In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If anyone thinks he has a reason to have confidence in the flesh, I have more: descended from a family that was Lutheran at least back to the 1700s; baptized, confirmed, and attended a Lutheran church every single Sunday; attended a Lutheran elementary and middle school; attended a Lutheran university; went to the seminary and was ordained as a fifth-generation pastor in the LCMS. Maybe you have a story as well, and you’d like to compete with me for Lutheran bonafides. But hear St. Paul, when he speaks of his genealogy, his pedigree, his training, and his knowledge: what is any of it worth? I consider it all garbage, he says. Well, he uses a cruder word, but I don’t want to offend anyone by using St. Paul’s word in church. Suffice it to say, it’s a synonym for “excrement.” Everything that made him who he was in the past, he now considers to be less than nothing.
Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s a great blessing from the Lord to be brought up and raised in a church where God’s Word and Sacraments are front and center, prominent, central. It’s a great blessing to learn the liturgy by heart, even before you know what it all means, because it keeps Jesus at the center. It’s a great blessing to learn to know the deep treasures of the Church’s proclamation of Jesus in the Scriptures. As Paul says, stick to what you have learned, how from infancy you have known the holy writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All of that is a great blessing. But in and of itself—the genealogy, pedigree, knowledge, name, title—it’s worth nothing when you line it up next to Christ. Paul says that such things amount to putting confidence in the flesh—which really means putting confidence in myself, my learning, my impeccable pedigree, what I’ve accomplished. Paul puts the good and the bad, his sin and his righteousness, his understanding and misunderstanding of the Truth, on one side and he puts Christ on the other. He says, I can put confidence in my flesh and what I’ve accomplished far more than anyone else, but still it’s worth nothing. Still it’s garbage, still it can all go into the toilet.
Why is that so? Because the goal and end has been completely changed. Forget what’s behind, all that confidence in the flesh, and press toward what’s ahead. And what is ahead? There’s no doubt: the new goal, the new end, the new point of everything, is the resurrection. The old goal and end is made clear in nearly every obituary, even among Christians: a list of everything the person accomplished, everything the person did, everything with with which the person filled up his or her time. At best, the church gets an honorable mention. That’s how the world adds up and measures a life: by the accumulated bits and pieces of the years. Paul says he has come to realize that all of that is worth about as much as the most unpleasant bodily functions. Now, all of that can rest in peace in the grave and the new goal is past the end of even the “best” life: resurrection.
The fact is, however, that the resurrection from the dead can only come to those who are dead. In order to attain the resurrection from the dead, Paul knows that we must first share His sufferings and share the form of His death. But Paul doesn’t complete this thought until after our assigned part of Philippians 3 ends. It’s not until the end of the chapter that Paul finishes the logic of his thought. He says there, starting in verse 20, that to share the form of Christ’s death means that we will finally be transformed to share the form of Christ’s resurrection. He says it in Romans 6, as well: we’ve been buried by baptism into Christ’s death. We share the form of His death not by finding a cross and being nailed to it, but when God puts us into Christ’s death at baptism. And the word that God begins to speak at our baptism, He will finish speaking at our resurrection.
That’s the goal and the end of the life of the Christian. Death is the mark of the Christian in this life, and that is the end of this old creation. But it’s the beginning of the fullness of eternal life in the new creation. Our citizenship, the record of whose kingdom we belong to, is in the heavens. And it’s from there that we eagerly await a savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ. Notice: from there to here, not from here to there. He will transform our humble bodies of death to share the form of His glorious Body of life (3:21-22).
And because that’s the goal and the end, then the old confidence in the flesh has now been replaced with worshiping and boasting in Christ by the Holy Spirit of God (3:3). What is old and past and behind and earthly is nothing; Christ is everything. And we have been made ready, as the LWML Sunday theme has it, to confess Jesus; ready in season and out of season; ready when it seems easy and the world seems to support our confession; and ready when it seems hard and the world opposes our confession. Ready to confess Jesus and not our genealogy, pedigree, experience, learning, or time spent in the church. He is our confidence. He is our hope. He is our life. He is our boast.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/6/17