Living Christ

Sermon by David Robertson on March 2, 2014

Philippians 1:19-26

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It is my privilege to be here and to hear you guys as well.  I’m quite worried that you’re sitting behind me, so just be careful with those bows and things!  Alright?  But it’s great to be here with every single one of you.  I want to look at God’s Word at Philippians chapter 1 and we’re going to look at just a few verses there, verse 19 to 26.  It’s on page 980 of the pew Bible.  Philippians chapter 1 and verse 19:

 

“Yes and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

 

Let us pray.

 

Lord, this is Your Word.  It is inspired by Your Spirit.  It is the living and active Word of God.  It goes right into our very inmost being.  Help us not to treat it with disdain.  Help us not to be over familiar with it.  Help us, O Lord, to hear You speak to us.  Each of us comes with many burdens, many joys, many sorrows, many concerns, many sins, with bitterness and sadness and anger, with hurt and pain, with joy and happiness, with hope and confusion.  Lord, there are so many things that go on in our hearts and heads.  Help us that as we hear Your Word that we would know beyond all things that You are speaking to us.  And may we understand that what you say is ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

We have a common language, English, but we use it in different ways.  And I heard an expression this morning that you wouldn’t normally use in Scotland, that’s where I’m from. 

 

Not everyone who comes from Scotland is called David, not every minister.  My best friend is David Meredith, who has spoken here at Mission Conference, he’s a minister from Scotland.  You have David Strain, who is a minister from Scotland.  I’m David Roberston; I’m from Scotland.  So any of the young men here, if you’re called David, then watch out!  Marry a Scottish girl and we’ll let you into the ministry! 

 

But I did hear an expression this morning that said, “Thank you for bringing it home.”  I thought, “Okay, what does that mean?”  And then I worked it out.  And I wondered if any of you are ever honest enough to say to a preacher, “‘No, thank you’ for what you said” because sometimes what a preacher said can really, really hit home. 

 

I do hope that what we look at hits home.  I hope that God, it’s the Holy Spirit only, who can take and apply the Word, and I hope that’s what will happen. 

 

(I’m going to ask these guys to do me a favor because, excuse me, I’m not used to heat, I’m from Scotland, so this is like mid-summer for us.  I’m going to leave this [sportcoat] here; I’m going to ask you to guard it, okay?  Just make sure that none of these young ladies walk off with it.  What was your name?  Nice to meet you and you play that thing really well!  You’ll understand why I said “that thing” because my knowledge of musical instruments is somewhat limited.  What is it?  A viola, okay that’s great.  Well you do; you play it really well.)

 

A Question of Purpose, Hope, and Christ

 

Let’s turn then to God’s Word and let’s look at what this has to do with us.  And I want to begin by just asking you a simple question.  Why are you here?  I don’t mean, “Why are you here on this earth?”  I mean, why are you here in this church tonight?  Because some of you are here because you always come.  And some of you are here because, I don’t know, maybe your children are playing in the orchestra.  And some of you are here because you just wanted to.  You don’t know; something drew you.  Well, I believe that you are here, and I say this, and for those of you who are not of a Calvinistic disposition you’re going to go, “Oh no, not a sermon on predestination,” but I believe you are here because God predestined you to be here; God chose you to be here and God wants you to hear this.  I have no idea who most of you are.  I have no idea what your circumstances are, but I believe that God is so great that He can take the billion different things all happening at once around us and so order them that they’re for your good, each of you as individuals, and us collectively as a group. 

 

I also want to ask you another question.  Have a look at your body.  Some of us don’t like to look at our bodies.  Some do, rather sadly.  There are some people who, there are some people who will stand in the mirror in the morning and they’ll go – there used to be this program called “Happy Days” and the Fonz would, you know, he’d go and just put his comb back and he’d go, “Ah, perfect.  I don’t need to do anything more with my hair.”  Well there are some of you who, you know, you get up in the morning and you look at the abs and all that kind of stuff and you go, “Yeah, I’m there.”  Some of us don’t have that confidence, for good reason.  Paul, in this passage, is thinking about his body a lot.  It’s not unchristian to think about your body.  In verse 20, in verse 22, and verse 24.  Why is he thinking about his body?  Because he’s writing this in prison and his body has been beaten and he’s probably chained as he is dictating this to the scribe.  His body had gone through a lot. 

