Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:10-11 True Christian Aspiration

Philippians 3:10 & 11 “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul has made a list of all the things of which he used to be proud – a circumcised member of the chosen race, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee, zealous and righteous. Then he has gone on to say that in the light of meeting Christ he now considers all of that to be worthless. He has moved away from what he has achieved, and his mind is now engrossed with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. “Please, I beg you, don’t let your minds dwell on what you’ve done,” he is saying to them. “If that is your religion – what you have experienced, what you’ve attained, what your church does – then I fear for your understanding of Christianity. What is absolutely crucial is this, to know Christ,” and this is the theme of our text. Paul gives us the five marks of true Christian aspiration.

1. I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST.

Those are absolutely devastating words. They are written by a man who knew Christ better than anyone else in the world. So there must be such layers and depths to knowing Christ for the apostle to be acknowledging to us, “I may know him, but there is so much more to know. I know the tiniest part of him.” Rabbi Duncan, who also seemed to walk with God most intimately, once said, “Oh! It is miserably little that I know of Jesus Christ – miserably little.” Such Christians are like Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of his age with vast knowledge of the creation, but Newton once confided to a flattering admirer that he felt like a man standing on the edge of a vast ocean examining a single pebble. That is what Paul is conscious of here.

We don’t know the Lord nearly as well as we’d like to know him. Sometimes our sense of the Lord can get so dim that we wonder whether we know him at all. What we know of Jesus Christ can seem more like a set of concepts that a living, fascinating friend whom we know personally. I wish we could all say that the Lord walks and talks with us constantly, but sometimes we fell as though we’re walking alone in silence. We believe that the Lord is there, and that he’s not silent, but all too often we don’t hear his voice or perceive his presence.

It hurts to admit that we experience less of the Lord than we long for. It hurts when Jesus seems more like a distant concept than a nearby Lord. It hurts not to know Christ as well as I’d like. Being a preacher makes it even worse. If I’m beset by the feeling that I don’t know the Lord as well as I should, how dare I introduce another to him? When I speak about the joy and wonder of knowing Jesus, am I promoting more than I’ve experienced? As a messenger of God, I want to speak from the overflow of my heart, not from the dryness and thirsting of my heart. If my craving for the Lord is greater than my actual closeness to him, why should anyone listen to me? So if you also identify with this longing to know the Lord better, then I am speaking to you as a fellow traveller, not as one who has arrived. I treasure my relationship with Christ more than anything else in the world, but I still don’t know the Lord as well as I’d like to.

How can we know Christ? To begin we must know some things about him, mustn’t we? Before we know anyone we must read about them, or hear about them on the radio, or we notice them in a room and we hope to be introduced. All knowledge begins with such first discoveries. The American writer Joan Didion took her six-year old daughter around an exhibition of paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. The little girl stared at those vast colourful paintings of flowers, and after a while she said to her mother, “Mommy I want to meet her.” She saw some things about this painter that intrigued her, and led her to want to know more. There was a time when Paul knew Jesus Christ ‘after the flesh.’ In other words he could remember the first time anyone ever mentioned his name. He asked some questions about him: who’s he? where does he come from? how old is he? what does his father do for a living? under whom did he study? is he still alive? how did he die? He got to know about Jesus Christ. He used his mind to gain some knowledge about this person. He built up a picture of Jesus filtered to him through the lens of his friends – who all happened to hate the Lord. It was this distorted picture which became Paul’s too. It was inaccurate knowledge, but he began to be curious about Christ.

