Monday, April 12, 2021

War of the Worldviews- Colossians 2:8-15

 Currently in our small group on Sunday mornings we are going through a study entitled “War of the Worldviews” in which we compare and contrast Christianity over and against different belief systems that are endorsed in our world today. While we have looked at Jehovah’s witnesses, Mormons, Scientologists, Muslims, Buddhists, and have also discussed Critical Theory, ultimately there are two choices that one has when he comes to deciding what he is going to live by—the way of God as revealed in the Bible (and rightly understood) or the way of the world (regardless of the supposed variations therein). Paul understood this ultimate contrast and educates the church to this end in Colossians 2:8-15. In this passage Paul presents two worldviews and provides a compelling case for the one represented in the Scripture to both protect and encourage the church.

1. WORLDVIEW #1: A Purely Rationalistic Worldview-2:8

As Paul continues to warn the church against falsehood, he identifies an existential and spiritual threat of which they need to be acutely aware—“See to it that no one takes you captive through Philosophy and empty deception” (2:8a). Paul believed the influx of heresy in the life of the church was a well organized and planned attack against Christianity (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 252). Such coordination may have taken the form of vain speculation and false teaching in and around Asia Minor, but ultimately, this attack was motivated by evil forces in the spiritual realm. Here, Paul describes the particular manifestation of this threat as “philosophy and empty deception.” The way that this phrase is constructed connects “philosophy” and “empty deception” together and draws attention to a specific brand of thinking. In other words, Paul is not calling into question philosophy as a whole, but a particular brand of philosophy that is ultimately empty and deceptive—i.e. lacking in any substance, leading nowhere. Such vain speculation that ultimately leads nowhere is not benign/inconsequential. Instead, Paul expends great energy in describing just how dangerous it is by suggesting that it can “take someone captive.” The verb calls to mind an oppressor carrying off booty or captives following a victory in battle. Applied here, the idea involves taking complete control of a person. If the adage “as one thinks so is he” is true, empty deception/vain speculation can completely overwhelm a person and lead them in the wrong direction—away from Christ. Avoiding such thinking is paramount for the church and her people if they are to persevere and continue its mission. Thankfully, Paul provides some helpful characteristics of this brand of thinking that will aid us in identifying it and distancing ourselves from it.

First, vain speculation and empty deceit is humanistic—i.e. man-centric—“according to the tradition of men” (2:8b). In other words, the kind of worldview that Paul warns against places mankind at the center of the universe and believes that he can solve all his problems. Such a view believes that we can think, innovate, work, or win our way out of anything. Such thinking renders God’s revelation unnecessary and/or obsolete. Beware of those with too high a view of the human person and his capacities.

Second, vain speculation and empty deceit is materialistic—“according to the elementary principles of the world” (2:8c). Originally the term “stoixeia” referred to what many believed were the the four basic elements of the world: earth, fire, wind, and water. The term was later used of the basic words of the alphabet. Even later the term suggested the “ABC’s” of something—i.e. the basics. Still others use the word to refer to the signs of the Zodiac and the powers that occupied the planets (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 253). While exactly what Paul is referring to here is somewhat up for debate, generally speaking this calls to mind the humanistic tendency to understand something by means of breaking it down to its components and in this way highlights a very materialistic way of thinking. It is the propensity to believe we can figure everything out if we can add up something’s elements. Scientism and naturalism are more recent expressions of this in our world today. However, different versions of such thinking were also prevalent in the world of Colossae and could very easily lead people away from the reverent awe that comes when one confronts radical complexity and mystery of God and what he has revealed in Christ.

Finally, vain speculation and empty deceit is anti-Christ/sans Jesus---“rather than according to Christ” (2:8d). In fact, one might say that any worldview that does not have Christ as its cornerstone and champion ought to be avoided like the plague, lest is capture you and take you where you ought not be (lest it control you in a godless and faithless way).

Ultimately, the first worldview described in this passage is a purely rationalistic worldview that exalts the human person and the materialism of this world to the neglect of God’s revelation in Christ. Such a worldview is empty and ultimately leads nowhere. Unprepared to ultimately/satisfactorily solve the problems it suggests it can conquer, this worldview only succeeds in capturing unsuspecting/misinformed people and controlling them in ways that bring destruction.

2. WORLDVIEW #2: A Christ-Centered Worldivew-2:9-15

Thankfully, there is another worldview/guiding framework for life—a Christ-centered worldview that is explained in verses 9-15. Notice, Paul devotes far more time, effort, and attention to describing the contours of this much-preferred system of thinking. First, the apostle highlights the realities found in Christ in verses 9-11. In Christ there is found several things that are discovered no where else. Verse 9 indicates that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” While this expression of Jesus’ divinity is unusual, it is always difficult to express the God-man relationship in Christ via human language. “The ‘fullness of deity’ was Paul’s way of stating that Jesus is every bit God” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 255). This fullness concerns the completeness of the divine nature and does not demand that Christ is all there is of God. In other words, Jesus is every bit God but does not exhaust the dimensions of deity as the Father and the Spirit are also equally divine. Jesus’ divinity is unique in that his deity dwells in bodily form. In the form of Christ, we have the reality of God.

Colossians 1:15-“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”

Not only will you find the full expression of divinity in Christ, but those who embrace Jesus will also find completeness in Christ—“and in Him you have been made complete” (2:10). The perfect tense suggests a past act with ongoing realities. Because the believer has been made positionally/essentially complete in Christ, they are currently undergoing a process of perfect completion (existentially). I.e. “you have been and are being made complete.” This position and process only exists in Christ.

Completeness is a desire implicit within the human person. Much of what is observed in our world today reveals many various quests for being completed or satisfied. Jesus offers true completion and ultimate satisfaction to those who come to him in faith. Who better to offer such than the one in whom exists all deity?

In addition to deity and completeness, believers will also find leadership in Christ—“and He is the head over all rule and authority” (2:10b). Powers both seen and unseen are subject to Jesus. Therefore, those found in Him have nothing to fear as any foe or oppressor must ultimately answer to Christ!

While these incredible blessings are found in Christ and are mainstays in a Christ-centered worldview, these are only available to people because of the actions that Christ performs in the life of believers.

Paul begins listing the may activities Christ accomplishes in the lives of believers by referencing an old idea to illustrate a new application—circumcision. He says, “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (2:11). This verse remembers one way in which the Israelites (particularly the men) were consecrated unto God. Physical circumcision was one of the signs in the Old Testament Jewish community of God’s people being set apart. However, this outward sign was always intended for more than just a physical marking. It was intended to illustrate an inner-spiritual reality of spiritual separation and holiness. This spiritual reality is what Paul is most concerned with here. Christ offers true/spiritual circumcision of the heart that sets people apart.

Romans 2:28-29-“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

What existed in sign and symbol in the Old Testament has been fulfilled and ultimately completed in Christ who now uniquely consecrates people unto himself. This is one of the many activities that makes the many blessings “in Christ” possible.

Christ has not only set people apart in a special way through spiritual circumcision, he has also baptized people in a spiritual baptism—“having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12). Baptism, like circumcision is a sign of deep spiritual realities. First, it highlights a change of identity in which people go into the water one way and out of the water another way (from the bondage of sin to freedom in Christ). Second, it highlights the process by which this change of identity was made possible (we go into the water as buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised out of the water as those who walk in new life). Physical baptism does not save anyone any more than physical circumcision made someone a true Jew. However, the realities that these outward signs illustrate are very real on a spiritual level as they describe what Christ has done on behalf of those who turn to him in faith.

Romans 6:3ff-“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,..”

2 Tim. 2:11-“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;

Christ not only circumcises the heart and provides spiritual baptism, he also makes alive those who were once dead—“when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him” (2:13a). In this statement Paul combines the two aforementioned activities and suggests that Christ’s completed work in these arenas provides life to those who were formally dead in their sin. As only God can bring life to the dead, this ability associated with Christ further supports Paul’s claim of Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ ability to bring life to the dead was tested and proven true in his own death to life episode three days after his crucifixion. Because he is alive from the dead, those who are saved are said to be “made alive together with him.”