 

The late, great, Christopher Hitchens, atheist, in his last book wrote some of the most chilling words I’ve ever heard.  He said, “I do not have a body.  I am a body.”  You think about what that actually means in practice.  We know that that is not the case.  We have bodies and our bodies are a very important part of who we are, but there is so much more.  And that’s what Paul is looking at.

 

 So I’m going to look at three things because that is the law of the Medes and the Persians and all true preachers will say, “I have three points because don’t you see the Bible was divided in that way?”  Well it wasn’t, but we tend to go like that.  I’m going to look at three things to do with joy.  I’m going to look first of all at joyful hope, joyful freedom, and then joyful service because the Christian life is to be one of joy.

 

I. Joyful Hope

 

Verses 19 and 20 then – “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”  Hope.  What is your hope?  Because we can have lots and lots of different hopes.  Now we need to be very careful here because the Bible uses the word “hope” in a way that we do not use it.  If I hope to be flying back to Scotland tomorrow but I’ve got to fly through Winterland, otherwise known as New York and Washington, so I’m not 100% convinced we will make it.  I hope to do that.  I hope that my football team, that is, my soccer team, are going to win the league.  I hope that when I get home that the speeding fine I expect for having gone maybe a little bit too fast will not turn up.  There are lots of hopes that people have.  

 

The Bible does not use hope in that way.  It uses hope in this way.  It uses it in the sense of confidence, almost the very opposite of what we use.  I am confident that.  It’s the mentality of someone who really believes all things work together for the good of those who love God.  And here’s what Paul is confident for, and it’s really quite incredible.  He is confident that what has happened to him will work out for his deliverance.  He is in prison in Rome.  Not look where he’s writing.  He’s writing to Philippi.  What happened when Paul was in prison in Philippi?  The prison walls fell down, there was an earthquake, and he escaped.  But here, he’s talking about his hope, his confidence not being that he would escape from prison but his confidence that he would be able to, that this salvation would be made complete.  “That this will turn out for my deliverance, turn out for my salvation.” 

 

Hope, for God is bringing All Things to Completion

Now salvation is a very, very rich concept and we have cheapened it because some of you will be saying, “Well wait a minute.  I was saved then, and I was saved at this particular time, and that was a long, long time ago.”  The Bible uses the idea of salvation yes, as a past event for us, but something that’s present and also something that will still happen.  It means saved from the penalty, from the power, from the presence, and from the pleasure of sin.  “The Lord will rescue me,” says Paul, “from every evil attack, and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.  To him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.”  We are, as he says in chapter 2 verse 12, “to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  And what that means is that we believe that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and He will save us in everything.  I think that Paul is perhaps reflecting on Job’s experiences.  He’s thinking, perhaps, there were people in Philippi, can you believe this, who were preaching the Gospel.  And why were they preaching it?  They were preaching it to get Paul is trouble, or rather people in Rome who were preaching.  They were going out, maybe on the streets, and preaching in order to get Paul into trouble.  Maybe he is comparing them with Job’s comforters and he says, “It doesn’t matter.  What has happened to me will turn out for my salvation.”  Back in chapter 1 and verse 6 he says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” 

 

If you are a Christian, you must have this confidence that God is going to bring to absolute completion what He started in you.  We used to have this quiz in Britain on the television called “Mastermind.”  And you would be asked certain questions and Magnus Magnusson would sit there and a buzzer would go to say the end of the time and he would say, “I’ve started, so I’ll finish.”  What God starts, He always finishes.  God begins, God completes, God purposes to finish His work within us.  And I love this.  God is never late, never early, never in a hurry.  He is always on time.  There is an astonishing verse in Psalm 139 that says this.  “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  God knows exactly when your time is.  You don’t; He knows and He never makes mistakes.  Paul has this joyful hope that was God has begun God will complete.  He has this joyful hope because of the Holy Spirit.  He says, “Because of your prayers that were given for me, the help given by the Spirit – I know through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”  It’s a generous provision and it’s an undergirding strength.  The help is supply.  It’s full, sufficient supply.  It’s not just that God is in charge of the external circumstances of our lives, but also that God’s Spirit is within us. 

 

Hope and the Centrality of Prayer in the Christian Life

Now you’ll notice the importance of prayer in all of this.  The Spirit is supplied in answer to prayer.  Chapter 1 verses 3 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you, all making my prayer with joy.”

