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I Want to Know Christ Forever

Date: Mar. 20, 2016

Author: Jimmy Mei

Philippians 3:1-14

Key Verse: Philippians 3:10

 “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

Good morning everyone! Welcome to our Sunday Worship Service at our 2016 Easter Bible Conference! It has been amazing Conference so far and I have been so incredibly humbled in so many ways. First, I just want to say that I am humbled to even to stand before you; I am underserving to be giving this message and to be serving alongside the other messengers, Jim Rarick, Steve Stasinos, and Bob Henkins. I mean, really? In that lineup of speakers, you want to insert me into that? We can do better than that, come on now. I am not a bible scholar; I don’t have a Master or Doctorate of Divinity and therefore, I will not speak to you as such. I speak only to what I know and to what I have observed during my walk with God and nothing more.

As I think about forever and how that compares to the amount of time that we have here on earth is just incomprehensible to me; it makes me feel insignificant, yet significant at the same time because God has chosen to call me, to call you, to call everyone of us to be here and to do his mission. “It feels like I haven’t seen you guys in forever.” We tend that use that word very liberally in daily life. Shepherd Jim gave us many examples as well (our food takes forever, my download takes forever) but things in this world just don’t last forever. We don’t mean it literally and it’s not the true meaning of ‘forever.’ As we’ve been struggling with this concept for our conference, I’ve realized just how limited my mind is and honestly, I’m a little scared of it. As we learned from our Symposium last night, ‘forever’ is not just a long a period of time; it is something never-ending, unchanging, eternal. God’s love endures forever; his kingdom will last forever. The crown of eternal life is forever. Jesus is the living bread that whoever eats, will live forever. Also Jesus is the same forever. He is not living bread in one millennium and then becomes stale bread in the next. Jesus and his love for us does not change, which honestly is the most comforting thing because after Shepherd Steve made us write that list on our sheet of paper yesterday, I was thinking, “Man, I’m glad Jesus won’t change his mind.” But how does knowing Jesus relate to any of this? Does it really last forever? Come. Let’s explore this together after a prayer.

Prayer: Lord, I pray for your Holy Spirit now to come upon us and give us your strength. Open our hearts to hear your words, to see how you change our lives, and to experience the power of the resurrection. Amen.

Part I: Let it go

“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!” Paul begins this passage in Philippians 3:1 by encouraging them to rejoice, reminding them to be on guard, and declaring that they serve God by the Spirit and boast only in Christ. Apparently, Paul had already told them these things before because it says that he is writing the same things to them again, but it is meant as a safeguard. What did Paul want to guard them from? I believe that it is that Paul wanted to remind them that despite all the progress that they had made as a church, the only way to keep it from falling apart and instead, continue to grow was to give all credit to God. Why was this important? Well, because in our sinful nature, people like to take credit and look good, hold on to our human achievements, and receive praise for our efforts. But what do these accolades mean in the context of forever? Well, according to Paul in verse 3b, nothing; as he puts it: “put no confidence in the flesh.”

Paul gives his personal testimony as to why you should not. Paul’s human resume was pristine: born into a respected tribe, circumcised at the right time, entered into the right career, persecuted those he was supposed to persecute, and upheld the law as to be faultless. Wow…. Faultless. Nobody here can say that. In my world, I would transpose that list into trust fund baby, perfect GPA, photographic memory, Ivy League grad, Fulbright scholar, Nobel prize winner, no criminal record (including no traffic tickets), and let’s throw in World Chess Champion for good measure. Suffice it to say that I’m nowhere near any of those. But Paul, despite this perfect life, considered it all loss for the sake of Christ. It was worth more to Paul to know Christ than anything else that he owned or had otherwise accomplished while in this world. And not even that it was worth less; it was garbage. Verses 7-9 say, “But whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Those are strong words and I think it is really difficult for anybody to accept this. I know it is hard for me to accept, especially as a young professional and Christian. On one hand, I do want to please God, to accept his will for my life, and to inherit eternal life. But on the other hand, I was raised to work hard, get a good education, and not break the law so that I could achieve the dream of having a career I enjoy, a beautiful estate to come home to, a big happy family, and go on vacation at least once a year, preferably during the cold Chicago winter. I try my best to balance my time so that I can have both. But alas, the question of the day IS, what about in the context of forever? Unless my eyes are deceiving me, Paul says very clearly, “I consider them garbage.” Will being a smarter doctor, having a bigger house, or publishing more papers give me eternal life? Can I take anything with me when I pass away? Can I do a great enough deed to get me into heaven? No, no, and no. So, what’s the point in working solely for treasures that do not last and saving up things that we cannot keep? Garbage is something we throw away and forget about.

