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Knowing Christ and the Power of His Resurrection (Philippians 3:1–11)

by Anton Beetge | Easter Sermons 2024

Christians are people of the Book. We have learned to have a high regard for Scripture and we respect those who are able to teach and explain the word well. In addition to our own pastors, most of us also likely listen to sermons available online.

Especially in churches like ours, accustomed to excellent teaching, we truly value theology. We study more and more theology. We have lots of questions about the end times, election, spiritual gifts, raising children, thriving in marriage etc. These are all things that the Bible does indeed speak to, and all things that we must seek to follow God’s direction on.

We enjoy exploring the ins and outs of topics such as infra- and supralapsarianism and, when we come to Easter, the celebration we have year after year, we expect to learn something new, to examine the resurrection from some new angle.

That’s all great, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to know more of God’s revelation. In fact, we are encouraged by the apostles to know more. But as we yearn for deeper theology, we dare not miss the object and goal of theology.

In this study, I want to follow in the footsteps of the greatest theologian—the apostle Paul—and see through the theology to the ultimate point, to the reason for the theology. I want nothing less than to direct your hearts to Christ. I want you to know Christ, the resurrected Christ, not simply to know about him. This was Paul’s passion, as we see in Philippians 3:1–11.

Easter has to be the greatest of all the traditional Christian holidays. Christmas is wonderful, and how grateful we are the Son of God willingly left his place in glory to take on human flesh as the Son of God incarnate. He came bodily into a sinful world to live among his own creatures. He was willing to be a nobody, to submit to fallible human parents, and to grow in wisdom and stature and favour with God and man. That is awesome, and without the incarnation we would be lost and hopeless—crushed by the law and its demands. 

But as wonderful as Christmas is, there is something indescribably awesome about Easter, as we remember that Jesus, the Son of Man, not only came, but in fact lived a life of spotless righteousness, and then took the fall for the sins of those he loved. How marvellous that he did so while we were yet enemies who hated God and refused to acknowledge him as King.

How amazing that such a perfect God-man would lay down his life, accepting blasphemies against himself, ridicule and scorn, only to face separation and rejection from his beloved Father—all to ransom a people for himself. How incredible that this same Son of God would then rise again from the grave and come back, having turned away the wrath of God against the sinners he loved, to pass on the divine commission to us, and promise to return again having prepared a place for us.

Can there be a more glorious message, a more thrilling story? Is there any narrative more satisfying to the soul than that the Man of Sorrows, who appeared to have been defeated, in the very moment of apparent defeat, was working the most fantastic ambush against sin and Satan? That he was decisively winning the battle against darkness such that he could say on the cross, “Tetalestai! It is finished!” Not, “I have made a way for salvation.” Not, “It is now within their reach.” No. “It is finished!” The Father satisfied, sin removed, rebels freed and forgiven.

That is awesome, in the very best sense of that word. And it is this awesome message that revives stone cold, clinical, academic hearts such as ours. As it does so, there is a deep soul-rattling groan within all the children of God expressed by the apostle Paul here in v. 10: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection! That I may know him.

Knowing God

We see, first of all, Paul’s expressed desire to know God.

Finally, my brothers,  rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him.

Philippians 3:1–10

Paul didn’t just want to know about Jesus. He didn’t want to amass technical words to describe spiritual realities. He wasn’t interested in a system of doctrine divorced from communion with his Lord. “That I may know him.” We can almost hear the longing in his voice.

He didn’t want to know about Jesus the way we know what the word “sweet” means from a dictionary. He wanted to know Jesus the way we know chocolate is sweet after we have tasted its molten goodness on our own tongues.

Prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, when he was thrown from his horse and blinded by the heavenly light, Paul knew a lot of theology. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He had studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most respected teachers at the time. And not only that, but he had practiced what he preached. As to the law, he was blameless.

Paul knew a lot about God. He knew more about God than most of us could ever learn in a lifetime. But he says, in vv. 7–8, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Paul is saying that all of those achievements and all of that knowledge was rubbish. It was worthless. He gave it all up. Why? “For the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” Or “in order that I may gain Christ.”

Paul realised that head knowledge about God is worthless rubbish. His own former life was a case in point. He had had so much knowledge, but had not known Christ! He had not taken hold of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And laying hold of God in Jesus Christ is everything! 