 

 (Do any of you guys have iPhones or anything like that?  Smartphones?  No, you do, as well as a viola!  Whoa, you are richly blessed!  Okay you’ve got an iPhone, a Smartphone.  The rest of you don’t have Smartphones? Boy your parents are strict!  Great!  Good!  Never get a Smartphone because they make you dumb!) 

 

But a lot of us have Smartphones and they are great inventions; it’s a great thing for us to have.  And I have one and I’ve just discovered something.  I used to write down prayer things all the time.  My problem is, I’d write down prayer things to remember and then I’d forget where I’d put them. So on my Smartphone, someone’s developed this wee prayer app which is great.  I put down people’s names and it reminds me to pray for them. 

 

By the way, that’s a great way for you to remember people’s names.  This is a big church and lots of people and you don’t know a lot of the people.  Why not tonight, when we finish the service, speak to someone you don’t know, and take a risk and say, “Are you new here?” and they’ll go, “I’ve been coming here for fifty years.”  And you’ll say, “Isn’t that amazing?  So have I!  How have we never met?”  And then you take each other’s names and you write them down and you pray for one another.  I guarantee you, if you pray for the people you meet you’ll remember their names.

 

 Well Paul didn’t have a Smartphone, but he knows that the Philippians were praying for him.  And they were praying, “Father, send Your Spirit to help him.”  Ephesians 6:19 – “Pray also for me that whenever I open my mouth words may be given me so that I’ll fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel.”  Here is a simple challenge for everyone here who professes to be a Christian.  It’s a question that only you can answer and I’m not going to ask you to stand up and give the answer.  Just be honest with yourself.  How often do you pray for the spiritual growth of your Christian brothers and sisters?  When your neighbor is the hospital with cancer you’ll pray for them, I hope.  But how often do you pray for your pastor of pastors?  How often do you pray for your elders?  How often do you pray for Christians in other places?  Do you pray for their spiritual well-being and for their being filled with the Holy Spirit?

 

So Paul had this prayer and he had this expectation.  On the basis of this confidence, on the basis of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of prayer, he now turns to his own actions.  He eagerly expects.  Incidentally I should ask for this.  Please do pray for the nation of Scotland.  When you pray for a nation you learn a lot about it.  I use a book called Operation World and I pray through that and I’ve learned lots of things about different countries.  And again, I’d say to the boys and girls, you can get a copy of that that’s kind of a children’s or a younger person’s version and it’s great.  You remember names of capitals.  A great way to learn geography is to pray for different countries.  But please do pray for Scotland.  We are going through an enormous change at this moment in time.  We’re going to have a vote this year on whether to be independent and those of you, I’m amazed how many people in the South still go to me, “You’re from Scotland!  I was watching “Braveheart” the other day!”  Well, “Freedom!” and all that kind of stuff, but pray for what happens with that, but pray for the church because the church is in a state of considerable flux.  There are things that are happening that are really horrendous and there are things that are happening that are really great.  Pray for us that God would renew and revive the church on Scotland.

 

I’ve been a minister – I know you’ll find this hard to believe, given we’re speaking about our bodies, my young body and young mind and all that kind of stuff – but I’ve been a minister for twenty-eight years and I’ve never seen people so open to the Gospel.  It really is quite astonishing but also the work is spiritually very difficult.  And I have just one simple request.  Some of you prayed when I was really ill, some of you prayed for my healing – I’m so grateful for that.  I would rather you prayed I would be filled with the Holy Spirit because that’s what we need and that’s what Paul was looking for.

 

Hope and Eager Expectation in the Christian Life

Now he says he “eagerly expects.”  It’s kind of like he’s got an outstretched head.  He’s on tiptoe.  He’s looking for something.  Sometimes our body language in church says a lot about us, doesn’t it, that we kind of – sometimes I look out, I’m not saying you folks, but sometimes I look out and there are people there and it’s almost, their arms are folded, they’re sitting back in the pew or the chair or whatever and it’s like they’re saying, “Go on, I dare you.  Keep me awake.”  They’re not really expecting all that much.  Or they’re sitting on their phone saying, “No, no, no, I am reading the Bible.  I’m not playing ‘Angry Birds’” and you wonder what they’re actually doing!  But then sometimes something happens in a church. We have Sinclair Ferguson preaching with us at the moment in our congregation and he preached a sermon last Sunday night which was absolutely stunning.  And I found myself, I was kind of sitting back and then I was taking notes, and then I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat.  And Will Traub, who is a missionary from here, and again I thank you for the support for our missionaries, Will said to me afterwards, he said, “You know that was so great I almost stood up and said, ‘Hallelujah!’ and then I remembered I was a Presbyterian!”  So you know that revival is really, really – I’ll tell you, this is how you know revival will have come.  It’s when the Presbyterians stand up and say, “Hallelujah!” and the charismatics sit down! 

