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Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Highest Joy of Knowing Christ

Pastor Shim's sermon on February 27, 2011

“Knowledge is the eye of desire and can become the pilot of the soul” - Will Duran
In 1972, John Sung boarded a ship from the US bound for Shanghai. He had been in the States for more than 7 years, earning three degrees in that time, including a PhD. As the ship neared its destination, Sung threw all his diplomas, medals, and fraternity keys overboard, keeping only his doctorate diploma to show his father. He had received Jesus Christ and was determined that for the rest of his life he would live only for what counted for eternity.” Many older Christians still living in East and South Asia came to know Christ through the ministry of John Sung, who has been called China’s Billy Graham for his evangelistic work. His actions demonstrated what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:7, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” - C. P. Hia
Paul met Jesus on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9), and the direction of his life was completely changed from the destroyer of the church to a coworker with Christ. Paul told us about his new goals and purpose of life in Philippians 3:1-11. Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi about three issues of life: about rejoicing in the Lord; about counting loss and gain, indoor to focus on Jesus; and about following his example of joy. Paul wrote to the Philippians to avoid the false preachers by remembering to rejoice in the Lord, the source of life. “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”
Why the safeguard? Because when we lose our focus and joy we become dissatisfied and open to be misled. Paul learned in his own journey to focus on the joy that was in Christ, in order to stand against false teachers. Why did Paul warn the Philippi church with such harsh words (dogs)? He didn’t want his beloved friends to be deceived by false teachers. Here, Paul spoke about some teachers who were insisting that to become a Christian, circumcision was necessary. According to Acts 15 it was decided by the leaders of the Jerusalem church that it was not a requirement for gentile Christians to keep the Jewish customs or the laws. We, too, have to watch out for those who try to make Christianity a religion based own human efforts instead of faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8). Why did Paul remind the Philippians about true worship? Because putting confidence in human effort is a substitution to what Christ did for us on the cross. To try to add to what Christ did is to negate what God has approved. Christ plus nothing is the way of salvation, according the Bible. In Christ we are freed from the bondage of sin and human effort to be saved. Paul spent all his time trying to earn God’s righteousness by his own effort until Christ set him free. Paul wrote about his efforts and achievements to earn God’s righteousness in Philippians 3:4-7. Paul’s achievements were very impressive by any standard. He was a Pharisee, a circumcised full-blooded Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, zealously persecuting those who he thought were circumventing the laws. But he gave up what he was counting on when he was offered a better deal by Jesus Christ. He took a risk with Christ because he, found the irresistible treasure as in the parable in Matthew13: 45-46. Paul realized that Jesus gave His life to save him, and Paul in turn surrendered his life to serve his master in gratitude for freeing him from all his sin and guilt for persecuting and destroying the church. Paul’s personal encounter on the Road to Damascus proved Jesus Christ was the Messiah and alive. Only a fool would dispute the effect of firsthand knowledge of pardon.
A man committed adultery with his friend’s wife. The guilt and shame became unbearable. He decided to find his friend to confess and beg forgiveness. When they met, he couldn’t stop crying in front of the betrayed man. He didn’t know what to expect. But the betrayed man got out of his chair, came around behind the desk, and put his arms around the friend who had sinned. The two men wept for a long time. The remorseful man concluded: "He could have killed me, but instead he did for me what nobody else had ever done in all my life. He graced me. He affirmed me, and it changed my life."
There is something of the righteousness of God in that story. He never gives any of us what we deserve. He takes our grubby failures and sins, and he weeps and then forgives and remembers them no more. His
great love and his unmerited favor do what our deeds and accomplishments can never do. No wonder it is called "amazing grace!" - Roger Lovett
Paul counted his loss and gain. Did he end up with more loss or more gain? Paul counted his great achievements and compared them with the gain he received in Christ and his conclusion, in his own words, “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. 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.
Paul exchanged his effort of seeking God’s approval and acceptance for Christ’s righteousness offered to everyone who comes to God by faith in Christ. Paul understood the grace and the love of god that made his salvation possible, and his gratitude is evident. “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-21).
The force of Christ’s love melts the hardest hearts. Robert S .Rayburn relates, “I read a book by Marc Mailloux, Discovery on the Katmandu Trail. This is the book in which he relates his early life and his coming to faith in Christ. In the 1970s, Marc Mailloux was the quintessential American hippy. He traveled the world, beginning in Europe and making his way to Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and then on to the Orient looking for the meaning of life. He rebelled against the values of his American Roman Catholic parents. He became a Christian through an unexpected encounter with an Indian Christian, a young man by the name of Jacob who handed Marc a copy of the Gospel of John while Marc was sitting on the banks of the Ganges in Benares in March of 1973. Up to this time Marc was happy to think that Jesus was a god, but only in the sense of a Hindu avatar, one of the many incarnations of the ultimately impersonal cosmic force at the center of reality. He sat there by the Ganges that afternoon and read the Gospel from beginning to end, and the challenge of the gospel confronted him: Christ was claiming to be no one else than the one living and true God, the creator of heaven and earth. And what is more, Jesus claimed to be the Lamb of God Who alone could take away the sin of the world.
“Jacob came to visit him at his hostel the next day and immediately asked Marc what he thought of what he had read. The question had the effect of a cold shower. He finally understood the personal implications of the words of He who claims to be ‘the way, the truth, and the life,’ without Whom no man comes to the Father (John 14:6). If this was really true, and he doubted that it might be, then he had to start acting on what Jesus said. There were no more places for hiding in the cloudy obscurity of drug-induced euphoria which had become less and less euphoric. Jacob suggested they kneel and pray together. ‘Oh no, not that!’ Marc thought. ‘Anything but that!’ For somehow the idea of kneeling down and praying seemed worse than death itself. What if someone saw him? What humiliation! Certainly he was not the type to kneel and pray.
“Consequently, it was through a superhuman effort that he slunk down to his knees on the side of the bed, a simple gesture to some, but by far the most difficult thing that he’d ever done. It involved swallowing his spiritual pride and admitting that, between him and God there was no spiritual ‘unity’ as his oriental mysticism taught, but only the deepest ontological abyss between the infinite Creator and the woefully finite creature. The second difficulty was asking forgiveness for his sins against the Holy, Personal God whose very nature abhorred sin. It was this double humiliation, ontological and moral, which made the simple act of kneeling the supreme effort for the proud rebellious sinner that he was. Yet, his hour had come. With trembling knees, his heart in his throat and a half skeptical mind, he knelt down with Jacob and thus lowered himself enough to pass through the waist high door of Paradise. Experiences like that make missionaries. It made Paul a missionary and it made Marc Mailloux one as well. Anyone who has met Jesus Christ knows it as surely as he knows anything at all. The encounter with the genuine makes the fake altogether clear.”
Or, as Jesus said in John 8: 32, 36. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, so if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”
Pastor Shim Habte (530-934-3190)
Willows United Methodist Church
544 N. Shasta St., Willows, CA 95988
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