Dear Colossae Week 1: The Gospel

Sermon Transcript

[Video]

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.

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We are starting a brand new series this weekend called “Dear Colossae.” If you’ve been here at Grace for a while, you’ve probably heard me say this. Every year — and it’s just a commitment I’ve made to myself as a pastor — I’ve decided I’m going to go through at least one book, or epistle in this case, in Scripture. Line by line. Last year, we did Jonah. It was called, “Life-Changing Decisions.” But we went through the book of Jonah line by line.

This year, we’re going to go through the book of Colossians line by line. And I’m hoping that this is going to be a really exciting time for us and a time to really learn and truly apply this to our lives and become more like the Lord that we call our Savior and our Lord, and that is Jesus Christ. So, as a professor, when I usually teach a class like this, it’s a little different because there’s quizzes and tests. So, you can rest. It’s okay. No quizzes. No tests. Dr. Chip’s going to be really nice. Everybody gets an A. Just show up. Okay? Yeah. It’s attendance based, so just show up.

But, that being said, when I usually put a class together, I put a syllabus together. We have what are called “intended learning outcomes,” which is like, “This is what we hope you’ll get at the end of the class.” Well, this is not a class, it’s not a classroom and it’s not anything like that. This is a church. I’m a pastor. So, we’re going to do something a little different because we’re not doing it that way. We’re learning here and, hopefully, applying this to our lives and getting equipped as saints to become more like Christ.

But, that being said, I do have what I call big ideas. These are the big ideas that I’m hoping — and I’ll reference these periodically as we go through the series together, but I’m hoping that as we go through this series, if I’ve not accomplished these things, then I’ve failed in my approach here at teaching this epistle. So, this is sort of what I’m hoping that we do in this epistle, and hoping that when we’re done we can say, “Hey, we actually did these things.”

So, let’s look at some of the big ideas. One is to read Colossians in a unique and interactive way. I put that down there and I’m sort of going out on a limb here. I sat down when I decided to teach this epistle and I said, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to teach it in a totally different way from any way that I’ve ever taught. I’m going to try to make this almost like an interactive study Bible, but live in person, in a way that it’s unique and creative. So, here’s the reality. We’re going to go through seven verses this weekend as a church. So, one of two things is going to happen. It’s either going to be really good and we’re going to continue on for the next 39 weeks or however long it takes — it won’t take that long. Or you’re going to go, “Oh, man. That was ridiculous,” and we’re going to go from Colossians 1:8 through Colossians 4 next weekend and we’ll be onto the next series.

So, one of the two is going to happen, but it’s unique and it’s also interactive because what I’m going to do is I’m going to be taking the text and then I’m going to be also jumping into what I call a textual interactive moment where we actually think about what we’ve just read. And I’m hoping that that’ll help you in your Bible study at home as you read Scripture. But I’m also doing it and making it unique and interactive because I realize that the average attention span in Lakewood Ranch is about 10 seconds. So, that being said, can some of you come back? Because I’ve already lost you. It’s important.

So, we’re going to try to make this fun, unique and interactive in the way that we do it. We’re also going to try to make sure that we can see, and everybody can see that we can read and understand books in the Bible. That’s a really big deal to me as your pastor is that you all go home and spend time in the Word of God and feel like you can somewhat read it and get out of it what God has for you. That’s a big deal to me. Because if you go home and you’re like, “I really can’t read this. I’m not really sure what’s going on,” then that’s not going to be good.

So, I’m hoping that through this series, as we work through this stuff, you go, “You know what? I can do some of this stuff. This is stuff I can go do at home.” And if I can equip you and give you some tools to do those things at home, your Christianity, your relationship with God is going to be better. On top of that, we want to make sure that we read with application in mind. I am absolutely convinced, not only as a pastor, but as a professor, that most Bible studies are deficient. Most Bible studies that are done usually are informational in their nature. They’re just informing us.

So, what we do is we feel like if we’ve learned something, that we’ve grown. And Christianity is not about what we know. That’s not the point of this thing. The point of this thing is to apply it. So, what I would like to say is rather than this being just informational in a study, I’m hoping that it will be transformational. I’m going to teach it in a way where it really comes home and we look in the Word of God and it speaks to us and we have to sort of answer as to what’s going on here in our lives. I want it to be applicational. I want there to be steps that we can take and things that we can do in our lives.

