Today we tackle the second part of our four part series entitled The Circle Maker. Last week we were introduced to the legend of the Circle Maker and we talked about the story of the battle of Jericho and God’s unusual battle plan and how sometimes God calls us to follow him even when it makes no sense and also that God may be calling us to pray and wrestle with our Jerichos. Things so big that if they come to fruition that it is only because of Gods intervention.
Today we are looking at dreaming big, risk and prayer together. We will revisit Honi the Circle Maker for a little bit, share about another person who took risks and trusted in God’s direction, and look at another person in Scripture that prayed and trusted that God would provide in a huge way for the people of Israel.
Last week we talked about Honi drawing a circle, kneeling in the circle and praying until rain came, and then stayed in it until the rain became not just a trickle, not just a downpour, but a soaking rain that soaked into the earth as well as soaking into the people’s faith. Honi stated that he wouldn’t leave the circle until it rained. He had no escape clause. He had no expiration date. He drew a circle and not a line or a semi circle with a way out. He was willing to look foolish and I believe faith is the willingness to look foolish to a watching world. Honi drew a huge circle. In fact, the bigger the circle you draw, the bigger the prayers, the more foolish you feel. But if you aren’t willing to step out of the boat, you won’t walk on water.
If you aren’t willing to put your feet out of the boat, and take a risk you may never see a miracle. Someone who literally stepped out into the water of the unknown, prayed a huge prayer, and trust God was a man named Brendan. Or we may know him as St. Brendan. St Brendan of Clonfert – who is more well know as St Brendan the Navigator set sail with a group of Monks from the Dingle peninsula in a Currach. or Coracle… they drifted free at the mercy of the wind and the whim of the waves – in the will of God. They are said to have visited the northern Isles of Scotland, The Faeroe islands, Iceland and eventually Newfoundland.Picture yourself in the place of Brendan… staring across the ocean toward the horizon.. the edge of your known world… the unknown… maybe there are distant lands across the sea… maybe there is nothing… only God knows!
See yourself standing at the wooden jetty, in front of you a feeble looking boat, made of unseasoned wood and leather, smeared all over in animal grease to seal it from the waves… in the bottom of the craft there lies a roll of leather, there to patch the unavoidable leaks and tears. The boat continuously slams into the jetty bruising the leather as the swell of the great western ocean throws it around… who knows, maybe the waves themselves are returning from those far off shores.
Shores which at this time are simply a glimpse of the possible, a dream of what might be out there beyond the horizon.
Deep inside you hear a call – “SET SAIL”, a secret voice heard only in your heart “SET SAIL INTO THE UNKNOWN”…a stirring on the edge of the wind “SET SAIL INTO THE UNKNOWN, STEP OFF THE EDGE OF YOUR WORLD”… an echo of stones dragged along the beach by the tide “SET SAIL INTO THE UNKNOWN, STEP OFF THE EDGE OF YOUR WORLD, COME WITH ME INTO MINE”
The greatest stories in history, the ones that we remember and we celebrate are always stories with risk involved in them. If you want to be a Circle Maker like Honi or like St. Brendan, you have to be a risk taker. And when you are a risk taker, you definitely need to get on your knees, cry out to God, and pray that he’ll come through. And you realize that if he doesn’t come through, you are screwed.
Another circle maker that took risks, prayed, and saw God come through in miraculous ways was Moses. Moses learned that if you don’t take a risk, you won’t get to see God come through in amazing and miraculous ways. So let’s unpack together one of those times where God did something so big that even Moses couldn’t quite believe it. An event that only God could deliver on and could only get the glory for. We’ll be looking at Numbers 11 together.
Let’s look first at Numbers 11:4-9. Numbers 11:4-9 says, The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”
So after 400 years of slavery, God delivers the Israelites out of the hand of Egypt, but it is much harder getting Egypt out of the Israelites, if you know what I mean. You see it in their comments about all the “wonderful things” they got in Egypt, like eating fish with “no cost” (except the cost of slavery and being under the thumb of Pharaoh.) It seems like they have selective amnesia, remembering the food but forgetting everything else. And so they began to complain, and their focus of their complaint is the miraculous provision of manna. How quickly they go from being amazed and thankful at his provisions of food in the desert, to complaining about the same provision from the hand of God. They are tired of the same old same old and wanted meat. No vegetarians apparently in that bunch.
They lost sight of the miracle of what was happening every day. That God was literally providing for them by bringing Manna each and every day. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Circle Makers are people who would fall into the camp that see everything as a miracle. Live in wonder of how God shows up and shows off in and through them. In and through the dreams, visions, plans, and risks of people who seek to live the Kingdom of God out in the world.
Now I don’t know about you but when my kids complain about dinner, I get pretty frustrated, especially when either myself or Kim have spent time making the dinner. And they look at it and go eh.. or yuck…or refuse to eat it. I’m not saying my dinners are anything miraculous, maybe its miraculous that they are any good. But they do show God’s provision for my family. But God, in the midst of complaining, does get angry but his anger leads to miraculous provisions. But even though Moses continued to see God’s hand in providing the Manna everyday he can’t understand how God is going to continue to provide. Moses complains as well.
In Numbers 11:11-15 he says, “He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
And so not only does the people of Israel complain, Moses complains about the people of Israel and their complaining. And in the midst of his complaining, Moses forgets the miraculous provisions of manna and can only see what isn’t and can’t see what might be. He limits himself and he limits God’s power when he says, “Where can I get meat for all these people?” He loses out on the fact that God loves when people trust him and dream big.
And despite Moses and the people of Israel’s complaining, God promises a big meal of meat. Not meat for one day or even two but for a whole entire month. A month of meat in the middle of the desert and in the middle of nowhere. God promises the meat in verses 18-20 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”
But instead of believing that God can do it. Instead of remembering all the amazing ways and stories of how God delivered them, sustained them, and provided for them since their time in Egypt, Moses just can’t see how this monthly long meat fest adds up. He lost the power of dreaming big, taking a risk, and trusting in God’s provisions. His loss in dreaming big is spelled out in verses 21-22, “But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” Have you ever been there? Have you ever forgotten the provisions of God and refused to dream big dreams and take risks that God called you to take? We have all been there. We have all thought, “but God this doesn’t add up. God, how in the world will you provide for me, my family, etc.. if we take this step?” But thank God that he doesn’t follow our mathematical rules and sometimes make 0 + 0 =105 million. 105 million quail. That is dreaming big.
God delivers on his promise and we see what happens in verses 31-32, “Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers.” Nothing is impossible for God. I mean he brought meat to the desert where they was no Outback steakhouse for miles around. And not just meat of one day but for a whole entire month.
In fact, God puts Moses in his place and also us, when he says to Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” This is the question for you and I when he calls us to circle something in our lives and to dream big and to take a risk for his kingdom. When God gives a vision, He makes provision. We just need the courage to step out in faith when God is calling us to get out of the boat. Honi stepped out in faith and the land saw rain. Brendan got in the boat and wherever he landed he established monasteries (places of learning) and new churches. If we don’t have courage and step out in faith we’ll forfeit the miracle. We have to believe that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can send a west wind that brings 105 million quail into the camp. But we need to do our part and our part is taking a step of faith in pursuing the dream God has put in our hearts.
So what step of faith do you need to take? What decision do you need to make? On what promise do you need to put down a stake?
Those are some of the questions that we’ll be unpacking together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, applications, etc.. come to mind when you read the Scripture and/or hear the message?
2. What is a risk you have taken that lead to a miracle? What is a risk you wish you would have taken? Is their a risk you are being called to take?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
So today we begin a 4 week series, running about 2/3 through the Christian season of Lent (which by the way starts this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday…and is when you can start your 40 Day Draw the Circle Prayer book experience…if you ordered one. I do have around 3 extra if you want one). This 4 week series is entitled The Circle Maker and we’ll be looking at questions like this: Do you ever sense that there’s far more to prayer to and to God’s vision for your life, than what you are experiencing? What if you could pray circles around your biggest dream and great fear? So we’ll be spending 4 weeks talking and praying and circling our lives, our families, our friends, our community in prayer. We’ll spend time next week, before the gathering from 10-10:20 at our prayer gathering, and would love to see you there. We will also be meeting at the end of the month at 9 AM to do some prayer circling or prayer walking around the city. (I’ll say more about that as we get closer to the day)
So for the next 4 weeks we will be exploring the idea of being a Circle Maker. And so to truly understand what it means to be a circle maker we need to learn about the first Circle Maker, and the legend of Honi the Circle Maker.
