“To Live is Christ – to Die is gain!” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

17th Sunday after Pentecost Sept. 20, 2020

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            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            The sermon text for this morning is from Philippians 1 previously read. 

            For the next four weeks, we’ll preach on our Epistle lessons from Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi.  I’d like to challenge you for this month to do a little homework.  The book is only four short chapter, so read through the whole book each week – 4 times total, and you’ll treasure the beautiful promises you’ll learn by heart. 

Philippians has been called Paul’s Epistle of Joy. As you read, you will see why Paul encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord always.”  But what’s amazing is Paul wrote from a Roman prison, waiting to stand trial.  Roman prisons 2000 years ago weren’t much to be joyful about!  Yet, Paul had just received a report from Epaphroditus that his little Gentile church – the first one in all of Europe – the Church at Philippi was standing strong in the teachings of Christ they had heard from Paul. 

            Why was Paul in jail?  Well, Paul refused to stop preaching about Christ Jesus.  Everywhere he went, He told how Christ was handed over by the Jews and crucified under Pontius Pilate.  More than that, Paul told how death could not hold Jesus.  Christ bodily rose from death and the grave on the third day, even appearing to then Saul on the Damascus Road.  Saul had tirelessly murdered and persecuted, arrested and did the worst in his power to stomp out the Church of Christ.  Then one day on the Road to Damascus to terrorize believers in the infant church, Jesus spoke to him from a blinding light, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city, and I will tell you what you must do.”  

            After Paul saw Jesus alive, he went about building God’s Church with the same fierce passion and dedication that he had once used to destroy it.  Because Paul had such a reputation for hatred of Christians and the Church, when he traveled tirelessly telling folks Jesus was alive – it was hard to argue against him.  He won converts, or to say it better, the Holy Spirit used Paul’s preaching to bring many to know Christ as the Savior.  And since the devil hates all that is of God and all that’s good, Paul’s Jewish enemies, unable to defeat him in argument, started riots and uproars, arresting Paul as a disturber of the people – though his only guilt was to preach Christ risen from the dead.

            But even under arrest, Paul told the Philippians, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel?”  While the Church wept and worried that Paul was in jail, Paul saw God’s hand at work.  Even in suffering God has His own purposes to accomplish.  That’s a good reminder for you not to judge failure or success in worldly ways.  We might judge our work for Jesus a miserable failure, but it might be your child or grandchild or one of our preschool children who hears the Gospel.  God works when His people are faithful and share God’s truth, and He works even in suffering.  Isaiah 55 says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

            God calls you and me to be faithful, bold to speak, courageously standing against the world for the sake of the world.  Did you think that would be easy?  It breaks our heart to see the devil so nasty and bold and proud, sowing hate and deceiving so many people such that an entire generation and more no longer believe in an absolute truth and think you’re a hater if you dare believe the same things that were so blatantly obvious to any rational person only short years ago.  If it’s possible, advanced education and media manipulators have made us dumber, weaker, more spineless.  Will the Church, will you and I, cower and lick our wounds, afraid to speak God’s truth because the devil has so blinded the eyes and shut the ears of the Masses? 

            Paul saw his imprisonment as opportunity.  In fact, the whole imperial guard learned about Jesus while Paul was in prison, and Paul said, “Most of the brothers, having become confident, are more bold to speak the Word without fear.”

            You aren’t in a Roman jail, but now is no time for cowards.  While culture would program us to be limp and weak, deferring to the devil’s lies.  Your home needs you to be more than that.  Your church needs you to be more than that.  Your God gave you your family, large or small, stop crouching in your cell and stand up.  Your classmates may not hear God’s truth from anyone else, if you belong to God speak it out. Your co-workers don’t need box scores they need Jesus.  Christians cannot cower in fear.  Look with me at the words our text uses; words like: “Confident; more bold to speak; without fear; not be at all ashamed; with full courage; standing firm in one spirit; striving side by side for the Gospel; not frightened by your opponents.”