With the ultimate aim of all Bible study, of everything that we do in church, of every message that we do, of every song that we sing, of every small group, of every supper club and all the things that we do around here — every outreach. The goal of all of that is for us to be more like Christ. That’s the end game of all that we’re doing. So, these are the things that we’re going to try to accomplish. I’ll probably reference these from time to time so that we can remember this is what we’re doing.

So, that being said, before I get into Colossians 1:1, I want to take just a moment and do a little bit of an introduction. I’ve learned, as a professor, that if you do too much introduction at the beginning of the class, everybody’s asleep because the informational stuff’s cool, but it’s only cool when it’s really with the text. So, a lot of the stuff that we’re going to talk about — background, culture and all that stuff — we will do in the text as we’re going through the text. But I do feel a little bit background is important. So, listen up here because this is a unique feature of this epistle, and something that we need to know before we get into Colossians 1:1.

Paul is in prison when he writes Colossians. Normally, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians and Ephesians are catalogued in what are called “The Prison Epistles.” There’s a lot of questions about where they were written from and when they were written. I would like to submit to you that this is what has gone on. Philippians, if you read it, has a different tone than Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon. Philippians, he’s saying, “I might be poured out as a drink offering. I might not make it.”

There’s a real sense of, “Hey, I’ve sort of reached a conclusion here. Not sure what God’s going to do. I think He’s going to release me, but I’m not quite sure.”

I think Philippians was written in Paul’s imprisonment in Rome somewhere between 60 and 62. I think, though, the other letters were written in the mid-50s when Paul was in prison in Ephesus. The reason I feel that way is because for Epaphras to come visit Paul and for Onesimus, the slave that we heard of here in Philemon, to visit Paul, for them to have to go all the way to Rome probably would be a little bit of a reach. But to go to Ephesus, that’s not that far from where they would’ve been. And Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus, and we know that. So, I think that is the location, and I think the mid-50s is probably the venue in which Paul writes this, which is really unique because in the mid-50s is when Nero — and if you go study history, you’ll realize Nero wasn’t the greatest emperor, especially to Christians.

Nero had just come to power and the empire was excited and thinking that there would be — you know, just like any time in the world that somebody comes to power, there’s always a hope that maybe this will be better, maybe this will go in a better way. So, a lot of the imagery that we’re going to get is going to be contrasting some of the empire stuff, and then there’s also some things going on in the local church — some false stuff that he has to deal with.

But what makes this epistle incredibly unique is Paul did not found this church, nor had he ever visited this church. Paul’s in prison and Epaphras, his buddy, comes and says, “Hey, Paul. I’ve preached the Gospel to people in Colossae.”

Colossae was a city in the Lycus Valley. You’ve probably heard Hierapolis, but you definitely have heard Laodicea if you’ve read Scripture. Laodicea is the Revelation 3 church. The city where they’re neither hot nor cold. They get spewed out of the mouth. That group. Colossae was a very, very small city. It was not near as big as Hierapolis or Laodicea. And it was destroyed in an earthquake in the early 60s. So, everything seems to point that this is written mid-50s. Epaphras has preached the Gospel to these people. He’s come to Paul because he’s concerned about what’s going on in the local church. There’s some pressures from without, there’s some pressures from within, and he’s visited Paul to get Paul’s thoughts on everything. What Paul does is he writes a letter. I believe it’s co-authored with Timothy as we’ll see as we go through the verse at Colossians 1:1. So, this letter is written back to the Colossians and Epaphras brings it back to them. It would’ve been read publicly in that church.

So, with that being said, let’s get to work here and let’s look at this book in the Bible. If you’d like to open your Bibles or you have iPads or phones and you want to follow along that way, that’s great. I also put everything up here so you can look up here and go through that. But this is a great time if you’re going to take notes and all of those things. You’ll do that. And then we’ve made a commitment. We’re not sure how we’re going to do it, but all of the take-homes from this series, we’re going to try to offer to everybody, when the series ends, all of the take-homes. We’re going to try to put it on a scroll so you can open it up and look at it, because we’ve got all the columns and stuff. Isn’t this cool? Didn’t the team do a great job with all this stuff? A lot of work goes on.