It was the first century BC and a devastating drought threatened to destroy a generation, the generation before Jesus. The last of the Jewish prophets had died off nearly four centuries before. Miracles were such a distant memory that they seemed like a false memory. And God was nowhere to be heard. But there was one man, an eccentric sage who lived outside the walls of Jerusalem, who dared to pray anyway. His name was Honi. And even if the people could no longer hear God, he believed that God could still hear them.
When rain is plentiful, it’s an afterthought. During a drought, it’s the only thought. And Honi was their only hope. Famous for his ability to pray for rain, it was on this day—the day—that Honi would earn his moniker.
With a six-foot staff in his hand, Honi began to turn like a math compass. His circular movement was rhythmical and methodical. Ninety degrees. One hundred and eighty degrees. Two hundred and seventy degrees. Three hundred and sixty degrees. He never looked up as the crowd looked on. After what seemed like hours, but had only been seconds, Honi stood inside the circle he had drawn. Then he dropped to his knees and raised his hands to heaven. With the authority of the prophet Elijah who called down fire from heaven, Honi called down rain.
“Lord of the Universe, I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children.”
The words sent a shudder down the spine of all who were within earshot that day. It wasn’t just the volume of his voice. It was the authority of his tone. Not a hint of doubt. This prayer didn’t originate in the vocal chords. Like water from an artesian well, the words flowed from the depth of his soul. His prayer was resolute yet humble; confident yet meek; expectant yet unassuming.
Then it happened.
As his prayer ascended to the heavens, raindrops descended to the earth. An audible gasp swept across the thousands of congregants who had encircled Honi. Every head turned heavenward as the first raindrops parachuted from the sky, but Honi’s head remained bowed. The people rejoiced over each drop, but Honi wasn’t satisfied with a sprinkle. Still kneeling within the circle, Honi lifted his voice over the sounds of celebration.
“Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain that will fill cisterns, pits, and caverns.”
The sprinkle turned into such a torrential downpour that eyewitnesses said no raindrop was smaller than an egg in size. It rained so heavily and so steadily that the people fled to the Temple Mount to escape the flash floods. Honi stayed and prayed inside his protracted circle. Once more he refined his bold request.
“Not for such rain have I prayed, but for rain of Thy favor, blessing, and graciousness.”
Then, like a well-proportioned sun shower on a hot and humid August afternoon, it began to rain calmly, peacefully. Each raindrop was a tangible token of God’s grace. And they didn’t just soak the skin; they soaked the spirit with faith. It would be forever remembered as the day. The day thunderclaps applauded the Almighty. The day puddle jumping became an act of praise. The day the legend of the circle maker was born. It had been difficult to believe the day before the day. The day after the day, it was impossible not to believe.
Honi was celebrated like a hometown hero by the people whose lives he had saved. But some within the Sanhedrin called the Circle Maker into question. A faction believed that drawing a circle and demanding rain dishonored God. Maybe it was those same members of the Sanhedrin who would criticize Jesus for healing a man’s withered arm on the Sabbath a generation later. They threatened Honi with excommunication, but because the miracle could not be repudiated, Honi was ultimately honored for his act of prayerful bravado.
The prayer that saved a generation was deemed one of the most significant prayers in the history of Israel. The circle he drew in the sand became a sacred symbol. And the legend of Honi the circle maker stands forever as a testament to the power of a single prayer to change the course of history.
And so God calls his people to sometimes do what might seem strange to others in order to live out his Kingdom in this world. Like drawing a circle, kneeling in it, and praying until it rains. Or the strange call that God gave to Joshua in Joshua 6:1-16 which is the text we’ll be unpacking a bit this morning.
“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.” When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there. Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”
Now there are a few things that I want to unpack in this text that speaks to God, the power of prayer, and the upside down ways of the Kingdom.
First we need to look at the city of Jericho. Now cities are not like the cities in our day and age. All cities were walled cities for protection of it’s people. Jericho was around a 12 acre city, with 50 foot high upper walls and 6 foot thick lower walls. An impenetrable fortress of a city. For all intensive purposes Jericho seemed to have the upper hand. A higher position, a defensible city, and the safety of the walls. From a human perspective, this would be a hard, if not impossible battle. Yet from God’s perspective, the battle was already over, because he said to Joshua, “I Have” in the past tense. it was already a done deal, the Israelites just needed to trust and live into it. This is a question that we are going to dialogue around in a little bit but what is your Jericho? What is the thing that God is calling you to be about that seems above and beyond you? What huge, God-inspired thing are you praying for and if it comes to fruition that only God can get the honor and the glory? Nothing honors God more than a big dream that is way beyond our ability to accomplish.
Now I have some issues with the book of Joshua and Judges and the conquest stories and what we do with them. But putting that aside, the thing we see here is that to call this story the battle of Jericho isn’t truly honest, because in all reality, it wasn’t much of a battle and the Israelites didn’t even fight. They just marched, prayed and worshipped and God did the rest. God could have done it without the Israelites, but he wanted them to be part of the work. But that work seemed to the Israelites (and to us) about the stupidest battle plan anyone could come up with. It made not sense according to military intelligence and it required total dependence on God. It required great faith from Joshua as he had to explain and the lead the nation in this plan. It required great faith from elders and the nations, because they had to follow Joshua in the plan. So their victory was not linked to military prowess. Victory comes from God and not their own fighting.
I mean what kind of “battle plan” is “march around the city 1 time each day for 6 days, then on the seventh day march around the city 7 times and then shout.”? To have the helplessness of Israel to march 6 days of silent marching. To have a good look at the walls that seemed to be impenetrable. They could have been attacked from the highpoint on the wall. And they knew that this “battle” was bigger than they were. But as they marched they knew God was with them. They actually did something that they had never done before, bring the priests and the ark into battle. Both the priest and the ark symbolize God’s presence in the midst of the battle. So that is another question that we need to unpack together, where have you seen God in the midst of the “battle” of life?
And so the Israelites needed to have courage and it took endurance to persist in the march for a week before seeing the walls come tumbling down. It takes courage and endurance for us to pray a huge prayer, to continue praying until it comes to fruition (if it is the Lord’s will for it to come to fruition) and to trust God to come through in his power and not ours.
After seven days of circling Jericho, God delivered on a four-hundred-year-old promise. He proved, once again, that His promises don’t have expiration dates. And Jericho stands, and falls, as a testament to this simple truth: if you keep circling the promise, God will ultimately deliver on it.
This miracle is a microcosm.
It not only reveals the way God performed this particular miracle, it also establishes a pattern for us to follow. It challenges us to confidently circle the promises God has given to us. And it begs the question: what is your Jericho?
What promise are you praying around? What miracle are you marching around? What dream does your life revolve around?
Drawing prayer circles starts with identifying your Jericho. You’ve got to define the promises God wants you to stake claim to, the miracles God wants you to believe for, and the dreams God wants you to pursue. Then you need to keep circling until God gives you what He wants and what He wills. That’s the goal.
So let’s unpack together these questions about where God has come through when we have done something that seemed strange and what our Jericho is.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the message and/or Scripture?
2. Share a story where God asked you to do something that seemed to make sense to you (or to others). What happened? How did God show up? How did he get the glory?
3. What is your Jericho? What huge God-inspired thing are you praying for? What might God be calling you to circle in prayer that seems like the huge walls of the city of Jericho? How can Veritas help?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Yesterday was our final week of our Colossians Remixed series. We were looking at Colossians 4:2-6 together and I felt that we should let the text speak for itself and decided not to do a traditional message and then follow it up with discussion. Instead we decided to walk through the Scripture using something that is called Communal Lectio Divina.