Christ provides spiritual circumcision, baptism, life, and he also provides forgiveness—"Having forgiven us all our transgressions” (2:13b). It is this forgiveness for wrongdoing that is so necessary for unbelieving sinners to be made right with God their Creator. After all, sin separates all from God and the wrap sheet that has been growing since birth has accrued an enormous debt that people are woefully incapable of paying. Thankfully, Christ has acted in such a way to take care of all of this so that forgiveness can be applied to who turn to him in faith—“having canceled our the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (2:14). Jesus has forever and completely satisfied the debt owed from sin. Not only has he posted bail, he has removed the charges! The verb used for “having canceled” means to cause something to cease by obliterating any evidence.” Praise be to God that forgiveness for sin is possible in Christ.

Finally, Christ has also accomplished total victory. In fact, it was his death on the cross that also defeated sin and death and ensured the ultimate fate of all evil everywhere—“When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him,…” (2:15). This was prophesied in Genesis 2:15 and fulfilled at the cross. In the cross you have a compelling paradox. “Jesus hung naked and disgraced, dying publicly for sinners. The evil forces assumed they had triumphed. In reality, through this act of both sacrifice and triumph, God disgraced evil beings. The tables were turned. God triumphed in the redemptive work of Christ” and those who follow him are led in triumph (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 266).

2 Corinthians 2:14-“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

Applied to this context and the war of the worldviews that exist between empty philosophies and Christ-centered thinking, God’s triumph in Christ successfully strips the gaudy clothing off the imposter frameworks and exposes how fruitless and pointless they really are. None should follow such systems.

So What?

This passage demonstrates a real contrast of worldviews. Ultimately there are only two. First there is a worldview that puts people at the center, limits things down to the parts/material, and excludes Jesus altogether. Such a system is called empty and proves destructive in the end. Second there is a worldview that puts Christ at the center (along with all the fullness of deity, completeness, and perfect leadership) and explains how sinners can, in fact, be saved by means of his many successfully completed actions. The first is a worldview that is as limited and wrought with weaknesses as are the people who advance them. The second worldview is as complete and satisfying as Christ is who serves as its cornerstone and champion. Paul’s warning against vain speculation and endorsement of Christ-centered thinking is just as relevant today as it was to his original audience. Which will you choose to guide your thinking and, as a result, your life?  

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Struggle is Real; The Calling is Profound- Col. 2:1-7

 Long-distance relationships are difficult for many. There is something about space that seems to lend itself to miscommunication and a lack of meaningful connection. This is often the case in personal relationships and even takes place in ministry. This past year has illustrated this on so many levels as, given the pandemic and encouraged protocols, distance has existed in places it never has before. Believe it or not, Paul understood what it was like to be in a long-distance relationship. In fact, his many letters to the churches throughout the Roman empire illustrate how hard he worked to transcend the pitfalls/limitations that might exist in such arrangements and encourage the church to fulfill her mission in a variety of contexts. The church in Colossae is one such example. As we continue to look at Paul’s letter to this church today, we learn just how hard Paul worked to encourage this church to be about the right business in a world full of all kinds of pressures. We will stand to learn a lot that we can apply today as we examine two presentations given in Colossians 2:1-7.

1. PRESENTATION #2: Paul’s Personal Struggle-2:1-5

When we last left the Book of Colossians, Paul was talking about his unique ministry as apostle. Remember, Paul had never actually visited this church and the apostle believed it was in the best interest of both himself and this letter’s message for him to establish his credibility for this congregation. In chapter 2, Paul continues along the same lines while shifting to from a general discussion of himself and his ministry to the significance of his ministry for the Colossians and as she faced the threat of false teaching (Moo, The Letter to the Colossians, 163). He writes “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face” (2:1). “For I want you to know” draws special attention to what Paul is about to reveal. Paul reports that he does not just labor in ministry for those he has met; he also strives for those he has never seen. Here, three groups are mentioned as the beneficiaries of his “apostolic ‘contending’”—those in Colossae, those in Laodicea, and the church everywhere who has not seen him. Paul’s perspective in ministry and leadership took into account the big picture (the universal church/the kingdom of God). While he specifically addresses the Colossian church in this letter, he does so with the whole church and mission of God in mind.  

Paul’s struggle/contending for the church in Colossae and throughout the world (those who had seen him and others who had not) was purposeful. First, Paul struggled so that the church might be encouraged—“That their hearts might be encouraged, having been knit together in love” (2:2). The verb “encourage” might best be rendered “strengthened” here (Obrien, 93) and the focus is on the “heart.” While in today’s vernacular the heart is most associated with emotions and feelings, in Scripture the “heart” designates the center of the personality, the source of willing and thinking in addition to feeling (Moo, The Letter to the Colossians, 165). Therefore, “encouraged in heart” might be best understood here as being strengthened to the very core of oneself—in that part of a person that affects everything else.

Here, the passive voice suggests that such inner strength cannot be conjured up in one’s own power but must be injected by an outside third party (in this case, Paul believed it was his role to instill such inner courage in the life of the church). For the church in Colossae (and everywhere else for that matter), such courage was also predicated on compelling community—“having been knit together in love” (2:2). This too was accomplished by an outside third-party (this time the Holy Spirit that calls people to Jesus and baptizes them into the family of God). The church’s level of encouragement was in direct proportion to its receptivity of Spirit-led leadership and Spirit-driven community. Without apprehending what these outside influences provide, the church would suffer. Paul knows this and it is why he worked so hard to instill these in the church.

Paul not only contended to bring the church encouragement, but he also labored to educate the church concerning the things of God—“and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding” (2:2b). In fact, some would argue that these results/desired outcomes of Paul’s ministry build off each other. Here “the full assurance of understanding” is the result of both “encouraged in heart” and being “united in love.” Paul might have wondered how a church could truly understand the things of God without encouragement and unity. Beyond simply being encouraged and living in loving community, Paul desired the church have the full assurance of understanding—i.e. “a full wealth of conviction which understanding brings” (Moo, The Book of Colossians,  167). The apostle wanted the church to know what it believed and understand why they believed it so much so that they would stand by such convictions under pressure.

Ultimately, Paul hoped that all these desired outcomes/results of his striving/contending would lead to “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself” (2:2c). This final outcome/ultimate result of Paul’s ministry for the church in Colossae and elsewhere involves a experiential, life-changing knowledge of Christ’s person and ministry—something that was hidden in ages past but now has been manifest in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Knowing Jesus would provide inspiration for encouragement, a catalyst for unity, and a source of understanding the things of God.

After all, as Paul continues, it is in Christ where “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (2:3). “Christ is the one in whom is to be found all that one needs in order to understand spiritual reality and to lead a life pleasing to God” (Moo, The Book of Colossians, 169). This is highlighted by Paul’s use of “all” in “all the treasures” and the inclusion of both “wisdom” (the application of knowledge), and “knowledge” (the apprehension of information). Such wisdom and knowledge are treasures that have been hidden in Christ, not so that they may not be found, but so that they might be easily discovered and acquired (no map or difficult quest necessary).

Jesus really is an exhaustive source of the information, advice, inspiration, and understanding necessary to live rightly both now and forevermore. He is the perfect revelation of God and perfectly discloses everything one needs to know about him and his will. Christ is not a reference that needs supplementing. This is crucial to Paul’s message for the church in Colossae as she faced heresies and false teachings that called into question the supremacy of Christ and wondered what could be learned from him.

Evidence of this is found in verse 4 when Paul says “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (2:4). This is the first time the apostle warns explicitly against false teaching in the letter. Paul didn’t want the church to be “deceived by arguments or false reasons” given for denying the divinity of Christ. This is why he has said all “this” (in “I say this…”). What is “this”? The answer is everything taught in 1:1-2:3 and includes things like “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth…He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…Christ in you the hope of glory…”. Paul has, up to this point, flooded the church with high Christology so that she might be prepared to stand against any teaching that would fall short of  portraying Jesus in all the lofty glory he is due.

As the church in Colossae faced the challenge of false teaching, the apostle wanted them to know that not only could they count on this letter to help direct them and Paul’s tireless efforts to encourage them (see 2:2), but they could also count on the fact that he was with them in spirit—“for even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit…” (2:5a). This statement goes beyond merely “you will be in my thoughts and prayers” and involves a profound corporate sense of identity based on and mediated by the Holy Spirit of God (Moo, The Book of the Colossians, 173).

This spiritual connection Paul had with the church was not a one-way street. Instead, this relationship worked in both directions. Paul reveals that in addition to his efforts to encourage the church, he was being encouraged by that same church himself—“rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ” (2:5b).