Then when the risen Lord did that glorious thing to him and met with him on the road to Damascus the distortions were removed. He was given two things. We say that he was given the graces of ‘inward illumination’ and ‘outward revelation.’ That is the privilege of every Christian. Our minds by sin have been prejudiced against religion. They’ve been in darkness. We had some knowledge of Christ because of an earlier grace in the land and in our own upbringing, but when the Holy Spirit entered our lives it was like turning on a light, and the shadows which hid him from us were driven away. We were illuminated. At the same time God also gave us his revelation of Jesus in the Scriptures for us to read, and to hear preached. So we started to know the Christ of the Bible. There is no other place to know him but via the Scriptures. To know Christ you must know the Bible. It is not possible to say that you love the Lord but you don’t love his Word. You cannot say that while you want to know the Lord you don’t want to know the Bible. Knowing the truth is a matter of being saved or perishing. Disdain of the truth is a matter of spiritual death. That’s why those who love Christ sit under the best preaching they can get. Christ-lovers are Bible-lovers. So in Solzhenitsyn’s book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” a Russian concentration camp in Karaganda is described where one of the prisoners is a Baptist pastor named Alyosha. He has smuggled into the prison a New Testament and hidden it in a chink in the wall in the communal cell. The other prisoners can hear him first thing in the morning reading from it under his breath, but loud enough for the others to hear, because he wants them all to know the Lord too. Those who love the Saviour love the Scriptures.

It is in the Bible that we make such discoveries as the Lord Jesus being God and man, two natures in one person. We find that he has had three states, pre-incarnate with the Father, humbled to live on earth, and glorified to live in heaven, high and exalted. We also learn that he has three offices, he is prophet, and priest, and king. Now all that may be a skeleton, but our skeletons are very important. Without them we would be blobs. It is very useful to see the structure of our Lord’s person and work. We can give it flesh and blood from all our acquaintance with him in the Bible itself. So we know about his life, from his birth through the silent years to the beginning of his public ministry when he is baptized by John the Baptist. Then there are all his claims and encounters, his miracles and teaching. We grow in a literal knowledge of him. We charge our minds with knowing the gospels and the interpretation of Jesus Christ’s life which we meet in the New Testament letters. We are always learning about him.

Then knowing him leads to trusting in him, leaning upon him. We find our souls get more and more wrapped around him. In the light of all the information we gain about him we find him trustworthy. We trust him as we trust our father. We trust him as a group of settlers heading west trusted the wagon-master. We trust him as the flock trust the shepherd. We trust Christ as we trust our family doctor. We know that he is qualified, that he is licensed to practise medicine, that he is experienced, that he has dealt with our family over the years. Our trust in him is not divorced from such things. We wouldn’t trust just anyone who worked for the National Health Service to perform an operation on us. Our faith in a surgeon is based on the knowledge that we have of him. So too we start with the Christ of the Bible and we grow in our knowledge of him and then we trust him. When he cried, “It is finished,” then we know we don’t have to contribute anything to our salvation except our sin and need. When he tells us that he will work all things together for our good then we can trust him when dangers threaten and hopes are dashed. Christ has promised that these things will all work for our good. So our knowledge of him and his claims and promises leads us to trust him.

More than that, our knowledge and trust of Christ leads us to fall in love with him. To know him is to love him. We grow to love his teaching. Listen! “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word that I have spoken to you” (Jn. 15″1-3). How beautiful! “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn 14:27). What assurance! “And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Lk. 15:31&32). Did Shakespeare ever say anything as glorious as the words of Jesus? Or Milton, or Dickens? One thinks of one of the most notable English writers of the 20th century, a man called Cyril Connolly, and the opening line in his word cycle, “The Unquiet Grave”, which is this: “The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.” The Lord Christ, God’s great prophet, has given to mankind its enduring masterpiece. Today all over the world in millions of churches the words of Christ have been read and loved and will be to the end of time.

We love Christ for laying down his life for us: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Roms. 5:7&8). Nothing but the death of Christ could put away sin. What love, so freely taking our place, God incarnate, yet forsaken by God for us. He who had always enjoyed the love and joy and light of God’s presence was plunged into the darkness of abandonment for us. Was ever the like heard of? Will ever the like be heard of again? Christ got the cup of wrath which was ours. It was full of damnation and he took it lovingly. He did not leave one bitter drop for us, but drank it to the dregs, and then he puts in our hands the cup of salvation. As that simple person remarked, “He die . . . or . . . we die: He die . . . we no die.” The blood of Christ is the ransom for hell, yes, surely, a ransom for ten thousand hells. Is there good news today? Yes there is good news every day. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. We love him for going to Golgotha for us.

