Good morning to you! One of the great Bible truths is that we were not meant for this world alone. Death is not the end of life; it’s only the gateway to eternity. We were meant to live forever, and death is only a transition from this life to the next. The Bible says that those who have faith in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in that endless place of joy – God’s eternal kingdom.
This truth about the future beyond death is a great incentive for us when life is hard. Particularly when we reach our senior years, the promises of God’s Word about what lies beyond death is a wonderful encouragement.
This morning let’s consider the glorious reality that awaits all who follow Jesus. The apostle Paul presents a compelling picture of the prize at the end of the race of life – a picture which I find very motivating.
It’s amazing the difference it makes for an athlete when there’s an attractive prize at the end of the race. An athlete will be prepared to put up with all kinds of sacrifices and hardships in training, and also during the race, if there is something they really want at the finish line. During the London Olympics I watched, with fascination, the men’s triathlon. The setting was Hyde Park in London, and the competitors had to swim, ride a bike, and run. The hot favourite for the crowds were two brothers representing Great Britain. Their names are Alistair and Jonny Brownlee. At the end of the swimming leg and the bike race both brothers were in the leading group of five. In the early part of the final leg, the 10km run, the brothers surged to the lead. It was inspiring to watch their determination and perseverance. Alistair kept up an amazing pace, and at the finish line Alistair won gold in first place, and Jonny the bronze medal in third place. These brothers were highly motivated by the English crowd, the possibility of medals, and winning glory and honour for their country.
The apostle Paul knew the value of a prize at the end of the race of life. He likened himself to a runner, straining with every nerve and muscle to complete the race and reach the finish line. For him the race of life is about knowing Christ better and making Christ known to others. He knew that for every faithful Christian at the end of life there is a wonderful prize which makes all the effort, suffering and hardship worthwhile. Paul describes the future reward in this way: ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus’ (that’s in Philippians 3:14). Later in the same chapter Paul urges the Philippian Christians to have that same eager expectation of their future reward. He writes ‘Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like his glorious body’ (3:20-21).
Let’s reflect this morning on what this prize is that awaits every believer in Christ. For many Australian Christians the future reward beyond death doesn’t seem very real or exciting. Perhaps we enjoy so many material comforts that we feel no need to anticipate a reality after this present life. Other Christians find the prospect of future glory a great comfort and encouragement. If you’re reaching the end of your earthly pilgrimage, or struggling with health issues, or facing hardship because you’re loyal to Jesus, the future hope will mean more to you. It’s important that all of us grasp this wonderful future beyond death which is promised to all believers, and eagerly look forward to receiving the prize.
I particularly want to speak to you if you’re moving toward your senior years. In our senior years life becomes challenging, and the issues of health and physical weakness can sap the enjoyment we once had in life. But if we can keep our eyes on the prize awaiting all who trust Jesus at the end of life, we find we can actually enjoy growing older!
The Christian life is a long race to be run. One incentive to keep us running well is God’s promise of a wonderful prize at the finish line which awaits every believer in Christ. The apostle Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to ‘press on toward’ the prize, so let’s see what Paul means when he refers to this reality which awaits us on the other side of death.
The first thing about the future prize is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. In Philippians 1 Paul confidently declares that when he dies he will ‘depart and be with Christ, which is better by far’ (1:21). I understand this verse to mean that when the Christian dies their soul goes straight into the presence of Christ, and they are conscious of his presence. The great thing Paul looked forward to on the other side of death was seeing the Lord Jesus, worshipping him, praising him, adoring him, delighting in him, exploring the inexhaustible riches of his glory and majesty, marvelling at his mercy and grace. Every believer in Christ can look forward to that same experience.
The next aspect of the prize is the day when the Lord Jesus will return to earth with splendour and power. Currently, says Paul, the risen Jesus is exalted to the highest place in heaven and has been given the name that is above every name (2:9). When Christ returns to earth every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (2:10-11). As Paul puts it, we ‘eagerly await a Saviour from there.’ Christ will return with mighty power to ‘bring everything under his control’ (v.21) – to destroy evil, bring an end to sin, injustice, pain and misery. He will transform the bodies of all believers (v.21) so they are radiant, glorious, immortal, dazzling and beautiful, just like the body of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. Then we will be fitted for life in God’s eternal kingdom.
This prize we look forward to brings us great comfort and assurance. Our present bodies in this world are ‘lowly bodies’ (v.21). That means our earthly bodies are characterised by weakness, frailty, physical decay, and mortality. In place of our lowly bodies believers will have bodies that are suitable for the life of the new heaven and earth, and therefore imperishable, spiritual, glorious, and powerful (1 Cor 15:38-49).
Here is a great encouragement for us when life is hard and we become weary of the demands of following Christ. Recently a thoughtful woman in our church sent me a card, which contains a helpful statement. That statement is: ‘Our God has not promised smooth sailing … just a safe landing.’ At the end of the journey for every believer in Christ is a safe landing, an eternal experience of security, peace and delight in God’s presence. That thought helps me when the race of life is hard to run. I know that when I reach my senior years I’ll need the reminder of this safe landing at the end to spur me on to keep running, to endure whatever hardships lie before me as I continue to know Christ better and make him known.
This morning we’re considering the future prize which awaits all who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This future prize gives a great motivation to us, especially when we reach our senior years, to persevere in the Christian pilgrimage.
Jesus Christ promises his people that when they die they will receive not just new minds and hearts, but also new bodies. When I think of new resurrection bodies I remember Joni Eareckson Tada. She was in an accident when she was seventeen, and ever since she has been a quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down. Joni is a believer in Christ, and she finds the promise of a future transformed body a wonderful encouragement. She writes: ‘In heaven I will be free to jump up, dance, kick, and do aerobics. And sometime before the guests are called to the banquet table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the first thing I plan to do on resurrected legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus. I, with shrivelled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness – powerful and dazzling. Can you imagine the hope that the resurrection gives someone who is spinal cord-injured like me?’ Only in the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of our crucified Saviour and risen Lord – do people find such enormous hope to live.
Not only do all Christians have a glorious hope for the future which comforts us, but this hope is also a challenge to us. Paul warns of people who think of themselves as Christians, but who don’t have their gaze fixed on an eternal prize. Paul describes these people in Philippians 3. He writes: ‘As I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things’ (3:18-19). These people started well, but they didn’t continue in the race to know Christ better and make him known. Their focus is now on this world, on material possessions, the undisciplined eating of food, and indulging their selfish appetites. Here is a sharp warning to us. How easy it is to be distracted and diverted from running the race well, from knowing Christ fully. Our culture holds out so many attractive alternatives, and we do well to ponder where these alternatives lead. They lead to ‘destruction’ (v.19), not to the joy of knowing Christ fully in the eternal kingdom of God.
Here then is the prize, the reward, which every believer in Christ can look forward to. At the finish line, the end of our lives, waits the Lord Jesus Christ. He is waiting to welcome us into his presence. We’ll see him as he is and we’ll know him fully. When he returns to earth he will give his people new resurrection bodies, as well as new minds and hearts. We will dance, we will know deep joy and peace, we will never be lonely or afraid again, and we will be fully satisfied.
When we know what awaits us beyond this life, on the other side of death, we have a great motivation to stay on the course, to complete the race, to endure the pain and hardships, to know Christ and make him known. Particularly when we reach the senior years, there is a deep joy in looking forward to the prize which awaits every faithful believer in Christ. As Paul neared the end of his life, he wrote these stirring words: ‘The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
‘Heavenly Father, give us strength and grace to continue running the race of life well. Help us press on toward the goal to win the prize for which you have called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 3:14). Amen.’