Monday, March 14, 2016

Knowing the Christ of Easter (Philippians 3:10)


To paraphrase a popular song of the Christmas season, “It’s beginning to look a lot like … Easter.” On a recent trip to a store, I saw all the usual signs: bunnies and eggs, baskets and candy, flowers and lots of pastel things. These are the things that represent “Easter” to our culture. However, to the child of God, the real significance ought to so dwarf those cultural expressions that they become virtually insignificant. Easter for the Christian should be a time of reflection, of meditation, of prayer, and devotion, wherein we contemplate the amazing triumph and glory of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Easter, for us, is a celebration of all that He accomplished on our behalf. He lived a completely sinless life, satisfying the righteous standard of God that we could not. He died on Calvary’s cross in our place, for our sins, to bear the wrath that we deserve. He rose from the dead, conquering sin and death for us, and making His righteousness available to us through faith. Easter ought to bring all this realities rushing over us like a tumultuous wave, shaking us from our complacency, our indifference, and our spiritual anemia.

Easter should be for Christians an annual wake-up call which says, “If Christ did all this for me, then the only appropriate response I can offer is to live every moment of my life for Him.” That is not a decision you can make one time, years ago at a church altar. It is a decision that must be made moment-by-moment every day of our lives. It is a great time of year to revisit our commitment to Christ, and rededicate ourselves to Him afresh. In fact, so significant is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that the early church did not consider it worthy of celebrating just once a year. One of the primary reasons that Christians have traditionally made Sunday our day of worship is so that we could commemorate His victory over sin and death every week! Every Sunday, we have our own “Easter” service together all year long.

The annual observance of Easter is also a great time to give your life to Him for the very first time. There is never a bad time to do that, but at Easter, we are reminded anew of all that Christ has accomplished for us. Because of this, Easter presents Christians with a very natural opportunity to share our faith with others. I was reading something recently which said that an overwhelming number of people who do not attend church would accept an invitation to attend church with a friend or family member. Easter is a good occasion to invite someone to attend with you. I also read that every year at Easter, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of those who call themselves atheists or agnostics will attend church. So, I want to encourage you to invite your friends and family members who are lost and unchurched to our Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, but you don’t have to wait until then. Anytime is a good time to invite someone to church or to share your faith in Christ with them.

As we move rapidly toward Easter Sunday over the next few weeks, I want to leave our study of the Gospel According to John temporarily and focus on a passage in Philippians today in order to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. I am calling this message, “Knowing the Christ of Easter.”

The Apostle Paul was writing these words near the end of his life. It is believed that he was born between the year 0 and 5 AD, and that he was in his mid-thirties when he became a follower of Christ. At the time this letter was written, he had been serving Christ for twenty to thirty years. And after that many years, the cry of his heart was still expressed with these words, “I want to know Christ.” So what does this mean?

Well, for one thing, we need to differentiate between knowing Christ and knowing about Christ. Paul is not saying, “I wish I could acquire more information about Jesus. I wish I could enroll in some higher level academic courses where I could learn about the theological controversies and dilemmas.” It is possible for a person to know much about Christ without really knowing Christ. I am an avid fan of ice hockey. When I have the time, I enjoy going to games and watch them on TV. I read about it as often as I can and study the game. I guess I could say that I know a lot about hockey. But here is the really embarrassing truth—I can just barely stand up on ice skates, and I have never played ice hockey in my life. So I know a lot about it, but I have never known ice hockey in a way that I can say I have experienced it. I know a lot about the game’s greatest players and can tell you more than you care to know about them. But I have never met them personally. I don’t know them. If you were in an airport and saw Wayne Gretzky, and said, “Hey I heard about you from Russ Reaves.” He would say, “Who is Russ Reaves? I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me.”

