Friday, May 20, 2011

QOTD - The Wrath and Love of God

The wrath of God is not to be set in sharp contrast with the love and mercy of God. It is so often asserted that if God is truly love then he cannot be angry. But wrath and love are not mutually exclusive. In the NT as well as the Old, in Jesus as in the prophets and apostles the proclamation of God's mercy is accompanied by the preaching of his wrath. A holy God does not stand idly by when men act unrighteously, transgress the law, show disdain to him as their creator or spurn his love and mercy. He acts in a righteous manner punishing sin in the present and especially on the final day. Yet God also acquits the guilty, and only the person who understands something of the greatness of his wrath will be mastered by the greatness of his mercy. The converse is also true: only he who has experienced the greatness of God's mercy can understand something of how great that wrath must be.
-- Peter T. O'Brien, Colossians, 185, quoting Stählin's TDNT entry on the wrath of God.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Colossians 08: Seek the Things Above, Where Christ Is

Scripture Text: Colossians 3:1-4

Introductory Comments

I come before you this morning feeling a bit like I have a target painted on my chest. Here is what has been happening. Things began with a combination of allergies and a small cold while on vacation with Sara and Daniel in Louisville. We had a wonderful time with my sister, her husband, and her kids, but I was personally dogged by this combo-punch set of ailments the whole week. When we returned home this past Tuesday, we arrived at our car in the Sioux Falls Airport parking facility, tired, dirty, and cranky, wanting nothing more than to get home and sleep in our own beds.. I used the remote keyless entry to open the car doors. Nothing happen. I pushed every button on the remote. Nada. I manually used the key the open the driver’s door, something I hadn’t had to do since we bought the car. I put the key in the ignition, turned it, and got absolutely nothing.

How many of you have had something like that happen to you? Isn’t when you’re usually tired and just want to get home, or when you’re in a hurry and need to get going, that something like this happens?

That’s not all. More punches came along since Tuesday, including (1) a huge decision by a group of people, including many I know personally and love, with which I totally disagree, (2) learning of broken relationships and hurt people in our community and feeling powerless and inadequate to help, (3) on Thursday, the car, the one with the formerly dead battery, was damaged as a result of a driver making an illegal turn in front of Sara as she was driving home from Sioux Falls, causing worry about Sara and our unborn child (Sara is okay, as is our unborn little one, praise God), and then (4) I received some excellent news that under normal circumstances I would celebrate without pause, but the celebration was marred by feelings of envy because the good news didn’t include me.

I’m telling you these things not because I desire you to feel sorry for me. On the contrary, there has been much blessing which has accompanied these combo-punches, including a very helpful parking lot attendant who jump-started our car, an auto-insurance company appears to be acting as our vigorous advocate (we’ll see what the renewal premium looks like), I’ve received encouragements and help from friends similarly aggrieved by the decision I mentioned earlier, and there has been the appearance of regenerate, born-again life in Christ amid broken relationships pain. The presence of God and his blessings have been clearly discernable.

Even so, punches can leave bruises, and that’s where I am now, as I prepare to preach on the first four verses of Colossians 3. They read:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
In the verses that precede this text, Paul has told the Colossians that, having received the gospel, they are now new people in Christ. The Colossians have been qualified by God to “share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:12-13).

Everything the Colossians have, everything they are, is as a result of what Christ has done for them by his death on the cross. I testify to you today that if you are in Christ, everything you have and everything you are, is also the result of the forgiveness you have received because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Beloved brothers and sisters, it cannot be said enough – If you have received Christ and living in Him and for Him, you will not bear any condemnation whatsoever for any of your sins. It matters not how many sins or the magnitude of the sins, if you have faith in Jesus you need never fear any condemnation.

Paul has made also made it clear to the Colossians, and to us, that there is nothing you can add to faith that will enhance what Christ has already accomplished. For the Christian who has received God’s gracious forgiveness and mercy, there is nothing left to fill up. You are already fulfilled by receiving Christ’s sacrificial love. That is why Paul decries the attempts by some false teachers in Colossae to persuade the Colossians that there were additional things they needed to do to achieve greater spiritual fulfillment and peace (Col. 2:16-23). Paul basically says these “additions” are rubbish. They are appealing, he writes, because “These indeed have the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Indeed, Paul has asserted that these extra-spiritual practices were really about pride and self-worship. The overriding message is that Christ is everything and the only thing necessary for life.

