July 26, 2020
I heard a story a number of years ago about a young college romance. It took place at a Christian school and a typical romance had spring up between a certain young man and a beautiful young lady. Things seemed to be going along great for these two as they did the typical things college students do. They’d meet and have breakfast together every morning, sit in chapel, have lunch and even an afternoon class together. Then there were all those evenings studying in the library. With all this time together they were beginning to discover much about each other. But then one morning as this young man went to meet his girl at breakfast, she wasn’t there. She wasn’t there at chapel, or at lunch, or at the library. And it wasn’t long before he discovered why. She was dumping him.
Why? Why was she dumping him? She told him he didn’t have what it took for him to be her spiritual leader in the relationship. She wasn’t satisfied with his walk with Jesus. Well, what happened to the young man? Was he heartbroken? I’m sure he was. But what was more important is that he too became dissatisfied with his walk with Jesus. He became dissatisfied with being a status quo Christian. So he started pursuing Christ and Christ changed him. You may even be familiar with who this. For this young man’s dissatisfaction led him to become the world famous evangelist – Billy Graham.
Now I tell you this story because we can find ourselves becoming status quo Christians. Oh, yes we can come to worship and sing how much we love Jesus, we can serve in a ministry and we can even keep up appearances of a having a pretty admirable faith, but somewhere along the way we begin to realize that we’re just going through the motions, and that we don’t have the same joy or passion that we once had. And we start wondering “Is this all there is, or am I missing something?”
Well if you’ve ever been dissatisfied with your walk with Jesus, or if you find yourself wanting to know Jesus better, then what we’re going to look at today from God’s Word may just jump start your faith. For in our passage today, Philippians 3:12-16, Paul shares with us what it takes to truly know Jesus – what it takes to know the joy of his presence, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings – and somehow become more and more like Jesus – to see your faith come alive with Jesus!
This morning I get to share with you one of the first passages of Scripture I learned shortly after coming to faith in Jesus. This passage gave me clarity as to what the Christian life is really all about. It ignited my faithand helped me grow leaps and bounds in my new relationship with Jesus Christ. But it didn’t just help my faith come alive; this passage gave me clear direction for how to live everyday as a follower of Jesus. So what does it take to know Jesus? What does it take to make your faith come alive with Him? Well according to Paul it takes three things. And the first is this:
Knowing Jesus takes desire Now before I read verse 12, the first thing we need to know is that this verse is a continuation from the previous passage. If you followed last week’s message from Philippians 3:1-11, we learned that everything that Paul thought was important for salvation, he now regarded as worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus. He had it all wrong. He thought that practicing all the right rituals, being of the right race, having a superior societal ranking, keeping all the Old Testament traditions, having a sincere passion for his religion, and being a faultless keeper of the Old Testament law – that was what God was looking for from him for salvation. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. For after meeting Jesus he realized that everything he had put his confidence in, was of absolutely no value for gaining salvation. He even went so far as to calling all his achievements garbage, worthless excrement in comparison to knowing Christ Jesus as His Lord.
As he so clearly articulated for us in verse 8, Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. And so Paul shared with us how much he wanted to know Jesus, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, so that he might become more like Jesus. Nothing else mattered to him. It’s in this context now that we come to verse 12, where Paul says, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12
The once proud Paul had been humbled. He previously thought that he’d arrived. He thought he’d done what he needed to gain salvation. Now he sees himself as having obtained nothing. He hasn’t arrived. Instead, he has a new goal and he states it here saying, “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
I love the imagery Paul uses here. When he says, “I press on” he uses a hunting term meaning to chase or hunt down. Previously Paul pursued personal achievements, now he was pursuing a relationship with Jesus. He says, I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
One of the things that we don’t hear often enough that it was God who pursued us. We were the rebels who turned away from God and didn’t want God in our lives. So God chased us down. And the way He pursued us was by sending Jesus to live among us. Jesus himself said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10. We were lost. We were alienated from life with God because of our sin. We were so lost we didn’t even know we were lost. We didn’t even know God loved us. We didn’t even know God was so intent on finding us that He sent His One and only Son to seek us and save us. And yet that’s what He did. Jesus came to hunt you down, to seek you to rescue you. Paul now knew this. Paul knows that it was Jesus who pursued him. I love how he expresses it here. He says, Christ Jesus took hold of me. I love the word he uses here. A more literal interpretation of this word is to seize or apprehend. Jesus apprehended him. Jesus literally pursued him, and seized hold of him to rescue him.
