The book of Colossians. It was a letter written during one of Paul the Apostle’s many trips to prison for declaring Jesus as Lord. And not just any Lord. A Lord who has died and risen again. The letter’s addressed to a community of people that Paul had never met, who made up a church community that he did not start. So, here’s some insight. This letter dates back to as early as the mid-50s A.D. Change was in the air in the empire. A new Caesar had just been coronated and he called himself lord. People had high hopes for the empire. But was Caesar really the true lord?
Meanwhile, in a small town called Colossae, there was a church that was started by a friend of Paul’s named Epaphras and was struggling with living out their faith in the midst of first century Rome. As Paul was in prison at the time, Epaphras visited him to update him that the Colossians were doing well overall, but had some cultural pressures tempting them to run away from Jesus. And so, Paul felt the need to write a letter to the whole community. But could his letters still apply to us today?
Dear Colossae, dear Church of Christ, these letters were written to encourage you. Please read them well.
Well, good morning to everyone, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re currently in a series called “Dear Colossae” and I like to sort of summarize what we’re doing at the beginning of every one of my messages just because, number one, it’s always good to go back and summarize what we’ve done up to this point, but if somebody’s new or if somebody’s missed a week or two, it’s always good so that they feel like they’re a part of what’s going on. What we’re doing in this series is we’re actually going through the entire epistle that Paul wrote to the Colossian church in the City of Colossae. At least once a year, it’s a commitment I’ve made to myself that we would go through a book or an epistle, a letter, in the New Testament, or a book in the Old Testament every year. So, we’re doing Colossians this year, thus the pillars and all the stuff because we’re trying to make it feel like we’re back there at Colossae, as well, as we’re doing it.
But, all that being said, I want to do sort of a summary of what we’ve done up to this point. We’re actually through Colossians 3:4. I want to summarize what we’ve done all the way from Colossians 1:1-3:4 so then we’re ready to get into today. And today, it’s going to take us a little bit to think through the material today. I’m going to be a little bit more of a teacher, probably, than a preacher in some ways. I just really want you to put on your hard hats and get your pickaxes out and all that stuff because we’re going to have to do a little bit of work. Because the way Paul writes is a little bit differently than maybe we would read with some of the words that He uses, but we’re going to have some fun and we’re going to enjoy this.
So, let’s do a real quick summary. Up to this point, when Paul starts off the epistle to the Colossians, he says that he’s an apostle and that he’s writing with Timothy. He tells them grace and peace. And then what he does is he talks about the fact that the Gospel has come to Colossae through a person that he knows, a friend of his, Epaphras. Epaphras led the Colossians to the Lord, told them about Jesus, that He had died on a cross and risen from the grave on the third day, and then what had happened was is some people have come in, or a person has come in to the church and has sort of started teaching them that there’s more to it than that.
So, Epaphras has visited Paul in prison so that he can get some apostolic recommendations. Paul has written this letter and it’s come back. So, Paul starts off with reminding them, “Hey, you remember when you heard the Gospel? Remember how it’s bearing fruit and it’s doing the same thing through the rest of the world and all of these great things are going on? And you started loving people like you never loved before and you had this hope of heaven that you were focused on?”
So, Paul’s trying to get them to remember what brought them into the Kingdom of God, which was the simple Gospel; the proclamation that Jesus died on a cross and He rose again on the third day. And so, after he says those things and sort of lays that foundation, we might suspect that he would go ahead and start dealing with some of the difficulties going on in the church. But, rather than doing that, he actually turns to what some call a hymn, some people call an early creed, a baptismal formula, a poem. Whatever it is, it’s this carefully structured several verses that lift up Jesus. That He’s fully God, He’s the one who created the world, in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form. He’s all of these things. He’s the beginner of the new creation. Everything in the whole cosmos, the whole world, holds together because of Him.
So, he gets them to think about who Jesus is. Then he reminds them after he does that, “Hey, we need to press on. We don’t need to give up the hope that we have in the Gospel. We need to make sure that we continue on.” And then what he starts to do is he turns and he deals with these people that have decided to come along and say, “Hey, you know, we’re going to give you a little bit more to what’s going on. I mean, it’s great that you heard that story, but there’s more to it than that.” And Paul reminds them, “No, no, no. Jesus nailed to the cross all of the things that are held against you, and He defeated all of the powers of the enemy (Colossians 2:15), so don’t buy into this thing that it’s ‘Jesus plus’ and ‘Jesus and.’ That if you don’t touch these things and don’t do these things and make sure you keep this festival and don’t do this and make sure you do that, that then you really are enlightened and you can really worship and you can really do all these things.”
Paul says, “No, no, no. That’s not the Gospel. The Gospel is a very clear thing that we don’t need to confuse and don’t need to make it more difficult than it is. We need to just understand that it’s Jesus died on a cross and He rose again on the third day.”
So, in Colossians 3:1-4, which is where we ended last week, Paul says, “Hey, listen, you’ve been raised with Christ. He raised you. You didn’t do that. He raised you. Keep your eyes up there. Don’t get focused on all that stuff down here. Keep your eyes focused. When Jesus appears, finally, in glory (Colossians 3:4), you will appear with Him in glory as well.”
And then he turns to the next thing that he’s going to do. For many Christians — I really believe this — I think that if they could end the book of Colossians in Colossians 3:4, they’d be happy because they’d go, “Okay. Now we’ve got the right doctrinal statements. We’ve got the right understanding. We’re good.” But for Paul, that’s not what he’s after. He wants you to know the right things because he believes that right belief leads to right practice. For Paul, it’s about living this thing out. I mean, so many times people read Paul and they go, “Oh, Paul teaches grace,” and then they go to James and they’re like, “Man, what’s wrong with James? How comes he’s got all this we’ve got to do all these things and everything?”
Paul and James are not contradicting one another. Paul believes, with everything within him, that if we’ve been touched by the grace of God because we are Christians, then we will live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. He believes that with all of his heart. So, what he’s going to do now is turn to the community. This is really important, so lean in here because these are some challenging things. As we read the New Testament, there are just certain things that we have to sort of learn as we read or we’re more than likely going to read it wrong.
If you’re from Kentucky, which is the greatest place to be and the greatest basketball program in the world, we understand linguistics very well in Kentucky. There is “you,” which is singular, and then there’s “y’all,” which is plural. Okay? And we get that. I don’t know why somebody doesn’t have the Kentucky International Version, the KIV, because we would understand this. But when we read “you” in the New Testament, as a general rule, we read it as “me.” Like, we’re reading the Bible, we see “you,” “It’s me.” So, we read it very individualistic in the way we read it. It’s not written that way and it was never intended to be read that way. “Yous” are plural in the New Testament. Paul is writing to the community. He’s writing to the church.
So, what he’s doing now is after he’s laid out these great understandings that everything’s been nailed to the cross, Jesus has conquered everything, he really is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, you really don’t need anything else other than Jesus, Christianity isn’t getting things right, Christianity is a person, His name is Jesus, we follow Him, He’s all we need, He is the way, the truth and the life. We don’t need anything other than that. Paul now turns and says, “Okay. Now that we know that, if we don’t live that out collectively, then the people that we go out and talk to are going to look at us and go, ‘Well, Jesus is not enough because there’s no real transformation in your life.’”
So, what he does is he turns towards the community, which is made up of individuals, but he’s talking about the community and how the community will witness Jesus to those outside of the church. And here’s the greatest Get Out of Jail Free card: Paul never envisions, ever, that you or me, as a single individual, would get everything so right that we would be able to represent Jesus completely, fully, within our own selves. Because, see, I have deficiencies in my life. You have deficiencies in your life. There’s things that God’s done in my life that are really good that I have excelled at, that God has blessed me at. But there’s areas in my life that I still need to work on, like you. Other areas.
So, Paul envisions that the witness of Christ in the local community will come through the church. That if people were to see what we do collectively, they would get a good representation of Jesus. And so, what he’s going to do is as he starts to move towards this community witness of sharing the Gospel and living out the Gospel, he’s going to give us three lists. They each have five words in them. I know when you’re probably reading the Bible you don’t count the words and understand that was a list and all that stuff. That’s for us Bible nerds to do that. But I think most of y’all are like, “Oh, that’s cool that he saw that. Yeah. That’s neat.”
It’s okay. That ain’t going to change your life, I promise you. “Oh, I’ve got three lists of five. All of a sudden, now, I’m walking on water.” It’s not going to change your life. Okay? But what I’m saying is there’s these lists. The first five are vices. The second five are vices. The last five are virtues. They are community vices and virtues. The first two lists deal with a particular sin and then four other ways to catalogue it. The second list deals with a particular sin and four other ways to catalogue it. These sins are community-destroying sins. They are sins that will destroy the witness of the community.
So, with that being said, now let’s get into Scripture and see if we can sort of read through what Paul is saying and sort of understand what he’s doing here.
He says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.”
Now, if you remember, we just read Colossians 3. He said, “Don’t seek the things that are here on the earth. Seek the things that are up there. Do that stuff.” He says, “So, put to death therefore the things that are earthly in you.” That doesn’t mean as individuals we don’t want to do this, but he’s writing to the community. In you, plural, put these things to death that are earthly in you.
“Sexual immorality,” — all of these things that he’s listing here as vices all have to do with sexual things. Sexual immorality, sexual impurity, sexual passion, sexual evil desire, and sexual wanting what you want, which Paul says, ultimately, is idolatry.
Now, listen. I’m going to say this to you and I want you to hear this. And if you’re listening via the internet and the mobile app, please listen in here. This is important. There’s probably nothing more, in this history of the Church, that has destroyed the local church any more than sexual sins in leadership and in the church. That’s why Paul says, “Hey, this is an important thing. This is something if we don’t get this right, we’re going to get it wrong bad.”
Right now, in Chicago — and I say it with absolute remorse — there’s a church that has 20,000 to 30,000 people. It’s one of the most influential churches, probably, in America over the last 20 years. Willow Creek Church. Not only has their pastor had to resign, their entire staff resigned last week because of sexual problems.
I say that because Paul says here, “Listen, this sin will destroy a church. It will destroy your lives, too, but it will destroy the witness of the church because sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, covetousness, which is idolatry,” Paul says, “Here’s the reality: We all signed up to follow Jesus. We all signed up to do the Jesus thing.”
And listen: If you’re new here today or if you’re not even sure where you’re at with God, this really isn’t coming at you. Please understand that. This is for the people that say, “I’m in. I really want to follow Jesus.” For the people that say, “I’m in. I really want to follow Jesus,” there is a place for sexuality. That place is in a marriage between a man and a woman. That’s where it’s at. Any other deviation from that, at some level, is some sort of impurity or passion or evil desire, or, “I want what I want,” which Paul says is ultimately idolatry. When we decide that we want to exchange what God wants for us with something else, we become idolaters. And you can even see Paul talk about that in Romans. He says when people give up God, these are some of the perversions that go on in their minds as they give up God.
Okay? Now, listen. This is important. He says, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
Now, I’ve been doing this thing called a textual interaction where we sort of jump out for a moment and sort of talk about the text. We cannot allow our teaching of the Gospel to exclude the reality of wrath. Like, I wouldn’t be a good preacher to you if I said, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s all good. Do whatever you want to do. God’s got you. He’s like Santa Claus and the bunny rabbit and the Tooth Fairy all sort of wrapped together. All He wants is to just give you a big hug and you don’t have to worry about it.”
That wouldn’t be a true, honest — and that doesn’t mean we need to get excited. The Church gets excited about wrath sometimes. Like, “Ha. We’re going to get you.” That is a perversion. Okay? This is something that should grieve our hearts. It should grieve our hearts that there are people that do not know God and may never know God. That should grieve our hearts. It should never be something that we’re proud of. And listen to what Paul says because this is important.
“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.”
In other words, you’re not like that anymore. You’ve been changed. This is not the way you are. You are a child of God now, which means you are different. You’ve been changed. Which, to take a textual interaction here, the Gospel isn’t simply negative wrath. It’s incredibly positive. It’s transformational. He says, “Hey, this is the way you were living, but you heard the Gospel. It changed your life. You’re different now. This is the beauty of the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t, “You’d better turn or burn,” or, “Eat the bread of life or you’re toast.” You know? “Get right or get left.” Whatever. “I preach the Gospel.” No. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel says, “This is what it could be, but there is a solution for you. The solution is a person and His name is Jesus.” That’s the Gospel. Okay? It’s okay. People online were clapping. They’re drinking their coffee going, “Yeah!” Anyways, so, it isn’t simply a negative. It’s incredibly positive. So, we need to remember that.
He says, “But now...” — so, we’ve dealt with one list. Sexual immorality, absolute community killer. It kills our witness in the church.
He goes, “But now you must put them all away.”
All these things that would bring on the wrath of God that would be idolatrous, that would be us turning the way that we want, and then now he deals with another specific sin that will destroy a church, and these are speech issues.
“Anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
Anger from your mouth, wrath from your mouth, malice from your mouth, slander from your mouth and obscene talk from your mouth. Listen, I’m going to be a pastor here and I’m going to meddle a little bit. We, as a Christian Church, are settling for negative speech patterns, and sort of insinuating that there’s a greater good behind that. That is a compromise. We are called to be people that speak life and not death, we don’t speak slander, malice, wrath and anger. We don’t do that. And it’s time somebody stands up and says, “If we don’t honor this, if we don’t look at Scripture and say this is what should be coming out of our mouths, and anything that we associate ourselves with should never look like this, we are damaging our witness as God’s holy Christian Church.”
It shouldn’t be. They’re speech ethics directed at the community. See, Paul realized. He ain’t dumb. This guy’s a smart guy. He’s like, “If you don’t get the sex thing right, your church is going to get destroyed because then you don’t even know what’s right and wrong and you can’t evaluate anything. There’s no sense of truth. There’s no sense of anything. You’ve got to get that right. And we’ve got to be people that build each other up and encourage one another and see destiny in people’s lives and speak truth in love and build people up and don’t settle for the negative stuff and the slander.”
And we do. I mean, listen to me. Please hear me here. We are, right now, the Christian Church is involved in such nasty speech against each other on social media and other platforms. It should never be in the Church that God died for. We should never have those tongues that are bringing death to one another. I’m just going to tell you right now that is way better preaching than you’re letting on. Okay? Just know that. And it might be because you’re feeling like, “I guess he’s right.” Okay? But we should. We’ve got to watch what we say.
Moving on here, he says, “Don’t lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
He says, “Hey, listen, we don’t have to lie to one another. This is a team. This is a we. We’re in this thing together. God is shaping us as we go to become more like the image of our creator. That’s the end game here.”
He says, “Here there is not a Greek and Jew,” anymore. We don’t got these walls. We have bridges. We’re bringing people together.
“There is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
When we gather, we don’t separate anymore. We don’t compete anymore. We don’t siphon off into different groups. We come together from whatever background, whatever culture. In the Church, there’s cooperation, there’s not competition. That’s who we are. These are the people.
And then he says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” — he’s given us five vices of sexual immorality that are community-destroying sins. He’s given us five vices of speech that destroy the local community and destroy the witnesses. Now, he’s going to give us five virtues that we should be based on the fact that we are God’s chosen ones, we are God’s holy and beloved.
