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Sermon: The invisible become visible

February 5, 2015

  Colossians 1:13-23

Tonight we are going to focus in on a passage that is well known for Paul’s extravagant and extraordinary description of Jesus. The passage tells us so much about him, but also as we will see, a lot about us.

This is just a part of a letter written to the church at Colossae. The letter is stated to be from Paul with Timothy alongside him. Paul introduces himself as an apostle, an eye witness to the resurrected Jesus. So for example, when Paul goes on later to say that Jesus has made the invisible God visible, he is talking about someone that he himself claims to have seen.

The Lord Jesus is very much the central theme of the passage that we are zooming in on tonight. It seems though that the reason for this was much more than to encourage or inspire. The church at Colossae had problems. Paul’s letter begins in the customary way, with thanksgiving and prayer for this congregation of believers. That trio of qualities that Paul loved to focus on in his letters was very much present at Colossae. Faith, hope and love. There was good reason for Paul to thank God.

But as with most of these early churches there were issues. Everything in the Colossian garden was not rosy. There are clues as to what the issues may have been. In the early church there was often a tendency to import ideas from other religions, to add to the gospel they had received. We live now in the sort of environment where pick and mix religion is still attractive to many. It is about what we like rather than what God has handed to us through his word.

So for example, perhaps it was not enough to have faith in Jesus, but some of the old Jewish regulations needed to be kept to, particularly those regarding clean and unclean food. But hadn’t Jesus laid that to rest years before? There is a hint of angel worship, some who claimed secret knowledge or secret keys to a higher level of faith. There were those who sought to teach that the importance and status of Jesus himself was exaggerated. He was somehow good but not that good. It is into that context that Paul brings his restatement of the supremacy and all sufficiency of Jesus. Jesus has done enough. Jesus is enough.

Scholars take the view though that verses 15 – 20 are not written by Paul. Rather he is quoting the words of someone else. It is a popular suggestion too that these words are an early church creed or possibly even a song used in worship. Some have gone as far to suggest that Paul was quoting a worship song which had been written by, and was used by Colossian Christians.

So when Paul quoted this hymn he was not telling the church something they didn’t know, but was reminding them of truths that they knew but were in danger of losing. They had written a song which said “Jesus is enough”, but were then promptly adding on other practices, ceremonies and superstitions just to make sure.

Just imagine writing to Charles Wesley and quoting to him the words of “And can it be”, because he has written the truth about all that he has gained through Jesus, the chain splitting freedom that is his and the boldness with which he can approach the eternal throne, because while he writes great lyrics in practice he believes it is not enough. There is more to be done to earn God’s favour. His boldness is not quite what he painted it to be.

It is a challenge to all of us though. Which one of us has not gone that way at one time? Preaching all the right things. Praying with the right words. Singing great truth but actually living another way. Worse still we could allow the words we sing from our mouths no opportunity to engage with our minds and our spirits. If we think it important to pray the Lord’s Prayer it is not just for the sake of saying it of course, it is because the words mean something. There is no magic in the words if we do not engage our hearts in the praying of them.

Paul is saying “You sing that Jesus is ALL, then please stop living like he isn’t!” Later in the letter, as Paul looks at the issues at Colossae he encourages them “Set your hearts on things above, where Jesus sits”. Look to the one who is on the throne. Focus on him and that is what Paul does in these verses we have read. With a lot of help from a Colossian song writer.

So tonight as we look at this passage this is what I want to do. Firstly I want us to see 10 things we learn about Jesus. Then I want us to look at 10 things we learn about ourselves, 4 before Jesus became our saviour and Lord, and 6 now.