Tony Merida illustrates what this this seizing looks like for us. He says, “One time, my daughter got pulled into the ocean by the surf while I was playing with my four other kids. No one was paying close attention except for my bride. Immediately she ran into the water to pull out little Victoria, screaming in panic. Kimberly seized her and in turn, Victoria didn’t want to let go.” That’s what Jesus did for Paul, He seized him. He rescued him. And now Paul says, “I want to take hold of Jesus.”
So let me ask you: Is this your experience with Jesus? Has Jesus seized you? Has he taken hold of you? Has He rescued you from sin, from shame, from despair? Has he rescued you from life without God? If he has, then like this little girl, you’ll want to take hold of Jesus, and never let go. You’ll have this same passion in your heart to chase after Jesus, so you can know Him more and more. Is that your experience with Jesus? If it is, then knowing Jesus will be your greatest desire!
You’ll want to know Him so you can become like Him. You’ll give your heart to this pursuit. That what Paul was expressing here. So this is the starting point for a life changing relationship with Jesus. You’ll want to chase after Him because He found you and made you His own. Knowing Jesus takes desire. Do you have this desire? Has Jesus captivated your heart? Maybe you’ve allowed other things to capture your heart. I know this happens to me sometimes. Has it happened to you? If it has, then maybe God is calling you to return to your first love – to return to Jesus. To give Him your heart. That’s what it takes to know Jesus. It takes having a passion for Jesus.
But that’s not all it takes. What else does it take? Paul tells us in verses 13 and 14… Knowing Jesus takes resolve Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
This is the verse that gave me clarity and purpose for my new life as a Christ follower. Prior to coming to Christ I really had no direction or purpose for life. I just lived for today. I was a product of the Cold War. I grew up with this underlying anxiety that the world could be destroyed in an all-out nuclear war. So I lived for the day knowing that tomorrow may never come. So I worked for the weekend, played hard and never thought of the consequences. But after a while my lifestyle left me empty. But once Jesus found me, took hold of me, I realized that I had never been committed to anything in life. It’s like I was always holding back, like there was something I was to give my life to, but there was really nothing worthy to give it to, but then I read this Scripture, I knew. Here it was: The One Thing. The one thing I could now give myself too, was the very thing Jesus took hold of me – that I might take hold of Him – to know Him and become more like Him.
I now had a single-minded purpose. Paul’s resolve became my resolve. And in this verse he tells us how we make pursuing Jesus our resolve – our purpose in life. How? By forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
First, forgetting what is behind Paul’s talking about leaving your past in the past. That’s what we just heard Paul say in the previous passage – all his past achievements, all his ritual, rule-keeping, race, rank, religion and self-righteousness are in the past. He now considers all that a loss in comparison to knowing Jesus. And now, he’s not going to let his past determine his future with Jesus. Think about the atrocities Paul committed against Christians. He was the guy who previously chased down Christ-followers, had them arrested and even killed for following Jesus. If anyone could have been held back because of his past, it was Paul. But that’s the good news of the gospel. When Jesus found Paul and took hold of Paul, Jesus forgave Paul of all his sin, including the sin of persecuting His people.
Here’s what’s so critical for us to see about Paul: Paul no longer sees himself as damaged goods, as no use to God in the present. You don’t see him saying, “Oh I need to pay back God for what I’ve done.” No, he just forgets the past and runs to Jesus. And the good news is that you can do that too. So let’s follow Paul’s lead. Forget your failures and run toward Jesus. Let go of the baggage of past sin. Jesus has let it go. Maybe today’s the today you let it go. The good news here is this: You have a new purpose and your past no longer has to limit you. Jesus has forgiven you, maybe it’s time you forgive yourself, and run to Him.
