Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is Jesus Sufficient? An Overview of Colossians

Scripture Introduction:

Is Jesus really sufficient?

Sermon Introduction:

We learn from 2:4 Paul’s central purpose in writing this letter. “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments”. Paul’s letter is to prevent this little church from being swept up by heresy. There appears to be a very real danger that they will abandon Jesus and either embrace a new teaching or fall back into a form of paganism. This strange teaching is known as the Colossian heresy.

It is really difficult to understand the Colossian heresy. It is kind of like overhearing a phone conversation. All you really get to hear is one side of the argument. When you do that you can really get messed up. There is an episode of Dick Van Dyke that I remember where Rob hears Laura’s telephone conversation. In actuality she is talking about throwing a surprise birthday party for rob. But he is convinced that she is talking to a secret boyfriend. Long story short he ends up ruining the surprise and feels like a real idiot. That is the danger that we run in trying to understand the Colossian heresy.

We will try to paint an effective picture of what is going on. We only have a few pieces but the pieces that we do have I believe can fit together and we can get a fairly clear understanding of what is going on.

1) The first thing that we can discern about this heresy is that it has a Jewish element to it. We know that there is a Jewish element because of the references to circumcision in 2:11, as well as mentioning the festivals, new moons and Sabbaths. Because Paul refers to them as a “shadow” of things to come, we can deduct that he is speaking to a Jewish audience. Paul’s argument is that these things are pointing to Jesus. That cannot be said about pagan rituals, only the differing festivals and such in the Old Testament. So, this heresy is going to seem as if it is grounded in biblical truth. They will probably throw around a few Bible verses to prove their point.

2) The next thing that we know is that it is a philosophy. Everybody likes to have a neat little package that seems to hold the answer to everything. That is what this Colossian heresy is doing. Now again, this is not one of those 100% certain type of things. But a few people did quite a bit of extensive research into the culture of Asia Minor during this period. One of the ideas is that they were very afraid of spirits/gods. They had tons of superstitions and all sorts of rituals to try to ward off these evil spirits. They found books upon books of curses that people would cast on one another. It was a culture of fear. One solution to this problem was to have a guardian angel of sorts. They found necklaces with names of angels and various gods that were supposed to protect them. One such solution might have been this Colossian heresy. Regardless of what it offered we can figure that it was a fairly developed system of philosophy.

3) Part of this system was asceticism. Paul mentions this in 2:18 and 2:23. The proponents of this heresy were very much into beating the bad flesh out of you. This may sound a little familiar to when we studied 1 John. There is probably a hint of those beliefs here in Colossae. Because of the asceticism we can figure that they probably held a view of matter being evil and spirit being good. You had to beat out the flesh so that your body would be pure. But that is not absolutely necessary. Asceticism could have been one of the initiation rites into this special group. Regardless of all the intricacies we do know that this heresy held that asceticism was necessary to have this higher spiritual experience.

4) This, spiritual elitism, is the fourth thing that we can learn from this heresy. It prided itself on being more spiritual than those that were not “initiated”. We get the idea from a few words that Paul uses throughout this letter that the followers of this Colossian heresy were disqualifying the “uninitiated”. Apparently they were saying that you have no inheritance in Jesus, or no hope in life, or no riches, unless you are part of our group. As Paul says they were indeed, “puffed up”. This spiritual elitism did not come from a vibrant relationship with Jesus. This spiritual elitism came from following all these practices: asceticism, worship of angels, having visions.

5) No matter what we make of all the various details surrounding this Colossian heresy one thing is the root of each of them; the central issue with the Colossian heresy is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ. This is where Paul drops anchor and camps out. This is the central issue for Paul. You can talk about shamans, and healers, and spiritual elitism, and visions, and asceticism and all of this; but the thing that centrally concerned Paul is the denial of the sufficiency of Christ. Is Jesus enough to save you? Do you need more? Is he a sufficient treasure for you? Is Jesus big enough to take care of the boogey men or is he not? Did you need more than Jesus?