So, let’s get into the epistle itself. Colossians 1:1.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,”

Now, I wouldn’t fault you and I wouldn’t think anything about it if you said, “Chip, if I were at home, I’d have been on to verse 2.” I totally get it. I totally get it. But, because we’re here to learn and because we want to see how Scripture works, I need to stop for a minute here and say there is a lot being said here. There’s a lot. Remember, Paul didn’t found this church. Paul doesn’t know the people in this church. He’s learned about this church from Epaphras. Okay? That being said, what gives Paul the authority to write to the church and tell them what he’s going to tell them? Well, the way he explains that authority is very unique and very telling about Paul, and something that we need to think about in our own lives.

He says, “I’m an apostle. The authority that I have to write to the church is that I’m an apostle.” But what he says about his apostleship is absolutely unique. He says, “I’m an apostle of Christ Jesus.” In the English language, we have a possessive case where something owns or is the possessor of a particular thing. In Greek, it’s called the “genitive case.” The apostleship that Paul has is owned, is possessed by Christ Jesus. He is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. What is he saying? He’s saying, “Hey, listen. The reason I can speak to you is because I’m an apostle, but I want to make sure you understand something. I ain’t speaking to you — I’m not an apostle because I know more than you. I’m not an apostle because I understand Scripture better than you. I’m not an apostle because I had a great experience with Jesus on the Damascus road. No. The only authority that I have is because God called me.”

So, his apostleship comes from a radical view of humility, that it’s not his, that he’s simply what he is because of what Christ and because of what God has called him to do. Not only that, but he says, “And Timothy our brother.” So, as he’s saying to the beginning of them who’s written this letter, Paul and Timothy both, probably have partnered together, and then they’ve used an amanuensis to sort of scribe, and they would speak the words and the scribe would write. So, some people, when you read commentaries, they’ll say, “We don’t think that Paul wrote Colossians because some of the language in Colossians doesn’t sound like Paul.”

That’s easily understood if you have a cowriter and, also, an amanuensis. So, there’s no reason to believe that Paul and Timothy weren’t a part of this particular epistle. So, that being said, knowing this here, let’s do what I’m calling a “textual interactive” here. So, we’re reading Scripture. We’re looking at Scripture. Let’s ask some diagnostic questions here. So, if Paul’s authority to speak into the lives of those in Colossae comes from his call. It doesn’t come from his knowledge. It doesn’t come from his emotions. It doesn’t come from the fact that he thinks he knows more than anybody else. It comes from his call.

So, his authority to speak into the lives of the Colossians comes from his call. Contrary to the way that we do things today. We feel like that we can speak into somebody’s life if we think we know better or if we think we’re going to help them. What if the only things that we spoke into were the things that God had actually called us to speak into? It’s like, “Whoa.” This is why you should read the Bible. That’s why Colossians 1:1 is important. I’m convinced there’s no surplus of language in Scripture, which means every verse that you read has got something for you. It’s like Prego. It’s in there. You know? You’ve got to find it. It’s in there.

So, Paul’s authority to speak into the lives of those in Colossae comes from his call, and he also shows that ministry’s never done in isolation. He’s working with Timothy. He’s got stuff going on. He’s got people that he’s working with. Christianity is not done in isolation. This is a team sport. This is togetherness. This is plural. It’s not singular. So, when we’re reading, we need to take some of these things that we’re reading and have those moments of textual interaction to go, “Hey, there’s more going on here, and some things maybe I should be thinking about as I read.”

He says, in Colossians 1:2, “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

This is important here. Lean in. This is a nugget that you’re going to want to know. The epistles were written to Christians. Period. So, if you take an epistle to your unchurched friend, and say, “Hey, look here. You’re obviously not doing things right because here’s what the Word of God says,” you are using the Word of God in an inappropriate manner. It was not written to them. It was written to Christians. It was written to you and me for a purpose. We’re going to get there in a minute. We’re going to understand why Paul writes these epistles, why John writes the epistles. They’re very, very, very important. They’re written to the saints, the holy ones — and they’re only holy because they’re in Christ. If you’re in Christ, you’re holy. If you’re in Christ, you’re forgiven. If you’re in Christ, that’s just what you are. Whether you always look like that, that’s not the point. That’s who you are.

“To the saints and faithful brothers.” These aren’t two groups. There’s not the saints and then those that are faithful. This is the same group. They’re the saints and the faithful brothers. And he’s not saying they’re faithful in everything that they do. He’s saying that they’re faithful to the response of the Gospel when they were called by the Lord.

“To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae.”

