March 17, 2019

Rev. Mark F. Bartels



Old Testament Lesson; Jeremiah 26:8-15

Gospel Lesson; Luke 13:31-35                      

Sermon Text; Philippians 3:17-4:1


Brothers, join together in imitating me and in paying attention to those who are walking according to the pattern we gave you.  To be sure, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  I told you about them often, and now I am saying it while weeping.  Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame.  They are thinking only about earthly things.  But our citizenship is in Heaven.  We are eagerly waiting for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.  By the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, He will transform our humble bodies to be like His glorious body

So then, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way keep standing firm in the Lord, my dear friends.

These are your words, Heavenly Father.  Lead us in the way of truth.  Your word is truth.



There are some things that just don't go together.  We'll say things, “They go together like oil and water.”  Oil and water just don't mix.

If I offered you a pickle and some ice cream you would probably say “Those things don't go together.”

The book of Philippians presents us with two things that seem like they do not go together.  The book of Philippians, which we are reading from, is called The Epistle, or The Letter of Joy.  In this letter, Paul exudes the joy of being a Christian. 

This letter is also heavy with the whole concept of suffering. 

Those two things do not seem to go together – joy and suffering. 


I don't think we often think of Paul in his personal life.  Paul had a person life, just like we do.  We think of Paul as just this great evangelist.  But, Paul made good friends.  He had some great friends.  Apparently, in Philippi where he had been, he had made some very, super, close relationships.  Listen to what he calls them in verse one, of chapter four.

“So then, my brothers,

whom I love and long for,

my joy and crown, dear friends.” 

He calls them brothers.  He says, “I love you.  I long for you.  You are my joy.  You are my crown.  You are my dear friends.”

So, he is addressing these dear friends of his, and is filled with joy over them.  But, a little earlier in this epistle he told them,

“It has been granted to you to suffer...” 

“It has been granted to you,

(or gifted to you),

to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ.”

So, let's talk about how in the world those two things go together – joy and suffering.  The whole concept of suffering is, “I don't like to suffer.”  I don't think there is anybody who likes to suffer.  If you do, there might be something wrong with you.  We try to avoid suffering.  That is part of just trying to survive.  OK, we want to try to avoid suffering.  Hold on to that thought for a second.

When I was a kid, I loved Vacation Bible School.  I loved Vacation Bible School! 

-I loved recess at Vacation Bible School, and I loved playing this game called Red Rover.  “Red Rover, Red Rover, we dare 'so and so' over!”  We would hold hands, and see if they could break through.  I loved it! 

-I loved eating a bag lunch at Vacation Bible School, out on the church lawn. 

-I loved the crafts!  I still remember some of the crafts we used to make in Vacation Bible School. 

-I don't remember too many of the lessons that were taught in Vacation Bible School, but I do remember one thing.  This has stuck in my mind ever since I was maybe eight years old.  One of my teachers handed me a little, flimsy, piece of cardboard.  I don't know where she had gotten it, but she had gotten some for everybody in the class.  She said, “Take this home.”  There was nothing fancy about it at all.  But, written on it were these words, that I still remember this to this day. 

“Only one life to live

'twill soon be passed. 

All what’s done for Christ

will last.”

Even as a little eight year old, that hit me like a ton of bricks.  It still does.  Only one life to live 'twill soon be passed.  We have one life.  And, we don't want to waste it.  We don't want to waste it.  We want to live it with purpose. 

It went on, and said, “Only what's done for Christ will last.”  

That gets to this really, super, important question.  You want to live your life with purpose.  I want to live my life with purpose.  What is our purpose?  What are we trying to do?  What are we trying to accomplish? 

If we would look at our culture and our world, our world and culture has, I suppose, an end purpose, or an end goal.  That end purpose, as our scripture describes it is, “their god is their appetite”.  It is this whole idea that if I am hungry, I want to eat.  I want to take care of  my earthly needs.  So, our basic culture's goal and purpose in life is to escape suffering.  “If I can have good health, if I can be comfortable, if I can be safe and secure, then I am accomplishing my purpose.”  “If my kids can go to school, get a good education, be safe, secure, and comfortable, then I am accomplishing my purpose.”  “If I can eat good food, go to the doctor when I need to, and things go well with my health, then I am accomplishing my purpose of escaping suffering, getting away from suffering.”  “If I can have a comfortable home, with a nice TV, and a good place to cook out and have fun with family and friends, then I am accomplishing my goal.”  That is the purpose we are here, according to our culture. 

But, St. Paul wants us to really ask the question, “Is that all there is?”  “Is that our purpose?”  “Is that why we are here?”  “Is that our reason for existence?  Or, is there something bigger?”  “Is there something more?”  “Are the things that this life has to offer all there really is?” 

Paul wants us to focus on, “What's the end result?  So, what if I do accomplish all of those things?  What if I do have security, comfort and all of those things in this life?  What if I have those?”  St. Paul says, “Their end is destruction”. 

“Their end is destruction...”

What does it all accomplish?  It is like the parable Jesus told.  He said there was a wealthy man.  His field grew an abundant crop.  So, he asked himself, “What will I do?” 

Then he said, “I know what I will do.  I will tear down my barns, and build bigger ones.  I will then store up my grain, and say to myself, 'You have plenty stored up for many years to come.  Take life easy.  Eat, drink, and be merry.'” 

He had accomplished his goal, what he was here for. 

But then, Jesus said, “But God said to him, 'You fool.  You fool!  This very night your soul will be taken from you.  And then, who will get everything you have laid up for yourself?  For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?  What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?'”

Jesus said, “Don't worry about what you are going to eat, or what you are going to drink, or what you are going to wear.  Unbelievers chase after all of those things.” 