Listen. Lean in here. Many people come to church. They come to church on a regular basis. They wonder where they’re at with God. They wonder if He loves them. They wonder if they’ve done wrong or whatever. There’s all this fear, paranoia, guilt, anxiety about God. Listen to me. If you have said, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and I believe He rose again on the third day,” let me encourage you, as your pastor, you are a chosen one of God. You are holy and you are beloved. And see, Paul says it’s because we are this that we do this. He doesn’t say, “Do these things so that you can be a Christian.” It’s not do/be. So, the Christian song is not, “Do, be, do, be, do.” Right? Have you got that with me? It’s not the way it is. It’s out of who we are, it’s because we are children of God that we live this life out, that we have God within us, His Spirit within us, that we live this stuff out.
He says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” — these people that you are. This is who you are — “have compassionate hearts, be kind, be humble, meek, and patient.”
Be these things. Now, lean in here for a second. If we could just get this right, wouldn’t the world be a better place? You know? I mean, just this. Like, “Hey, I came to church and I learned five words that changed my life.” You know? I mean, it’s great stuff. This is it just right here. He says, “Hey, listen, these things are going to kill the community. You’re not doing these things to be in the community. You’re doing these things because you are the community of the Lord Jesus. Okay? So, don’t be this way. Don’t let these things come in. Be what you are. Compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient. This is who we are.”
He says, “Bearing with one another,” — because we’re compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient, we’re going to bear with one another.
Think about this for a minute. Most churches in America, we don’t bear with anybody. We just get mad and go to another church. That’s not what we’re supposed to look like. That’s not who we are.
He says, “Bearing with one another, if one has a complaint against another, forgive them.”
Don’t fight them. Forgive them.
“Just as the Lord forgave you, so you forgive.”
He’s like, “Look, do you understand the cross? Do you understand? Do you remember when you came to the cross? Do you remember when you had that moment that went off in your head that Jesus loves me and you knew where you were and you knew the wretchedness of your sin? And what He did is He extended a hand to you. He loved you. He showed you humility. He didn’t have to do that. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. He stretched out and He was patient with you and kind and humble and all of these things.” He says, “Listen, this is who we are. We bear with one another and we forgive one another, just as Christ did for us. When we live this way in here, what it does is it means that we’re probably going to look a little bit better when we go out there.”
You know what I’m talking about? But if this isn’t going on in here, then it’s definitely not going to look any different than the world. And when you say, “Let me tell you how Jesus can change your life,” people are going to go, “I’m not sure I want the change that you got, buddy. I mean, I don’t know. I do the same hand gesture on University. You know what I’m talking about?”
Anyway, bearing with one another if one is complaining. It’s a little early. Some of that caffeine kicked in. It was like a wave. Everybody’s like, “Oh, yeah. I get what he’s saying.” You acted like you didn’t. Like, “I got it at the beginning, hunny.”
“As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
This is the crux of following Christ in community: Bearing with others and forgiving others as Christ has for us. This is really community living. And Paul’s saying this is all about the team working together.
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
So, you can put on love, self-sacrificial love, serving love, bear with one another. Be the Church, be Jesus in the community, represent Jesus in everything that we do.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your [plural] hearts,”
The peace of Christ resides here. See, again, we’re so individualistic. Everything is me. “I’ve got the peace of Christ. I’ve got this.” No. The holiness of God, the righteousness of God. He’s presenting a bride that is holy. Not all of us have arrived. Not all of us have gotten there. I mean, practically speaking and positionally speaking, we are holy, but it’s the Church. What does Paul say? “Jesus died for the Church,” in Ephesians 5. That’s a big deal to Jesus, His church. And sometimes we think, “Well, I’m just going to say a prayer and then I’m going to go find a church that I like. That’s what it’s all about.”
It’s not all about that. It’s not all about getting some little prayer right and then finding some place that you like. This is about being on a team. This is about storming the gates of hell as a community. This is about representing Jesus. This is the highest stakes game in town.
He says, “Let the peace rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
Listen to me. Can you imagine people that were going through difficulties? What do we do as Americans? What do we do? We hole up. We go home, deal with it, come into church. “Oh, fantastic.” They’re like, “Dude, you just lost your car. They came and towed your car.” And you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know that was going on.” Come on, brother. You know better than that. I mean, can you imagine if we really bought into this thing and somebody came in here and said, “Hey, my marriage is in shambles. I need somebody to help me out.” Is there anybody in here that wouldn’t come up here and start loving on them and praying for them and visiting them? Because the peace of Christ resides here. This is a team effort here.
He says, “And be thankful.”
I love how he always throws that in there. “Be thankful. Have an attitude of gratitude.” You know?
He says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,”
We believe that. We come in here, “Oh, I hear the Word of God and get good teaching and all this stuff.”
But he also says, “Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
See, this is why the Church, throughout the ages, has done worship and Word, because this is what it says. I’m going to meddle here for a minute. I’m going to meddle. Just get ready. Hear me on this one. Worship is important to community. So, when you decide, as your individual self, that you’re going to roll in on the third song because you just really are here because you just want to hear the Word of God, what I can tell you is you are robbing your brothers and sisters of a great worship experience by not collectively all being here when we decide to worship God.
Some of you go, “I don’t like those songs.” I don’t like all the songs either. “Well, what do you do then, Pastor Chip?” You show up and you say, “God, I don’t even like this song, but I love You.” And I know that somebody in here, somebody in here is liking this song right now and I don’t even know what they’re saying, but hallelujah. I am here to worship You.”
If everybody came in with that attitude, our worship would be even better than it is when it takes the third song to get everybody primed on the pump. “Oh, yeah. Now we’re worshiping in the third song.” If we came in here ready to go, do you know what would happen? You’d actually receive the Word of God better than the way you do when you don’t worship the right, proper way. Alright. That’s called a pastoral meddle for a minute. Okay? Let’s continue on here.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
In everything that we do. Individually, but everything that we do collectively. That we realize we are called to be His holy Church in the city that we live that proclaims and lives the Gospel.
So, let’s look at some practical applications really quickly here. These are some real good Pauline truths from what we’ve read. First, if resurrection is a fact — and to Paul it is. You can even read in 1 Corinthians 15. He says, “If there’s no resurrection, there’s no Christianity. It’s all futile.”
If it’s a fact, then it will have influence on how we live life now. We talk about eschatology in theology. It’s like the study of last things. Everybody wants to know, “When’s Jesus going to come back? How’s that going to look?” For Paul and the Church, eschatology’s not about learning about His return. Eschatology is about realizing what it’s going to look like when He does return, and how that impacts us now. That’s why he says to the Thessalonians, “You don’t have to grieve these people that have died. You don’t have to grieve these people who have no hope because Jesus is going to come back one day.” The fact that that’s out there changes the way that we live now. Like hurricanes. I mean, if you knew a hurricane was coming — well, here in Florida, we don’t do anything but go buy beer and have a party, but you know what I’m talking about.
Most people — most people, knowing that a hurricane is coming, are actually going to do some preparedness, thinking, “I want to make sure that my house doesn’t get destroyed,” and everything else. What eschatology is, looking out there is, the fact that there’s a resurrection out there, it has implications for how we live our life now. Eschatology influences ethics. We’ve warped that. Everybody’s trying to figure out the beast and the crowns and everything. Just listen to me. I teach systematic theology. They pay me to teach it. Nobody — I don’t care who your friend is, I don’t care what TV program that you watched. Nobody knows for sure what’s going on in Revelation. Just hear me. I’m telling you the truth. Okay?
“Let me tell you about Revelation.”
No. You need to tell people about Jesus. Okay? So, if resurrection is a fact, then it will have influence on how we live now. See, to Paul, acknowledging God’s promises for the future, knowing that they’re out there, means to be faithful in the present. You’re living what you are. You’re living what you’re going to become. So, what you’re doing is you’re living in light of eternity. You’re looking at what’s out there and you’re trying to be. That’s what Jesus said to pray. He said, “Pray Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So, if resurrection is true, then it has implications for the way that we live our life.
Now, if that’s a fact, then community witness is priority in the life of a believer with insiders and outsiders. So, it’s no longer, “How can I get my Jesus on?” It’s, “How can I contribute to the Jesus that will be represented in the community?”
That should be the greatest Get Out of Jail card for everybody because none of us are going to live fully a life that reflects everything about Jesus, but collectively we can definitely look like Jesus to Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota and the Bradenton area if we’re willing to do this thing together. And it should be a priority in the life of a believer. Because here’s the way it works: We’re not our own. I know that goes in the face of culture, but Christ does. He confronts culture. We’re not our own. The Bible says that very clearly. You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. Not your own.
That being true, we can’t do it our way. In other words, there’s no Frank Sinatra Christians in the body of Christ. Okay? I like Frank. He’s great and everything, but that’s not what the body of Christ is about. So, if this is true, if we’re not our own and we can’t do it right, what is Christ’s vision? What is His thing on the earth? What is He looking for? He’s looking for His Church to look like Him. Okay? Which means that if Christ is our focus, then the Church will be primary. People tell me, “I’m going to go find Jesus.”
I’m like, “You cannot find Jesus on your own. You can’t.”
It takes others. It takes the body. It takes Scripture. It takes prayer. It takes community. It takes all of us together to fully understand the Word of God, to fully understand what it means. You can’t be kind to your self. You can’t love just to your self. You can’t forgive just to your self. All of these attributes imply that there’s a team. We’re part of a team. So, the Church will be primary which means the outreach, the poor, the hard work we do at work in serving and others and all the things that we do, in everything that we do, what we’re doing is we’re going, “Hey, I’m doing this because I believe I’m a part of a team that’s doing something great. I’m a part of it. I’m not the end all and be all. It’s not about just me. It’s not about my individualism. It’s about all of us together doing something great for God, which is why He ends by saying, “The ultimate aim of the Christian walk is that in everything we do, it’s done to the glory of God.”
As people, as individual and as a church, everything. So, think about this. Our relationships, our house, our job, our money, our ethics, our enemies, fun, marriage — whatever it is, whatever you want to put here, every single one of these things, imagine if in your mind you realized that all of this is not about you, it’s about what God is doing in the midst of the local church, and everything that we have here is a stewardship as an individual that we bring into the team so that the team can adequately reflect Jesus to the community.
Man, it’ll change the way you live. It’ll change everything because everything in our life then becomes a witness to the glory of God because we’re not ourselves, we’re not our own. We’ve been bought with a price. And see, I believe, passionately, because our culture affects the way we see Jesus and affects the way we read Scripture, I think the reason why the Church is in such a backward movement right now is because we need to recapture the vision that God had for the local church and fight for this thing. Because it is under attack and the enemy doesn’t want the Church to be successful in a local environment because we have the message that changes people’s lives, and His name is Jesus and we need to reflect Him as a local community.
Amen? And that’s not guilt ridden, and, “I’m not living up.” That is who you are. Let’s be who we are.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your goodness and Your mercy. I thank You for Your kindness that leads us to repentance. Lord, I pray right now, in Jesus’ name, that we would really get a download of what Your Scripture is saying to us. It’s contrary in so many ways to the things that we’ve heard and the way our souls have been groomed within the cultures that we’ve been raised in. But, Lord, we’re not after culture. We’re not after those things. We are after Christ. We want to be like Him. We want to look like Him. We want to be people that honor what You’ve told us in Your holy Word to be like.
So, Lord, I pray here at Grace that You would move on us, that You would move in us, that You would move through us, Lord, to be the community of faith that You’ve called us to be that represents Your Son not only through the proclamation of the Gospel, but through the transformed lives that the Gospel does in the heart of the community of faith.
Lord, give us team spirit. Give us team vision. Remove our eyes to we and let us understand that we are a part of the greatest thing that the world has ever seen and will ever see, which is that we’re a part of the Kingdom of God represented in the local church to represent the King of kings and the Lord of lords to everybody in the local community for Your glory and for Your honor.
So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today, that You would continue to lead, guide and direct us, I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. Lord, I pray that You would help us to stay focused on being the Church that You’ve called us to be, which is to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and all of God’s people said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.
The book of Colossians. It was a letter written during one of Paul the Apostle’s many trips to prison for declaring Jesus as Lord. And not just any Lord. A Lord who has died and risen again. The letter’s addressed to a community of people that Paul had never met, who made up a church community that he did not start. So, here’s some insight. Paul spends much of the letter addressing heresy in the way the Colossians were living out their religion. Some possible influences at the time were asceticism, which was all about severe punishment, Jewish influence of observing the law of the Torah, and mystical polytheism, the recognition of multiple gods.
But the Bible says that Jesus came and changed everything. So, why were the Colossians still stuck in their old ways? Does culture affect every generation in its walk with the Lord?
Dear Colossae, dear Church of Christ, these letters were written to encourage you. Please read them well.
Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re in a series called “Dear Colossae.” We’re going through the entire epistle to the Colossians. Several years ago, I made a commitment that at least once a year we’ll go through an entire book of the Bible, line by line. And, of course, my goal is to get through all 66 at some point in the ministry here of Grace so that we’ve catalogued all those books. I hope that that will happen. But we’ve sort of been looking at this book, going through it and trying to study it as a whole book so that we can understand context and all of those great things. So, that’s where we’re at and that’s what we’re doing. But I want to ask you a question here. Hopefully, you’ll remember this.
Does anybody remember this dude? This dude came out — what was it? Satan’s Cube? Oh, Rubik’s Cube. That’s what it was. It came out in the late 70s, early 80s. I was a Type A personality back then. It was just, “Give Him Ritalin.” I got this thing and I wanted to solve it. I don’t know about you all, but it drove me nuts. I would just sit there and do it. And then I realized that it had stickers, so I could just peel them off and put them where I needed to go and be like, “Hah. Look there, mom and dad. I’m smart.”
Anyway, this thing would drive me nuts because it was so complicated. I mean, everything about this thing was complicated. I would get frustrated. I’d want to throw it. It really drove me nuts because I just wanted to solve it and I couldn’t solve it. Finally, somebody came along and said, “Dude, it’s not as hard as you’re making it out to be,” and it really changed the whole experience with this cube. I’ll come back to that at the end.
The reason I say that is because we’re going to get right into a section here in the epistle that’s written to the Colossians where Paul is having to deal with some false teaching that’s going on in the Church because all of these epistles, everything that you read in the New Testament, all of these little letters that we have that are in Scripture are written to the Church. They’re written to believers that are having some sort of struggle or some sort of deficiency or they need something cleared up, usually in regards to the Gospel.
What’s happened is someone or a group of people have told these new Colossians believers that it’s got to be more difficult than it was. There’s more to it. Because what happened is Epaphras, who was a friend of Paul, who’s visited Paul in prison now to tell him about what’s going on at the church at Colossae, because Paul never had visited there. He didn’t found this church. Epaphras has gone to visit Paul and he says, “Hey, listen, there’s a problem in the church. When I went to Colossae, I told them about Jesus. I told them, ‘Hey, Jesus died on the cross and He rose again on the third day. Do you guys want to be in?’ They’re all like, ‘We’re in.’ Well, some people have come in that were there in the church. Some of them are believers, too, but they sort of came out of Judaism and other stuff. What they’re telling everybody is it can’t be that easy. It’s got to be more difficult. They’re making it more complicated than it needs to be.”
So, Paul has to address this. We’re getting right into the meat of this epistle where Paul is trying to now correct a deficiency where everybody’s trying to make it more hard than it needs to be. And I think, as we go through this today, we’re going to realize not in the same exact ways, because we don’t live in the first century, but I think we’re going to realize by the time we get done that it’s so easy to make this thing more complicated than it actually needs to be. I think it’s going to be good for all of us to do this.