In other words, they’re part of “in Christ,” but they’re located in a specific city, which means they’re to represent Jesus in that particular city.

And he says, “Grace to you...” — the unmerited favor of God — “...and peace from God our Father.”

Not “peace,” the absence of conflict. That’s not what the Bible says. People go, “I feel a peace about it.” There’s nothing in the Bible — that’s not the peace of God. I don’t know where we got that in the church. “I feel a peace about it, brother.” Well, where’s that at? That’s not — we don’t base our Christianity on a feeling. “I feel good about it.” Well, there’s a lot of things I felt good about in my life that weren’t good. Can we just have a moment here? Okay?

So, peace from God our Father. The textual interactive here is that we are in Christ, but we are at Lakewood Ranch which means we are, if we are a real, in-Christ church, we are to reflect Christ in the community that we live. And we’ve decided that we’re going to reflect Christ by being intentional neighbors because we want to reach those outside, which is exactly where Paul’s going to go. So, he says, “Hey, I’ve written this, me and Timothy, to the faithful and the saints at Colossae. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”

“We always...” — once again, the plural nature here.

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,”

All the yous are plural. There’s a plural nature here. So, when we’re reading this, make sure we understand we’re reading about the Church. We’re not reading about you. We’re reading about the Church.

He says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,” — notice here: Faith, love, — “because of the hope...”

So, we have faith, hope and love, and we have God, Christ and, when we get to Colossians 1:7, we’ll have the Spirit. We have all these triads. Learn to circle those when you’re reading Scripture because they’re there. He’s saying something. He’s working out the early Trinitarian formula here, right in front of us, in the early 50s. He’s got God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

So, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because...” — this is a key word here.

Because you’ve responded in faith to Christ and you love the saints with a real, biblical love, which means you put people before you and you love them in the way that you’re supposed to, why?

“Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”

In other words, everything that was going on in their world was because they believed there was a hope of heaven. They believed that this world was not all that there is. So, their behavior and their actions looked differently because this world was not all that there was, because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. So, textual interaction here. Paul’s thanksgiving comes from God’s spiritual work in Colossae. They’ve come to faith and they’re loving the saints in a true, biblical way.

Think about this for a second. Most of our thanksgiving is not like Paul’s thanksgiving, which maybe we ought to think about. Most of our thanksgiving are when things go well for us or when we have a material blessing or when we get the thing that we want. Paul is not concerned about those things. He’s concerned about the spiritual work involved in the local community. He’s all about God being in the local community. And, on top of that, the hope of heaven changes lives in this present reality. To every early Christian, every early Christian, because they believed that this world was not all that there is, it changed the way they were able to approach life. They lived life saying, “Out there, one day, when God reunites heaven and earth again, what’s it going to look like?”

“Well, it’s going to be like this, and it’s going to be like that, and there’s going to be no more fear, and there’s going to be no more division, and there’s going to be no more debt, and there’s going to be no more war, and there’s going to be no more fighting, and there’s going to be no more dissension. So, we need to live like that here.”

And that hope of heaven informed the way that they lived. We’ll talk about that here in a minute as we get to some take-homes.

He says, “Of this [the hope of heaven] you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,”

Now we’re going to get to the Gospel and we’re going to understand this is the driving force of all of the pastoral epistles. It’s the driving force of all Pauline literature, the Gospel. The other writers use it differently. John, instead of talking about the Gospel, he talks about living in the light, not in the darkness. But they all are saying the same thing.

He says, “Of this [the hope of heaven] you have heard before...” — listen — “...in the word of the truth, the gospel,”

Good translation here because every one of those words in the original language has a definite article before them, so that’s me making sure that you understand. It is the word of the truth of the Gospel. The word “truth” is alétheia in the original language. We call it an alpha privative. When you put an “a” before something, it’s like not. So, if I say “atypical,” you guys would understand that’s “not typical.”

Alétheia is alpha privative lethe. Lethe is the river, in Greek mythology, of forgetfulness. It’s where you went to go to forget everything. Alétheia is that which cannot be forgotten. He says, “It’s the word of the truth.” Not a word that has some truth in it. It’s the word of the truth, the gospel.

“Which has come to you,” — the Gospel — “as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing.”

This would be contrary to some of the empire stuff that’s increasing, and it looks like the empire is increasing. Paul is saying, “No. Actually, if you could see it spiritually, it’s the Gospel that’s increasing.