JESUS

  1. He is the image of the invisible God (15). The disciple Philip once asked Jesus “Lord show us the Father”. Jesus answer was “hasn’t all this time you have been with me shown you anything? If you have seen me you have seen the Father”. Elsewhere John reminds his readers that no one has ever seen God. He remains a mystery. Unapproachable. But is that true? What we cannot see, Paul says, Jesus makes visible. If we want to know what God is like then look at Jesus. If we want to know what he is like listen to Jesus and watch him in action in the gospel accounts. If we want to know who God loves, look at Jesus. To know what the Father hates, look at the Son. To know what angers and upsets him, look at Jesus. If you want to know about his power see the things that Jesus did. If you wonder if God really cares, then Jesus is the perfect demonstration of that. Jesus. Fully man. And yet fully God. Choosing to live among us with all the limitations of human life, but God letting all his fullness dwell in him.
  2. He is the First born over all creation (15). First born. It is a phrase which has been misunderstood. It is a title that some, for example the Jehovah’s witnesses, use to say that if he was the first born, that must mean he was created by God. But John teaches that Jesus was there from the start. The word was with God and was God. He was no created being. First born is not about the act of being born – it is about status. He ranks above everyone. In the Bible we are familiar the rights that went with being the first born. Jacob even managed to con Esau out of his birth right and effectively become the Firstborn. Of course in many cultures, including our own until recently, our laws of succession would rank the first royal son above any older sister. You only have to look at the married life of Henry VIII to see how important it was to have a male heir. Jesus is the first born. He has all the status, all the rights. No one can out rank him.
  3. Jesus is creator of all (16). Everything was created by him. He didn’t just make some useful suggestions or contributions. He was fully involved. John says this too. “Through him all things were made. There is nothing you can say he did not make”. Life itself was in him. The power not just to make but to give life. People trying to tell you Colossians that Jesus is not as big as you thought. Forget it. He did the lot. Everything we are told was created for him. It is for his pleasure, for his glory. He still continues, says Paul, to hold everything together.
  4. He is the head of the body (18). “You think he is not important to your church? He is essential to your life and well-being. You are connected. A body without a head, has no life in it. At best you can be like the farmyard chicken, headless, with some appearance of life. The legs are still moving, but he’s dead. Going back to Wesley and his hymn, he knew this as a personal truth – “alive in him my living head”. What is true for the individuals that make up the church needs to be true for the whole church. What are you doing as a church to make sure that you stay connected? Not just important, no he is vital to our life and growth. This is HIS church. It is not my church. It is not about what I enjoy, or what feels good for me. He is the head. A reminder too that the head of the church is not the minister, as important as the minister is. This church belongs to Jesus. We need to believe it and practice it.
  5. Jesus is the beginning and first born from the dead (18). Of course Jesus went further than anyone, by rising from the dead. Again, as when we thought about the first born previously, Jesus was not the first person to rise from the dead. Jairus’ daughter was just one of a small number that Jesus raised from the dead. There are Old Testament examples too. But again it is about rightful status. It is also perhaps chiefly about the fact that it is through Jesus that death has been defeated and resurrection can become a reality for all of us. He is the destroyer of death – perhaps our ultimate fear. Even that cannot hold Jesus.
  6. He is reconciler and peacemaker (20). The Bible is very clear that we cannot know God in ourselves. God creates us to have a relationship with him, but that relationship is broken. There is nothing I can do to make that right. Someone is needed who will act to bring reconciliation between God and mine. There is no goodness of our own that we can offer to God, but his son Jesus is the peacemaker. He is the intermediary who does everything within his power and authority to bring us back into that relationship with God.
  7. Jesus is the rescuer (13). That is why he came into this world. It was all part of the plan. He rescues us from darkness, from ultimate danger. He brings us back to the Father.
  8. He is our redeemer (14). Redemption in Bible times was thought of the act of buying someone back from slavery. The thing about redemption is that it is costly. A ransom is paid. The prophet Hosea was given the task of redeeming his own wife. Buying her back as a visible demonstration of what God wished for his own people, who had wandered away from him and into a slavery that they did not need to bear. And for Jesus it was not a matter of money or riches, it was personal cost. In the gospels Jesus plainly tells his listeners that he has come to give his life as a ransom for many. Peter spells it out in his first letter – “for you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”. That was the cost for the perfect son of God.
  9. Jesus is our forgiver (14). He is the only way that sins can be forgiven. That is all part of his rescue act. That we can know complete forgiveness, a clean slate. We remember that as the soldiers drove the nails of crucifixion into his hands and feet, his response was “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Was he thinking about just the soldiers? Or the chief priests, his betrayer, those of his followers who had abandoned him. Rather I believe those words echo down the centuries and we can hear Jesus pronouncing those words over us. In the cross of Jesus there is total forgiveness. He died for all sinners. And of course we know that is everyone. True forgiveness is found in the cross of Jesus and continues to give us the supreme example to be forgivers ourselves.
  10. Jesus is King! Paul talks about entering a kingdom. And every Kingdom needs a King, except of course where as with the United Kingdom, it has a queen! Jesus is the head of state. He is the ultimate figurehead. He is Lord of all. The one who was and is God, the one who left his rightful place in heaven, the one who was nailed to a cruel cross, is now enthroned. As Paul says in chapter 3 of Colossians he is seated at the right hand of God. He has humbled himself for us, but God has exalted him. And unlike any earthly king or queen he is totally worthy of our undivided loyalty and worship.

