Let’s read Phil 3:14. [READ]
Here, Paul connects the word “goal” with the word “prize.” These two words almost seemed to be used interchangeably. I pursue as my goal the prize. The goal is related to the prize. They are not quite equivalent, but they must be closely linked somehow.
To understand the word “prize” in Phil 3:14, you have to read the surrounding verses, which interestingly enough, talks about what the goal is.
What is the goal? We talked about this last week. Phil 3:10-11 [READ]
The goal is to know him. So, the prize must be related. The goal and the prize are closely connected, but there is a distinction. What’s the distinction? There’s a clue in v11. Phil 3:11 [READ]
Paul’s present goal is to know Jesus, but he speaks of reaching the resurrection at some point in the future. In running, there is a difference between someone who is running just for the sake of running or running for good health versus a runner in a race. The runner in a race is different from the guy who jogs around the block because he’s running, not for health or to shed a few pounds, but to win a prize. He is running toward the finish line and he will keep running until he reaches it.
What is the finish line for the Christian life? The finish line for the Christian has to do with reaching the resurrection from among the dead. Why is Paul talking about the resurrection? Many Christians have a misconception when it comes to the afterlife. They think that heaven is a place way up there and when we die, our bodies rot and our souls float up to heaven and that’s the end of the story. That’s only partially true.
We mustn’t forget that Adam in the Garden of Eden was a spiritual being because God had breathed life into him, but Adam was also a physical being. The Garden of Eden was a physical place with trees and animals and streams of water. But when the Fall happened in Genesis 3 and sin entered the world, mankind was cut off from God spiritually and physical death entered. There was no death prior because Adam and Eve were connected continually, constantly to the Author of Life, the life source. But when that fellowship was broken, physical death entered and has since served as a visible reminder of the consequences of sin. Not only is there physical death, but there is spiritual death for those who don’t repent of their sins and turn to Jesus.
Jesus was fully God, He is the Son of God. But we mustn’t forget that he was also fully human. He was not immune to sickness and fatigue and hunger. He went through everything that you and I go through on a daily basis. Yet, he was without sin. And this Jesus who is referred to as the Second Adam died on a cross for your sins and mine, and three days later, he rose from the grave. This is the gospel. He resurrected, not merely to demonstrate His supernatural power and to validate his identity as the Son of God, but he was raised as the firstfruits of the resurrection. When you are a farmer and you see the first signs of the crop budding in the spring after a long winter, the firstfruits is a sign of a larger harvest that is to come. Jesus is the first fruit, meaning his resurrection is a foreshadowing of a larger resurrection that involves all believers as well as the entire creation.
Paul sought to know Christ and he was longing for the day when he reached the prize when along with Christ, he, too, would be resurrected from the dead. When will the dead be raised from the grave? If you died right at this moment and you are a believer, then your body will remain in the grave but your spirit will ascend to heaven. But when Jesus returns and the Second Coming of Christ is upon us, the earth, the galaxies, the stars, the entire universe as we know it will end and our bodies will rise from their graves and be reunited with our spirits in the air and heaven will come crashing down to earth. And Jesus will establish a new heaven and new earth, a spiritual, heavenly place, but also a physical, earthly place and you and I as children of God will be part of, not a Garden of Eden, but a city of God, the new Jerusalem. This will be a heavenly yet earthly place, a spiritual yet physical place, a city where God dwells with men.
Paul says, my goal is to know Jesus. And someday I hope to reach my own resurrection. Phil 3:12 [READ]
Now let’s put the pieces together. The goal is to know Christ and Paul is humble, he says, I haven’t reached the goal, I’m not yet fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it. What is “it”? The second half of the verse sheds some light–I have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. This is such a beautiful picture of what salvation is. The moment you are saved, Jesus has you in his hands. He is God so he knows everything about you. He knows your weaknesses, He knows your inconsistencies, He knows your character flaws, and yet, He says, that brother, that sister, I want him, I want her. He holds onto us. We might let go of God and wander and rebel and kick and scream, but Jesus doesn’t let go. He has taken hold of us as we are. Jesus has taken hold of us and He won’t let go until we reach our final salvation and cross the finished line. That’s one side of salvation.
On our side, we know Jesus in part, we know who He is, His character, His love to some extent, but we are only scratching the surface. We are like children with our pails filled with ocean water and we think we know what the ocean is, but we are playing with a few drops compared to the vast ocean. Likewise, with Jesus, we know him, but we only know such a small, small slice of who Jesus is. A few drops compared to an ocean. So the Christian pursues Christ, to know Christ. We make every effort to know Christ. And then one day, we will be able to take hold of “it,” we will have in our grasp the prize when we have reached the resurrection from the dead and we will be able to take hold of Christ spiritually, physically, in every sense.
Heavenly rewards are nice, but is there anything that can compare to being face to face with Jesus? Even if I am a nobody in the new heaven and the new earth and I’m just a doorkeeper, just to glimpse his face with my own eyes and to be able to take hold of the person that I have been striving to know my whole life, I think I’ll be satisfied. Take my rewards. Who cares? I have Jesus. You have Jesus. There is plenty of Him to go around.
There is a difference between knowing and having. My brother and his wife went to the hospital this morning and around 2:25pm today, we got a call that their daughter was born. Betty, the mom has known that the baby girl has been cooking in her tummy for 9 months. She felt her kicking and rolling around. She knew the baby was coming. Knowing is one thing. But it’s another story entirely when the baby is delivered and the doctor lays it down in your arms and knowing changes to having. I don’t cry that much, but with each of my boys, when I first laid eyes on each of them, I cried like a baby.
Think of the tears we will shed when we first lay our eyes on Christ. Tears in response to how beautiful Christ is, far beyond our wildest expectations. Tears of joy and relief–I can’t believe I made it. Tears of unworthiness before a perfect God. And he’s going to wipe away every tear and I imagine him lifting me up from my knees and taking me by the hand and I can finally take hold of His hands. He took hold of us years ago the moment we accepted Christ, but finally, we get to take hold of him. Won’t it be great when knowing changes to having?
Phil 3:13-14 [READ]
I think it would be helpful to unpack the word “call.” God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Christians often talk about calling in terms of what we do. I am called to be a pastor, missionary, educator, professor, doctor. We like to think of calling in terms of what we can do because we feel good when we accomplish things and we have something to show for our lives. But almost every time the Bible mentions “call” or “calling,” it refers to salvation. What God did for us when he saved us, not what we are called to do because of our salvation. The calling began when God called us in Christ to be saved. From the moment of our salvation, the goal of our lives changed to knowing Christ. And our calling is made complete when we reach the prize and we reach our final salvation when Christ is not someone we know, but someone we get to have and enjoy for all eternity. Calling is not what we do, but it’s who we know and eventually have.