“It is bearing fruit and increasing — as it also does among you,”

It’s come to you and it’s increasing, it’s among you and it’s increasing, and it’s in the world and it’s increasing.

“Since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”

Let’s take a textual moment here. To Paul, preaching the Gospel was the focal point of his ministry. Listen in. Lean in. For those of you all that left 10 seconds ago, come back here for just a second here. Listen to me. This is so important. The Gospel. That Jesus Christ came, that He died on a cross, that He rose again on the third day, and that He’s going to come back one day was the Gospel. Paul felt anything, anything at all, that deviated or distracted from that needed to be fought for. That it was so imperative that the Church fought for the Gospel. And the Gospel, to Paul, was very simple. Jesus Christ died on a cross and He rose again on the third day. And anything that distracted from that — anything that was a distraction from that, to Paul, was negative. Which is why he writes the epistles.

The epistle’s ethical admonition is not so that the Christians live a perfect life so that they can reform Colossae. The ethical admonitions in Scripture are so that the Church who preaches about a hope in heaven lives in their lives a life that looks like this world is not all that there is. They don’t look like the culture in which they live. And any time culture or politics or arguments or issues become what we get distracted by, we cease to truly be a church that effectively preaches the Gospel. Because to Paul, the Gospel is expansive, growing and bears fruit. So, if Paul were here today, he would say, “If your church preaches the Gospel, it should be expansive, growing and bearing fruit.”

He would say, “If the American church is in decline, it’s because they’ve been hijacked with another message other than the Gospel. There’s been a distraction. Jesus has been added to the culture. Jesus has been added to an issue. Jesus has been added.”

And that’s what he’s going to do in the book of Colossians. He’s going to say, “You can’t get caught up in this religious stuff. You can’t get caught up in this political stuff. You can’t get caught up in all of this. Jesus is the answer to humanity.”

You could convince everybody of your position on everything that you know, and they’re still going to hell. The reality is the Church has one singular mission, and that is to preach and to live the Gospel. And Paul is absolutely, in every way he can, in every epistle he writes saying, “Don’t get distracted. Don’t get caught up in arguing with your own brothers and sisters about all the stuff that will not save a soul. Don’t get culture and Christ fused together. They don’t fuse. They don’t work.”

Jesus’s ethic, church, was never intended for this world. People go, “Well, you know, read the Sermon on the Mount. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemy? That ain’t going to work in this world.”

It was never intended to work in this world. It was intended to be a new community in this world that showed that we believe that there’s something else out there than this world here. That’s why the early Christians, whether you know it or not, when they were put into the arena to be eaten by the lions, they ran towards the lions. They ran as fast as they could because they knew, as soon as they were eaten, they were meeting Jesus. Do you know what was happening in the stands? People were falling on their knees and giving their life to Jesus because they were going, “Man, there’s got to be something else going on here because this is not the way people act.”

See, people don’t love enemies. And what do we do? We nuance it. We go, “Oh, no, no. This is when I can not love my enemy. This is when I can not turn the other cheek.”

No. If there is a hope of heaven, we can live a totally alternative lifestyle in the now that points towards the fact that this world is not all that there is. And that is a Christian ethic. Paul is absolutely convinced that the Colossian church does not need to get distracted because the Gospel is the focal point of his ministry and he knows if the Gospel is being preached, people’s lives will be being changed.

And he says, “Just as you learned it [the Gospel] from Epaphras...”

Paul didn’t visit this church. He didn’t found this church. He says, “You learned it from Epaphras.”

“...our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf...”

Why? Because he teaches you the Gospel.

“He’s a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

Father, Son and Spirit now. So, here’s a great textural interactive. Do I demonstrate a good news lifestyle or do I demonstrate a lifestyle of Jesus plus these things that I want to tell you about? Or Jesus plus these things I want to argue about? Or Jesus plus this stuff here? Or Jesus plus this religious stuff? Or Jesus plus this, or whatever? That’s why Paul says, “Hey, the only thing that matters is Christ. Christ is what matters. What matters is eternity.”

And we believe that this world is not all that there is, so the way into that next world is letting people know about the Gospel. And what does Paul say in Romans 1:16?

“The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

Which means — listen to me. This is so important. When you and me deviate from the simple truth of, “Hey, Jesus came and died on a cross for your sins, He rose again on the third day and He’s coming back one day,” we go, “Well, that couldn’t possibly be enough.”