So, if you were here last week, you’ll remember this. If you weren’t, I’m going to bring you back up to speed. We ended out — because we’ve gone through Colossians 2:15 at this point. We ended with the very, very last parts of Colossians 2:15. Two things that Paul said that were major, major, major points. He said, “Jesus nailed to the cross all of the things, everything that would be against us, all of the debt that we would need to pay, all the guilt that maybe we would’ve felt for the things that we’ve done, for the bad decisions, the bad mistakes, the bad choices we’ve made — all that was nailed to the cross. All of it.”
So, we don’t have to walk around in guilt. We don’t have to walk around in performance. All of that was nailed to the cross and, in Colossians 2:15, He conquered death, hell and the grave. He conquered all the rulers and all the principalities. So, He not only nailed everything to the cross that would stand against us, but He conquered everything that could accuse us and everybody that could come against us. He’s done all of those things. And then Paul says, in Colossians 2:16, “Therefore...” — because of those things. Because Jesus has nailed everything to the cross and because He’s conquered all of death, hell and the grave.
“Therefore let no one...”
He doesn’t call them out by name. It might’ve been a person. It might’ve been a group. We don’t know.
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
See, what happened is you had some probably Jewish believers that had believed in Jesus, and then you had these gentile converts from Colossae that had believed in Jesus. So, as they sat there and they all go, “Okay, we’re in,” the Jewish people started going, “Yeah, but man, we’ve been doing all these things. This is sort of who we are. We keep festivals and we don’t eat with the wrong people. We eat with the right people. We eat the right foods. We keep the Sabbath. Man, all these people, they just sort of believed in Jesus and that was it. I mean, there’s got to be more to it than that, doesn’t there? You’ve got to live right. I mean, you’ve got to do the right things. You’ve got to jump through some hoops, obviously. There’s got to be more than that.”
Paul says, “Hey, listen. Jesus died, nailed everything that could be against you to the cross, conquered death, hell and the grave, all the rulers and principalities. So, therefore, don’t let anybody pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
You can imagine Epaphras goes to Paul and says, “Hey, we’ve got a problem, man. How do we do this thing? We’re sort of like Jesus was Jewish, we’ve got the Old Testament and now there’s Jesus. We’ve got these two groups of people. These people are trying to do the Jewish thing and the Jesus thing. And then we’ve got the Gentiles who have no idea about the Jewish thing, and now these people are telling them they need to do the Jewish thing. Do they need to do the Jewish thing? Do they not need to do it? What do they need to do?”
Paul says, “Hey, listen. Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.”
Because, “These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance [the reality] belongs to Christ.”
In other words, what Paul is saying is, “Hey, listen. All those things back here that you did, the things you did and the sacrifices, the festival, and you didn’t eat and drink with these people, and didn’t eat these foods in Leviticus and all that stuff, and you didn’t eat Jimmy Dead pork and sausage and all that good stuff. Bacon, I know, is pretty good now, but it wasn’t good back then. All of this stuff. Yeah, all of those things, what they were is they were a shadow.”
He’s drawing on Plato here in Plato’s Republic, which was written about 385 years before Paul ever came on the scene. In book seven of the Republic, he has what’s called “The Allegory of the Cave” where people are sitting chained, looking at a cave wall, and they don’t know there’s a fire behind them. They don’t know that there’s puppets behind them. They’re casting this shadow on the wall and they think that the shadow is the reality of life. Like many people. It’s a great story because many of us — and we don’t want to think this because we always want to think it’s somebody else. Maybe the things that we believe are really shadows. Maybe they’re not really the truth.
Of course, we would never think that that would be us. It would be somebody else that’s the one that doesn’t believe the truth. But it could be us. And Paul says, “Hey, listen. The reality is these things are like shadows.” Plato says if these people could be unshackled from looking at the shadows and could be drug out of the cave, they would go, “Whoa. There’s a whole other world here than what we thought.”
He says, “Listen, this is the deal: Jesus has come. This food and drink, and festivals which used to define you and used to make you who you were, don’t let anybody pass judgment on you because everything’s sort of been done in Christ. There’s no need to get all bent out of shape.”
So, let’s take a moment here. We call these the textual interactions where we’re sort of just working with the texts in the moment. We’re going to have to do some cultural explanation to understand food, drink and Sabbath. Like, what does that mean? So, let me try to explain what that means back in the first century, how that would work. It will also make sense of the Gospels. When you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you’ll go, “Aha! That’s why those things happened.”
So, let’s look at Judaism here so we can understand how this worked. This was your life. You had a life. You were just living, doing your thing. You were Jewish and you were in Judaism or you had converted to Judaism. So, here’s the way it would work. You would say, “Hey, I’m going to give my life and my allegiance to Yahweh. Yahweh’s God. He’s the one that I give allegiance to. He’s the one that I’m going to serve. He’s the one that I’m going to follow. And so, now that I’m going to do that, now that I’m going to follow Yahweh, I need to know what Yahweh wants me to do.”
In the Torah, it comes from a Hebrew root word to “point.” So, it’s like the pointer. It’s showing you how to go. So, you believed in Yahweh. Well, you would read the Torah. Well, the Torah was pretty expansive. It had a lot of rules and regulations. It had a lot of commandments. So, they did what we do today. They didn’t have it at a bookstore, but they would have Torah for Dummies. You know? They would sort of condense it down to make it where you could understand what all those rules and regulations were really about.
So, what happened was if you would’ve lived in the first century and you would’ve been a Jewish person or you would’ve been around Judaism, you’d have known that you serve Yahweh, you’d have known that you need to keep the Torah, but what you would’ve done is you would’ve scrunched those things down to some really minimal things so that you knew what you needed to do. These were called boundary markers. What they did is they sort of put the boundaries out here so that you could know, by keeping those things, that you were, in fact, covenant people. Those things happened to be you don’t eat certain things and you don’t drink certain things. You don’t eat with certain people and you don’t drink with certain people. You know? You don’t cuss and chew and don’t run with people who do. Right? And all that.
So, you did that stuff and then you kept the Sabbath. I mean, you’ve got to keep the Sabbath. So, you can imagine when you’re reading in the Gospels and Jesus comes on the scene and He’s like, “Hey, I’m going to eat with tax collectors and sinners.” They’re like, “Whoa, dude. If Your allegiance is to Yahweh, I mean, You’ve got to do the Torah, man. The boundary markers are we don’t eat with these people. Because, by not eating with these people, we’re showing everybody we’re really the covenant people of God.”
Jesus is like, “Well, I’m going to eat with tax collectors and sinners.” They’re like, “Whoa, man. Hold on. This guy probably isn’t even really a covenant person. I mean, what’s going on?”
Then He says, “Hey, you know what? Whatever you eat, don’t worry about it. It’s not what makes you unclean. It’s what comes out that makes you unclean.” They’re like, “What? We can eat anything now? What are you talking about? This is crazy talk.”
And then, on the Sabbath, He’s like healing people, going through the grain fields and plucking grain. They’re like, “Man, hold on, dude. Listen, it’s real simple here. You don’t have to do a lot of things, but the things that You need to do, these things here, You’re breaking all of them. Every one of them. So, we’ve got a problem because this is the way it works. This is the way we’ve always done it.”
And that is the words of a dying church, by the way. “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” Let me say that again. That might be prophetic. The words of a dying church are “we’ve always done it this way.” Anyway, “We’ve always done it this way.” So, Paul is saying, “Hey, listen. I know that there are people that have come out of this, and I know some of you are realizing that Jesus was Jewish and the only Scriptures that you have are the Old Testament, and you’re trying to figure out how do I do this thing, how do I live this thing out? And there’s going to be people that are going to come along and they’re going to tell you you’ve got to do this, do this, do this, and you can’t do this and you can’t do this and you can’t do this. This is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to do it this way so that you know that you’re in.”
Paul says, “Listen, how’d you get in?”
“Well, Epaphras told us that Jesus died on a cross and He rose on the third day. We wanted to be in.”
He says, “That’s how you got in. Don’t complicate it. Don’t let somebody come along and tell you there’s all these hoops, then, that you have to do, or all this stuff.”
Here’s the reality: When we think about us today, what are the food, drinks and festivals, and new moons and Sabbaths of our day? What do we put on people? What do we put on ourselves? What do we do? I mean, what are things this society, religion, ourselves or other things — what are those things that people have put on us or we think that need to be put on us or we put on other people to say, “Well, yeah. I know that you — yeah, I know that you believe Jesus rose from the dead, but you’ve got to do these things. You can’t this and that and the other.”
What are those things? What are those things that we complicate things with? And see, here’s where it’s at. This is startling to me as a pastor because I realize, then, there’s people here that feel the same way. Eighty percent of the Church, when they’re sampled — eighty percent say, “I really am not sure that God loves me. I’m really not sure that I’m doing enough to really know that I’m a Christian.”
Eighty percent. It’s like, wow. I mean, we have so complicated this thing. And did you know there’s 40,000 denominations in the United States? It’s like, man, no wonder nobody knows what to believe. Because here’s the way it works. Let’s just go back and work here. Every single one of us has a personal experience. You grew up somewhere. You experienced certain things in life. Some of you grew up in nice houses. Some of you grew up in bad houses. Some of you grew up in situations where your parents were educated. Some of you had parents that weren’t educated.
You had an experience. I grew up in Kentucky where God’s basketball team is, and everybody said, “Amen,” and all that good stuff. I mean, goodness gracious. If you’re a Christian, you know that. Right? See? There you go. It’s “Jesus plus.” But the point being is this: We all grew up somewhere. Maybe not even in America. Maybe somewhere in another country. We had a personal experience. Your personal experience is your personal experience. It’s not mine. Mine’s different than yours. Not only that, but we also had parental experience. Some of us had great parents. Some of us had bad parents. Some of us had no parents. Some of us had one parent. Some of us had step parents. But everybody had some sort of parental involvement at some degree, even in the orphanage was your parental involvement. Everybody had it and you learned something from that experience.
So, not only do you have your personal experience, you also have things that parents said to you and family said to you. Not only that, but many of us grew up in denominations. Depending upon which denomination you were in, they had it a little different because there’s 40,000 of these things in the United States. Some people are like, “No, no, no. When you have a young kid, you’ve got to sprinkle.” “No. You’ve got to dedicate.” “No. You’ve got to dunk.” “No. You’ve got to do this.”
Everybody’s got their little different deal. People are like, “When’s Jesus going to return?” “Well, it’s pre, mid, post and everything else.” The only one right is “pan.” It’ll all pan out in the end. So, you grew up in all these denominations and all this stuff and you’ve got all these beliefs that you have. You grew up in the Church of Christ, maybe. You’ve got to get baptized to be saved, not just believe in Jesus. You’ve got to also be baptized. You can’t really have instruments. You’ve got to do this.
And I’m not being negative on any of these. I’m just saying you grew up Catholic, maybe, and you’re like, “Do I pray to Mary? Do I not pray to Mary? How do I do this thing?”
And everybody’s got their different stuff and everybody’s got a different experience. Not only that, but cultural. You grew up in different cultures. I mean, there’s even different cultures in the United States. I mean, if you grew up in Texas or you grew up in Alabama, you know you’re going to fight over football. Come on. I mean, you just know you’re going to do that. And if you grew up in New York, it’d be different than California. And then, of course, there’s Florida. Nobody grew up here. You know?
But we grew up and we had cultural things and political things. We don’t need to talk about that because we’ve got that solved in this country. And then doctrinal issue. You know? Everybody’s arguing about little different things and doctrinal things, and you’ve got to do this and women can’t do this, and men should do this and here’s the way this should go. And everybody fights about all those things. And then we’ve got the traditional stuff, like, “Well, I grew up in a traditional church. Bless God. We had those hymn books and we sang hymns. We knew those songs.”
Did you ever stop for a moment — I’m not trying to be snarky here. Did you ever stop for a moment and think, if you’re older in here, that when you went to church you didn’t know any of those songs when you got there? You learned them. People are like, “I don’t like these new songs. I don’t know them.”
Well, you had to learn the other ones. I mean, I’m not trying to be mean. And somebody will go, “Well, he doesn’t like old people.” I love old people. I want there to — let me just, so that nobody misunderstands Pastor Chip, I want young, old. I want black, white. I want rich, poor. I want Republican, Democrat. I want them all in church. Every one of you. If you can’t even make fun of anything or have fun or even make a joke, everybody’s like, “Oh, you’re getting onto me.” You know?
But we do. We grew up that way. Twenty years from now, you’re going to have the younger people arguing in their church, “Oh, man. It was so good when we sang Hillsong and Bethel. Now we’re singing...”
You know? Trust me. It’s going to happen. I promise. I give you my word it’s going to happen. Just remember: Nostalgia is not spirituality. So, anyway, we have all this stuff going on and this is what we are. So, what we do is then we hear the Gospel. Somebody comes along and says, “Man, Jesus died for you and He rose again on the third day. Are you in?”
You’re like, “Man, I am in.”
And then it begins because you take all that stuff, and I take all that stuff and they take all that stuff and put it in there and they go, “Yeah, but you have to also do all these other, and you can’t do this, that and the other.” We complicate it. We make it so difficult. And then nobody knows. Like, “What?” And now we’ve got Christians excommunicating good Christians that love God just as much as the other person. “You’re not a Christian.” And we do it publicly now. I mean, it’s like — it’s just bad. You know?
“You can’t be — you can’t.” You just see everybody fighting and mad and spitting all of this stuff. It’s like, man, how does it get so complicated? That’s why Paul and these epistles are there for you and me to say, “Hey, it’s different for you than it was then, but the reality is that it gets complicated.”
Not only did these people have all the hoops that you had to jump through, but then they had the way you had to worship. Nobody ever does that either, right, in the church? “You’ve got to worship this way. Well, if you don’t tap your foot, you know? You have to raise your hands, right? Because if you put your hands in your pocket, there’s no way that you could ever be communicating with God,” — which is crazy, but you can. So, for all of you all who put your hands in your pocket and you really love God, you’ve got a friend in Pastor Chip. Okay? And if you want to raise your hands — and it’s like, “If you can’t raise your hands this way, you have to do the touchdown Jesus. You know?”
I mean, we’ve got all these things that we do. “You’ve got to do this and do that. And if you don’t know the lyrics, you’re obviously not a Christian. You didn’t get saved because you would know.” It’s just crazy. But they had their own way, too, and their way was a little different than the way we would maybe think about it, but they thought, “Here’s what you’re going to do: You have to sort of deny yourself. You just sort of have to really push yourself down, fast, go without, lay on your face and do all these things. And when you do that, after you’ve gotten through all the hoops and do all that stuff, then what’ll happen is if you can do that you’ll start to rise like you’re climbing a ladder. You’ll be with the angels and be around that. Then you can have these mystical experiences.”
So, here’s these new Christians that went, “I’m in,” and then somebody comes along and says, “Yeah. You didn’t get the full version.”
“Yeah. You didn’t get the full version. The full version is this: I mean, you’ve got to do some things, man. I mean, you’ve got to. You’ve got to jump through some hoops. You can’t eat with those people because, those people, they’re bad. Those people here. Don’t eat that food. Don’t do that. Let me tell you how to worship. You’ve got to sort of do this. You’ve got to fast. You’ve got to deny yourself. You’ve got to poor some ash on your head and do all this stuff. You can start to climb a ladder. Before long, you’ll be there in glory, man. I mean, it’ll be all around.”