And this is where we find our relationship with the Colossians. That same question is asked of us. Is Jesus enough for you? Is Jesus sufficient to solve your problems? Is Jesus enough to get you through difficult times? Is Jesus enough to keep your attention in the midst of blessings? Is Jesus enough to qualify you to receive the inheritance of heaven? Is Jesus a sufficient treasure? That is the question.

So what Paul did for the Colossians some 2000 years ago he will do for us tonight, he will answer our question. Is Jesus sufficient? And if Jesus is sufficient what does that mean for those that are trusting in Him? There are two major ways that Paul shows the sufficiency of Christ. Jesus is sufficient in His Person and Jesus is sufficient in His Work. The person of Jesus is sufficient as our Leader. The work of Jesus is sufficient as our Redemption.

I. Don’t be stupid but have hope, because the person of Jesus is sufficient

Early on in the letter Paul is going to make it very clear what biblical truth is. Paul is going to preach the biblical gospel for the Colossians to hear. Certainly, by reintroducing them to this powerful Jesus the believers at Colossae will give up their stupid attraction to this philosophy. Certainly, they will see that Jesus is sufficient. Certainly, we too will not be so stupid as to think that we need something else.

Now let me kind of set this text up for you. We will be looking at Colossians 1:15-20 to help us see this point. But before we read that text let me try to put you there. Let’s take the view that these Colossians are afraid of these spirits. Whether it be a small view of Yahweh and influenced by their Judaism is a possibly. Just imagine with me that you have this group of people that are really afraid that spirits are going to get them. They are cautious not to step on thresholds. They avoid wearing certain clothes that attract the spirits. They keep garlic around their neck. They refuse to say certain words, and they never let a black cat cross their path especially on Thursdays. These people are in absolute bondage to their fear.

That might be a decent background picture. But you’re not a whack-job like that. You do not keep shaving cream on your nose to ward off evil spooks. But I ask you, what is your life all about? It seems as if their main goal is not to be swallowed up by these evil spirits. Or perhaps it was to be a very good Jew that is acceptable and not utterly consumed by God. Their goal appears to be survival. Their life was in danger of being wasted on futile attempts at survival. What about your life? What are the “rules” that you live by to try to get what you desire? How do you define success and how are you going to go about achieving it? That is a central question for you. Maybe it is survival. I want to be popular at school and not be picked on. I want friends. I do not want to be an outcast. I really, only want to fit in. Maybe your aspirations are a little bigger. Perhaps the best athlete. Maybe make the team. Maybe get a girlfriend. Possibly a wife, start a family. Have kids. Get a good job. Make lots of money. Get a ton of really cool possessions. Maybe your goal in life is to free up as much time as possible so that you can spend your life doing what you want to do—play video games, watch television, etc. And when you realize how you define success what are the “rules” to the game that will get you there? Is it shooting free throws for an hour a day? Is it buying clothes to make you attractive, reading relationship books, trying to figure out how to get your “mack-on”? (That was a term when I was younger, I am sure it is not still). Do you have to go to school, get good grades, go to college, get good grades, find a good job and slowly climb the corporate ladder? But you know that these things are hard. Something in you tells you that success is outside of your realm of power. Even if you practice baseball for 8 hours a day and bat .800 in conference play, you still have to get noticed by a scout. You still have to be good enough for them. What will you have to do to get a successful job? Even if your goal is as small as survival, you know that it is not in your hands. You know that you can be like my buddy Clinton in grade school. Coolest kid in grade school, until one day he steps in dog poop. Then he becomes Clinton the kid that smeared dog poop all over our class with his shoes. Popular one second, dog-poop boy the next.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

We will look at this text in depth in a few weeks. For now it is enough to look at its overall assertion. It appears that in this text Paul is saying that all of creation was made by him, through him, and for him. What does that tell us? It tells us the reason for our existence. It ought to tell us how to define success. Or at least point us to who does define success. If all of creation, which includes me, was made for Jesus, then it ought to tell me something about to whom I belong to. I was not made for myself. I was made for Jesus. If anyone can define success it’s not really me. He defines success. He created us. He owns us. He defines it. There is someone bigger than me. It’s not all about me. It’s all about Him.