Let us take a moment to appreciate the deep spiritual connection, responsibility, accountability, and relationship that existed between Paul and a church he had never actually visited. This was possible because of a shared position in Christ and a shared bond in the Spirit. Churches today would do well to recognize their many connections to the church of God at work all over the world and seek to rejoice amid her many triumphs, address and correct her many struggles, and encourage her many efforts. This is what Paul models here.

2. PRESENTATION #2: The Church’s Calling-2:6-7

After presenting his struggle on behalf of the church both in Colossae and around the world (answering why he contends and for what purpose), Paul gives a brief presentation of the church’s calling. This calling is rooted in the church’s reception of Christ Jesus—“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord” (2:6a). This title highlights, once again, a high Christology as it refers to Jesus by means of his messianic office (Christ) and absolute authority “the Lord.” Those who have received him by grace through faith have received no small thing. In fact, receiving Christ Jesus the Lord ought to suffer incredible implications.

Paul expected and, in fact demands, that those who receive Christ Jesus the Lord “walk in him” (2:6b). Behaving appropriately ought to be expected in the lives of those who have received Christ. A godly walk should perpetually evidence the presence of Jesus in a believer’s life (it should be the rule, not the exception). I especially appreciate the locative (“in Him”) language as it provides a great perspective in how to evaluate how you are living as one of his disciples (and how the church is doing in her ministry). Sin does not exist in Jesus; therefore, if one is sinning, he is not walking in Him in that moment. Worry doesn’t exist in Jesus; therefore if one is worried, he is not placing confidence in Jesus in this or that area of one’s life. Division doesn’t exist in Jesus, therefore if a body is divided, it can be assured that elements of the organism are not walking in Christ rightly. Paul’s call for the church is simple but profoundly all-encompassing—"walk in Him.” Impossible you say?

You are right! It is impossible, just as impossible today as it was for the church in Colossae 2000 years ago—that is, impossible in one’s own power/strength. The church’s success in her mission is only possible because of what Paul describes in verse 7—“having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith” (2:7a). Again, Paul links a string of passive-voice verbs together (three here are the beginning of verse 7) that each demonstrate that the actions are performed by a greater outside/third-party force (God). A church can only walk in Christ because she has been firmly rooted, is being built up (“to increase the potential of someone or something, with focus upon the process involved”), and is being established in their faith (“to increase in inner strength, with the implication of greater firmness of character or attitude”) by God. The church of Colossae was set up for success in its mission of walking in Christ because of the work God had and was performing in her ranks (and the same is true today).

The calling of the church to “walk in Him” is also predicated on the instruction it has received (faithful instruction about Christ’s person and ministry) and gratitude—“just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (2:7b).  It is clear here that the apostle believed that adequate instruction and an attitude of gratitude went a long way in standing up to and against false teaching. Such a stance was integral for the church as she was about her calling of walking in Christ.

So What?

After examining the presentation of Paul’s struggle and the church’s calling in this passage, we ought to appreciate how relevant this message is for the church today as she stands against falsehood and perseveres amid a multiplicity of pressures. Like the church of Colossae, we ought to appreciate and receive the encouragement of spirit-led church leaders who are struggling/contending for things like loving community, a proper understanding of God’s Word, and a robust engagement with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Again, the church’s level of encouragement in this age, or in any age, is in direct proportion to its receptivity of spirit-led leadership, its participation in loving community, its understanding of God’s Word, and its knowledge of Jesus Christ. Such encouragement is necessary because the call—to walk in Him—is so great. Such a godly walk in any church and among its members ought to perpetually evidence the presence of Jesus in a believer’s life and should not be characterized by anything that is not found in Christ. Thankfully, God has done all the heavy lifting in making it possible to answer this call and to benefit from the encouragement of others. All we have to do is receive it joyfully, and remain faithful to what we have been learned with an attitude of gratitude.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Encounter at the Tomb- John 20:11-18

 Last week we examined the sermon Jesus gave at the cross and learned how forgiveness and the hope of glory came about through the total sacrifice of God the son. The repentant thief on the cross illustrated how brokenness and faith before the Lord is met with God’s grace leading to life. However, how this is the case has yet to be revealed. After all, if Jesus remained dead, what hope would that bring? Thankfully, the story didn’t end on Golgotha, but three days later that first Easter morning. Matthew’s account of the excitement is given as follows:

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay’…” (Matt 28:2-6)

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his being raised from the dead three days later demonstrates Christ’s rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords. It also reveals that he is the only hope for salvation now and forevermore. Here is what the Bible has to say about the resurrection and its many implications.

John 11:25-26-“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…’”

1 Peter 1:3-“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Though this “living hope” will be realized most completely in a cosmic battle of good verses evil in the end, I want to explore what the hope of the resurrection affords the individual today—personal transformation.  Last week we heard a sermon from the cross and today we are going to look carefully at an encounter at the tomb. At this important encounter, Mary is confronted by her risen Lord and undergoes a major transformation—a transformation that is possible for anyone who is confronted by the reality of Easter. This transformation takes place in four phases.


A lot happened on that first Easter morning. Here is a brief look at what took place up to 20:11 in John’s narrative.

 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.” (John 20:1-10)

We join the chaos following the revelation of the empty tomb late and see Mary “standing outside the tomb weeping; “and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb” (20:11). The action of her weeping is described as a continuous stream of loud sobs.  No doubt Mary was driven to this because (as we will soon learn) her worst fears seemed to be confirmed in the absence of Jesus’ body. Abusing or tampering with the dead was considered an abhorrent offense and this is what Mary believes has happened to Jesus. (All the while her greatest joy should have been realized). By this point, the other disciples, following their brief investigation of the empty tomb, had already left. They had already watched their Savior die an excruciating death and now His body was missing!

Left to sob outside the tomb by herself, Mary decides to do some investigating. Some speculate that her sense of grief and loss may have driven her back to the tomb after some time passed in order to find someone or something that could provide answers. Therefore, “she stooped and looked into the tomb”(20:11).

“and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying” (20:12). The tomb is no longer empty. Instead, two heavenly messengers clad in white catch Mary’s attention. These two angelic beings stand alongside Jesus’ resting place as evidence to Mary that God has been at work in some way (as in every situation in which angels are presented in Scripture).

All these heavenly messengers do is ask Mary a simple question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:13a). Though the reason for Mary’s grief might seem obvious, this question is asked to give Mary an opportunity to reflect and put aside her grief with the hopes of putting two and two together (missing body + angelic beings + Jesus’ teaching = ?).

However, unfortunately, Mary is unable to wipe away her tears and add up what she sees and has heard to get the sum of what has happened. Instead, she is so disturbed by the missing body that she replies “because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (20:13b). Instead of realizing the greatest joy that Jesus made possible through what He said He would do (rise), Mary along with the disciples assumes the very worst. Blinded by grief, she is unable to remember what Jesus said of Himself and instead believed His body was stolen. 


As she speaks to the angels, someone emerges onto the scene. Suddenly aware of this third presence, Mary “…turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus” (20:14).  If we were to associate her stage of grief at this point, she is at the point of denial—not denying that Jesus was dead (as she was one of the few witnesses of Calvary), but denying that he was now alive. As is common in resurrection narratives, Jesus is not recognized immediately (see 21;4; Luke 24:16; Matt. 28:17). Mary’s failure to recognize Jesus continues this pattern. Neither the stone that had been rolled away, nor the empty tomb, nor the angels inside, nor even the risen Jesus Himself are able to enlighten Mary!

The failure of Mary to recognize Jesus becomes even more dramatic when he begins to question her, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’”(20:15a). Perhaps Jesus’ first question is a mild rebuke, “why should you weep?” or is Jesus’ way of caring for this woman’s deep concern. Either way, Jesus’ second question (“whom are you seeking?”) is asked to direct Mary’s attention away from herself and to Jesus. Knowing the answer to His own question, Jesus wants Mary to articulate her thoughts in order to set up a special revelation.

Mary’s response is predicated on her misunderstanding of who this man is, “…Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away’…” (20:15b). Aside from grave robbers or other mourners, neither of which would have been likely visitors at this hour, gardeners tending to the grounds where the tomb was located would have been the only people around” (Kostenberger, 568). Her guess of this man’s identity could not have been more wrong, for in this moment she is asking the very person she is seeking for the answer to the mystery of the empty tomb!