Paul says, “Don’t let anybody pass judgment on you with food, drink and all that stuff.”
And he says, “Do not let anybody disqualify you, insisting on asceticism...” — like denying yourself and all kinds of stuff — “...and worship of angels,” — or worship with the angels — “going on in detail about visions,”
They’re like, “Hey, man. You just got the half version of Christianity, man. It ain’t just Jesus. There’s more to it, man. You’ve got to do this and do that and do this and don’t do that and don’t do this. And if you really understand what worship’s like, man, you’re going to be in glory, man. You’re going to have visions. It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be fantastic.”
And Paul says, “These people are puffed up without reason by their carnal minds.”
That’s tough. I mean, he says, “That’s where this is.” He says, “And they’re not holding fast to the Head.”
See, what they’ve done is rather than focus on Jesus, they got distracted. They’re focused on everything else but Jesus. And we know the stories. I mean, if you’ve been in church long enough, somebody at some point has preached a message: “It was the big storm. The disciples are out there in the boat and they’re rowing. All of a sudden, they think Casper’s out on the water. It’s a ghost.” And then it’s like, “Oh, it’s Jesus.”
They’re there and they’re all wondering what’s going on. “We’re going to drown.” And Peter’s like, “Yo, man. Can I hop out of the boat and walk on the water?”
And Jesus is like, “Sure.”
And he’s like, “Man, this is awesome,” while he’s looking at Jesus. And then he gets distracted, right? He looks at the storm and he starts to sink. And then some preacher says, “We’ve got to keep our eyes on Jesus. You’ve got to stay focused on Jesus. We’ve got to stay focused.”
And everybody’s like, “Amen. Amen.” But we don’t. We don’t. He says, “They’re not holding fast to the Head.”
“From whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joins and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
Well, what he’s saying here is this: By not holding onto Christ alone, it invariably becomes “Jesus plus,” and/or a distraction. When we’re not focused on Jesus, laser focused on He is our life, He is the one that gives us truth, He is the one that gives us salvation, He is the one that gives us peace, what we do is as soon as we distract from that and look somewhere else, what we do is we either get a distraction going on or we add something to the Gospel.
Let me show you how that works. And you think, “Well, what’s wrong with baptism, prayer or spiritual gifts?”
No. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But what happens is if these things are not leading you and me to stay focused here, then what happens is they become the focus. And then it becomes, “Well, if you don’t have this gift or you don’t do this, or you don’t have that, then you haven’t arrived.”
And then that becomes the focus. Or whatever we can do. Whatever we want. Ethics, baptism or doctrine. Whatever it is, that becomes the focus. And then we preach that rather than Jesus. And that becomes the issue, and that becomes the thing rather than Jesus. And Paul’s like, “Man, don’t do that. Hold fast to the head.”
He says, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, are you submitting to all these regulations?”
“Why are you making it so difficult?”
“‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings?”
“Why would you do that? You died. Like, you died.”
Anybody ever seen somebody go dig up a dead person and take them to a festival? “Yeah. He’s really enjoying it.” Dead people don’t go to festivals. Dead people don’t do Sabbaths. He said, “You’ve died. You’re dead and you’re no longer part of this world’s system. So, why in the world are you bogging yourself down with this?”
Because here’s the reality: All the rules and regulations of the world are not going to make you and me right with God. And every time that we start to think that every little thing and rule and regulation that we do is getting us right and getting God to love us, we start to get into that performance hamster wheel, and all it does is create a lot of problems for us. And then listen to what he says.
He says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom...”
Somebody comes along and says, “No. You can’t be a Christian if you don’t...”
And you go, “Man, yeah. That sounds right.”
It has an appearance of wisdom. It looks that way, but it’s a self-made religion. It’s not Christ. It’s self-made. So you can check off your boxes and you got your thing right. And it’s ascetic because, you know, “I don’t do those things. I’m not like you. I don’t do that. I’m holy. I’ve arrived.”
Nobody in here’s arrived. Let me just tell you. Severity to the body. “I’m going to deny myself, man. I’m going to do all these things so I can...”
He says, “Man, listen, I get it. I know why you’re sort of getting confused, because it sounds good. But it doesn’t do anything.” He says it’s of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. It ain’t going to get you anywhere in your life at all. It ain’t going to cure anything. It ain’t going to make anything better. In fact, it’s actually going to make it worse because the harder you try, the worse it is.
And then he gives us these four verses that all of Colossians hinges on. He says, “So if...” — he’s like, “Just lean in here, church. Lean in here,” is what Paul says. He says, “Come in here.”
“If then you have been raised with Christ,”
If that’s happened, you didn’t climb a ladder — raised with Christ. If you’re raised with Christ, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
Get your focus on Him. Not on all the other stuff that distracts us and gets us all confused and mad and irritated at everybody. Keep your eyes there.
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.”
He cancelled all your debt and He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Nobody’s in control of the world other than Jesus. Whether you think He is or not doesn’t make a difference. He is. And He knows what He’s doing and He knows what He’s accomplishing.
And He says, “For you have died,”
It’s like, “How many times do we need to talk about this. You’ve died.”
“And your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
You’re not going to find some hidden treasures by doing all these things and jumping through all these hoops and then getting into some mysterious vision, no matter if the guy on TV tells you he’ll give you $50, come in and you can have all these things. The bottom line is that’s just simply not the way it works. It doesn’t work that way. We want to make it work that way. Paul says if that’s the way you want to do it, you’re puffed up with a carnal mind. It’s not the way it works.
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears,” — when He comes back for the second time — “then you will appear with him in glory.”
You’re not going to arrive. You’re not going to get there here. One day, you’ll have everything, but here we’ve not arrived. And I’ll tell you what, God gave us Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher, to remind us all that we haven’t arrive. Here’s a great quote. You’ll all laugh with me when I say this.
He says, “If any man thinks ill of you, don’t be angry with him, for you’re far worse than he thinks you to be.”
Right? There you go. None of us. So, let’s look at some practical application here and let’s do some take-homes. First, Christianity, at its essence, is not bottom up. It’s not climbing the ladder. It’s not jumping through the hoops. It’s top down. Paul says, “If you’ve been raised with Christ.” The word “raised” in the original language is passive. It means you’ve been raised by Christ. He reached down from the top and pulled you up. You didn’t do anything to get there.
And here’s the truth: As hard as it is for us to sometimes believe or accept — and it’s hard for us to do this — there’s no other way to a relationship with God except through Christ. He’s your way and He’s your life. Did He raise from the dead? Yeah. Did He die on the cross? Yeah. Okay. And we go, “Yeah, but there’s just got to be more.” I mean, there’s so many people that get that religious thing going and they’ll hear a sermon like this and they’ll go, “Yeah, but — yeah, but, but, but, but...”
And it’s like, “No. That’s just religion and garbage and filters.”
It’s either this: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him and this, this, this, this, this, this, this — it doesn’t say that. Whoever believes in Him will never perish, but have everlasting life. We go, “Oh, it can’t be that easy. It just can’t be that easy because, well, if you did, then you would do and then you would this and you would that.”
We complicate. We make it so incredibly hard because every one of your “you got to do, you got to do, you got to do,” there’s somebody else that had a different experience and different background that’s going to say, “No. You’ve got to do this.” It’s either Jesus died on the cross and He rose from the grave and that’s the power of the Gospel that saves people, or it’s something else.
Second, if what we practice isn’t Christ-centered, if it’s not focused on Jesus, it invariably leads to bad practice. It always will. It’ll lead to some distraction or it’ll lead to some sort of confusion or it’ll lead to some sort of you’ve got to add something else on top of Jesus. He says, “If you’ve died, why are you submitting to these regulations?”
But we do. And here’s what we do. I’m going to show you how a majority of people, unfortunately — and I’m doing my best to unwind this and to help teach and to free people up. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, I came to put you in bondage, man. I came to give you a bunch of hoops that you can’t get through.” He said, “No. I came to give you life and life more abundantly.”
Here’s the way it works in most of the church. This is PBR. This is not Pabst Blue Ribbon. I know that’s what y’all are thinking. You’re thinking, “Alright, man. I’m going to have me a Pabst Blue Ribbon.” Some of you all are like, “I can’t even believe you said ‘Pabst Blue Ribbon’ in church. You must not be a Christian.”
Anyway, this is performance based religion. This is the hamster wheel. I’ve got to perform, I’ve got to perform, I’ve got to perform so God will love me. Well, if you buy into that system, there’s the hoops you’ve got to go through, well, you’ve got to have rules, then. Because, see, you don’t know how well your performance is if you don’t know what you’re trying to keep. You’ve got to have rules. Everybody’s rules are different. There’s 40,000 different ones and we all think ours is the right one. There’s got to be rules.
And then, because there’s rules, you get into legalism because you’ve got to keep all those rules and you’ve got to fight for those rules because those rules are the rules that show you how you do the things. And then, along the way, you realize that you really aren’t keeping all the rules, so you sort of change the rules to fit your system that you can work within. Like, you know, when Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. He says, “You tithe of cumin and dill and all those little things. But you forgot the weightier matters of the law.”
What they were doing is they were taking these little herbs, planting it in their gardens with their corn and other stuff, and those things would come up first. So, they would tithe off of their firstfruits. They learned how to grow things quicker than their more expensive stuff so they could give off that rather than the more expensive stuff. They learned how to use the law for themselves. They learned how to use the rules for themselves. And then you get real legalistic because you’ve got to keep all that stuff. And, before long, you’re in bondage.
And then what happens — and this is what happens to everybody who gets in the system. You get a critical spirit. You look at everybody else as “they’re wrong,” because what you don’t want to have to deal with is that you’re wrong. That there’s stuff in here that isn’t right. And everybody’s got it. There’s nobody in here that doesn’t. And so, the question is do I get God’s favor and acceptance, and do I get in by all the things that I do, which ultimately leads me to pointing fingers at everybody else and to a house of cards religion? Because when somebody comes along and says, “No, no, no. This thing here that you believe, it’s not biblical at all,” you have to fight for it because if you’re wrong on this, then maybe you’re wrong on other things. And if you’re wrong on other things, then your performance can’t be evaluated, which means you may not even be in. So, you have to fight for all of those things.
And what’s happened, rather than looking to Christ, now we’re fighting a system and we’ve made an idol. And what we’ve done is we’ve splintered off into 40,000 different groups and now we’re yelling and screaming to everybody because what we’ve done is we’ve created a system that simply doesn’t work, because the only thing that works is Jesus. And He didn’t come to give you a life of this. He came to set you free.
And last, it just simply doesn’t have to be as difficult as we make it. It just doesn’t. Let no one pass judgment on you and questions of food, drink, festival or whatever that may be today. We go, “But, but, but.” See, what we do is we all have this. Our “but, but, but” is all from these things. So, we go, “Oh, but you’ve got to — but, but, but.”
Yeah, but here’s the question: How did you get in? How did you get in? Did you get in because you got your doctrine right? Did you get in because you got your soteriology right? Did you get in because you voted right? Did you get in because — no. You got in because you believed that Jesus died on a cross for you and He rose again on the third day, He’s going to come back and He was God in the flesh and He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. So, you believe that and you’re in. And then what we do is we add to it and we just want to do all this stuff because what we do is we’ve got all of these things.
I am not saying that there’s not ethics. I’m not saying that doctrine isn’t important. It’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is once we start pushing all of that stuff on top of everything else, we confuse the Gospel. Because what happens is this: Whenever we get in it — like, I mean in it — and we do. We get in it on the political things, the doctrinal things, this stuff, that stuff. I mean, we get in it and we’re like a tick on the back of a Billy goat. We just dig in there and get into these things.
Whenever we get in it on any of these, not only do we lose, but so does the church. Because the more we try to put all this junk in a blender, the more of a confused mess that we look like. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. So, this thing that was so complicated and frustrated me, and I couldn’t solve and I couldn’t make sense of, and it just, “Ugh.” Somebody said, “Here’s a book on how to solve the Rubik’s cube. Well, I was so “ugh” that the book was even more complicated than this complicated mess. And I wanted something to uncomplicated my complication, but my complication was so great that it made even the book more complicated. And sometimes that happens when we have a complicated mess, and the book just makes it even more complicated.
Well, what happened was is my mom said, “Chip, you get your Rubik’s cube and I’m going to read the book. We’ll solve this thing together.”
So, she would read me the book at that moment because I was so complicated, I couldn’t make sense of anything, she would tell me, “These are the moves that you need to make, and do this.” And, all of a sudden, this thing that was so complicated wasn’t. It wasn’t as hard as I had made it. It was actually easy. All I had to do was learn the things that I needed to do and learn the patterns and I solved it. And never again did I want to throw it. Never again did I get mad at it. Never again did I look at it or any of that stuff because, all of a sudden, it wasn’t as difficult as it was.
And I just want to say to you that your Christianity does not need to be as difficult as we make it. It’s real simple. Jesus looked at the disciples and He said, “Who do you say I am?”
He could’ve said so many different questions there, but He didn’t. He said, “Who do you say I am?”
Simon says, “I believe you’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon. Flesh and blood didn’t reveal that to you, but my Father which is in heaven. And do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to build something great with this statement of who I am. I’m going to build something great. The profession, the rock of ‘I’m the Christ,’ I’m going to build a church on that and you’re going to be a part of that with me.”
He could’ve said so many other things, but that was it. “Who do you say that I am?” Don’t let somebody come along and kick out your Christianity from underneath you by making it a performance based thing. Next week, we’ll talk about ethics. Paul’s going to talk about ethics. Ethics don’t go away, but they are not what makes us a Christian and they’re not what makes us right with God. Jesus alone does that. Let that be freeing. Let that set you free. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. Because, as a church, doing all the great things that we’re doing, we want to make sure that when we reflect Christ to the world that’s out there, that it’s not a convoluted mess, that it’s very simple.
God loved you so much, with a love that you’ll never even imagine, that He sent His Son to die on a cross for your sins, and He rose again on the third day. Which means if you and I believe in Him, not only are our sins forgiven, but we have eternal life. That is the Gospel that saves. Not “Jesus plus” and not the distraction. Let’s don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for the truth of Your Word. I thank You for the simplicity of the Gospel, even though, Father, I’ve done it, we’ve all done it, we’ve all made it difficult at different times. I just pray, Lord, that as we listen to these words that are thousands of years old, and written to a different group of people at a different time, I pray, Lord, that as we struggle through them and read them together, and look at them together, that there’s a freedom that comes within our church and we realize that the answer is not all the other ancillary things. The answer is Christ, and Him alone.
Lord, let us remain focused upon Your Son. Let us lift up Jesus in everything that we do, for His glory and for His honor. So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here that You would watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again, and I pray, Lord, that You would continue to help us to stay true to what You’ve called us to be, which is a place that’s going to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
Lord, we love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.
The book of Colossians. It was a letter written during one of Paul the Apostle’s many trips to prison for declaring Jesus as Lord. And not just any Lord. A Lord who has died and risen again. The letter’s addressed to a community of people that Paul had never met, who made up a church community that he did not start. So, here’s some insight. Colossae was located in the Lycus River Valley near Hierapolis and Laodicea and was under the influence and rule of Persia, Phrygia, Greece and, most importantly, Rome.
