Just as You Received Christ (Colossians 1:1-2:5)
One of the practices of God's people in both the Old and New Testaments was reading large parts of Scripture out loud. When the Colossians received a letter from Paul, the letter carrier, Tychicus, would have read the letter to them in its entirety. They would have heard all of the parts read together. As we go through books of the bible chunk by chunk, it can be easy to miss the whole for the parts. On Sunday, June 18, we read the entire letter to the Colossians during our Worship Gathering then review the major themes of the first part of the letter, 1:1-2:5.
Colossians 2:6 marks a transition point in the letter. Paul spent the first part of the letter reminding the Colossians how they received Christ Jesus as their Lord and in the second part of the letter he tells them how to live in light of that. The big question the first part of the letter, Colossians 1:1-2:5 answers is: how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord?
We all have a story of where we grew up, what our family was like, and what sort of things we did together. We also have stories of experiences we went through, both good and bad. All of this is part of our story and it has shaped who we are today. But there is a deeper story by which we need to be shaped. A story that has unfolded since the creation of the world. It’s the story about how God is making all things new. The whole story climaxes with Jesus who is the focal point of the whole thing. He is the hero of the story. In the New Testament, how we are to live in light of how Jesus brought the story to a climax. Colossians 1:1-2:5 reminds us of our Christian story and how Jesus is the hero. So how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? Colossians 1:1-2:5 gives us three answers.
We received him as our hope for the future (Colossians 1:1-14)
In these opening verses, Paul is reminding them of their story. He reminds them of how the gospel - the good news - came to them, what it was about, and how it changed their lives. The gospel is more than good advice. It is good news. It is news about something that has happened - an event that has taken place. And because that event has taken place, the Colossians can have hope for the future by trusting in Christ alone - by receiving Christ Jesus as their Lord.
Some news is inconsequential but some news has huge consequences. It changes everything. When Donald Trump was announced as the winner of the presidential election on November 9, 2016, it changed everything. Every presidential election does. But Donald Trump wouldn't take office until January 20th. Even though he had won, he wouldn't implement his program until January 20th. But between November 9th and January 20th, life as we know it had changed. People were living in light of a new reality that would come into full effect in the future. Some expressed excitement and hope while others expressed fear and disappointment.
This is how the good news about Jesus works too. At his first coming, Jesus won the decisive victory over the powers that enslave humanity: sin, Satan, and death. He reigns as King now and when we trust in him, we can be freed from those powers. And at the same time, his kingdom - his reign and rule - are not fully implemented. He has already won the decisive victory and we can enjoy the fruits of that, and yet there is more to come. Between his first coming and his second coming when he completely puts an end to sin, Satan, and death and sets up his kingdom in full, we live differently. A new era has begun. We live with expectant joy for that day.
The big question we are answering is: how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? The first answer is that we received him as our hope for the future.
Imagine you were a basketball player getting ready to go on the court for a the biggest game of your life. Minutes before the game, someone comes up and tells you that your team is going to win because one of your teammates scores 60 points in the game and makes the game winning shot. Whereas before you were entering not knowing the outcome, now you know how the game will end. The worry of losing melts away. You know the outcome, but the game still needs to be played. You don’t just say, “Oh good, we don’t need to play because we know who wins.” The game still gets played, but you will play it in a totally different way. You are going to trust the player whom you know scores 60 points. You are going to pass it to them as much as you can. You lose the worry about who’s going to win but there is still enjoyment in playing and curiosity. How is the victory going to play out? What part will I play?
The lie we believe is that we need to be the star player. If the victory is going to be won in our life. If our future is going to be good. If we are going to be ok. If everything is going to go as we want it to, we need to be in control. We need to get it done. We need to take things into our own hands.
Our worry and anxiety in life comes from not trusting Jesus as the hero of our story. When we don’t think Jesus can be trusted with our future, we try to control it ourselves and because we know deep down we can’t really control everything, that leads to worry. Often when we consider the future, we don't see Jesus there with us. We have a Godless imagination of the future. So when we go through all the “what if” scenarios - what if I lose my job, what if we don’t have enough money, what if my spouse dies, what if I lose a child, what if my house burns down - Jesus isn’t in the picture so we are filled with anxiety and stress. We can do it for smaller, daily things too: “What if I talk to this person about my faith and they get mad at me or aren’t interested. What if my child doesn’t do what I want them to do. What if I don’t get to relax this weekend. What if my day doesn’t go as I planned.” We imagine all these scenarios without Jesus. We are alone and if that difficult thing happens or things don’t go as we want, Jesus won’t be there with us.