This is what our time looked like together yesterday:
Lectio Divina Shared in Community
(A) Listening for the Gentle Touch of Christ the Word
(The Literal Sense)
1. One person reads aloud (twice) the passage of scripture, as others are attentive to some segment that is especially meaningful to them.
2. Silence for 1-2 minutes. Each hears and silently repeats a word or phrase that attracts.
3. Sharing aloud: [A word or phrase that has attracted each person]. A simple statement of one or a few words. No elaboration.
(B) How Christ the Word speaks to ME
(The Allegorical Sense)
4. Second reading of same passage by another person.
5. Silence for 2-3 minutes. Reflect on “Where does the content of this reading touch my life today?”
6. Sharing aloud: Briefly: “I hear, I see…”
(C) What Christ the Word Invites me to DO
(The Moral Sense)
7. Third reading by still another person.
8. Silence for 2-3 minutes. Reflect on “I believe that God wants me to . . . . . . today/this week.”
9. Sharing aloud: at somewhat greater length the results of each one’s reflection. [Be especially aware of what is shared by the person to your right.]
10. After full sharing, pray for the person to your right.
Note: Anyone may “pass” at any time. If instead of sharing with the group you prefer to pray silently , simply state this aloud and conclude your silent prayer with Amen.
So today we come to the end of the third chapter of the New Testament book of Colossians. And next week we wrap up our 8 week series entitled Colossians Remixed.
And our text that we are looking at today is one that honestly I kinda wanted to skip over and move past. The text raises a bunch of questions. Not only for me, but I believe probably all of us. And in fact this text probably raises questions in our world. Questions like, “Does the Bible actually condone slavery?” “Why doesn’t Paul tell slave holders to get rid of their slaves, and set them free?” “Is the Bible sexist?” “Does the Bible condone a male dominated society in which women should submit”? As I looked at this text, I could see where these questions stem from. I myself have some questions about this text, and honestly not sure I have a lot of answers to those questions. But as I have read and studied this week, I have come to some ideas and thoughts about this text and how it applies to our world today and how it applies to us who want to be missional disciples of Jesus living out Kingdom lives in the world.
But before I open up the text for this morning, I need to reiterate the 2 purposes of the book of Colossians. The main thrust, if you will, of why Paul is writing to the church at Colossae. Because, as I have said, each and every week, these 2 main points are foundational to understanding everything that is written in the letter. Without an understanding of these two things, and not just a mental understanding, but an understanding that comes from applying the 2 main points to your life, than what comes out in the letter (especially in this text) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The first purpose that Paul is writing to the church at Colossae is to share with them that Lordship of Jesus in every realm. King Jesus and his Kingdom rules and reigns and as a follower of King Jesus, we are called to live under his rule and his reign. When we live under his rule and his reign then all interactions we have are influenced by his reign in and through us. King Jesus is Lord over all other lords. King Jesus is Lord over Caesar, who was, as I mentioned before, called lord, savior, deliverer, liberator, and son of god. King Jesus is lord and king over all the other things that we seek to put in his place. In other words, he is supreme and preeminent. Knowing this will definitely come in to play in our Scripture text for today as the word Lord shows up at least 6 times in only 9 verses. So this text won’t make any sense without the understanding of the lordship of Jesus over all of life, and over all the relationships that we have.
Secondly, the other purpose of the letter is to unpack the true nature of the gospel. This purpose was because of the heresy called the Colossian heresy that was infiltrating the Colossian church. Paul, especially in chapters 1 and 2 lays out the true nature of the gospel (he doesn’t lay it out in its totality because the gospel is bigger and more expansive than mere words can contain). And then in chapters 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 begins to unpack what the gospel of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and the Lordship of Jesus looks like lived out in relationships and in our own lives.
So with that background in mind, and the questions that i asked at the beginning (that I truly believe are questions that the world is asking and if we are honest, that we ask ourselves), let’s look at Colossians 3:18-4:1.
Colossians 3:18-4:1 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.”
So do these verses condone sexism? Do they actually favor a male dominated hierarchy where women are subservient and are doormats to men? Does Paul condone slavery? A simple reading of this text might seem to support these assertions. A look at some of the views that have popped up, especially around verse 18, seem to support those assertions. (men treating women as subservient, and women letting themselves be treated that way). But let’s take a deeper look into these verses to see if there isn’t more to these verses and how they are more counter cultural and subversive and radical than what we see on our first reading.
First, we need to remember to read these verses in the context of the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is Lord over all relationships, including wives, husbands, children, slaves, masters (employer, employee), etc.. Secondly the other week we talked about the idea of things that we think we’ll liberate us actually can lead to bondage. So we talked about the idea that some people think that absolute freedom with no rules and regulations will really set us free, but we just end up in bondage to to things. Or we get bound to a set of rules and regulations and a to do list that we think leads to freedom, but these things also lead to bondage. True liberation and deliverance is from Jesus and while the gospel isn’t primarily about a list of do’s and don’ts, there are some Kingdom rules that God is calling us to live under. Paul is offering these Kingdom rules for those who live in and under the rule and reign of God. These Kingdom rules, will actually lead to a more freeing life, than all the other things that promise true freedom.
So let’s look at verse 18 which says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” This translation has submit. And the images of downtrodden women, the victim of her husbands every whim, unable to be herself, to think her own thoughts, to make a grown up contribution to the relationship comes to mind. But that is not what Paul means when he says submit. You need to understand why this is radical. In Paul’s day husbands and masters could rule supreme and unquestioned. Women were property. Paul’s code of Kingdom rules for household living are remarkable for several reasons. Paul’s own fellow-workers included women and married couples, where it appears the women were “people in their own right”. he doesn’t just tell wives, children and slave how to behave (as Pagan moralists of his day would) Their duties are balanced by the corresponding duties of household, parents, and masters. Verse 18 actually brings women, in that day, freedom from being seen as property.
When you put verse 19 in with verse 18, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.”, we see that both parties have responsibilities. Men aren’t just free to treat a women however he thinks she should be treated. Men have a great responsibility of loving their wives, as Christ loves his church. Meaning giving up your life for her. Paul has not retracted his statement in Galatians 3:28 about the equality of men and women before the Lord and under the head, which is Jesus. Neither party is to be arrogant or domineering. The wife must forgo the temptation to rule her husband’s life and the husband must ensure that his love for his wife, like Christ’s love for his people, always puts her interest first. It is when husbands and wives first submit to Jesus, that this reciprocal relationship can function. It is when husbands and wives understand these kingdom rules and live by the that they are truly fee; free to mature and develop, within the creative context of mutual love and respect.
Another relationship that falls under the headship of Christ is the role of the parent (in this text Father) and child. Paul puts it this way, “
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Paul is no doubt referring to one of the ten commandments (“Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”) in this text. Again this text, when seen in context is radical. The Gospel is breaking new ground. Children were supposed to be not seen and not heard and they were also seen as property. Here Paul is saying that first, that children are a part of the church in their own right and that he is giving them responsibilities as well. Paul is saying children need discipline, but the parents aren’t off the hook. Parents need discipline as well. The parents role is to live out the gospel in front of their children. That is to assure their children that they are loved and accepted and valued for who they are, not for who they ought to be, should have been or might become. And obviously this all happens when both children and parents live under the Lordship and Headship of Jesus Christ.
So then Paul moves from husbands, wives, and parents to the role and relationship between Slave and Master. So the question becomes, why doesn’t Paul outright confront the institution of slavery and condemn it? And call for masters to get rid of their slaves? Also why does he include slaves in this text? The reason for including slaves is that Onesimus is the one delivering the letter. And again this statement that Paul is making is radical for it’s time. Paul never condones slavery nor sanctions revolts against masters. He calls for both slave and masters, under the headship and Lordship of Jesus to show christian principles in their relationship and thus to attempt to change the institution from the inside out. To blow it up from the inside. For masters to actually show their slaves love and respect is so upside down from what the culture told the Masters. The slaves could be killed, beaten, abused, and taken advantage of. Also slaves were unable to legally receive or pass on an inheritance and yet here slaves are equal recipients with their masters of this inheritance of eternal life. Masters and slaves are equal in the view of the Kingdom of God. And when masters view their slaves as equal in the Kingdom of God, you begin to realize that owning another person goes against the ethic of the Kingdom. And then the institution comes crashing down from the inside, and done from a heart of people committed to the King and his kingdom.