An interesting note is that Hierapolis and Colossae had water systems where one was hot springs and the other had cold spring. Well, Laodicea had to have its water aqua-ducted in from both Hierapolis and Colossae, thus it became lukewarm by the time it had arrived. Doesn’t that sound somewhat familiar? Hot, cold, lukewarm?
Back to Colossae. The Lycus Valley was known for its production and dying of high quality purple wool called colossinus. Not only that, but it was also on a trade route. Do you wonder if living on a prosperous trade route made it difficult for people to come to Christ? Did it affect their Christianity? Lots of background to think about.
Dear Colossae, dear Church of Christ, these letters were written to encourage you. Please read them well.
Well, good morning to everybody and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We are in a series called “Dear Colossae.” Last week, if you’re a regular attender here, you know that we sort of stepped out of our series to deal with some things that were going on in the church. I think everybody unanimously agreed that that was probably a good move. We all enjoyed what we talked about. I think it was meaningful to a lot of people. But that means we’re back into our series, “Dear Colossae.” I feel like, because there’s going to be new people here today and because we sort of went out of it for a week, I feel like we need to just do some sort of background material. What we’re doing again, bring everybody back up to speed so that everybody is on the same page.
I made a commitment several years ago that at least once a year I would spend a section of that year in a book or in an epistle or a letter of the New Testament and would go through that line by line. As you know, most of the series that we do here are built on a theme, and then I take passages of Scripture and work through those themes. But I said, “You know what? We need to take times where we actually go through an entire book.”
My hope and my prayer is that by the time I hang up the cleats and pass this on to somebody else, that I will have had been able to go through the 66 books that are in the Bible, and we’ll have a catalog of all of that. I will tell you our executive pastor, Tom Jones, already put in for vacation when I do the book of Leviticus, just so you know. But, all that being said, he’s like, “I’m out.”
I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding. That is a deal killer, though, isn’t it, when you’re reading the Bible through the years? You know, Genesis? Alright. Exodus? Alright. Leviticus? Hello, Matthew. Right? But anyway, we’re going to go through — we’re going through Colossians. We’ve gotten through the first 23 verses so far. But I just want to do a little bit of summary what we’re doing, what we’re trying to accomplish. I call those the big ideas. So, let me go through those once again, because if we don’t do these things, then I’ve failed as your pastor in this series.
First of all, I noted that we want to read Colossians in a very unique and interactive way. I’m convinced that a lot of times when somebody tries to go line-by-line through the Bible, because of our attention span and because we are distracted by so many things, sometimes it’s hard for us to focus as we go through line-by-line on a biblical book. So, what I’m trying to do is to read it with us as a church, but doing it in an interactive way. So, many times, as we read a passage of Scripture, we will jump to what I call a “textual interactive,” and we’ll talk about how that works in our lives right now.
We always, at the end of every sermon, do some practical take-homes, some practical application because that’s important to us. But we want to read it in a unique and interactive way. Secondly, we want to make sure that we can read and understand books in the Bible. That’s a really important thing. Because, as your pastor, I want you to feel comfortable going home in the evening and opening up this book and feeling like you can read it. For many people, it’s tough because these books are ancient documents. I mean, they’re thousands of years old. Sometimes, as you’re going through here, you may not understand the culture, you may not understand the background, you may not understand what’s going on.
You know, Adam, in the bumper video there, alludes to the fact that Hierapolis and Colossae had hot water and cold water. Both of those were good. The hot water was used for stuff and the cold water was used for good. But Laodicea didn’t have a good water system, so that had to aqueduct their water to the town. So, the hot and the cold water would come. The hot water would cool down and the cold water would heat up. So, by the time it came to Laodicea, it was lukewarm.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in sort of a legalistic, Pentecostal background, and I was told almost every Sunday if you’re not hot for Jesus, He would rather you be outside of the church, running with the Devil or whatever else rather than — you know? And I’m like, “Man, I’m just never that hot. I mean, I’m trying to be hot.”
Listen, I know nobody at 10:15 struggles with being hot, but the 9:00 and the 11:45 service, and the Saturday night at 6:00, they do. But, all that being said, when you understand that Jesus doesn’t say, “I understand your spiritual fervencies,” He says, “I understand your works. You’re neither hot nor cold. Both of those are good. You’re not useful. You’re lukewarm.”
That’s what He’s saying. He’s not saying, “I’d rather you be hot, on fire, or cold, totally outside.” See, that’s a bad reading of Scripture by not understanding culture and background, and so on and so forth. That’s why we want to make sure that we can read and understand books of the Bible. As we go through these things and talk about background and culture, we understand what it’s really saying so that we can have a better understanding of what God says to us.
Next, we want to read with application in mind. I’m a professor as well. So, when I teach students, I’ve realized that I don’t want to just be knowledge and informational pusher. When we read the books of the Bible, we’re not there just to gain knowledge. We want to learn. We want to apply this to our lives. Jesus never says, “Blessed are you that know what I told you.” He says, “Blessed are you that do the things that I have said.”
So, we want to read with application in mind. We want to read less informational, although we’re going to get some information. We want to read more transformational because ultimately — and it’s the goal of everything we do here at Grace — we want to be more like Christ. We want individually, collectively, we want our church and we want everything that we do here to look authentically like Jesus. So, these are the big ideas, as we go through Colossians, that we’re trying to do, trying to make sure that we learn, trying to make sure that we apply to our lives, and so on and so forth.
So, now what I want to do is turn real quickly to the first twenty-three verses that we’ve gone through so that everybody’s back on the same page and we start again like we’re just starting here new and afresh. These are three things that we’ve absolutely learned as we’ve gone through the first twenty-three verses.
Number one: We learned that Paul never visited Colossae. He didn’t plant the church. He didn’t visit the church. He’d never been there. Epaphras has come to visit Paul in prison and Epaphras, who was the planner and founder of the church, tells Paul there’s some deficiencies going on in the local church, and he’s come to Paul to get some understanding. Paul then pens this letter with Timothy to the church at Colossae, which we call the epistle to the Colossians, and he writes to them dealing with some things that are going on because he’s writing to correct some deficiencies in the local church.
And if you remember, this is a really important thing to understand. Sometimes we don’t think about these things, but it’s the absolute truth. The epistles in the New Testament were written to Christians. They were not written to non-believers. So, if you have a non-believing friend and you try to say, “Hey, look,” — it wasn’t written to them. It was written to you and me. It was written to Christians. So, oftentimes, we fail to sort of make that note that this literature was written to a church at a specific time and a specific place. It wasn’t written to you and me, but written for you and me.
But, as we understand, these were written to Christians so that they could become all that God wanted them to be. And Paul is correcting some things. All of the epistolatory literature in the New Testament is dealing with deficiencies in the local church to get them to live out the Gospel message. And then we see that his primary concern is the purity of the Gospel. If you look in the first twenty-three verses, he talks about the Gospel quite a bit because he’s convinced that the local church, when it doesn’t preach the Gospel — and the Gospel is a simple message. Jesus came, died on a cross, rose again on the third day, He’s going to return one day. When the Gospel gets convoluted with this and that, this thing here and this check mark, got to do this and got to do that, got to see this way, got to believe this issue, got to do it this way, got to stand on this way, got to — what we’ve done is we’ve added to the Gospel. It’s “Jesus plus,” “Jesus in addition.”
Paul wants to make sure that the local church doesn’t do that. That the local church lives out — and this is important to understand. The ethics and morals of the New Testament, which are absolutely there, are not written to the local church to tell them, “You better behave. You better get it right because God won’t love you if you don’t get it right.”
He’s already loved them. The reason Paul and the New Testament writers are trying to get the local church to look like Jesus is because they’re preaching Jesus. And if they’re preaching Jesus but their lifestyles do not reflect what they’re preaching, then it’s a deficiency to the Gospel. And Paul doesn’t want that to happen because he believes the local church is absolutely the greatest institution in society. And if the local church is done right, it unleashes Jesus on a community and it’s amazing what it does. If the local church is done wrong, it really hurts and damages people. So many people have been burned by religion and burned by church, and we know that.
So, Paul is concerned that the Gospel stays where it’s at. Because, to Paul, like in Romans 1:16, the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Do we believe that simply telling someone that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and He rose again on the third day is sufficient enough for them to come to faith? Or do we have to add in all the other things that we add in? You know, like the guy on the cross that says, “Jesus, I want to be with you after this is done.”
Jesus didn’t turn to him and say, “Well, alright. When’s the last time you went out to that bar? When’s the last time you did this? When’s the last time? By the way, how’d you vote in the last Jerusalem election, by the way?”
He didn’t do any of that. Okay? We do, oftentimes, because that’s our checklist. It’s the “Jesus plus.” The Gospel is sufficient. He said, “You’re going to be with me today in paradise.” Just asking, “Can I be with You?” was enough. And sometimes we convolute that. Paul’s concerned in all of his epistles that if we lose that simple message, we lose what’s the most powerful thing that we have in the Church, which is simply the person of Jesus. He is who we talk about.
So, that being said, Paul now turns, in Colossians 1:24-2:15 — we’re going to cover a lot of material. So, if you catch me outside of the church today and you go, “Whoa, man. We did a lot of stuff today,” I just want to let you know we’re going to do that so you don’t have to tell me that afterwards. You know that we’re doing that before because we’re going to cover a lot of material. So, we’re going out a firehose right now and drink some water out so we’re going to get through this. But we need to go through this. I think we’ll cover through all this. And I think this will be a blessing to everybody.
So, Paul now turns and starts really sharing some personal things. We’re going to see some of the psychology of Paul and how he viewed his ministry and how he viewed his life and his place in all of this. It’s very telling, it’s very touching, but it’s also very, very, very instructional for you and me in our Christian walk.
So, he says, in Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,”
Now, first of all, let’s be honest. Most of us don’t rejoice in suffering. You don’t have to raise your hand, but let’s be honest. I mean, the air conditioning goes off in Irma and we’re all complaining. So, I mean, we don’t really rejoice. And that’s not really suffering. That’s just lack of A/C. But, anyway, Paul doesn’t just say he rejoices in suffering. He says, “I rejoice in sufferings for your sake.” In other words, “I rejoice that I’m suffering on your behalf.” Maybe, maybe you might rejoice in suffering in you knew there was something good for you coming, but rejoicing in suffering for somebody else seems to be a little crazy.
He says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,”
So, let’s do a textual interactive here. Paul never envisioned following Christ without suffering. It just wasn’t even on his radar screen that somehow, someway that you would live a Christian life and not suffer. And I’m not trying to be snarky. I’m not trying to get on anybody’s toes. I’m not trying to get you mad at me or anything like this. But it shows how detached we are as Americans in our affluence, in our lack of suffering, that when we see Christians suffering in other parts of the world, we want to do everything that we can to keep them from doing it, even to the point of maybe killing people, which is crazy. We are so detached from this stuff because we’re so affluent. We’re so affluent.
Paul never envisioned following Jesus without suffering. Never envisioned it at all. In fact, for Paul, the Gospel itself was suffering that was followed by glory. In other words, Jesus went to the cross. That was suffering. The glory was the resurrection. When you read “suffering” in the New Testament, you don’t have to go very far. You’ll see the word “glory.” Like Romans 8:18: “The sufferings in this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.” Jesus said, “Should I have had to suffer all these things,” in Luke 24, “for then the glory to happen?”
When you’re reading Peter, you read the Petrine epistles, he’ll say it. The sufferings here are going to lead to glory here. When you’re suffering here, the Spirit of the glory of God rests upon you. The Gospel is a message. It’s not that all we do is suffer. There’s a lot of massive victory. There’s all kinds of great things that God does in our life. But the reason Paul can rejoice in suffering is because he doesn’t think that something strange has happened. Peter says that in 1 Peter 4. He goes, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you as believers, like something crazy happened. Like, ‘Where did God go in the midst of this suffering?’”
Paul says to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All that live godly in Christ Jesus will be suffer persecution.” There’s going to be some of that. So, Paul never envisioned following Christ without suffering. So, he says, “I’m going to rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”
He says, “...and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”
This has been a problem text for a long time, thousands of years, as church theologians and scholars have sort of debated what’s going on here. What Paul is saying here, Paul believes that as followers of Christ, His body, the Church, that there will be sufferings that take place as we follow Christ. And Paul is saying, “I’m filling up as I’m in prison. I’ve gotten beat, they’ve thrown rocks at me, they’ve whipped my back and they’ve done all this stuff. I’m filling up even more so in my own body the sufferings that will happen on Christ’s Church.”
What he’s really saying is that some of you all, because you’re moving from the Gospel to maybe make it fit better, or to maybe give you a little bit better life, or maybe to make it not so difficult, to really follow Jesus and do the things that Jesus wants us to do and really live like Jesus wants us to live, he says, “I’m filling up for those things in my own self for the body, for the Church.”
So, it says, “...of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,”
So, in other words, Paul says, “Listen, lean in here: I have been called of God with a message to make the Word of God fully known. It’s a stewardship that God’s given to me for you, for those of you all out there in the Lycus Valley and other people that are out there, this is what God’s called me to do. To do this, to live this out, to be this person, to make fully known...”
“...the mystery that’s been hidden for ages and generations...”
In other words, it was in here, but nobody was seeing it. It was here but nobody saw it. When Jesus says, in John 5:39, “You’re reading the Scriptures...” — they’re reading the Old Testament. He says, “When you read those, they speak of me.”
Most Christians would struggle to find Jesus in the Old Testament. Most people with the Old Testament says the Old Testament’s about Israel. Okay. The Old Testament is about Christ. And see, like Isaiah 53, we read that today as Christians with the suffering servant. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, chastisement of our peace was upon him. We go, “Man, that was Jesus.”
Okay. But, for years and years and years and years, Israel read those texts as it was them. They were the suffering servant. So, Paul read the Old Testament through the lens of Israel. It was hidden. This message was hidden back here for generations, but Paul’s like, “Hey, I got the key that unlocked everything for me. This mystery that was hidden for ages and generations,”
“...but now revealed to his saints.”
In other words, now there’s been a revelation to the people of God about this mystery that was hidden. It was there but nobody saw it. Nobody had the lens to see it. He says, “To them,” the saints of God, all the people of God, those who follow Jesus.”
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery,”
In other words, there was this mystery that nobody — like the Gentiles. What do we do with the Gentiles? Most people in the Old Testament, most people that were Jewish people, they said when Israel is set up as the nation above all nations, like Isaiah 2, when the mountain of the hill of the Lord is set up, then all the nations will flood in. What they were thinking is that the Gentiles would sort of be sort of kept from the people of God as a general rule until Israel had been set up as the nation above all nations. Paul says, “Man, when I realize the Old Testament isn’t really about Israel, the Old Testament is really about Jesus, it’s about Him, it’s about God.”
Just like the Old Testament is not about Samson, David or Abraham. The Old Testament is about how God deals with those people. It’s about God. It’s about Jesus. Scripture is about Him, not about all these other things that we do.
He says, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles [...] this mystery,” — listen to what he says, because this is huge — “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
“You” is plural. It’s not personal. It’s not individuals. It’s the Church. It’s all the people of God. The glory of Christ in everybody. In other words, everybody can participate in Christ now. It’s not just for one group of people or one nation. Everybody can participate. So, for Paul, this mystery is the inclusion of the Gentiles into Israel in the present. And see, for Paul, Israel and the Church are not separate entities. That’s why when you read Ephesians 2 and he says, “There used to be two. There was this and that, but the two now, in Christ, have become one, which is the Church.”
