Back in 2013 I ran in something called “Tough Mudder.” It’s a kind of race where you have to crawl through muddy obstacles and jump off of high platforms into murky water and swim under a wall through a huge tank of ice water…
And right before the finish line, you actually have to run through a field of live electric wires hanging down. You get electrocuted. On purpose. And you pay for this privilege.
When you finish they hand you a t-shirt and an ice-cold beer and that is your prize… Well, that and the knowledge that you survived.
Some people treat Tough Mudder like a normal race, trying to be the first ones to finish. But most people, like me, were just trying to get to the end in one piece. To overcome the hardships.
The reason I tell you all this is because today, as we celebrate Easter, we’re going to talk about a different kind of endurance race. It’s a race with much higher stakes than crawling through some mud.
It’s an endurance race that every one of us is running. The race of our lives.
And the big question for today is this: How do we endure and get to the finish line in one piece when our broken world is such a mess?
So let’s dive right into it. Please grab a Bible and turn with me to
While you’re turning there, let me pray for us.
What we’re going to read right now is part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the Greek city of Philippi.
Now, important for today is the fact that Paul wrote this letter from prison. He had been jailed for teaching things about Jesus that the authorities saw as undermining the Roman emperor.
We don’t know all the details of his imprisonment, but Paul thought there was a very good chance he could die there. Disease, lack of food… It was clearly a pretty intense situation, and something awful he had to endure.
So he’s writing this letter in chains. But here’s the problem - this doesn’t really look so good for Paul. At least in a very honor/shame based culture like in Philippi.
“If Paul really is such a strong, powerful apostle, then what is he doing in prison?!? It’s embarrassing!”
At least, that’s how someone on the outside might think of it. But that’s not how Paul saw it at all.
In fact, when we come here to chapter 3, it seems like Paul is trying to save face. He lists out all his credentials - he’s a pure-blooded Israelite, he’s a zealous and obedient Pharisee, he’s righteous. It sounds like he’s trying to make himself sound really honorable despite his imprisonment… but then he says this:
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.
So, right when you think Paul is about to defend himself for being in prison, he takes his resume - all his accomplishments - and says it’s all garbage.
Literally, he uses a Greek word (skybalon) that describes either gross refuse that back then you would have thrown out for stray dogs to eat… either that or poop (sorry parents).
The point is, Paul is saying that “compared to knowing Christ Jesus” all the rest of it - all his accomplishments - are foul-smelling street garbage.
So what the world says is valuable, Paul says is worthless. That gives you a pretty clear indication that he thinks differently about being in prison than you might expect.
Alright, so what does Paul consider valuable? Well v.8: “knowing Christ Jesus” and “becoming one with him.” That’s what matters to him.
But what does that mean? Well, let’s keep reading to find out.
I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
So, prisoner Paul is saying, “all my former accomplishments - all my self-righteousness - is street garbage.” My status - being right with God - doesn’t depend on any of that stuff. Look at the end of verse 9: “It depends on faith.”
Faith in Christ. Specifically, faith in his resurrection.
I know that might seem a bit like a vague or religious-sounding concept, but it’s exactly what we’ve been talking about throughout this whole sermon series.
(By the way, if you’re a bit fuzzy on what the resurrection of Jesus means or what life after death entails, I encourage you to go back and watch the last few sermons. We’ve talked about Byzantine artwork and trans-dimensional babies and Mufasa… it’s all there.)
But let me recap it all in a nutshell, we’ve looked at how the narrative sweep of the Bible - the whole story of God rescuing humanity from the clutches of sin, death, and the powers of this world - comes to its fruition in the resurrection of Jesus.
In the ancient Jewish world, people believed that one day at the end of time, God was going to remake everything into a New Creation where heaven and earth would be one and there would be no more death or crying or pain.
And into that New Creation, they believed, God would bring his people back to life - resurrection from the dead. That was the ancient Jewish hope. That’s what the Scriptures said would happen.
The major twist in the story, though, was that on that first Easter morning, as Jesus walked out of that grave - the future resurrection was no longer future. It was now. God’s coming New Creation had begun here, now, through Christ.
And this resurrection wasn’t going to end with Jesus. Anyone who put their trust in him – Jew or Gentile - would be resurrected as well. That ancient Jewish hope for the end of time was coming true in Jesus now.
That’s why Paul says in v.10 that he wants to “experience the mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.” He now has faith that that same power is going to raise him! That’s what he means by “faith in Christ.”
As we’ve said multiple times in this series, The resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of our faith.
Because he rose, we will too. Our ultimate destiny is in the New Creation, which has already begun to change our world. And that truth changes everything.
Including, perhaps especially, how we view (and endure) what happens to us in this life.
That’s a bit of a rabbit trail, but now let’s get back to Paul in prison. Look at what he says at the end of v.10. “I want to suffer with [Jesus], sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”
Who says that they want to suffer? That’s crazy, right? Is Paul some kind of masochist?
No. He’s not saying he likes pain like some kind of weirdo who pays money to get electrocuted in a mud run.
What he’s saying is that when Jesus, the Son of God, entered our world, he suffered. Out of his love for us, the Creator of life experienced pain and violence and death on our behalf. He took it on himself willingly to bring about new life for us.
That’s what Jesus did.
And so Paul is saying, “Look. I know what my future destiny is. Because Jesus rose, I’m going to rise again too. Death has no power over me anymore.”
“So if I’m going to suffer in this life for following Christ - if I’m going to be chained to this wall and possibly even die here in prison for preaching about him - then my life is going to look like Jesus’ life - as a living demonstration of God’s love for humanity.
“I’ll gladly give my life – I’ll gladly suffer – if it means more people will know that love. I want live like him.”
