A man asked me recently to talk with him about the difference between Lutherans and Catholics. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Where should I start? Both churches talk about Jesus—that’s good! But when the Catholic church talks about Jesus, it adds an “and.” The Bible says we’re saved by faith in Jesus. The Catholic Church says we’re saved by faith in Jesus and our good works. See the difference? The Bible tells us to trust in God’s Word alone. The Catholic Church says to trust in God’s Word and the pope. The Bible says to pray to Jesus. The Catholic church says to pray to Jesus and Mary and the saints. So is our faith based on Jesus or Jesus and…? There’s a big difference! Our hope is in Christ alone! The “and”—whatever it is—always pulls us away from Jesus! Not by works. Not the Pope. Not saints. There’s no “and.” Jesus.
So what’s our church’s name? St. Paul Lutheran Church. Huh… Can you explain this to me? The Lutheran church is all about Jesus. And yet for hundreds of years, Lutherans named their churches after saints. Have you ever thought about that? It doesn’t happen much anymore. Newer Lutheran churches usually choose names of Jesus. Messiah. Beautiful Savior. So why did Lutherans in Green Bay in 1883, trusting in Jesus as their Savior, name their church after Saint Paul? I wonder if those Lutherans were thinking about Paul’s words in our lesson: Philippians 3.
There our namesake—Paul—describes himself. He starts his little autobiography in an interesting way: “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.” I talked about trusting in Jesus and…. Do you know what and is most common? “Jesus and me.” It’s so easy to take pride in ourselves, in our flesh. So Paul said, “If you want to boast about ‘flesh,’ it’s on!” I was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” What was Paul’s boast? “I’m as Israelite as you can get!” Not “my great-great-grandpa was a quarter Irish….” A full-blooded Jew. One of God’s people.
And that was just the start. Paul wasn’t just a Jew by race or nationality. There’s more: “…in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” When it came to religion, Paul was the best of the best, or so he had thought. He was a Pharisee. The Pharisees took great pride in how well they kept God’s laws. Paul was no exception. He was faultless. He kept the law better than anyone. And when those new Christians began to talk about faith in Jesus, Paul zealously persecuted them. Both by race and by religion, he was above everyone else. If Paul were to put his confidence in the flesh, he was special!
Do we do the same thing? Put our confidence in the flesh? Not only are we from the best country in the world, but we’re from the best state in the country. But we’re not just from Wisconsin. We’re from the best city in Wisconsin—Titletown U.S.A. We must be pretty special, right? And we’re Christians. But not only are we Christians, we’re Lutherans. But we’re not just Lutherans, we’re WELS Lutherans! We’re pretty special, aren’t we? If anybody’s going to be in heaven, it’s got to be us! That’s boasting in the flesh, isn’t it? It’s not good! It’s putting our confidence in us.
Where does that end up? Paul had the best pedigree. He was the most religious person around. But without Jesus, where did all that leave him? Let me ask this: If you have peace in your heart, do you persecute other people, like Paul persecuted Christians? No way! No peace. Where does all this boasting about flesh leave us? Look around our world: Racism, sexism, hatred, anger… That’s where we end up when we trust in us. Putting our confidence in us isn’t the answer!
So what is? Paul writes, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” When Jesus made Paul a Christian, he lost everything: Family, reputation, prestige, his job as a Pharisee. The things that used to seem so important were now a total loss. In fact, Paul writes these words from prison. So how would you expect him to feel? Bitter, right? Angry! But listen: “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…” Paul lost everything for the sake of Jesus, and he loved it! He was overjoyed to have nothing but Jesus! Can you believe that? Remember this: Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Here was the key: “…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…” When big words like “righteousness” come out, our eyes start to glaze over. But this is so important! We need righteousness. We need to be proved right and considered good. How? By nature we always go back to ourselves: “I’ve been a good person.” “I’ve always tried my best.” Is that true? No way! That’s not how it works! Righteousness doesn’t come from us. It’s God’s gift to us by faith in Jesus. This is the amazing truth Martin Luther discovered in the Bible. God’s grace doesn’t depend on us at all. It’s not Jesus and me. Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Can you tell how excited this made Paul feel? Verses 8-11 in Greek are all one huge, run-on sentence. You’re not supposed to write like this! But Paul couldn’t stop bubbling over! “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 9 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. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Wow!