In Mary’s mind she sees an empty tomb and assumes that Jesus has been stolen. She observes Jesus Himself and assumes that he is a gardener. However, once things are revealed, all that Mary has observed will prove far greater than she could have ever imagined.


In verse 16, Mary is given the clue that answers the riddle, the secret word used to decode the mysterious happenings of the previous hours, and the final piece to the puzzle that pulls the whole picture together. “Jesus says to her, ‘Mary!’…”(20:16a). Though this seems simple enough, when Mary hears her name spoken from Jesus’ lips, she is launched out of grief and into pure ecstasy; she is immediately transported from despair to delight and trades her tears of grief for tears of triumph.

This is evidenced by her response to Jesus, “she turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)…”(20:16b). Though this word is not wrought with theological significance nor is it a weighty Christological proclamation, it is a familiar term that Mary probably used throughout Jesus’ ministry when she spoke to Him. This specific episode is more about the rekindling of her personal relationship with Jesus than it is about doctrine (at least at this point). With that said, this verse does confirm what Jesus communicated in John 10:3-4, “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

It is obvious by what Jesus says next that Mary probably rushed toward Him in a tight embrace. Not wanting to lose her Savior again, this knee-jerk reaction resembles what a small child might do when his or her parents come home after a long trip. Here, Mary’s teacher had been gone three days and upon His return she did not want to let Him loose! Her King has arrived and she was not letting go now.

However, Jesus suggests that this is not the time for clinging nor for sentimentalities, “’Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father’” (20:17a).  Jesus assures Mary that He is not going anywhere (at least for now) and she can let go of Him. 

Rather than remain and cling, Jesus calls Mary to use her newfound joy to proclaim the news of His resurrection to others, “but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’…” (20:17b). Mary’s appointment is incredibly significant as she is not a trained messenger nor a man (as in the ancient world women were not considered credible witnesses). That a woman with a shady past was one of the first to send word of Jesus’ resurrection is compelling evidence of the legitimacy and historicity of this event. Had this story been fabricated, no one would have given the part of first responder to a women given the gender roles and stereotypes of the first century.

The content of the message is simple. In so many words, Jesus wants Mary to tell the other disciples that He had risen and was now in the process of ascending into heaven (something that would take place a few weeks later). He also wants her to tell them that His Father and God is also their Father and God. This statement would have brought incredible hope to the disciples for in it Jesus subtly reveals that the same Father and God who raised Him from the dead is the Father and  God of the disciples.


Mary faithfully answers her commissioning and immediately sets out to complete her assignment, “Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples…”(20:18a). The way this is written almost seems to suggest that Mary was in a continuous state of proclamation as she carried this message to her friends. As the first sent one beyond the empty tomb, Mary is the first missionary. The first to receive this “good news” are Jesus’ close confidants.

After making it to the disciples, Mary shares, “’I have seen the Lord,’ and that He had said these things to her…” (20:18b). Answering the call to be sent, Mary shared the message she was given to proclaim without fail. 

So What?

In this passage Mary transforms from a grieving friend to an excited witness. What is to blame for this dramatic transition in her life? –Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Once He was dead and now He is alive. Because of this, grieving loners everywhere can know hope, obtain a mission, find purpose, and joyfully live in this world full of all kinds of life-changing events. However, in order to experience this change, one must take the steps that Mary demonstrates in her odyssey here. First, people must recognize they are grieving loners. Grieving what? The loss of answers, the loss of meaning, the loss of understanding one’s place in the grand scheme of things, and ultimately the loss of a right relationship with God. Once achieved, they must pursue answers to these questions and satisfaction for these needs by becoming concerned investigators of Jesus and the many claims he offered. Thoroughly and honestly vetted, Jesus will inevitably be found alive and well and be understood as God made flesh—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When people believe this and place their trust in this, they become children of God who want as much of Jesus as possible. This will ultimately bring individuals face-to-face with Jesus’ commands, specifically, the commission to go and share the greatest news ever! What is this news? That Jesus was once dead but is now alive! His change gives all the opportunity to transform from grieving loners to excited witnesses. What stage of the journey are you in today? Our King is alive and is coming again! Do you know him? Are you counted as one of his subjects?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Sermon At The Cross- Luke 23:33-46

 As we head further into the Easter season, is it both appropriate and important for us to celebrate what Christ did to provide salvation from sin. In fact, the Bible calls upon God’s people to regularly remember all that Jesus went through so that we might be made right with God. Why does God encourage this kind of remembrance? Taking time to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice is both evangelistically useful as we share the gospel message who do not know it and sanctifying for those who already know the gospel as they grow more like their Savior. On this Palm Sunday we are going to spend special time reflecting on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as revealed in Luke 23:33-46. In this passage Jesus make three powerful statements that highlight what he accomplished on the cross—statements that ought to inspire us on several levels.

I. STATEMENT #1: A Plea for Forgiveness-23:33-38

The location in which these compelling statements are made is revealed in verse 33—“When they came to the place called the Skull” (23:33). This site was “out” of the city as Jewish custom prescribed and was appropriately given this grim name (Latin equivalent is “Calvary”) for its ominous and macabre features that resembled a human head. Perhaps this was a familiar spot for these kinds of executions, familiar even to Jesus throughout His life and ministry.

It was at this spot that “they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left” (23:33b). In ancient times, crucifixion was synonymous with horror and shame, a death inflicted on slaves, bandits, prisoners of war, and revolutionaries (Isa 53:12-“and was numbered among the transgressors”). Josephus even called it “the most pitiable of deaths.” Cicero described it as “that cruel and disgusting penalty” as victims were made a public spectacle, often being affixed to these cross beams in unusual configurations until vultures would devour the corpse. So gross was this specific program of execution that it was prohibited for a Roman Citizen unless the emperor Himself sanctioned it.

However, despite this ominous location and the especially horrific situation in which he found himself, Jesus makes a shocking statement in between gasps for air and through his excruciating pain—“’Father, forgiven them; for they do not know what they are doing’” (23:34a). Yes, in his most precarious position, most painful moment, Jesus requests that forgiveness be granted to those performing these unspeakable acts against him. Remember, by this time Jesus would have already received the verberatio (the most severe of the beatings administered under Roman law). He would also have been stripped naked, have received a series of whips with a gruesome instrument of torture, and would have been made to carry this heaven cross all the way to this spot (see John 19:17). Then, both his feet and wrists were nailed to the crossbeam which then would have been raised high enough for the victim’s feet to clear the ground and then placed on a stake. All this torture Jesus went through although he was totally innocent. All of these wrongs were committed against the one who had done no wrong and yet, Christ asks God to forgive the very people who were afflicting upon him the most grievous fate ever conceived by man.

This request becomes even more peculiar when the executioners are described next in Luke 23:34ff as “casting lots, dividing up His garment among themselves” (23:34b). Not only did these soldiers not show respect to Jesus’ body in the beating they administered and in the nailing of his hands and feet to the cross, but here they show no respect for his humble personal affects. The language used here seems to point to Psalm 22:18 which reads “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots,” recalling a practice of oppressors taking plunder from the battlefield (Strauss, ZIBBC, 492).

Not only were the Roman guards dividing what few things Jesus possessed, but many nearby “stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at him saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’…” (23:35). This again points back to Psalm 22 (particularly verses 7-8) and indicates that repeated and ongoing ridicule was hurled in Jesus’ direction as he hung there dying. While many questioned Jesus’ ability to save himself, little did they know that in his suffering and death he was providing a means for them to be saved—yes, even those who were hurling abuse at them.

In addition to the abuse of the onlookers was the mocking of the soldiers—“The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!’…” (23:37). Again the irony here is biting. While Jesus may not look like a Savior in the traditional sense here, it is through his death that he would pay the penalty of sin, provide satisfaction for the wrath of god, and pave the way for people to be made right with God.

Adding insult to injury, an inscription was placed at the top of the cross for all to see—“Now there was also an inscription above him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’…” (23:38). But here again, what the rulers and mockers meant in hurtful jest correctly identified Christ as the true Messiah of his people—the long-anticipated Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.