Our “what ifs” reveal what we place our hope in. They are our “worst nightmares.” “If I lost my job, if I lost my spouse, if I lost my child, if I lost my house, I couldn’t go on. Life wouldn’t be worth living.” When we say that, we know our hope for the future has been placed in those things. Don’t get me wrong, it would be horrible to lose any of those things! We can grieve and be sad. We should cry. But our hope for the future cannot be in those things. Our hope must always be in Jesus.When we start asking “what if”, we need to change it to an “even if.” Even if I lose my job, I will still have Jesus and he is my hope. Even if I lose my spouse or my child, I will still have Jesus and he is my hope. Even if this person rejects me and gets mad at me for talking with them about my faith, I will still have Jesus and he is my hope. Even if my day doesn’t go as planned, I will still have Jesus and he is my hope. That is how we have a God-filled imagination of the future.
We received him as our peace with God (Colossians 1:15-23)
In these verses, we hear the hymn about Christ that Paul quotes to remind them of who Jesus is. We hear that Jesus is both Lord of creation and Lord of new creation. He is Creator and Redeemer. Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the one in whom all things hold together.
The Colossians were once alienated from God and hostile toward him. They were in the domain of darkness - separated from God. But if they trust in Christ alone, they have now been reconciled to God. They have peace with him through what Jesus has done. The big question we are answering is: how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? The second answer is: we received him as our peace with God.
There is only one way we can be made right with God and that is through Jesus Christ. We separated ourselves from God. We abandoned him as our God and as the center of our lives. We tried to dethrone him. And that has consequences.
The lie we so often believe is that we can be good enough to make up for it. We believe that somehow by our own efforts - by our own works - we can make ourselves right with God. We can make peace with him if we are just good enough. When we think that, we are believing that sin isn’t that bad and God isn’t that holy. The fact of the matter is, not only does our sin cost far more than we think, but we are far more bankrupt than we can fathom. The only one who could pay the infinite price of our debt was God. When we try to make peace with God ourselves, we don’t believe sin is that bad because we think we can pay for it.
At the same time, we don’t believe that God is that holy. We think that we can somehow measure up. “Sure, I have sinned. But I can still be good enough for God. I can make myself worthy of his presence. I’m not as bad as that person.” The truth is that God is infinitely holy and we all fall short of the glory of God. If we lined everyone up on the edge of the Grand Canyon and we all tried to jump across, we all would fall short. Maybe some could jump further than others, but no one would make it across. We cannot jump far enough on our own efforts to measure up to God’s holiness.
Using your own good works to pay for your sins is like trying to use an expired credit card to pay for your groceries. It can’t contribute anything to the cost of them. The cashier won’t say, “Oh, your card paid for part of it but there is still a little bit more to go.” They will just say, “Your card has been rejected.” The groceries are totally unpaid for.
It’s the same with our own works to pay for our sins. They contribute nothing toward paying the debt we owe to God. Anything you do - going to worship gatherings, reading your bible, serving, telling people about Jesus, giving generously, not swearing, praying, being kind to people - all of these are like swiping an expired credit card to pay for your sins. God rejects them. Jesus is the only one who can pay for them. He is the only type of payment God will accept.
Who do you think is the hero of your story? Who is the one that saves and rescues? Who is it all about? So often, all our focus and attention is on ourselves. We hardly ever take our eyes off ourselves. We are concerned with whether we are good enough. When we think that we are good enough, we are happy and feel at peace with God. When we think that we aren’t good enough, we feel down, scared, guilty, and condemned. Either way, we are looking to ourselves to be the hero of the story. But we don’t make a good hero for our own story because we fall short. We fail. We need to look to Jesus as the hero of our story - the one who makes us right with God and gives us peace.
