"Christ's Exaltation, Our Exclusion"
Col.1:15-23(2:9-15) Jan.10, 2010
POPULAR PREDOMINANT LIES
We enjoyed a very pleasant time with Keith and Darcie and their two little ones staying with us over the Christmas holidays. It made things a bit more crowded in the dining room, having an extra couple of high chairs near the table, but those are the adjustments one has to make. Once I was edging my way through the narrow gap between a table and a chair. Darcie recalled how it was quite a shock to her late on in her pregnancy to realize she was narrower going through a tight opening straight ahead (hip-width) than trying to turn sideways. Pregnancy certainly changes proportions.
Lies and heresy change proportions of things, negatively. CS Lewis wrote, "A little lie is like a little pregnancy - it doesn't take long before everyone knows." These things grow! And when the lie is in the form of a religious heresy, the difference can be tremendous.
Living in a pluralistic society can be less tension-filled than some cultures if there's tolerance, but this doesn't eliminate the fact that all worldviews can't be true. Yes it can be dangerous to have radical clerics promoting jihad against our neighbour to the south; but even more sly, subtle, and potentially damaging s the propaganda threatening us through sources closer to home - sources we subscribe to and attend with hardly a second thought.
Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians partly to counteract heresies that were being promoted in their time. These heresies have modern equivalents. The NIV Study Bible infers six types of heresy from Paul's statements in opposition to false teachers. Ceremonialism - strict rules about the kinds of permissible food and drink, religious festivals and rites; Asceticism - not handling, tasting, or touching forbidden items; Angel worship; Deprecation of Christ (making Him seem less); Secret knowledge, such as the Gnostics boasted of; and Reliance on human wisdom and tradition.
Now, those heresies or false teachings may seem foreign to us today, but we have our own false theories that are quite popular. For Ceremonialism we have Religiosity - going to church to look good; just enough ritual to make you feel spiritual, immunized against God's real call for personal change. In place of Asceticism many folks worship "The Cause of the Day" - perhaps vegetarianism, environmentalism (not that there's anything inherently wrong with those) - but idolizing these causes may lead me to find my identity in strict adherence to a particular cause or lifestyle, rather than in God. In place of Angel Worship, we have New Age, spirit guides, and channelling. For Deprecation (or putting down) of Christ we have secularism: "Who needs Jesus, anyway?" Or hedonism - living for the moment, with no thought for one's eternal destiny or ultimate accountability to God. People pretend they're just going to die and that's it.
For Secret Knowledge you can find devotees to the occult, Wicca, neo-Paganism, and Freemasonry. And the last one, Reliance on Human Wisdom and Tradition? We have that in spades; our culture trusts in Education and Science, with evolution a key doctrine - we're just getting better and better, we can do it on our own, as the humanists maintain.
So the heresies popular in Colosse have their corresponding lies that are very 'big' today. In contrast to these untruths that have a way of growing like pregnancy, Paul points out our true need for Jesus Christ: the desperation of our condition without Him, and how mind-blowing, wonderful, and amazing Jesus is, and what He's done for us.
ALIENATED ENEMIES, DEFIANTLY DEAD
One must admit the 20th century offered a sobering check on the optimistic view of humanity that was sparked by the Enlightenment - two World Wars, a Cold War that brought us close to nuking ourselves, and increasing disparity between have and have-not nations. The Bible sees mankind as stuck in a fallen condition, prone to sin; as Psalm 14 puts it, "All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Ps 14:3)
Paul diagnoses our human disease in Colossians 1:21: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior." Take that apart. "Alienated from God" - estranged, distanced, shut out from one's fellowship and intimacy; as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world." (Eph 2:12) Nobody like being excluded in today's inclusivist culture; but we were alienated or excluded from God's presence by our sin.
"Enemies in your minds" - James (4:4) said friendship with the world is hatred toward God; choosing to be a friend of the world makes you an enemy of God.
"Because of your evil behaviour" - God, who is holy, cannot tolerate evil; Psalm 5(4f) says, "with you the wicked cannot dwell...You hate all who do wrong." Our sin separates us from the life of God (Eph 4:18).
