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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Important Prayer Requests for the Church- Colossians 1:9-12

 One of the mainstays of church life is the prayer request. Whether prayer requests are voiced in the context of a prayer meeting, small group, personal conversation, or other service, you can tell a lot about a person or a church by listening to what is lifted up in prayer. The same is true in the life of the Apostle Paul and the church to which he writes in the Book of Colossians. In Colossians 1, we have already learned about Paul’s thankfulness in connection to the faith witnessed in Colossae (see verses 1-8). However, as we move to verses 9-12, we are going to learn what Paul is concerned about by looking at his specific prayer requests related to this church. In Colossians 1:9-12, there are three prayer requests that together demonstrate how a church and her people can maintain faithfulness in an unfaithful and compromising world. Let us listen closely to Paul’s prayer and be encouraged by what is shared.

1. REQUEST #1: Prayer for Knowledge-1:9

After expressing his thanks to God for the faith witnessed in Colossae, Paul offers a pastoral prayer for the members of this relatively small and obscure church. The first request voiced is for knowledge. Piggy-backing on the theme of fervent, ongoing, and consistent prayer introduced in verses 1-8, Paul introduces this petition with “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you,…” (1:9a). Oh what it must have meant to have the apostle pray like this for the church! What prompted this kind of prayer for this people? I imagine what was celebrated in the previous passage. This was a church that “got it” concerning Jesus Christ as evidenced in their faith in the Word of truth and their love for one another. There was, as a result, so much potential for this church to be used in mighty ways in Asia Minor for God’s glory—the kind of potential that drove Paul to pray constantly for her. However, there is another motivating factor behind Paul’s prayer zeal. Paul sees danger lurking in the background in the form of theological heresies and understood what these could do in the life of this congregation if entertained. This is why he asks for specific things on behalf of this church—things that would be in keeping with the Word of truth and theological orthodoxy.

First, Paul asks “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will” (1:9b). Typically, Paul uses the term “knowledge” in his letters to refer to a knowledge of God that is more personal as well as intellectual, experiential as well as academic. Paul wanted this church to be filled with such knowledge of God (“brought to completion”/”be given the full amount”) so much so that they would not be swayed by that which was false. This is reiterated by the modifiers used to describe the kind of knowledge meant here.

“in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (1:9c) suggests the environment in which knowledge of God and his will is apprehended. Some suggest that “the perception of God’s will consists in wisdom and understanding of every sort, on the spiritual level” (O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, 21). While the two words—wisdom and understanding—may possess different nuances, together they indicate that the kind of knowledge Paul desired for the church in Colossae involved both the acquisition of knowledge and the appropriate application of that knowledge—i.e. to think and act spiritually. Both the acquisition and application of knowledge is centered on the person and work of Christ in whom God has made himself fully known. Paul knew and wanted the church to know that if they ever had any question about what to think or do, they could find complete answers in the person and work of Christ. He is the repository of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding about who God is and what his will dictates.

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

Matt 11:27-“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Heb 1:3-“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…

In a world where people were becoming unnaturally preoccupied with deceptive messages and false teachings about the nature and will of God, Paul prays that this church might be filled with the true knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The quickest way to revisit, learn, and embrace a right understanding of God and know how to carry out his will involves a healthy preoccupation with Christ—God made flesh. Focusing on Jesus would drown out those who would have the church question, deny, or doubt him.

2. REQUEST #2: Prayer for Good Testimony-1:10

Knowledge of the will of God is only as good as it is applied correctly. This is why Paul’s next request is for a good testimony. In fact, the purpose of his first petition on behalf of the church is “so that (the church in Colossae) will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,…” (1:10a). The metaphor of “walking” calls to mind how one conducts his/her life. The desired result or intended purpose of the previous verse’s prayer for knowledge is a life lived with specific conduct.

Running parallel to the idea of walking a certain way is “pleasing him in all respects” (1:10b). To walk rightly in accordance with the will of God is to please the Lord. The idea of walking rightly and pleasing the Lord permeates the Scriptures and if we look at the rest of Paul’s writings, we glean a clearer picture of exactly what walking rightly (i.e. in a way that pleases the Lord), looks like.

-Walking rightly is dependent on faith—see Col 1:1-8—and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7-“For we walk by faith, not by sight”). Ask yourself: Am I willing to trust the Lord and take steps of faith or do I have to have every variable completely figured out prior to making a decision or moving forward?

-Walking rightly is accomplished under the control of the Holy Spirit and not our flesh (Gal 5:16-“But I say walk by the Spirit,”). Ask yourself: Who or what controls you?

-Walking rightly involves the prohibition of certain behaviors (Rom 13:13-“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy”). Ask yourself: Am I behaving like a child of the light or am I endorsing activities best left in the darkness?

-Walking rightly is possible because of our position in Christ (Col 2:6-“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him”). Ask yourself: Does my confidence come from my place in Jesus?

Those who walk in the Spirit because of who they are in Christ by faith, avoiding certain behaviors that are inconsistent with the light, please the Lord.

These also see fruit in their lives—“bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10c). This refers to the reproductive aspect of the Christian’s calling (Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 203) as witnessed in evangelism and the fruit of the Spirit. The idea here is that those who know the will of God (Col 1:9) will be successful in their Christian activities. The present active participle used here suggests ongoing fruit-bearing capacity in the lives of those who walk rightly according to the will of the Lord. Paul reveals that those who desire to see gospel fruit in their lives and in the life of their church must be willing to walk rightly.