We love him too for protecting and keeping us. He knows all events; he manages all events. What might have happened to us? What might have happened to me? Where might I have been today? In what state? I am a weak and cowardly man by nature. Yet how I’ve been cared for, and how I’ve been provided for. How my sins have been veiled and covered. In what times of temptation have the opportunities been removed, or when the opportunity was there I walked away. I went to a poor school where boys followed me around at playtime to beg for the stump of my apple or the peel from my orange because they were starving shivering boys. Jesus’ providence has been so kind. He has made all things work for my good. He has blessed me with so much. He has blessed me with you. I know so many of you love me, but I didn’t die for you. We serve a good Master.

To know him is to love him, and the more we know him the more we love him and worship him. “I know him,” says Paul, but I want to know him more and more, more experientially and intimately. To appropriate him at the beginning of each day, and to walk with him and live in his presence until the end of the day, to have the deepest possible experience of him. Once Rabbi Duncan was beginning his lecture and praying, and then there was a silence and he said to his students, “Dear young gentlemen, I’ve just had a glimpse of Jesus.” I believe that there is a knowing Christ which can only be described as a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

In the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris you can see the tattered remains of a document that was discovered at the time of the death of one of the world’s great intellects, sewn into the lining of his coat. Blaise Pascal, founder of projective geometry, devisor of the first calculating machine, discoverer of atmospheric physics, inventor of the barometer and the hydraulic press, became a man desperate for God and his truth. He turned to the Bible, and during the night of November 23, 1654, God came very near to him, and he wrote down on a piece of paper his impression of those hours:

In the year of Grace 1654
On Monday, 23rd of November
From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve FIRE
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
My God . . .
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel . . .
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy . . .
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I have fallen away. I have fled from Him . . .
We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel . . .
Total submission to Jesus Christ . . .
Eternally in joy . . .
I will not forget Your word. Amen.

Those are the famous words Pascal wrote down. How limited words are. They reflect Pascal’s stream of consciousness looking back over those hours and trying to recapture a profound Christian experience. I once heard Dr Lloyd-Jones reading them during a sermon here in Aberystwyth twenty-five years ago, but I think I was more touched when the Doctor once spoke to me of his early years as a Christian in St Thomas’s Hospital in London, and a little room he had there on the third floor. “I had some great times in that room,” he said, smiling and nodding his head slightly. Christ is someone to be known, says Paul.

2. I WANT TO KNOW THE POWER OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION.

Paul was living in a day of power structures. There was the network of synagogues which centred in Jerusalem with the Chief Priests and the Sanhendrin and it stretched all across the Roman Empire: the power of Judaism. There was the power of the Greek language, poetry, architecture, philosophy, political system, dramas and games. It intoxicated millions: the power of Hellenism. There was the political clout of Rome, backed by the mightiest army the world had ever seen, personified in Caesar who was worshipped as a god. There were the roads, and the rule of law: the power of Rome. There was the power of the temples, and the power of money and trade, and the power of nationalism. And into this world entered a little group of Christians armed with faith, prayer and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. What impact would they make on such locked in structures apparently so resistant to the gospel? It seemed hopeless until you realise the great flaw in every one of those systems – all those men and women, whether Jewish, Greek, Roman or barbarian, were dying people. Every single day they passed was a day nearer their graves. Their destiny was six feet of ground. Death was a very present reality. Life expectancy was not forty years. Multitudes of children died at birth or infancy. It was not until more than three hundred years after the life of Paul that infanticide was made a crime. Life was cheap, soon over, and then . . what?

“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot” (Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure,” Act III, Scene 1)

Into that world the apostles came with the message of the Bible. They didn’t deny the importance of the body. They didn’t demean it. They didn’t describe the body as a prison holding the soul captive. They didn’t say that at length death came and the soul would be free. They didn’t believe that. They valued the body, and they warned that death was the wages of sin. But they declared to the incredulous world that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. The stone had been rolled away on the third day. The grave clothes were neatly lying there but he was not there. The soldiers sent to guard him were found in a trance, and the chain that bound and sealed the stone at the entrance was snapped. Then he appeared again and again, first to Mary Magdalene, then to Peter and John in the garden. Then to the disciples in the Upper Room, and to two on the road to Emmaus, to Thomas, and to the disciples at the side of the sea, to Peter alone, to 500 of his followers on a mountain in Galilee. Many such appearances, eating and talking with them for almost six weeks. Three years earlier they had seen Jesus of Nazareth baptised when they had been following John. Now they saw him rise from the dead.

