April 7, 2019 [Lent 5]  Philippians 3:7-14  J.D.Roekle

 

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 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 and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

 

Throw Out the Trash

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          Imagine that you have found a place where you would like to live that is away from all crime and health concerns.  The weather is always perfect.  The people are sincere and friendly.  The thing is, only certain people are allowed in to this country.  You apply for citizenship and you are accepted.  But before you can go, there’s a waiting period to enter into that land.  So you spend your time during this waiting period preparing to move.  And what do you spend your time doing?  You spend your time figuring out just what is necessary for you to bring to this new land.  You spend your time decluttering.  You spend your time throwing things out that you don’t really need or have use for anymore. 

          You actually do have citizenship in an indescribably great place.  A place where there are no more worries.  A place where everything is perfect, and not just figuratively speaking, but in reality.  The people are perfect.  Everything that happens there is perfect.  A place where there is no more mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.  It is a place where you will see your Savior Jesus face to face.  You aren’t there yet, but that’s where you are headed through faith in Jesus.  So what do you do in preparation for the time that God calls you heavenward?  You spend your time decluttering.  You spend your time throwing out the trash.  Let’s take some time and consider what that means. 

          What is it that you need in order to enter heaven?  There were some people in Paul’s day who tried to muddy the waters.  They taught that you had to believe in Jesus, but there was more.  You still had to follow the requirements of the Old Testament ceremonial laws.  Those ceremonial laws were designed to point to the Messiah.  Now that the Messiah, Jesus, had come, they were no longer necessary to follow.  They weren’t bound to them.  Unfortunately, this group of people insisted that they follow these laws.

          Paul could boast about having followed these laws.  He said: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 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; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” 

          If anyone was going to get to heaven by who they are and what they did, it was Paul.  As he said, he was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”  He did everything he was raised to do; everything he was supposed to do. 

          And yet, what does he say about these things?  “I consider them rubbish.”  These things have absolutely no worth or benefit in getting him to heaven.  In fact, relying on them would have the exact opposite effect.  Relying on them would hold him back from eternity with Jesus.

          Being confirmed, receiving a Christian education, attending church faithfully, giving of your treasures, and volunteering your time, and talents for church are all very good things.  But let’s be careful on how we view those things.  Let’s not look at them as some kind of pedigree that leads us to think we deserve heaven because of them.  If somehow we believe that these things make us righteous before God, then we’ve got it all backwards.  They need to be thrown out like garbage. 

          If that’s the way we view such things, it means our focus is off.  Your passport to heaven has nothing to do with you.  It has everything to do with Christ. 

          Nothing that I do gets me to heaven.  As Paul said, what I do – even the best that I do – is rubbish.  That cannot get me in a right relationship with God.  And so, it needs to be what Christ has done that does it for us. 

          And just what has Christ done?  Christ has made things right between us and God.  As the Son of God, he was perfect before he set foot on the earth.  From the time he was born into this world until the moment he ascended, he maintained that perfection.  And still today, he remains perfect and always will be. 

          It is this perfection that Jesus offers and gives to us through faith.  You see, in order to stand before God, we have to be holy.  We have to be perfect.  We don’t meet that criteria with what we do at all, however.  Those with a passport to heaven need to remember that we need to rely on what Christ has done for me.  It is his righteousness that we rely on. 

          So Jesus provides a perfect life for us.  But what about our trash, our sin?  Jesus takes it all out for us.  By his death on the cross, he eliminates all of that.  Our sins are no more in God’s sight.  Jesus has removed them from God’s sight.  The sin we commit no longer prevents us from citizenship with God. 

          Again, being in God’s good graces has nothing to do with you.  It is through faith and faith alone that we are saved and homeward bound to heaven.  When we fully understand that, it is like a huge burden being lifted from your shoulders.  The burden is on Christ.

          So let’s cast aside the trash of our perceived goodness, and let’s rely solely on Jesus.  Let’s continue to live a “trash-free” life.  What does that mean, practically speaking?  Paul said: “one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” 

          The analogy Paul uses is that of a runner running a race.  The runner has a goal in mind and needs to keep focused on that goal.  In doing that, the runner doesn’t want to be constantly looking behind.  That will not only slow him down, but it can make him veer off course or get tripped up by an obstacle. 

          Consider how we can veer off course or be tripped up in our race to heaven by looking behind.  On one hand, we perhaps look back and kind of pat ourselves on the back for all our accomplishments.  I’m not just a bad person.  I’ve done some pretty good things.  I think I deserve the prize of eternal life.  That kind of attitude puffs us up with pride.  It also tends to make us spiritually lazy.  We rest on our laurels – our perceived successes and achievements.  But again, before God, those things are really all rubbish.  Only what Jesus has done mean anything before God. 

          On the other hand, we have to be aware of an equally harmful thing.  It can also be a tendency of ours to look back at our past sins and failures.  We grieve over them as if they haven’t been forgiven. We all feel guilt.  When we do something wrong, we have to live with the consequences.  And many times those consequences make us feel guilt over the sin we’ve committed. 

          But remember that not only did Jesus take away your sins when he died.  He also took away your guilt.  God put your sin and your guilt on him.  He suffered the deadly consequences for you.  That means, while there are temporary consequences, you will no longer have to suffer any lasting consequences. 
          And so we do well to get rid of that trash too.  After all, hanging on to past sin and revisiting it and feeling guilt over it can only lead in one direction and that is despair.  You have no need to despair.  Christ’s blood covers every last sin. 

          In just a couple short weeks we will be marking the day of the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As you continue your journey to your heavenly goal, Jesus’ resurrection is a great reassurance for you.  Just as he rose, so will you rise to be with the same Savior who suffered, died and rose for you.  What a glorious future to look forward to.  In the meantime, remember to take out the trash regularly that would try to prevent you from this.  Amen.