But this is not just about forgetting past failures and sins. This is also includes forgetting your past accomplishments, your past victories. You see, too many Christians are ineffective today, because they are living in the past – they are rehashing their glory days with Jesus. “I used to share my faith all the time.” “I used to teach Sunday School.” “I remember that mission trip where we helped change so many lives.” Jesus didn’t call you to retire and relive your glory days, Jesus called you to make some new glory days with Him today. Your best days are yet tot come if you just forget the past and runt to Jesus. So let’s follow Paul’s lead. Let’s forget what’s behind and run the race to the finish line! That’s our next “how” and that is this:
“straining toward what is ahead” If you’ve ever run track, then you get the metaphor Paul is using here. Every good runner knows you can’t look over your shoulder, or you will get distracted, stumble or lose momentum. You have to forget what is behind so you can focus all your energy on the finish line… So the image Paul uses here is of the runner at the end of the race, totally focused, stretched out, giving it all to cross the finish line. It’s a picture of total resolve. I just finished reading a book about Steve Prefontaine, one of our countries greatest long distance runners, who died at the age of 25. Steve ran with this kind of determination and resolve. His goal was to run so hard at the end of a race that he would literally break those who were trying to catch him. There were two quotes that stood out from this book. One, was that he understood his God-given gift, and said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” But here’s the one that illustrates his resolve: “Somebody may beat me, but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.” Now that’s resolve. That’s what Paul’s talking about here. And what is the focus of Paul’s total resolve? I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Paul’s total resolve was to take hold of Jesus – to know Jesus. You see, Jesus took hold of you so you might take hold of Him – so you might know Him fully and in the process of knowing Him, you might become more and more like Him.
But again, Paul is making the point – this knowing doesn’t just happen. Knowing Jesus and becoming like Him takes effort. Make no mistake. Too many Christians think that just going to Church will help them become more like Jesus (and that does help). But what we see here is that knowing Jesus is like running to win a race. It takes training, it takes work and it takes resolve. That’s why Paul says, “This one thing I do.” He’s passionately pursuing a greater knowledge of Jesus with all the energy within him.
So Knowing Jesus takes resolve. Jesus called you to a relationship with him. And this relationship is not a one way street. It takes two to make a relationship work. Jesus has done his part: he’s sought you and found you. He’s taken hold of you. And now to take hold of Him, it takes passion, effort and resolve. “This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” What’s your one thing? If I were to ask people who know you well, what would they say? For Paul it was pursuing Jesus with all that was in him. Jesus took hold of him, and now he wanted to take hold of Jesus. This was his life’s calling. And because it was his life’s calling, Paul had peace and joy, and purpose – that’s why he could say so confidently: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”
Knowing Jesus takes desire – you’ve got to want to know Him who rescued you! Knowing Jesus takes resolve – you’ve got to make knowing Jesus your one thing! For when Jesus becomes your passion and your pursuit, then I can guarantee you, your faith will come alive – you’ll have joy, you’ll have meaning, you’ll have purpose and people will see the difference – for when he’s your passion Jesus will come alive in you. And if Jesus is alive in you, then you’ll just keep pursuing Him to the end. Why?
Because this is not only how Paul chased after Jesus, it’s how all who are mature in Christ run after Jesus. For them pursuing Jesus is a lifelong journey. Which leads me to the final thing Paul says about knowing Jesus, and that is this: Knowing Jesus takes perseverance He concludes by saying: Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:15-16
Christ followers hold true to Jesus. Christ followers hold true to the gospel. They rest on what Jesus has already attained for them – their righteousness, their salvation and their relationship with Jesus. They don’t stray from the gospel. They don’t add to the gospel. They rest in the goodness of God’s grace to them in Jesus, and they keep marveling in all God has done for them in Jesus. And then they just keep pressing on to know Jesus in all His majesty, all His mystery, all His beauty, all His goodness, grace mercy and truth… For those who are mature in Christ know that there is nothing greater than knowing Jesus. There is no one else who can satisfy like Jesus. There is no one else who can love like Jesus. And there is no one else that can hold onto you like Jesus. And so we will stay the course and follow Jesus all our days, knowing that someday our race will end, and on that day we will see Jesus face to face, and we will take hold of Him who first took hold of us.
You want to see your faith come alive? You want to become more than just a status quo Christian? You want to become more and more like Jesus? Then start chasing after Jesus with all your heart, soul and strenght! Let’s pray.