Mark Batterson - The Greatest Risk
A few years ago, I was in my office having coffee with Jon Erwin, Jon and his brother Andrew, the Erwin brothers, had just released a film called "I Can Only Imagine," it would gross 86 million dollars at the Box Office, not bad on a 7 million dollar budget so I asked Jon the obvious question, how do you make it in the movie industry? I've got my journal ready, I've got my pen ready to write. and Jon says, when you get a foot in the door, you've gotta be a Rowan, Rowans rocket to the top. Can I be honest? I had no idea who Rowan was and I had no earthly idea what he meant, stick with me, in 1899, a man named Elbert Hubbard wrote an essay titled, "A Message to Garcia".
When the Spanish American war broke out, President William McKinley needed to get a letter to General Garcia, who was the leader of the Cuban insurgents but no one knew where to find him. Cuba is 42,426 square miles, so it's comparable in size to the state of Virginia, in other words, finding general Garcia was like finding a needle in a haystack, that's when someone said to president McKinley, there's a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia if anybody can. Andrew S Rowan was a First Lieutenant in the United States army, a graduate of West Point Military Academy, his training was in topography and at the time, he was serving as the head of the military intelligence division map section here in Washington, DC.
Long story short, Rowan put that letter from President McKinley in a pouch, strapped it around his shoulder, sailed to Cuba, landed on the beach in the middle of the night, disappeared into the jungle and reappeared three weeks later, having successfully delivered the letter to Garcia. In his essay, "A Message to Garcia" Elbert Hubbard celebrates Andrew S Rowan as the unsung hero of the Spanish American war. He said, there's a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statute placed in every college of the land. It's not book learning young men need nor instruction about this and that but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, to concentrate their energies, to do the thing, to carry a message to Garcia.
You see, a hundred years ago, that phrase, getting a letter to Garcia, was synonymous with doing something dangerous, with doing something difficult and doing it without making any excuses, a Rowan was someone who got the job done, come hell or high water. A Rowan was someone who was willing to risk life and limb for a noble cause, a Rowan was someone who did what they said and said what they did no if, ands or buts about it, which brings us all the way back to Jon Erwin, how do you make it in the movie industry? I mean, can I generalize here, how do you make it in any industry? When you get a foot in the door, you gotta be a Rowan, Rowans rock it to the top.
Now, what does any of that have to do with the book of Philippians? Oh, I'm so glad you asked. Long before Rowan carried a message to Garcia, a man named Apathroditis carried a letter to the church in Philippi and I'll connect those dots in a minute. Welcome to National Community Church, we are in a series called joy, we're walking through the book of Philippians verse by verse and we're gonna unpack 11 verses in chapter three but lemme back up the bus because the last verse of chapter two is just too good to read right over. Paul commends a man by the name of a Apathroditis, it was Apathroditis who delivered a gift from the church at Philippi to Paul in prison in Rome and then he delivers the letter from Paul by return mail to the church in Philippi, you could say that he's the unsung hero in Philippians, without Apathroditis this letter goes undelivered.
Now that sounds simple enough but can I remind us that the average person living in the first century AD never traveled outside a 30 mile radius of their birthplace? The trip from Philippi to Rome was 787 miles one way and he had to cross the Adriatic sea, no Google maps, no cell phones, no Hyatt hotel and Paul says, honor people like him, honor people like him, why? Philippians 2:30, because he risked his life for the work of Christ. Now, that Greek word for risk is, and it's the only place in the New Testament where this word appears. It's a gambling term, it's pushing all of your chips to the middle of the table and going all in. Question, when was the last time you risked your life for the cause of Christ? Now I'm guessing for most of us, never and part of that is because of when and where we live, for which we should be grateful, can I get an amen?
So let me bring you a little bit closer to home, when was the last time you risked rejection by sharing your faith with someone? When was the last time you risked failure by stepping out in faith and going after a God-sized goal? When was the last time you risked your reputation by refusing to compromise your convictions in the face of political correctness? Three things I've learned about risk, one, faith is spelled R, I, S, K. We think that playing it safe is safe but the greatest risk is taking no risks at all, this thing that we call Christianity is not an insurance plan, it's a dangerous plan. Have you read Hebrews 11? And so we talk a lot around here about how we're called to stand in the gap as peacemakers, grace givers and tone setters, now a couple of weeks ago, we added a few to the mix, do you remember this?
