Let us pray: Dear Savior, we walk through the days with worry clawing at us and inner fears dragging us down. This life has its hard patches. This life has its own brand of pain and adversity. And some days it all seems to come down upon our heads. Lord, ever hold before our eyes the promise of heaven. Instill in us daily an appreciation that You have bought us for a life better than this one and that You’re working each day at getting us there. Lord, thank You for not giving up on us! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF TRUE COMFORT!
TEXT: Philippians 3: 12-21
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Every once in a while a politician says something insightful. The other night I caught a little bit of the debate between the two major candidates for governor. The moderator asked both of them: “Can you tell us about some adversity that has shaped your life?” One of the candidates then spoke about that proverbial “bag of stones” that everyone carries and listed one of those stones in their life. I don’t know exactly where the literary illusion to that “bag of stones” comes from, although I suspect if you’d do research you’d find it stems from the ancient Greek myth of the titan Atlas who carried the world on his shoulders.—Talk about a big, heavy bag of stone! In any case, when I looked over today’s text I thought of that illustration because Paul is telling us to:
LEAVE THAT BAG OF STONES BEHIND!
So, what’s your bag of stones? What kind of adversity has shaped your life? And have you turned it into a positive, or a negative influence? In my own life, my heaviest stone to date has been growing up poor (and not really knowing it—a blessing!) coupled with never having anything handed to me on a silver platter. Of course, that pales in comparison to the stone my wife had to carry in losing her father when she was nine and basically having to run the household while her mother worked.
As I look over the congregation I see people shaped by the stones they have had to carry. I see the stones of divorce, being raised in a single parent household and resenting it, living through war and being surrounded by death at an early age. I see people who have been hurt by sexual perverts, those who have struggled with poverty, those having to endure severe disappointment in their professional lives, and those racked by various addictions. Some of you lost loved ones at an early age, and it still hurts. Others of you have lived with severe physical adversity, and perhaps still do. Yes, we all carry around our own bag of stones.
St. Paul, the writer of this epistle, had his own stones to carry, as well. By this point in his life he had suffered beatings, mob anger, intense discrimination, shipwreck, alienation from loved ones, and currently he was under house arrest in Rome awaiting death.—Indeed, that’s a pretty heavy bag of stones, isn’t it? And yet, he isn’t down-in-the-mouth about any of it! He refuses to live in the past with a “woe is me” attitude. Just because his life hasn’t been peachy keen doesn’t cause Paul to give up on life or to give up on Christ. No, instead, he looks forward with eager anticipation. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Of course, He’s talking about heaven. He’s talking about that worry-free life with Jesus in glory. Like us, Paul’s life has been one long school of hard knocks. As you get older the stones keep coming. They keep getting heavier. And without Jesus in your life and the confidence He provides, at the end comes the heaviest stone of all—death. And to the non-Christian death means uncertainty, fear, regret, and resentment. But, the joy of Christianity is that Jesus not only carried all our other stones on His back; He also has rolled back that stone of death from our lives. Isn’t that the meaning of the empty tomb—where the stone had been rolled away?
Through the peace Christ won on the cross for us, through God’s grace, He has put faith into our hearts. The hardest thing about our bag of stones is that we carry them all alone. No one can truly walk in your shoes—except Jesus! He has! He did! And by knowing that and believing that fact you and I can learn to leave that bag of stones behind!
“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
As a Christian you’re different than the rest of the world. You’re diametrically different. How so? Simply this, you know the best is yet to come! You know that heaven awaits. If you knew with 100% certainty that you’d win 100 million dollars next year, I dare say you wouldn’t sweat the bills that come tomorrow, or lose sleep over your job. So, why do we sweat over anything when we know that future glory awaits?
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears!, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like glorious body.”
What takes away our happiness? Isn’t it sin in its many forms? Isn’t it the bag of stones we’re carrying which are all the result of human sin in some way, shape, or form—either our own sin or the sin of others that affects and afflicts us? My friends, you’re not alone in your struggle to carry your stones. Christ is right now transforming you. He’s lightening your load. Give Him your inner pain, your fears, your anger and resentment. Give Him your stones! He wants to carry them for you. Indeed, He has carried them for you all the way to the cross!
One last thought. Our own fears cause us to retain hold of certain stones, don’t they? Some stones are just too painful to pick out of our bag and to hand off to Him. Well, Jesus knows that. And He wants you to know that when your transformation is complete, when its heaven-time, He’ll gently remove those weights from your back, as well. So, look forward to that day as Paul did! Yes, look forward to that glorious day when you can truly Leave That Bag of Stones Behind! Amen