The risen Christ had transformed them. Peter had been cowardly, made nervous by a girl’s questions. The power of the resurrection of Christ greatly transformed him. He stood up and faced thousands of people in Jerusalem on the Feast of Pentecost and he spoke to them in an extraordinary bold manner. Thousands were converted on that day. They too had dealings with the risen Christ. He met with Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. He opened Lydia’s heart in Philippi where that city was transformed as numbers in that populace experienced the risen Christ changing them.

The ancient world was confronted with these new people who were not afraid to die. Women and children, thrown to the wild beasts in the arena facing such an end with dignity, submission and hope! “Death shall not separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” They could thus taunt the grave. So it has always been. Christians know how to die. Christoph Probst was a student in Munich who was executed by the firing squad on February 22, 1943 for promoting opposition to the Nazi state. The week before he was shot he wrote to his sister, “I never knew that dying is so easy . . . I die without any feeling or hatred . . . Never forget that life is nothing but a growing in love and a preparation for eternity.”

Every new Christian comes to know Christ by an encounter with him. It is not an encounter with the Bible alone, or with a preacher, or with some high religious atmosphere, but the living Jesus Christ makes himself known to us, and that is how we begin the Christian life. God makes us alive in Christ. He acts in our lives in such a way as to make it impossible for us to ignore him. I have to get into a relationship with him. I have no life without that. I have to be joined to him. I have to get really into him, like a branch is in the vine, and its life starts to flow through me. You hear men talk of another and they say, “Him? Oh, he is really into model aeroplanes,” or some other interest. Christians are really into the living Christ, gripped by him, joined to him. There is this wonderful person and he is alive, and as you come into an intimate fellowship with him you start to change. We read testimonies of conversion and we find there people talking about a period in their lives when almost imperceptibly perhaps the Jesus of the Bible became everything to them. We start the Christian life becoming fascinated by Christ, and we have to go on like that.

It is the living Christ who empowers us to go on living this new life. Paul prays for the church at Ephesus, and his desire, he tells them is “that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Eph. 1:18-20). To know divine resurrection power was the Ephesians’ need in daily living. Without that how could they do anything pleasing to the Lord Jesus? How could they resist temptation, and take up their own cross and deny themselves? How could they love their neighbours as themselves without the new life of Christ enabling them? How could they love their enemies without the life of the one who prayed for his enemies filling their own hearts? How could they turn the other cheek without Christ’s resurrection life? How can we serve the church and the world without that strength? How can we preach without the power of Christ’s resurrection present in this holy action? Preaching is the Lord beseeching men by his servants to be reconciled to God. So without the resurrection power of the living Christ a sermon is nothing but the words of men.

Christians are to know the power of the resurrection day by day, in their humdrum daily duties. To survive, and to cope, as much as to grow in usefulness, for all this the risen Christ is needed. Sometimes there is a special blessedness when the Saviour, as it were, gives us a single smile. There are times when the Lord Jesus comes very close to us. Surely Dr. Lloyd-Jones is talking of his own experience when he says this: “Sometimes when you are praying alone, sometimes when you are reading the Scriptures, sometimes when you are meditating upon these things, there comes the strange awareness that there is another, someone else, present, that you are not alone, and that he seems to be speaking to you. You don’t hear, but you grasp the message. You understand what he is saying. He is there encouraging you about something you have done, or perhaps chastising or upbraiding you. He is showing himself in his glory and wonder, asking you to come nearer and to spend more time with him. These are the things, this is part of the fellowship about which the Apostle is speaking” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace,” Hodder & Stoughton, London 1990, p.72). That again is the power of Christ’s resurrection.

“What if Thy form we cannot see?
We know and feel that Thou are near.” (Henry Twells)

Dr Lloyd-Jones wants is to be clear what he is talking about. He says, “No. I have not seen him. I have not had a vision. I have not heard an audible voice addressing me, but thank God I can say those words. I know he is near, and I feel his presence.” (ibid). The risen Christ spreads his great wings and we abide under his shadow.

