And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18 (NLT)
People see things through different lenses. Jed and his buddy Gomer had been out of work for a good while. Then they heard of the problem with the wolf population preying on Southern Mediterranean sheep flocks. There was a bounty of $150 on each wolf hide. They gathered their gear and headed off to make big bucks.
They didn’t see so much as a track for days. Then, one night, just after they’d fallen asleep by the campfire, Jed was awakened by a low growl. When he opened his eyes there were 150 pairs of evil yellow eyes staring at him from every angle. Jed broke into a grin, poked his buddy and said, Gomer…wake up man, we’re rich!
It is hard to look at some circumstances and not think, Boy, God sure messed that one up! I have had extended conversations with unbelievers who cite natural tragedies like hurricane Katrina, Tsunami’s or the AIDS epidemic as reasons why there cannot be a God. Deep down, they know that’s foolishness; they just cannot reconcile why God allows some things to happen. Their perspective of how God ought to act doesn’t allow for human beings’ poor choices. Sometimes it just looks like God’s asleep at the switch; it appears that He’s just failing to do His job as God.
It’s true – sometimes we just don’t get what God is up to. But things are not always as they appear.
Near the end of World War II the American beloved president Franklin Roosevelt died. It was difficult for Harry Truman to fill his shoes. When the war was over, America craved change. It didn’t look good for Harry Truman’s bid to be elected.
That November election night in 1948 everyone went to bed having read the newspaper headlines confidently announcing Mr. Dewey as the winner. Thomas Dewey would be the next president of the United States.
But somebody forgot to tell the voters that, and Harry Truman spent the next four years in the house at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
There are a lot of apparent failures in history:
· Abraham Lincoln lost many an election on the way to winning the presidency in 1860.
· Thomas Edison found thousands of ways to NOT make a light bulb before he lit things up.
· Babe Ruth struck out twice as many times as he hit home runs.
But the most notable and most abject apparent failure in history was Jesus of Nazareth.
· Jesus was not really popular or particularly well-liked apart from his very close followers. In fact, after one of his sermons everybody left except the twelve disciples.
· Jesus was a political failure; he was rejected at every level of government; then they conspired to kill him.
· He had no wealth, holdings, world headquarters; he didn’t build a Christian amusement park or host a TV talk-show.
· In the end it was one of his closest friends who betrayed him to the authorities.
But the most compelling piece of “failure evidence” is the cross. When they took Jesus down from the cross, he was dead – stone-cold dead! This was a man who talked of eternal life and kingdoms. What a failure!
But the language and measuring stick of the world is not the same as that of the Gospel. After Good Friday, on Sunday, there was no talk of failure. There was no talk of failure on the day of Pentecost, when the power of God fell on all the friends of Jesus. What we celebrate today at the table, where we remember the cross and tomb is seen by the world as “fools remembering a fool”. But we sing Victory in Jesus.
Throughout the past twenty centuries, those who have followed Jesus, and been his most useful servants, have also been seen by the world as failures.
Paul was certainly one of those. After a career of riots, imprisonments, threats, beatings and shipwrecks, Paul was confined to the nastiest Roman prison imaginable. People were saying bad things about him. He was not able to defend his character, or his leadership. By worldly standards the life of Paul was a miserable failure! But Christian followers hold a different view of what was happening.
By definition the word “failure” means to fall short in an attempt to accomplish a goal or set of goals. Paul saw what was happening as a great success, because his goal of spreading the gospel, the Good News of Jesus, in the most efficient way possible, was being accomplished.
Rome was the center of the world back then, and the Roman emperor held the reigns of worldwide power.
Paul was arrested and shackled to Roman soldiers. That put him in a position to share Christ with the whole Praetorian Guard, the emperor's select personal army. What better platform from which to preach Jesus?
On top of that, his imprisonment was the inspiration that some believers needed to “come out of the Christian closet" and begin witnessing boldly.
Sometimes we use the world's measuring stick, standards which lead us to believe that God has somehow failed – that Christianity doesn't work in the 21st century. Because we do not see like God sees, what we call “failures” are only apparent failures.
We need to see things as God sees things.
In Paul’s circumstance there was mixed reaction also. Some of the church folks got bold and preached Christ out of love (both for Christ and Paul); some preached in a cynical attempt to add to Paul's problems. They were looking to capitalize on the publicity about Paul, and make a little profit.
What did Paul think about such goings-on? Paul knew the goal of spreading the gospel was happening. And it caused one thing to happen in him - he REJOICED! And he promised to keep on rejoicing.
While the world looks on and says power, prestige, position, money, sex, things – these are the important issues of life; God looks down from heaven and whispers, My ways are higher than your ways.
The bottom line assessment is that it is God's kingdom - we are servants. In the long view, it really doesn't matter what the details are concerning our comfort and personal circumstances. If Christ is preached, we must rejoice.
This morning, we celebrate the professions of faith and baptisms of those who have responded to the bold mission advance of the Gospel of Christ.
We also celebrate the table – God’s “Jesus memorial” – commemorating Christ’s sacrifice that makes our new birth and eternal life a reality.
The world largely says “God has failed”.
This morning we say, “Not for me!”
Father, our greatest joy is the anticipation of hearing ‘well-done, thou good and faithful servant’. Grant us the ability to see the richness of a bold advance in the Gospel, even in our weakest circumstances.
We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!