Again, we remember Shepherd Jim’s message and Jesus’ words from Friday night in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” I am not suggesting that you should quit your job or quit school and become like John the Baptist to go live in the desert and subsist on locusts and honey. What I am saying is: do not love the things of this world; love God who is forever and want you to love things that last forever. I believe that God will always provide for you so that you can let it go: not only leaving your sinful life and desires behind, but also all your human accomplishments and dreams that you had for yourself and simply accept God’s vision for your life. Because I’m around students all the time, I see this worry and desire all the time: where am I going to go for college, for grad school, for residency, for fellowship, for work? We have our own dream school and our plan and vision for our lives, but living with worry about these uncertainties is so stressful and burdensome and people really suffer a lot. Even though these things that we worry about only last for a short time anyway. But remember, we cannot see forever and cannot see the best plan but God can and I believe he has the best plan and purpose for our lives, greater than we can ever imagine.  God wants to lead us down a path where we end up spending eternity with him; not just a few years at some distinguished institution. These temporary things are like garbage compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, which lasts forever. Our own plans and everything else is but a distraction from knowing this and seeking God and thus, must be let go.

Part II: A New Hope

Once you let something go, you must replace it with something else. Paul relinquished his old life and desire and replaced it with a desire to know Christ. Our key verse, verse 10 and continuing into verse 11, says “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." Again, why was this important to Paul? Because it is the only thing that lasts forever. The worldly goals that Paul chased after could not last forever; man’s praise does not last forever; nice possessions do not last forever. But the eternal life by definition does last forever and can only be achieved by knowing Christ. How then, can we know Christ? Paul lists two specific ways. First, to know the power of his resurrection and then, to participate in his sufferings. What is the power of Jesus’ resurrection? Well, literally, it means to ‘raise from the dead. As a pathologist, I am a witness of much death and am exposed daily to the temporary nature of human life. But you know what’s worse than working with dead bodies? It’s seeing people who are yes, physically very much alive, but are spiritually dead inside: those who have no hope or who place their hope in dead things. So what Paul is saying when he says he wants, “to know the power of his resurrection” is that he hopes to be alive, forever.

But in order to experience this resurrection power, one must be dead first. Yesterday, Shepherd Steve shared Jesus’ death on the cross. On it he died and took all our sins upon himself. He paid for our sins with his perfect blood so that we could be redeemed. That means all the sins you’ve already committed, all the sins you are committing now, and all the sins that you will ever commit and anyone will ever commit for all eternity has already been paid for. God had already given advance payment and forgiven you if you accept the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for you. But if Jesus just died and that was the end, it wouldn’t really be a victory, would it? It would mean that part of God had died forever, not coming back. If part of God can die and be defeated, who’s to say that the rest of God cannot be killed and defeated? But Jesus did not stay dead. Through his resurrection, he overcame the power of sin and death so that death could no longer hold on to him. Jesus promises that if we believe in him, we can experience his resurrection power as well. This means nothing will ever be strong enough to tear us away from God, nothing that Jesus can’t help you overcome, and nothing can take away your eternal life if you so choose to believe in Him. I want to read you something from Romans 6:4-9: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin  because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” When we know Christ, we get eternal life; we get forever.