I want to end with this statement by Paul that should speak to us where we all are, in relation to our work, our schooling, or wherever we find ourselves. Paul makes this statement, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” As a means of being about the Kingdom of God and living a gospel centered life, we need to work, we need to study, we need to engage with all of our hearts and not just for the approval of our boss’s, or the good grade on the paper, etc… But do these things because we have a higher calling, a higher master and we seek to live under the rule, and reign of the King, and under his Lordship.
So let’s talk about what this text might be saying to us in all of our relationships, whether we are married, single, an employer, an employee, a student, etc…. What might be God saying to us in our relationships that we currently have? Where do we need to submit to the headship and lordship of Jesus in our relationships and our lives? And how might this text speak to us about living a missional, Kingdom life? Let’s unpack this stuff together.
1. What insights, questions, comments, applications, struggles, push back, etc…. do you have regarding the text and/or the message?
2. Where do you need to submit to the headship and lordship of Jesus? In a relationship? In another area of your life? What does it look like for you and I to submit to the headship and Lordship of Jesus in all things?
3. How might this text from Colossians speak to us as individuals and as a community about living a missional Kingdom life? What are the missional implications of living this text out in the world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Over the last few weeks during our Colossians Remixed series we have been talking a great deal about 2 things. First, we have been talking a great deal about the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus over all other lords, including Caesar (who was called lord, savior, son of god, redeemer and liberator). And even today Jesus is Lord over all the other Caesar’s and lords that we run into. Over all the other things that we tend to put above Jesus. Jesus is Lord and the Caesar’s in this world are not and are at best a cheap knock-off. We talked about the fact last week that these lords, if you will, won’t lead to true freedom and liberation but to captivity and bondage.
Secondly, if the other lords can only promise and never deliver true freedom and liberation, only Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God can promise and deliver. Jesus the gospel of the Kingdom delivers true freedom and true liberation. We have spent almost each and every week also talking about the true nature of the gospel and what it encompasses. And how the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God applied to the situation in which this young church in Colossae in the midst of the Roman Empire found itself. It found itself challenged by the images of Caesar that touted that Caesar was lord, savior, redeemer, and King. It found itself challenged by jewish religious leaders who were encouraging what we called last week Jesus +. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus + special knowledge. Jesus + following these rules and regulations (what you can’t eat, what you can’t touch, what you can’t handle). Jesus +.
So with those 2 important, overarching themes found within the New Testament book of Colossians laid out, we now turn to Colossians 3:1-17 and Paul begins to put flesh and blood on the bones. Starting to work out on the ground what it looks like to give supremacy and preeminence to Jesus and to live out the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Let’s keep these 2 themes in mind as we read the Scripture, and unpack it together.
Colossians 3:1-17 says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
One of the things Paul longs for for the Colossian believers (and also all who would come after them) is that they (and us) would realize what is already true- in Christ. Because the Messiah and his people are so closely bounded up with one another, what is true of Jesus is also true of them (and us). So what is true of Jesus? That he died and rose again. What is then true of the followers of Jesus in Colossae? That they have died with the Messiah, that they don’t belong to the old world any more, and the regulations (found in Colossians 2) aren’t relevant anymore. And that they were raised with the Messiah, so that they possess a true life in God’s new world, also known as the ‘upper’ or ‘heavenly realm’ And if those things are true of the followers of Jesus in Colossae, than they are also true of you today if you are a follower of Jesus.
And when we have died with Christ, and risen with him to new life, we are called to, as Paul puts it, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Now does this mean only think about “heaven” and going there when you die. Or as the old adage states, “being so heavenly minded that they aren’t any earthly good.” Paul isn’t talking about the idea of thinking and setting our minds on “heaven” but on thinking and setting your mind on the things of the Kingdom of God and not on the things of the Kingdom of this world. In fact God through Paul is calling us to learn to think about things that are above, not the things that belong to this present world of change and decay. In fact, learning to think, rather than merely going with the flow of the world on the one hand or blindly obeying what looks like stringent regulations on the other, is part of the key to living out the gospel of the Kingdom of God here and now.
All too often in our world today the view of Christians are that they are unintelligent, weary of education (ever hear someone warn you of education because it might lead you away from the faith?), and seemingly calling people to leave their brain at the door. One book that I have on my shelf deals with this struggle. It is the book “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” by Mark Noll, and his contention is that the scandal is that there is no evangelical mind, especially in places of higher eduction. And that is a shame. Being a Christian means learning to think harder, not leaving your brain behind in the quest for new experiences. Thinking straight and knowing the truth are part of what it means to be a truly human being, the sort of human being the gospel is meant to create.
Once Paul shares the fact that what is true of Jesus is true of the Colossian believers, along with you and I, he turns to the implications that we, like Jesus have died to the old and risen with the new. What are the implications of Jesus being preeminent and supreme and the gospel of new life and liberation? For the next few verses Paul uses the metaphor of clothing to get at what followers of Jesus are to do and to be, not just individually (as if that is even truly possible) but also corporately. Paul sees clearly that if the Colossian church is to move ahead, and not fall into the Colossian Heresy, it needs to know very clearly what’s involved in putting off the old clothing and putting on new ones. As an aside, the early church used the metaphor of taking off old clothes and putting on new ones in baptism. The new believer would come to the baptism wearing old clothes, they would discard the old clothes, be baptized, and then would be given a new set of white clothes symbolizing the new life in Christ. So the question is now what are the old clothes of the old nature and what are the new clothes of the new life in Jesus?
Let’s look at verses 5-9 to see what we as individuals and as a community are supposed to take off and then verses 12-17 to see what we are supposed to put on as far as the new clothes in Christ. Verses 5-9 says this, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
The old clothes of this world, and this Kingdom are things like sexual immorality, lust, greed, anger, rage, slander, lies, and language. You could break it down into two areas of life, sex and speech. Paul is seemingly getting at the fact that these old clothes are on the same level. Paul is just as concerned with sins of the tongue as he is with sins related to sexuality. In fact, it would be good for today’s church to get that balance right, instead of focusing so much on sexual sins. These areas of sexuality and speech are two central areas of human life, both involving some amazing and great potential for good and some great potential for evil. These sins of sexuality and speech don’t just affect the individual, they affect the community as well. The result for a community that would embrace and live life in the old clothes of the Kingdom of this world would be a community that would tear itself apart.
When a community of Jesus’ followers takes off the old clothes of the flesh and self and puts on the new clothes of new life in Jesus, than we begin to see a community of love, grace, truth, the Kingdom of God and the gospel enfleshed in this world. What do these new clothes look like? First look at verse 11, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” A Christian community that is living life in the new clothes of the Kingdom of God means that all the old divisions that our culture and the world system sets up are torn down and ripped up. Social, cultural, geographic, ethnic, political, etc.. divisions that are so prominent within the world should have no place within a Kingdom community of Jesus’ followers. People who live in the old clothes should look at a Kingdom community and go, “what in the world are they hanging out together for? They should never be getting along. But here they are loving each other, serving each other, being community together.” This is when we know that the Kingdom of God comes down and touches our earth, when people that would formerly not getting along, can love each other and be community together.
But verse 11 isn’t possible unless the new clothes of verses 12-17 are put into place in the individual follower of Jesus’ life as well as the Kingdom community. And these verses are important because we need to realize that life in the Kingdom of God is not just the negative- do not, but also the positive, here is what you are supposed to do. That it isn’t just about taking off the old clothes and standing around naked. It is about taking off the old clothes and then putting the new ones one. These Kingdom clothes should define what life is like and what our Kingdom communities should look like and function. The new Kingdom clothes are described in verses 12-17 and we’ll end with the listing of new clothes, the Kingdom clothes.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
So let’s unpack together some thoughts about applying this Scripture to our lives as individuals and as a community. Let’s talk about the old clothes that we need to talk off. Let’s talk about the new clothes and how to live as a community in our new clothes. And let’s talk about what God is saying to us as individuals and as a community.
