The Upward Call of God
Text: Philippians 3:8-14 ; 20,21
Proposition: The upward call of God in Christ Jesus is the design God has for the resurrection of the righteous to be like Christ.
Introduction: John MacArthur tells of a time just after the breakup of the Soviet Union when he was asked to come to Kazakhstan. Over 1,600 pastors and leaders from Central Asia were gathered there. For six days he spoke about the church, the life of the church and God’s plan for the church, every day from 7 in the morning till dark. Then it was Friday and some of the pastors from the area came to him and asked, “When are you going to get to the good part?” MacArthur asked, “What’s the good part?”. Their response… “Heaven.”
I think that what they meant was not just the hope of heaven but the promised wonder of heaven that makes all the carnage of sin fall away. When there is not enough food, when water and blankets are scarce and fear pushes in the certainty of heaven warms us, fills us, lifts us. It’s been said that the cornerstone of Christianity rests on not only the cross but even more on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cross brought the wonder of redemption and the resurrection brought the capacity to live that redemption in the eternity of heaven. That might sound like an exaggeration until we clarify what heaven is because right this minute we might say there are many loved ones in heaven. What we really mean by that is that they are absent from the body and present with the Lord.(2 Cor 5:8) But heaven is more than what they are presently experiencing. The heaven pictured in Scripture is that which takes place after the Second Coming of Christ, after His 1000 year reign on this earth and after the Great White Throne judgment. Then comes what we have longingly referred to as Heaven, the place of God’s design for the unfolding of His Kingdom now come where we will know the meaning of eternal life in a body, soul and spirit state. It’s this heaven and especially this resurrection that the apostles had in mind as they exhorted the church live lives set apart to God. It’s Easter Sunday, let me take you past the accounts of Mary at the tomb, past Peter and John as they run to see what the women already knew, past the wonder of Thomas and past that supper at Emmaus and even past the weeping yet restored Peter on the beach at Galilee. Let me take you twenty years further down the road to a letter written in prison for a people waiting to hear the good part, the wonder of resurrection that suits us for heaven. Turn with me to Philippians 3:8-14.
I. Since Jesus Came So That I Would Be Like Him, I Need To Know Him.
What do you suppose it means to be like Christ? Is it that we would value what He values or do what He does? I think it starts like that, a WWJD kind of approach. But it becomes a quest to know more and more about Jesus to the point that other previous things don’t hold the interest they once did. Paul says that for him all other things just paled in comparison, there was absolutely nothing that captivated his interest like wanting to know Jesus more. Listen to the future tense ways that Paul describes this pursuit of Christ, “that I may gain Christ, be found in Him, that I may know Him…”. What Paul is describing is that process called sanctification, a progressive desire this side of the grave to be like Jesus by knowing Jesus as up close as he could. Look what he says in verse 10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,” This desire to be like Christ is powered by grasping and resting in Christ’s righteousness. It pursues an enabling power that proceeds from Christ, even the power that raised Jesus from the dead. It seeks to identify with the sufferings of Christ for His church that any suffering he would do would in some small way mirror Christs approach in the giving of Himself. It seeks to be conformed to His death, meaning that as sin was taken to death at the cross so sin in Paul would be put death for the sake of Christ’s name. But then catch verse 11, “if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” So what does he mean by that? What it doesn’t mean is that Paul can somehow achieve a perfection by spiritual discipline that would be bring him to the place of perfection in Christ, that experience that the final resurrection from the dead transforms us into. That’s clear from the next verse, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” I think that what he is saying here is that the reason that Christ laid hold of him was so that Paul would one day be like Jesus. There is the pressing on part where we seek to live out our salvation with fear and trembling. That too is part of why Jesus laid hold of Paul and you and me. It was to transform you, to make your spirit alive to God, to use you as agent of transformation, an ambassador of reconciliation to Christ. Look at verse 14, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ‘To press on’, knows that Jesus has laid hold of you, for now and then for the ultimate purpose of making you like Him, without sin, beyond death, above reproach and with no more Adversary. That’s the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. That place is the good part, that place is heaven, that place is what the resurrection of Jesus is designed to supply.
II. The Breath Taking Wonder of Resurrection Is Being Conformed To Him.
Let me take you to the last two verses in Philippians 3. If you have ever lived in another country where it was always unsafe, always gripped in poverty, always being ravaged by sufferings and a limited future and then you return to Canada and though you know it too has short comings you are just thankful to be home, thankful that you are a citizen of this place… then much more so heaven is to the Christian. There is an eternality existent in every human being that has the capacity to exist eternally whether that be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven or in the presence of His absence. “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things.” John Piper once said, “Nobody leaves God, forsakes God, abandons God, suppresses God, turns away from God simply because they value him little. We always turn away from God because we value something else more, which is why it is such a cosmic insult and infinite outrage.” Hell exists because of the infinite sin of exchanging God for something that we think is greater. Billy Graham in his last book wrote, “The worst kind of death is described in Scripture — unending death in a lake of fire and brimstone that burns forever. Just as we cannot fathom the wonder of living forever in glory, we cannot possibly comprehend the alternative.” There is an eternal place called hell and perhaps more startling is that there is also a resurrection of those who valued something else more than God. In a state of body, soul and spirit they will meet their Judge and then be eternally consigned to the tormenting anguish of Hell. Just as that is a certainty let me also hold out the certainty of the resurrection of those who by grace are saved through faith in Christ. Listen to this closing verse in Philippians 3, “…who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Whether it is those who are now absent from their body and present with the Lord or we who are alive and remain, resurrection is what equips us, suits, readies us to know the incredible wonders of what we have called heaven. God will transform this mortal body, this temple of the Holy Spirit, conforming it be like the body of Jesus Christ at His resurrection. The same power that Jesus used at Creation to subdue all things to Himself He will use to conform our resurrected bodies to be like Him. Beyond mortal, beyond time, beyond sin, beyond sorrow, beyond despair, beyond beyond. This is what Jesus ultimately has come to do, by His resurrection He brings us to His Fathers’ house.