We're called to stand in the gap as truth-tellers and joy bringers but let me add one more this weekend, we're called to stand in the gap as risk takers. It's who we are, it's what we're about, it's what we've been called to. Our greatest regrets are gonna be inaction regrets and what's an inaction regret? It's that thing that you would have, could have, should have done but you let fear dictate your decisions. Now, when it comes to doing a cost benefit analysis on risk, you can't just count the actual cost, you have to count the opportunity cost, you can't just think present tense, you have to think future tense and I'll explain what I mean by that, during our first year as a church, we averaged about 25 people and I don't know how else to say this, we weren't exactly crushing it, the only reason why I attended the church is 'cause I was the pastor, I had to and there were moments where you think about maybe throwing in the towel, maybe calling it quits and it would have only affected 25 people.
Present tense, because now I look back in retrospect and what I realize is, we would have been quitting on tens of thousands of peoples that this church would impact over the last 25 years. You never quit on things present tense, you always quit on things future tense. If Apathroditis doesn't take this risk, this letter doesn't get delivered, the actual cost would have been the church at Philippi not having this encouragement from the Apostle Paul but the opportunity cost is the Canon of scripture if this letter doesn't get delivered. I mean, how many, hundreds of millions of people have taken courage, taken comfort, in the words of the Apostle Paul in this book called Philippians?
Some of my favorite verses, verses that have changed the trajectory of my life that it altered my identity, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Come on, he began a good work, he's gonna carry it to completion, do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God and the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. Apathroditis doesn't just take a risk, he sets us up thousands of years later. Three, every risk has a ripple effect. Now, do you remember that Greek word for risk? The example set by Apathroditis in the third century, this is so cool, inspired a creative minority that called themselves The Parabalani, it was a tip of the cap to Apathroditis and to this word in this letter, it was an order of nurses and bishops and caregivers who had taken a vow so that when a plague broke out in Carthage in 252 AD, they were the ones who said, we will care for the sick, we will bury the dead, we will be the ones who risk our lives for others.
Can I remind us that legacy is not what we accomplish, legacy is what others accomplish because of us. Now, listen, according to church tradition, Apathroditis was the first Bishop of the church in Philippi, I mean, that's a pretty big deal, yes? But I would suggest it is a legacy as it, come on, hundreds of years later, the risk he took is still inspiring people to risk their lives for the cause of Christ. There are people waiting on the other side of the risk that God has called you to make, may you have the courage to take that risk in Jesus' name. I decided to have a little bit of fun, this weekend, I think you've picked up by now that one of my hobbies is t-shirts. If I like it, might as well wear it.
So I had, you guys I had the sweetest grandmother on the planet, Alene Johnson, four foot 11 on tiptoes, I can't remember when I passed her up, I remember, do you ever do that? Go back to back with your grandma and I passed her up so young, I can't even remember. She was small of stature but she had big faith and I love so many things about her, I don't have time to tell you all of the stories but one of them, she was an entrepreneur, this is back in the day y'all, she started a floral business and so one time she's out delivering flowers and her van and gets stolen and she has a hunch that some kid kids at the high school kinda around the corner, maybe they stole it and so my grandma on that hunch goes and kinda looks around and sure enough, she finds the van, doesn't call the police, hides in the back of the van and when these kids come out of school and get in the van, she says, you boys stole my van, we're gonna go in and see the principal and sure enough, they did. I am not recommending this course of action but that epitomizes my grandma and she had a saying and I don't know if it was original to her, I don't even know where this came from but I love it, can you read it? You can't never always sometimes tell.
Now, you have to think about that once or twice, it's got a kind of ricochet around a little bit but if that is true of anything, it's true of risk. Listen to me, one risk can change the trajectory of your life, one risk can change the trajectory of your life, what risk do you need to take? Is there anything that surfaces in your spirit? Is there anything that, it has been so long or I've given up on this? What about that thing a long time ago? What risk do you need to take and what are you waiting for? All right, let me switch gears, I wanna unpack first 11 verses in chapter three in about 11 minutes, we're gonna go fast, here we go, Philippians 3:1, "whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things".
In other words, Paul is saying, I'm not running out of things to tell you, it's just this is really, really important so I'm gonna say it over and over and over again, I mean, come on, as a parent, one of the lessons I've learned, is that right about the time you're tired of saying it, your kids finally hear it and so, in marketing it's the rule of seven, you have to say it seven times for someone to hear it one time. Well, Paul ups the ante by two and he says, rejoice in the Lord, I do it to safeguard your faith, now that word in Greek means to secure something by putting it on a solid foundation. It's an exciting weekend at NCC, we opened up our new kids space that we've been building over the last year, pretty exciting. When we built that space, we had to dig down 40 feet into the ground, now, part of it, it's a 130 year old building, we had to dig down 40 feet to reinforce the footers, 109 micro piles into the ground, why? 'Cause you gotta dig down if you wanna build up, you gotta dig down if you wanna build up, you gotta dig down if you wanna build up.
