Archive for the ‘New Years Eve’ Category

Press on Towards the Goal!

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

December 31, 2009 (New Year’s Eve)

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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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..”[Philip. 3:13b-14]

 INTRODUCTION: I think that all of us this evening can hear these Words, and say a loud Amen!  But then again, we might hear them and say, “If only it was that easy.  If only I could forget the past and just be joyful about what lies ahead!”  Is it really that easy?  Can we really forget the pain, mistakes and sins of 2009 and realistically be optimistic about 2010?  St. Paul answers with a resounding yes, and this evening he’ll not only tell us why, but he’ll also tell us how!

 In our epistle lesson this evening, Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi; it’s a pastoral letter that he worte to thank them for their continuing Christian love, but he also wants to warn them about a two prong attack that is threatening their future; it was quickly moving from church to church, with the aim of ruining the faith of young Christians, a faith that rested in Christ alone.  This two prong attack was actually two different groups.  One group was openly against the Law of God and the other group was trying to convince the gentile Christians that they needed to embrace not just the Jewish culture but also the Levitical laws (specifically circumcision), if they really wanted to be saved. Today, these two groups still exist today, and they still are a threat to many congregations.

I. Against the Antinomians (Faith without works is dead)—In the preceding chapters of his letter, Paul attacked the doctrine of those who claimed that God’s Holy Law no longer applied to Christians.  To correct this lie, Paul provided some harsh truth.  His first counter-attack was intended to defend a Christian’s obligation to serve their neighbor and each other out of love.  Paul not only upheld God’s commandments, but he also adds these wonderful words, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3 – 4] And, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Philippians 2:5-8]  But Paul doesn’t stop there, he also says in regards to our Christian service we should Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” [Philippians 2:14and he adds that this can only be done because it is God’s will in baptized Christians, to provide both the desire and the ability to do good works.  

What Paul is saying is this: True Christians will always do good works; they just can’t help it.  Those who say that they are a Christian, but have no proof or fruit of faith in their lives are in and of themselves proof that they aren’t what they claim to be; DON’T FOLLOW THEM.  DON’T BE A LIP SERVICE CHRISTIAN!  This is the consistent message throughout God’s Word.  A message that clearly declares that good works will always flow from a faith that trusts solely in God’s mercy as shown through the Messiah, His Son Jesus Christ.

ILLUSTRATION: The United States Senate has a tradition of talking something to death.  It’s called a filibuster. Even when the talk is not officially a filibuster the spirit of the filibuster lives on in that place every day.   Talk, talk, talk, and all the while nothing but self-serving legislation seems to become law, and what is the result?  The people pay, while others play.  Sadly, sometimes congregations can be reduced to something like a filibuster. People talk and dream about what the church should do, but very few are willing to put the ideas into practice.  In the end, very little is done and needs remain unmet.

Our Lord speaks to those who profess faith without action in our gospel lesson this evening when He says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.[Luke 20:9-20]  There will always be some who talk a good game, but have nothing to show for their supposed faith.  In the end they will answer to Christ, who will say, “Depart from me.  I never knew you!”

Paul said that good works and love for God and neighbor will flow naturally from a Christian.  In fact, Paul taught that a person led by faith in Christ should be willing to die performing acts of love towards God and neighbor rather than abandoning them.  Listen to Paul’s own words concerning this very point: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.[Philippians 2:17 – 18]  Paul was of course referring to his own approaching death as a result of proclaiming and living out his faith in Christ. 

The truth is friends, Paul wasn’t ashamed of Jesus, because Jesus wasn’t ashamed to call him, and Jesus is not ashamed to call you and me as well.  Jesus bore on His body the punishment we deserve. His good work of saving the world from sin looked like foolishness to the world in Paul’s time, and it still looks the same to the world in our own time. Jesus said and did many things that the world considers offensive. He called a thing what it was.  If it was shallow lip-service faith, He said so! He showed the Pharisees, the Jewish rulers, and the Romans what true righteousness was; He exposed their phony faith that lacked the fruits of repentance and forgiveness. His “consistent” good works made Him public enemy number one. Even when He hung on the cross to pay for your sin He was ridiculed as a fool. Yet what looks foolish to the world is wisdom to the child of God. The words of the worthy prophets were proven true. God is near His people and not afar off. God is as near as the tree of the cross, the tree that bears good fruit.  And it’s that very tree that Paul stayed close to, even when he knew that it would cost him his life. 