Consider the following analogy. I may have fitness goals and/or weight goals for myself. However, if I do not change the way I eat or exercise, I cannot expect to see the results I am seeking. I may want to reach a certain destination on the map, but if I am not willing to plug in the right coordinates in my GPS, fill the car with gas, and drive on the right roads according to the proper directions, I will not reach the right place. While the Bible teaches that ultimately God is responsible for bearing fruit in our lives and in the life of His church, fruit does not happen by accident and is seen most in the fields that have been adequately sown, plowed, and watered. You cannot expect to see a harvest in a field that has not been planted and nurtured. If you an unsatisfied by the fruit witnessed in your life or in the life of the church, consider your walk and ask, “am I walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, seeking to please him in all respects?”

Fruit is most clearly witnessed in good works. Works are the proof of faith and the dividends that demonstrate that someone truly understands and has bought into the will of God. A walk without works demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s will. Paul prays for a faithful walk in the lives of those in Colossae.

Not only does walking rightly result in “bearing fruit;” it also leads to “increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:10d). This teaches that those who strive to please the Lord in all respects will benefit from their service by an increased understanding of God both mentally and experientially (intellectually and personally). The two benefits of walking rightly go hand in hand—fruitful works and increased knowledge. After all, the more one knows about God (who He is and what he has done) the more one wants to obey him, walk with him, do for him. The more one obeys, walks with, and does for God, the more one learns about who he his and what he has done.

Paul’s second request for the church is that their testimony would be one in which they would be walking worthily in accordance with God’s will—perpetually bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of the Lord.

3. REQUEST #3: Prayer for Persevering Strength-1:11-12

Walking rightly and maintaining a testimony of bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God is no small feat. In fact, there were many elements of the first century world that made this extraordinarily difficult for those in the church of Colossae—pressure/persecution/false teachers/internal strife/etc. This is why Paul prays for persevering strength in verses 11-12. As Paul introduces this third and final petition, he recalls the source of strength at the beginning of verse 11—“strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might” (1:11a). Paul stresses the nature and application of the power available to Christians. Notice, this is not strength or power that the believer possesses in/of himself/herself, it is “his” (God’s). In other words, the strength and power a believer needs and ought to depend on is God’s at work in him.

Recently my son has taken up basketball. As a result, we have taken the family out to a court at an elementary school near our home to practice on occasion. Because my son is only five, we lower the net a considerable amount so that he can work on his shot. However, it only goes so low. While Henry can make it from that height, Heidi, my one-year-old who accompanies us, is powerless to heave the ball even part of the way to reach the rim. This does not stop her from wanting to try. As a father, I delight in picking her up with the ball raising her close to the basket so that she can drop it in the net. It is my strength that allows her to be successful in her goal of shooting a basketball. In a far more profound way, any success God’s people have is only possible because of the strength of the loving father that picks his children up and positions them in the right place so that they can do what he has called them to do. God delights in helping his children persevere well (bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, etc.).

Believers are strong insofar as God is strong in them and for them. Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae was for God’s strength to be realized in their lives in a most impressive way.

How do I know that this kind of persevering strength is outside the reach of God’s people in and of themselves? The answer lies in the presumed results of the strength mentioned in the remainder of verse 11 and into verse 12. Paul reveals that the results of the persevering strength is “for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (1:11b). “Steadfastness”/”endurance” is “the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances” (Louw & Nida, 308). “Patience” is “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaining or irritation” (Louw & Nida, 307). Both steadfastness and patience are some of the most difficult things to come by naturally in our broken and wicked world. This was true in the first century and it is true in the twenty first century. If there was ever anything for which God’s help was required, it is steadfastness and patience.

Add to these “Joyously giving thanks to the Father” (1:12a). Consider how often the church in Colossae must have struggled to stick with it, remain patient under pressure, or find joy in being faithful. Consider how often you and I struggle with these in our own lives. Paul draws attention to these attributes to remind the church that these are out of their reach and difficult to hold onto without the persevering strength and power offered by God himself who, as he closes in verse 12, “has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (1:12). The Father not only empowers his children for the walk they are asked to take, he qualifies them to take the walk in the first place. This he does through Jesus Christ in salvation. In other words, God provides the way to begin the walk and the power to take the walk which leads to fruit and knowledge and results in steadfastness, patience, and joy.

So What?

These three requests voiced in the opening chapter of Colossians echo what I imagine most pastors would pray for their churches today—that the church would be filled with the knowledge of God (as opposed to being filled with the things of this world or deceptive teachings therein), that the church would be characterized by a compelling testimony (walking worthily and in so doing bearing fruit and growing in knowledge), that the church would have persevering strength (depending on the Lord for the power necessary to remain steadfast, patient, and joyful despite difficulties, frustrations, or tribulations). This is Paul’s prayer for the church in Colossae and it is my prayer for our church today. After all, if there was ever a time when we needed to know more about God and his will, it is today as the world entertains anything and everything that is opposed to godliness. If there ever was a time in which the testimony of God’s people needed to be more distinct, it is today as the world continues to slip further and further into darkness. If there was ever a time where we needed to depend on the Lord to lift us up in his strength to reach the goal of perseverance, patience, and joy, it is today when everything around us seems to work against these things. Stop right now and pray for these things on behalf of our church and for God’s people everywhere. This prayer voiced in the first century continues to ring forth today. May we not only ask for these things in faith, but seek and find these things in our lives and in the life of our church.