I mean, it's true when you go to the gym, you gotta break it down, you gotta and then you gotta build it back up and it's true when you go to church. Can I just make an observation? There is a difference between generic joy and the joy of the Lord, the joy of the Lord is a derivative of a right relationship with God and we sang about it just a few minutes ago, you give me joy, where? Yeah, yeah, yeah, down deep in my soul. Oh, I want this so badly for you, I want this so badly for you, there's nothing like it, your world can fall apart but if you got the joy of the Lord down deep in your soul, it changes everything. Come on, verse two, watch out for those dogs, tell us what you really think, "watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved".
Now, you've got to understand that the context here is that in Judaism, circumcision was the outward symbol of the covenant that the people made with God, so this is a big, big deal, this is their entire history. With that as a backdrop, we aren't entirely sure who Paul is calling dogs but the best guess is a sect called the Judaizers, they believed that Gentile converts had to be circumcised in order to be saved and Paul calls him on the carpet, he calls them mutilators of the flesh. You don't need to know this but I like these nuances, it's a play on word in the Greek language, peritoneum means circumcision and it's a term of honor, it's a good thing but Paul here uses the word catatonia which means to mutilate and can also mean to castrate, enough said. Here's the bottom line, the Judaizers were adding circumcision to the equation of salvation and the problem with that is this, any time you add anything to the gospel, you are actually subtracting from it, we are saved by grace, sola gratia, the only way you qualify is by not qualifying, it is the unmerited favor of God.
Religion is spelled do, it's all about what you can do for God, Christianity is spelled done, it's all about what Christ did for us on the cross. Second Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be with sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of Christ and so it's almost like God the father says here's the deal, you take all of your sin, everything you've done wrong, we're gonna transfer it to my account, I'm gonna go ahead and just pay that in full but wait 'cause there's more, then I'm gonna take everything Jesus did right, his righteousness, I'm gonna transfer that to your account, I'm gonna credit it to your account and then we're gonna call it even and that's why it's called the good news and there's no catch but it can only be received, can't be earned.
Verse three, "we rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us, we put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have a reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more" and then it's almost like Paul publishes his LinkedIn profile, here it is, verse five," I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a real Hebrew if there ever was one, I was a member of the Pharisees, demanded the strictest obedience to the Jewish law, I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church and as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault". Wow, that's a resume but that isn't where he put his faith, that isn't where he put his trust. We live in a culture that celebrates self reliance, that celebrates self sufficiency but Paul flips the script and says, we rely on Christ and Christ alone for our salvation, it is not salvation by works, it is salvation by grace.
I love the way Jerry Bridges says this, our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace and your best days are never so good that you're beyond the need of God's grace, every day, every day should be a day of relating to God on the basis of his grace alone. Paul says, I put no confidence in the flesh, can I ask you a question? And this takes some self reflection, what is the locus of your confidence? Where does it come from? Is it self confidence or is it God? Is it your natural abilities or is it God's supernatural power? Is what you can do for God or is it what Christ has done for you? Can I tell you something? My self-confidence is below average, it really is, 'cause I know what I'm capable of and it's not much but my holy confidence it's off the chart, the locus of my confidence is the character of God, his goodness, his faithfulness, his sovereignty, his power, his love, his grace, I love the message paraphrase of Romans 12, one of my favorite translations of this verse, embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
How great is that? Would you just take a deep breath right now? Come on, the pressure is off of us, it's not about what we can do, it's about what he has done for us and so Paul, after publishing his LinkedIn profile kind of backpedals a little bit and here's what he says in verse seven, "but whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ, what is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things, I consider them garbage 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 is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith".
Please hear me, everything minus Jesus equals nothing and Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Whew, verse 10, let me close with this, "I wanna know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead". The First Tenant of the Westminster Catechism says this, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I think we get the first half, it's the second half that I think we have a harder time with, so let me ask a couple of questions. How much are you enjoying your relationship with God? Does it feel like a chore or does it feel like Christmas morning? Is it fear based or is it joy-filled? Are you seeking him first or are you seeking in second or third or 10th? Are you trying to earn God's good graces somehow or are you relying, actually relying, fully relying, totally relying on the righteousness of Christ that has been credited to your account? 'Cause that changes the game.
I know a lot of people who think they're following Jesus but the reality is, they've invited Jesus to follow them and hey, when I was 19 years old, I would have called myself a Christ follower but it was much more about God serving my purposes than me serving his purposes, who's following who? 'Cause the game changes when you just sell out, say I'm all in and you follow Jesus. The locus of my confidence is the character of God, I'll close with this, the locus of my confidence is the cross of Christ. The cross is where sin is forgiven and forgotten, the cross is where the curse is canceled, the cross is where chains are broken, the cross is where healing happens, the cross is where relationships are restored and the cross is where salvation is signed, sealed and delivered.