When Paul says, “I want to know Christ,” he doesn’t mean that he wants to know about Christ. He means he wants to know Him. It is true that a person “knows Christ,” once he or she is saved. We even use that terminology, and I think it is appropriate, to say, “I came to know the Lord.” It was July 31, 1992 on the grounds of Fort Caswell, when I came to know the Lord. Before that day, I didn’t know him at all. For Paul it was on a journey to Damascus, as he set out to persecute Christians. Acts 9 tells the story of his miraculous encounter with the risen Jesus, and instantly, Paul came to know the Lord. For some of you, you can remember a time and a place. Others maybe cannot remember a time and place, but you know it happened. Others perhaps, have not yet come to know him. It could be that you would come to know Him today even. But at the point that a person comes to know the Lord, a relationship has begun, which will deepen and develop over the course of a lifetime of walking with Him by faith. In Christ, there is as F. F. Bruce says, “an inexhaustible fullness.” So, Christians can say that we have come to know Him, we are coming to know Him more and better, and we will one day know Him even as we are known to Him.

I met my wife in July of 1994. We have known each other now nearly 22 years, and have been married nearly 19. But she would agree with me in saying that we know each other much more deeply today than ever before, and that our knowledge of one another grows daily. Many of you have been married longer than I have been alive, and you would agree that as time goes by, you just come to know one another more and more with each passing day. So it is in our relationship with Christ. I came to know Him nearly 24 years ago, but I know Him much more deeply today, after 24 years of walking with Him than I ever have. You grow in your relationship with Him, in your knowledge of Him, as you daily experience His presence and power in your life. For Paul, after more than 20 years of walking with Christ, his greatest desire was still to come to know Christ more fully until the ultimate moment when we stand before Him face to face. So, how can we know this Christ of Easter in our daily lives?

Paul says that as he goes through the days of his life, he deeply desires to know two specific things in his walk with Christ: the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering.

I. The Power of His Resurrection

When Paul says he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, he is not just referring to an end of life experience in which he hopes that He will be resurrected. While surely he does hope for that, and expresses it in the next verse, here, his focus is on the daily experience of the power of God that raised Christ from the dead. This Christ who conquered death has come to dwell within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. And that means that we have unlimited supernatural power available to us here and now. This power enables us to rise above our natural desires, weaknesses, tendencies, and habits. The opportunity is available for the Christian to yield to God and say, “Lord, I am incapable of handling this in the power of my own flesh, so in this very moment, I want to know the power that conquered even death, that Christ might deliver me right now.” Knowing the resurrection power of Christ means that there is nothing that this day will bring us that God cannot handle. There is no challenge, no obstacle, no trial, no temptation, in which God cannot give us victory.

So, why is it that we are often overwhelmed by these things in our daily lives? It is because none of us have exhausted the fullness of this knowledge yet. None of us have mastered it. After two dozen years of walking with Christ, Paul still said, “This is what I want to know.” I don’t know it well enough yet. As I learn to depend upon Christ and His resurrection power in my time of need, I begin to experience victory in all these things. And every time I experience defeat, I am reminded of how desperately I need to know Him and the power of His resurrection. How are you going to overcome that besetting sin that continues to plague you? Resurrection power. How are you going to handle that antagonistic person who ridicules you for your faith? Resurrection power. How are you going to handle the discouragement that sets in when wave upon wave of bad news overwhelms you? Resurrection power. So here is Paul, writing from prison in Rome, not knowing if he is going to live or die. How is he going to handle that? I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. If Christ conquered death through that power, then there is nothing that I cannot have victory over as well, if I will yield to Him in that moment.

But to know the Christ of Easter in life is not just about resurrection power. The very fact that we need this resurrection power in our lives is a testimony to the other aspect in which Paul desires to know Christ.

II. The Fellowship of His Suffering

See, if there weren’t any opportunities for suffering, there would be no need for resurrection power. If there was no cross of Christ, there would be no empty tomb. So, we are tempted to hear Paul saying, “I want to know Christ,” and we smile and close our eyes, and say, “Yes, Jesus.” And he says, “and the power of his resurrection,” and we say, “Hallelujah! Amen.” And he says, “And the fellowship of His suffering,” and we say, “Wait, what? I didn’t sign up for any suffering.” You didn’t have to. Paul says in Philippians 1:29 that God has given you to opportunity to suffer as a gift of His grace. He says there that “to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Wow. We might say, “Thanks but no thanks, God.” But you see, you can’t really know Christ apart from suffering. Suffering is part of life in this fallen world and these corruptible bodies. We are all going to suffer, so there is suffering-free way to come to follow Christ. But the good news is that God can use our suffering for our good and His glory. That is what makes Christian suffering different from all other suffering. That is why Paul desires the resurrection power first – so that he can endure the suffering, when it comes (and it surely will). There are several reasons why suffering draws us into a deeper knowledge of Christ:

