The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached on Easter, 2022*
Sermon Audio: The Power of His Resurrection (Phil 3:10-11)
Let me tell you an unlikely story.
“Flight Sergeant [Nicholas] Alkemade, the tail gunner on a British Lancaster bomber, found himself in a literally tight spot when his plane was hit by enemy flak and quickly filled with smoke and flames. Tail gunners on Lancasters couldn’t wear parachutes because the space in which they operated was too confined, and by the time Alkemade managed to haul himself out of his turret and reach for his parachute, he found it was on fire and beyond salvation. He decided to leap from the plane anyway rather than perish horribly in flames, so he hauled open a hatch and tumbled out into the night.
He was three miles above the ground and falling at 120 miles per how: It was very quiet,” Alkemade recalled years later, “the only sound being the drumming of aircraft engines in the distance, and no sensation of falling at all. I felt suspended in space.” Rather to his surprise, he found himself to be strangely composed and at peace. He was sorry to die, of course, but accepted it philosophically, as something that happened to airmen sometimes. The experience was so surreal and dreamy that Alkemade was never certain afterward whether he lost consciousness, but he was certainly jerked back to reality when crashed through the branches of some lofty pine trees and landed with a resounding thud in a snowbank, in a sitting position. He had somehow lost both his boots, and had a sore knee and some minor abrasions, but otherwise was quite unharmed.” Even more amazing, after this incident Alkemade experienced three other near-death experiences, though less dramatic than falling from an airplane. Alkemade cheated death till he died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 64 in 1987. (Bill Bryson, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, p. 192-93).
Now, how do you know that story is true? It seems so fantastic that one wonders, could that really have happened? But through eyewitness testimony, Alkemade’s own testimony, historical records and evidence, we can reliably trust the truthfulness of the story—as fantastic as it may seem. Unlikely? Sure. Untrue? Not at all. Now let me tell you another, more unlikely story.
Two thousand years ago the small nation of Israel had been so diminished that for the last 400-500 hundred years they had been brutally mastered by the most powerful empires in the world, with the most recent overlord being Rome. The Jews at that time believed, according to their sacred Scriptures and traditions, that their God would send a great deliverer, an anointed one who would deliver them from Rome’s oppression. This deliverer would be a mighty general, a forceful king, and a powerful ruler—one who would slay the Roman overlords and establish peace. Many would-be-messiahs arose at this time and attempted to lead violent rebellions, all of which were quickly and mercilessly put down by Rome. And onto that scene arose a young Jewish peasant who furtively and quietly insinuated that He was this long-awaited for Messiah, but made it clear that what had become the popular conception of what the Messiah would be and do was mistaken. And that was evident from His entire life—He failed to fit the mold.
He came from a poor family, held no political office, wrote no books, and ministered for only three short years. His own family thought him to be out of his mind, the religious teachers thought him a heretic, and the majority of those drawn to his message were the bottom rung of society—the poor, sick, and unsavory. He preached a message of love and forgiveness, rebuked those who sought violent revolution, and called both Jew and Gentile to repent of their sin. He was quickly executed, publicly shamed as a common criminal, and his small band of followers (one of whom had already betrayed him) denied any association with him, and scattered in fear. This man was no messiah, just another pretender quickly silenced by the brute force of Rome.
And yet, amazingly, three days later the tiny band of disciples begin to proclaim that this Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified was indeed the Messiah! All of the earliest historical documents we have demonstrate that the confidence of the earliest followers of Jesus skyrocket after his death. So confident that Jesus is the Messiah, that all of the apostles, and scores and scores of the earliest Christians are willing to die for it. One New Testament scholar comments: “We are forced to postulate something which will account for the fact that a group of first-century Jews, who had cherished messianic hopes and centered them on Jesus of Nazareth, claimed after his death that he really was the Messiah despite the crushing evidence to the contrary” (N.T. Wright, Resurrection, 562).
