St Barnabas and St Michael’s, 28th November 2010
Reading – Philippians 3:1-11
A few months ago my wife and I went to the Antiques Roadshow that was being filmed in Dartmouth and we took along some bits and pieces to be valued. As we half expected, we didn’t really have anything of great worth, and I’m certainly not in a position to retire just yet! But it was worth going nonetheless, to watch the experts at work, to hear their professional opinion and find out how exactly they came to their final valuation. Because we all want to know what something’s worth, don’t we? Is it a priceless antique or a worthless piece of junk, something you can buy on the high street or a true original? After all, if you know something’s valuable it changes the way you treat it. You might put your crockery from Wilkinson’s through the dishwasher, but hopefully not your best Wedgewood porcelain. Or you might put your umbrella in a pot from Ikea, but presumably not in a valuable Ming vase.
The only question is, how much is something actually worth?
By way of a bit of fun, I have some objects up on the screen, and I want you to guess what price was paid for them.
The first one is a rare postage stamp from 1906 that was recently sold in the Channel Islands. Does anyone have an idea how much was paid for it?
The next is the world’s most expensive production car, the Bugatti Veyron. If you wanted to go out and buy this particular car, how much would you have to fork out?
Now here’s an item that recently hit the news. It’s a Chinese vase that a brother and sister found when clearing out their parents’ house. Can anyone tell me what it sold for?
Here’s a person, rather than a thing. Does anyone recognise the footballer – it’s Christiano Ronaldo. Does anyone know how much Real Madrid paid Manchester United for his services in 2009?
Now in a few weeks’ time we shall be celebrating once again the birth of Jesus Christ. I am not going to ask you how much this picture is worth, but I do want you to think about the fact Jesus took on flesh and lived among us. How much, I wonder, is that worth to you? There’s the story of a little boy who went to church with his father. As the father came out he began grumbling about the service and he went on to complain about virtually everything that happened that morning. For a while, the boy listened patiently, then he turned to his father and said, “Well, what do you expect when you only put £1 in the collection plate?”
There was of course a time when Paul considered the Christian faith worthless, a cheap and nasty imitation of true religion. That’s why he was so desperate to stamp it out. He saw it as a threat to the true Jewish way of life which as far as he was concerned was the only way to God. And so he went round arresting men and women who followed this strange new teaching, had them interrogated and if necessary executed.
But all that changed when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road. For at that point Paul suddenly realised Jesus was not a rebellious carpenter who had quite rightly been executed for heresy. Jesus was the risen, ascended Lord who could give him the peace and the forgiveness he had spent his whole life looking for. And this completely changed the way he looked at life. If you asked the old Paul what were the most important things in his life, he would said his education, his religious training, his family history. But now as we heard in our reading this morning he considered them all rubbish. For him there was only one thing that mattered – knowing Jesus. There could be no more valuable or precious thing in his life than that. And if that meant giving up his security, if that meant giving up family and friendships, if that meant being treated as an outcast then so be it. Verses 7-8: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss 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.
In a little while we’ll sing knowing you Jesus, there is no greater thing but I wonder, how far is that true for your life, for my life? When it comes to deciding my priorities in life, what really counts? Having enough money in the bank, or getting the best possible job, or being able to retire early, or actually knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour? What at the end of the day wins out?
Maybe to answer this question properly we need to examine what we mean when we talk about knowing Jesus. Because I am just so aware that as Christians we often talk in a sort of code language and we use special words and phrases which we think we know what we mean and which we think others know what we mean. But in point of fact, I think many find it hard to imagine what it means to know Jesus. After all, you can’t have a face to face chat with Jesus. You can’t send Him an e-mail or poke Him on Facebook. We might sing: What a friend we have in Jesus but Jesus clearly isn’t like any other kind of friend we might happen to have. So what do we mean when we talk about knowing Jesus?
The first thing to say right away is that you can only know Jesus when you ask Him into your heart as your Lord and Saviour. Yes, you may have learnt all about Jesus at Sunday School or at church. Yes, you may have studied RE at school. Yes, you may have even read the Bible all the way through. But unless you come before Jesus believing that He died on the cross for your sins, and ask Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit, you will never know His presence and His power in your life. At the end of the day, there is only one way to meet the risen Lord Jesus and that it is to put your faith and trust in Him. And if that isn’t a step you have taken yet, or something you want to find out more about, then, please, please speak to me after the service. Because if you do not know Jesus in this way, then you are missing out on the most valuable treasure you can ever hope to have.