No. Paul calls it the foolishness of preaching. He says, “That right there is all we’ve got to do, and God uses that to regenerate hearts and bring people to Himself when we simply stay on task. When we add something to it or we get distracted from it, we need correction.”

And that’s what the epistles are all about. It’s correcting the local church so that their lives reflect their preaching. Because if you’re talking about the hope of heaven and you look like the world, the world’s going to say, “You’re crazy.” But when you look like heaven on earth and you preach that this world is not all that there is, Peter says they’re going to come to you and say, “Tell me about the hope that you have within you. Tell me why you’re different. Tell me why you put others before. Tell me why you wash feet. Tell me why.”

It’s like the book of Revelation. I mean, the book that’s just absolutely usually marred and feathered and tarred and just taken all out of context. You’ve got Jesus, and when He’s standing there, everybody’s going, “Who’s worthy to open the scroll? Who’s worthy?”

You’re expecting, if you understand Roman literature, if you understand the time, you’re expecting the knight in shining armor that has conquered everybody, that’s stronger than everybody, that’s got more power than everybody to walk in and go, “I can do it.”

What do we get in Revelation? An absolute blood-covered, killed-on-a-cross lamb that was slain. He’s the one who can open the scrolls. Because that’s who we are. We’re Christians who follow our Lord, who turn the other cheek, who love enemies, who forgive 70 times 70. Why can we do that? Because this world is not all that there is.

Let’s do some take-homes here. I’m just going to give you three. Right them down. These are good things. I think that we can think through these things and struggle through these things as a church.

First of all, our unique — and it’s very unique. Nobody tells you to love enemies and all this stuff. Our unique Christian, ethical and behavioral understandings should flow from our belief in the hope of heaven. This is really the deal. I mean, go to Scripture. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Jesus didn’t get up from the grave, none of it matters. It doesn’t matter. And if Jesus got up from the grave, how would that change our lives?”

Well, it would mean that this world is not all that there is, and God ordained the world to teach you that. You go to sleep every night and wake up. You go to sleep every night and wake up. He’s training you for resurrection. He’s training you for resurrection. Every day of your life, you go to sleep. You don’t remember when you were asleep. And you wake up. You go to sleep at night and you wake up in the morning. You go to sleep at night and you wake up in the morning.

Unless you’re like me and wake up at about four o’clock every morning. I don’t know why I do that, but the bottom line is you get up every morning and wake up. But the deal is that he’s training you and me for that. If we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything. People ask me all the time as a professor, “Do you believe Jesus walked on the water?”

I’m like, “I believe Jesus rose from the dead, so I don’t have any problem with Jesus walking on the water.”

“Do you believe Jesus cast out demons?”

“I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, so why do I have a problem with that?”

“Do you believe that Jesus...”

I don’t have a problem. Jesus rose from the dead. And let me tell you something. And listen to me very carefully here. He could’ve cast out every demon, He could’ve walked on every bit of water, He could’ve taken the loaves and fish and done those miracles, but if He did not get up from the grave, none of that mattered. None of it mattered. But if He got up from the grave, that’s a significant change in the hope of heaven.

So, here’s the question: Are my beliefs more informed by living in this world or being a citizen of heaven? And that is a very good question to ask the American Christian public. Are we being shaped by the culture of our world and we’re taking Jesus and reading Him into our world or are we understanding that Jesus did not call that children of Israel out of Egypt, He did not call you and me out of bondage to go back into Egypt and reform it, nor to stand on the other side of the Red Sea and yell at it and tell them what they’re doing wrong. He called us out of there to form a new community that looks like heaven on earth. When we confuse that, we’ve done a disservice to the Gospel.

And this is a question. This is a real question here for all of us because it really comes down. It’s the real question. Do I believe Jesus got up from the grave? Because if He got up from the grave, it changes everything. And, all of a sudden, these Christian ethics that seem so strange aren’t because you go, “This world isn’t all that there is. I can follow. He’s not just my Savior. He is my Lord, and I can follow Him and I can trust Him.”

It’s going to be hard for some people because some people are going to have to unravel some stuff and untangle some stuff and lay it at the cross. But that’s what Scriptures about. We don’t just read Scripture to interpret it. We want Scripture to interpret us and live lives that are pleasing to God.

