Hope of the Gospel – August 28, 2016

Colossians 1:15-29

August 28, 2016

The Church in Colossae needed some direction. It was still early in the history of the Church, possibly around 60AD. (Jesus was crucified and resurrected somewhere around 30AD, depending on how history is counted.)

Paul and the boys (and girls!) had been traveling around the Mediterranean region, telling people about Jesus, preaching the Gospel, and establishing churches. It would be an interesting study to see how many churches they started. In the books New Testament, we have some of the names of the cities in which those churches were established. Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Galatia, Rome. And I’m sure there were many others.

As we think about that, we need remember that these churches did not have our Bible! If they weren’t started in a synagogue, they didn’t even have the Jewish scriptures! What did they have? They had the story of the Gospel told by one of the Apostles. They had the ongoing teaching and instruction of those Apostles, either in person, or in letters, some of which we still have in our New Testament. And they had the teaching of the students of the Apostles. Timothy is a letter written to one of those students, instructing him on how to be a church leader.

That’s all they had – other than the leading of God in the Holy Spirit, of course! We forget all that, sometimes. Don’t we? And we can’t begin to imagine what it was like for these Apostles! They had to keep track of their churches. They had to keep in touch with them. They had to keep teaching and guiding them. (And correcting them!) Do you remember II Corinthians 11, which I quoted a few weeks ago? Paul was telling about his “woes.” “Five times,” he said, “I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods. Once I was stoned…” Well, do you remember the end of that passage? “And, apart from other things,” he said, “there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches!”

He and the others were doing all those things. They were training others to lead those churches. And the whole time they had to deal with persecution and imprisonment! It was quite a life they had taken on!

Well, here was one of those churches. It was a church in the small, insignificant town of Colossae. Colossae was in Asia Minor – that region we now know as Turkey. And, as I said, this church needed some direction. Because, unfortunately, the other thing the Apostles had to deal with was false teaching. There were people going around telling people some inaccurate things about the Gospel and about Jesus. And they weren’t necessarily doing it for malicious reasons. They just didn’t know. Remember, this was nearly three centuries before the great church council in Nicea. And among other things, one of the reasons for that council was to talk about and standardize the doctrine of the Christian faith.

Well, this was way before all that. People in Paul’s time were still trying to make sense of who Jesus was. Some believed he was God. While others believed he was only a man who was used by God. They also believed different things about salvation, the afterlife, the resurrection of the dead. If we think of the Apostle’s Creed, that is one of the major statements of Christian doctrine. The people believed a lot of those things it says before it was written down. But writing it down helped make a lot of Christianity clearer, easier to remember, and easier to teach.

Well, in this letter to the Colossians, Paul was having to deal with some of the false teaching that was going around. And we really don’t know what that false teaching was. We’ve lost that. Remember that reading the New Testament letters is like listening to someone talk on the phone. We don’t know what the person on the other end is saying. We can only figure it out by what we hear the one person saying.

These letters are like that. We don’t know the false teaching Paul was addressing. But it was obviously something Paul thought he needed to address. But one good possibility was that it was something having to do with the nature of Christ. Maybe it was something similar to what I said a few minutes ago. Was Jesus just a man? Was he God? Was he only spirit?

The reason that’s a possibility is that here in the first chapter, Paul feels compelled to lay out before them who Jesus is. Here we have this is wonderful description of Jesus. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Paul was really on a roll here! I can just picture his enthusiasm! Can’t you? And by the way, that word, “Enthusiasm?” It comes from the Greek. (“You give me any word…”) The center of the word is “thus” from the Greek word “Theus,” meaning “God.” When we are “en-thus-iastic,” by it’s literal translation, we have “God in us.” Paul was “enthusiastic” about who Jesus was and is!

So then, how does all of this affect us? (I hear you say.) Well, the nature of Jesus Christ has been “a thing” down through the ages. And yes, as we talked about just after Easter, we are Trinitarians! We say we believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! But do we ever question that?

Down through the ages, people have done that. They have questioned the deity of Jesus. They’ve tried deny it, or sometimes they’ve chosen just to “downplay” it – to say it’s not all that important. I think we’re seeing that in our world today. And we need to think about how we address that question. How can we relate our beliefs about it to a world that sometimes doesn’t want to know about it?

At the same time, I’m sure that each one of us has struggled with that same thing, from time to time. Is Jesus who he said he is? Can he really be God? Do we ever go through times of doubt about that? And what do we do about it?

Well, one thing we can do is to talk about it – which we’re doing today. And another thing we can do, which we’re also doing today, is to read the great wisdom about it from the people who were there to experience it! Read sometime (and re-read!) the great prologue to the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the word… and the word became flesh and dwelt among us…” Read this description of Jesus in Colossians. Those are two really good places to look for our confirmation! There was no doubt in Paul’s mind. A little further down he says, “For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

So invite you today to think about the nature of Jesus Christ. It’s a subject that we are sometimes uncomfortable with. It’s one that, consciously or unconsciously, we find ourselves avoiding. Well, let’s not avoid it! Let’s take Paul’s words seriously. Let us strive to see Jesus as “the visible image of the invisible God.” Let us try to pause and take in the importance and the weightiness of that statement.

When we worship, when we pray, when we think about our life and our salvation, when we say we are Christians, let us understand that’s what we are saying! These things can lessen in our minds. They can “slip away” from us if we don’t take time to think and to revisit them. Let us not fall into that mindset.

That is the “hope of the Gospel” Paul leads us to in this chapter. For not only is Jesus “God the Son,” but in him we are reconciled! As he says, we are “holy, and blameless, and irreproachable before him!”

Let us remember that today! Let us know the glory and the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Let us leave here as solid “Trinitarians!” Let us be certain of the love God has for each one of us!

Let us Pray!

Lord Jesus, help us to know you better. Help us to know with all certainty, that you are who you say you are, that you are “God the Son,” that we can trust in you, and that we are part of your kingdom. For this we pray in your holy name, Amen.