1. What are some thoughts, questions, clarifications, insights, applications, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or message?
2. What old clothes do you need to take off? What new clothes/Kingdom clothes do you need to put on?
3. What old clothes do we as a community need to take off? What new clothes/Kingdom clothes do we as a community need to put on?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we wrap up chapter 2 of the New Testament book of Colossians in our series entitled Colossians Remixed. We are half way through the book with 2 more chapters to go (and about 3 more weeks to do it in) until we start Lent with our new series entitled Circle Maker: Praying circles around your biggest dreams and greatest fears.
So let’s jump in Colossians 2:16-23 and unpack this text, what Paul was getting at while writing it, and how it impacts the way we live our lives today two thousand years later. And remember that much of what we have been talking about over the last 4 weeks about the 2 fold purpose of the book (the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the gospel) will again play itself out in Colossians 2:16-23.
Colossians 2:16-23 says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
So Paul, in this text, is seeking to combat the Colossian heresy that cropped up in the Colossian church, and I believe that even today the Colossian heresy is alive and well in the modern church, just in different forms. Paul is getting at the difference of freedom in Christ and legalism of religion. Jesus frees us, in every sense of the word, especially from the legalism of following man-made rules and regulations that actually get in the way of following Jesus. So let’s walk through these verses some more and see how Paul is calling us to freedom in Christ, the preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the gospel.
The first thing we see in verse 16 is Paul going straight out what people were telling the Colossian church that they had to add to the Gospel in order to truly be “saved”. To truly follow Jesus. It could best be described as Jesus +. Jesus + circumcision. Jesus+ not eating or drinking the wrong thing. Jesus + this religious observance. Not too different than today. What are those things that we add to Jesus and the gospel? Maybe it is Jesus + voting Republican. Jesus + not drinking alcohol. Jesus + this certain theological view. Jesus + this certain ritual that we need to do in addition to trusting in Jesus. Jesus + only listening to this certain kind of music and only dressing a certain way. Paul is trying to tell the Colossian church and also by definition, us sitting here 2,000 years later that is actually Jesus + nothing. That we need Jesus and only Jesus. Paul is saying that don’t let people entice you into particular styles of piety and devotion other than single-minded devotion to Jesus. Nothing can be added to Jesus and the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Religious observance will not liberate you like the gospel. Following rules and regulations of what you can’t eat or drink will not liberate you. In fact, just the opposite it will bind you and put you in chains, just chains of a religious nature. All you need is Christ the King. If you ever come under pressure from any Christian or any church to “add” to your Christian experience, walk away. It is not the gospel if it needs to be added to. A religion that focuses purely on the details of things that you are allowed or not allowed to touch or eat- obviously referring to the Jewish food regulations, is dealing with perishables and if you want to do business with God, you have to get beyond that. The things that Paul mentions in verse 16 are typical of the way Jews- no least out in the Gentile world, tried to order their life of worship: festivals, new moons and sabbaths.
Paul then in verse 17 says that the things that people are judging the believers at Colossae on (whether they follow the rules and regulations, whether they observe the religious festivals, the new moon celebration or the Sabbath Day) are what he calls shadows. They are not the reality. Just like your shadow points to you not the other way around. You are the reality, your shadow just points to you as the reality. Jesus is the reality and all these things are shadows. Don’t cling to the shadows when the reality is here now. Reminds me of Chapter 1 about the image (Eikon) of the invisible God. Why follow the “image” known as Caesar when the true Lord, redeemer, true savior, and true King is here now in the person of Jesus? Why buy the knock-off, so to speak, when you can have the real thing?
Paul then attacks the teachers of the Colossian heresy because they were seeking to disqualify anyone who didn’t follow their belief system and their way of religious observance. Because Paul is saying, that when it is all said and done, that this belief system is not actually about God but about the person who was teaching the belief system. That these people were arrogant, puffed up, and were putting on false humility in order to be seen as most important. And if they were most important, that they had the secret knowledge (that we talked about before), than if you didn’t follow their rules, their regulations, and their way of doing religion, than you were disqualified from the race. They were playing umpire, and judge of who was in and who was out. And anytime you have someone playing judge and deciding who is really a follower of Jesus and who really isn’t there is a disconnect with Jesus, who could be the only right one to judge, but didn’t.
And Paul plays that out in verse 19. He says that those who disqualify others are themselves disconnected from the head. The head being Jesus and no doubt Paul is referring back to Chapter 1 verse 18 when he says, “He is the head of the body, the church.” And so in other words, the people who were leading the Colossian heresy were just a body without a head. Those who were propagating the teaching that Paul is opposing were Christians who had become misguided, or who never really understood their faith in the first place, or maybe they hadn’t even grasped Christ and his preeminence (and his supremacy over all things) in the first place. The central error, the major issue that Paul had with the Colossian heresy was their defective view of Christ in which he was believed to be less than God. And when you disconnect from the head, when the church doesn’t view Jesus as preeminent and supreme and doesn’t understand the gospel, the church ceases to be the body of Christ, the church ceases to grow, and it eventually dies.
And so Paul is calling the Colossian church back to the head, back to Jesus and away from all those things that attached themselves to the church and to following Jesus. He calls them to remember, in verse 20, that when they came to know Jesus that they, “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” Why are you submitting to the old rules and regulations and rituals when you have taken on the new life in Jesus? Why, now that you believe the gospel of Jesus, are you continuing to submit and follow the things that, while they promised life and liberation, actually promise death and bondage, Paul is asking them (and also us). Those rules and regulations (do not handle, do not taste. do not touch) are all pointing to what the belief system that was cropping into the Colossian church was teaching. Paul in mentioning these things, is focusing attention on the appeal to pagans of Judaism’s high moral codes and heavy demands, a kind of religious fundamentalism. You see, often when people are sick and tired of the murky, immoral world, they are glad to embrace a way of life which offers clear, bright, clear lines. And these rules, regulations, and rituals were what the Jewish people defined themselves by. And how they were different than the pagan neighbors.
The good news of this text is the reality that Jesus is the one who leads to freedom from bondage, liberation, and a new life. All the other beliefs, rituals, “gods”, and rules/regulations lead to bondage, and a return to the old life. And Paul is calling the Colossian church, and all followers of Jesus who have come after them that it is all about King Jesus. The Colossian Christians and all who have come after can breathe a sigh of relief that we are complete in Christ and don’t need anything else. We just need Jesus. We need to make him preeminent and supreme. We just need the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Again it is Jesus + nothing.
And so let’s unpack the Scripture and it’s implications in our world today. Let ’s talk about the idea of Jesus + and what we tend to add to Jesus and his gospel. Let’s talk about the rules, rituals, and regulations that define us and our faith. Let’s talk about how we have let external things define our relationship with the world. And let’s bring it all back to the supremacy of Jesus and his gospel.
1. What insights, questions, comments, ideas, applications, etc.. do you have in regards to the Scripture text and/or the message?
2. In your experience what things have you seen that has been added to Jesus? Jesus + what? What things have you added to Jesus and his gospel?
3. What rules, regulations, rituals do people let define their faith? How do these things get in the way of our relationship with Jesus? With other followers of Jesus? And with people who aren’t followers of Jesus?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
From February 25-27 I will be attending the Ecclesia National Gathering at the National 4-H Center near Washington DC. Ecclesia is a relational network of churches, leaders and movements that seek to equip, partner and multiply missional churches and movements. Veritas is currently discerning whether or not to affiliate with the Ecclesia Network (which doesn’t mean that we would be leaving the Church of the Brethren). This is my 3rd National Gathering and I am very excited to be a part of this year’s gathering due to the theme of the conference which is “Bringing the Word to Life.”
I was asked to write a blog piece about why I am attending the Ecclesia National Gathering. (If you want to learn more about the Ecclesia National Gathering go to: Ecclesia National Gathering and you can register for the National Gathering on their registration page)
So as I thought about the various reasons that I am taking time of our my schedule to go to this event, I realized that it comes down to 3 varying reasons.