Second, we need to constantly remind ourselves that our message and proclamation as individuals and as a church should be Gospel-centric. We can’t allow each other to get off message. I mean, seriously. We’re living in a culture right now where — I mean, I can’t — maybe it’s happened before. But, in my lifetime, I have never seen Christian go after Christian in the way that we’re going after each other on all forms of social media and all forms of stuff. It’s unbelievable.

It’s unbelievable because we have been hijacked. We are absolutely distracted from the mission of the local church. The local church is to tell people about Jesus. Listen to me: We could convince everybody of every issue. We could convince everybody of every morality. We could convince everybody of every position that we believe in and we wouldn’t have done nothing to help them in eternity. We need to stay focused on the Gospel and focused that Jesus Christ is the answer to the world’s problems. Him and Him alone. And that’s way better preaching than anybody in here is letting on.

So, we need to constantly remind ourselves of that. Constantly. Okay? So, here’s what Jesus says. I think I’m going to go with Jesus here.

He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim [the gospel; the euangelion] the good news...” — notice here it’s the “good news.”

The good news. If you ask most people outside of the Church, “Does the Church preach a good news?” They’re like, “No. The Church just tells me all the stuff I do wrong.” It’s the good news.

“...the good news to the poor.”

It’s the poor. That’s like the poor. Those that are on the margins of society at this time. He’s coming to give them good news. He’s coming to tell them, “I’ve got something for you.”

“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives...”

I you’re a captive, is liberty good news? Of course it is.

“...and recovery of sight to the blind,”

Is sight a good news or a bad news if you’re blind?

“to set at liberty those who are oppressed,”

Can I tell you something here? Do you know what the Gospel is? The Gospel is solution-driven. It has solutions in and of itself to all of these problems. And we want to believe that we’ve got to do all these other things to solve the issues. Let me tell you something: If everybody in Lakewood Ranch got ahold of Jesus, and everybody really decided they wanted to serve Jesus, the whole community would change. We wouldn’t need anybody to change our community. It would change from the inside because the Gospel solves the problems of humanity.

“and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

So, let’s make sure there’s enough evidence in our lifestyle that we are, in fact, living a Gospel-centered life. Would your friends, would your co-workers, if they heard my sermon today, would they say, “These are people that are really Gospel-centered,” or would they say, “No, they’re over here distracted here and they’re here and they’re over here? This is what matters to them. This is all the stuff.”

It’s my job, as your pastor, whether you like me or not sometimes — and I really do want you to like me. I mean, I’m a human being. You know? I have feelings too. But I have to give an account to God for these things. And hey, I’ve got to be faithful to God’s Word. And God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and it cuts and it tears and it speaks to us of a different lifestyle.  Because Jesus wants people in the Kingdom of God. And He wants to use you and me to do it. And anything other than a Gospel-centered focus is a distraction.

Third, let’s continue to encourage one another to be faithful servants of the Gospel. I’ve got four quick little things here. Just things that we could do. Just things that would make it better for all of us. How about reminding people of their potential rather than pointing out their deficiencies? What about that person that the Church would normally say, “Oh, you’re hellbent and you’re this and you’re that?” What if you said, “Man, I believe God has something great for you.”

They’d be like, “What? Nobody’s ever said that to me.”

“Yeah. He’s got something great for you. Do you know why I know that? Because Jesus died on a cross. He died on a cross for you because you have dignity and value. And do you know what? If you’ll come home, God’s got something so great for you. He’s got a team that you can get involved in to do the things that He’s created you to do.”

That’s why the sinners came to Jesus. That’s why they came to Him, because He was constantly pointing out their potential rather than pointing out their deficiencies.

This is a big one. Christian morality isn’t to reform society, but to make sure the Gospel isn’t compromised. The epistles are written to Christians, not written to unchurched people. They’re written to Christians. They’re written to Christians to make sure that they’re living in accord with the message that they’re preaching, that there is more than this world. That’s why husbands and wives can live the way that they’re living in the Christian Church and people can do the things that they’re doing. That’s why we live the way that we live. It’s not so that we can gain God’s favor, because God’s favor’s already been given to us. We’re already saints. The Christian morality, and because God’s given us the Spirit to live this thing out is so that we’re not compromising the Gospel.

Because even if we could reform Lakewood Ranch, can I tell you something? Lakewood Ranch is going to be destroyed when God comes back. It’s not about that. It’s about pointing people to the heavenly city. Read Hebrews 11. Even Abraham was looking for the heavenly city. All of them were, all throughout the Bible, looking for the heavenly city. All they were focused on was that. They were focused on, “That’s where I’m going.”