3. I WANT TO KNOW THE FELLOWSHIP OF SHARING IN CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS.

It was not very long after Peter had experienced the resurrection life of Christ that he was beaten for the first time, stoned, thrown into prison and his life threatened. He quickly came to know the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Paul experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection on the road to Damascus but soon he too was knowing the fellowship of his sufferings as, for example, in Philippi where he was beaten for preaching the gospel and imprisoned with his feet in the stocks. So it has always been. The more the church knows the power of Christ’s resurrection it will soon know the fellowship of his sufferings.

Two weeks ago today a 68-year old American Christian named Joseph William Cooper was walking to a friend’s house from a gospel meeting near Kilimanoor in Kerala state in the south of India. Suddenly ten militant Hindus armed with clubs and crowbars attacked them and put old Joseph into the intensive care ward. That is the latest in a long line of attacks on Christians in India. Last Christmas Day, a month ago yesterday, in a small Protestant church in Chianwala fifty miles from Lahore, Pakistan, a hand grenade was thrown into the congregation by a person wearing Muslim dress. Three little girls were killed. There is an anti-Christian hate campaign going on just now and almost forty Christians have been killed in Pakistan in the last couple of years. The church is experiencing the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s suffering. The Christian organisation called ‘Open Doors’ has just published 52 prayer cards with photographs of two imprisoned Christians on each page to take us through a year of remembering the world wide suffering church. All such followers of the Saviour, from the time of the apostles until today, could have been leading a quiet life, delivered from beating and hatred and prison if only they had hidden from everyone the fact that they were Christians. The moment they confessed Christ in the power of the resurrection they suffered, as Christ himself had, for bearing witness to the world.

Please understand this, that these sufferings of Christ in which we share are not redeeming substitutionary sufferings. Those were all uniquely his. There is a great insistence in the New Testament that he was ‘by himself’ and ‘alone’ when ‘once and for all’ he accomplished redemption. We did not provide a single grain of sand to purchase our redemption. We are too sinf ul to redeem another sinner. That suffering was all and only the work of the sinless Saviour. Nothing else is needed to save us. But when we start to follow Christ we have to pick up our cross each day. In other words, there are troubles that come into our lives which would never have bothered us if we had not taken our stand for him. That is our ‘cross’ – not our illness, or poverty, or bereavement, but the pains and strains that come from nailing our colours high for the Lord Jesus.

Let me make that point clear by telling you this: Steve Crowter from Coventry regularly advertises his work in the Christian press. He will obtain a car for you, in fact he has just found a car for my daughter and husband and their five boys. Steve and his wife have themselves four children and one of them, named Heidi, is a delightful Downs Syndrome girl. Steve has just written a book called “Surprise Package” (Day One) which tells of the joy they’ve had in God’s gift of a child with learning difficulties. It is the sort of book you will be able to give to a family who are facing up to this providence. My point is this, that having such a child is not at all sharing in the sufferings of Christ because that is something people of all kinds of religion and no religion at all share. This is a fallen creation in which physical and mental handicaps abound. The apostle is here referring to the troubles that happens to people purely because they are disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul wants these Christians to know the power of the resurrected Christ changing their lives, and then, should there be resentment and trial because of this, that they should know they are not suffering alone but in the encouragement and strength that their head and Saviour provides – “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” The man Christ Jesus sympathises with us:

“That human heart He still retains
Though throned in highest bliss;
And feels each tempted member’s pains;
For our affliction’s his.” (Joseph Hart, 1712-68).

The fellowship of sufferings is established by him.

4. I WANT TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST IN HIS DEATH.

For the privilege of knowing the Lord Jesus better no suffering is too great. The apostles were whipped for preaching Christ and one said to another, “Imagine it, we’ve been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for his name!” (Acts 5:41). What a perspective on life! There is opposition to your faith. You lose your job. Your marriage breaks up because your spouse hates this Christ whom you love. You must say to yourself, “Thank God! He is finally entrusting me with a little bit of persecution. I am open to it, if it leads me to know Christ better.”