After encountering Jesus, Paul stopped wanting to know more about God, and that thirst for knowledge, which only fed his pride, was replaced by a far more powerful craving to know God, himself—God as revealed in Jesus.

You see, without, Jesus, man cannot truly know God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Any sort of “knowledge” about God or the Bible that doesn’t lead to Christ is knowledge misapplied and misunderstood. It is worthless. It’s like a map that is upside down. Worse, it’s like finding a map to a buried treasure, but instead of following the map, instead we get distracted by the beauty of the map. We frame it and put it up on display. We invite others to look at it and wax eloquent about the type of paper it was drawn on, the time period it harkens back to, how unbelievably accurate it is, and how it agrees with the best science of the day, all the while ignoring the treasure it ought to lead us to.

We often wonder why the church isn’t having more of an impact in the world. Why doesn’t the gospel have more of an impact in your own life for that matter? It is because of this: We are not following the theology (the map) to the treasure it discloses. We are full of head knowledge but our hearts are cold and unmoved. 

A knowledge of God rightly understood will lead to changed emotions and changed affections. A knowledge of God rightly understood will not leave us arrogant, critical, feeling superior to others. A knowledge of God rightly understood will lead us to want more of God. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). And Paul wrote about “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

A hunger and thirst for righteousness in the believer is nothing less than a hunger and thirst for Jesus himself. The wonderful news is that those who hunger and thirst for Jesus will be satisfied! “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 29:13–14).

This is the one hunger that will not disappoint. It will not leave you unsatisfied, empty, or regretful. This is the one hunger that can be indulged with abandon because it is the one hunger that will satiate to the full.

This is why Paul says that he wants to know Christ. He begins the chapter by telling the Philippian believers to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord is precisely what happens when we desire to know Christ. Would you have unrestricted joy? Joy satisfied? Then, believer, you must go beyond knowing about God. Like the apostle Paul, you must seek to know God himself!

The Power of the Resurrection

But how are we to know God? Paul say that we know him as we know “the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10).

Paul wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. He wants to know Jesus. He wants to know power. Power is a popular topic. Whether we realise and admit it or not, we all want power. Power gets things done, and we think that power will solve our problems and get rid of our suffering and discomfort. 

But Paul isn’t speaking about the power to be God. That is the sort of power that the devil hinted at when he tempted Eve. Paul doesn’t want that sort of power. He doesn’t want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection so that he can be less dependent on God. Quite the contrary, he wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection so that he will be more dependent on God! He wants to know the power that will enable him to endure suffering and trials and come out of it “refined as gold.”

We see this desire in v. 10 where he says that he wants to become like Christ in his sufferings. This is incredible. Is Paul actually saying that he wants to suffer? Is Paul saying that he would turn his back on ease and comfort in favour of suffering and hardship?

That is exactly what he is saying. Not that he wants to experience precisely the same suffering that Jesus experienced, but that he wants to share in suffering with Christ as his captain. Paul has such a love for Christ, and such a close identification with him, that he wants to share in the sufferings of Christ, becoming like him in his death.

Paul understands that Jesus’ power was displayed in suffering. Just when it looked like the devil had won the day, when Messiah had failed as he was crucified on the Roman cross, it was at that moment that we see the power and glory of Christ most clearly on display. Jesus showcased his power by enduring suffering for the sake of the joy that was set before him! Jesus understood that, to receive the crown of joy, he needed to undergo the cross. And Paul understands that if they persecuted his master, he will not escape. He understands that it is the one who endures to the end who will be saved.

Paul understands that our suffering is God’s means of grace whereby, the old man with its desires is weakened. It is God’s means by which we can be conformed to the image of Christ.

The glorious truth with regard to Christian suffering is that Christians can endure suffering with joy because Jesus suffered the denial and wrath of the Father instead of us! The only sinless man faced the full wrath of God against evil and wickedness in the place of his beloved people so that believers may receive the welcoming embrace of the Father, having the record of debt against them wiped out. Because Jesus suffered the denial and rejection of the Father for the sin he bore, his people never need fear such suffering. Jesus suffered alone. He bore our sins on his body alone. He faced the full fury of the wrath of God alone. He experienced being forsaken by God so that we need never suffer alone. As we share in his sufferings, we do so because he is with us in all of our suffering. As we share in his sufferings, we do so with his constant and effectual intercession on our behalf. As we share in his suffering, we do so empowered by the Holy Spirit, who will form Christ in us and make us holy. As we share in his suffering, we are not forsaken, but we do so buoyed up by the fellowship of the saints, the church who suffer with us.