II. Against the Judiaizers (Jesus Plus Nothing)—Well, let’s move on to the second threat to the church at Philippi—those who felt that Christ’s sacrifice, His grace wasn’t quite enough to ensure someone a place in heaven at Jesus side.  They said, “No brother, that’s not quite enough! You need to include with your faith in Christ the rite of circumcision and the fulfillment of some other Jewish rules.  Today, that spirit of legalism is still trying to lead the faithful astray—it rears its ugly head in any person or organization that presents a doctrine called Faith in Jesus PLUS!  It could be faith in Jesus plus tithing; faith in Jesus plus acts of contrition; or faith in Jesus plus faithful church and Sunday School attendance.  Paul called these kinds of people Judiaizers and mutilators.  They want to cut the skin but God desires that their hearts be cut.  He wants them to be cut to pieces over their sinfulness.  He wants them to see how lost they are and how badly they need a Savior, but these mutilators only like to impose pain on others, while ignoring their own hopeless condition.  St. Paul warns the church at Philippi about these people when he says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. [Philippians 3:2] St. Paul is warning them, and he is warning us, ‘Look out for anyone who brings to you a gospel that is Jesus plus this or that.  Look out for anyone who brings you a gospel that includes anything but faith in Christ alone!

III. Living for the moment and for the future—Friends, the true gospel always reveals God’s love and mercy to those who deserve neither of them.  It’s foolishness to the world because it’s been provided by a man who is also God, Jesus the Christ.  Yes it’s foolishness to those who are dying—those who persist in ignoring God’s Holy Law and those who wish to add to Christ’s gift of grace, but to those who believe, it is amazing!

In our Epistle reading this evening Paul began with a fairly impressive biography about his early adult life.  He did this to silence the voice of the dogs that were prowling; waiting to attack the church at Philippi.  At first, it might seem that Paul was presenting himself as a super-human, one who far surpassed the phony credentials of the false teachers, but then he added something incredible, he said that all of his accomplishments were garbage, just trash when compared to the unfathomable wealth he had acquired once he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord, Savior, and God!  He said that he had gladly traded his own accomplishments for those of Jesus Christ, who was crucified on a tree.  Why?  Because of God’s gift of faith!  Paul said that through faith, he gladly suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ.  Why?  So that He might know him and the power of His resurrection!

When Paul wrote this epistle, he most likely got to a certain point and thought, ‘Will these good people in Philippi think that I am now finished running my race in life?  Will they believe that my walk of faith is finished and I can “glory” and rest in my accomplishments?’  That wasn’t the impression He wanted to make, and to be sure that this didn’t happen he wrote: “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.”  Paul made it clear from his prison cell that he still had a lot to do and to teach concerning the Christian faith and his own Christian walk.  His message was and still is, that while it is God who works salvation for us, we must continue working out that reality; we all must become what God has already declared that we are—perfect,  holy, and righteous!  We must continue our walk of faith, which is also many times a walk of pain, shame, and testing, because it’s also a walk of joy!  Its joy, because we’ve been assured that our life of faith is really a walk through the same veil of tears that Jesus walked.  It’s all joy, because we know that the closer that we come to our goal the sooner we will receive the prize!

CONCLUSION:  Friends, listen to how St. Paul closed our epistle lesson this evening: “I press on toward the goal—for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you know what that upward call of God in Christ Jesus is?  It is the promise of victory over the grave, it’s the very promise God made to you in your Baptism; a promise that ensures you that you one day you will rise from the dead just as he had.  To those of us who are burdened with fear of sin, death, and the devil, these are the sweetest words we could ever hear.  What better New Year’s resolution could any of us make this year?  Let’s resolve to press on towards the goal—towards the prize of heaven that is ours through Christ Jesus! As we do this, Jesus assures us we WILL have a very blessed 2010!