Text: Phil 3:17-4:1 (emph 3:18) 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. TITWOTL
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
“…and now tell you even with tears…”
That’s appropriate, isn’t it? Tears? After all, we’re in the season of Lent. And Lent is a season that’s often marked by tears. It’s a season of misery, a season of sorrow. During this season we sorrow over our sin. The law has done its job. We are conscious of our sin. And so we’re contrite and repentant.
Remember how the season of Lent started? With ashes? Dust you are, we said, and to dust you shall return. That was the curse of Adam and Eve’s first sin: death. And that curse gets passed down to all generations. And we acknowledge it, especially during Lent. We acknowledge that because of our sinful nature… we are nothing. We need rescue.
But Lent is not devoid of joy. For as we acknowledge our need for rescue, we come to realize that God has come to our rescue. He has sent Jesus to suffer and die in our place. He has sent Jesus to bring to us the forgiveness of our sins. He comes, in word and sacrament, with the forgiveness of our sins.
But even with the forgiveness of our sins, there’s still misery in the world. What are some things that continue to bring misery upon us? What are some of the things that continue to bring people to tears?
Here’s one: funerals. As I mentioned before our worship service began, I wasn’t here last week because I went to Billings, MT to attend the funeral of friend that I went to high school with… and maybe to help bring comfort to her grieving husband… who was pretty much my best friend back then.
Now I realize I’m getting older every day, but I still consider my age, the age of the people of my high school graduating class… to still be a pretty young age at which to die.
The gathering for her memorial service was a reunion… kind of like a class reunion… people who went to school together, who hadn’t seen each other for many years. But this was not your typical class reunion, because, what brought us together was death… the death of a friend. And so we cried. There were tears.
And when we consider what she died from… a rare form of cancer… that she struggled with and fought for over 9 years… we cried. There were tears.
So, the death of a loved one is reason to cry. And the sickness of a loved one is reason to cry as well. Maybe you’ve got a loved one who’s sick. Maybe they’ve got a cold… or a fever… or the flu… or COPD… or heart disease or cancer. Maybe they’ve had their leg broken or their hip… or their spine is deteriorating.
Those are things that bring people to tears. They bring people to tears because of the pain… the physical pain that they must endure… and the emotional pain that we must endure as we watch our loved one struggle.
And speaking of emotion, something else that brings tears to our eyes are broken relationships… relationships that were once happy and healthy, but that now have deteriorated, and become strained… and toxic… and ugly.
What else might bring someone to tears? How about trying to pay the monthly bills without enough money in the checking account? How about trying to put food on the table consistently… when consistently there’s just not enough money?
All these things (and others) bring tears to people’s eyes, despite the fact that we have the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. For some reason, forgiveness in Christ does not eliminate these problems.
But… does that mean there’s no connection? On the contrary. There is a connection. The problems we have to deal with day to day: death, sickness, injury, strained relationships, overdrawn bank accounts… and whatever else you can think of that might bring tears to your eyes… these are the result of living in a sin-infested world. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden eating the forbidden fruit. The results of that sin continue today. The curse of that sin continues today.
Earlier we talked about coming to contrition and repentance, sorrowing over our sin, and finding rescue in Christ and in the forgiveness of our sins, which He won for us in His suffering death on the cross, and in his resurrection from the dead.
Well, the fact is that the hope we have for the forgiveness of sins is also our hope for victory over the things that challenge us in our day to day lives. The cross of Jesus Christ brings to us the hope of everlasting life with God forever in heaven, and gives us confidence to trudge on boldly in this life regardless of the obstacles in our way.
But take a look once again in our text at what brings tears to St. Paul’s eyes: For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
This text is sad, and could bring us to tears, for two reasons: 1. These enemies of the cross of Christ will not be able to enjoy the benefits of the cross. They will not be able to enjoy eternity with God forever in heaven. In fact, as they continue in their unbelief, you can be sure that they will spend eternity apart from the love of God, and instead will have to endure the wrath of God forever in hell.
2. These enemies of the cross of Christ will try to draw others away from the cross, and try to make it so they won’t be able to enjoy those benefits either. The enemies of the cross of Christ will stop at nothing to drag down with them to perdition, anyone and everyone that they possibly can.
We see some examples of enemies of the cross of Christ in our other Scripture readings for today. In our OT lesson, the people Jeremiah was sent to prophesy to wanted to kill him. Why? Because they didn’t like what he had to say. Even though he had been sent by God, and was proclaiming to them the very Word of God… they didn’t like that word. And they decided they should kill the messenger. And what was the word they didn’t like? “Repent! Turn from your sinful ways!”
Jesus too, just before our Gospel lesson, talked about repenting. And then in our Gospel lesson, from Luke 13, talked about the negative reaction that Jeremiah and other prophets received. In verse 34 of Luke 13, Jesus says, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!
But Jesus (the prophet who was getting ready to go to Jerusalem and be killed) doesn’t just speak law here. He speaks Gospel too. How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
What a great picture that is: a mother hen protecting her children from the elements: rain, hail, heat, predators. And as I have the visual picture of a mother hen spreading out her wings to protect her brood, I can’t help but think of Jesus, spreading out his arms to be nailed to the cross.
But do you remember the next line of Luke 13:34? And you would not! In other words, you were not willing!
Now that’s sad. Protection readily available for those who need it. But those who need it are not willing… not willing to receive it.
Think about that illustration again… of a mother hen spreading out her wings to protect her brood, and rather than enjoying that protection, some of the brood run out from under that protection… run out from under their mother’s wings… right into the hands of the enemy. Right into the mouth of the enemy.
The Jews of Jesus’ day rejected the protection he offered. And the fact is that the religion of the Jews today rejects that protection, as they reject Christ as the Messiah.
And the same goes for the adherents of all false religions, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Seiks, Bahai, etc., etc., etc. We can look at all these people, who refuse the protection of Christ from sin, death, and the devil. And we can call them enemies of the cross.
But as we do that, let us do so as St. Paul did… with tears in our eyes. Let’s lament the fact that these people, no more sinful than we are, do not receive the benefits of the cross of Christ… because of their unbelief. How Jesus longs to gather them under the protection of his wings, under the protection of his cross… under the protection of the church… but they are not willing.
And as we lament their fate, and pray for them, and share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that, perhaps by the grace of God they will come to saving faith, perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we don’t also live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Look what Paul says marks those enemies: Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame… with minds set on earthly things.
Don’t we also have our minds, so often, set on earthly things? Don’t we so often become obsessed with the latest electronic gadget, the performance of our favorite sports team, the price of grain?
Don’t we so often become obsessed with how much money we have… as individuals… or even as a congregation? Fearing that we might lose our money… afraid… that God will not provide all that we need to support this body and life?
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, there is your hope, the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s there that Jesus suffered and died. It’s there that he took your sins upon himself. It’s there that he won for you the forgiveness of all of your sins.
And now, in the church, he provides for you the protection you need from the daily onslaught of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.
Here in the church he provides for you Baptism… where you return daily in contrition and repentance, drowning that old Adam with all his sins and evil lusts, so that a new man… a new self will emerge and arise.
Here in the church he provides for you the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ very body and blood for us Christians to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of our sins… and for the strengthening of our faith.
Here in the church, he provides for you his word; Proclaimed, preached, studied, learned… calling us to repentance, and proclaiming the good news of God’s protection for us… and the fact that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
May God grant, as he continues to provide for us protection in the cross of Jesus, and in His church, may God grant that we would continue to gather here often to receive that protection. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.