Galatians 3 says, “If you have faith, you’re of the children of Abraham.” You go, “How can I be the children of Abraham?” Because that’s what it means. The true spiritual people of Abraham are the people that have faith. He says, in Galatians 3:28, “There’s neither Jew nor Greek. All are one in Christ Jesus.” In Romans 11, there’s one branch, not two, and Jew and Gentile both come into that one branch. So, for Paul, he realizes. He’s like, “This is a game-changer. This is a game-changer that God is reaching out to everybody.”
Because the Jewish people thought that God loved them, and the other people were sort of going to have to wait for a little while. Like if you would’ve gone to the temple in the first century, there would’ve been a thing that says, “If you are a Gentile, you cannot go past this place.” You couldn’t go past it at all. And for Paul, he’s working this out as he’s realizing what’s going on. And you see it in the early church. They don’t know what to do with it.
Like Peter. Peter’s been with Jesus. He’s eaten at table. He’s gone to the Decapolis on the boat and seen Jesus really heal a demoniac that was a Gentile. He’s seen Him reach out to these people. He’s seen Him do this. But Peter, when God says, “I want you to go preach the Gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile,” what does he do?
“I’m not going there. Those people are dirty. I’m not doing that.”
So, what does God have to do? He has to give him three visions on a rooftop to finally get him to go. And they don’t know what to do with it. Even in Acts 15, they don’t know what to do. They’re going, “What do we do?” Peter’s like, “I don’t know, man. I went to Cornelius’ house, man. Man, they got filled with the Holy Spirit like we did in Acts 2. I don’t know what God’s up to.”
Everybody’s going, “Man, what’s going on?” They’re like, “We don’t know. Maybe we need to cut them some slack. Maybe we just need to just give them a couple things not to do and you’re in.”
They’re still trying to figure this thing out. Paul says, “I’m a minister. I get it. I know what my job is. I know what my role is. It is to preach Jesus to everybody because this is the greatest hope of everything, that Christ now resides and lives within all of those people that will call upon His name.” And then listen to what he says, because this is huge:
“Him we proclaim,”
Him. Jesus. Him. See, I’m convinced, as a pastor, when I look at the Church in America, we’re in decline. We’re not growing as a church in America. Mainline churches are crumbling. You see it all over the place. I’m here to tell you the reason why the Church in America is declining is because we preach “Jesus plus.” Our issues, our political views, our thoughts. “Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t. Oh, and Jesus loves you.”
Paul says, “Him we proclaim.” Him. Which means the Gospel is not a system or set of regulations. It’s a person. Who can set you free? Jesus. Who can deliver you? Jesus. Who can bring you salvation? Jesus. Who can bring you peace in your life? Jesus. That’s the Gospel message. The Gospel message is so simple. Listen, if you’re here today and you’ve never, ever, ever — you’re like “I don’t even know why I got in church today. Somebody drug me hear. I thought I was going to a movie and here I am at church. I don’t know how I got here. Man, I don’t know what to do with God.”
Let me make it very, very clear for you. This is the essence of Christianity: God loved you so much that He gave His Son to die on a cross and rise again on the third day so that you could have everlasting life. Are you in? And we don’t know what to do with that because we go, “Yeah, but what — but, but, but, but...”
No, no. Let me just tell you, if this is all about what we do, if this is all about what we get right, can I tell you that everybody in here is in trouble? We’re in trouble. I know people don’t like the word “sin.” Okay? The Bible calls it sin. The Greek word is “hamartia,” which is to miss the mark. We’ll call it “oops.” You don’t have to raise your hand, but has anybody done an oops? Come on, now. We’ve all done some oops.
Jesus came for your oops. Your oops can’t get you in. It’s only what Jesus has done for you and me. It’s not what we do to get us in. And what we do is we make it all these hoops that everybody has to — “Well, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. You can’t do that. If you do this, you can’t do that. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t.”
We preach all this stuff. That’s not the Gospel. The Gospel is a person. It’s Jesus.
Paul says, “...warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Once again, because we don’t understand that the epistles are for the Church, we feel like it’s our job to go out and warn everybody who’s not a Christian. No, no. Once again, these letters are to Christians. They’re not to non-Christians. Paul says, “I’m warning everybody in the Church, because there’s a danger here, and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
Because here’s the reality: We, if we’re preaching Jesus and then we don’t look like Jesus or we don’t act like Jesus or we convolute Jesus with this world — like, we don’t even know what to do. Most Christians do not know what to do with “love your enemies.” They don’t know what to do with it because they say, “Well, maybe for a minute. Surely, He can’t mean love your enemies.”
Which is hilarious because you get people going, “Let me tell you about the book of Revelation and what it says here, and this angel coming down and the dragons and everything. This is the clear meaning of Scripture.”
I’m like, “Dude, there ain’t nothing clear about the book of Revelation. Nothing. I’ve got three master’s degrees and two doctorates, and I teach systematic theology. I’m telling you nobody knows what’s going on.”
Not even in Colorado where they smoke stuff. Okay? I’m telling you. It’d be like — okay. Here’s this. What I’m saying is love your enemies. That sounds pretty clear. We can’t even get the clear things right. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Look like Jesus. We go, “Oh, well, He didn’t really mean that. I mean, I think somewhere in the Old Testament He looked like Rambo. Is there a book like Rambo?”
Forget that He said, “I know you’ve heard it said, but now I say to you...”
We go, “Oh, well, yeah. But I’m going to...”
No, no, no. That’s not what He said. So, what I’m saying is these letters were written to Christians. He’s saying, “Hey, listen, I want to make sure everybody’s mature in Christ.”
He says, “For this I toil,”
In other words, “Man, I work at it. I work, I work, I work, I work. I struggle. I labor with...”
“...all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
You hear people in church — all we do is argue these things. Like, “So, should I do it? Should God do it? Is God sovereign? Am I doing this? Which part do I play? What part does this play?”
Let me just make it very clear here what Paul says. Paul simply states that God works in him and he toils as well. He doesn’t try to fully explain it. Maybe we would do well to just follow Paul and just go, “I give everything I’ve got and I know that when I give everything I’ve got I know that God’s working in me to do the things that I’m doing. I don’t understand it, but that’s just what I do.”
We want to explain everything, then we argue about it. People get mad. “You’re not using the Bible right.” They go through the different hubs so they don’t have to see each other. It’s like, “Come on. Let’s stop that stuff.”
He says, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for all those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,”
“I know that in the Lycus Valley, here, there’s a lot of people I’ve never seen, but I’m struggle for you all because I want your hearts to be encouraged. I want you to be knit together in love. I want you to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery.”
And for us, we would go, “Man, that’s got to be a really long list to understand all the understandings and the riches of full assurance, and the knowledge of God’s mystery.”
And you’ve met those people, right? I mean, they’ve got, “Here’s the mystery.” It’s like 90 pages of all the stuff. Listen to how simple it is for Paul. “I want all these things to be true. I want you to understand all this stuff. I want you to understand the knowledge of God’s mystery.”
Listen: “...which is Christ,”
Is He enough or is it “Jesus plus,” “Jesus and?” Which is Christ. See, once again, the wholly sufficient Gospel message is Jesus. And the first thing that we want to do is go, “Yeah, but...”
But see, the “yeah, but” doesn’t save anybody. Jesus is the one that saves people.
He says, “...in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Come on. This is church, so we can all be for real here. We don’t really believe that. Because we’re out looking for everything else in life to make us happy. We don’t believe that in Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
He says, “I say this...”
“Listen, I’ve said all this stuff I’m saying to you. I’m telling you about Jesus. I’m telling you about who He is. I’m telling you about the purity of the Gospel. I’m telling you that Jesus is who we preach. I’m telling you that the mystery of God is Christ.”
“I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.”
Because what they’re going to do is this. This is textual interaction. It’s so easy to be distracted with well-sounding arguments and rhetoric focused on the here and now. What we do is we take some nationalism, some of this and some of that, even though we’re called to be citizens of heaven, and what we do is we take all of these things, and then we take Christ and we cram it together and we go, “This is Christianity.”
It isn’t working. The Church is in decline. The message of the Church is Jesus. He is the message of the Church. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one that does all the things that need to be done. He is the one in whom all things hold together. And people will come along and they will delude you and they will talk to you and they will get you off focus on all kinds of stuff, making you think that what you are doing is exactly what you should be doing. That will not save people. What will save people is the simple Gospel message that Jesus Christ died for your sins and He rose again on the third day and He’s going to come back one day. That is a sufficient message and that should be the message of the Church. Paul says, “I say all this so that you don’t get deluded.”
He goes, “For though I am absent in body,” — because I’m in prison — “I’m with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore,”
I went to a church when I was growing up. The older preacher, his name was Floyd McClung. He was a great guy. He loved God. I still, to this day, always feel like I need to be a better prayer person. You could go into the sanctuary at Westmore Church of God when I was a kid. I was 19. He would be up in the sanctuary, in the top balcony, praying. You could go up after he had prayed and there was a puddle of water where he had cried. He used to say, “When you come to a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you must ask yourself what it is there for.”
That’s great. You know? It might not be good preaching, but it was good Gospel. Right? So, anyway.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,”
See, this “therefore” takes into account everything up to now. What he’s saying is this: “How did you come to receive Jesus? Was it because of all the things you didn’t touch, didn’t taste, didn’t get this right, didn’t do that, didn’t do this, didn’t do that, didn’t do this, didn’t act like that, didn’t act like this? No. How’d you come to Jesus? Through the Gospel.”
So, the same way that you received Him, walk in it. Be that. Focus on that.
He says, “...rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it...”
Once again, he’s calling them. “Listen, don’t let anybody take you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Don’t get distracted here, Church. That’s what he’s saying. Don’t move away. Like he says to the Galatians, he’s like, “Who bewitched you,” Galatians 3:1, “that you’re going to move away from the Gospel? Who got to you to get you way from the simplicity of what it was that brought you to Christ?”
He says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”
He is all of God when He walked here in the world.
“...and you’ve been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”
You’ve got everything you need, and He is the head of all rule and authority. You know, the Church — look, I’m just being honest. I don’t know if there’s a more fearful group than the Church. We’re always worried about everything going on in the world. We always get so caught up in the political spectrum of everything. Let me just go ahead and tell you right now, go home today and read Isaiah 40. Isaiah will tell you that your God is so big that the nations are like a drop in the bucket to Him. He’s the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He rules this world. You don’t have to be worried about whether or not God is in control. He knows what He’s doing. Everything is going exactly the way He wants it to go, and what He wants us to do is trust Him and not get distracted.
That’s way better preaching than you all are letting on. Anyway, I want to read this to you because we’re going to come back to all of this in just a minute.
“In him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
You’re part of the circumcision. You’ve been baptized and raised to newness of life.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh,”
You were dead and baptism raised you to life. You were uncircumcised in your flesh. You’ve been circumcised now. God made alive. He’s the initiator of this thing.
“God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all of our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”
All the things that we felt like we needed to do, all the hoops that you feel like you have to jump through, all the things that you’ve got to feel like you’ve got to do to get God to love you, He nailed that to the cross. You don’t have to perform.
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
We’re going to come back to this in just a second as we do our practical take-homes. So, here’s some practical application. Three things and I’ll get you out of here.
First, the Gospel message is Jesus. I want you to hear the Scripture again. “Him we proclaim.” I want to do two things real quickly. If you are not a Christian at all, you’ve come to a great place. You’ve come to a great place. We’re not putting you under the legalism stuff. None of that stuff. We want to tell you that Jesus loved you enough that He came and died on a cross to get rid of all your oopses, and His message to you is, “Come home.” You may have been told you had to clean up, but you can’t clean up. He cleans you up. He cleans you up. He’ll take care of you.
An old preacher told me one time, “Chip, go out and catch men. Catch them like fish. God will clean them.”
It’s not my job to clean you. That’s what God does. And I know the Church wants to clean everybody up. We can’t. The only person that can clean you up is God and He wants you to come home. He loves you with an everlasting love.
For those of you all who are Christians, though, what I would tell you is just be honest for a minute. Take a diagnostic. Coming to church isn’t what you want. Coming to church, you should hear what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. It should be what you need to hear. Okay? I’m not here to entertain. I’m here to equip as your pastor.
Listen to this: Look at your social media, look at the things that you talk about, look at the things that you talk about, look at the things that frustrate you, look at the things that you get all bent out of shape and ask yourself the question, “What am I really proclaiming? Is it some of Jesus and then all this other stuff or am I really just proclaiming Jesus?”
If the Church could get focused on that and not distracted by all the other things, what a powerful entity we would be. In fact, I will tell you this right here: When the Church loses its central message, it loses its power. Do you want to know what the message of the Church is? It’s Jesus. “Yeah, but, but, but...”
No. Jesus is enough. He didn’t say He was a way. He said He was the way. He didn’t say He was a life, or maybe some part. He said He’s the life. He didn’t say He was a part of truth. He said He was the truth. John 14:6: “I’m the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Except through Him. “But what about... but what about?” No. Through Him. He’s our message. When we lose our central message, we lose our power. Jesus is what we should be proclaiming. And I’m here to tell you, and I’m bold enough to say it, and I’m bold enough to get in your grill to say we have a problem in the American church because we’re so divisive and we’re so mad at people who don’t see it the way we see it, and we forget that what brings us together is not socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s not issues, it’s not political theory.
What brings us to the table where we drink the wine, take the bread — or the grape juice, here in this church. But when we do those things, it’s because we believe that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and that He rose from the dead on the third day. That is what unites us as Christians.
Second: Jesus is the ultimate answer to everything we’re looking and searching for. Come on. You know it. You know it. Everyone. I’m guilty, too. I’m an oopser. I’m with you. I put my pants on the same way. I don’t walk on the water. I sink. My kids are wild. They punch each other, bite each other and they do all that stuff. I mean, I’m just like you. There ain’t no difference up here. I don’t get up in the morning and God goes, “Hey, how are you doing, Chip?”
I’m like, “God, where are You at, man? We need more seats.”
You know? So, all the things that we’re looking for, and searching for all those things are Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. See, the ultimate longing we all have in our hearts is for Jesus. When you’re longing for something, the only thing that’s going to fulfill that is Christ.
And here’s the best part. Third. There is massive victory — I mean, massive — right now, for you in your life. Just listen please. If you didn’t listen to anything else I said, listen here. Drink this in. Because if you say, “I am a follower of Jesus,” this is true for you whether you feel it, whether you think it, whether you know it. This is true of you. Listen to what the Scriptures say.
“He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”
In other words, I know so many Christians that walk around with a sheet of paper. “I did this. I did this. I should’ve never done this.” They walk around and all they do is read that sheet of paper all the time. And it makes them feel bad. They don’t think that God could ever love them. They don’t understand any of this stuff. They go, “I believe in Jesus, but I’ve done all these things. Look at this letter that I’ve got. Look at all these legal demands. Look at all of this stuff that I’ve done in my life.”
Paul says, “He set that aside. He nailed it to the cross. You do not need to carry that letter around with you anymore. Your sins have been forgiven in Jesus’ name.”
And this is awesome. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them.” In the first century, when a king or a ruler would defeat another ruler, what they would do is they would capture that person alive, if they possibly could, they’d put them in chains, they’d time them to a rope and put that rope on the back of a horse. They would drag that leader, that had been defeated, behind that horse through the towns and the cities so that everybody could know that he ain’t your leader anymore because the dude on the horse is dragging him.