Do you see the grace and mercy of such a worthy King? Praise the Lord that, though we are called to take up the cross and follow Jesus, he has gone before and has made our way smooth. He forges ahead. He provides a lamp for our feet and lights and makes our paths straight. He forges ahead through the jungle of thorns and briars. He cuts a clear path, and all we have to do is follow behind, keeping our eyes on our captain, brother, friend, and protector.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). Perhaps God will call you to open persecution. Is Jesus not worthy of that suffering, when he was beaten, mocked, spit upon, disbelieved, slandered and crucified? 

Suffering for the Christian comes in many forms. Much of our suffering has to do with putting to death the deeds of the flesh.

It is suffering to turn your eyes away and not take a second look. To refuse to engage in lust, or covetousness. But is Jesus not worthy? 

It is suffering to be excluded from events and sports teams in order to gather to worship. But is Jesus not worthy?

It is suffering to deny yourself sleep, to go on your knees and pray, when your heart is cold. But is Jesus not worthy?

It is suffering to endure a difficult life, a hard marriage, loneliness, financial hardship and so many other things which come as a result of living in a sin-cursed world. But is not the one who suffered the wrath of God against your sin worthy? Will you not suffer these light, momentary afflictions for the glory that is to be revealed?

Paul wanted to share in Jesus’ suffering because he wanted desperately to identify with Jesus in his resurrection. And I’m sure that is the desire of every Christian. What Christian does not want to be raised with Christ to eternal life?

Those who believe that Jesus bore the wrath of God against their sin will also believe that they will share in the reward for Christ’s righteousness: the resurrection from the dead. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, faith is made sight. The power of Christ’s resurrection is a foretaste of the power he continues to wield and promises to exercise on our behalf. This confirms his ability to do everything else that he has promised. Because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we can know without a doubt that we will be raised to eternal life if we believe in his name.

Because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have certainty regarding the forgiveness of sins. No matter how evil, because the Father raised Jesus from the dead, we can be certain that he has forgiven and removed our sin. God, who cannot look upon evil, could not abide a Son who had not dealt with the sin he bore once and for all. And so Jesus’ resurrection proves his perfect innocence and the effectiveness of his full and final redemption.

Because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we can have certainty regarding the forgiveness of sins. Because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection we can have certainty regarding God’s love for us. Because the Father did not abandon his only Son’s soul to Sheol, we know that the Father will always be with all of his children, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Because of the power of the resurrection we can have certainty regarding the testimony of the prophets and the apostles. What he spoke through them will most certainly come to pass. 

Because of the power of the resurrection we can have comfort that those who have died trusting Christ are now alive, and make up that great cloud of witnesses with whom we will one day worship in glory. Because of the power of the resurrection, we can live a life of obedience and conformity to Christ—the sort of transformation that is unthinkable apart from God’s supernatural enabling.

Paul wanted to know the power of the resurrection, and so should we. The trouble is that our flesh wants the power of the resurrection without the death and burial—without the suffering. But that’s not how it works.

Paul was not like that. He didn’t want to take a different route to the resurrection than Jesus did. He wanted to go all the way with Jesus, because he didn’t just love the benefits of connection to Jesus. He loved Jesus himself!

The Christian life requires supernatural power. We need divine power to love and serve one another. We need supernatural power to endure persecution and slander. We need divine power to grow in holiness. Paul knew this, which is why he prayed that the Colossians would be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might” (Colossians 1:9–11) and that the Ephesians would “know what is the hope to which he has called you … the immeasurable greatness of his power” (Ephesians 1:16–2:6).

What power? The power that God worked in Jesus when he raised him from the dead!

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form (morph) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form (morph) of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5–8

I want to have the mind of Christ described in Philippians 2:5–8. Don’t you? How can we ever expect to have the mind of this glorious Saviour if we do not know him intimately? How could we know the power of the resurrection unless we know the firstborn from the dead? Philippians 2 tells us that we will have the mind of Christ when we are willing to humbly take on whatever suffering is required for obedience and service to the God we love.

So family, let’s not flee suffering and hardship at all cost. Let’s not live a life so foreign to our Saviour that we cannot identify with him. With Paul, let us know Christ in the power of his resurrection, sharing in his suffering. Let us become like him in his death, fully reliant on the Father, for in this way, and no other, we will share in his resurrection also!