            “Without fear” is what God wants you and me to be, even as Paul was. But that kind of fearlessness can only come if you know to the very depths of your heart that this is God’s world and He still “works all things for the good of those who love Him.” Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.” 

I’m not telling you to be naïve.  Your girlfriend or boyfriend might not want you if you refuse to live a trash life. Your friends might not hang with you, if your talk is spiced with more love of Jesus and less nasty jokes or dirty words.  If your social media started showing the daily devotions from the Lutheran Hour – which they should – instead of the latest political train wreck, you might lose followers or friends.  Your kids might squirm if you draw God’s line in the sand and refuse to let ‘em go the way of the world. 

            I would be the last one to think I did it well, but to my boys I say, and you to your own, if God made you a man, then for God’s sake be God’s man.  If He made you a woman, for the sake of your Savior, be the woman God made you to be.  Nowadays, you might be canceled.  You may one day be imprisoned.  You may be fired.  You may have to find a new friend circle.  Reflecting on the decline of the Church in the United States Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in 2015: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."  But if you suffer for the advance of the Gospel, you may not be happy, but you can have God’s joy as Christ is exalted in you.

            You know the places, church, American citizens and voters, parents, children, students or teachers.  A million different places God puts you to be His man or His woman.  It might be farming the fields from which God gives daily bread. It might be the healing hands of doctor or nurse.  Or the tender touch of a mother or dad.  It might be teaching in home or in school to prepare youngsters to be useful citizens with more to offer than the latest culturally approved garbage.  Absolutely, your calling must include prayer and be carried out in prayer.  If you are God’s man or woman, pray like it.  Wear out your knees praying for our country, and leaders, and for the Church and for your pastors here and in Kenya, Deaconess Lorna, and the spread of the Gospel.

            Paul was bold because he knew the final score.  Note our text says in Greek “This will turn out for my salvation.” The translators say deliverance in v.19, but it’s the same word as in v. 28.  In both verses, Paul is sure of first His salvation, and verse 28 sure of their salvation - - to which Paul adds: “And that salvation is from God.”

            So, there it is!  If God gives you the salvation why should you be frightened!  Why should you hide under the table afraid of a virus?  Is God that small?  Yes, it’s better to die and be with Christ, but that should never cause you to hurry or hasten your death.  Suicide has no place for one who hopes in Jesus.  The devil is a liar and murderer.  He wants you to think God is small and weak and you are all alone. 

            Satan hear this proclamation; I am baptized into Christ.  Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled; And against your tyranny God my Lord unites with me.  Look at our text: “Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, not frightened by anything.”  “And take they our life, Goods, fame child and wife; Though these all be gone; Our victory has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

            What was true for Paul is true for you.  “For to me to live is Christ; to die is gain.”  You are joined to Him.  No power in hell can separate you from the Risen Redeemer.  Galatians 2 says, “You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you.  The life you live in the body you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave Himself up for you.

            You are a baptized child of Christ.  Every breath you draw this side of heaven, you are a loved, protected, precious soldier of the cross of Christ, victorious because He is the Victor.  You may indeed be sure of your salvation, because you didn’t earn or deserve it, Jesus did, that’s what Paul says and “that salvation is from God.”

            To live is Christ – life is a blessing - but if today is your last day, to die is gain.  Your soul doesn’t flutter to the winds but is carried by God’s angels to the bosom of your Father, and one day your body will stand up from the dust of death: immortal, incorruptible, imperishable.  Body and soul, through faith in Jesus you have an appointment with your God in heaven.

            And notice verse 29, “It has been given you for the sake of Christ that you should believe in Him.”  Even your faith, God didn’t leave to chance.  He gave it… a work of God the Holy Spirit.  But the other gift that we are more reluctant to receive, “It has been granted you… not only to believe, but to suffer for His sake.” God forgive us for trying to wiggle out from under life’s crosses and make us bold to live for you, strong to suffer for you, joyful to die in you.  Amen.   

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.