In the cacophony of these sneers, insults, offenses, and torture, Jesus takes the time to ask for God to forgive those bringing him personal injury and blaspheming his name. Friends, no one has suffered so much so unjustly, and while Christ would have been perfectly justified in asking God to smite those inflicting this pain and suffering, he instead asks for grace to be extended—grace, which, by the way, was only made possible because of what Jesus went through in these moments on the cross! In essence, Jesus asks to receive the punishment that these soldiers and crowd members deserve. In the place of wrath, Jesus asks for God to extend grace and forgiveness. What a powerful statement! What a sobering thought as we consider how difficult we find it at times to call upon God to forgive others when we go through far less than what is witnessed here (and when we recognize that we are far less innocent than Jesus was). The plea for forgiveness demonstrates the transcendent love of Jesus who was more concerned about the hearts of men (even those men who tortured him) than he was about seeing them receive what was coming to them. This plea for forgiveness also calls those who follow Christ to be people who are quick and ready to forgive as those who have been forgiven much. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).

II. STATEMENT #2: A Promise of Salvation-23:39-43

The second statement Jesus makes from the cross is hear amid a conversation takin place seven feet above Golgotha. As we eavesdrop on this peculiar conversation we learn that “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’…” (23:39). Though ill-advised in retrospect, one might understand how such a voice could be heard in the midst of such agony.

 In many ways this first thief represents a large sector of humanity. Those who in the face of suffering shake an angry fist at the God they  do not even believe in find a sympathizer in this man and might even be caught saying what he says here, “Are you no the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” This Hellacious cry echoes throughout the generations among those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ. Seeing no way of escape from their death or agony, instead of reaching out to Jesus in Faith for salvation, they question Him, His love, His sovereignty, and in their unbelief grasp only at straws.  Calvin says of this raging blasphemer, “this objection is directed against God Himself; just as wicked men, when they do not obtain what they wish, would willingly tear God from heaven. They ought indeed, to be tamed to humility by strokes; but this shows that the wicked heart, which no punishments can ben, is hard like iron.” The voice of rage says, “There is no God, look how much I’m hurting! If there was a God, why would he allow me this pain?”

However, another voice joins the conversation in verses 40-41—“But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’…” In what this second criminal says, the reader is made aware of another way, the proper way, to view one’s own predicament before Christ. Though in the first man’s response to pain and agony we heard the voice of a raging blasphemer, here we he the surprising and yet unmistakable voice of reason coming out of brokenness before the Lord.

The first statement uttered by this second voice is a statement of rebuke. “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” In other words, the second thief asks the first, “Does not your present condemnation compel you to fear God?” In this statement, the second robber is hoping that the first recognizes that death is coming soon, and it is no time to be blaspheming an innocent man. Though their present predicament was desperate and difficult, it would not compare to what he would feel before God in the judgment seat. Though he was now feeling the results of being condemned by the Roman government, he would soon discover what it would feel like to be condemned by God Himself!

The second thief understands that what they are experiencing is exactly what they “deserve.” He acknowledges here that the punishment which was common to all the three was “justly” inflicted on him and his companion, but not on Christ who had been dragged to the punishment of death, not by his own crime, but by the cruelty of enemies. He reasonably concludes, in light of his crime, that the punishment he is suffering at present is natural and expected, not something surprising or unjust.

As alluded to earlier, this man might represent all who reasonably conclude that their present sufferings, agonies, and even anticipated death are a result of their own sinful choices, depravity, and extant wickedness that infect the entire fallen world. The difficulty they face in life and the hardships around them are understood by these as the product of sin in their lives, the lives of others, and in creation itself.  Therefore, what they are experiencing and will experience after death without Christ is not understood as unjust, but the proper penalty assigned to each of them. The only thing they can do in light of this is call upon the Lord because of their brokenness and desperation.

Calling upon the lord is exactly what is demonstrated by the second thief in this passage, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” In this phrase readers everywhere are given one of the most remarkable and striking examples of faith ever recorded! This thief, who not only had not been educated in the ways of Christ, had instead given himself up to a life of sin and endeavored to rid himself of any sense of right and wrong. However, here he suddenly rises higher than all the apostles and other disciples whom the Lord Himself had taken so much pains to instruct and adores Christ as King and calls to be invited to His kingdom! This he does while bleeding out and gasping for air on a cross!

Those who in their brokenness understand their sin and the effects thereof are able to understand Jesus saving power for them by means of the Holy Spirit. In this we learn that those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are reaching a reasonable conclusion, Jesus is the only means of escaping the sting of death and have eternal life.

To the reasonable thief Jesus says, “truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (23:43). This promise reveals that Jesus, though presently humiliated before the onlookers, was still the same powerful Savior of the world who was capable to bring life out of death and fulfilling every facet of His office. This thief could expect life after death that very death with Jesus in Paradise.

“Paradise” is a word meaning heaven. Death is not defeat for those who belong to Jesus Christ, it the beginning of life with God in a more profound way. This is what the second thief could expect following his last breath. In fact, anyone who turns to Jesus, even in the last moments of her life, is granted fellowship with Christ for eternity.

Romans 10:13-“Woever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Jesus has always been about awarding faith with grace. Here, he awards the faith of a thief at his execution with the grace of eternal life with Him in heaven. This same grace is available today to all who call upon Him. What a promise! What a blessing! The promise of salvation for this thief is also available to everyone today and, like this thief, it is never too late to call upon the Lord.  

III. STATEMENT #3: A Proclamation of Sacrifice-23:44-46

The third statement uttered in this passage is a proclamation of sacrifice. We learn that this statement is made at a very specific time—“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured” (23:44-45a). When the sun was supposed to be highest in the sky (12:00noon), it is miraculously obscured in darkness, highlighting the darkness of sin that had been applied to the Son of God. The long shadow created by God the Father’s back turned toward his Son is evidenced in this darkness. It is a troubling sight, but a sight necessary so that people might escape the darkness of sin and death and enter the light of God—“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

During this three-hour darkness “the veil was torn in two” (23:45b)—i.e. that veil that separated men from the presence of God that resided in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Before this veil was miraculously torn, only the high priest under the most special conditions could enter to enjoy the glory of God’s presence. However, Jesus’ sacrifice now renders access to God available to all who would choose to seek him.

Having taken on the sin of mankind (as evidenced in the darkness) and having made a way for people to relate to God (as evidenced by the veil being torn), Jesus’ sacrifice is ready to be complete and in verse 46 it reads, “and Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit’…” (23:46). This answers the question concerning the responsibility for Christ’s death. While some blame the Jews and other the Roman soldiers and still others claim everyone everywhere who has ever sinned is responsible, ultimately, Jesus laid down his own life as a sacrifice. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18). It is this sacrifice, present here, that was required for men and women to be saved.

The totality of the sacrifice is highlighted at the end of verse 46b—“having said this, He breathed His last” (23:46b). Christ was not merely ridiculed, tortured, mocked, or nailed to a cross; he died to make salvation possible. He died so that people might be forgiven and receive the promise of paradise.

So What?

Do you know this today? Have you received the forgiveness of God? Do you know the promise of heaven? Have you placed your faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? If not, what is keeping you? Friend, if Jesus was willing to extend forgiveness to those who tortured him and mocked him at his execution, surely he is willing to forgive you. Friend, if it was not too late for the thief on the cross to apprehend the promise of heaven, it is not too late for you either. The implications of Jesus’ sacrifice offered all those years ago still apply today.

If you have already received the forgiveness of God today, do you prove you have been forgiven by showing forgiveness to others who have wronged you? If Jesus forgave those who crucified him, if Jesus forgave you, how much more should we be willing to forgive others? If you have been given the promises of paradise in heaven, is your walk characterized by that confidence? If glory awaits us in the end, why should this world paralyze us in fear and worry? The implications of Jesus’ sacrifice offered all those year ago do not just apply to our conversion, but they inform our present walk. This is why we ought to take time to remember what Jesus did.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Yes, Christianity Really Is THAT Different-Col. 1:21-29

 One of the charges that is often lodged against the Christian worldview by skeptics outside the faith is “Christianity is no different from all other religions.” Those who say this often lump the biblical worldview in with any/every belief system and/or superstition, believing that there is nothing distinct about who Jesus is and what the Bible teaches. These could not be more wrong. Christianity compared to other religions is not just a horse of a different color, it is a different animal all together. In Christianity you have many distinctives that set it apart. Take for instance its insistence on salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9) where all other worldviews rely on a system of works to be saved/enlightened. Consider also Christianity’s claim that God came down as a man (Jn 1:14) to be then humiliated to the point of death (Phil 2:5-11) in order to save people. Other religions teach that man has to ascend to God or god-like status in their own strength. These are just two of many ways in which Christianity is distinct from all other worldviews. Today, as we continue our Colossians series, we are going to examine two more distinctives of the Christian worldview that Paul describes in 1:21-29 and come to appreciate more of what Jesus has provided us and what our role ought to be in response.