 

There’s an expectation that he has. He’s reaching out.  He’s focused. He’s concentrating.  And what does he expect?  This is an astonishing statement.  Look what he says.  “I pray, my hope is, that Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”  What does he mean by that?  He means that Christ might be seen by others more clearly and in His true greatness.  Like the palace guard, Paul says, “I ask you to pray for me that when the guards are looking at me, when the guards are beating me, I will so exalt Christ that He will be honored among these men who are doing this.”  That he will not be ashamed but speak with boldness and courage.  It’s almost literally like he’s saying, “That Christ would be enlarged in my body, Christ would be magnified, Christ would be made great, Christ would be conspicuous.”  One man translates it this way.  “My body shall be the theatre in which Christ is displayed.”

 

You see, when the guys who go to the gym and who like to show off their six-pack; some of us have a sixty-pack!  They like to show off their six-pack and all that – what’s their body for?  It’s for them!  It’s for their glorification.  I don’t know how this translates; maybe you use the same word.  We talk about such people as being posers.  They’re just posing.  But what Paul is concerned with is that his body would be used to glorify Jesus Christ, that his hands would be used to glorify Jesus Christ, that his lips would be used, that every part of his body would be used to glorify Jesus Christ.  That’s his hope, a joyful hope.  You really are set free when you can rejoice that your body is being used to glorify God.

 

II. Joyful Freedom

 

Joyful freedom – verses 21 to 24. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  What is the glorious freedom of the children of God?  It is this.  Please listen to these words.  Hebrews 2:14 and 15 – “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  I remember a young girl coming to me and saying, “Sometimes at night I wake up and start crying I’m so scared of dying.”  Do you know the stupid thing to say to that girl?  “Don’t be scared; it’s not a problem.”  It’s a big problem.  It’s a big problem.  And I can tell that some of you are here as adults and you don’t want to think about dying.  It’s really uncomfortable.  Obviously as a minister I’ve buried a lot of people, and in the Highlands of Scotland where I had my first charge it was the practice to have a wake.  Somebody would die and then three or four days before the funeral people would always be coming to the house bringing multiple bags of tea, that is, so they could make real, hot, tea.

And people would come and sit in the house and so on.  And it was actually quite difficult for the family – if your husband had died for the widow to sit there and all these people coming in to sympathize, having tea and cake and biscuits or whatever.  And what always struck me about that is that you would do this, you would do this period of mourning, you would have the funeral and after the funeral you would go around to the house and invariably you would hear, “It’s good to get back to normal.  It’s good to get back to real life.”  That felt so unreal.

 

Do you see what’s wrong with that?  At that moment in time they were never in more reality than when faced with death.  The unreality is when you’re sitting watching that screen and you think that’s for real.  The unreality is when you ignore the fact that you are mortal.  And we are afraid.  We are very, very afraid of dying.  I don’t like flying; I hate flying, so I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I made by coming here!  I really do.  And I’m fine as long as it’s going along quite smoothly and I don’t think about it and I can watch a film, read a book, or whatever.  But the minute there’s any slight bump, and I mean a slight bump, I’m going, “Oh, we’re doomed!  We’re doomed!”  You don’t want to be sitting beside me!  I really do hate it.  I’ll tell you this.  If you’ve ever had really severe turbulence, if you’ve ever been in one of those planes that suddenly went, “whoosh,” like that, everyone wakes up to the reality that they are mortal.

 

Paul recognizes that and he says, “But we are free.”  William Grimshaw said this – that he pledged as a young man, “to think of his own death every day of his life.”  Maybe that’s a bit drastic for you.  Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky is my favorite, favorite writer, faced a firing squad and he survived.  That’s why his novels have such depth.  He understands.  Imagine facing a firing squad and surviving.  Paul talks about death as departing to be with Christ. 