Again, Paul’s perspective on his life has fundamentally changed. “All my human accomplishments are garbage. Suffering and even dying like Jesus is worth every second. Because I know where my story ends.”
This is why he says at the beginning of the letter,
I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
In other words, “If I live, I’m going to live like him - giving my life so others can find new life. And if I die, I know I’m going to rise again.”
It is the ultimate win-win scenario.
Why does Paul think this way? Because he is a resurrection person now. Whether you’re looking at the way he lives or the way he dies, you’re going to see the truth of what Jesus accomplished on Easter morning.
The resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of our faith, and it changes everything.
I mentioned at the beginning of this message that we’re talking about how to endure in the midst of this broken world. Paul could endure prison because he was a resurrection person.
So let’s make this practical. How do we develop this kind of mindset? How do we become resurrection people?
Because this is some countercultural stuff. It was back then and it still is.
I mean, think about where we live. We’re pretty darn proud of our accomplishments in suburban Indiana, aren’t we? Our resumes do not seem like garbage to us!
And all this stuff about hardship? No thank you! We’ve built an entire culture on the idea of avoiding death and pain as much as possible. Not many of us would be particularly excited about having to suffer for Jesus.
So how do we think like resurrection people in 2023 America? Is it even possible?
Well, let’s keep reading what Paul has to say, because I think he gives us an answer.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
So here Paul uses the metaphor of running a race to describe his focus in this life. It’s a pretty common metaphor in the New Testament, but it’s important to understand the kind of race Paul is talking about here.
This isn’t the kind of race which is all about beating other people - being the fastest. It’s not a competition about speed. It’s a race to endure.
He says in verse 14, “I press on to reach the end of the race.”
What he’s describing here is kind of like Tough Mudder - overcoming obstacles, crawling through the mud, pushing through - the point is to successfully reach the finish line. That’s what matters. To endure.
And what is that finish line in this metaphor? It’s resurrection! Living again in the New Creation. Paul is dead set on that goal. v.13 “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race.”
Let me be clear. What is Paul is not saying is that he’s trying to earn his way into new life. He spells out in so many other places the fact that our salvation has nothing to do with our own efforts.
No. What he’s saying is, “Because of what Christ did for me - because of the future hope I now have, I don’t want to give my life to anything else. I don’t want to fix my eyes on garbage. Why would I?”
“Whether I live or die, I want my life to demonstrate the power of the resurrection.”
“That’s what I’m striving for. That’s what I’m laser focused on. That’s my finish line. That’s why I’m not ashamed of these chains. Because they aren’t going to keep me from the prize.”
I press on to reach the end of the race.
So here’s my big question for us this Easter: What if we all had this mentality? What if every one of us was so confident in our future resurrection that we gave every last breath in this life to live like Jesus?
What would it look like for us to be resurrection people today? Well, three big things.
First, Resurrection people have hope.
Let’s be honest. This is a time of despair. Our culture is fractured and divided. We are chronically isolated and alone. Everybody is living in fear – fear of mass shootings, fear of AI taking over, fear of “those people…”
Can you even imagine what it would be like if we - Grace Church - began living every day like our resurrection was a sure thing? If we faced tomorrow as if things were headed toward New Creation?
I mean, if we were totally confident in the resurrection, we wouldn’t need to be afraid of anything, especially not death.
And whenever we’d encounter the world’s brokenness we’d see it in terms of New Creation: what God is healing and restoring and transforming. And we’d want to be a part of it!
Everywhere we went we’d see New Creation springing up around us as God’s Spirit works through us to remake the world.
If we lived as resurrection people, we could show our friends and neighbors and classmates what hope looks like. And I think they’d want some of what we have. Especially now.
Resurrection people have hope.
Second, Resurrection people endure.
Life is hard. Our world is broken. That’s just a fact. And choosing the path of self-giving love like Jesus means we’re willingly taking on even more challenges along the way.
Which is why our mindset about this life is vital.
When we come up against muddy walls to climb or ice water to swim through or electric wires hanging down…when we face hardships in this endurance race of life, one of two things is going through our mind.
If we don’t have the resurrection in view, our mindset is, “Oh no… Another obstacle. Another challenge! I don’t know if I can do this.”
But when we have our eyes fixed on the end of the race, when we are running to finish well because we know where our story is going, our mindset is, “hah. You think that obstacle is going to stop me? Let’s go!”
Listen to how Paul describes this mindset in one of his other letters:
2 Corinthians 4:7-10
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
Resurrection people endure because we are living for so much more. And our power comes not from ourselves, but from God. The same God who raised Jesus from the grave. That’s why can endure.
So, we’re people who hope. We’re people who endure. And finally,
Resurrection people have our priorities straight.
Look. Just like in ancient Philippi, we live in an achievement-oriented culture. Whether it’s our career or our grades at school or the car we drive or the number of followers we have on social media, we care an awful lot about the things our world considers valuable.
That is, until we give our lives to the resurrected Christ. Until we begin to grapple with our future destiny in God’s New Creation. Until we realize, like Paul, that all this stuff our culture values is garbage.
Achievement, clout, success, wealth, power, influence, followers… None of those things last. You can’t take ‘em with you.
Every one of them is destined for the grave. And if our eyes are focused on them, we will not endure.
But if we’re resurrection people - if our priorities are straight and we have our eyes fixed on Jesus, standing at the finish line beckoning us to keep going - our life will be built on something eternal.
For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.
Resurrection people hope, we endure, and we have our priorities straight.
So let me ask you this: Are you a resurrection person? Is your trust in the resurrection of Jesus? Do you know where your story ends?
Because our world fundamentally changed on Easter morning, and Jesus is inviting you to change with it.