Preached at Crossway Proclamation Group, December 18, 2016
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whethxcver thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And 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, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
One of the most basic questions we ask as citizens of this planet is this one: where will I live? Part of that determination was made for us. By virtue of the fact that my birth certificate said born at Omaha Memorial Hospital and not Mogadishu, Somalia certain things were already a given and already determined for me.
But since my birth I have had to make decision on this question several times. My wife and I have also purchased homes twice, and when you do that the steps to decide where you live have to become even more intentional as you are not just willy-nilly deciding to spend this semester in the dorm at UWM or deciding to sign a year-long lease on Brady Street, or just crash on your buddy Ray’s couch for a few nights. No, you are signing on the dotted line for the long haul. Things like Radon gas levels in the basement of the house you are thinking of buying, things like noisy music blaring from a neighbor’s basement take on greater significance. There are legal documents to sign, in fact a stack of them and there is a whole different level of sobriety to the whole process. And to be really honest, at some times when you are in the middle of that, it can be hard to see how all that sober thinking etc will one day lead to a living room with people all gathered aroudn enjoying the house, eating popcorn and telling stories.
As we look at Colossians tonight, I want us to consider how the great Apostle Paul wants to give the believers there an orientation to this remarkable piece of real estate that the Bible calls the “Kingdom of God”. I call it real estate but it is really where we get to live from this day now in communion with the living God.
And I believe that one of Paul’s goal in this section is that the Colossians would deepen their roots into this fertile soil of God’s grace extended to them in this remarkable Kingdom. In the section leading up to this passage he prays for greater spiritual wisdom and understanding for them. They will need to have deeper roots so that they will be able to stand the tests of time.
And if the purchase of a piece of physical property should produce so much sobriety in us, what about an inheritance in an eternal dwelling? Shouldn’t that be pursued with all of our faculties fully engaged, all the wheels spinning in our heads, and real awareness and understanding about our purchase? Shouldn’t every angle be looked at with at least the same scrutiny that we would purchase a time-bound earthly dwelling place?
And for the rest of this letter to the Colossians Paul is giving them an understanding of what it mean to be a citizen and a stakeholder in the kingdom. But right here at the start he wants them to know the fundamentals concerning it. What are grounds on which it is built? How was it paid for and secured and against what obstables had to be overcome to secure it? Then lastly, what will it really mean to live in the Kingdom of God? How are people dressed there? Is it a tie and jacket lace or faded blue jeans kind of place? What is important there?
But let me read the words immediately leading into the passage that I read for you and that we will be considering tonight because it turns out that Paul states in shorthand exactly what tonight’s passage describes in more detail. This is the end of one of those very long sentence where Paul includes everything but the kitchen sink but it ends this way, verse 12. And Im going to paraphase just a few of the words in order to make this into an outline for tonight’s message.
Giving thanks to the Father,
Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light
Who has delivered us from the domain of darkness
Who has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son
These are the three hooks that we will hang the rest of our conversation here tonight on: We need to be qualified to share the kingdom, we need to be delivered from other kingdoms and we need actual transport, the actual receipt of the kingdom of God.
And so, let us walk through each of these things in order. I need to be qualifed ….
Qualified in Christ
It is a very noticable thing here in verse 15 of chapter 1 that Paul gives a fairly long interjection about Jesus Christ. Now one way to look at this would be that Paul was just spontaneously drawn into a state of pure worship. I kind of like that thought and certainly like the idea that we are permitted to do that. It comforts me to think that worship of the living God is never an impertinet interruption.
The first qualification is that…
What are those qualifications? We are qualified in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not our own doing. It is his doing. This section of Scripture give us a Resume of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Now maybe it sounds strange for me to say it that way. Does Jesus Christ need a resume? But when you think about it, the fact that God Incarnate took up residence in a human body requires that a resume be built. It is the only way to effectively communicate the awesomeness of that reality. In a sense, Jesus’s miracles, his wisdom, his teaching and his sinless life were all a part of that resume. But also the message of the apostles and the church ever since are a necessary resume to who Jesus was and what he did to prove that He was qualified to be who is.
But the thing I want to draw your attention to tonight is that Paul did not go off-topic or lose his focus in any way to be talking in this extended way about the Lord Jesus. As lovely a topic as the person of the Lord Jesus is, this topic is used to build a certain case about the Kingdom of God. There is a qualification that has to occur for us to be in God’s kingdom.
Jesus Christ is the Firstborn Over Creation. We find this in verse 15. Now, in the Hebrew thinking this is to say that Jesus was pre-eminent over creation. He has the position of eminence over all creation. This term is not talking about birth but about position. It is not talking first chronologically but first in importace. The Hebrew people saw birth order as positional, not chronological Is that confusing to you? We don’t need to be confused about this. Let me show you why. This verse, verse 15, has a companion in verse 18:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Then, look at verse 18 where it says:
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
So, in verse 18 it tells us the “firstborn” means. This define what firstborn mean. He follows by saying “that in everything he might be preeminent. It means “top dog”. It mean pre-eminent. It is positional. It is about importance, this firstborn. It is a term for Christ’s position. And to be thoroughly Biblical we don’t do any violence to Paul’s thinking to infer that this also includes the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
But the point he is making here in verse 18 is that he is pre-eminent in being the Lord both over creation and the Lord over the rising from the dead. To put this in theological categories, He is the Lord over Creation and the Lord over Redemption. It is always better when we can let the Scripture interpret itself. It is always better to do enough homework to where we can let the Scripture give us it’s own meaning.