As Jesus died, we must die too. That means I die to my old sins: everything from stealing candy at the grocery store (which one time, resulted in me getting a splinter of wood into my fingernail and I never did it ever again), to sins of lust and pornography, to ill-wishing and plots of vengeance on those who wronged me or betrayed me or falsely accused me, to self-glorification and pride in my own ability and accomplishments, and to sins of self-pity and self-righteous attitude. It means I give up living for myself, to living for my career, to living for my possessions and giving all those things to God. Old scars resulting from old sins can be healed. I was paralyzed by fear when I watched my parents fight, pots flying, lamps breaking, VCRs shattering, knives waving. But I came to know Christ and his everlasting unchanging love and those fears don’t weigh on me anymore. I felt powerless and felt like murderer when I watched my grandfather stroke out before me while we were wrestling around. But I came to know to Christ and his grace and he took that burden from me. I felt betrayed and broken when a previous girlfriend cheated on me. But I came to know Christ and his forgiveness and I could learn to forgive as well. Without knowing Christ, I would have drowned in my personal burdens and sorrows. But all these things are dead things and I let go of them. Then, I experienced a whole new world with a new purpose and a new peace and joy when God resurrects me into a new creation. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 says, “So, will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Again, I make no claim on being a bible scholar of any sort but this much I know: I was weak and dead and broken inside, but I am no longer. Whatever you are holding onto: whatever old sins, old sorrows, and old scars, give them to Christ, become like Christ in his death, so that you may experience his resurrection power. Today is the first day of spring: if God takes care to resurrect the flowers and trees in the field every year, imagine how much stronger his desire must be to resurrect you, whom he loves and created in his own image and whom he calls sons and daughters, children of God. And when he does resurrect you, he does it to perfection. We are raised from the dead to keep living the same sinful life, wallowing in the worry, suffering in sorrow, but we are raised in power and glory and into paradise (which, remember, is not a place, but company: that of Jesus Christ). That this is even possible despite our sins and our brokenness, that this is something that we can hope for; not merely that we remain alive but that we are made perfect: this is the resurrection power of Christ.

The second part of Paul’s wish was to participate in Christ’s sufferings. Only then can we die, understand Christ, experience some of the pain he went through on the cross, and truly know resurrection power.  This power that changes us, regardless what is going on around us. Let me just share with you what I mean and just how wonderfully God works sometimes. First, I realized God does not come at my convenience; he comes at his. In this year of residency, I have had to work for 18 hours and then have to come back in 6 hours. Both times in this year when my schedule was like that, I was asked to give a message (Thanksgiving and now, Easter). I had to struggle to make time to write my message and write it well while juggling all my responsibilities at work. Yet, I have to say, despite the exhaustion and late nights, I really enjoyed sitting by myself in the department, reflecting on God’s word, feeling a strange but discrete sense of joy and peace. Did my situation change? No, but I was so humbled by the words of God. I would remember how Christ agonized in prayer before his crucifixion, praying so hard, his sweat was like drops of blood; how he was led like a lamb to the slaughter willingly; how he held back when the crowds taunted him and spit on him and humiliated him. What I think about Christ’s suffering, what was my struggle? To write a message when I was tired? To stay up later so I could meditate on the words of life? I consider my struggle a gift, a calling, a blessing. And even in my small struggles, I came to understand and know Christ more: about what he did, what it meant, how he suffered and how in the end, no matter the hardships he endured, he was the victor and he had defeated the power of sin forever and he will live in the Kingdom of God forever and I with him.

And whenever I felt weak, whenever I felt tired, whenever I wanted to give up and say no, his words would come to me. In my struggles, he gave me resurrection power through his word. When we studied Jesus’ calling his disciples to go out on a mission 3 weeks ago, God send Bob to call me to do this message. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the promised Messiah two weeks ago, Jesus helped him overcome his doubt and it seemed like God was speaking to me to overcome doubt that I could or should really give this message. Last week, when I was tired and exhausted, God gave me Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” I don’t think you could have planned better passages to study for me leading up to this conference. What I’m trying to say is that when I struggled to meditate on Christ, I experienced Jesus’ resurrection power and I gained something that I could not lose.  To know Christ is to know eternity and to build up treasures in heaven is to invest in something that will never lose value and can never be taken away from you. This is the transformative power of knowing Christ; this is the resurrection power of Christ. In my participation in suffering and in dying to myself, I felt more alive. Because my hope was no longer in pleasing my attendings or hoping I have a light day at work or in making myself look good but my hope is in knowing Christ and in eternal life in the Kingdom of God. And just because I look forward to that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to my death so I can experience eternal life. It really starts now. It starts when we let go of our earthly hopes, when we deny ourselves and accept that our old lives were crucified with Christ. Then here on earth, we can already experience his resurrection power that endows me with a sense of peace and eternity I cannot fully understand. In this respect, I want to share Philippians 4:7 with you: “But the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I only desire to know Christ more, to know this everlasting peace, and to experience eternal life daily.