But knowing Jesus is more than simply taking one step of commitment at one single point in your life. When I was about 6 or 7, I had a friend in primary school called, I think, Robert McKenzie. He emigrated to Canada and I have heard nothing of him since. Does this then mean that I know this chap Robert? Of course not. I do not know what he looks like, where he lives, even if he is still alive. I only have a vague memory of saying goodbye, and I can’t actually recall anything about him. Yet there are some people who think they are Christians because maybe thirty, forty years ago they said “Yes” to Jesus but haven’t really done anything about their faith since. That, my friends, is not the same as knowing Jesus. To know Jesus, as my wife reminded us last week, is to have a relationship with Jesus. To spend time on a regular basis reading our Bibles, praying, meeting with others for worship. Otherwise there is a danger our faith becomes a matter of living off memories, of looking back to a time when perhaps we were once close to Jesus.
Of course you may well say, “That’s all very well. But I just don’t have time to read my Bible each day or come to church regularly”. Well, I accept that we all face many pressures in our busy lives, but doesn’t it come back to this question of treasure? If there is really no greater thing than knowing Jesus, if like Paul we consider all things rubbish in comparison to Him, then surely the desire of our heart will be to spend as much time with Jesus as we can. Jesus said in John 7:37: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. And I believe that verse challenges all of to ask what it is we really long and thirst for. Is our relationship with Jesus at the centre of our lives or is it, when push comes to shove, in point of fact only an optional extra? That’s a question I think all of us need to know how to answer.
Knowing Jesus is about accepting Him as Lord and Saviour. It’s about having a living relationship with Him. But even more than that, it’s about letting Jesus shape and mould our lives.
Let’s go back for a moment to that picture of Ronaldo. There comes a time when every boy decides that they want to be like the very best footballer of the day. They want to score goals like him. They want to play for his team. They want to find out more about his personal life. They may even want his haircut. Just to show how old I am, I can tell you I used to keep a scrapbook of my favourite footballers when I was about 10 or 11. But of course it’s not just boys who do this sort of thing. Girls too like to follow actresses or film stars or pop idols. And even if they never have the chance to meet them, they want in some small way be like them, and copy their example.
Well, for Paul there was only person that was worth following and that of course was Jesus. But Paul didn’t simply want to follow Jesus from afar, to look at Him as some kind of distant example he might possibly be able to copy. He wanted the risen Lord Jesus living in Him to actually change him from the inside out, so that He became more and more like Jesus. It wasn’t so much a case of getting a haircut or being part of Jesus’ team, as getting a new heart alive with the life of Christ.
Is that, I wonder, your desire? Paul writes in verse 10: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. And it would be good for all of us this morning to think if this truly what we want. Of course I expect none of us have any problem wanting the resurrection power of Jesus in our life. We all want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, healing, renewing and drawing us closer to God, and let’s be clear – Jesus longs to fill us with this blessing. But are we prepared to sign up to this business of sharing in Jesus’ sufferings? Because this too is what it means to know Jesus. Not just to see the cross as an example of God’s love for us, or the place where Jesus died for our sins. But to see the cross as the template for own lives, that we too should be willing to give up everything for the sake of others, that we should walk in perfect obedience to our Heavenly Father no matter the cost.
The apostle John writes in his first letter, in chapter 3, verse 16. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. For this in the end is the ultimate proof that we know Jesus. Not simply that we go round telling others the difference Jesus has made in our life, or that we spend a certain amount of time in prayer and worship, but that we actually lead a different kind of life which reflects the difference Jesus has made to us. After all, no-one values a cheap Christianity that comes with no real cost. But when other people see ordinary men and women willing to go the extra mile, willing to serve others selflessly and humbly, then they begin to glimpse that actually all this stuff about Jesus dying and rising again is something infinitely valuable, infinitely precious, and maybe, just maybe, in the mercy of God they start to want the good news of Jesus Christ for themselves.
Now I guess this morning I haven’t said anything particularly startling or difficult about knowing Jesus. Most of us, I am sure, recognise that we know Jesus by inviting Him into our heart – and as I’ve already said, if you don’t know this, please speak to me afterwards. We also recognise that our relationship with Jesus grows by spending time with Him in prayer and worship. And we recognise that we are called to live a life which reflects the greatness of His mercy to us. The only trouble is, in the busyness and the rush of each day, we tend to lose our focus. Other things seem more important, unexpected events crop up, or we simply get tired and somehow lose our spiritual energy and drive.
That’s why, finally, I want to connect this theme of knowing Jesus to Advent. Because the season of Advent reminds us that one day this Jesus will return and as we read in chapter of Philippians every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him as Lord. And if like Paul we are properly aware of this fact then we will realise there is nothing more important and more urgent than being ready when Jesus comes. As Paul writes in verses 10 and 11: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Because for Paul nothing mattered more than being ready to meet Jesus when He returns. That was His goal, His prize, His passion. What about us? In a world where postage stamps sell for £400k and cars for £1m and vases for £43m, what value do we place on our relationship with Jesus? Is it really true for you, for me, knowing Jesus, there is no greater thing?