The Resurrection of the Saints

Paul wants to know Christ “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11). He writes extensively of this resurrection to the Corinthians:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:12–19

Our hope in Christ is not for this life only. Far from it. Nor is our hope in Christ for the next life only.

We have a hope in Christ for all eternity. Having once made atonement for sin, and having reconciled to us to God, we begin here and now to commune with and revel in a close fellowship with the almighty God. We do not serve dispassionately a tyrannical ruler whom we do not know. Far from it, we give ourselves willingly as slaves to a master we call our Father. We are given the title of the children of God. And because our hope in Christ—because of our identification with him in his death—we look forward to communing with and worshiping him for all eternity.

We believe that, just as God raised Jesus’ body from the dead, so too our bodies will be raised from the dead, and we will be made perfect—made able to fellowship with the God of the ages. The immortal, previously the invisible, the God whose face no man can see and live, we will behold with unveiled faces and worship. Knowing and being known. This is our faith.

Verse 11 can be something of a stumblingblock to people because it can sound like Paul was not certain of his being included in the resurrection. It might appear that he thought he might not attain the resurrection. And if Paul wasn’t certain, how can we be?

Is Paul trying to undermine assurance of salvation? I would argue strongly that he is not. First John is written so that we may know that we are the children of God. God is definitely not opposed to assurance of salvation. Indeed, “God gave us (the church) a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

So if Paul is not trying to undermine assurance, then what could he possibly mean? I think that Paul wants desperately for his flock not to make his mistakes. He wants to protect the Philippians from a fatal error.

I think that Paul is trying to help us to understand that, although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person of Christ alone, and not as a result of works of the law, knowing Christ the way that Paul has been describing is a truly life-changing matter. If a man or woman knows Christ and the power of his resurrection, and shares in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, it will unmake and recreate a person. A true salvation will result in a changed life.

Truly knowing Christ will result in behaviours and works that reflect him.

Paul puts it like this in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ.” And what is the result? “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When we know the power of Christ’s resurrection, we live an entirely new life. It’s as if we no longer live our own lives, but we live animated and conformed to the Lord Jesus, our Saviour.

So Paul cannot be against assurance, which is, in essence, true faith. He is not against assurance, but he is against presumption.

He is saying that it is possible to know a lot about God, while never actually knowing God. While never being changed. He is saying that he is all too aware of that possibility, having lived that hypocritical life for so many years before as a Pharisee. Because is so acutely aware of the possibility of presumption, he is diligent to keep seeking to know Christ. He is persuaded that knowing Christ is the key to sincere faith. He is committed to keep testing his heart in order that he might attain the resurrection from the dead through grace and faith.

Having taught the Philippians that they must become like Christ in his death, Paul is now teaching them that a life of faith is a life of continually becoming like Christ.

Is Paul saying that someone can lose their salvation? Not at all. But Paul is saying that not even he will presume upon being included in Christ’s brotherhood if he sees no conformity to Christ in his life. Those who do not attain to the resurrection of the dead, will miss out because of one thing. Because they have no knowledge of God!

For the believer, the resurrection is the final and total gaining of Christ. At the resurrection, we are glorified. The wood, hay, and straw of our lives is burnt away and we emerge as gold, silver, and precious stones.

Paul is burdened to securely seize the resurrection because he has been securely seized by Christ. And the only way he knows how to securely seize the resurrection is to “remain steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

Do you want to know Christ? If so, let me encourage you not to grow weary in pursuing communion with him. Take hold of him in prayer. Stir up the affections of your heart daily and pray that the Lord will keep you tender towards him and allow you to know him and the power of his resurrection.

Perhaps you don’t know Christ in your heart. You may know some things about him, but that knowledge hasn’t resulted in any sort of change, any sort of holy living. Any sort of genuine love and affection for Christ and his people. Let me encourage you to turn from your sins and call out to the one who can save you from death because he has conquered death. He suffered rejection from the Father so that his people need never suffer to that extent, and he rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. One day he will return to judge the living and the dead. And that judgement will be based on this one thing: Have you put your faith in him alone do you know Jesus?

I pray that today you will join Paul in counting all other things as rubbish that you may know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Christ offers you more than the opportunity to surrender. More than the ability to escape judgement. Because Jesus arose from the grave, he offers new life. The gift of a new Lord, a clean conscience, and the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, even the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Repent and believe in him today.