Paul mention several things here that show in no uncertain terms the divinity of Jesus Christ. We is the image of God, he is the Creator, he is authoritative, he is providentially involved in life on the planet. All of these things can easily substantiated from many other places in Scripture.
But it is the resume of these things that is significant to Paul’s purpose. It is the meanig that we sohuld draw from this that is signigicant. This is the qualification. This being, this God/man called Jesus Christ is himself our hope and our qualification. Not too much later in Colossians Paul says this in one of the most astounding statements ever uttered by a human being “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
So the second qualificaton is that …
Jesus Christ is the Firstborn from Dead
Now in our way of thinking, THIS VERSE CERTAINLY SPEAKS TO US ABOUT THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS. Jesus Christ was the first to rise from the dead, NEVER TO DIE AGAIN. Jesus did bring others back from the dead, Lazurus for example. But when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he truly was the first case of a human body to rise from the dead and never to die again. And so, in that sense Jesus Christ was the firstborn from the dead. Is that what all this is saying? Remember again that the trailing clause is not focusing on the “firstness” of this in chronological terms nor the “born”-ness of this in biological terms. It gives us the iterpretation. It says this is about pre-eminence, about position. I believe this also is about Jesus Christ being the Lord of Death, and let me go so far as to say the Lord over Redemption. Jesus Christ is the Lord over God’s great and glorious plan of redemption. Jesus Christ is the Lord over Creation, he is the Lord over Providence and he is the Lord over Redemption.Now we are getting the full resume of Jesus Christ. Now we are getting the full story. “For in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (verse 19).And so, as we move into verse 21, how many of you have that as a new paragraph in your Bibles. I think every Bible had that as a new paragraph. But I want to contend, that verses 21-25 are at least in sense expanding on what it means that Jesus is the Lord over death. This section is all about Redemption, this is all about the redeeming work God had to do through Christ.These then are the qualifying credentials of Jesus Christ. He is the firstborn, the Lord over Creation. And he is the Lord over Redemption. That is His resume. And the exciting thing is that those are qualifying for us. God qualifies us to be a part of his eternal Kingdom on the basis of who Jesus is.
But we must move on my second point. Christ has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. We are qualified in Christ but also we are also…
Delivered in Christ
We are delivered in Christ and first…
A Problem to Be Overcome
There is a problem to be overcome. We are delivered in Christ from the domain of darkness. He is not only the qualification, He is also the one did the work of redemption. What does it mean that we had to be delivered?
There was a huge problem that had to overcome for us. The problem here can be stated in one word: alienation. Verse 21, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds“.
Let me state it this way: we who are in Christ WERE God’s enemies. Those who are not now in Christ REMAIN God’s enemies. That in essence is what it means that we were alienated from God. And so, I’m borrowing from Romans 5:10 where it says, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
When Paul says here we were “hostile in mind”, another name for that is “enemy”. “Enemies” are hostile-in-mind people. If you have people in your life that are “hostile in mind” towards you then they are in fact your enemies even if you don’t want to call them that.
Then in verse 21 he says, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” That doing of evil deeds is sin. He’s talking about sin there. And sin is the outworking of alienation.
The problem was that we were God’s enemies. And now, praise God, through Christ something has happed. A solution has been effected. A remedy has been achieved.
There was a problem to be overcome but also there is
A Solution that God Has Provided
This point about reconciliation is so significant that Paul says it not once, but twice. In verses 19 and 20 he says, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Then in verse 21 and 22 he repeats it, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him..”
What does reconciliation solve? Reconciliation is the bringing together of God and man. It is the end to alienation. Man is no longer a stranger to God. Man is known by God and God is known by man. God accepts man and man accepts God. The enmity is gone.
There is A man in our congregation at Crossway who has grasped the power of this reality to an extent that simply astounds me. Talk to David, who sits in the front row of Crossway. David has lived a long life. And where as many senior peoples eyes are darkened with worries and darkened by the years, David’s shine with the reality of God’s reconciliation. He never tires of telling you and telling me that the worries of the world are because people are disconnected from God. His favorite words are, “because of what God has done in Christ it means we don’t have to be alone any more.” He is absolutely right. We don’t have to be alone any more.
And as lovely as it is to talk about reconciliation, something Paul mentions twice, we also have to talk about….
How Was that Solution Effected?
Paul also mentions, not once, but twice how reconCiliation has been possible. In verse 20 he mentions about Christ, ”making peace by the blood of his cross”, and in verse 22 that we are the ones “ he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death”.