Paul says that when Jesus stepped out of the grave, death, hell, the grave, the Devil, the demons, all of that stuff is being dragged behind Him because He has made an open, public shame of them for what they’ve done, which means that if your sins are forgiven and Jesus is in control and death, hell and the grave can’t come against you, then we ought to be people of massive victory in our lives right now. Amen?
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, that we have these documents that instruct us and keep us focused. Lord, my prayer is, here at Grace Community Church, that we would remember the last two words of why we’re here: We’re here to reflect Christ. We want to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. Birth Christ in our church. Birth Christ in our people. Birth the Gospel anew and afresh in our people. Let it be Him that we proclaim and not all the other things. Let us stay focused, Lord. Time is short. This is the highest stakes game in town there’s so many people that need Your love, and they’re looking for it. What they don’t need is a convoluted message. They need the authenticity that God loves them, wants them to come home and they need a church that does the best they can to demonstrate that love in a tangible way.
Lord, please, for Your glory and for Your honor, for the sake of Your Church, for the sake of Your people, burden us, Lord, keep our eyes focused upon You in all that we do. So, Lord, as we leave here right now, we pray that You would watch over us and protect us, we pray that You would lead and guide us, we pray that You would bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, I pray that You would continue to help us to be the church that You’ve called us to be to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
We love You, we thank You and we praise You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.
Do you not know? The Lord is the everlasting God. He will not grow tired or weary. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.
Welcome to everybody this morning, and also to those who watch via the mobile app and the internet. About 10 years ago, Mindy and I had had Grace, and many of you know that we have a large family of 6 kids. We’d had Grace and we’d had Jack. Believe it or not, Grace is turning 13 in November, so I’ve already nailed the windows shut in her room and everything else. I can tell you, it’s crazy around our house.
Anyway, we’d had Grace and we’d had Jack and Mindy was pregnant again. So, we were doing the back and forth, “Is it going to be a boy, is it going to be a girl? How’s it going to be in the family?” As you do when you’re pregnant, you go for your different tests. She went in for an ultrasound and, as they were doing the ultrasound, they let us know that the baby had no heartbeat. We were like, “Wow.” I don’t think we were really expecting that. And you don’t really think about when you have a miscarriage, because a lot of people do, but you don’t think through the process until it happens to you that your wife then has to have a surgery where this child is removed from the womb.
You go through those things and you have questions and you try to make sense out of life. And then, as many of you all know, a year ago, roughly, my mom passed away. To say that my mom was heavily involved in my kids’ life would be a dramatic understatement. If somebody were to ask me sincerely, if they were to say, “Chip, why do you think that Grace Community Church has had the success that it’s had?” I would say, “Because my mom had a prayer meeting every week, for the entire time I’ve been born, praying for her sons with other women who still call and pray for us.”
My mom was just a woman of faith, a woman of God. And I remember getting the phone call early that morning. We didn’t know for sure because my dad was sort of shaken, but we thought that there was a heart attack. She had been taken to Silva’s Hospital in North Carolina where they had a house, and then flown to Asheville via helicopter. So, Bobby and I hopped on the quickest plane that we could. We got up there. We went into the room. Of course, I’m in pastor mode because I’m the pastor. I’m trying to take care of my dad and my brother. There lays my mom, tube in her mouth. It’s just like you go in and you try to be strong.
So, we’re talking and trying to figure out. I’m thinking, “My mom’s only 73. She’s in great shape. She can pull through this.” Because pull through heart attacks at this point. So, I started talking to the doctor. The doctor said, “We’re going to do a test on her brain to see, you know, because when you have a heart attack in the length that she was there, we want to see if there was any sustained damage to her brain.”
So, they came back with this first, preliminary test. The nurse came in, who liked us, who was a Christian and realized I was a pastor. She downloaded the mobile app and all that great stuff. It was feeling really good. She said, “Hey, the preliminary test doesn’t look like there’s significant damage in your mom’s brain.”
And it was like that was the best news we could possible hear. And then she left and, all of a sudden, my mom opens up one of her eyes. We’re thinking, “Man.” I’ve got video, still, on my phone where my dad’s going, “Birdie, birdie, come back to us.” You know? All this stuff. You’re doing all these things. So, I go home that night to the hotel room and I remember getting down on my knees and putting my elbows in a chair and saying, “God, listen, I know it doesn’t work this way, but look, I’m doing the best I can to be a pastor. I’m trying to be a good dad. I don’t have any massive secret sins.”
You know? I’m like bargaining with God. “Please, God. Not even for me. For my kids. Even if she doesn’t walk. If she’s bound in a wheelchair. Just anything. Just don’t let her die.”
I went back to the hospital the next day and they had done a full scan. The neurologist asked to meet with us. He sat down and he said, “Well, let me tell you what’s going on with your mom. Your mom is a perfect physical specimen. There’s nothing wrong with anything in her body. Kidneys, lungs, everything. Everything’s functioning. She just has no brain function at all.”
We were just like, “Oh, man.” We did not want to hear that. And then you make the decision to unplug and all of that. You just have those real questions. “God, why? Why do You let these things happen?”
Anybody who’s experienced a tragedy knows that that’s true. And here at our church, over the last several weeks, we’ve had several miscarriages that we know of. We had a family that had a tragic death in New Jersey and were trying to get to the family and, on the way there, the wife had to go to the emergency room. Then finally go back again and went. Then we had what we all know. We had the O’Fee family, last Sunday — right here, last Sunday, this service, sat right over there. I walked up and said, “Hey, how are you guys doing?” I gave Teige a fist bump, then came up and preached. I was at home on Sunday and was flipping through Facebook. I saw that they’d been out at Siesta Key. I was like, “That’s cool. They went out to Siesta Key. God bless them taking four kids out to Siesta Key. I don’t take my six kids, ever.”
You know? I was like, “That’s awesome. Let Mindy do that stuff. Hey, I’ve got to go pray.” Anyway, I saw that. Then, late Sunday at some point — and I can’t remember when. I think I was in bed. I realized on my Facebook messenger that Haley, who I was friends with — both her and Teige, but I didn’t have any numbers — had Facebooked me and she said, “Our son, Liam...” — and it was not spelled all right. It obviously had been written in panic.”
“Our son, Liam, has drowned.”
I was like, “I don’t have any numbers, so let me know what I can do.” Finally, on Monday, after I’d given my number to them on Facebook, they said, “Hey, could you come up to All Children’s Hospital?”
So, I did. What happened was they went to church, then they went to Siesta Key. They came home. They had sand on everybody. They jumped in the pool, like a lot of people do. I guess Haley had left to go pick up something or do something. Teige was there with the kids. I think one of the kids needed a diaper change. So, he gets all the kids out, shuts the doors and goes and changes the kids like all of us do.
I guess little Liam just decided that he had not had enough of the pool. He found a way out and into the pool. So, when Teige comes out after change the diaper — I’m sure he had fun. I mean, I try to have fun when I change my kids’ diapers. You sort of get caught up in the moment. He came out, started looking for Liam and couldn’t find him, then looked outside and here he was floating in the pool. About the time he ran to jump in is the time that Haley came through the door. Of course, CPR and a flight up to All Children’s, then to realize that their 22-month-old had no brain function and had to make that decision.
So, I know many of you may be here and you’ve heard about this. A lot of you maybe showed up because you knew we were going to talk about it. I felt like, given the circumstances, as a pastor, I needed to not talk about what we were doing with Dear Colossae. I needed to take a moment and talk about when tragedy comes. How do we handle it? How do we assimilate it? How do we deal with it? And then can I give you some message of hope in the midst of all of this stuff?
So, what I do know is this. I do know that when tragedy comes, in the moment, it is real and it’s raw. There’s just not a whole lot that you — I remember when I walked into the room at All Children’s, when I went up the first time on Monday, I walked in and I said, “I don’t have any words. I’m just here, as a pastor, to love on you all and just be present.”
And, of course, they want you to pray and they want you to talk. I remember, as I walked out, the lady behind the counter said, “Pastor, how was your visit?”
I said, “Ma’am, I don’t know what most pastor’s say to you, but at this point in my life, I’m pretty just straightforward.” I said, “I’m going to get in my car. It’s about an hour drive home. The entire time home, I’m going to sit there and go, ‘I can’t believe you said that. I can’t believe you prayed that. I can’t believe you did that. You could’ve said this. You could’ve said that.’ That’s what we do. In the moment, it’s so real and so raw. There are no words. There is no anything that you say. You just try to show up and love people.”
So, knowing that, you really can’t, as a pastor, equip anybody very well in the middle of tragedy. What you try to do is you try to do it before. You try to make sure that your church and your people are ready for tragedy, because tragedy’s going to come in people’s lives. You want to make sure that they’re equipped before. Hopefully, if they’ve had a tragedy, you can work with them after, but the best time to do it is before.
So, what I want to do is I want to help. I want to dialogue for just a little bit about some things that you can put in your toolbox when tragedy comes into your life. And then, at the very end, I’ve got some things that I want to say to encourage and give you some hope, especially if you’ve come here if you know the family, or you’re just sort of like, “Oh, what do I do?”
I want to try to address that. But I also want to try to give you some things to help you out, because tragedy will come in your life. As I sat and debated — because I changed my message. I mean, it was like Thursday night. I was ready to go. I almost had the thing ready for the weekend. I tried to spend some time and put things together. I called Tom Thursday night, late, and said, “Hey, man. I just really feel like I need to change what I’m doing.”
We talked about it as a staff and we all agreed we needed to deal with this. So, I’ve just had a little bit of time to put this together. And then the band decided to change the songs. I think “It Is Well” was a beautiful choice to sing as a church. Just so that you know, you may not know this, but the background of that story was a man had paid for his family to come across from the Atlantic from Europe to New York. The ship sunk and he didn’t know whether or not his family was alive or not. He penned “It is well with my soul. When sea billows roll, it is well.”
You know? There’s hope. As I started thinking, “What do I do? What do I talk about? Do I talk about David’s sin with Bathsheba and the tragedy there? Do I talk about in Matthew 2 when kids were killed by Herod? Do I talk about the fall with Adam?” And I said to myself, “You know what? I know what I need to do.”
On Easter, I spoke about Lazarus. Everybody’s going to probably remember that story even if they don’t know that story very well. If you’re here and you don’t go to church on a regular basis, if you’ve just shown up today to be a part, let me just give you a breakdown here. Jesus is really close with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. This is a family that lives in Bethany. Lazarus has fallen ill and Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus because they know that Jesus can heal Lazarus. But Jesus waits. Because of His delay, Lazarus dies and nobody knows what’s going on or why. It’s a big tragedy.
And then, of course, at the end of the story, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. But what I decided was I’m just going to take a couple of Scriptures. I’m going to read them, and then what we’re going to do is we’re going to look at them a little bit more in-depth because I think there’s some real, real powerful things to help us sort of deal with tragedy, and hopefully equip us before those things happen to us.
It says, “When Mary came to where Jesus was...”
Jesus has now come to Bethany. Lazarus is dead. He’s talked to Martha. Now He comes and Mary shows up.
“When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
I don’t think Mary was trying to be nasty towards Jesus. I don’t think she was trying to give Him a big guilt trip, but I do think she was saying, “I’m disappointed because, had You been here, if You would’ve been here, this would not have happened at all.”
“When Jesus saw her weeping,”
The original language for “weeping” is not just crying. It is massive emotion. I’m talking about wailing crying. So, what’s happened is Jesus has come and He’s talked with Martha. Martha’s told Mary that Jesus is there. Mary is in the house and she’s wailing and going through all the grief period because for seven days in the first century, in the ancient Near East, they would grieve for seven days. They would have family members that came and grieved with you, and then they would hire people, they would pay people, to come and grieve with the family. That’s what they would do.
So, Mary hears that Jesus is out there, so she comes. He sees her weeping.
“And the Jews who had come with her also weeping,”
This is the band of people that is weeping with her. She’s weeping, so wherever she goes — I’m sorry. Wherever she goes — that was not part of my message. I know, normally, you all think I’m scripted up here. That was not part of the message. I don’t have anywhere to go with that. And my ninja skills are not good this morning.
But, all that being said, the people that were hired, and the family members and all the grievers, they all show up, they all come out. Jesus sees this.
Then John tells us, “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”
Now, these two words, “deeply moved,” are one word in the original language. That one word is used of a horse snorting in anger. Most translators don’t know what to do with that because they’re like, “Is He angry? He’s frustrated? Well, why would He...”
Okay. We’re going to come back to that in a minute because this is really important. We’re going to see this in a second.
“He was deeply moved [frustrated, angered] in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’”
And then we’re told, “Jesus wept.”
So, the Jews said, “Hey, He loved him! Look. He’s got tears in His eyes.” He’s not wailing like they are. This is a calm weeping. He’s weeping. They’re like, “Hey, man. He loved him. Look. He’s weeping.”
“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’”
Now, just reading that text, I want to do something here. Let’s just have an honest conversation. I’m going to be as real as I can be to be your pastor. I just felt like, in this moment, we’re in a series called “Dear Colossae” that we’ve shelved for a week. And in that series, I’m telling you that these epistles were written to a church at a specific time at a specific place to deal with a specific issue. I feel like we’re doing epistle work this weekend. This is a specific time, a specific place. We need to deal with what happens when tragedy comes in our life. And I want to have an honest conversation with you. This is to help you process through tragedy when tragedy comes to your life.
First, Jesus never said we would be exempt from tragedy in our lives. I know when tragedy comes there’s this feeling of it shouldn’t come, that it shouldn’t be there. And I can tell you that the reason you feel that way is because that’s the way God originally created the world. Those original seeds are in you and me. We know that tragedy shouldn’t be here. We know that it’s sort of an affront to everything. But here’s the reality: Although the world was not created that way, the world has fallen. Tragedy is just a part of life.
And I know there’s going to be people that you read a book and they tell you if you put this anointing oil on this spot and that spot, and put a handkerchief under your pillow, and say this words, and walk three times backwards, you’re going to be exempt from all tragedy in the world because God’s just a good God. He loves you so much that He doesn’t want anything to happen to you. Let me tell you something: That is absolutely incorrect and bad theology. Jesus never said. In fact, here’s what He said: “In this world, you will have tribulations.”
“Thlipsis” is the Greek word. It means suffering, tragedy, persecution, tribulation. It covers all of it. He says, “In this world, you’re going to have difficulty.” So, knowing that — and I’m not trying to be negative or whatever. Because the first thing when tragedy comes is we go, “It shouldn’t be this way.”
I get that. But the reality is we need to sort of be prepared beforehand that tragedy is going to come to our life. If we’re going to be able to process it in a biblical way, we need to be aware that it’s going to come. Second is when tragedy does come in our lives, “if” is a hard word to purge from our vocabulary. Listen to what Mary says. She says, “If You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. See, Jesus, I know that if this would’ve happened, then this would not have been the result.”
The word “if” comes to every single person, every single time. “If only I would’ve known. If only I could’ve done this. If only they wouldn’t have done that. If only this would’ve been done. If only I would’ve locked. If only I would’ve shut. If only I would’ve said. If only I would’ve this.”
