March 10, 2023

Take Your Stand for Jusus

Philippians 3: 1-10

About 250 years ago, two young Moravian men heard of an island in the West Indies which was virtually owned by one plantation master. He was a violent man who treated his slaves with complete contempt. He never allowed them to know anything about Christianity. No minister was permitted to come and form a church among them. So these two young Moravian men, gripped with a burden for a group of people who might never hear about the love of Jesus, sold themselves into slavery to that plantation master. The money they received for their own lives they used to pay for their passage to get to the island. They gave up their lives to go and live among that community of slaves and bring them the gospel. Their families came to the docks to bid them farewell, knowing it was highly doubtful they would ever see them again. As the ship pulled out of the harbour, with mothers crying on the shore, the last words ever heard from them was when one of the young men cried out from the ship’s deck, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.” As we continue the Lenten journey our Lord Jesus asks, “How far will you go to take a stand for me?”
St. Paul wrote his letter to the Christian community of Philippi from prison in Rome. He told the Philippians that they had to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Like Jesus, Paul had suffered greatly in numerous ways. He experienced so much physical adversity -- imprisonment, beatings and the need to flee from his enemies. Later he was shipwrecked and eventually he became a martyr. He was put in a position to endure rejection by his peers, from both the Jewish and Christian sides. In this third chapter of his letter in verse 18, he spoke of those who were "enemies of the cross of Christ." Most commentaries believe he was referring to the Judaizers, a group of very orthodox and politically conservative Jewish Christians who believed that complete submission to the Mosaic Law and circumcision were necessary for converts to the "new way" of Jesus. Paul stood against the beliefs of the Judaizers and was willing to endure pain and suffering as long as the truth was proclaimed. He was standing by Jesus for the word of truth to be heard by all people. I think many Christians would say with some kind of relief, “I'm so glad I wasn't Paul or one of his fellow-believers at that time. They paid the ultimate price to pave the way for believers over centuries to follow.” But my friends, there is a very clear word coming to all of us from our Lord, Jesus Christ – “I call you in this time to take a stand for me. When you look at the state of the world you clearly see the spiritual poverty and you clearly see how many conform to the pattern of the world. What will you sacrifice for me?”
From our passage in Philippians 3, there are two prominent things the apostle Paul did to take his stand for Jesus. First he demonstrated to believers of all times and places to 1 Choose The Right Foundation. Paul described his former life in this passage, the foundation he first built on. So many Jews would just have dreamt to have the life Paul had. His pedigree was impeccable – he was circumcised on the eighth day; he was of the people Israel; he was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Pharisee – one of the chosen ones to take the highest seats in the assembly. When he spoke people didn’t just look up to him. No, they listened as well. He was a zealous practitioner of the Law. There was a last thing the apostle added to his former life – he was a persecutor of Jesus and His church. But then on the road to Damascus the same Jesus revealed to him that the foundation on which he built his life was something like a pile of trash. Listen how Paul described the accomplishments of his former life in verse 8b, “I consider them garbage…” My dear friend, are you 100% sure that the foundation you build your life on is Jesus Christ, the Stone Whom the builders rejected, but was chosen by God? Perhaps you might feel a little offended by me asking this question, “Is Jesus the foundation you build your life on?” But then there are so many who do not build their lives on Jesus! All they have to show on their credentials are Executive of a company; President of an organization, School principal, Bank manager; Head of a department or something else. But then they come to terms with what their lives are really worth and they confess, “Without Jesus my life is empty and worthless.” Even some of those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ would come to the shocking realization – “All those years I haven’t allowed Jesus to be my foundation.” In a previous ministry when I visited a church member and asked about his involvement with the church he said, “I’ve been 40 years with the church, but only 20 years with Jesus.” I responded as well as I could at the time, “Well you had a good start.” The man’s response was, “No, it was all about my way before I opened my heart to Jesus. I attended church, but it was to be a good father to my children. I served on committees in the church, but it was to show what I was capable of. Since Jesus came into my heart, it was all about Him.” You will agree with me – there is quite a difference between building on your own foundation and building on Jesus’ foundation. I think that most of us in this sanctuary would like to confess with Paul about what happened when Jesus came into our hearts – verse 9a, “and be found in Him.” It was indeed “be found in Him” for Paul. There was a new foundation in his life. Jesus first came to him and drew a line on the road to Damascus and said, “Not a single step further Saul; I will make you Paul.” What would you describe as the most significant event in your life? There can only be one answer, “When Jesus Christ became the foundation of my life.”

There was a second thing Paul did to Take A Stand For Jesus. He demonstrated 2 The Participation In Jesus' Sufferings. We read in verse 10, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings...” With participation, Paul had in mind of really getting involved in Jesus’ mission. Jesus’ mission became His mission. But more than that – the apostle knew that he would pay the ultimate price for his stand next to Jesus. To Timothy Paul expressed the extend of taking part in Jesus’ sufferings. He wrote in 2 Timothy 4: 6, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.” According to tradition he was beheaded between 66-68 AD at Aquae Salviae, which is now known as Tre Fontane. His body was taken about two miles away to be buried in a land owned by a friend, where the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was later built. If there was one message the apostle would have wanted to deliver to us on our Lenten journey it would be the following, “You have to know the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.” You see, most Christians are willing to experience the good benefits in Jesus’ service. They want to see the success stories of new converts and new churches going up in places where the Gospel has barely been proclaimed. But they do not want to hear the incidents like missionaries who were killed in foreign countries when bringing the Gospel or churches been attacked in countries like Pakistan. Can we appreciate a reality this morning, my friends? Living for Jesus is becoming again a challenge like in the time of the first martyrs. There isn’t openness for a person who goes public with the stand he takes for Jesus. Just the opposite has become true. There are those who go out of their way to get us. Not long ago a youth who wore a T-shirt with words of his commitment to Jesus on it was asked not to wear it any longer, because some people took offence. But never is someone asked not to wear something in public with vulgar messages on them. The extent of our stand for Jesus might ask of us to endure pain and suffering, just like martyrs for Jesus. Can we truly confess with Paul about the participation in Jesus' sufferings? Let's stand by Jesus – no matter the cost or consequence.