1. Hot Button Issues and the Bible: We all struggle with parts of the Bible and understanding what they say and how to apply them to our postmodern, postChristian world in which we are now living. These are those Hot Button issues that sometimes I would rather either ignore or write off. Issues like understanding the God of the Old Testament and all the stories where it would seem that God justifies genocide. How do I as an Anabaptist committed to the Shalom of the world and following the Prince of Peace understand those war texts in the Old Testament? Do I say (like an ancient theologian..who was condemned as a heretic) that there are 2 Gods, the OT God and the NT God? No. So how do I understand those texts? That has been an area that I have struggled with a great deal and am super excited that William Webb will be doing a Focused Session entitled: Reading the War Texts- Redemptively.
Another Hot Button issue that seems like it never goes away is Homosexuality. What do you do with that Hot Button issue. It seems like the two most vocal positions are that Homosexuality is okay and not a sin, or Homosexuality is an abomination and the worst sin of all times. Neither I believe is helpful, in my opinion. How do you read the texts that speak about Homosexuality faithfully and redemptively? So I’m excited that William Webb (who by the way authors a great book entitled “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals:Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis) will be doing another Focused Session entitled: Reading the Homosexual Texts- Redemptively.
2. Kingdom of God Over the last few years my view on what the gospel is has radically changed and shifted and I am always seeking to understand the gospel more faithfully. And to understand the gospel more faithfully I believe one needs to understand what the Kingdom of God truly is. After all, the Kingdom of God is probably the most talked about and referenced topic in all of the New Testament. But we have so often gotten confused about the Kingdom of God. Either we have put the Kingdom as a future event out there for another time, or we have taken the opposite and put it for right now. I believe it is a now and not yet reality. One of the persons that has had a profound effect on my understanding of the Kingdom of God and the gospel of the Kingdom is Scot McKnight. Scot will be one of the featured speakers for the Ecclesia National Gathering and I’m excited to hear him speaking on issues like:SCRIPTURE’S GRAND NARRATIVE – KINGDOM, MISSION, & WORLD, THE (OTHER) KINGDOM OF JESUS: HOW JESUS REDEFINES KINGDOM IN SCRIPTURE and OUR CHURCHES IN GOD’S STORY: HOW THE KINGDOM “EXPANDS”. My only problem is that I know that some of Scot’s Focused sessions will be at the same time as William’s Focused sessions so which ones do I choose?
3. Relationship and Community This is probably one of the strongest reasons for me to be attending the National Gathering. Over the 3 years that I have been exploring Ecclesia, going to two National Gatherings, and attending the Missio Alliance Conference last year, and going to regional Ecclesia Gatherings, I have developed relationships with people who are amazing people of faith and passion. People who are committed to the Kingdom of God and the mission of God in this world. These are people who understand missional church planting (what we are seeking to do at Veritas) and have been there before. When I talk with them, ask them questions, and seek wisdom, I don’t have to explain, defend, bring them up to speed (so to speak). They have been there before and can give me great advice based on their experience, not just reading. So I’m looking for some great relationship and community time with some great friends over dinner, and the after hours gatherings that always takes place.
So those are the 3 reasons that I will be attending this year’s Ecclesia National Gathering from February 25-27 and hoping that it will help me Bring the Word to Life. Hope to see you there.
Today we continue our series entitled Colossians Remixed, looking at the New Testament book of Colossians. So far we have covered the first chapter of the book, in three different weeks and now we enter the second chapter of Colossians. And we’ll walk through the rest of the book by the end of February.
Today we are looking at Colossians 2:1-15 which you’ll come to find out seeks to address or should I say readdress the two main talking points of the entire book, the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of what the gospel is. You see, for those who weren’t here for the beginning, you need to know the two reasons for the writing of the book of Colossians. The first one is in relation to the fact that Colossae was a city within the Roman Empire and everywhere that they looked they saw signs pointing to, what the Romans called, the true Savior, the true Lord, the true redeemer and deliverer. Signs (both literally and figuratively) and images pointing to Caesar as Lord. That is one main reason why the book of Colossians is such a profound Christ-centered and Christological text. Paul was getting the message across that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. And that this statement, while it doesn’t seem all that big of a deal to say right now, at the time was a threat to the establishment and was very countercultural and subversive and could get you killed.
The second reason is what theologians and bible scholars call the Colossian heresy that had cropped up in the Colossian church. The Colossian heresy is hard to pigeon hole but we can get some clues from the words within the book about what made up the Colossian heresy. Probably the main part of the heresy is what is called Gnosticism. Gnosticism is the belief that the spiritual world is wholly good and the material world is wholly evil. The heresy also added various other bits and pieces of other religions and philosophies including Judaism (see the discussion in chapter 2 about circumcision), and some mystery religions (connecting the idea of secret knowledge…which is also a gnostic trait). And so to combat this Paul not only keeps hammering away on this idea of the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus but also spends lots of blood, sweat, and ink on bringing the Colossian church back to what the true nature of the gospel really is. And we’ll definitely see these two main focuses of the supremacy of Christ and the true nature of the gospel in our passage that we are looking at today, Colossians 2:1-15.
Colossians 2:1-15 says, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
So this raises some questions that we can wrestle together with. One thought was how do you and can you live where it seems like there are no roots or the roots that once were there are now being ripped up from the base? Secondly, what do we root our lives in? To what can we put our hope, trust, and know that whatever may come, come hell or high-water, that we will be firmly rooted? And lastly how do we build a life that goes deeper than just the superficiality that we see everyday. In a world filled with images (eikons…to use Paul’s words) that point towards various Caesars, how do we live a life that is more than just image. Because, Cannon is actually wrong, image isn’t everything.
So let’s unpack the text together and see if we can wrestle some of these questions to the ground. And see how Paul again focuses this part of the letter on the two essentials of the supremacy & preeminence of Jesus and the true nature of the Gospel.
So at the beginning Paul lays out the fact that he is contending hard for not only the believers at Colossae but also at Laodicea. He is writing letters, praying for them, and no doubt counseling and training Erastus to plant and pastor the infant community of followers of Jesus. After sharing the fact that he was working hard on their behalf he shares what his dream and goal for the new church at Colossae is. What he dreams at night for this small new struggling community of Jesus followers. He records his dream, goal and vision for the Colossian church in verses 2-4 when he says, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Again Paul makes reference to the word mystery (like last week and directly from the pages of the mystery religions) and flips it on its head saying that all may know Christ. It is not only Paul’s prayer and goal for the Colossian church but for each of us and for our community as well.
But that isn’t his only goal in contending for the believers in Colossae and also his goal for all Christ followers. Verses 6-7 are not only a goal for Paul, they sum up the message of the entire letter. In them Paul draws together the awesome Christology of the introduction and the practical teaching that is to be based on it throughout the rest of Colossians. Verses 6-7 says this,
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
Paul is saying that you need to be rooted in Jesus, like a tree in good soil if you want to withstand the philosophies of this world. The Colossian church needed to grow deeper and root themselves in Jesus and the gospel, so that they wouldn’t be taken captive by the hollow and deceptive philosophy that we call the Colossian heresy. But to make this journey (live your life) of faith in Jesus, rooting ourselves deeper so that we can be built up, we need to live out what Paul talks about in verses 9-10 and 13-15. These verses help us get rooted in our faith so that we won’t fall prey to deceptive theology and philosophy and they focus us on what is really important, the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus over all other lords/gods including Caesar (verses 9-10) and the true nature of the gospel of Jesus and his Kingdom (verses 13-15) Let’s wrap up the message and transition into discussion by looking at these important verses.