            A. Suffering enables us to know Christ more deeply because it drives us to depend all the more on Him.

As I read about the state of Christianity around the world, I read about declining churches and thriving churches. But the surprising thing is that by and large, the places where the church is declining are the places where there is freedom, prosperity, and ease. Areas where the church is thriving are the places where Christians are persecuted, where there is virtually no religious freedom, where churches have to meet in secret, etc. Why is that? How do we explain that? I have a theory, and I don’t know if one could do enough research to confirm it, but my theory is that liberty and affluence and influence lull the church into slumber. Christians become lazy when they don’t have to depend on the Lord for survival every moment of every day. We get very comfortable with our status, and our income, and our position, and our social acceptability, and we depend less and less on the power of God. However, in those other areas – the hard places where the church is thriving – there is no false sense of security in things of this world. There is, however a rock-solid confidence in the power of God, as they experience Him daily in their suffering.

Therefore, though we do not rejoice to see the cultural climate changing in America and Christianity becoming less and less tolerable in our society, we have to appreciate that God is sovereign over this and is able to use it for His own glory. As we are awakened to the difficult realities that Christians have experienced in other places throughout history, we join Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings, and find occasion to rest in His resurrection power. Suffering kicks the crutches out from under us and helps us to see that the only real security we have in this life comes from knowing God and experiencing His presence and power in our daily lives. So, first of all, knowing the fellowship of His suffering enables us to know the Christ of Easter more deeply because it drives us to depend on Him all the more.

B. Suffering enables us to know Christ more deeply because it gives us a platform to witness for Him.

The world is not interested in a Christianity that keeps us smiling when life is good, and the money is good, and everything is going to suit us. You can believe in magic rocks and enchanted trees when life is good. No big deal. But when the Christian suffers, and still demonstrates the peace of Christ in the midst of that suffering, it is an attractive testimony to the unbeliever. The Bible does not offer us a religion which exempts us from the trials and tribulations of this world. In fact, the way I understand the New Testament, you better expect trials and tribulations as you follow Christ. But in the midst of them, you can still know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and display Jesus Christ through your suffering to all those who are watching your life. His resurrection power is made more visible through your fellowship in Christ’s suffering. The Jesus who is worth suffering with and suffering for is a Jesus that the world desires to see and know.

C. Suffering enables us to know Christ more deeply because through it we enter into a special fellowship with Christ.

Jesus was prophesied in Isaiah 53 to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with our griefs. So, as we suffer, if we are suffering for Him, there is a depth of fellowship that we enter into with Christ. He suffered for us, and in Him we have been considered worthy to suffer for Him. So, we are never alone. He is with us as we suffer. We are in fellowship with Him and have a share in His sufferings, and He has a share in ours. Paul asks in Romans 8, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, he says in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Christ. And he concludes by saying that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:35-39].

Let me ask you something: have you come to know Christ? He died for your sins and conquered death for you in the resurrection, and offers you forgiveness if you will turn to Him and place your faith and trust in Him as Lord and Savior. Many of you have done that. But like Paul perhaps, now 20, 30 years later, maybe more or less, you say, “I don’t know Him nearly as deeply as I would like to. I want to know this Risen Christ of Easter!” So, today, why not say to Him, “Lord Jesus, I want to know You! I am tired of just barely getting by. I want to fully live the life You died to give me. I want to know you more deeply than I ever have before. I want to know You in the power of Your resurrection. And I want to know you in the fellowship of Your sufferings.” I believe this is a prayer that God will always be faithful to answer. If you long to know Christ more intimately, and are willing to embrace the fellowship of His suffering in order that you might experience the power of His resurrection, you will find that He never disappoints.


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