That is the goal of the unbelieving world, to chase after these things that give us earthly comfort.

Jesus told the account of what we call, The Rich Man and Lazarus.  Jesus said there was a rich man.  He dressed in purple, and fine linen.  He lived in luxury every day. 

There was a beggar named Lazarus who sat at his steps.  He was covered with sores.  He would beg to have scraps from the rich man's table.  Dogs even came, and licked Lazarus' sores.

They both died.  When the wealthy man opened up his eyes, he was in Hell.  Lazarus was carried by the angels to Heaven. 

The rich man could see up into Heaven, and said, “Abraham send Lazarus to just dip the tip of his finger in water, and put it on my tongue, because I am in misery here in these flames.” 

Abraham said, (listen to this) “In life you had your good things.  Now you are in agony.  Lazarus received bad things in life, and now he is comforted.”
So the question is, “What is the end goal?”

St. Paul gets us to focus on, “What is my end goal?  Is my end goal to have comfort in this life, or is it something bigger, something else?”  

St. Paul, earlier in the book of Philippians, tells us what the end goal really is.  “What is my purpose?”  “Why am I here?” 

St. Paul was a man who really knew what suffering was all about.  He wrote this letter that is called one of The Prison Epistles.  He was actually in prison, while he wrote this letter.  He was suffering for his faith in Christ.  Here is what he said in summary. 

“For me, to live is...(what?) 

is Christ...”  

It is not comfort.  It is not escaping suffering. 

“For me, to live is Christ.” 

That is the purpose.  That is why I am here.  That is what I want to accomplish. 

“For me, to live is to Christ...”  

Then, he goes on and says,

“ die is gain.”  

So even if the world threw its worst at me, the absolute worst, and took everything from me, in the end, could they really take anything away from me?  No, I would only gain.  I would end up in Heaven, with Christ, which is far better, St. Paul says. 

And, why is living in Christ, why is that so important?  What does that mean?  I am going to read to you what St. Paul says earlier in the book of Philippians.  Here was a man, who if anyone had reason to be confident about what he had in the flesh, it was Paul. 

-He had a great education, a fantastic education. He was trained under a man by the name of Gamaliel.  It probably means he was famous, a famous teacher. 

-That probably means Paul's family was a family of wealth. 

-Paul was what he called, “A Pharisee of the Pharisees.”  He was probably a person of very high standings.  He tried to keep God's Law, keep the law of the Pharisees, and try to earn his way to salvation.  He tried to do everything he could. 

-He came from a great family line, because he was from the tribe of Benjamin. 

He said, “If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.  I am circumcised on the eighth day.  I am of the people of Israel.  I am of the tribe of Benjamin.  I am a Hebrew of Hebrews.  In regard to the Law, Pharisee.  As for zeal, persecuting the church.  As for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But, whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss, for the sake of Christ.  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.” 

Let me say that one more time. 

“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 everything. 

I consider them rubbish,

that I may gain Christ.” 

Then, he says why Christ is so important. 

“...that I may gain Christ

and be found in Him.

Not having a righteousness of my own

that comes from the loss,

but that which is through faith in Christ. 

The righteousness that comes from God,

and is by faith.”

Paul said, “I will give up everything in this world, everything – every comfort you could give me, all the food you could give me, all the security you could give me, all of the friends you could give me.  I would give it all up, if I can just have Jesus, if I can just know I am right with God.  There is only one thing that can make me right with God, and that is Jesus.  He has a righteousness I could never have.  I could never earn God's favor in a million years living on this earth.  I could never earn His favor.  I could never do enough.  I have too many faults, and too many sins.  But Christ, Christ gives me His perfect life, His perfect life.  Christ gives me His payment for sin, on the cross, and that washes away my sin.  That is the One thing I want in this life.”  

So he says, “Join with others, my brothers, in following my example.” 

What was Paul's example?  His example was “Only one life to live will soon be passed.  Only what is done for Christ will last.” 

Then, Paul goes on, and he talks about what's the end of all of that.  What does that all result in?  Is it ok to suffer?  Can you have joy, and suffering at the same time?  The answer is, “Absolutely!” 

If I were to ask everyone to think about an example of a Christian who really drew glory to Christ, who would that be?  (Think about that for a second.)  I would venture to guess, most of you thought of someone who is going through some kind of suffering, somebody who was in the hospital, or had cancer, or was going through family problems, or had lost a loved one, or was being persecuted for their faith in Christ, but they clung to Jesus.  They clung to His Word. 

Why am I here? 

I am here to give glory to Christ,

to live is Christ. 

If in this life, suffering in this life brings glory to Christ, Alleluia.  Alleluia  That is why we are here.  To give glory to Christ.

Then, Paul says,

“To die is gain.” 

Do you think Jesus came so we would suffer?  Do you think that is why He came?  He does tell us,

“Take up your cross and follow me.” 

He tells us we are going to suffer in this life.  But, is that why He came?  No. 

He came so some day we would not have to suffer. 

That is His goal for us. 

So, the options are two. 

-One, I have a peaceful life here, but in the end, I may suffer for eternity. 

-Or, in this life, I may suffer.  I may.  I may suffer, as a Christian for being a Christian.  Or, I may go through the crosses of this life, but through those, the Lord keeps me in my faith.  Our scripture says,

“Some day, some day,

He will transform our lowly humble bodies

so they will be like His glorious body.” 

Some day all suffering will be gone.  It will be gone, in Christ.  In Heaven there won't be any cancer.  There won't be any family problems.  There won't be any troubles.  There won't be any persecution.  Nobody is going to knock you over, or push you down.  That is ultimately what Jesus came for.  To deliver us from sin, and all of its effects.

So, my dear brothers.  Stand firm in the Lord!