Saturday, March 17, 2012

Let Nothing Come Between You and Jesus

A little (?) late this week, here's last week's message from FBC Sunnyside, WA:

Let Nothing Get between You and Jesus
Colossians 1:24-2:23

We’re now at the mid-way point in this series on Colossians, and I want to take a moment to recap what we’ve discovered thus far.

The church at Colossae was not one that Paul had ever visited.  The church, situated in the Roman province of Asia, was founded most likely by a man named Epaphras.  The church was a good, healthy church, but Paul was concerned for the church there because he’d heard reports that they were being influenced by a weird combination of ideas, ideas that took the law from Judaism, and took special mystical knowledge from paganism to try to add on to the faith of the gospel of Jesus. 

In other words, people were trying to turn the faith of Jesus into a religion.

Now religion—nearly any kind of religion—can have a positive effect on behavior.  Devout Buddhists are often very nice people.  Devout Hindus—as vegetarians—are often healthy people.  It’s unlikely that a drunken Mormon will ever run you off the road.  Two of the people I enjoy when it comes to public ethics (Michael Medved and Dennis Prager) are observant Jews, and I have a deep respect for Jewish wisdom.

But the gospel of Jesus drives deeper than our behavior or morality or ethics.  It’s really not about us at all.
The essence of every religion is (to quote Led Zeppelin) “buying a stairway to heaven.”  So you cease craving (as Buddha said) or do mitzvah (Judaism) or follow the Temple ceremony (LDS church) or take the Haj to Mecca or whatever and God signs off on your efforts and you’re in.

Nothing could be further from the faith of Jesus than all these.  The faith of Jesus is not DO, the faith of Jesus is DONE.  In John 3:17, the word says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  Jesus was on a rescue mission.  Jesus did not come into the world to update the Law of Moses.  Jesus did not come into the world to start a new religion.  He did not come into the world to tell us what we need to do to get right with God.  He did what was needed to be done to get us right with God, and He did it on the cross.  It’s DONE, a done deal on the cross.  We just embrace that done deal by faith, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives are transformed by what Christ has already done.

We need to have that fresh in our minds when we look at today’s rather lengthy passage—Colossians 1:24-2:23.  Although it’s 27 verses long, it centers on two simple ideas.

The first is this: the amazing truth is that Christ has come to live in you.  That’s a concept that not even the prophets of the Old Testament understood—a “mystery” now revealed.  That’s Colossians 1:24-2:5.

The second is this: there is a persistent barrier or enemy that will try to keep you away from Jesus way, and it’s called religion.  The Jesus way isn’t a religion, and as a matter of fact, the Jesus way is the anti-religion.  That’s Colossians 2:6-23.

So let’s look at these.

The first: the amazing truth is that Christ has come to live in you.  The way Paul describes this is to call it a “mystery” in Colossians 1:26, 27 and 2:3.       
Let’s read Colossians 1:24-2:5:

24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered 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. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 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.

 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
 1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. 2 My purpose 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. 5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

Now this is a complex passage, but let me hit the two ideas that make the rest clear.  First, Paul says that the mystery of Christ is so precious and so powerful that Paul puts his life and well-being on the line for it willingly, even joyfully.  He sees himself as a servant who’s been commissioned “to present to you the word of God in its fullness.”  He says that he’s struggling for the Colossians and the believers at Laodicea for the same purpose.  How was he struggling?  In prayer, in his witness and even in writing, as he’s writing this letter, and his other letters. 
Now, I’ve called what Paul is struggling for an “amazing truth.”  What he calls it is a “mystery.” 

“Mystery” is a word that can throw you.  What Paul means by “mystery” is an amazing truth that was long misunderstood or, in the wisdom of God, was not yet revealed.  Now, the “mystery” is fully revealed—it’s not a mystery anymore.  And the mystery—the “amazing truth” is this: when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, He Himself comes to truly live within us.  To be specific and theologically accurate, His presence is mediated into us by the Holy Spirit.

That’s how Paul defines the mystery in 1:27:

“…this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Then in 2:2-3 he writes,

“My purpose 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, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”   

Here’s the amazing truth: all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ, and this Christ now dwells in each and every believer.  This risen champion of heaven lives in me!  That’s an amazing truth—something that not even the prophets understood.

Buddhists have never claimed that Buddha lives within them.  Islam does not teach about Allah living in my heart.  There is no parallel in any other faith. 

That leads to second idea here: Paul says that this indwelling Christ transforms me.  From Colossians 1:24-2:5, here are all the ways the indwelling Christ is said to transform believers:
·         He gives us the hope of glory (1:27)
·         He gives us full riches of complete understanding (2:2)
·         He gives us all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3)

The point is not that with Jesus we get really smart, but that in Jesus we have connected our souls with the source of ultimate hope and truth. 

