!

 Friends, the great purpose of Paul’s loss of all his worldly wealth in an instant was done in order to make him gain Christ, and through Christ in an instant, be given true righteousness.  In that very moment, Paul was allowed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  For Paul, meeting and knowing Jesus unto salvation was immediate and dramatic.  His conversion was instantaneous!  For all of us, our conversion was also instantaneous and for many of us, it happened within the waters of our baptism, but knowing Jesus has not been nearly as dramatic.  For most of us it has been continuous and gradual.  We’ve found that the longer we know him the deeper our understanding of God becomes.  But we’re also like Paul in this way; we have a choice, we can either receive the change that God’s holiness brings in our lives or we can persecute Jesus. 

 

“Persecute Jesus!  What do you mean?”  I mean friends, if you are not allowing God to change you, to recreate you into His image, then you are insisting on having things your way, not His way!  You are fighting against the very work of God that is happening within you!  This is God’s truth!  Don’t you perceive it?  You either want things your way or God’s way.  Either you are a friend of the world or a friend of God’s.  You either want to be covered with the admiration and respect of people or the grace of Jesus Christ!  This morning, God is asking you, “Which will it be?!”

 Do you know what God wants from you?  He wants you to grasp Christ’s love and passion and never let it go!  He wants you to trust Him no matter what’s happening in your life.  He wants you to be filled with the new life He gave you in the waters of your baptism and be transformed with new spiritual power and abilities.  He wants you to hold on to this new life until it is time for the final grasp… when your eyes are closed on this earth for the last time. Then, on that day, He wants you to wake up and be with your Savior Jesus Christ forever!  God has you in His hand, but do you have Him in yours?

Dear friends, please don’t misunderstand what this grabbing hold of Christ means.  Your salvation is not up to you… everything you need to be assured of eternal life with God has been given to you within the waters of your baptism.  God indeed has hold of you; that is His active hold on you, but do you have Him?  You see there is also our passive grabbing hold of God.  We grab a hold of God in His means of Grace.  God gives us His Holy Word, our baptism, and His Holy Supper so that when trials, temptations, sin, sickness, and tragedy strike we will be strong enough to hold on; strong enough to know that our redeemer, our Savior, and our God lives and loves us.  He gives you these wonderful means of grace so that you can forget the past and the ways of the world and rest in the truth that He is always holding onto you… always loving you.  He gives you these things so that you can press on towards the goal… eternal life with Jesus Christ your brother; your Savior and your closest friend… even more than that your living and loving God!  I pray that you will hunger for His means of grace and hold onto Him, because He is holding onto you!

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2 Responses to “Forgetting What Lies Behind!”

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