It’s my job, as your pastor, to get our sights right. That’s why Paul says, “If you’ve been raised with Christ, set your sights on things above.”

We’re going to get there in Colossians 3:1. “Not on things that are on the earth.” There’s a reason why he’s doing that. Lifting others up rather than putting them down. How about that? That’s a novel thing for us today, isn’t it? I mean, the rhetoric in today’s society is terrible. And Christians are getting involved in it as if — I mean, we’re so desensitized to it. Can you imagine if we all decided when we come to church, whether you come on Sunday or Saturday, whatever service you come in, can you imagine if all of us agree we’re going to find 15 people in church and we’re going to go up to them and tell them something positive? We’re going to tell them, “Hey, you know what? I believe God’s got something great for you. Hey, can I pray for you? Hey, I saw you reach over there and clean that up. I just want to tell you I think that’s awesome. Hey, I want you to know something. God has got something great for you. I want you to know that we can make this — whatever you’re going through, can I help you pray about it?”

Can you imagine if all of us just sort of got involved and started lifting each other up and helping each other? Who in here doesn’t need that? Am I the only one that goes through a week every once in a while and it just really wrecks you up and kicks you up and everything else? And the last thing you need is somebody pointing the finger at you. Maybe somebody just needs a good ol’ hug and a mug from Grace Community Church. Right? You know?

Living a good news lifestyle. Let me sum this up here. I don’t know how you all grew up. My dad’s not here this weekend, so I can pick on him. He grew up and he’d say things to us, like when we were doing something wrong. He’d say, “That’s not what Bennett’s do,” like there was some book somewhere that said what Bennett’s do. I mean, you know. But, anyway, you probably maybe had a dad like that or a mom like that. Or maybe you were a Boy Scout and you had to put on the uniform and you had the handshakes and all that stuff. Or maybe you went to a private school and you had to wear a shirt and whatever. Or maybe you worked at a place where you had to do whatever.

But whatever it was, those were sort of like the rules of the house.  Nobody felt that they were legalistic or bad, they were just sort of the rules of the house. And if you showed up to the Boy Scouts without your Boy Scouts uniform on, your den leader would say, “Hey, you need to come in with this, that or whatever.” Nobody’s getting mad at you, but it’s just like, “This is just who we are.” The epistles are written to you and me as Christians to say, “Hey, we’re citizens of heaven. We don’t look like the world.”

God never intended His Christianity to be world-centered. He considered it to be heaven-centered, and He wanted us to live such a different life that people wanted to inquire why we loved our wives, or why we loved our husbands, or why we treated our kids, or why we acted the way we did or why we put others before ourselves. Why we washed feet. Why do you do that? Because this world is not all that there is. There was a carpenter born in this world. His name was Jesus. He came and He died on a cross. On the third day, He rose again and He’s coming back one day. Are you in? Are you in? That’s the Gospel. Our lives matter because the Gospel matters. When the Gospel’s hindered, it affects the local church where it’s at.

Let’s be those in Christ at Lakewood Ranch. Let’s understand what Paul is teaching here and let’s continue on and let this change our lives and let this be a moment for our church to become more like Jesus in everything that we do.

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You for the truth of Your Word. I thank You, Lord, that it is the truth; the Gospel. I pray, Lord, that today, as we just start this beautiful epistle, that all of us would take a moment to realize that there’s probably a lot of things that we’re going to have to sort of unwrap out of our lives. It might be religion. It might be asceticism. It might be rules. It might be political things. It might be a number of things. But we might need to unravel some of this stuff and realize that all those things, in their essence, can be a hindrance to Christ and the Gospel.

So, Lord, I just pray that You would work in our hearts as a church here to help us to be — just like Paul spoke to the church at Colossae and wanted them to be the representative of Christ in that city, I pray, Lord, that we would let this epistle speak to us today, that we want to be the representative of Jesus in Lakewood Ranch for Your glory and for Your honor.

So, Lord, I pray that as we leave here today, I pray that You would lead, guide and direct all of us. I pray that You would watch over us and protect us, and I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And I pray, Lord, that You would help us to constantly be a Gospel-centered church that realizes that we’re here to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ. We love You, we praise You and we thank 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.

John Flowerree