US

But what does all this mean for us. Here’s another quick list of 10. Ten things about you and me. Firstly BC. Where were you and I before Jesus? Here are four things.

BC:

  1. We were alienated from God (21). We have already thought of Jesus the reconciler. If we thought we could earn our own way to God, find our own path. We couldn’t. There was a separation, a chasm between us and God with no hope of reaching him. But then Jesus came.
  2. We were his enemies (21). Does that sound a bit harsh. Maybe we didn’t understand God or religion. Maybe we weren’t brought up in an environment was a reality. Perhaps the examples of Jesus followers we saw did not encourage us to seek him. Paul’s words are very blunt. You weren’t just a bit off line. You were enemies of God. The very thoughts in our minds marked us out as his enemies. But then Jesus came.
  3. We are evil (21). Again Paul is uncompromising in his assessment of us. Your behaviour was evil he says. The contrast was stark. Perfect God. Evil mankind. Enemies in our minds and evil in our actions. But then Jesus came.
  4. We were in the wrong kingdom (13). We are told that Jesus rescued us from the dominion of darkness. That is where we were. Citizens of the wrong country. A place of darkness, hopelessness, evil. No hope for the future. NO prospect of seeing the light of God. But then Jesus came.

And everything changed.

AD:

  1. He made us holy (22). Imagine that. Holy in the sight of God. A people set apart to serve him. Able to enter into the presence of God. Nothing to disqualify us from a relationship with Father God. Because of what Jesus has done through his death. His death changes us. Holy – that is what we are in Jesus.
  2. We are spotless (22). Utterly pleasing to God. No stain upon us. God looks at us and, because of Jesus he sees perfection. Forgiveness is a reality. For the Old Testament sacrifices the people needed to choose animals that were without blemish. Only the best for God. Jesus is described as being a lamb without blemish as we read earlier. Spotless – that is what we are in Jesus.
  3. Jesus pronounces us innocent (23). Before we are guilty as charged on all counts. But now there is no case to answer. As the prophet Isaiah foretold “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him”. So Jesus is punished because of our sin and wrongdoing. If we entered the court house in handcuffs we are now free to walk through the front door. Not just pardoned, but completely totally and utterly innocent. Innocent – that’s what we are in Jesus.
  4. We are out of the darkness (13), that old dominion we were part of. No more. In Jesus there is light. The apostle John told us that. And it is a light that the darkness cannot live with. Jesus the light of the world overcomes the darkness and brings light to our world. Elsewhere we are described as children of light – that’s what we are in Jesus.
  5. We have a new nationality (13). We are now citizens of the Kingdom of the Son that God loves. We have changed we live differently, according to different laws. People should see the difference in us and know who our King is. We are, as Peter puts it, “a holy nation, a people belonging to God” – that’s what we are in Jesus.
  6. We are a people of hope (23). That is what we find in the gospel of Jesus. A certain hope. Not just a wishful thinking but a hope that we can hold on to, that will keep us going. A people of hope – that is what we are in Jesus.

And that is where the challenge comes. Jesus is all that people of Colossae. Jesus is everything we say he is people here this evening. He is everything. He is supreme. So will we live like that? Or will we put some of our trust in other things.

The people of Colossae were not practicing what they preached. To be more accurate they were not practicing what they sang. We need to watch we do not fall into that trap. Look at Jesus, who he is, what he has done. A list of 10 can’t even scratch the surface. His work is complete.

The challenge from Paul is to continue. Don’t be moved. Don’t be swayed. Be established and firm. On the rock that is Jesus. You know the gospel. Live it out. Don’t overcomplicate things. Remind yourself of who you are in Christ. Again 10 items is nothing to describe how you have changed in Jesus.

Or perhaps tonight you look at yourself as someone who has never seen that change that Jesus brings. You are all too familiar with the sense of darkness. Is there any hope? You want to know God. Perhaps you have not thought of yourself as an enemy of God. But that is not the way it needs to be. Jesus has made the way. All that we have talked about can and will be yours if you will turn and ask for that forgiveness that Jesus is ready and waiting to give. He has paid the price, so why waste the opportunity?

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