 

Departing to be with Christ

The Lord of the Rings, just great, great, great films, and for me none more so than at the end of the last one.  I’m mentioning the films because if you’ve tried reading the books a lot of you just give up before you get past, like, page 20 and there’s like 1500 to go.  But the book is brilliant as well.  But if you’ve seen the film you see at the very end the image they have of the ship, sailing to the west lands.  And it’s a great Biblical picture because the word that Paul uses here for “depart” is of the ship weighing anchor.  It’s of the oxen being released from the plow.  It’s of the prisoner being set free from prison.  It’s Paul as the tent maker saying, “You’re packing up your tent and you’re going home.”  He’s saying, “Camp life is what we have just now.  At death it’s exchanged for home life with Christ. We know,” he says, 2 Corinthians 5:1, “that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”  I stand and I look at the mirror and I say, “This body is going to fade.  This body is going to rot.  But this is an earthly tent and God is going to give a new body.”

 

I was, as I said, so impressed with meeting, I said this morning, with meeting Joni Eareckson Tada.  And you know the hardness of not being able to get up and dress yourself, the hardness of being so paralyzed, I think she’s got a great ministry and we in the church should support that and encourage, particularly amongst those who are handicapped.  And I think of a friend of mine who, at seventeen years old, had muscular dystrophy and was told that he would die by the time he was nineteen.  He lived until he was twenty-one.  We took him everywhere in a wheelchair.  And one time he sat down, well, he always sat down, but he said to me, “David, please, please, please don’t pity me.”  And I said, “Okay, well why not?”  And he said, “Because I know I’m dying, but so are you.”  And he said, “When I go to heaven,” he said, “I will have a new body.”  And so will you because the bodies that we have will fade.  Isn’t it incredibly how we spend, as Douglass Copeland says, “our youth making money and our old age spending it to try to be young in our bodies.”  Our bodies will fade but there’s something more for us.  We’ve been set free from fear.

 

Death and Ultimate Reality

Paul says he’s in a win-win situation – “to die is gain; to life is Christ.”  Gaining Christ is the Christian’s progressive experience of sanctification.  What it means is, we are growing in confidence, we are growing in freedom.  There were a group of rebels in China in the 19th century known as The Boxer Rebels.  They believed that after a hundred days training in the martial arts they would become immune to bullets and after three hundred they would be able to fly.  Well none of them were able to get to the flying bit because they thought they were immune to bullets and they died.  It was a false confidence.  The Christian doesn’t have that.  The Christian has a real confidence.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, before he died, wrote down, “This is the end, for me, the beginning of life.”  All the uncertainties and dangers lie behind.  The Shorter Catechism puts it beautifully, “The bodies of men after death return to dust and see corruption, but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them” and they’ll be reunited with their bodies with new bodies.  Now that’s very theological the way we would put that.  I think the best way I’ve ever heard it being put is C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle, to my mind, one of the greatest books ever written – the last of the Narnia tales: 

 

“Aslan turned to them and said, ‘You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.’ Lucy said, ‘We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan, and you’ve sent us back into our own world so often.’  ‘No fear of that,’ said Aslan.  ‘Have you not guessed?’  Their hearts leapt and a wild hope rose within them.  ‘There was,’ said Aslan, softly, ‘a real railway accident.  Your father and mother and all of you are, as you used to call it in the Shadowlands, dead.  The term is over; the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended; this is the morning.’”

 

You understand that where you are just now and what you are just now is not the ultimate reality.  Compared with what is to come it is a dream.  I was, as I said, I was ill, seriously ill.  I was in a coma, in and out.  I had all kinds of illusions and fantasies, some of them I don’t want to remember but I wrote them down apparently, so I will to the rest of my days have a piece of paper on which I wrote when I was in the hospital – “I want to see Justin Bieber.”  I have no idea why!  Please don’t despise me for that!  And then I thought I was the King of Norway.  I thought lots of different things, really thought lots and lots of different things.  And when you wake up, when you’ve come out of a coma – “What’s real?  What’s not real?”  And sometimes in this life we feel like that.  Listen to what Paul is saying.  Listen to what God is telling us.  That this life is fantastic, this life is great, and we rejoice in it, but it’s only the beginning. It’s not a triumphalist view of death, by the way.  We still mourn, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope.  John Piper says this.  “When the future grace of in Christ takes hold of you, it frees you from fear and gives courage to live the most radical, self-sacrificing life of love.”  Because you’re on the Titanic and it’s going down and you’re willing to give up your place on that boat because you know where you’re going as a believer.