Paul further describes our fallen condition in Col 2:13: "you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature..." (Your 'flesh' in the Greek) To the Ephesians (4:18f) he described the closed-offness of a futile fallen lifestyle this way: "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more."
Sin is perverse, abominable to God. This week Saskatchewan Roughriders General Manager Tillman confessed in court to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old babysitter. What he actually did was not as blatant as one might expect before reading the details, but very easy to do, while inexcusable. But I wondered when reading about it if there was not some perverseness of my own in wanting to find out the details, and the quickness of one's imagination to play it out in our mind's eye. One simple action, a quick slip, may end Tillman's employment if not his career.
Sin is a parasite, it sucks the life out of us and separates us from God. Many trees appear to be healthy when we see them in summer. But, in the winter, after their leaves have all fallen off, people sometimes find that hidden underneath the lush green of the summer foliage was a parasitic plant called mistletoe, which had been slowly sucking away some of the tree's vitality. We as Christians sometimes have hidden sins, which--like the mistletoe--slowly suck away our spiritual vitality. Although not always evident in times of outward spiritual health and fruitfulness, we must always examine ourselves for those small, often unseen, parasites of sinful habits that will sap our vitality. Just because they're not apparent now does not mean that in another season of our life God will not reveal them for all to see!
OUR EXALTED RECONCILER: THE DIVINEST DOES THE DIRTY WORK
This passage in the second half of Colossians 1 is the most sublime and clear Christology in the New Testament. It brings together as a hymn strands of description echoed elsewhere, painting a rich and appealing portrait of Jesus the Lord - made even more startling against the backdrop of human lostness.
Jesus is the best in Being: 1:15, "He is the image of the invisible God;" sometimes the analogy's used of a stamp or seal imprinting the image of the original emblem. The Greek word 'icon' recalls our computer desktop: the little image represents visibly the unsee-able computer program stored in bits of magnetic pulse on the disk. To access the program, you have to interact with the icon. Jesus is a picture capturing the likeness of the Father. Hebrews 1(3) says, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being..." Jesus told Philip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn 14:9)
V19, "God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him." Here Paul uses a technical term taken from the Gnostics' vocabulary - 'fullness': for them, divine attributes were distributed piecemeal among the lesser beings or aeons; Paul's saying in Christ, you get the whole package! 2:9 adds, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form..."
Jesus is our cosmic Creator and Coherer: v16, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." V17b adds, "In Him all things hold together." Hebrews (1:3) says Jesus "sustains all things by the word of His power." It's not gravity that holds the universe together, or sub-atomic forces: the Father has decided that through Christ everything exists and coheres, is held together. So when the day of the Lord comes like a thief, it's no problem to make the heavens disappear with a roar or be rolled up like a scroll (2Pet 3:10; Rev 6:14).
The creation/evolution issue needs to keep on being highlighted, especially as time draws on and the bankruptcy of Darwin's theory becomes more obvious. Creation implies accountability - we're not our own boss. Jesus' role in creation is an important aspect of His Lordship.
Jesus is Tops in time and turf: v15 describes Him as "firstborn over all creation"; v17, "He is before all things" (even before time itself); v18, "he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." Numero Uno! 2:10, He is "the head over every power and authority." What a title! 2:15 reveals the powers and authorities were disarmed and triumphed over at the cross. 1:16, "thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him." FOR Him implies purpose, accountability, a claim on, must answer to.
Other passages add that God "has exalted Him to the highest place"; Jesus "is at God's right hand-- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him." (Php 2:9; 1Pe 3:22) He's clearly tops!
Now the surprising thing - that a being so sublime and supreme should become our Transcendent Trampled Reconciler. Notice how the span of vv19-20 take your breath away: "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." God the Father willed for His perfect, exalted Son to become the trash can for our sinfulness, so we could be put right with God. Doesn't that just blow you away? The idea's echoed in v22, "But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death..." Paul's emphasizing the physicality or 'fleshness' of death here to counteract the Docetic Gnostic theory that Jesus had no human body, as well as the Cerinthian separation between the man Jesus and the aeon Christ.