For Paul, this is so powerful that he’s willing, even happy, to follow the example of Jesus in suffering so that others might know this Jesus.  It’s powerful in its ability to change lives.  As I said two weeks ago, when the message of Jesus comes storming into a life, it’s no summer shower; it’s a tornado that re-orders everything. 

But it’s a very good tornado!

It’s so good that we have to do all we can to keep it from becoming a religion!  That’s the danger that occupies the rest of chapter two.

Now let me repeat what I said a few minutes ago: religion—almost any religion—can have a socially beneficial effect.  It teaches good behavior, basic morality.  I think the reason that the ethics or behavior taught by all world religions is so similar is that God has imprinted the basics of right and wrong on our souls, on us as image-bearers of God.

But ethics or morality can only take you so far.  It can make you a more tolerable—and tolerant—person.  But—and here’s the central truth—it cannot take you to God.  Only God Himself can do that, and He does it through the bloody cross of Jesus.

When religion makes the claim that it can connect you to God, it speaks the worst blasphemy ever. 

I want you to think of the worst thing some absolutely godless, God-hating person ever said in your presence.  I think back to a man named Darryl.  His elderly parents were both believers, but he’d rejected the faith.  His father had been infirm for years, and finally died a few days before Easter.  We actually had the funeral on Good Friday.  It seemed that for Darryl, the days were full of agony.  He seethed with anger throughout the funeral.  At his mother’s suggestion, I met with him the day before Easter as he railed against the very idea of God.  He wasn’t just a non-believer, he was an anti-believer.  At one point he pointed out the window.  “See that leaf on the tree?  When it falls to the ground, there’s more real power shown than any so-called god has ever done.”        

When Jesus encountered the most “anti-God” people of the time—prostitutes, tax collectors (who were more like mobsters than IRS agents), pagans and so on—He never once was angered by their words or deeds.  Want to get Jesus anger?  Put a religious hypocrite in front of Him—people who rip off worshippers in the temple with money-changing tables, people who want to stone a woman caught in adultery, people who wanted recognition for the great holy humility. 

It’s this spirit of anger at hollow religion that echoes loud here in Colossians 2.  And Paul says, listen people of God, resist the pull of religion. 

First, he says, resist hollow philosophy and human tradition that’s at the core of religion (2:6-8):
Here’s the good way (6-7)…

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Here’s the wrong way (8)…
 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

(“Basic principles” are things like, “If you want God’s blessing, you have to earn it.”  Grace—that God wants to bless people who haven’t earned anything is not a “basic principle” that would seem natural to anybody.)

Next, he says, resist external religious ceremony as any sort of means of God’s blessing (2:9-15).  The specific ceremony that he has in mind is the Jewish practice of circumcision. 

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

(That’s a wonderful passage in itself; we touched on it last week; “you have been given fullness in Christ”; that equals the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”)

11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

(The reason that Paul brings this up is because, like the false teachers he takes on in Galatians, this error also said that the Jewish religious ritual of circumcision should be binding on all male Gentile believers as well.  Paul says that now, baptism portrays what God does in our souls—buried with Christ in His death, risen with Christ in His resurrection…) 

 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 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. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.   

But even baptism is seen simply as an external signal of the internal transformation of the real person by the power of the Christ—not as a saving ritual.  We continue to use external signs like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, laying on of hands, anointing with oil and so forth, but never with the belief—the religious belief—that these external rituals have any power in themselves.  The power is in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Finally, Paul says, resist earthly laws and speculations because they lack real, spiritual, transforming power. 

If someone regards himself as “spiritual”, as “religious”, let me tell you how he’s going to lord it over you:  he will tell you about his special diet, his special calendar and his special visions.  And that’s exactly what Paul addresses in 2:16-23:

 16 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has 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.
 20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 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.

Again, this is largely, but not entirely lifted from Judaism.  What the NT teaches about Jewish ritual is not they such rituals and diet restrictions and observances were or are wrong, but that they were simply preparatory.  As Paul says in vs. 17, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”  So if you want to keep a kosher table, you’ve done no wrong unless you believe that such a diet makes you more spiritual than other people. 

These things all seem so small because Jesus is so very large.  Human tradition—it’s so large until it runs headlong into the greatness of Jesus, who puts all tradition into perspective as He brings in truth that’s eternal.  Religious ritual—it seems so timeless, until it runs into the one through whom the whole creation was made—the one in whom all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.  Religious laws seem so powerful until they are they are overshadowed by the reality that is found in Christ.

Can I say something that seems so obvious, but needs to be said anyway?  Jesus Christ is great.  I don’t mean like frosted flakes great, I mean really GREAT. 

I can’t do any better than an awesome man of God named Shadrach Meshach Lockridge.  He was pastor of Calvary Baptist of San Diego from 1953 to 1993, and he’s home with Jesus now.  His best known sermon was “That’s My King”; we have a segment of it to see now…

-MY KING video-

This video can be viewed at
I wonder; do you know Him?


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