And this is where he must talk again about our qualified Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was fully man, in fact He was the pre-eminent man. He lived as a man a perfect sinless life. He lived out in full humanity all of the best of God’s plan and intentions for the human race. He was the total law-keeper. Not the law as an exercise in perfectionism but His keeping of the law was complerely spiritual, completely baked into everything he did. He himself said in John 8:29, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”
But he also was pre-eminent in redemption, the Lord of redemption. He died a qualifying death on the Cross that satisfied everything in God’s sight, an act that is qualifying in us as God’s stamps us with the righteousness of His own Son.
As we consider our own participation in the kingdom of God, it is not enough to just identify the property of heaven or of communion with God, but we must also have mean of entry to that property. We need more even of Christ than the fact that he is qualified to be the Lord of Redemption, we need the actual work he did. We need the payment he himself made through his perfect life and his sacrificial obedient death. What he did on the Cross did not purchasee a hypothetical salvation, it did not buy the possibility of salvation like probably 80% of the American Evangelical church believe, it actual paid for our entry. It actually was all that was needed. There is nothing we can add to that. And so, my last point is that….
Transferred into the Kingdom in Christ
We have been qualifIed becuae of the person and plan of Christ, the delvierance actually has occurred in Christ’s death on the cross and the final step is the tranfer of all this occurs. We actually take possession of all of this. We live in this sacred space called the kingdom of Heaven. And so Paul at the of this section gives us some considerations and some instruction about that. He talks about what it looks like to acutally receive this kingdom.
I have noticed that when I attend a conference or a retreat or maybe even an extended Business meeting, one of the things I often hear is what is ofter called “housekeeping instructions”. This happens because the participants are in a somewhat foreign place. They need to know where the bathroom is, what the rules of engagement are: that the hotel staff will bring donuts in at 9 and lunch at noon.
There is a sense in which these comments at the end of our Scripture passage are really the housekeeping rules of the kingdom of God. And what I mean by that is that the things Paul mentions, holiness, blamelessness, stability, stedfastness are in any way qualifying or what wil deliver us into the place of privilege that is the Kingdom of God. They are the reminders for us of what those who have been qualified by Christ and delivered by Christ do. If these things are odious to us or if don’t fit, don’t suit us, then we showed up at the wrong event. In that case, this Kingdom of God was the wrong destination, we must belong down the street at the Shriners convention or something.
What does Paul mention here in this regard?
We are presented as holy and blameless and above reproach before him
The reconciling work of Christ is completely effective. And the fullness of Christ overflows into our own life in a very profound way. We are “presented” before God the Father as Holy and Blameless, above reproach before Him. The Greek word for “present” here is also sometimes translated as “proven” or “shown to be”. Notice that here is Colossians we are not told to be holy or blameless but that God presents, God proves us to holy and blameless. Elsewhere in the New Testament we are told to be holy but here it is talking about God proving us to be holy
Let me remind you of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22. Jesus tells there of man who was trying to get the right people at his wedding feast. Many were invited who wouldn’t come. Then were some who came but it says, “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there ca man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.”
How are we to dress in the kingdom of God? Is it tie and jacket? My best pair of blue jeans. Paul tells us. Holy and Blameless. This is the dress of those who have been qualified in Christ and delivered by Christ. Not only are we presented as holy and blameless but …
We are to be faith-continuers, stable and steadfast
Ok, now we are SOLIDLY in the application part of Paul’s thought. For those of who are just looking for something to do, do this! Own this! Make this your mission! There is nothing more foundational to the life of faith than this command. Like I said, if you are looking for a law to follow this as close as you will get, believe and continue to believe!
Paul describes those who continue in the faith as those who are stable and stedfast. And before we let that make us feel inadequate and not up to such task he quickly adds that..
We are to be those who don’t shift from the hope of the gospel that you heard
It is not our extraordinary ability that is to be our confidence and hope. It is look outside of us and our own abilities. We are to look at Christ and his Gospel. The hope is to be found in the one who is eminently qualified, the one who has already handled the transaction that sets us free and determined by Himself to bring in and to bring home others to Himself, so that He might be seen as pre-eminent.I feel like I’ve ripped through a lot of Biblical content here. So, I draw you back to the purpose. We need to grow in spiritual wisdom and understanding. We need it for today and we need it for the long haul. The Kingdom of heaven is near tonight, near to us because Jesus Christ has brought it near. Are you oriented to that kingdom? Is your heart now encouraged because oyu know God’s Christ to be your qualification, that he Himself our surety because he has performed all things well for us? Let’s be about the business of this kingdom. And let’s take as our application partly from Paul’s instruction and partly from his example here at the end. What are we to do? Continue. CONTINUE TO believe. Continue to look to God.
Giving thanks to the Father,
Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light
Who has delivered us from the domain of darkness
Who has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son
And ALSO to follow the example of Paul, who was as he says at the end, a minster, a servant of this Gospel. This is our calling church.