We received him as our wisdom for living (Colossians 1:24-2:5)
Paul here talks about how he has given his life to making the gospel known. He proclaims Christ and wants to present everyone wholeheartedly devoted to him. This is the goal for which he toils and labors like an athlete in a game. Paul presents Jesus as the one who defines our whole reality.
Paul says that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). When we talk about wisdom, we are talking about living rightly in the world. You make good decisions that lead to “the good life.” Just like a wooden board has a grain to it and if you run your hand against the grain you will get splinters, so too if you run your life against the grain of the universe, it isn’t going to go well for you. In Scripture, “the good life” is one where God is at the center. Knowing him and loving him is the good life. And running your life with the grain of the universe means following God’s ways.
Paul is saying, “In Christ you find a treasure chest for how to live in line with God’s ways.” If you want to know who God is, look to Christ. If you want to know who you are, look to Christ. We see in Jesus the clearest picture of who God is and the clearest picture of what it means to be human. Jesus told those would wanted to be his disciples: come, follow me. He was showing them and us a way of life - the way of wisdom, the way to live rightly in God’s universe and to experience “the good life” with God at the center. We live with the grain of the universe when we make God’s priorities our priorities and when we make God’s values our values and when we make his ways our ways.
The big question we are answering is: how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? The third answer we get here is: we received him as wisdom for living.
Jesus was always in tune with his heavenly Father. The Father’s priorities were his priorities. The Father’s values were his values. He humbled himself and obeyed the Father’s will in all things. His prayer was, “Not my will, but yours.” When we look to Jesus, we see what a life of wisdom with God at the center looks like. If we don’t want splinters, we need to pattern our life after Jesus who ran his life with the grain of the universe.
This is how all the world works. If you are constantly speeding, you are going to get lots of speeding tickets. If you disrespect people, they are going to disrespect you. If you don’t change your oil, your car engine is going to break. If you don’t put on sunscreen, you are going to get a sunburn with me. If you eat McDonalds every day, you are going to gain weight. If you are constantly rubbing against the grain of how things work, you are going to experience the consequences - you are going to get splinters.
The lie we believe is that God doesn’t have our best interests in mind. We believe that God doesn’t love us if he tells us “no.” That’s the culture we are in: love means letting people be who they are and not trying to make them someone different. In Scripture, that is how God judges people! He let’s them go in whatever direction they want. In Romans 1, Paul says that God judged people by “giving them up” to their sinful desires. God gave them over to the consequences of their sin. Instead of transforming them to be more like Jesus, he lets them be who they are and doesn’t to try make them different.
The world has a story that is shaping us. As Americans, the American dream with its ideals, values, and priorities is constantly exerting pressure on us. The American dream is that you can be anything you want to be. You can have the job you want, the house you want, the life you want - all you have to do is chase after it. That’s the story our culture wants us to believe. But it is very “me” centered. It’s all about what you want and all about what you can do. You are the hero of your own story. It’s all about you.
We need to be shaped by the gospel story. We need to look to Jesus as the hero of the story and the one we should emulate. We need to follow him and reshape our thinking to align with his thinking. We need to replace the world’s values with God’s values and the world’s priorities with God’s priorities. The story the world wants us to embrace for our lives is: work hard, give your kids every opportunity possible, and save for retirement so you can spend the last 20 years of your life relaxing with no responsibilities. That’s the story our culture wants us to embrace. Where is God in that?
The story Jesus gives us is one of humble surrender to him. We surrender all of life to him - our work, our kids, our retirement. We give it all to him to be used for his purposes. He says when we do that, we truly find an abundant and meaningful life.
The big question we are answering is: how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? The first answer is that we received him as our hope for the future. The second answer is that we received him as our peace with God. The third answer is that we received him as our wisdom for living.
In all of these, Jesus is the hero of our story. He is the one we trust in for the future. He is the one we trust in to make us right with God. He is the one we trust in for living wisely in God’s world. We need to be constantly shaped by the gospel story where Jesus is the hero. It’s because of who he is and what he has done that we can be changed.
More in Sermon Recaps
June 21, 2017Just as You Received Christ (Colossians 1:1-2:5)
June 6, 2017Inviting Others to Trust in Christ Alone (Colossians 1:24-2:5)
June 5, 2017What does "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" mean? (Colossians 1:24)