…to take my eyes off the resurrection.
I know a lot of stuff. I graduated from Bible college, completed my Masters, taught through the Bible multiple years, and like reading theology for fun. Some may feel I’m bragging. Actually, it’s embarrassing to know so much but not apply or experience what I know. I know about the dichotomy of the old man verses the new man from Romans 7. I can prove the deity of Jesus by the words of men, God the Father, and Jesus himself. I believe that God heals and often intervenes in the affairs of men. I know he transforms the dead soul to one of new life. I believe these things and hopefully live courageously enough to die for them. It’s one thing to know them like studying for a test. It’s another to know them experientially. Recently, I passed through an experience that illumined my understanding of the old and new man. Yes, I experience the war and do what I do not want to do and don’t do what I want to do. I remember learning that as a new believer. But, for the past few months, I’ve experienced the battle. I had to slap down the tyrannical brat over and over again. So while I gained no new knowledge of the doctrine, I know it more fully. My previous understanding remained only in grey, black, and white. Now, I have color.
In Philippians, Paul writes more than head knowledge of Jesus and his work on the cross. He says in 3:10, “…that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.” This is not filling the correct bubble on the SAT kind of knowledge. He wants to experience and REALLY know it. He wants three things: Jesus, power of his resurrection, and fellowship of his sufferings. Oh, is that all?
I particularly enjoy visiting Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington. My first visit came in 2001 shortly after 9/11. While I found it interesting, I left dissatisfied. I felt I never met the man; I felt as though I could have read a book and gained just as much insight into Washington. At the time, the museum announced plans to renovate and “show more of the man, Washington.” Pleased, I hoped to visit again. Several years later, I had the opportunity, and I was deeply satisfied. Getting to know a historical figure is difficult. But, while visiting Mt. Vernon now, one learns of this innovative, godly, humble, tragic, and leader of a man. I feel as though I could sit at his table or talk at the tavern with him. I transformed from knowing about to just knowing.
One may know about Jesus but not know Jesus. In my aforementioned Bible college training, it amazed me that I could find so many who wrote about Jesus but did not really know him. Authors spent so much time analyzing a particular fact only to drown in the swamp of insignificance (in other words, “Who cares?”). Do not criticize my school, for godly instructors taught me critical thinking and analysis. But, danger lurks at every turn for the Bible student to be satisfied to know about Jesus rather than knowing Jesus. Mere Jesus facts become a self-deceiving opiate. One becomes content with encyclopedic data. Bunyan’s man “Talkative” in Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates such knowledge. But, I want to know the man. If I’m to be a disciple of Jesus and follow him, I need more than just a two dimensional picture.
Fortunately, Jesus wants the same thing. I need to want him. He will bring the character and experiences to bear that I might know him. It is one thing to know he answers prayer but another to experience the prayer answered. I know he gives wisdom but I can experience that wisdom. I know he is Lord of all, but I can live his lordship in all things. I can give intellectual ascent to the sinfulness of mankind, but I can look into the abyss of my soul and marvel at the grace of Jesus that saves me. Yes, I just want to know him.
Power of his resurrection
I have had two particularly painful experiences with death. The first was the loss of my mother. I was about ten years old. While I experienced the loss of older brothers and sisters moving away, I knew I would see them again. When mom died, that loss became permanent. I felt this permanence immediately upon hearing the news. I would NEVER see her again. Loss. Pain. Grief. My second painful encounter with death involves a puppy (What? Not my dad? I can’t explain this except that it remains painful to recall even after 35 years). Our dog had over a dozen puppies. With a litter that size, there was more than one runt and destined not to survive. It fell upon me to euthanize the smallest. The puppy would not die. I did more harm than good. As a big, strong teenage boy, I wept bitterly and uncontrollably as I dug his grave. To this day, I feel horrible. I hunt and killed predators after my dogs or chickens, but I remember that nameless puppy. Death is final. Death hurts. Death is painful…especially for those who survive.
But, what if death died? What if mothers and puppies did not have to die? Or, what if they could rise again? In all the movies and stories, no one thought death actually died. But, Jesus did. Yes, he did defeat death. He resurrected. I don’t know if Mary actually held the body of Jesus, but Michelangelo’s Pieta so heart fully expresses the finality of Jesus’ death. But, he did rise. Too often we, who have walked with Jesus for a while, forget this great fact. This death hangs over us all like a rotting destiny. Jesus beat it. He conquered it! No one else in history can say that. Paul quotes Hosea, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”” (1Cor. 15:55).
Death is the ultimate bully. Someone needs to take him on. But, that someone needs to be strong enough to do so. This is the power of the resurrection. Jesus did not merely make a promise of defeating death, he really did so. He took this bully’s face and rubbed it in the mat all day long. No more do we need to fear it. We have an advocate. We have a redeemer.
This kind of power is but one expression. If Jesus can do this, what else is he capable of? Chew on that. Paul wanted to know (ie, experience) this kind of power. But there’s more.
Fellowship of his sufferings
I remember my first auto accident where I was the driver. I panicked. I did not know what to do. I almost admitted guilt but stopped just in time (especially because it was not my fault). Nonetheless, my hands stopped shaking, my head cleared, and I finally considered what to do. We swapped information. I was 21 years old. I’ve been in a few wrecks since…no, they were not my fault. I was rear ended. I swerved to miss a deer and my van slid on its side. Accidents happen. Like all wrecks, we just want to make sure that no one is hurt. Since then, I’ve had friends or relatives in accidents. They freaked. I could help them navigate the steps to take and start the process of insurance claims calmly. While I do not relish being in another fender bender, I can not only handle it, I can help others through it. Why? Because I’m a paragon of strength? Hardly. I have just been through it. I have fellowship with someone else’s sufferings. In other words, I get it, I empathize, and I share the burden.
Fellowship with Jesus’ sufferings is Paul’s third item for him to know. One could explain the horrors of scourging and the cross. One could paint a picture of people casting rocks and rotten food and spit at Jesus as he walked up the hill. One could explain the basics of crucifixion. And, one could try to empathize with that horrible moment when Jesus cried out to his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus did not want to experience this. His journey to the cross left him in agony. I need to speculate, but I think two things kept him going. First, I think the “It is finished” moment. Not only did it mean the suffering ends, but the fulfilling of God’s work that satisfies his justice. That moment meant that all men could be made new in the eyes of God. Second, the resurrection was in his view. He knew that he would not stay in the grave. He would not merely be vindicated but conquer death. There was too much riding on his success. And, succeed he did.
But, Paul wants to know more than the theology. Jesus has become more than an intellectual exercise for him. He could quote the verses on what God accomplished on the cross, but he knows Jesus. He is his life. He wants to know what it cost him. He wants to share in it. That’s what friends, good friends, do. Even if this means suffering for Paul, he welcomes it so that he might feel what Jesus felt. We need to see that Paul did not merely believe in Jesus, but he loved him.
Being conformed to his death
Paul’s desire does not end with fellowship of sufferings. The last phrase explains the how. How does one know Jesus, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings? Die. In the end, we have only a life to give. There is nothing on earth that has value. I give Jesus my life. I may physically die or he may use me. Regardless, I don’t own my life anymore. This attitude may lead to uncomfortable circumstances. However, even if I die, I also see the resurrection side. I need to remember that while suffering may be here, it’s only temporary. There is much more. Resurrection WILL happen. I gladly give my life to the one who gives it back repaired, restored, and renewed. He turns death in to new life. He’s the only one who can do so. So, with great joy (and a little fear), I refuse to take my eyes off the resurrection and the resurrected One.