Lent #4 2004
"Wake up, Jesse! Today's the big day." Jesse's mother called through his bedroom door as she had been requested. Jesse shot out of bed, pulled on his clothes, and tied his shoes. His mother had breakfast ready and he wolfed it down. Every year for several years he had managed to have his pickup first in line- for the county disposal's annual free day.
But Jesse always went in empty. He knew where the marshy, smelly, moldy locations were. It was easy digging and didn't take long to fill his bucket. With his bucket full and covered, he drove straight from the disposal to his bank. At his bank he was lead to his safe-deposit box- and there next to his college diploma, his all-state football plaque, his academic all-American certificate, his perfect Sunday School attendance ribbon, and his church youth group trophy for memorizing the book of Philippians- next to all his favorite stuff, he placed another years worth of rubbish.
Then he went home with a big smile. He felt like he had won the lottery. Jesse was addicted to garbage! It was his obsession. Anyone who has wrestled with booze or drugs understands how attractive garbage can be. Those who have destroyed their family by addictions to gambling or pornography are a bit jealous of Jesse. Jesse's obsession is harmless by comparison.
Is there such a thing as a healthy obsession? We want our children to focus on healthy role models, look up to the kind of people that have a positive lifestyle. In the apostle Paul's day, those would be the religious leaders. I wouldn't dare say that today. Maybe, a religious obsession is healthy?
Read Philippians 3:1-14.
For most of his young life, Saul/Paul was obsessed with getting religion right. And he was very good at it. He was heading for the top of the class. Then he met Jesus, and his focus went in a new direction. For the first time in his life, he had a healthy obsession.
Knowing Jesus became the burning core of Paul's religion. Verse 10 was his driving passion: I want to know Christ. The knowledge he was seeking was not curiosity satisfying information on the color of Jesus' eyes or His favorite passage of scripture. He was seeking a deep personal association with Jesus.
Occasionally the Bible will use the marriage relationship as a comparison with our relationship to God- to Jesus. It is not perfect, but it is more helpful than most other examples. When you love someone enough to marry them, the kind of knowledge you want is not intellectual facts and figures. This kind of knowledge can only grow with personal interaction.
I can not imagine signing up to hear a lecture on "the early history of Penny, how events shaped her character" if my other option was to spend a day at the beach with her. Information is helpful, but interaction is the best!
Paul mentions three ways he wanted to become intimately acquainted with Jesus. First, he wanted to know Him in "the power of His resurrection." Think of impressive sources of power available today: hydro-electric, wind and solar; fossil fuel power; and nuclear power. These powers are good, but they have been impotent when it comes to defeating the evil inside a person. Because of "human evil," these powers are even capable of great harm!
Because of sin we have all been born into a spiritual death- we are powerless, impotent- our souls are dead to the life giving presence of God's Spirit. The Bible says, "The mind of sinful man is death." The Ephesians were reminded before they became Christians that "You were dead in your transgressions and sins." But opening up to the resurrection power of Jesus brings in life. That whole passage in Romans 8:6 reads, "the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit (of Jesus) is life and peace."
Jesus has defeated death, and using that same power has become the source of life. And that power source is available to all who will begin a relationship with Him.
Then Paul said something strange: he wanted to know the "fellowship of sharing in His sufferings." I don't think he as thinking of a real cross with spike and thorns. There was a spiritual war surrounding Jesus' mission to the cross. It climaxed in the Garden of Prayer. Would He or wouldn't He? This was a time of suffering.
When we resist the temptation to do our selfish thing instead of God's will there is a fellowship we can enjoy with Jesus in that victory. He fought the same temptation and gives us the resources to be victorious. When two soldiers fight back to back in the same battle there is a bond that forms. Jesus fought the battles we fought and will share His strength with us.
In addition to that kind of suffering, Jesus suffered for others in a way that we can join in. Not long ago, I mentioned to a small group that intercession is hard work. They looked at me like maybe I was lazy or a little weird. It's not hard work to go down a list and say, "God bless...; God save...; God heal..." but intercession like Jesus did, and still does, is feeling the pain of the one you are praying for an carrying that pain back to the Father's presence. That is hard work!
The deeper you love someone, the more you hurt when they hurt. When your child hurts, your prayers are filled with that hurt. When you begin to love someone, you will share in their hurts. You can't help it without stopping your love, but sharing is a salve. When you love Jesus, you will be hurt by the things that hurt Him, but your mutual sharing will bond you closer to Jesus.
Ultimately Paul wanted to be like Jesus in His death. Two things about Jesus death stand out. First, He was beyond the reach of temptation forevermore. The Garden of Prayer was behind Him forever. Sin was also dead to Him. That will happen for us, too, someday in Heaven because of the blessings of Jesus. In the meantime, Jesus can help us grow more and more dead to sin (Galatians 2:20); perhaps never out of its reach, but less and less attracted to it.
The second thing about Jesus death that sticks out is how short it was. That is the kind of death you and I want. Short and sweet. Knowing the power of Jesus presence, the privilege of sharing in Jesus' hurts, and the promise of eternal life: these were bundled together in Paul's obsession with Christ.
For Paul (and you and I) knowing Christ could never be a static experience. That would be like going through a wedding ceremony and then the bride and groom return home to live with their respective parents.
You never arrive at the finish line in relationships- unless you quit. Relationships are dynamic, living, and progressive. That is why Paul was careful to say he had not reached the finish line. He was pressing on- reaching for more, "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead."
There was more of Christ to know and he is focused on that goal.
If you were to ask Paul, "What really matters in life?" He would have a ready answer: knowing Christ.
I cannot think of another religion in the world that offers intimacy with God. For the Muslims, Allah is a far away sovereign who never crosses paths directly with followers. A relationship is not part of their vocabulary. Buddhists don't know of a god to get acquainted with. Jews can get acquainted with God's law, but not God. Hindu's believe they are gods- just struggling to get back to the original divine unity which by their definition is impersonal.
Jesus is God come to get to know you intimately! This makes Christianity unique in two ways. First, when we hear about the bad news, it is far worse bad news than any other religion. Every other religious system says there is a glimmer of hope for people to work out their own problems. Not every one may get it done, but if they focus hard enough they can "save themselves." And this is attractive to a lot of folks who want to be in control of their destiny. Christianity says- there is no human fix. It is hopeless.
When you go to a funeral and the guest of honor is laid out in the casket, it does the preacher very little good to go down and scream, "Get up!" Dead people cannot help themselves. People dead in sin are equally helpless and hopeless. We can not save ourselves anymore than we can crawl out of our own coffins.
But, and this is the second way Christianity is unique, the good news is far better than anything the world has ever heard anywhere else. God has intervened. He came in the person of Jesus and wrestled death into submission and is eager to share His victory. This victory is not just an unending life somewhere in the future. It is intimacy with the Creator and Savior today. One of Jesus' last prayers looked forward to the fruits of His victory at the cross. In John 17:3 He said, "Now this is eternal life: that they (you and me) may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Jesus' gift is the gift of intimacy and life with God.