Over in chapter 2:13b-14 Paul expresses it more legally or contractually: "He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." Yes you thought Jesus' body was nailed to the cross (the only form of capital punishment that bruises the heal, as God prophesied to the serpent way back in the Garden of Eden, Gen 3:15); here the Holy Spirit through the apostle identifies Jesus' body as the means or medium by which God's written charges against us are dealt with, disposed of. Astounding! Christ's body nailed to the cross becomes the body of our accumulated, collective sin.
Reconciliation is so precious. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's parents disapproved so strongly of her marriage to Robert that they disowned her. Almost weekly, Elizabeth wrote love letters to her mother and father, asking for a reconciliation. They never once replied. After ten years of letter writing, Elizabeth received a huge box in the mail. She opened it. To her dismay and heartbreak, the box contained all of her letters to her parents. Not one of them had ever been opened!
Today those love letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents opened and read only a few of them, a reconciliation might have come about.
The Bible is God's letter of reconciliation to us. We should open and read it thoroughly and often - appreciate how the Transcendent One was trampled to bring us back.
When we understand the answer to the question, "Who is Christ?" it leads us to a fresh appreciation of ourselves - the answer to the question, "Who am I?"
Because of Jesus, we can have PURPOSE - those words, "for Him" in 1:16, "all things were created by Him and for Him", give us ultimate purpose. I'm here for a reason, FOR HIM. That liberates us from selfishness' stink.
Because of Jesus, we can have SUPPORT. 1:17, "In Him all things hold together" - that helps me 'hold together' on the days when things aren't going right. 1:18 identifies Him as "the head of the body, the church:" Ephesians 4(15f) tells us we grow up into Him as Head, and it's from Him - the Head - that the whole body of the church GROWS and builds itself up in love. Christ as Head supports and builds up the rest of the Body. He's "able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." (Heb 7:25) Do you feel supported knowing Jesus is praying for you?
Because of Jesus we have life and aliveness - we wouldn't even exist without Him. Beyond physical being, 2:13 says "God made you alive with Christ" by a new spiritual birth when we were defiantly dead in our sins and our fallen fleshness. 2:11 talks about a 'circumcision done by Christ'; Romans 2(29), a 'circumcision of the heart' - removing the deadness, the wall we put up isolating ourselves. Now we are alive to God, perceptive, communicating, hearing and responding to Him as we read our Bibles and pray; in terms of Romans 6(11ff), not obeying sin any longer but offering ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness.
Because of Jesus, we have the blessedness of blamelessness. Note the end of 1:22, God presents us "holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation". The word means you 'can't pick flaws in' the person. Totally righteous; God made Him "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2Co 5:21)
And finally, because of Jesus, we can have the balance of a bulldozer. 1:23 speaks of continuing in our faith, "established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel." Things come up - accidents happen - disease intrudes - grief upsets; but in all these things we can know Christ's steadying support, anchoring us in hope, so we're 'established...firm...not moved.' To me, that sounds like the unmovability of a bulldozer: you're not going to budge it; it's the thing that does the budging, even uprooting stumps and levelling foundations. When we truly find our centre of gravity in Christ by faith, we can't be knocked off-kilter by anything that happens.
Once we start to appreciate Jesus the way Paul did - best in being; cosmic Creator and Coherer; tops in time and turf; our transcendent trampled Reconciler - once we start to appreciate Jesus that way, it can't help but affect how we live.
The great missionary David Brainerd spent his brief life ministering to American Indians (he died before the age of thirty). Brainerd wrote in his journal: "I never got away from Jesus and him crucified. When my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as the sure and inevitable fruit of the other."
He also said, in another place: "I find my Indians begin to put on the garments of holiness and their common life begins to be sanctified even in small matters when they are possessed by the doctrine of Christ and him crucified."
Brainerd was saying - when a Christian realizes who Christ is and what He has done for us so graciously, it tends to have a dramatic effect on this life, not only in salvation but in holiness. Let's pray.