Verses 9-10 speak of the supremacy of Jesus over all other lords and gods when Paul writes, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” These verses reiterate Chapter 1:15-20. He is saying that the image of the invisible God is Jesus. That Jesus was and is not simply a fully human being (though he is that as well. He was and is the bodily form taken by God himself. God in all his fullness. He wasn’t a demigod. He doesn’t have a human body and a divine spirit. He can only be properly understood as the human being who embodies or incarnations the fullness of divinity. And because he embodies the fullness of divinity, he is that head over every power and authority. Over Caesar. Over every empire that has ever or will ever exist. And over any lord or god that we set up in our own lives. He is above all things. He is supreme and preeminent and because of that we need to root our entire selves in him and not in anything that seeks to via for his supremacy.
And why should we give him preeminence not only in our own lives but in the world around us? Because when we fully understand the gospel, we will want to recognize his supremacy. And to combat to the philosophies of this world, it takes the gospel, truly understand and applies to our lives. And the gopsel truly understand is spelled out in verses 13-15, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
When the power and authority of the Roman empire came down on the head of Jesus, they thought they destroyed his kingdom. After all, when the Romans would attack a country, capture the king, and put him to death, it meant that they also symbolically destroyed that kingdom. Every crucifixion of a “rebel king” was another symbolic triumph of Rome. And so when the Romans crucified Jesus of Nazareth under the sign that said King of the Jews, they thought his Kingdom over which his is King is now destroyed. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Paradox of the Cross is this..God’s weakness overcome human strength, God’s folly, overcomes human wisdom. The cross means that your are forgiven of your sins and the offenses that might have been counted against you. In dying with Him, you have come out from under them all and from all the condemnation that might have pulled down on you. You are alive in Christ.
But let’s unpack this together. What does the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus looked like flushed out in the world? What are the religious and philosophical attractions in the world that are most likely to draw Christians away from the fulfillment that they already have in the King? And how does the gospel touch down in your life and in the lives of the people that God is calling you to be a blessing to? These are some of the questions that we will unpack together.
1. As you look at this text, what questions, comments, insights, observations, etc.. do you have?
2. What are the “hollow and deceptive philosophies” that can take us captive in our world today?
3. How does the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus speak to those “hollow and deceptive philosophies”? And what does it look like flushed out in our everyday life in regards to the supremacy and preeminence of Jesus?
4. How does Verses 13-15 speak to you? What doss it mean for you and I in our everyday lives? What does it mean for the people that God has called you to bless?
Today we wrap up the first chapter in the book of Colossians so that means we are about a third of the way through our Colossians Remixed series that started two weeks ago and will run until the end of February.
Two weeks ago when we stated Colossians Remixed we looked at Colossians 1:1-14. In this text we looked at the recipients of the letter, the purpose of the letter, the heresy that has been called the Colossian heresy and we talked about two main parts of the text: Paul’s prayers for the Colossian believers and what the true nature of the gospel really is.
Last week we looked at Colossians 1:15-23 and walked through probably one of the most Christologic sections in all of Scripture. We talked about Paul basically saying in the poem that Caesar isn’t Lord, that Jesus is. That all the images that the Colossians saw each day that were pointing to Caesar being the true Lord, true Savior, true deliverer, and true redeemer, were pointing in the wrong direction. That Christ is the true Lord, true Savior, true deliverer, and true redeemer. That Christ is supreme and preeminent. And we also looked at the last part of the text and what the true nature of the gospel really is, that it is about reconciliation. You will notice a continuing theme all throughout the book of Colossians in regards to what the true nature of the gospel truly is, as Paul is combating the heresy that was cropping up in the Colossian church. And what better way of combating the false beliefs than by: 1. Lifting up and putting Christ as preeminent. and 2. unpacking the true nature of the gospel.
So let’s turn to our text this morning and see what it might say to us about Jesus, the gospel, and our role in living the gospel out in our day and in our age (which as we talked about two weeks ago, isn’t honestly that different than what the early believers at Colossae were dealing with).
This morning we are looking at Colossians 1:24-29 which says, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
These verses that Paul lays out at the end of Colossians 1 are all about identification. Paul is asking the believers at Colossae who they identify with. What King doe they identify with? Do they identify with King Caesar or with King Jesus? Paul is laying in out at the beginning of this section of the first chapter that he is identifying with King Jesus. How is he identifying with King Jesus? Just look at verse 24. “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, the church.” Paul is saying that just as Jesus is recognized by his suffering, his people are to be recognized by the suffering that they endure. Paul, as I mentioned, in our first week, was writing this from prison, most likely in Ephesus. In a way he is drawing the enemy fire, and suffering so that the young church can grow and develop. So Paul is suffering in some way not merely on behalf of the young church but actually instead of it. And so Paul is seeing his suffering as part of what he calls “Christ’s afflictions”. This is not to be seen as an addition to Christ’s own suffering, rather, it is to be seen as coming from his suffering. In other words, an extension of Christ’s suffering. Paul makes the crazy, amazing, upside down, radical and unbelievable statement that he was rejoicing or having a party or a celebration in his sufferings. Can you imagine someone who is in prison writing a letter and saying that he or she were rejoicing because of their imprisonment? Can you imagine writing a letter to a church, caring more about people that you have never met, more than you care about what is happening to you as you spend each and every day in prison? This is what Paul is doing. He is rejoicing in the suffering that he is enduring, all the while being a shepherd and encourager to a church that he didn’t plant, didn’t pastor, but deeply cares about.
And so Paul understands that identification with his Messiah, who was a suffering Messiah, means that in some way he will suffer. And so we need to realize that when we identify with this suffering Messiah that we will also suffer in some way (internally or externally). That is what it means when Jesus himself says in Luke 9:23, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Paul then transitions from identifying with Jesus through suffering to probably the very reason that he identifies with Jesus in the first place. Because of the call that was placed upon his life by Jesus. We read these words which spell out this calling upon Paul’s life, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness” And so we see that Paul is a servant both to God, first and foremost, but then to the church as well. In fact, I truly believe that you can’t be one or the other. If you are a servant of God, then you need to be a servant to his body here on earth, better known as the church. If you are a follower of Jesus this morning that you can also say the exact words that Paul said. That you are a servant by the commission God gave to you to present to others the word of God in it’s fullness. Commissions, callings, vocation isn’t just big words and only reserved for those who a “full time pastors and missionaries.” In fact, all of us, have been commissioned and called as full time pastors and missionaries. You might be a full time pastor or missionary in the form of a college student, a teacher, a social worker, a stay at home mom, or fill in the blank. Whatever you do, you are called and commissioned to be a servant of God and a servant of his body. And so it is because God is at work that Paul is at work. He is at work proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so it is with us. That every Christian is to proclaim Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. That is our central calling in life, no matter what we might do as a job or vocation. What does it look like then to proclaim Jesus is Lord in the context of being a student? Being a teacher? Being a pastor/missionary? Being a graphic artist?
We need to look at that question but we also need to look at exactly what it means to proclaim the gospel and we also need to look at what the gospel message that Paul is proclaiming and that we are also called (commissioned) to proclaim as well. And now here in these next verses is where Paul shows his missiological skills, his understanding of what is taking place in the church at Colossae. Paul continues, “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The word mystery that Paul uses here twice is a word that was a popular pagan religious term used in the mystery religions. In fact the Colossian heresy featured this idea of secret knowledge and the gnostics boasted about this. The word mystery, in the pagan religions of the day, refers to secret information available only to an exclusive group of people. Paul flips this on its head and changes the meaning radically by saying that we are making it known to all people, not just an exclusive group of people. That Christianity is not just for the Jewish race, or a select group of people. Christianity should be an inclusive, for all people. Because God has chosen to make Christ known to all people. And he used Paul, and now he is using you and me to proclaim Christ, the hope of glory to a world that needs hope. He is using the church, the body of Christ to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior and to proclaim that by definition then, that Caesar is not.
But what is the hope that Paul has for the believers at Colossae when it comes to his proclamation that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not? And also looking two thousand years into the future, what is his hope for all followers of Jesus, including you and I as we sit here today? Let’s look at the rest of the text to answer that. “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” Paul states it pretty clear that our proclamation is about Jesus and his Lordship over all, including Caesar. And the hope of the proclamation of Jesus as Lord is so that followers of Jesus may become fully mature in Christ. And that is why Paul worked so hard. That is why he was suffering in Jail. That is why he prayed, fasted, and contended for the young believers at Colossae. So they would grow up into mature followers of Jesus. That they wouldn’t stay as infants in the faith, and be susceptible to the heresy that was cropping up in the Colossian church. But then a question comes to my mind. What does a mature follower of Jesus look like? What does it take to grow up into maturity when it comes to following Jesus? And how do you help others grow up into maturity in the faith?
