Lent 2c

Preached: February 28, 2010

Stand Firm With Your Fellow Citizens
Philippians 3:17-4:1

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit shows us what Jesus and his cross have prepared for us is Philippians 3:17 -- 4:1

Be co-imitators of me, brothers, and watch those who walk in the same way as you have us as a pattern. For many -- about whom I have often been telling you and now also as I weep am telling you -- many are walking as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their god is their belly and their glory is their shame. They only think of earthly things. Our homeland belongs in heaven from where as well we eagerly are waiting the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body according to his working by which he's able to also place all things under himself. Therefore, brothers, my beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved. (Philippians 3:17-4:1)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

When their country is attacked, citizens rally to stand together against a common foe. Think of the surge of patriotism after Pearl Harbor was bombed or when the hijacked planes destroyed the Twin Towers. On the other hand, when the wisdom or legitimacy of a war comes into doubt or when the danger from the enemy isn't so great, then voices question the country's leadership. The nation as a whole does not stand firmly together. We've seen that as well in our national history. As far as earthly countries and earthly wars go, there's always some doubt. For sinful, error-prone human beings lead earthly countries and make the decisions for war or peace.

But dear Christians, we are engaged in a much greater war. The Apostle describes this war in Ephesians 6: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV). In today's text he describes our opponents in this war as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 NIV). And our country, our homeland, is not the United States of America. It's not any of the other lands that our ancestors emigrated from. Our country, our homeland, is heaven. That's where are citizenship is.

So, dear Christians, stand firm with your fellow citizens whose citizenship is in heaven. Stand firm imitating those who, like Paul, are allies of the cross of Christ. Stand firm anticipating your true country.

A. Imitating those who, like Paul, are allies of the cross of Christ

1. Describe Paul's attitude toward his fellow Christians and toward Christ.

As Paul urges the Philippian Christians to stand firm, notice how he addresses them: “My brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . . dear friends!” (Philippians 4:1 NIV). He cares for them deeply as he urges them to “stand firm in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1 NIV).

Yes, dear friends, stand firm by imitating those who, like Paul, are allies of the cross of Christ. Imitate their love for Christ and their deep affection for those who follow Christ's cross. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17 NIV), the Apostle Paul writes. This isn't Paul saying, “Look at me! See how great I am. Too bad you're not more like me.” Such arrogance couldn't exist with the love and long Paul had for the Philippian Christians. It wouldn't call them his joy and his crown. Paul did not glory in himself. He gloried in what God had done in the hearts of the Philippians, that's what gladded him and that's what he counted as important. They were his joy and his crown.

He explains this joy at the beginning of the letter, when he writes, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:4-6 NIV). Paul's joy was focused on the work Jesus was accomplishing in the hearts of the Philippians.

For you see, Paul's treasure, his riches, his crown, all centered in Jesus and in what Jesus had done on the cross to make sinners right with God. A few sentences before today's text he writes, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a lose compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9). The righteousness that comes from the cross of Christ -- that was his real treasure.

2. Why do we need the righteousness that comes form Christ?

What an example for us to imitate! How we fall short! Am I really willing to throw away all that I have and count my favorite things as rubbish? Am I willing to sit under imprisonment, as Paul was at this time? Am I truly willing to suffer these things and worse for the sake of the cross of Christ? Soul-searching questions for each of us. And as we look into our frail, weak hearts that are so apt to hold on to the things of this world and be minded of earthly things -- how much we need a righteousness from outside ourselves! How much we need the righteousness that comes from Christ and his cross. For our own righteousness fails miserably. We cringe at even the thought of the agony our fellow Christians have suffered under the world hatred: the slanders, the beatings, the torturous deaths. How shallow our love for the cross is! We need the righteousness that's not from our own doings but from Christ. How precious his cross! For there you see Jesus become our unrighteousness so that his righteousness counts for you.

3. Why is it so important to be on our guard against the enemies of the cross of Christ?

How wicked those who replace that righteousness from Christ! They are truly enemies of the cross of Christ. They may talk about Jesus. But instead of pointing us to what Jesus has done to save us, instead of point to his righteousness that counts for us, instead of the cross of Christ, they point us somewhere else. Maybe they'll point us to trying our best or doing our duty. Maybe they'll point us or to figuring out our purpose or to how to be better people or friendlier people or successful people or happy people. How terrible those things are when they replace the cross of Christ!

That's what makes this warfare so deceptive. That's why we need to imitate our allies in the cross of Christ who have gone before us, like Paul. For the enemies of the cross will point us at so many things that can be lovely and good, like trying our best, until that replaces the cross of Christ. Then we're trusting in our best rather than in Christ. Then like those enemies, our end as well would be destruction. For nothing but Christ's cross can make us right before God.

Beware of those enemies. Don't take them lightly. Don't dismiss these things as a difference of opinion or a variety of interpretation. Paul repeatedly warned the Philippians about the danger. He is so earnest, so fervent about this warning that tears fill his eyes. Are we anymore secure than the Philippians? Are we that much stronger that we don't need the warning? Aren't these words recorded for you and me to take to heart? Listen again to the warning, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18, 19 NIV).

Against such an enemy stand firm, dear friends. Stand firm with your fellows citizens, your allies of the cross of Christ. Imitate them.

B. Anticipating our true country

1. Why do we long for heaven?

Stand firm, for like them, you too are a citizen of heaven through faith in Jesus. So anticipate your true country, your homeland, your fatherland.

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20, 21 NIV).

Soldiers long to be back home, back with their loved ones. As citizens of heaven standing firm against the enemies of the cross, we too long to be home, home with the one who loved us most of all, our Savior. “We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NIV).

Yes, he is coming. He is coming in his triumphant glory with his holy angels. He is coming to take you home, home to be in his glorious presence. He is the One we long for, fervently anticipating, eagerly awaiting. You just expressed your love and longing for him as you sang, “Heaven itself were void and bare If you, Lord, were not near me” (“Lord, You I love with All My heart,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 343:1).

2. What will our bodies be like?

Yet often soldiers return home wounded or maimed. Some return in flag-draped caskets. But not so our entry into our true country, dear Christians! For you see, Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21 NIV). This lowly, sin-corrupted, perishable, mortal body of mine will be transformed. And so will yours. The pains, the sufferings, the fears, the heartaches, the sorrows, all the tears of this life and its toils -- gone. Not even death itself can rob you of your citizenship. For no matter how changed and decayed our bodies become, no matter into how many thousands of specks of dust and ashes it disintegrates, Jesus, when he returns, will raise your body for you and glorify it like unto his glorious body.

For you see, he has “the power that enables him to bring everything under his control” (Philippians 3:21 NIV). He has conquered death. For he has risen from the grave in victory and triumph. “Jesus lives! The victory's won! Death no longer can appall me. Jesus live! Death's reign is done! From the grave Christ will recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence: This shall be my confidence” (“Jesus Lives! The Victory's Won,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 145:1)

So stand firm, dear Christians. Stand firm in the faith with your fellow citizens of heaven. Stand firm in the cross of Christ. Don't forfeit your heavenly citizenship by listening to the enemies of the cross of Christ. Imitate your allies. Imitate them by looking alone to Christ and his cross for your complete righteousness. And remember your true country. Anticipate it. Yes, dear friends, stand firm with your fellow citizens as you sing: “Oh, sweet and blessed country, The home of God's elect! Oh, sweet and blessed country That eager hearts expect! I know not, oh, I know not What joys await us there, What radiancy of glory, What bliss beyond compare” (“Jerusalem the Golden,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, 214:4,1). Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313