They became convinced of the resurrection. They believed that Jesus did not remain dead, but three days later arose and conquered death, conquered sin, and then ascended to the right hand of the Father. And this confidence fuels the rag-tag group of early disciples to take the message of Christianity and spread it throughout the Roman empire. Today, in our text we will hear from a man who was so certain that Jesus was an imposter and Christianity false that he was systematically killing Christians. And yet, he eventually becomes Christianity’s greatest advocate, risking his life to extend this gospel throughout the known world. What happened? Paul encountered a resurrected Christ who changed his story. Unlikely? Sure. Untrue? Not at all.
We will read verses 8-11 of Philippians 3, but we will be focusing exclusively on verses 10-11:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Phil 3:8-11
Let’s look at three things we learn from this text: knowing Christ, knowing his resurrection, knowing his suffering.
“that I may know him” (Phil 3:10a)
Why is Paul willing to suffer the loss of all things? Why does he abandon any hope of finding a righteousness in himself and turns to the righteousness that comes from faith? Because he wants to know Christ. What comes to your mind when you think what Christianity is about? A way to give hope to those who are suffering? A method of transmitting morals? A means to alleviate a guilty conscience? We live in a world that is dominated by technology, and so we are fascinated with technique. We want six easy steps to lose weight, manage stress, become a better parent or spouse. And because of that, we can mistakenly assume that Christianity is fundamentally a technique for life, a way to enhance or manage our lives.
But here, Paul shows that the aim of Christianity is not fundamentally a technique, but a person. It is to know Christ. In many other world religions, if the founder of the religion proved to be a work of fiction, it would matter little. If Buddha or Zoroaster or Mohammed or Joseph Smith never existed but were fabricated by a group of people (not something I am claiming, of course, just a thought experiment), then the religion could still function pretty well. This is because each of these individuals pointed to the way. Jesus, however, says I am the way (John 14:6). The aim of Christianity is not merely to provide a path towards an improved life or even to an afterlife (though it does)—the aim is that we may know a person, Jesus Christ.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple,” (Ps 27:4).
And how do we know him? The two ways that Paul teaches we come to know Christ is (1) through his resurrection and (2) through his sufferings.
The Power of His Resurrection
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection”
What happened at the resurrection? In our family devotions with my boys I have been explaining to them that Jesus could have remained in heaven or come to earth and just chosen not to die, but He chose to lay down his life and die so that we wouldn’t have to die, and my 3-year-old has just started to wrap his mind around that. He knows that if Jesus didn’t die, we would have to die for our own sins. But this weekend I was explaining to him what we were celebrating with Easter, how Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again and is alive! And my 3-year-old, very dismayed, said: Oh no, if he isn’t dead does that mean we have to die now?
That’s actually a pretty good question. If on Good Friday we celebrate that Jesus’ death on the cross took our place, why didn’t Jesus stay dead? Why the resurrection? The resurrection is so crucial to the Christian faith that Paul elsewhere can admit: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,” (1 Cor 15:17). The resurrection does many things: it validates Jesus’ claims of who He was; He was not a mere prophet, but God in the flesh. Had He remained dead, we would be left unsure. It also serves as a model for our own resurrection which we will partake in one day. But consider this:
In the Apostles Creed, there is a line that explains that after Jesus’ death on the cross he “descended into Hell.” What does this mean? It means that in His death on the cross all of the punishment and judgment and condemnation that was reserved for Christ’s sheep was funneled into Him. He drank the cup of Hell’s judgment for us. Now, consider what it would have meant had Jesus remained dead? Had he “descended to Hades” but remained there? Well, then that might mean that death and Hell had proven to be stronger than Christ, that He had to remain there as a servant to peter out the rest of eternity suffering in perpetuity. But Christ, being the eternal and infinite Son of God was capable of providing the whole payment of sin so sufficiently that in three short days, He simply walked out of the grave. Listen to what the apostle Peter says of Christ’s resurrection:
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” – Acts 2:24
It was not possible for Jesus to be held by the pangs of death. Is there anything stronger than death? No matter how brilliant, how disciplined, how accomplished any human being is—once the night of death steals over them, they are utterly powerless to do anything about it. But not Christ. As the great hymn Awake, My Heart, With Gladness puts it:
He rends death’s iron chain;
he breaks through sin and pain.