So what does that assertion mean to the guy scared to death of evil spirits? One thing it means that its not just about your survival. Creation is not about whether or not you are even accepted by Yahweh, and whether or not you are utterly consumed by Him. Creation is not about you. It’s about Jesus. It’s for Jesus. The fate of your soul is about Jesus. It’s to exalt Jesus. It’s not about you. It also ought to let us know that the evil spirits are not in charge. Jesus is. If this is true, and even if we permit the belief in all these evil spooks out to get us, it’s not about them. Even they, some how, some way, were created for Jesus. You ought not be afraid of them. If you are to have any fear it ought to be directed towards this Jesus.

Your life is about Jesus. It’s not about you. But there is comfort to that too. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” If that is the case then it means that Jesus is in charge. That’s not simply saying that Jesus ought to be in charge, if we would let him. This text is not saying that man is really in charge but we just need to let Jesus sit on his throne. We need to get off the throne and let him sit where he rightfully belongs. No, it means that Jesus IS sitting on the throne and our life will be a lot better if we do not challenge Him and try to take His seat. He doesn’t like that. He is not going to let you sit there. You won’t even get a cheek on his throne. Jesus IS in charge, of everything.

What does that mean? It means that these little evil spooks are not in charge. Your little magical angel necklaces do not do anything. In HIM all things hold together. Jesus is holding stuff together. That means that nothing happens in your life that doesn’t first go through His hands. If an “evil spook” does get you it means he had to ask permission from Jesus first.

This section, verse 15-17 is Paul’s pointing to Jesus as over all of Creation. It has application then for every man under the sun. Nobody is outside the realm of this. It means that you were created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus. (That concept of “through” may be a little confusing, we will address that in a few weeks). Your life is not your own. It belongs to Jesus. And it also means that every person here tonight, Jesus IS in charge of your life. He IS in control. Not everyone willfully submits to that. But guess what? He’s still in charge. He’s the King whether you make Him that or not. That’s why I do not particularly care for the phrase, “make Jesus Lord of your life”. I understand what is meant. And to a certain degree it is true. But it can be confusing. Jesus is Lord of your life. You just do not acknowledge His Lordship. He is in charge, you are just a rebel.

Verses 18-20 have a different audience, the church. This is especially important for the Colossians to grasp, as it is for those of us tonight that are believers. “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconciled to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”. This is going to spill over a little into our second point. This is dealing with the work of Christ’s redemption. We will look at that in a moment, but notice what application this has for the believers.

Who is in charge of the church? Is it the pastor? The deacons? The youth pastor (we know that’s not true)? We are southern Baptist, that means the congregation is the final authority right? If we think it does then we don’t believe the Bible. No, Jesus Christ is the head. He is the final authority. He is the head. Not my opinion. Not your opinion. Jesus. He is the head of the Church.

There is something really important in this text that we will address in the coming weeks. Let me just hint to it right now. How many of you would say that you are believers? That you believe in Jesus and that you are saved? Now, how many of you are active members (that means attending, serving, tithing, etc.) in a local church? If some of you raised your hand to the first one but not the second, you should really question whether or not you should have raised your hand on the first question. I know that is a really shocking statement. And you might think that I am teaching that going to church saves you. Of course I am not. But I really believe that the Bible teaches that if you are saved then you will want to be an active part of the body. If Jesus is the Head of the church, and you are not an active part of the church what does that mean? It means that you are cut off from your head.