1. DISTINCTIVE #1: The Unique Opportunity in Christ-1:21-23

After celebrating the uniqueness of Christ in verses 13-20, Paul reflects on the unique opportunity there is for salvation in Christ in verses 21-23. To highlight what Christ has done/accomplished, Paul takes the Colossians through the before and after sequence of their salvation experience. First, he remarks on what life was like prior to salvation in Christ—“and although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (1:21). Paul uses the language of being estranged to suggest that prior to their conversion, the Colossians were outside the sphere of God’s blessing. Their sin had placed them in enemy territory both in mind and in deed (as one is inextricably connected to the other). As one thinks so they behave and both the thoughts and actions of people before coming to faith demonstrate that they do neither know nor belong to God. This is not where anyone wants to find themselves.  Those described here are far removed from the promises of God’s blessings. Furthermore, their minds are opposed to God and their actions are anything but holy. A solution for such a condition might seem impossible. However, there is a solution—a most unique opportunity for reconciliation that is found in Christ.

Paul continues with “yet, He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (1:22). Here Paul uses sacrificial terminology to describe the way that reconciliation was made possible by Christ. First, the sacrifice was physical—“in His fleshly body through death.” In other words, moral and spiritual transformation comes, in part, because of the very real death of Jesus. This is important as one of the heresies floating around the Colossian context was that Jesus did not have a physical body (and therefore only appeared to really die). Here, Paul’s language explicitly argues that Jesus was really a man and really died to provide reconciliation for the desperate sinner. This is just as necessary to the gospel (the good news of salvation) as the resurrection. “Together, the ‘physical body’ and ‘death’ reveal the physical suffering of Christ in redemption. Flesh, blood, and death express the total nature of the sacrifice” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 232). Reconciliation is portrayed as a completed act (here, understood as made possible by the past act of Jesus’ death).

This physical death of Christ provides the opportunity to be presented before God as holy and blameless and beyond reproach—i.e. the very opposite of alienated, hostile, and evil. This will be ultimately realized and fully experienced in the future (the second time aspect associated with salvation). While this presentation will be fully realized in the end (when Christ returns to the earth), positionally, these realities allow the convert to stand in a right relationship with God now as reconciled unto him when before they were a long way off.

The verification that one has been reconciled, is in God’s presence, and is no longer living as an hostile enemy of God is perseverance—“if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (1:23). This introduces the third time aspect associated with salvation (reconciliation=past; holy/blameless/above reproach purity=future; and perseverance=present). Here, Paul addresses the responsibility of the Colossians in the time between reconciliation and Christ’s return (justification and glorification). The Colossians are to “continue in the faith”—a condition that Paul expected the Colossians to meet given their position in Christ and his ministry of reconciliation. The confidence that Paul had for the church to meet this expectation is also hinted at in the passive voice used in “firmly established.” The passive voice indicates that establishing of the believer is done by some third party and not accomplished personally. It is Christ who saves, Christ who reconciles, Christ who will one day glorify, and Christ who firmly established believers so they may persevere well. Paul teaches here, and elsewhere that those who know and embrace the truth of Christ in salvation will continue in that truth to the end—i.e. they will not fall away—“and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard,…” (1:23).

Romans 8:30-“and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Philippians 1:6-“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.”

The transforming, saving, glorious, persevering truth of which Paul speaks—the truth of the gospel—“was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister,…” (1:23b). The same gospel that was preached to every creature and animated Paul’s ministry is the same gospel that the Colossians had heard and responded to.

Verses 21-23 reveal that in Christ there is a most profound and unique opportunity for salvation. This opportunity allows people to transform from enemies of God who are a long way off and characterized by lost minds and evil actions to holy and blameless sons and daughters of God who stand in God’s presence and persevere to a most glorious end. Christ’s death and the reconciliation that he provides makes this possible to anyone and everyone who turns to him in faith, trusting who he is and what he has done. Praise the Lord—he has not left us desperate without hope for salvation!

2. DISTINCTIVE #2: The Unique Partnership with Christ-1:24-29

After describing the unique opportunity for salvation that is made possible in Christ, Paul continues to describe his unique partnership with Christ. In verses 24-29, he uses his own calling and experiences to describe what a life sold out for Christ looks like and, it may not be what some unsuspecting people believe they are signing up for when they engage incomplete presentations of the gospel message in our culture today. Paul begins this distinctive of the Christian life on what some might call a downer—“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,…” (1:24a). From the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, he knew that he was in for suffering for the Lord. As far back as his conversion, God told Ananias that Paul must suffer for Christ’s sake. Even as Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colossae, he was suffering in prison! When God calls a man like Paul (or anyone else for that matter) he bids him come and die.

Luke 9:23-24-“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it

One of the characteristics of partnership with Christ is partnership in Christ’s suffering. Romans 8:17 seems to suggest that along with the blessings of reconciliation come the realities of suffering in this present world-- “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” This is why Peter encourages believers not to be surprised when suffering befalls them by saying “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you,” (1 Pet 4:12) and then encourages Jesus’ followers with “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled” (1 Pet 3:14).

Paul understood this and rejoiced even/especially in his suffering. One of the things that aided him in this unique posture was recognizing that his suffering was not in vain but “for your (the church in Colossae’s) sake.”

He continues with “and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church” (1:24b). Paul suffered, in part, because of the specific ministry to which God called him. He planted churches in Gentile territory and this led to all kinds of pressures, frustrations, reactions, and persecution. Even as it concerned the church in Colossae (a church he did not plant and had never visited), Paul’s ministry was under attack both from pagan Gentiles and unbelieving Jews. But, as he reports at the beginning of the verse, he rejoices anyway. Suffering for good done in God’s name ought to be understood more as a mainstay of the Christian life, not a rarity to be avoided.

In addition to not stealing his joy and existing for the benefit of the church, Paul’s suffering also involved “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (1:24c). The word “filling up” here is used nowhere else in the New Testament and literally conveys the idea of “completing in the place of” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 238). The word seems to demand the idea of an ongoing exchange of responsibility. But what could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions that Paul needs to make up for? What could this possibly mean? The word “lack” suggests that Paul may have thought that there would be a fixed number of tribulations involved in gospel ministry, some of which remained unfulfilled. While Christ had inaugurated the age of salvation through his trials and tribulations (through his completed work of redemption), people like Paul were now continuing the work that Christ started by spreading the gospel message until the Lord’s return and, as a result, suffering. Also, Jesus’ suffering/afflictions had become Paul’s sufferings/afflictions. Though one cannot compare the sufferings of Jesus and Paul directly (or anyone else for that matter), both suffered physically, on behalf of others, and for the church. Jesus hints at this shared suffering between he and his disciples all the way back in John 15:18 when he says, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Paul is completing the mission that Jesus started by spreading the gospel message that Christ made possible. In this Paul rejoices.

Partnership with Christ is a unique distinctive of the Christian life that includes suffering. This suffering should not kill one’s joy, is always with direction, and associates the believer with his/her Savior.

In addition to suffering, partnership with Christ (for both Paul and others) involves ministering. Paul says in verse 25, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit.” Paul understood his role as a minister/servant of the church (diakonoV). To this, Paul was appointed of God, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others—“for your benefit.”

The purpose of the apostle’s own unique ministry/service to the church was “so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generation, but has now been manifested to His saints” (1:25b-26). It was Paul’s job to proclaim God’s revelation and in so doing reveal what was once concealed—the gospel message of Jesus Christ. This message, which was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, has been fulfilled in the New. What was once appreciated only in type/symbol was now realized and completed. The shadow had become substance in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and this is what Paul made known to the saints--“to whom god willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles” (1:27).

This mystery, applied to the individual person is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27b). This phrase is pregnant with significance. First, it reveals to the Gentile audience that Christ was not just a Savior for the Jews but also, a Savior for the Gentiles (as in “Christ in you, yes even YOU”). Second, this suggests, contra to Old Testament third parties like priests and external efforts like sacrifices required to be made right with God, that salvation indwells believers (as in “Christ IN you”). The greatest ever priest and sacrifice has taken up residence in the believer. Third, this phrase confirms that because believers have Christ personally, they also can be confident of ultimate hope in glory. What a message! While Paul’s unique ministry of apostle and preacher involved proclaiming this to his world, truly every servant/minister of God (every disciple everywhere at all times) ought to be about sharing this message/mystery/revelation with others.  Don’t believe me? Listen to verse 28.

“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom,…” (1:28a). After highlighting his special calling, he includes his entire audience (the church in Colossae) in the general calling of proclaiming Christ. This activity includes consistent and ongoing “proclamation” (the sharing of truth), “admonishing” (directing one’s attention to a particular subject), and “teaching” (clarifying and instructing). You may have heard it said “share Jesus and if necessary, use words.” Paul suggests here that sharing Jesus most assuredly includes words—words of truth, direction, and instruction offered ongoingly and consistently by Christ’s disciples. It also suggests that something more than conversion is expected/sought. In fact, this verse sounds similar to Matthew 28:19-20-“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jesus in Matthew and Paul in Colossians seem interested in disciples more than mere converts—i.e. people who both receive truth and grow in truth as a result of proper interaction with the truth.

Paul suggests that this program of proclamation, admonishment, and teaching is offered by both he and the church “so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (1:28b). Two emphases emerge in this purpose clause. First, Paul clearly demonstrates that he could not rest until all Christians lived up to what God expected (“every man complete in Christ”). Second, Paul had the end in mind. When he states “to present” every person, he thought in terms of the return of Jesus and the desire to see each Christian mature in the Lord at such a time.

Paul concludes this chapter with “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power which mightily works within me” (1:29). The unique partnership that Paul describes in this passage—a partnership that involves suffering, ministering, and proclaiming—is laborious. The verb used here suggests hard labor. So hard, in fact, that Paul suggests left to himself he would be unfit, unprepared, and unable to contribute meaningfully to this calling. The apostle’s striving is “according to His (God’s) power, which mightily works within me.” God is the strength in Paul that allows this unique partnership to take place. Christ in the believer is the hope of glory and Christ in the believer provides power to persevere and partner until that glory is reached.

So What?

The unique opportunity for salvation and the unique partnership with Christ described in this passage are two distinctives of the Christian life that are offered no where else. No other program/worldview/belief system/religion/narrative provides the solution to mankind’s greatest problem of sin and death. What is offered by Christ and the reconciliation with God that results is the only solution to the gulf that separates us from where we are to where we need to be both now and for eternity. If you have yet to take advantage of the opportunity God has made available to you in Christ, I invite you to do so by turning from your sin and former alien ways (that is alien to God), and trust in what Christ did for you (he came, died, and rose again so that you might be in right relationship with God both now and forever).

For those who have already taken advantage of this opportunity, what does your resulting partnership with Christ look like? Are you simply coasting in what is comfortable, trying to merely survive until the end comes? Or, like Paul, are you participating in suffering with and for Christ, ministering to his church, and proclaiming the good news to those around you? You may say, “That is too hard!” or “I can’t do that!” and you would be right. It is too hard for you and you cannot do this in your own power. Thank goodness God has given us Christ who dwells within us. Christ in us gives both the hope of glory and the power to be about his business. Perhaps today you need to recommit yourself to relying on his power to do what you have been called of God to do rather than defer to your flesh that wants to pursue the path of least resistance.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Yes, Christ Really Is THAT Great!- Colossians 1:13-20

 Whether you realize it or not, you carry several titles with you—perhaps even many titles. In fact, who you are, in many ways, can be described by various titles that you hold--relational (mom, dad, sister, brother, son, daughter, etc.), professional (doctor, professor, mechanic, salesman, barber, etc.), organizational (chairperson, president, CEO), or personal (sweety, honey, etc.). Titles are everywhere and some are rarer than others. Today we are going to examine Colossians 1:13-20 and consider five titles/distinctions that Christ possesses that render him especially unique. In so doing we will learn just how lofty an understanding of Jesus the church in Colossae and the church today ought to have to be consistent with what the Bible reveals about its primary protagonist.

1. He is HERO-1:13-14

After thanking God for the faith that he sees in Colossae (1:1-8) and lifting up specific requests on this church’s behalf (19-12), Paul celebrates the person and work of Jesus Christ (in whom saving faith is placed and to whom Paul prays). In so doing, Paul identifies several titles that might be ascribed to Christ that highlight different facets of his character and ministry. The first of these is “Hero”—“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness” (1:13a). The way that Paul frames Jesus here calls to mind a hero who leads his people from danger. Many have associated this text with the Exodus where God rescued the Hebrews slaves from the tyranny of Pharoah in Egypt after 400 years of oppression. Here, Paul fashions Christ as a rescuer on an even greater scale as Jesus saves people from an even darker domain—the domain of sin (“darkness”).

Understanding just how grim the situation is for people who are without Christ is essential. It is not as though people left in their sin are just living a few standard deviations away from success or hope. It is not as though the room they inhabit is dimly lit. They are in total darkness and left stumbling aimlessly and hopeless. In addition to these practical connotations with darkness are those associations darkness has with the spiritual realm. The phrase “domain of darkness” calls to mind the sphere over which Satan and his demonic powers rule” (Arnold, Colossians ZIBBC, 378). This is the desperate condition from which God has saved believers, rendering Christ’s title as “Rescuer” especially fitting.

Paul continues by identifying where God has led the now-rescued believer—“and transferred us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son” (1:13b). In the Exodus, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery and the oppression of Pharoah in Egypt to the Promised Land. In Salvation, Christ leads believers out of the slavery of their sin and away from the oppression of Prince of this World to Salvation in the Kingdom of God. “In Christ, God invaded Satan’s territory and delivered people,” bringing them to an infinitely greater domain with an infinitely greater ruler (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 206).

Both the idea of being “transferred” and “rescued” call to mind the believer’s new position in Christ. This is reiterated in verse 14 with “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Positionally, the believer is rescued and transferred. These are completed acts performed by Christ himself who purchased redemption on the cross and now forgives people of their sins.

In the epic action feature that is the salvation of the human person, the hero, Jesus Christ, came down to this world incognito (as a man), lived a perfect life, and then was willing to sacrifice himself, laying down his life in a most painful and dramatic way. After dying by crucifixion, he rose from the grave so that the power of darkness that entangles people might be broken. Those who recognize this campaign of redemption and call out to the only true Savior are forgiven and saved from their desperate plight. This forgiveness, granted by Christ, breaks the sinner’s association with the wicked world and grants them citizenship in a greater kingdom. Jesus is, among many other things, the greatest Hero ever. He has defeated the greatest enemy and provides the greatest salvation, allowing those enslaved in the darkness to experience the greatest life in glorious light. For the church in Colossae and for the church today to have a high enough view of Christ, they must remember and embrace Jesus as Hero.

2. He is the ICON-1:15

The second title the church must remember and embrace of Christ is “Icon.” Paul continues in verse 15 with “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (1:15). Verses 15-20 highlight a hymn that many believe would have been sung in the early church, giving us a glimpse of the kinds of things that were being celebrated and sung in the first century world. In this particular hymn (as in many others) many living, vibrant, essential elements of Christ’s nature are praised. The introduction of the hymn found in verse 15 sets the tone and theme for the entire song. Again, verse 15 reads “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” This introductory line of the song reveals two related points about Christ. The first of these is the idea of the image of God and how the image is a revelation of God. In the Greek-speaking world, the word “image” (eikon) conveyed one of two meanings: representation or manifestation. The first use (representation) would have been fitting for images imprinted on coins or a reflection in a mirror. In these cases, the image is a symbol, not the actual thing that is represents. The second use (manifestation) means something more than a mere symbol. A manifestation exists when the symbol brings with it the actual presence of the object depicted. This is what Paul means here. J. B. Phillips translates this “visible expression” and by it suggests that Paul meant Jesus brought God into the human sphere of understanding—i.e. He manifested God (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 215).

Hebrews 1:3-“ And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature,”

John 1:18-“ No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

The point Paul makes is that in Christ the invisible God became visible. A God that is so transcendent so as to be lost in translation became observable and knowable and embraceable in the person of Jesus.

The second point about Christ made in this introduction to the hymn is that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (1:15). While various interpretations of “firstborn” have been given throughout history, the best understanding of this word takes into account the word’s use in the Septuagint against the backdrop of the Greco-Roman world. The Greek word “firstborn” comes from two words which mean “to bring forth” and “first.” The word is seldom used outside the Bible and when it is used in the Old Testament it is primarily interested in primogeniture—special privileges associated with the relationship shared between a Father and the firstborn son. One of the things associated with primogeniture and the privileged relationship between Father and Son in the Jewish world is birthright—a rite that accorded the first son a special place in the family. Therefore, instead of suggesting that Jesus was in some ways the first created thing (as will soon be debunked in verse 16), this suggests that Jesus is preeminent over the creative order as the one who possesses an exclusive and special relationship with the Father and all the rites and privileges appertaining thereunto.

As icon (the manifestation of God to humanity), Jesus is also distinct from creation and prominent over it. For the church in Colossae and for the church today to have a high enough view of Christ, they must remember and embrace Jesus as God’s manifestation in and over creation.

3. He is CREATOR-1:16

The next phrase of the hymn highlights another title for Christ—“Creator.” This title is introduced with “For by Him all things were created” (1:16a). A more exact translation of the Greek would render this “in Him all things were created” indicating that Jesus “conceived of creation and its complexities”—i.e. it was his idea. W. Hendriksen on this verse suggests that Jesus is the cornerstone from which the whole building takes its bearings (Hendriksen, Colossians and Philemon, 73). However, perhaps there is an even better way to consider Christ’s role at creation. After all, what about the Father and the Spirit?

Consider the planning and execution of constructing a new building. One might compare the Father’s role in this analogy to that of the architect who determines to bring something into existence that was not there before. The architect decides what it will be. The Son’s role is that of general contractor who takes the plans conceived and, through his creativity and imagination, distills those plans down to specifics. In many ways, he is the mediator between the big-picture and the completed product. The Spirit’s role is that of superintendent/project manager heading over the real-time construction in keeping with the contractor’s demands and the architect’s vision.

With this in mind, it is sufficient to say that Jesus is the agent of creation who translates the vision of the Father into a reality that is brought about by the Holy Spirit. To do this, Christ could not have been part of creation. Instead, he must be eternal—that is coeternal with the Father and the Spirit.

Everything was created by Christ in this way—“both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” (1:16c). Everything in the spiritual realm (except for himself) and in the physical realm, things seen and unseen, and powers of even the loftiest degree were brought into existence by him. This description of the scope of that which Christ created leaves nothing out. Everything now known, yet known, and forgotten (that is, in its original and perfect form) is Christ’s doing as the agent of creation.

To punctuate this truism even further, Paul states “all things have been created through him and for him” (1:16c). Not only is Jesus said to be the agent of creation, he is the goal of all creation. “Everything exists to display his glory, and ultimately he will be glorified in his creation” (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 218). Just as some buildings, works of art, or impressive feats are inextricably associated with the builders, artists, or producers responsible for them, so too is creation and God’s work in it all about showcasing and magnifying the agent of creation. For the church in Colossae and for the church today to have a high enough view of Christ, they must remember and embrace Jesus as Creator.

4. He is WINNER-1:17-18

The next title that Paul celebrate in the midst of this hymn might best be summarized as “Winner.” Jesus takes first place in a number of things that Paul lists as he continues to sing in verses 17-18. First, Jesus is first place at the starting line—“He is before all things” (1:17a). This, like John 1:1, draws attention to the preexistence of the Son. In other words, there was never a time when Jesus was not.

John 1:1-“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”

This, like his titles of Hero, Icon, and Creator, sets Jesus apart from all others—unique and superior. While there was a time in which people and all other created things were not, Jesus always was (and always will be). He takes first place with respect to time alongside the Father and the Spirit as a co-eternal member of the singular Godhead.

However, Jesus is not just winning at the starting line, he is winning as sustainer—“in Him all things hold together” (1:17b). In other words, Jesus did not just create the universe, he sustains it! Christ keeps things in order. While sin and brokenness wreaks havoc on this order, Christ alone is what keeps this universe from literally pulling itself apart altogether. The same one who suspends the stars in place and situates the planets on their axis is also the one who holds his people together.  The Creator has not forgotten the creation as he daily manages the goings on therein in such a way to bring about his glorious will. Wow! Winning again, not just at the starting line, but here and now too!

Next, Paul celebrates Jesus’ first-place position as “the head of the body, the church” (1:18a). The metaphor of the church as body is commonly employed by Paul and adapted to highlight many characteristics of church life (see 1 Cor 12:12-26; Eph 4:15-16, 23). Here, the emphasis is on the hierarchy implicit with the body parts—the head being “in charge” of the rest. Christ not only provides leadership and direction for his people (the church body), but he is the source of the church’s life and energy for its growth, directing the other parts to their specific tasks. Winning again as the ultimate authority of his people, the church.

Next, Paul suggests that in the race to resurrection, Jesus won their too—“and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (1:18b). As firstborn of the Father (not literally born but positionally preeminent and in special relationship with the Father—see discussion on verse 15) and first at the beginning, Jesus brought life into existence. As firstborn from the dead in his resurrection, Jesus provides renewed and eternal life for those who believe in him. His conquering death three days following the crucifixion confirms that he is “first place in everything” (a title he always held but now is explicitly revealed).

For the church in Colossae and for the church today to have a high enough view of Christ, they must remember and embrace Jesus as the ultimate winner and because he is, he alone is able to save.

5. He is SAVIOR-1:19-20

This sets the final title up nicely—“Savior.” Paul celebrates this title in the final lines of the hymn as quoted in verses 19-20. First, the apostle recalls Jesus’ unique capacity as Savior—“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (1:19). Only one who is fully God can serve as Savior of the world. This verse confirms that the fullness of God’s divinity dwells in Jesus who is God made flesh. Later in Colossians Paul will say, “for in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form.” WOW! This uniquely qualifies Jesus as the one who can bring salvation.

Jesus’ ministry of redemption/salvation is ultimately a ministry of reconciliation—“and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself” (1:20a). Whether you want to think of salvation as a bridge that closes an infinite chasm between two foreign parties separated by an enormous gulf or as a rekindling of a long-lost relationship that seemed impossible to repair, reconciliation between God and mankind is possible in and through Jesus who, while fully God, became fully man, so that fallen men and women might be reunited with the God who created them. How did he do this?

Jesus “made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20b). The thing which separates God and man—sin—was dealt with through the punishment of Jesus Christ—the perfect God man. Jesus took on the guilt and shame of sin and was punished for it in our place so that peace might exist once again between God and man. What a ministry! What a mission! What a Savior! For the church in Colossae and for the church today to have a high enough view of Christ, they must remember and embrace Jesus as Savior—the one who reconciled us to God, making peace where there once was enmity.

So What?

Given all that has been said and celebrated of Jesus in this passage, I would like to end this message with a question that Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9—“Who do people say that I am?” or, perhaps more to the point—“Who do YOU say that Jesus is?” Who is Jesus? While the world would like for you to believe that he was merely man and maybe a good example, consider what Paul says in Colossians 1:13-20 and what Jesus confirmed in the empty tomb. Jesus is the ultimate Hero; he is the Icon of God (manifestation of God); he is the Creator of all things; He is the first place Winner of everything; and He is the Savior. Praise be to God. Are these things that you confess today? If not, consider the person and work of Christ carefully. Once you discover who he is and what he has done for you, embrace him as your Savior and Lord by turning from all others and from yourself and trusting him in faith. If these are titles for Christ that you have already confessed and believe, does your life and walk demonstrate it? Are living like you have the greatest hero on your side, or do you coward in fear of the world as though you had no hero? Are you enamored with Jesus and consistently look to him to understand God or are you preoccupied with other shiny but ultimately unsatisfying trinkets the World sells you? Are you trusting the one who created you with your life or are you anxious that God has forgotten you and question that he is even now holding you in his perfect hands? Do you acknowledge Christ as having first place in everything or do you try to take his rightful place and win the race of life in your own power? Do you live your life as one who has been saved or are you living like the lost world around you? For the church in Colossae and for the church today to have a high enough view of Christ, they must remember and embrace Jesus Hero, Icon, Creator, Winner, and Savior. We must not just remember and embrace these with our lips, but with our lives.