Set Your Mind on Things that Are Above, Where Christ Is

Christians are new beings in Christ. If you receive Christ has your Savior, the way you approach the world and it crises goes through a fundamental transformation. You discover that your mind will start thinking more and more about Christ and less and less about all other things.

That is why Paul says, in 3:1, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” The “if then” words at the beginning of the verse could also easily be translated as “since.” “Since” you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above. Paul is reminding the Colossians, and us, that because you have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, you will begin thinking increasingly about the things of Christ. [What do you find yourself thinking about, usually? Is your mind almost totally consumed by worldly concerns, and the only time you think about Christ is in church? The degree to which Christ is at the core of our mind is the degree to which we have matured as Christians. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” All of our thoughts ought to be the thinking of Christ working in us.]

Christ alone is worthy of all of our attention and thinking. Paul therefore repeats, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Dear citizen of the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, because you live in a new reality and servants of the great Lord and King, your allegiance must change. No longer are you preoccupied entirely by the things of the world, but you ought to be totally engaged with the things of Christ, your Lord. Life is not longer about what I want and what I can get. In the kingdom of Christ, life is about what Jesus has already done, and about living in obedience to his command to love Him and one another through acts of sacrificial service, by taking up our cross and following Jesus wherever he might lead us.

Focusing our minds and our thoughts on Christ can be very hard. In fact, based on how I started the sermon this week, I can tell you from personal experience that it is very hard. That’s one reason while we were created to be in a community with others believers. In Galatians, Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Being a Christian is not what many people might call the good life. Until Christ returns, we live in his fallen world, and are constantly under assault by the idols and elemental spirits and principalities and powers who would have us thing about all other things except Jesus. We still contend with sin, with jealousy, anger, worry, fear, anxiety, disappointment, and suffering, don’t we? And yet, if we really are in Christ, we have a hope that produces a joy that cannot be defeated. The victor over sin and our accuser is Christ! If you are in Christ, no matter what the devil throws at you, you will share in His great victory and his beautiful glory.

In the midst of trials, temptations, or sorrows, look to Christ and there be comforted and uplifted, and receive peace. Set your minds on his glorious face. You need to know that this will take work, practice, and purposeful submission to Christ’s authority over you. When you are reborn into this new life, such focus doesn’t come naturally, but it can and will become, for those in Christ, a holy habit.

In the meantime, we strive forward in faith, living in a broken and hurt creation that is still in need of final redemption, which is still “groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22). Although we know our salvation is secure, it is not visibly apparent to the world, or even fully apparent to us. “For you have died,” Paul writes, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). We’re like the caterpillar in the cocoon, sitting in a stew, subject to the buffeting of the winds, our full glory not evident to anyone else in the world, and not even to ourselves. We still grow old, we get sick, we die. But the hope we have is founded on the fact that we are in Christ, and that we will ultimately share his glory.

One day, however, the glory we have in Christ will be revealed to the whole universe. Verse 4, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

The first part of that phrase is crucial. If you want the hope of eternal life with God, Christ must be your life. Notice that it does not say, “Christ must be the central focus of your life.” For those who are in Christ, Christ is the life. In Philippians 1:21, Paul says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When you become a Christian, you are not your own person anymore. Instead, Christ takes residence in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what it means to be born again. The old life is dead and gone and a new life, the life of Christ, takes root within you. Jesus said as much when he declared to Thomas and the other disciples in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Writing to the Galatians, Paul says,
[20] I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Is this true for you this morning? Does Christ live within you? If not, I testify today that he is knocking at the door. He holds forth the promise of the forgiveness of every one of the sins that separate you from God.

We are all cocoon Christians. God is at work in us, and what he’s doing is not always going to evident to the world or even to you. But know this, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” What this means is that you will appear glorious, and that glory will be a magnification of the glory of the God who created you for that purpose.

As I reflect on the events of the week, I believe they are tests, tests of my heart, my soul, and of my faith. All of these tests are designed to produce sanctification in the believer. Writing to the Church, James 1:2 reads, “Count it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Loved ones, reading these words from Paul, and writing the words of this sermon, actually gave me peace. And I hope they give you peace as well. And the reason for that peace is the knowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, that is purposes of redemption, will be completed in everyone who has received him by faith. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” The things of the earth decay and pass away, but Christ reigns forever. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
May 15, 2011
Fourth Sunday in Eastertide
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew