Thursday, November 08, 2007

Colossians 1:18-25

(this is the script of a talk i did at RUCU on wednesday evening)

As always with the Bible, we need to be aware of the context that Paul was writing into, as it’s easy to look at this text and just work out what the application is to us. Not that that’s wrong, but there’s much more than that. Paul was writing into a church that had been shaken by what we now call the ‘Colossian heresy’ for fairly obvious reasons. The exact nature of this heresy is disputed over, but the basic gist of it is that the people are not fully saved by Christ’s work on the cross, because Christ is not sufficient, and that because of that they must add works to ensure their salvation. There was also some teaching the body and spirit were wholly separate entities. This passage breaks up quite nicely into three parts: Christ the Lord of the cosmos from 15-17, Christ the head of the Church from 17-19, and Christ our saviour from 19-24.

Paul starts by drawing his readers’ attention back to Jesus. And who is Jesus; look at verse 15 with me: he is the image of the invisible God. Paul reminds his readers, and by extension us tonight that Jesus is exactly God. The only difference in type between Father and Son is that the Son is visible, and the Father invisible. Christ is the image of the invisible God. They of course differ in roles within the Trinity, but Christ perfectly reflects the life and character of the Father. And in this sense He is the most fully human person that ever lived. Humanity was designed by God to be the perfect self expression within His world. And Jesus was that. Paul continues, still in verse 15: the firstborn of all creation. Firstborn is a word we don’t really use anymore. It certainly doesn’t mean, ‘born first’. There was never a time that Christ was not, as we’ll see later on. Firstborn means most important, heir, the one who will inherit what is His Fathers. And of course we know this to be an excellent word to describe who Jesus is. Paul starts to answer the Colossian heresy, by painting Christ’s full divinity and full humanity all at once.

Christ then is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. How do we trust this? Why is He the first born over all creation? Look at verse 16. For (or because) by Him all things were created. So the picture of Christ gets bigger. By means of Him, or in Him, all things were created. So from this we can see, as previously mentioned, that Christ was there at the beginning. And not only was he there, but he was part of the process. Not only a spectator but a major player. God made the world in Christ. He made all things though Christ look again at verse 16 with me ‘in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible. Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. We’ll stop there just for now. Paul now addresses the more spiritualistic side of the heresy in Colossae. The bit that said that there were spirits and angels to be worshipped, the bit that taught that what you do with your mind and what you do with your body are different. Paul’s list of what was created in Christ is really comprehensive here, when he says all things, he really means in. On heaven or on earth, visible, invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. Colossians, you are foolish in the extreme if you worship these things, because the living God created and is above them. Reading Christians you are foolish in the extreme if you worship these things, because the living God created and is above them. Don’t try and tell me that the Bible isn’t relevant!

Lets turn our attention now to the last part of verse 16: all things were created through Him and for Him. We’ve seen how all things were created though Him, which we’ll come back to in a very exciting way soon. But it’s those two words ‘for him’ I want to zoom in on now. All things were created for Jesus Christ. That is a stunning statement and one that in a few years might get me into trouble for saying; I’m excited about that day. All things exist for Jesus Christ. For His enjoyment. For His glory. For His good pleasure. For His good purposes. There is no reason for the continuation of culture other than to make Jesus know and enjoy Him forever. The only reason Jesus made the sun rise over us this morning was for Himself. There is no reason for the continuation of Reading University than to make Christ known and enjoy Him. There is no reason for the continuation, certainly, of RUCU other than to make Christ known and enjoy Him. There is no reason for my continuing existence than to enjoy Christ and make Christ known. There is no reason for your continuing existence than to enjoy Christ and make Him known. This is humbling to hear, but it should liberate us and fill us with joy. This is what the whole council of scripture teaches. We need to get our minds under it. This is particularly relevant for the original readers as Colossae was destroyed in an earthquake and never rebuilt less than 10 years later.

Paul’s not done yet, look at verse 17 with me…it starts with ‘and’…there’s yet more to come. Christ is before all things. He is more important and worship-worthy than all things. Listen up Colossians. Jesus is more important than all the rubbish you are trying to incorporate into worship, because he was before it. He is the root, get back to Him. Look at the second half of verse 17 ‘and in Him all things hold together’. We are totally reliant on Jesus. All things hold together in Him. The sun and moon, the sky itself, gravity, the orbit of the earth, you, this building…it’s all held together in Christ. How vast is Jesus! How incredible is power, how foolish of the Colossians to doubt His effective work, how foolish to think that worshipping anything else has any point. How stupid of us to do the same, to be satisfied with less than all that God is for us in Jesus. And he is for us, as we’ll see.