He shatters hell’s dark thrall;
I follow Him through all.
Death’s iron chain is spider-web-thin to Jesus; He shears the gates of hell right off their hinges, and overcomes the grave. The wages of sin is death, but He paid the debt in full, so death no longer binds Him. This is why the Bible describes the work of Christ as not merely atoning for our sins, but also as a victory of the powers of darkness–Jesus “destroys the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14) and “disarms” the demonic forces and puts them to “open shame” (Col 2:15). Jesus walks up to the most terrifying forces in the cosmos and publicly humiliates them through his death and resurrection.
And now, Paul says, he wants to know that power. And of course that power is what gives Paul the future hope that one day he too shall experience the resurrection from the dead, as verse 11 shows us. The resurrection of our bodies is ultimately an end-times event, it is something that happens at great conclusion of history. And if we have put our faith in Christ, at the last day we too shall rise just as Christ rose from the dead.
Paul assumes that the resurrection of Jesus serves as a kind of source of power that he can experience or appropriate now. Paul tells the Colossians that they were “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead,” (Col 2:12). The future inheritance that we have in the resurrection at the last day is something that we can experience here and now.
We saw something similar to this in our scripture reading earlier from the book of Ephesians where Paul prays that we may know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (Eph 1:19-20). God wants to give us a power and strength—and what does that look like? The power that rose Jesus from the dead and installed him in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
Paul is saying that the reality of the resurrection is not only a historical fact that we need to know in the way we may know that George Washington was our first president or that we know that earth orbits the sun. It is rather a knowledge of experience. There are two ways that you can learn that honey is sweet—you can read about it or have someone tell you that it is sweet, or you can put a spoonful of honey in your mouth. Paul here reveals something of his heart: he longs to know Christ more, and to do so, he knows that he needs to experience the power of the resurrection.
There is a power at work in the people that is beyond their own doing. There is a strength and energy given to God’s people that do not come from God’s people, but are communicated to us by God. We saw this clearly in Phil 2:13 where we were told that “God is at work within you.” Consider this astounding promise: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work,” (2 Cor 9:8). God is able to work so powerfully and sufficiently in you that you will be prepared for all things, so that you may “abound” in every good work! What a stunning promise! What would change in your life today if you believed that was true?
So, tomorrow morning you wake up and swing your feet out of bed and sit there. What’s your first thought? “Man, I’m tired.” And you begin to think through what needs to happen that day: “I need to get ready for work; I need to get the kids ready; I need to start on the project the wife wants me to do; I have that deadline coming up at work; I am going to need to go apologize to that person for how I lost my temper the other day; I feel guilty because of that temptation I caved into; I should be a better spouse; I should be a better parent; I should be doing more to volunteer at church; I should be getting to know my neighbors better because I am supposed to be sharing the gospel with them; I should be managing my schedule better,” and on and on it goes and before you even leave the bed, you feel just utterly overwhelmed. Why? Because you are looking out at what God is requiring of you and then looking within at the pitiful resources you possess and think: I just don’t have what it takes. Of course you don’t! The way you overcome that isn’t by just continuing to stretch yourself as much as you can, but it is to stop looking within yourself for strength and to start looking up! Look up to Him who desires to supply you with the strength, the patience, the joy, the love you need to fulfill His commands.
He longs to grant you the power of the resurrection, if you will but look up.