Do you have that enthusiasm? Does Jesus make you that excited? So what’s missing? Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Jesus isn’t missing. You came to church today. You’re hearing about Jesus. What’s missing? Maybe you’re missing the nothing. Maybe you don’t have nothing. Do I sound crazy? We have a children’s Bible called the “Jesus Storybook Bible.” In the story of Naaman, Naaman was supposed to trust God and dip in the Jordan River to cure his leprosy, but he was too good for that. The book says, “All Naaman needed was nothing, but that was the one thing he didn’t have.” “All he needed was nothing, but that was the one thing he didn’t have.”
Do you have nothing? That might be what you need most of all. The devil loves ands. The devil is happy to have people think about Jesus once in a while. He’s okay with people going to church once in a while. As long as it’s always “Jesus and.” Jesus and my way—then I’ll be happy. Jesus and sex—then I’ll be happy. Jesus and power—then I’ll be happy. Jesus and money—then I’ll be happy. Jesus and, right? “That’s what we need. As long as we have Jesus and…, then we’ll be happy!” But when it’s Jesus and, where is our hope always placed? In the and. Especially when the and is me. “All he needed was nothing, but that was the one thing he didn’t have.”
Because Jesus + Nothing = Everything. I didn’t come up with that phrase on my own. I read it in a book called “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” The author was a pastor of a large, growing Presbyterian church in Florida. It was a great book—one of the most beneficial books I’ve ever read. So much Gospel! But you don’t hear much about that book anymore, because that pastor, soon after writing the book, had an affair, lost his marriage, lost his church, and lost his ministry. The devil is bad, isn’t he? I bet that pastor felt like nothing. I hope he remembered his book. Because when you take nothing and add Jesus, what do you have? Everything!
Maybe that’s where you’re at today: Nothing. Maybe your sin has caught up to you too, like it always does. You’ve run out of excuses, and you feel like nothing. Or maybe your trust in “flesh” has let you down. Your relationships are in pieces. Your job is constant conflict, and you feel like nothing. Or maybe your trust in yourself has failed. Your dreams are crushed, and you feel like nothing. Know what Jesus says? “That’s exactly what you need—nothing!” God isn’t angry with you. God hasn’t given up on you. Don’t think for a second that God doesn’t love you. If all you have is nothing, that’s exactly what you need! Because Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Our righteousness—our goodness—doesn’t come from ourselves. It comes from Jesus. He’s done it all. It’s Jesus. There’s no and necessary. I hope you’re here often this Holy Week. Watch Jesus ride into Jerusalem knowing he would die for you. Watch Jesus pray for you in the Garden of Gethsemane. Watch him on trial for you and your sins. Watch him condemned for you and crucified for you. Watch him tear that curtain in the temple in two for you, so that nothing separates you from God. Watch him rise from the dead for you, so that even death can’t hold you. In all of that, what do you have to do? Nothing! Don’t you dare throw an and in there. “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Jesus + Nothing = Everything. That doesn’t mean life’s going to be easy. Listen to Paul: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” We’re not in heaven yet! The devil is still powerful. Our flesh is still weak. But remember this: Christ Jesus has already taken hold of you. Life is not about you and me finding Jesus. He’s already found us! Life is about one thing: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Don’t let anything ever take your eyes off of Jesus.
In the town where I served in MN, there was another church that I was jealous of. I wasn’t jealous of the church itself. I was jealous of their name. They named their church “Jesus.” What a great name! They had a big bright yellow billboard on the highway with big letters: “Jesus.” Everybody called it the “Jesus.” church. “So where do you go to church? The Jesus. church.” Not the “Jesus and” church. The “Jesus.” church. I wonder if that thought wasn’t also on the minds of the people who formed our church. We’re about what St. Paul was about. What was St. Paul about? Jesus + Nothing = Everything. So come to Jesus with your nothing, and find that Jesus + Nothing = Everything!