 

III. Joyful Service

 

And that’s why it leads to the third thing – joyful service.  Verses 25 to 26 – “Convinced of this, I know remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.”  What’s the choice?  Is it dying and going and being with Christ or is it a miserable life on earth?  That’s not the choice.  Life means to have a real life, a true life, worthy of the name, to be in full vigor, to be fresh and strong and powerful and active. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever believes in Me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  It means great fruitfulness.  It means being able to stay and to serve. Paul has the pressure of two good things – I want to go home; I want to stay and serve.  And he thinks he will be staying because he wants to see their progress.  He wants to see their growth and joy.  He wants them to know Jesus better and it’s necessary for him to stay to help them in that.  It’s a commitment to the church and the Lord’s people which makes our feeble efforts pale into significance.  Where did you get the idea that the church was here to serve you?  Where did you get the idea that this was a kind of spiritual Wal-Mart that you pick and choose where you go?  That there’s lots and lots of different churches in Jackson and so you can decide, you take the huff because the preacher says something or someone doesn’t say “Hello” to you or something doesn’t happen and you go off somewhere else.  And you can spend your whole life going around different churches and because of the internet you can pick and mix that way as well. Where did you as a Christian get that idea?  The church is not the institution and the organization and the pastor or the ritual, however grand it is.  The church is the people of God and you are called to serve them as your family. And anyone who’s got a family know it costs and knows that families are really, really messy. 

 

And Paul says, “I am so glad that I’m not going to die and be with Jesus because I get to stay and serve you people.”  And some of us are miserable in our Christian lives because we’re going, “They’re not serving me!”  We’re like the person standing in the queue at the restaurant or the fast food or McDonald’s or whatever and saying, “Come on, it’s my turn now!  I’ve been standing here!  I’ve got my chip or whatever it is!”  And Paul says, “I’m just so happy that I’m able to be here and to serve.”  I wonder if you love the Lord’s people so much that you’re willing to postpone any of your pleasures in order to serve them.  That’s a real charrette.  We are selfish people.  Listen, I’m not talking about you; I’m talking about me.  I am a selfish person.  I’ll only ever be delivered from that when I get to glory, but I hope that God is preparing me for it now.  But it’s incredible how self-centered and self-obsessed we are.  I want to have this attitude that Paul had that said, “Lord, I don’t want to die yet, not because there’s 101 things that I personally want to do or be involved in or experiences I want to have.  I don’t want to die yet because I want to stay and to serve and to help your people.” 

 

We also need to know, I think, how Christ will be most exalted in my life.  As I said, we are very privileged in St. Peter’s to have Sinclair Ferguson working with us.  You know, you talk about a brass neck.  Sinclair was visiting us and I said to him, “Sinclair, how’d you like to come and be my assistant,” which is like, just really stupid.  It’s like the kid on the soccer team saying to Lionel Messi, “Hey, you want to come and play with me?”  Well, Sinclair has come and it’s just wonderful having him with us.  And please do pray for his ministry with us.  But he, in talking about this, I heard him say this.  “You’ve got two columns in your life.  This is a good way to assess it.  What are my natural desires, preferences, and instincts in this situation?”  You’re faced with a particular situation.  “What are my natural desires, preferences, and instincts in this situation?”  And then you also ask, “What responsibilities do I have in terms of my home and family, my role in my church, stewardship of my gifts, experience in the past?” 

 

“Fading is the Worldling’s Pleasure…”

Geoffrey Bull, missionary to China, when he was in prison wrote this.  “How is it that so many saints down the ages have been able to live in triumph behind bars?  It is because they have discovered the secret of freedom.  It is the conscious cooperation with the living God in the fulfillment of the pure design for which He made us.”  Do you know this?  I’m sorry that I said that Joni Eareckson Tada is handicapped.  I don’t think she’s handicapped at all.  In fact, I wish I had her freedom.  And I really, really mean that.  There are people here who are very, very able bodied and you are very handicapped; you are very limited. You are crippled by your disobedience and by your sin and by your fears and your unbelief.  You’ll be set free when you can say, as Paul said, “Life – Christ.  Death – gain.”  The secret of living and dying well is down to the dynamics of our relationship with Christ.  F. B. Meyer said this, “Christ is the essence of our life, the model of our life, the aim of our life, the solace of our life, and the reward of our life.”  Because let me put it the other way.  If you say, “For me to live is money, to die is to leave it all behind; for me to live is fame, to die is to be forgotten.  For me to live is power, to die is to lose it all; for me to live is things, to die is to go empty handed” – you won’t take a single item from your home or from your car when you die.

