Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
“Are we rejoicing in the Lord, brothers?” That is how Dr. Maier, or WAM 2 as we called him at the seminary, would begin his classes. We knew what the answer had to be, or else. The day that we covered Philippians 4, he made it very clear that if we were not rejoicing in the Lord, then we should leave. The reason was simple. Paul urged the Philippians continually to rejoice in the Lord. He required this rejoicing on their part also under circumstances when the more routine and common threats to their happiness appear; in other words, when life occurs.
Life comes at us and it often comes hard and fast. We’re caught up with our ongoing to-do lists, running kids back and forth between one sport and another, the daily grind of our jobs, and the list goes on and on. It can be very easy to go about life and not have any joy, find no reason to rejoice. At other times, it may not be hard to rejoice sometimes. As children of God, we can always find cause for rejoicing since our joy is not based on the ups and downs of everyday life, nor upon the temporary and sometimes artificial happiness which the world has to offer. Our joy is found “in the Lord.” There is joy in knowing that your sins are forgiven. There is joy in knowing that we can come to the Lord’s Table to receive the gift of everlasting life through His body and blood. This joy can never be taken away.
However, rejoicing always, that’s a different story. Human emotions are vulnerable to drastic changes at a moment’s notice. One minute a person is up, the next they are down. Circumstances shape feelings. No one is able to completely control their emotions. How then can God demand of us that we rejoice always?
We have reason to rejoice because God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. Paul reassures the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I don’t know about you, but there are many times in my life where I have been anxious: the day I received my placement into the Office of the Holy Ministry, the day I got married, the day my children were born. Who knew what exactly would happen? Would everything go the way it was supposed to go?
Instead of becoming anxious about all the troubles and cares over which they themselves have no control, Paul tells the people at Philippi to present their requests to God. Even though the heavenly Father knows our thoughts, needs and desires already, He Himself wants us to bring our requests before the throne of grace. One of the greatest joys and blessings the child of God has is the invitation of “casting all your anxiety on him, because He cares for you.” There is nothing to worry about because in everything, no matter what the concern, the request may be brought before God. At the cross do we receive our forgiveness and at the cross do we receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” that peace which “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We are able to rejoice in the Lord always because of the love that God has shown to us, His beloved children. Look at what Paul says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul’s list has six items in one series, that is, all six designate the same things. All of the things that Paul mentioned in this list have one thing in common: they all flow from God. More importantly, these are all things that the Philippians have received in Jesus Christ. It had been nearly a decade since Paul first visited the Philippians. During that time, a lot has happened. Not everyone was still following the message of Christ crucified which Paul had brought to them, though most were. Not everything was focused on the gifts that Jesus gave to His Church: forgiveness, life, salvation. Here was Paul, reminding the Church of the gifts that God had given to them, something which they knew, but had forgotten.
We listen with careful hearing and expectant hearts to the words which Paul says: “The Lord is at hand.” When Paul wrote this, it was after He saw Christ for Himself. But this has application for us also: the Lord Jesus Christ is at hand as we meditate upon His Word, as receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We have joy because Christ conquered sin and death for us. All that robs us of hope and joy has been defeated at the cross through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Since the sin that separated us from God has been removed by Jesus’ cross, we are now back together with Him, for we are “in the Lord.”
This gives to us a new sense of purpose in life, for we are now made God’s children and by being made His children, we have the constant declaration made to us, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Because the Lord is at hand, we need not be anxious about anything as Paul says. It is easier to not be anxious about anything when things are going your way, but when everything seems to be crumbling around you, it is hard to rejoice and not be anxious. Christians do not need to be anxious about life because the Lord deeply cares for us and will provide for all of our earthly needs; these are First Article promises that God has made to us.
When we stop and think about it for a moment, it is hard to be anxious when you are rejoicing in the Lord. Yes, times may be bad, times may be difficult, but God is still caring for you and providing for you. Are we in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving letting our requests be made known to God? Do we trust in Him to provide for us or are we relying upon ourselves to provide for our needs? We may fool ourselves into thinking that it is by our own means that we have a roof above our heads and food on our tables, but what can we do to bring salvation to ourselves? We can do absolutely nothing to bring about our own salvation, so we rely solely upon God and His graciousness.
Until that time when we see Christ in His Second Coming, we are left with these words of Paul: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This peace as he says, far surpasses all of our limited, human understanding, for this peace is none other than the Gospel itself, a Gospel which says that we deserve hell and damnation, yet we have been made holy and righteous. It is a Gospel which says that God has loved us enough to send us His only-begotten Son, not because we deserve Him, but solely out of the unmerited grace that God has for His creation. It is a peace that is based on the fact that God has reconciled us to Himself through His Son. It is a peace that endures and guards and sustains us in our reason for rejoicing.
No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, God gives us a reason to rejoice. He is our ever-present help in time of need, to forgive, sustain, and support us. With the assurance of His love and presence in Christ Jesus, we can place all that we are and all that we have in His hands for time and eternity and rejoice in His grace and mercy toward us. So, are we rejoicing in the Lord, brothers? You’re darn right we are! In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, amen.