We now move Verse 18 says: ‘and He is the head of the body, the church’ Christ is the Lord of the church, the head of the church. Here Paul moves from creation to God’s new creation. Christ is the head of the church, he is in charge of the church, He leads and guides the church. Paul uses this expression to indicate the churches organic dependence on God. The body without the head is useless. As we’ve already seen the cosmos is dependant on Christ, and so is the church. Paul wants to Colossians to realise that as soon as they leave Christ, they lose their head…and it’s really game over. Look at the second half of verse 18 with me ‘He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’. Paul again, relentlessly pushes the point that Christ is before all and the beginning of all. There is no word for ‘and’ in the Greek, so Jesus being firstborn from the dead is not an extension of this point, but part of it. So the word ‘firstborn’ linked so closely with the word ‘beginning’ meaning source in the Greek, indicates that though Christ’s resurrection is presently unique it will become the first in a long line of resurrections of believers from the dead. Christ has won the victory over sin and death, He is the source of the victory that we one day will take part in. And why is this? Look at the end of the verse 18 ‘so that in everything He might be pre-eminent’. So that in life, and in death, Christ might be the first, and most important. And He is isn’t He? The most important man who ever lived in this life, and the centre point of Heaven. And as verse 19 tells us that ‘the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him’. Paul again swings his sword against the Colossian heretics who denied Jesus’ full deity. This is why he is pre-eminent, because in Him dwells the fullness of God. There is nothing in Jesus that is not divine, nothing divine that is not in Jesus. When we work this out and let it mould our lives and our evangelism, the world looks a very different place. Don’t move from this, as the Colossians would, but make it your bedrock.

Now you may well ask at this point. ‘well that’s great and all, but why should this Jesus care about me? What’s this great, Holy God got to do, or want to do with me? I’m so glad you asked. Lets look at verse 20 together: and (so God was pleased to) through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through His blood on the cross’. You see, I hope, as Paul wanted the Colossian church to see, that Jesus has to be all these glorious divine things for His blood to make peace, for His blood to reconcile all things to God. Now Paul’s use of the phrase ‘all things’ needs some attention here, because we know that not everyone will be saved in the end. Christ’s blood shed on the cross is sufficient for all things, all peoples and all sins, but efficient for the sins of those who will be saved. So it’s not to say that those who are not saved are somehow out of God’s reach, but that their sins were not punished on the cross, only the sins of those who would be saved. Now, I would love to spend more time talking about this, and I will if you want to grab me at the end, but something far more important has just hoved into view. Lets go through verse 20 together slowly ‘through Him (that is Jesus), to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross‘

So how has God reconciled people to Himself? By the blood of Jesus on the cross. How has God made peace with evil, perverted, fallen, sinful people like you and me? By the blood of Jesus on the cross, by punishing Jesus for the sins we have committed that we might know God. Now this, is called penal substitution, or propitiation. And maybe you’ve heard that penal substitution is under attack from the liberal fringe, maybe you’ve read the books and articles, listened to the preachers who are attacking this doctrine. Now I don’t understand why on earth this truth is under attack, because, and here’s a little secret, it’s the best bit of the whole Bible. It really really is. And it’s right here in Colossians 1. Paul needs to Colossians to see it and get so that their hope and confidence might be in it. And I want you to see it and get it so that your confidence is in it. People say that they don’t like because it’s too violent. Yes! This is how God feels about sin! Violently. This is good news. If we lose this doctrine, we’ve lost the holiness of God. If we lose this doctrine we lose all our assurance that we’re saved, or that Heaven is even a place we want to be. There is one God, one problem, one mediator. Defend this doctrine. Proclaim it. Live under it.

But so what? What has any of this got to do with me? It’s got everything to do with you, the wholeness and fullness of Christ’s life and death has everything to do with the Colossians, and with you. Look at verse 21 and 22 with me: and you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. So, we were once alienated. Hostile in mind and doing evil deeds. We will be presented holy, blameless and above reproach, because, and here comes penal substitution again, of Christ’s death on the cross. Please don’t get bent out of shape here, it’s easy to look at this verse and think ‘well I’m not holy, blameless or above reproach’ and I hope that is what you’re thinking. But don’t confuse justification with sanctification. This is what Christ has made us, and how we will be at the end, we will be those things because we are justified. We can become sanctified and like these things because we are justified and will be like these things. So these verses should give us great hope and confidence, and grounds to fight our sin every step of the way. We will be holy, blameless and above reproach all because of Him. Colossian Christians, Reading Christians, you need nothing other than Christ’s blood shed on the cross for you to be saved and live the Christian life. Nothing. So don’t look for it. This is why Paul talks about what we will become when we are before Him, so that the Colossians can start to see evidence of that in their lives at the moment. And hopefully so can we.

Paul continues and concludes in verse 23. Lets read it together. ‘in order to present you holy, blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope you have heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.’ The Christian faith is given and completed by God. From God’s point of view genuine faith is assured of continuing to the end. From the human point of view Christians discover whether their faith is genuine only by patient perseverance. The best sign of past conversion, is present convertedness. How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we be sure that Christ’s atoning work on the cross applies to us? How can we not waste our lives? By not shifting from the hope of the Gospel which we heard. This is Paul’s plea to the Colossian Christians. Don’t shift from the hope of the Gospel. You’ve seen what a great hope, great God and great Gospel we’ve got. Don’t move.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who was minister of St Peter’s Dundee in the nineteenth century before his death at the age of 29 puts it like this:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus name
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.

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