Coming back to Paul, after reading Acts and Romans, you would think that of all people, surely he’s suffered enough and already knows Christ well enough. And yet even with Paul’ credentials and the fact that he traveled around the world establishing God’s church here on earth, he says in verses 12-14, “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. 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.” In the first part, we saw Paul letting go of his old life; as Christ was crucified and died on the cross, so too, did Paul’s old life die. In doing so, he participated in Christ’s sufferings. But that is not the end, for Paul was called to a new purpose and new life, and in doing so, experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection into a whole new world. And yet, not even this is the end goal. Yes, Jesus took a hold of Paul’s life, but now Paul must take a hold of this new world for himself. He forgets what is behind; he doesn’t look back but he strains on ahead, toward the heavenward prize in Christ Jesus. As Paul continued to reach heavenward, we must also reach heavenward. Was Paul satisfied when he started that he started enough churches or that he had converted enough people? NO, he continued to do the work that God called him to do and in doing so, continued to share in Jesus’ sufferings and he continued to experience his resurrection power; all this in pursuit of knowing Christ. So too, we must not be satisfied with what we heard at this conference. Do not be satisfied that you wrote a testimony or that you stayed awake during this message or that you experienced some of Jesus’ resurrection power this weekend. I urge you to continue to die every day, to experience this resurrection power daily, and to reach heavenward. We must continue to struggle with God’s word, and continue to know Christ more as we share in his suffering in our lives. Continue, continue, continue. Why so much continuity? Because in forever, there is no end.

As I close, I just want to help you guys take a look at the big picture again. I’m sure you guys have all noticed the infinity symbol that we incorporated into the design of our theme for this year’s Easter Conference: Forever. Very clearly, you can see my replication of it next to it. Since we were using a mathematical symbol, I decided that we should have a mathematical title, so I summed up our key verse the best I could at the top here. Verse 10 says: “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”. The plus sign, which looks like a cross is placed in proximity to the word, Christ. But then you say, Jimmy, you got the line wrong because there shouldn’t be these two extra inclines at either end. Well, I thought it looked nicer with those inclines at the end, ok? But really, I saw it as another metaphor for Jesus. If you look closely, you see that it separates the 2 and the 4. What separates 2 and 4? The number 3. This represents the 3 days that Jesus died before he was resurrected on the third day. I also see it as a metaphor for our own lives: we are created here at the starting point. We grow throughout childhood and reach maturity and this plateau represents our lives here on earth before we are called heavenward to be with Christ. In regards to looking heavenward, I hope you also appreciated that as we progressed through the passage, the bubbles containing them were also ascending. Also you see that there are endpoints to these two phases. I was speaking with Dan and he made a good point last night: technically you can go either way. That means that if we put our hope in Christ, this is the closest that we ever get to hell. But if we put our hope in things of this world, then we go the other way later and our lives on earth become the closest that we ever get to Heaven. But if you do press on heavenward, there is no endpoint when we are with God. Speaking of no end, let’s return to the symbol that we started with in the first place: right now, you see an infinity sign, but when you turn rotate this 90 degrees, now we see the outline of an hourglass. As we all know, an hourglass contains sand, which trickles down from the superior to the inferior chamber and when the sand has finished its migration, your time is up. I like to think that Jesus turns this hourglass sideways for us; the sand can never finish its downward journey and our time never runs out. We get to be with Christ forever.

I just have one final comment before I leave you: did I put all motifs in there just for fun? Or was it there to test you guys to see if you were paying attention and picked up on any of those subtleties? Well, probably partly both but what I really wanted to get across that in the time frame of forever, God puts in events and people in our lives whose significance can direct us, that transform us, or is otherwise unbeknownst to us. But whatever it is, God can see it and God has a purpose for it even if we don’t know it yet. All I know is that my hope is in God, who is forever and that someday, I may be able to ask him to show me my “Big Picture” and how I fit into the plan. I hope you too may reflect on God, on your own big picture, where your hope lies: whether it is here on earth or it is to have eternal life through knowing Christ and his resurrection power and sufferings, and on ‘forever’-ness as we leave this place and return to our daily lives.

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