If only. If, if, if, if, if. “If” comes to us all. It comes and it cascades in waves. If. My dad looked at me and said, “If I would’ve gotten to your mom quicker to perform CPR. If I would’ve.” See? There’s this feeling of “if.” Here’s what we’re saying: First of all, we’re saying that some injustice has happened. We’re saying, “Okay. If this could’ve happened, then this injustice, this tragedy, this thing.”
We’re saying some injustice has happened. But, listen, because this is important. That implies that we know better. That somehow we know that what we know, the “if,” if this could’ve happened, this is an injustice because we know this was an injustice. We know this was bad. As if we have all the stuff. What we’re really saying, at the end of the day, is that impugns God’s sovereignty. Because what we’re saying is we’re saying that I know better because if I could’ve done this, or they could’ve done that, or could’ve said this, or could’ve done this or whatever, or if I would’ve done this or that, or they would’ve done, or I would’ve known or whatever — if, then this wouldn’t happen. If.
And what we’re really saying is God really doesn’t know what He’s doing. We don’t really believe in that moment. And we all do it. We all have the ifs. But listen, just because we cannot understand doesn’t mean God has ceased to be sovereign or good. See, when we say “if,” what we’re really saying is, “Well, we don’t believe that not even the sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s will. We don’t believe that.”
We believe, somehow, when we say “if,” that God’s up in heaven, like the short order cook that’s overloaded at Waffle House when the scattered, smothered and covered comes in, and the eggs and the bacon, and they’re doing all this stuff and moving around because they can’t keep it up. And then the waffle’s burnt and the bacon’s burnt because they can’t keep up with all the stuff.
What we’re saying is, when we say “if,” “If only this would’ve — if this, if this, if this, if this,” what we’re saying is that somehow God got it wrong. Just because we can’t understand, just because we can’t make sense does not mean that God has ceased to be sovereign or good.
Third. This should be self-intuitive to everybody, but I need to say it. When tragedy comes, nobody wants Job’s comforters in their time of tragedy. If you don’t know the story of Job, you thought it was the book of job, totally cool. A lot of people do. They’re like, “I need to turn to that book because I need one.”
You know? No. The book of Job. Job loses his family and all those things. He’s got these three guys that decide to come and tell him why he’s suffering the things that he’s suffering. Can I just say that when you’re in the middle of a tragedy and you get your Christian friend that wants to come tell you how everything works together, just show them the door because nobody wants Job’s comforters. I just typed this into my computer. I think this makes sense. You’ll understand it.
When bone is sticking through the skin, nobody wants a detailed exegesis of what justice is in Plato’s Republic. Does that make sense? Do you understand? We don’t need a teaching. We don’t need some sort of puzzle piece or whatever. We just don’t need that. We don’t need to be Job’s comforters, nor do we want them when tragedy strikes.
Fourth, tragedies usually raise the same two questions every time, every place. You may not say them this way, you may not think through it, but they’re there. These are the same two questions.
“So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’”
“I mean, He’s crying. He obviously is a good man. He just can’t make a difference. He loved him. It’s obvious that He loved him. He’s crying.”
“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’”
“I mean, He obviously has the power to do something, but He’s just not doing it.”
The two questions that always arise when tragedy comes is, “Is God good, but powerless? I mean, He’s good, but He just doesn’t have the ability. It’s like He can in some places, but not in all places.”
So, is He good, but powerless, or is He powerful but not good? He healed others, so He’s obviously got power, but He’s not doing the same here. So, is He not good? These are the questions that will always arise when you and I go through tragedy. And listen to me, and listen to me well, these questions are insufficient because they do not take into account nor allow for resurrection. We’re going to come to that in a minute. Resurrection changes everything. We’re going to get there in just a second.
So, here’s some equipping tools. When tragedy comes, I should understand that it’s going to be a part of my life. It’s going to be a part of the fallen world that I live in. I need to think, when I’m saying “if,” what I’m really saying. And just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean that God has somehow ceased to be good or sovereign. What I don’t need to be for someone else, or I don’t need in my life, is somebody trying to tell me how everything goes together in that moment, because nobody can. It’s real and it’s raw and we don’t need Job’s comforters. Fourth, let your mind think through because it will play the, “Well, was he just not there? Was he just not able?”
Those things will play, but those are insufficient because all they’re taking into account is right now. They’re not taking into account a long-term thought process, which we’ll talk about. So, all that being said, what I can tell you for sure is this. This is what I can absolutely tell you, when tragedy comes, as your pastor. I absolutely can tell you this. First, God does not stand outside our sufferings, but joins us in them. If I didn’t have any other biblical verse but the Exodus, I would know this to be true.
In the Old Testament, there were all kinds of deities — supposed deities. You can even see the thinking back then because the Ten Commandments says, “There shall be no other gods before me.”
There weren’t any other gods. But, at that time, they needed to hear that because they all thought there were multiple gods. God met them where they were. It’s called accommodation. And their gods that they worshipped were all about production. As long as you did what you needed to do, then God would do what He was supposed to do. And that’s why it’s all this production. We still do that with God today. It’s all about a production, and then we think He’ll bless us. That’s not the biblical data. That’s the way the other deities worked, and it was performance, performance, do and do, build bricks, build brick, build bricks, and then God will do these things, or the Sun god will shine sun.
But the one thing we know about all of those gods is all they cared about was themselves. They did not care about the plight or sufferings or tragedies of humanity. It was, “Get to work and perform for me, or else I won’t bless you.” But we have this passage in the Old Testament where the children of God are suffering and they cry out to Yahweh. When they cry out to Yahweh, we’re told something revolutionary. It says, “The Lord came down to see the suffering of His people.”
He came down. So did Jesus. He came down. He came down. We say, “Where’s God in the midst of suffering?” Well, He joins us. We have such a beautiful two words. The shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” He knew Lazarus was going to be raised from the dead. He didn’t have to cry. Nobody would’ve been crying if they would’ve known what was going on. Why does He weep then? He weeps because He enters into the grief and the tragedy of the people there.
You says, “Where’s God when all these bad things happen? Where’s He at when children die at early ages?” and all of this stuff. What I can tell you, as your pastor, for sure, is whether you see Him or whether you feel Him or whether you know it, I can absolutely tell you when you ask me, “Where is God in the midst of suffering?” my answer is, “He is right there with you.”
Second, what I know for sure, the answer “I don’t know” is always the best answer. People say, “Chip, you teach theology. You went to school all this time. Can you tell me why a man would open up a window at Mandalay Bay and shoot all those people?”
I don’t know.
You say, “Well, Chip, what about that accident that happened with that boat, just recently, where all those people were killed? Why does God let that happen? Why does that go on?”
I don’t know.
“Chip, surely you can tell us why this 22-month-old would drown in a pool.”
I don’t know. I really don’t know. And that is the answer. I don’t know. And let me tell you why it’s the best answer. First of all, it’s honest. It’s the most honest answer that you can say. I just absolutely — there’s a phrase that the youth use today. It might’ve been a phrase that was used a little bit more, and not as much anymore, but when somebody tries to come in — if I’m in a room and somebody’s trying to explain a tragedy, it is like, “Bye, Felecia. There’s the door.”
Because you don’t know. You think you know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. It’s an honest, honest answer. “I don’t know. I simply don’t know.” But, hear me. This is so important: It doesn’t imply that there isn’t an answer. It just says, “I don’t know.” It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know. It doesn’t mean that there’s not an answer. It just means that I don’t know the answer. And, in all sincerity, knowing that it’s an honest answer that I don’t know, but I have faith that someone does, because it doesn’t imply that there’s not an answer.
It actually can be a statement of faith that I don’t know, but I believe that God does. I believe that the one who’s put the earth together, and the one who created everything that there is — in Colossians, last week, we learned that everything holds together within Jesus. I believe that He knows. And see, when you say, “I’m a Christian,” you don’t go, “I am a follower Jesus. I am a part of the Christian knowledge.”
No. You say, “I’m a follower of Jesus. I’m part of the Christian faith.” See, faith can say, “I don’t know,” but it can say, “I do believe that there’s one who does know, and I believe that when we know what He knows, things will be different. You can imagine the disciples, as Jesus is crucified on a Friday, if they could’ve been asked when they were holed up in a room, “Why’d God let that happen?”
They didn’t know. They had no idea. Everything in their life was shattered. Every hope. Every dream. Everything was done. All they were doing is trying to stay away from anybody knowing that they’d been followers of Jesus because they didn’t want to die too. But, oh, how things changed on Sunday. Massively changed. Everything changed. Because, see, they didn’t know. But then they did.
I’d like to submit to you that the best answer is “I don’t know,” but that doesn’t imply that there’s not an answer and it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know, and it doesn’t meant that you lack faith. It actually shows that you do have faith. “I don’t know the answer, but I do believe that someone does.” Which leads us to the third thing, which is the game-changer for everything.
The Christian teaching of resurrection changes everything. This is the game-changer of game-changer of game-changers. Listen to what John tells us. “When Jesus saw her weeping,” — as she’s flailing in her emotions and the people have come out with her, also weeping, John says, “He snorted in anger like a horse.”
Is He made at Mary? No. Is He made at the people that are grieving with Mary? No. He’s frustrated because He’s watching His people that He has said to them, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
He’s frustrated that they have cowered to tragedy and cowered to death. He’s angered at that. Because, let me tell you something. In just a few little bit minutes later, we’re going to read that Lazarus came forth out of that tomb. Can I just tell you something? He’s going to die again. Lazarus died again. We don’t read about it. We don’t hear about it. But He died again. And do you know what? They had a funeral for Him again. And do you know what? They cried again. But I can tell you something: They didn’t cry and grieve the second time like they did the first time because they realized they didn’t have to cower to tragedy, and they didn’t have to cower to death because resurrection changed everything.
So, it says, “He’s deeply moved and troubled,” and what does He say? “Show me where you’ve laid him.” Because He’s going to go and show them that there’s power over death, which is a game-changer. It changes everything. It changes the perspective of everything. Resurrection changes everything. They said, “Lord, come and see.” If you understand Scripture and the way it works, at the beginning of John, we have a “come and see.” It’s the disciples bringing people to Jesus to come and get life. They’re saying, “Come and see,” and they’re bringing Jesus to death. But He’s going to even take death and make it life.
See, resurrection changes everything. It changes everything. You can sit here today and tell me that you believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. You can tell me that you know exactly what Ecclesia means in Ecclesiology. You can tell me that you know exactly what it means in soteriology, what the elective god are. You can tell me that you understand every single thing about eschatology and all of that stuff, but I’m here to tell you none of those things are the things that make us a Christian or change our lives. What changes our lives is that we believe that Jesus Christ, on the third day, rose from the dead. That changes everything. It changes everything.
And so, Christian, follower of Christ, listen to your future. Listen well to just a passage of Scripture that I’m going to read to you. Just listen to it.
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,”
See, people ask me, “When did your mom pass away?” A year ago. But my mom’s still alive. See, the only thing that’s going to pass away, the only thing that’s passing away is the old order of things. That’s the only thing that’s died. Everybody else is going forward into eternity in some form or fashion. The only thing that’s passing away, the only thing that’s really experiencing full death is the old order of things.
“And the sea was no more.”
Why is the sea no more? Because, in the Old Testament, if you read the book of Genesis at the beginning, the sea contains everything. The sea’s around everything. Nothing can live. The briny sea. Nothing can live. God has to bring the earth out of it. He has to bring life out of it. And the psalmist will talk about what happens if the earth gives way and the sea takes over the world again. That’s why nobody wanted to go out into the sea because the sea was this chaotic thing. That’s why, in the book of revelation, the sea is where the beasts rise up because it’s this chaotic place.
That’s why Jesus does His miracles around the Sea of Galilee. That’s why He walks on the water in Galilee, because He’s saying to you, “I control the sea. I control the chaos.”
“And the sea was no more. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
Two cities in Revelation. The whorish city that builds up walls against God and the bride, the new Jerusalem, the people of God coming down out of heaven. In the Old Testament, heaven and earth are together. In Genesis 3, they are separated. But here, in Revelation 21, they’re coming back together.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold! The dwelling place of God is with man,’”
In other words, God’s going to walk with you again. In the cool of the day, He’s going to be with you. Not only that, He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God will be with them as their God.”
This is your future as a Christian. Strap in for a second here. Listen to what the Scriptures say to you.
“‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Listen to me. Hear me well. If the tragedies of this life have no sense at all and are meaningless, and God can’t make the sufferings of this world something that we can’t even anticipate the glory that’s going to be revealed — if we can’t say in faith that we know that those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose, that He’s working out everything for good — if we cannot say those statements, then these statements can’t be true because you still would have the tears because you still would have the meaningless tragedy. Which means when we step into eternity, we’re going to have another perspective about what God was doing and the way He was intimately and integrally forming everything that went on in a way where we will say — it’s bad English, but it’s good theology — that God is “gooder” than I ever thought He could possibly be.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death, no more. Neither shall there be mourning.”
The things that we’ve mourned for because we didn’t understand, because we couldn’t — if, if, if. When we finally stand before the Lord out there, because resurrection is true, there’ll be no more mourning, nor crying. The tears, the mourning and the crying — all of it gone. Nor pain anymore. Why?
“For the former things have passed away.”
They’re the things that have really died. They’re the things that go away. For those of us who are Christians, this world is just a small little portion of eternity. I can’t make you believe this, but I can tell you this. I know this to be true. I will see my mom again. I know that. You say, “How do you know that?”
Because in Matthew 17, Jesus takes James, Peter and John up on the Mountain of Transfiguration, and who do they see? Moses and Elijah. Those guys are dead a long time ago. And they’re there on the mountain and they know that it’s Moses and Elijah, which means I’m going to know that it’s Birdie Bennett. And do you know what? I’m going to also meet a child that I never met, and Mindy never met, and we’re going to know that that child was our child. And I get to spend eternity knowing a child that I never knew. Why? Because resurrection changes everything. Everything that there is.
Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You and I thank You for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, that You are the God of comfort in all of our troubles and misery and tragedy. Lord, I know that there are many that are hurting. There are many that are questioning. Lord, I pray that Your Word, today, would quicken them in their spirit and they would realize that even though, maybe, we can’t make sense of every tragedy and everything that goes on bad, Lord, we believe, with everything within us, that because You rose from the dead, one day, when we’re able to put all the data points together, we are going to be able to see, like Joseph, what his brothers meant for evil, You somehow meant for good.
Lord, I believe that with all of my heart. I believe when we all stand before You, we’re going to realize that You were even greater, that You were even more awesome, that You were even more good, more loving, more kind than we could have ever even imagined.
Lord, I pray for those that are hurting here in our church, that You would comfort them with this word. I pray, Lord, that You would bring us back to this Word several times, whether on the mobile app or the internet, to really get this into our system so that we’re able to handle things when tragedy comes. Lord, we know that this next couple of days are going to be tough on the O’Fee family. We lift them up to You. We pray, Lord, that this church would not just be a church that reaches out and brings in the unchurched as we feel passionately You’ve called us to do, but Lord, we also want to be a church that suffers along with every one of our members, Lord, because we do believe with everything that one day we will see You and things will be markedly different and we’re going to have a different understanding. And what a day that will be.
So, Lord, I pray that as we leave here today, that You would watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, and I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And I pray, Lord, that You would continue to help us be a church that lifts up Your Son. Because, Lord, it’s in lifting up Your Son that everything changes. Because He rose from the grave, everything changes in our lives, Lord. Gives us the faith and the sight to see that. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.