I am afraid that we have no choice in this matter. Do we want to be like Christ more than anything else in the world? Do we really? Can we say that this one thing we do? Then Christlikeness must lead to Calvary. We must be ready for it, and the rising generation of Christians must especially be ready as opposition to the gospel is growing. There’s a famous epitaph to a mountain guide in Switzerland. It simply says these words, “He Died Climbing.” That should apply to every Christian. We are climbing the hill of suffering with our Saviour, though we don’t know what part of the journey we are on today. That is part of the adventure, the discovery of him at unexpected times and places, the fellowship of his sufferings and the joy of his friendship.

“Make us Thy mountaineers;
We would not linger on the lower slope . . .
Let us die climbing. When this little while
Lies far behind us, and the last defile
Is all alight, and in that light we see
Our leader and our Lord, what will it be?” (Amy Carmichael)

Remember 86 year old Polycarp, the preacher at Smyrna in the year 155, brought before the magistrate and accused of being a Christian. The magistrate was torn with the horror of condemning to the stake a venerable old man and he pleaded with Polycarp to offer incense to the image of Caesar. What harm could there be in it, and he would save himself? “Have respect for your age. Take the oath and I shall release you. Curse Christ,” he said to Polycarp. The old man looked back at him: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” And when they brought him to the stake he prayed, “Thank you that you’ve graciously thought me worthy of this day and this hour.”

Paul wanted his deepest convictions to be centred on Jesus Christ. He had loved Paul and laid down his life for him so nothing Paul could do was too much for the Lord. It was for Paul a question of loyalty. He would not hesitate. His Lord looked at the cup he’s been given and then he drank it and Paul will drink his cup too. “If necessary I will give my life for him,” he is saying, “becoming like him in his death.”

5. I WANT SOMEHOW TO ATTAIN TO THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

“Somehow”? What does that mean? Is that a word of doubt? Of course not. Paul has full assurance of faith that “we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (I Cor. 15: 51-53). What certainties! He has seen the risen Christ. Can the Head live and the body stay dead?

What does the word ‘somehow’ mean? Well, you see, Paul doesn’t know how he’s going to get to the resurrection morning, but somehow or other he will. “I know that I shall rise from the dead and see Jesus. I have no doubts about that, but I’ve no idea what’s going to happen between now and then, and thank God I don’t. I don’t want to know. Perhaps at my trial before Caesar I will be exonerated and given my freedom so that for many years, until old age, I shall preach Christ. That may be my route to death and resurrection. Or tomorrow I may be summoned to appear before Caesar and found guilty and be put to death. That may be my route to the resurrection. Somehow or other I shall attain to the resurrection from the dead.” So the resurrection is certain, but the route there is not, and the timing is not, and what will actually happen – perhaps Christ should come before we die – we don’t know, but somehow we most certainly shall attain the resurrection.

My point has been this, that Christians should not to be satisfied with the soundest knowledge of the doctrine of the death of Christ, and the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ, and the doctrine of the great Day of Resurrection that lies before us. There must be a longing in our hearts to see with our inner eyes the wonder that is Jesus Christ dead for us and Jesus Christ alive for us. No amount of programmes, organisations, singing groups and activities can satisfy the longing of the heart. We need to know the Lord himself, and the church is famished for want of his presence. The cure for so many ills in today’s church would be to enter the Lord’s presence and know that he is in us and we are in him.

We dare not falter in pursuing these five godly aspirations. I pray that God will fill me to overflowing with the knowledge of the living, loving person of his Son. I pray that God will show me more and more of him. I pray that my heart may be in tune with the heart of my heavenly Father, that I may experience God’s love and love God more truly. I pray that I may speak to others with the warmth and power that flow out of friendship with the Lord, that they too may encounter him.

I know that God puts limits to what we can see of him and know of him in this life, but how many of us are anywhere near those limits? Could our relationship with the Lord be less distant and more direct if only we wanted it more, and prayed for it more urgently? Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). To see God we must be pure in heart, to be clean of sin, but even more, to have a single-minded undivided desire for God. When God is our supreme desire, when nothing matters to us compared to knowing the Lord, then we are pure in heart, and we will see God. Let’s pray that the Lord will come soon and display his full glory for all to see and somehow we will attain to the resurrection from the dead.

26th January 2003 GEOFF THOMAS