These questions that I just asked along with the question about proclamation of the gospel of Jesus are what we are going to unpack and remix together now. So let’s talk about these things and see how we might apply Colossians 1:24-29 in our day and in our age.
1. What questions, thoughts, ideas, connections, etc.. does the Scripture and the message raise in your mind?
2. What does a mature follower of Jesus look like? What does it take to grow up into maturity when it comes to following Jesus? And how do you help others grow up into maturity in the faith?
3. What does it mean, what does it look like to proclaim Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not today? What does it mean to proclaim Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not in your context (teacher, student, graphic artist, social worker, etc…)? And who might God be calling you to proclaim that Jesus is Lord to?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
Today we continue our series remixing the New Testament book of Colossians with our series Colossians Remixed. You’ll see the postcards on the table describing where we are going the next several weeks and what part of Colossians (feel free to take a postcard and give it to a friend or someone you feel might connect with what is happening here at Veritas).
Last week we started our series by looking at Colossians 1:1-14 and we looked at the recipients of the letter, the purpose that Paul had in writing the letter, and the gospel that was preached by Epaphras to the church at Colossae.
Today we are going to take a look and unpack probably one of the most amazing, poetic, radical, and truly subversive text in all of Scripture, as well as probably one of the most foundational in connection to who Jesus truly was and is. As we unpack this together we’ll see a few things: 1. How much Paul understood the culture and used words and images that connected with the context that he was writing to. 2. How much the words and the images that he was using was directly refuting the Colossian Heresy that we talked about last week. 3. How his words (especially in Verses 15-20) are all about shaping the imagination of the followers of Jesus in Colossae who were surrounded by images that pointed to other “gods” (not to different then our own culture). and 4. How much this text is about the centrality and supremacy of Jesus and his true gospel (true gospel best described in verses 21-23) over all other lords, gods, and other gospels.
So let’s took together at our text this morning and remix it together. Colossians 1:15-23 says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
The first thing that we notice in this text is the fact that Colossians 1:15-20 is one of the earliest Christian poems ever written. Either Paul wrote this poem or at least quoted it to show the Colossian church that the center of Christianity is Jesus. That when you boil Christianity to its root, it is Jesus. Most scholars think that this came from a poem or a hymn in the early church that described what Christians believed about Jesus. And so Paul takes a page from the ancient prophets and counters the imperial imagination of the Roman Empire (we’ll see exactly what this means when we look at verse 15) with this radical and evocative poetry. In fact someone once said that Paul’s letter to the Colossians is fundamentally about shaping the imagination of the Christian community in the midst of images and imaginations which are pointing to other gods, lords and saviors.
Verse 15 probably one of the most profound Christology t all of the New Testament. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” What Paul is saying here is that Jesus is the mirror image of the God who is there but who we normally can’t see. Now Paul here is using some very specific language that is directly confronting the imperial worship cult. The greek word for image in verse 15 is eikon. Eikon expresses two ideas. 1. Likeness- like the image on a coin or the reflection in a mirror. 2. Manifestation. with a sense that God is fully revealed in Jesus. This word eikon was used to describe a stamp which was specifically used in displaying the image of Caesar on documents and other articles. People in the Roman Empire knew that when they saw the stamp that is was from Caesar personally from the “image stamp” Jesus is the stamp of God. The exact representation, the exact likeness of God. Again Paul is making a cultural reference that the Colossian believers would understand and he was also attacking the imperial cult of worship that said that Caesar was the image of God. Paul was making it crystal clear in this text that Caesar was an imitation and wasn’t the true Lord, God, savior, and redeemer of the world, Jesus was.
As I stated last week I took the name of this series from a book entitled Colossians Remixed (good read..recommend reading it) and quoted from it last week. Let me quote from it again as it speaks to the idea that this poem attacks the imperial cult of the Roman Empire with the truth of the gospel of Jesus. The authors say, “In a world populated by images of Caesar (think eikon), who is taken to be the son of God, a world in which the emperor’s preeminence over all things is bolstered by political structures and institutions, and empire that views Rome as the head of the body politics in which an imperial peace is imposed- mostly through punishment (ie crucifixion) the poem is nothing less than treasonous. In the space of a short, well crafted three stanza-poem, Paul subverts every major claim of the empire, turning the on their heads and proclaiming Christ to be the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of all creation, including the empire.”
And to show the fact that Jesus was and is the true Lord, Savior, King, and redeemer, Paul continues with this subversive poem and gives reason why Jesus is the true Son of God and why Caesar is not. Paul says this about Jesus, “the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Paul is saying that Jesus is supreme in rank. The word first born is the greek word prototokos and means first or preeminent. Jesus is first and preeminent. Jesus, says the poem boldly and subversively, is the one through who and for whom the whole creation was made in the first place. Think of it like this. When the lavish and generous beauty of the world stops you in your tracks, and makes your catch your breath, and you stand amazed at the creation (maybe a beautiful sunset, maybe an amazing sunrise, maybe a beautiful mountain covered in fluffy white powder- my favorite, the beauty of the ocean, etc..) remember it is like that because of Jesus. He is the one who created all things, it was created for him, and he holds all of it together. And he, not the Roman Empire, not Caesar is the true head of the body, his body, his church planted here on earth to be physical representations of him. And he is first and preeminent. Why? Because he is and was the beginning and the firstborn of the dead. The first to beat the enemy of death, sin, and the grave. The one through whom the the world was made and created is the same one through whom the world has now been remade, recreated, and redeemed. Jesus the first born of all creation and the first born from the dead. And because of all of this, everything that Paul lays out in verses 15-20 in this radical, subversive poem, this means that Jesus has supremacy. Jesus is above all things. Above the rulers, powers, and principalities both in this world and the next. Above Caesar who tried to be the image of the invisible God. Above the devil and his angels. Above anyone who would set themselves up to be god. Jesus is the first and the last, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is supreme and preeminent. Jesus is and was who he said he was.
So once Paul lays out the fact that Jesus is the true son of God, the true Savior, the true Lord, the true redeemer, the preeminent one. When he is done subverting the Roman Empire and Caesar he begins to take a look at what the true gospel is and what the followers of Jesus in Colossae should believe about the gospel.
In verses 20-23 we find an amazing description related to exactly what the gospel of Jesus is truly all about. Paul brings his discussion about the preeminence of Jesus home when he writes these words about what the gospel is all about. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” God has acted to heal the world, to reconcile the world of the wickedness and corruption whig have so radically infested it. He had done so through the same one through whom it was made in the first place. The gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Paul in these verses, is all about reconciliation. Not just between God and men/women, but also between humankind, and between humankind and the creation itself. The reconciliation that was truly evident in Genesis 1 and 2 is now again available through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus we are no longer alienated from God, from each other, and from all of creation. Reconciliation was initiated by his work on the cross. This reconciliation that started and carried out through Jesus, is available for all people. And if you are a follower of Jesus today you can participate and share in this reconciliation and the work of reconciliation. You aren’t the one who started it, put it into place, or made (or makes) it happen but you can participate in it, live into it, and live it out in the world. If you aren’t following Jesus today, reconciliation is available for you as well to participate in it live into it, and then live it out in the world.
But let’s talk together about what it means in the everyday, ordinary life that we live when we say Jesus is central, supreme and preeminent. Let’s also talk about reconciliation and the gospel and just what that means to us and for our world. Let’s unpack these things together over the next several minutes.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What are the implications of the centrality and supremacy of Jesus for you and for us as a community? How does the centrality and supremacy of Jesus play out at home, at work, etc…?
3. If the gospel is all about reconciliation, how might you live out the gospel of reconciliation this week? What reconciliation work do you need to do this week? (With God, with others, with creation).
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?