A man was needing to cross a frozen lake, but was uncertain of how thick the ice was. So, afraid he might fall through, he got down on hands and knees and began to slowly crawl across the ice, just waiting to hear a crack, terrified he would plunge into the icy water below. And as he was shuffling along, he heard a noise over his shoulder. It was a great sleigh pulled by a team of horses coming along, zooming right past the man who was shuffling along. See, the man driving the sleigh knew something that the man crawling didn’t know–he knew that the ice was thick. Friend, how much of your joy and life is stolen from you because you are looking ahead, looking within, and are terrified that you do not have what it takes? Ah friend! Look up! God is supplying you with the same power which rose Christ from the dead! He is working to resurrect your dead heart and give strength, supply power, give peace. Do not fret over your own poverty, look to His abundant riches, and then move forward with confidence. Trust that His promise is reliable, step forward onto the ice and know that He will bear you up.
Knowing His Sufferings
How is a Christian to know Christ through his sufferings?
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil 3:10-11).
The Christian life is a life fueled by resurrection power, so it is a triumphant life, but it is not an easy life. It is a life marked by sin, by struggle, and by suffering. Paul explains that his desire is to know Christ through participating in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. This doesn’t mean that Paul’s death (or ours) is a payment for sins, like Jesus’ was. Rather, we follow Jesus’ model of becoming a servant, denying ourselves, and loving others. This was Paul’s point earlier in Philippians 2 where he used Jesus’ suffering as a model for the Christian life: just as Christ didn’t consider His own dignity and priorities as more important than others, so too do we consider the needs of others more important than our own. And that’s hard.
The main idea that Paul likely has in mind here, however, is suffering that comes from the opposition of others. Jesus explains, ““If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you,” (John 15:18-20). It is part and parcel of the Christian life to experience persecution and opposition. Paul assumes that for us to walk the path of Christ, we shall be hated and opposed just as Jesus was.
But, unlike Christ, you and I have sin that dwells in our hearts. So our suffering doesn’t only come from outer opposition, but internal opposition as well. We must choose to not only be willing to suffer and die at the hands of others, but more importantly friends, we must choose to let our old selves die, to let our sins die. And that is a fight. You can sense that in Paul’s language at the very end of verse 11 there, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil 3:11). The “by any means possible” isn’t there to communicate uncertainty, as if Paul isn’t sure he is going to make it or not, but is there to communicate his own humility as he acknowledges how difficult the struggle is in making it to the finish line. But consider what Paul tells us in Phil 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Paul’s confidence in the resurrection does not make him naively assume that his life is going to be easy or filled with only victory. He knows his own weakness and sinfulness, he knows how hard it is to face temptation. But what keeps him going forward? Christ has made me his own! He knows that he belongs to Christ, knows that His salvation is sure and secure, so he presses on! As do you and I. We press on, not under any delusion that we are perfect or have arrived. But confident of this: we are Christ’s, and Christ shall complete the work which he began in us (Phil 1:6).
And when we arrive at the golden shore, when the gates of splendor fling open to us, here is what we shall hear:
Who there my cross has shared
finds here a crown prepared;
who there with me has died
shall here be glorified.
The verse has a baptismal shape to it. When someone is baptized they portray a dramatic depiction of Christ’s own death and resurrection—they stand upright in the water, are lowered under, and then raised back up again. In the same way, Christ lived, died, and rose again. In baptism the individual is saying that they are now living within that story—they have lived, died, and rose again just as Christ has. Up, down, up. Now, notice the very structure of this passage: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil 3:10-11). Here we have Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ death, Paul’s death, Paul’s resurrection.
– “the power of his resurrection”
o “his sufferings”
o “becoming like him in his death”
– “that I may attain the resurrection”
Up, down, up. The first half looks to Jesus’ resurrection and sufferings. The second half looks to Paul’s sufferings and resurrection, but what is critical is that for Paul to walk through his sufferings and attain his resurrection he must first know Christ’s resurrection and his sufferings, which is why the verse begins with, “that I may know him, that is, both the power of his resurrection and the participation of his sufferings.” How do we know Jesus? We experience the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings.