Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Surpassing Loss

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 2, 2011

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Don’t you want what surpasses all? If you could give up everything in order to gain what surpasses everything, wouldn’t you do it? Paul would. And he did.

Understand that Paul had a lot to give up. He gives his resume and it’s impressive. You and I may not know much about Pharisees, but if we had been living back in his time we would understand exactly what Paul is talking about when he boasts of his being a Pharisee. And Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. It was doubtful there was anyone who could claim a higher pedigree or accomplishments. You can see it all there in the Epistle reading.

But to him that was nothing. Compared with Christ, it is nothing. And so he would give it all up in a heartbeat. But even that was not what gained him, as he calls it, the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Rather, it was of the surpassing loss of Christ. What Christ gave up was for our gain. Our surpassing gain is at the cost of Christ’s surpassing loss.

The way the Bible tells it, though, is that the Surpassing Loss that Christ suffered is of the highest value and glory. That’s why we must always direct ourselves back to the Surpassing Loss of Christ. His agony and suffering was for glory; the glory of our restoration. His taking upon Himself our sins was for what is of highest value to God; our being restored to Him for eternity.

Without the surpassing loss of Christ there is no gain. The surpassing glory that God has in store for us only comes at the loss of His own Son. Listen to the way Paul talks about his connection with Christ: “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.” With all of Paul’s accomplishments and adherence to the Law of God, he could easily have said that he was deserving of glory from God. But instead he realizes that sharing in the sufferings of Christ is the way glory comes about.

Think about what occurred with Christ. He rose because He suffered and died. In other words, there would have been no resurrection if He had not died. The glory of the resurrection only came because of Christ’s willingness to suffer and die. This is glory that is greater than if Christ had never suffered and died. Why? Because we could not have shared it with God. Without the suffering and death of Christ there would be no resurrection for you and me. God would still be glorious of course. But His greatest glory is to bring us into the glory of the resurrection, the glory of eternal life.

That only happens through the Surpassing Loss of Christ on the cross. His losing and suffering all for our sake. In an amazing exchange, what He gained was our sin and the punishment we deserve and the wrath of God poured out on Him. This was the Surpassing Loss that is beyond anything else anyone has ever accomplished. People can try to determine what is the greatest thing ever but nothing compares to the Surpassing Loss of Christ on the cross. What He accomplished was what no one could ever accomplish on their own. Paul pretty much makes this clear in laying out his pedigree. If Paul couldn’t stand before God and say, “Let me into eternal glory,” no one could.

Christ didn’t come with a pedigree. He gave all that up. He came in the opposite way. He came to show us that it is in His giving up all, becoming a servant, suffering on our behalf that salvation is found.

What did this mean for Paul as he continued to live his life on earth? What does it mean for you and me as we await the day we will join Paul and the others saints who have gone before us? It means that we say with Paul, “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.” We press on.

When Jesus was alive on earth He pressed on toward the goal. He pressed on toward the cross. He never wavered, always looking toward the glory of the cross. Knowing the Loss would be great, the suffering severe, the glory seeming to be swallowed up in stinging insults and biting attacks and vicious hits. Knowing that worst of all would be the sins poured out upon Him and along with them the punishment for sinners upon Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He pressed on because what drove Him was love. It wasn’t honor, or doing the right thing, or any other noble reason. It was simply pure love. Grace, mercy, unconditional love. Love that knows no bounds. Love that brought Him to the Surpassing Loss. He would much rather suffer than see us suffer eternally in hell.

That’s how, that’s why, we press on. With Paul, we press on to make it our own, because Christ Jesus has made us His own.” This is the glory of the Surpassing Loss of Christ. If we were to glory in God being all-powerful, almighty, all-knowing, and simply being God, where in there would be glory for us? There would be none. There would only be the God who is so far above us we could never attain to Him. There would only be the God who is so holy that we could never attain a righteousness that is not just stellar, but that is perfect. Without flaw, without sin, without any thought or motive that is not centered in and positioned toward the one true God.

That is why God’s greatest glory is in the Surpassing Loss of His only-begotten Son. His true joy is to give up His own Son on the cross so that we may have the joy of being in the good grace and favor of the only God. The Surpassing Loss of Christ must be our greatest glory otherwise we always will remain depending on ourselves and will end up in the most horrible loss of all: the loss of eternal life with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If we must rejoice, let it be in the Surpassing Loss. If we must seek the surpassing worth of knowing God and having eternal salvation, let it be because we seek our salvation in the Surpassing Loss of Christ. If we ever wonder how it is that we can gain all that God gives to sinners, let it be no wonder at all, except if to simply be in wonder at the Surpassing mercy of God in giving us all the blessings of Christ in simple bread and wine on an altar. Or a simple splashing of water at a Baptismal font. Or even simple words spoken by a pastor of Absolution, or the Gospel proclaimed by those very same lips.

If you wonder why it’s such a big deal that Christ suffered all then look to see that it is in humble means that God likes to come to us to bring us into the glory that only He knows. Bread and wine. Not a whole lot that’s special there. Here in San Diego you can get some of the best fish tacos anywhere. Seafood, Mexican, those are also as good as you’ll find elsewhere. What we eat in the Lord’s Supper doesn’t seem too terribly special, considering there are far better wines you could drink than what is served at this altar. And even the bread is a far cry from what you could get at any decent bakery.

No, if God wanted to show us His glory in a truly glorious way, we would have drawn up a list in a fashion similar to what Paul laid out for us in the Epistle reading. The point is not the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. But actually, in a major respect, it is. Bread. Wine. Simple. Humble. Loss. Jesus doesn’t go for the spectacular to come to us giving us His gifts. In the vein of His Surpassing Loss on the cross He comes simply, in bread and wine to give us His gifts: Himself. His body. His blood. His forgiveness. His eternal salvation. The righteousness only He has and only He won.

And where did He count His righteousness as loss? The cross. He chose to be considered as the Unrighteous. As the one deserving of eternal punishment, and then received it from God His Heavenly Father; the punishment we deserved, laid upon Him. The Surpassing Loss surpasses all because it is there that the surpassing worth of eternal life is won. It is in the Lord’s Supper that this surpassing worth is given to you.

This is why Paul talks the way he talks; saying things like, “I do not consider that I have made it my own.” How could we have made it our own? We could never do enough. We could never give up enough. Christ has accomplished all. He has given up all. He has given all. In the Surpassing Loss we have eternal gain. We do not consider that we have made it our own, but what do we do? With Paul, “one we thing we do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Amen.


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