What were the Colossian heretics doing? Notice 2:18-19, we have the list of things that they are doing, now notice verse 19. “…and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together though its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God”. They are cut off from the body. They are not holding fast to the Head. When you aren’t holding fast to Jesus you aren’t a part of the body. But the converse to that is also true. If you are not holding fast to the body then you are not connected to the head either. And what happens when you are not connected to the Head? No growth. And what happens if there is no growth. This is exactly what Jesus was teaching in John 15, “every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away”.

But look at the positive side of this; if you are connected to the Head. What happens to those that are connected to the Head? We already learned that they grow, but the blessings of reconciliation are also ours. The fullness of God dwells in Jesus Christ the head. We know God because of Jesus. We are reconciled to God. As Chapter 3 says our lives are hidden with Christ. “When Christ who is your life appear, then you also will appear with him in glory”. Oh, the riches that are in Jesus. He is sufficient for us. He is all that we need.

Therefore, we ought to have hope. If you are connected to the Head, you ought to have hope. Do not be stupid and looking for other things. It’s all right there in Jesus. Here is your hope. Here is your life. It’s in Jesus. Don’t be stupid, but have hope.

II. Don’t be stupid but have hope, because the work of Jesus is sufficient

Sin is so ensnaring. It is such a vicious and dumb cycle. Sin robs us of hope. The Colossians, whatever the reason for their fear, probably had a reason. They were sinful, and they knew it. They probably had an understanding of who God is. They knew Yahweh. They also knew that if you did wrong things Yahweh got ticked off. What gets scary is when you combine this view with pagan beliefs. You start getting scared of Yahweh in the wrong way and you forget that He is merciful. You start doing things to try to appease Him. You figure he hates sin, so you punish your body. I’d rather punish my body than have God do it. I’m sure His spankings hurt worse. I’ll be a little nicer. God likes angels. So, what if I worship like an angel. What if I get a few angels on my side to protect me, surely God will like me then. Certainly, if I train really hard and do all of these things then God will like me then. Maybe since I have visions it’s a good sign that he’ll stay off my back. Then you start developing all of these beliefs disqualifying others. Making them jump through the same hoops. You seem to be doing okay, so maybe if they follow your 7 step program they’ll be in good shape too. All the while you forget about Jesus.

We do the exact same thing. We try to solve our sin problem by stuff that we do. Remember this when we talked about legalism? We are not going to go in depth on this again. You remember the stuff that we talked about. Bible study, prayer, church, accountability partners, Bible memorization, baptism, all of these good things we use to smuggle our character into God’s work of grace. You know that you’ve done it. You screw up or you go through an especially difficult time spiritually, then you come up with an ingenious solution. I’ll do this more. I’ll pay penance by reading my Bible more. I’ll try to be a better Christian, that will cover over my sin. Brothers and sisters, read your Bible, but do not do it to try to win favor with God. You do not need to jump through these hoops to be saved from the boogie man, and you do not need to jump through these hoops to be acceptable in God’s sight. There is only one thing that will make you acceptable and that has already been done. Listen to what Paul says:

Right after saying that he gives thanks to God for the Colossians and admonishing the Colossians to return the thanks to God he says, “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in 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.” And then skipping down to verse 21, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…” Then moving down to 2:13, “and you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them”.

Wow! Did you catch all of those big words in there? And remember two weeks ago. We talked about some of these big words. What has God done through Jesus Christ? Qualified you! Delivered Us! Transferred Us! Redemption! Forgiveness! Reconciled! He will present us Holy and Blameless and Above Reproach! He has made us Alive! Forgiven us! Cancelled the Record that stood against us! Set aside our condemnation! He disarmed all those against us!

What is left you ask? What more needs to be done? And that is what Paul wants to leave us with. There is nothing left. Jesus has done it. He has finished the work. He has completed all of this for us.


Much of the implications from this we will draw out in the coming weeks. But for tonight I simply want to say this, Jesus is sufficient.

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