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Series:  The Challenge of Christmas - Part Four

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 24, 2006

For those of you who are not aware of this, today is the last Shopping day until Christmas.

I heard about a family that had really curious kids.  No matter what the parents did to hide the presents the kids always found the gifts.  So they worked out a deal with the neighbors.  They kept all the neighbor’s presents in their closet and gave all their kid’s presents to the neighbors.  They guy telling this said, “
Naturally the kids would peek, but we acted like we didn’t know about it.  And then Christmas Eve, when all the kids were asleep, we would swap and wrap all the gifts.”  He said, “You should have seen my kids when they looked out in the street and saw bicycles being ridden they thought they were gonna get for their Christmas!” (1)

Over the last three Sundays we’ve been looking at the Challenge of Christmas - living out the implications of Jesus’ incarnation - living out those implications every day of our lives.  Because - with all the stuff of Christmas - the things we have to wade through - we don’t want to miss what God is saying to us - the profound difference He desires to make in our lives.

This morning we’re going to look at Philippians 2 - verses 12 and 13.  I invite you to turn with me there - Philippians 2:12,13.  You’ll also find those verses on your sermon notes.  We’re going to read these out loud together - to get them fresh in our minds - and then we’ll come back and make three observations.

Philippians 2 - starting at verse 12: 
So then - stop!  “So then” is like saying “therefore.”  When we say therefore we have to ask what?  “Wherefore the therefore.”  “So then” refers to verse 5 to 11.  What we’ve been looking at for 3 Sundays.  We’re to have the same attitude within us - deep at the core of who we are - that Jesus had.  The same attitude of humility that Jesus demonstrated when He set aside His prerogatives as God and took on humanity - being born in a manger.  We’re to obey God - as Jesus obeyed God - even if that means dying on a cross - as Jesus did - taking all of our crud on Himself including the penalty for our sin.  Since God has raised Jesus from the dead - exalted Him - we’re to live knowing that God will exalt us - raise us to eternal life.  The losers win.  Remember that from last Sunday?

“So then”
- Because of what Jesus did.  Because of what God has done and is doing in us.  Because of how we are to now live - “So then” - let’s go on together, So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is a work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Three Observations:

What the Philippians were doing.  Say that with me, “What the Philippians were doing.”

Paul addresses the Philippians as “my beloved.”  They have history together.  On Paul’s second missionary journey God led him to Philippi.  Some of what happened there is familiar to us.  Paul and Silas being imprisoned - the earthquake - the Philippians jailer and his family coming to salvation in Jesus.  Lydia - the first known convert in Europe - trusted Jesus in Philippi.  Paul is writing to believers in Jesus Christ.  There’s an affinity here. 
“My beloved.”  (Acts 16:12-40)

Paul commends them for their obedience.  The word for obedience is “upekousate.”  Its really two words put together:  “upo” meaning under - and “akouo” meaning to hear.  To obey is to place ourselves “under” the authority of what we “hear” - to obey the instructions we’re hearing.  What Paul refers to with the
“so then” the church in Philippi was striving to do - striving to obey the instructions Paul had given them when He was with them.

Notice this - verse 12: 
“in my presence” and “much more in my absence.”  They were obeying whether Paul was there or not.  In this case - not.

Remember when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai?  God wrote out the 10 Commandments with His finger and gave them to Moses.  While Moses was up on the mountain getting God’s instructions for His people - the people were doing what?  They’d taken all the gold that God had blessed them with - the parting gifts from the Egyptians - and they’d made themselves a golden calf - a golden god - and were worshiping it. (Exodus 32:1-10)

Obedience is easy when the one giving the instructions is right there.  Tougher in their absence.  We’re more careful to make a full stop at the intersection when the policemen is parked right there.

The Philippians had heard God’s commandments through Paul - followed his teaching - and even though he wasn’t physically with them - they still obeyed - still stayed faithful to Jesus.  Paul commends them. 
“My beloved your walk with God is consistent.  You’re trying to do all that you know is right to do.”

First:  What the Philippians are doing.  Second Observation: 
What the Philippians are to do.  Say that together:  “What the Philippians are to do.”

There’s a story about a ditch digger who was working in a canal with another guy.  It was a hot August day.  Remember what 113
° felt like?  No breeze.  Just the hot sun beating down on these two guys digging this canal.  A little ways off - sitting under shady tree - drinking a nice cold ice tea - is their supervisor.

This ditch digger says to the other ditch digger,
“Why are we down here killing ourselves working in this hot sun and that guy is up there sitting in the shade drinking that cold ice tea?”

“I don’t know.  Why don’t you ask him?”

“I will,”
said the first ditch digger.  So he gets out of the ditch.  Walks up to the supervisor and asks him, “Why do you get to sit up here in the shade while we’re down there working in the hot sun?”

said the supervisor.  “It’s a matter of experience.”

“Experience?  What do you mean by that?”

The supervisor takes his hand and puts it up against the tree and says,
“Hit my hand as hard as you can.”  At first the ditch digger is reluctant cause he knows he’s going to smash the supervisor’s hand.  But the supervisor insists.  So the ditch digger takes a powerful swing at the supervisors hand.  At the last instant the supervisor moves his hand.  The ditch digger smashes his hand into the tree.

“Do you understand?” 
Asked the supervisor.

“I think so,”
said the ditch digger.  So he goes back into the ditch.  The other ditch digger asks him, “What did he say?”

“He said it was a matter of experience.”

“What did he mean by that?”

The ditch digger looks around for a tree.  Of course there’s no tree in the ditch.  So he stuck his hand up in front of his face and said,
“Hit my hand as hard as you can.”

Most of us seem to learn the hard way - “the school of hard knocks.”  Experience comes as we go through life - a process of coming to understand how life works.  That’s what Paul has in mind here. 

Paul writes that the Philippians are to
“work out” their salvation.  Let’s be careful here.  That almost sounds like they’re suppose to work for their salvation.

There are three parts to salvation.  Follow with me on this.  The first part of salvation is
justification.  That’s when we initially come to trust in Jesus our Savior.  When we’re put into a right standing before God.  Our sins forgiven.  The penalty for sin is paid and that payment is applied to our lives.  Its as if we had never sinned.  We’re justified before God. 

The next part of salvation is
sanctification.  Sanctification is a process - what happens after we’re justified - what Paul has in mind here.  Finally - third - comes glorification - which will happen - its our spending eternity with God in glory.

Now, stay with me.  Scripture teaches us that salvation is by grace through faith not any works that we could do to earn it.  (Ephesians 2:8,9)  So Paul can’t be instructing the Philippians to do good moral works and so to become saved - justified - made right before God.  They’re already saved - justified.  Can’t get anymore saved than they are.

What Paul’s writing about is what comes after justification.  The part of salvation that we call sanctification.  The process of learning to live as a saint - learning how to live life with God.

And that’s hard work.  The hard work and experience and stretching of our faith that we go through as we’re learning to trust God - learning to live in obedience to Him - learning to daily surrender our lives to Him.  Especially - as we live more in obedience to God - our lives become increasingly counter-culture - more misunderstood - an increasing target for Satan and his minions.

What are the Philippians to do?  First: work out their salvation.  Learn to live as God desires for them to live - process.  Second, they’re to work out their salvation - live in that process - with
“fear and trembling.”

A number of years ago - back when I was in High School - not too long ago - our family took a trip where we fixed up our dodge van - made it into a camper and drove around the country - very low budget.  One of the goals of this trip was to visit all the guys that my dad knew from when he was in the army.  It was kind of I Love Lucy trip.  Remember that?  Where the Ricardos and Mertzs are driving to California by driving in every direction possible.  We were all over the map going around the country visiting these guys.

One visit was with a couple that lived in a small town just west of Milwaukee.  These people happened to be morticians.  Their home was on two levels.  Downstairs was the mortuary.  Upstairs was their house.

The night we were there they took us out to show us the town.  You know that line,
“It was a dark and stormy night.”  That’s was this night.  Not too far off we could see tornadoes moving along.  There was a kind of heavy oppressive darkness along with the tornadoes.  It was windy.  There was rain.  The power had gone off.

When we got back to their house - dark because of the power outage - we pulled up to the hearse entrance - kind of southern motif - colonnades - French doors - we pulled up to the hearse entrance - where they normally would have brought in the bodies.  Opened the French doors - with the sheer white curtains blowing in the wind.  Maybe I’ve seen too many movies.  But this was really weird.

We’re standing in the pitch black funeral parlor and the wife says,
“Let me go get a light.”  A few minutes later she’s coming down the stairs - wearing a white dress - carrying a lit candelabra.

That’s not the fear Paul is writing about.

“Fear” is the Greek word “phobos” - phobia - fear that causes awe - respect - honor.  “Trembling” is the word “tromos” - trembling in astonishment - going weak at the knees because of what we’re confronted with.

In the year that King Uzziah died, the prophet Isaiah was given a vision  of God - sitting on His throne - exalted in His temple.  Do you remember this?  The scene is powerful.  Exactly Paul’s point.  Let me read this so we get fresh in our minds.  Imagine if you were there with Isaiah - how would you feel. 

Isaiah writes,
“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.  Seraphim stood above Him - angels - each having six wings:  with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ - all things on earth are affected by God who sits - above the corruption of His people - in holy majestic splendor upon His throne - And the foundations of the thresholds trembled - reverberated - at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke - the holiness and presence of God filling the temple.

Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of the armies of Heaven.’  Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which had taken from the altar with tongs.  He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.’”
 (Isaiah 6:1-7)  

Remember the Christmas hymn - we sang this today,
“Oh Jesus, to Thee be all glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing; O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

The Holy Almighty God condescends to allow us to know Him.  To give us the privilege of living in relationship with Him.  Justified.  Sanctified.  Living daily in touch with the awesome almighty living God.  In fear and trembling we should respond to Him.  That’s what Paul is focused on.

What the Philippians are doing.  What the Philippians are to do.  Third: 
How the Philippians are to do it.  Say that with me, “How the Philippians are to do it.”  

Martyn Lloyd-Jones - a famous British Preacher - told a story about a spiritist - someone who worked supposedly channeling - communicating with the dead.  In reality - someone in contact - under the influence of demons.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,
“She was ill one Sunday and could not go to keep her appointment.  She was sitting in her house and she saw people passing by on their way to the church where I happened to be ministering in South Wales.  Something made her feel a desire to know what those people had, and so she decided to go to the service, and did so.  She came ever afterwards until she died, and became a very fine Christian.  One day I asked her what she had felt on that first visit, and this is what she said to me, …‘The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a power.  I was conscious of the same sort of power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had a feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power.’ ...It is the presence of the Spirit in the heart of God’s children, God’s people.” (2)

In verse 12 - when Paul writes “work out your salvation” - the word he uses for work is “ergon.”  Its all about the blood sweat and tears of living life.  Working out in gymnasium.  No pain.  No gain.

Here in verse 13 the word for “work” is different.  Its “energeia” - the word we get  the English word “energy” from.  Paul’s point is different.  In verse 12 - we are to work - the process of living out the daily stuff of life in obedience to God.  In verse 13 - the energy for that work - the power behind it - comes from God.

I can turn on my computer - press that little button on the front - tap all the keys on the keyboard - move the mouse all over the place - look furiously productive - even delude myself into thinking I’m accomplishing something of real and lasting value.  But nothing’s going to happen unless its plugged in - connected to the power source.

What that spiritist lady was describing was the work of the Holy Spirit within the community of God’s people.

When people need healing - physical - or because there’s deep down woundedness in their lives.  When there’s hard stuff going on in our families or at work or at school.  When we’re trying to live like God instructs us to live.  When we want to do great things for God and His kingdom - obey His commands.  Build great buildings.  Launch great ministries.  Its just a lot of work - blood sweat and tears - unless its God at work within us.

Do you see what Paul is getting at here?  Its God’s will.  He desires to create His incredible life within us.  He desires to supply to us all of the energy - all the power - all that we need to live life as God has created life to be lived.  It pleases God to do all that - to supply all that we need and to work within us to make all that happen.

Bottom line:  Paul is telling the Philippian Church - and us - that because of the incredible reality of the incarnation - all that God has done for us - all that He desires to do in us and through us - which should bring us to our knees in awe before Him - we must come to live in obedience to Him.  How?  The only way is by daily trusting Him for the very ability to live that life which is ours in Jesus Christ.

One thought of application - the implications of the incarnation for us today.  Here it is: 
Fear and trembling.  Say that with me, “Fear and trembling.”

In 1646, the great Dutch painter, Rembrandt completed his work,
The Adoration of The Shepherds - Rembrandt's interpretation of the visit of the shepherds to see the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.  Its a simple scene in a stable.  There in the foreground are Mary and Jesus, with Joseph in the shadows in the background.

Peering over into the manger where the Child is lying are the shepherds.  Behind the manger Rembrandt has painted a ladder - leaning against a beam - in the shadows it casts - there
s the form of a cross.  On the beam against which the ladder rests is a rooster - the symbol of betrayal.

he light illuminating the whole scene is not coming from outside - or a nearby lantern - but from the manger.  The faces of those looking in are put into sharp relief as they look down, and you can see that the light is coming from Jesus - the baby - Himself.  Its Rembrandt's way of saying that the story of Christmas is the story of salvation - by means of the crushing inner agony of betrayal - and the outer agony of crucifixion - that the Child in the manger would become the world's Deliverer and Redeemer.  This Child is not just a baby lying in a manger.  Hes the hope of mankind.

To come to the manger in adoration is to wonder at the reality of deity incarnate.  To celebrate deity incarnate is to come in fear and trembling before the work of the Holy Almighty God in our lives.

Jesus didn’t come and die for us so that we could have a wonderful life - good times with people of reasonably the same moral character - attending church services as long as our expectations get met - where we decide the extent of our obedience to God - blissfully going along with the crowd doing the “christian” thing - coasting along in our comfort zone.  Jesus didn’t come and die for us so that we could send cards and give gifts and gorge ourselves on great food.

Jesus came and died because - at the core of who we are apart from Jesus - we are bound in sin and condemned before God.  Jesus came and died because each of us has a serious sin issue which separates us from the life God - according to His good pleasure - desires for us to live.

The Child we adore is not a religious idea - a pioneer of some kind of new type of religious life - not just some historical figure to search for - an example to follow - a teacher of righteousness.

To adore the Child is to bow before the Savior.  It is to bow in simple reverence before a holiness which in comparison to the impurity of our lives is like white light piercing utter darkness.

When we begin to understand that truth of the incarnation we begin to approach God with fear and trembling - so that we’re ready to place our lives before Him - in total surrender - so that He will work out His salvation in us.  Our lives totally in His hands - living life as He has created us to live life.



1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes
2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching, quoted by Scott Grant, Learning To Be God’s Community, sermon on Philippians 2:12,13


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.