Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s hard to read a map if you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. Sure, you can “read” it in the sense that you can see what’s on the map, the cities and towns, and the roads that connect various places, whatever else might be on the map. But if you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, the map doesn’t really help you. Of course, most people today don’t use paper maps, but electronic ones that give you turn-by-turn instructions as you go. But even then, if you don’t put in your location and the destination, it’s not going to give you any help. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t do the things that will get you there.
Likewise, St. Paul speaks in these verses about “gain” and “loss.” But those would be meaningless terms if he didn’t have anything to judge gaining and losing by. If you don’t know what is worth gaining and what might be necessary to lose, then it’s meaningless to talk about gaining and losing. What is the thing by which Paul judges gain and loss? What is his goal? Where is he going? Paul is 100% certain about what that “thing” is. He knows exactly where he’s going, what is the goal and end of his life, and so he knows exactly how to judge everything in this world.
He says that his goal is that, by any means possible, to attain to the resurrection of the dead. The goal, the prize, is God’s calling him up in Jesus Christ. The goal is not up from earth to heaven, as we might assume. It’s very clear from the end of the chapter that the end will mean Jesus coming down, not us going up. And the “up” is the beginning of the word for resurrection. The goal and prize at which Paul is aiming is God calling him up out of his grave, out of death, into life.
And that is everything. That’s where Paul is going, so it is by that goal that he decides what is gain and what is loss. Resurrection is the goal, and there’s only one way to get to the resurrection from the dead. That’s to die. But your death alone can’t get you to resurrection. That takes the death of one who is life itself. Christ’s death gets you to resurrection. So Paul says that he will share in Christ’s sufferings and be made like Him in His death. As Paul says in Romans, that begins when we are buried by baptism into Christ’s death. Now everything is seen in the light of whether it is Christ or not. Because Christ is life. If it’s not Jesus, it’s not actually life. If it’s not Jesus, it’s not resurrection. And that means it’s going away in death.
I count it all as garbage, Paul says. And the word doesn’t just mean garbage. It can also mean what goes in the toilet. That’s how much everything is worth that is not Jesus. Forget it, leave it behind, and go forward to the resurrection.
So we know where we’re going. We know that the goal and end for us in Christ is resurrection, because He has given us a righteousness that is not from ourselves, but a righteousness that is given to us by God, that comes to us by faith. We know where we’re going. And we know where we are. That doesn’t take much looking around. We know that we are in the land of sin and death. That’s why resurrection is the goal, because it is the answer, solution, and end to sin and death, which Jesus came to destroy.
But we know, as Paul did, that we are not there yet. We don’t have the resurrection in the same way that Jesus has it. We have it by a certain promise that Jesus will not break, but we haven’t seen it. We haven’t been completed. We haven’t been perfected. But we are on the road that began for us when we were baptized and joined to Jesus’ death, which ends in resurrection. So we are on the road from baptism to resurrection. That is the road of the Christian life. We now see everything in light of that beginning and that end. We know the resurrection of the body is coming, so we care for others in their physical needs. We know the resurrection is coming, so we find our rest and peace in the midst of sickness and death. We know the resurrection is coming, so we press on, endure, and live in a world of sin and death without fear and without anxiety.
We are not there yet. But it is coming. Our citizenship is not in the land of sin and death, but in the land of resurrection. And the King of that realm is coming. And when we see Him, He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Until that day, He feeds us along the road with His resurrection life so that we do not grow weary, we do not turn off the road, we do not faint in the ditch and give up. We press on. We go forward. We live in this world with what we’ve been given to do, in quiet joy and peace, because we know where we are going, and we know the One who has made us His own. He is risen from the dead, and He will bring us to the resurrection, without any doubt.
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, 4/5/19