 

I’ll quote the good Scottish poet, Rabbie Burns in “Tam O’Shanter” – “Pleasures are like poppies spread, you seize the flower, its blossom shed; or like the snow falls in the river, a moment white-then melts forever.”  See, if you’re not a Christian here then I have a suspicion that part of the reason you’re not a Christian is you’re thinking, “I would like to be a Christian just before I die, just to be sure, but meanwhile being a Christian here on earth is so miserable, I’d rather have a good time first and then become a Christian.”  Let me tell you this, those good times that you live for, Burns got it absolutely right – “The snow that falls in the river, a moment white-then melts forever.”  The Christian, on the other hand, has troubles and difficulties and pains and sorrows that are like the snow that falls in the river.  They’re gone and they’re left with an eternal glory.  And I want to ask you just very simply if you’re not a Christian, “Why not?  What keeps you away?  Do you think, do you really think that you’re not going to die?  Do you think that that’s it?  You are.  You are going to die and you are going to stand before God and He’s going to say, “I sent you to that church to hear that message and you shut your ears.  You went away and you started watching basketball or you started thinking about nationals or something.  You put it away.  Don’t put it away.”  Christ says, “I’m here.  I’m here for you so that you need not be afraid.” 

 

“…Solid Joys and Lasting Treasure…”

And Christian listen to this, John 11:23 and with this I am finishing, “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’  Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection of the last day.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’”  Do you believe this?  Don’t talk as a Christian about dying as though it was the end.  If you believe in Jesus you already have eternal life.  You can’t die!  You can’t die!  Your body can go; you can’t die!  That’s an extraordinary thing.  That’s an incredible thing.  That is a wonderful thing.  Everything that’s happening now is a preparation for what is to come, but what is to come is not something that’s in the far away that you hope you’re going to get. It’s something that you’ve already got.  And that’s why you can have this confidence, and that’s why you can be joyful, and that’s why one of the most joyful things you will ever be at is the funeral of a believer who lived for Jesus and you are there and you weep with sorrow because you miss them but you weep with joy because they are truly, truly fulfilled.  And it has begun.  Everything else that’s going to happen to you in this week is trivial in comparison with that.  Please listen to what is being said.

 

I, you know for myself, because of the illness that I had, sometimes I really feel death.  And I was really scared and frightened of death before.  I have to say that maybe God had to put me through that experience in order to change something that was maybe wrong in my life.  But I understand people who feel like that.  I’m not saying the fear has completely and totally gone, but I’ll tell you this, it has certainly changed.  It has enormously changed.  I trust absolutely what Jesus says, that He is the resurrection and the life.  One day I will go to sleep and I won’t wake up except in glory and it will be incredible.  I hope that you have that confidence and I hope that you have the desire for other people to have that confidence and I hope that you realize if you’re a Christian you’ve been given salvation not so that you can be selfish but so that you can share.  And I hope that your confidence is that Christ will be exalted in your body.  Amen, may God bless His Word.  Let’s pray.

 

Lord, thank You.  Thank You that You came into this world to die for us that we might have life.  Grant that each of us would know that and grant, O God, that we would commit ourselves, we would give ourselves to You.  Lord, may it be that there would be those here tonight who would turn to You.  And I pray that if there is anyone who is thinking, “Yeah, maybe.  I’ll think about it another time,” that You won’t let them rest until they come to You.  And I pray for those of us who are Your people who are confused and hurt and wounded and sometimes we’re just so scared.  Lord, help us to have our hope and confidence in You.  No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck us from Your hand.  You’ve saved us.  It’s not that You’re giving us eternal life in the future; You’ve given it to us now.  We who believe, even though we die, we never die.  Lord, help us to feel that, to know that, and to live with the confidence of those who walk hand in hand with Christ, for we ask it in Your name.  Amen.

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