“Christ in You – the Hope of Glory” – Book of Colossians
Pentecost 4 – June 24, 2018
Last of 4 letters from Paul to churches: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians.
Colosse – city in central Asia Minor (Turkey), east of Ephesus; located on an east-west trade
route; in Paul’s day diminished importance; while Paul was preaching Christ in Ephesus,
Epaphras was converted and took the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles in Colosse, but the young
Christian community soon was under pressure to turn away from their new faith; in this letter,
Paul addressed some false teachings and encouraged the believers to rejoice in the mystery of
“Christ in you… the hope of glory.”
We’ll come back to that theme, but let’s first look at the content and context of those 1 st century
false teachings and how some of them still are present in our 21 st century world.
1. Thanks and Praise
Paul actually begins this letter in a way similar to that of the Ephesians and the Philippians –
with praise and encouragement, thanksgiving and prayer. He says, “We thank God because we
have heard of your faith and your love – things that spring from the hope you have.” He asks
God to fill them with spiritual wisdom and understanding, strength, endurance and patience. He
reminds them that they have been “rescued from the dominion of darkness, and brought into the
Kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom they have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This is
our good news, too, isn’t it? In God’s Son, Jesus, YOU have redemption, forgiveness and hope!
Paul goes on to write a Messiah Poem, much like the Christ-hymn we heard about in Philippians
last week. We’ll come back to that because it contains our “Christ in you – the hope of glory”
2. Two Influences to Resist
But then, and this is mostly in chapter 2, Paul unpacks the various things that are challenging the
Colossians’ status in God’s kingdom, with pressure to relinquish their faith in Jesus. Those
challenges fall into two basic categories.
a. Jewish laws
The first category relates to the Jewish origins of the Christian faith. As we heard in Paul’s letter
to the Galatians, some here in Colosse were also pushing for observance of the Old Testament
laws about religious festivals, kosher foods and drink, and circumcision. Paul was blunt about
these things, writing, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a
religious festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath Day.” Paul said giving in to such
observance obligations compromises their faith. He said that those kinds of things don’t admit us
to or prevent us from entering the Kingdom of God. They were all just a shadow, pointing to the
reality which is Jesus Christ.
We still have religious festivals. In fact, today – June 24 – is a religious festival… the Nativity
(the Birthday) of John the Baptist. We’re not celebrating it in any special way today. As
Christians, we have the freedom to celebrate it, and the freedom to not celebrate it. But judging
someone, and saying you HAVE to celebrate it or you must NOT celebrate is what Paul writes
against. Other current examples might be superstitions, or criticizing what people eat. If, for their
own reasons, Christians choose to eat anything and everything or only vegetables or gluten-free,
we have that freedom and should not judge others for their own choice. Those things have
nothing to do with our salvation. If we make any of those things part of our faith, we are
compromising the Gospel.
A couple of other false teachings could be put into the category of polytheism – having many
gods. This was the case among the Canaanites when Joshua and the Israelites entered the
Promised Land. The ancient Egyptians were also polytheists. Even Greek and Roman mythology
remind us that they had many gods. So, in Paul’s day, and specifically in Colosse some people
were worshiping angels, while others paid allegiance to the Greek gods of Hermes, Aphrodite or
Apollo. Asceticism, which is severe self-discipline and the avoidance of indulgence for religious
reasons, also was practiced in Colosse. Such attitudes have found their way into religious thought
and practice from the time of Paul right up to the present.
Paul calls all of those things hollow and deceptive philosophy: hollow because such practices
and beliefs really have no substance (kind of like a hollow Easter bunny – what’s the point of
that… give me SOLID chocolate!!); deceptive because those human traditions and worldly
principles lead one away from salvation in Jesus rather than to it.
Every once in a while I see that Coexist bumper sticker. I don’t know if it’s meant for those
various religious groups to stop judging one another and to live together in peace, or if it is an
encouragement for people to cover all their spiritual bases by dabbling in all of the above
religious directions. Dabbling in all is compromising the truth. Paul is telling the Colossians and
us to resist being taken captive by those influences (polytheism or adherence to irrelevant
religious laws) that threaten to disqualify us from our heavenly inheritance in Christ.
3. Jesus – the Reality
Our heavenly inheritance in Christ… Paul makes it clear that Jesus (not laws, not other gods) is
the source of our heavenly inheritance, the source of our hope, the source of our salvation. Paul
explained that Jesus triumphed over all the spiritual powers/gods and authorities by the cross and
the resurrection. The other gods are statues at best, and hollow, empty ones at that. By
conquering sin, death, Satan and hell, Jesus demonstrated that He is the only spiritual reality. At
the same time, Jesus fulfilled those old Jewish laws, which always lacked the power to change a
human heart, which always lacked the power to lead one successfully to holiness and to heaven.
Paul writes powerfully that “Jesus forgave all our sins, having canceled the written code with all
its regulations… He took it away, nailing it to the cross.”
Then Paul uses a brilliant analogy to compare the impact of the laws with the impact of Jesus. He
says that the religious laws and festivals and Sabbaths, the Old Testament events and practices
and messages have their full meaning and realization in Christ. He uses the image of a shadow.
He calls the old things a shadow and he calls Christ the reality or the substance. The Greek word
used there is actually the word for body.
So, think about it this way: on those hot days this past week, you enjoyed standing in a shadow
to find some relief from the heat of the sun. It should not be overlooked that a shadow already
points to a reality, namely, that of the body – whether it was a building or a tree or an umbrella.
As there is no body without a shadow on a sunny day, there is no shadow without a body. But the
body – the building or tree or umbrella – is the real thing. In the same way, the shadows which
were the Old Testament laws and practices implied that there was something real, substantial.
That reality was revealed in the person and the saving work of Jesus.
4. The Messiah Poem
So, that takes us back to chapter 1 and the Messiah Poem. Let’s read it together:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things
were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or
rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in
him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and
the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God
was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all
things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on
Unpack words / phrases:
IMAGE = icon = likeness = representation of the invisible God. Can’t see God, want to see God,
look at Jesus!
FIRSTBORN – of creation (rights and privileges – priority, pre-eminance, sovereignty; not part
of creation but cause of creation), from the dead (resurrection; not just the first but the cause of
resurrection; Corinthians – firstfruits = there’s more where that came from!)
CREATED – 1 st article stuff, but Jesus involved in creation, too!
ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER – the universe, the molecules, the events of my life – Jesus
has got them all!
HEAD OF THE BODY – this is in reference to the church; Jesus is the driving force, the brain,
ALL HIS FULLNESS DWELL IN HIM – this is why we confess, with Luther – true God,
begotten of the Father from eternity; true man, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus was fully God. 2:9
RECONCILE / CROSS – Jesus’ purpose was to unite sinful human beings with the holy,
heavenly Father – accomplished through His death.
This Jesus, Paul says, lives in you and that’s why we have the Hope of Glory. His conquering of
sin, death and the devil means life for us, hope for us, peace for us, glory for us.
Then Paul says “HIM we proclaim!” This is a memorable phrase for me. It was the theme of the
first District Convention that I attended as a pastor, back in 1985, in Estevan, Saskatchewan. It
was also memorable because of who our guest speaker was. Does anybody know who Oswald
Hoffmann was? For 33 years, from 1955-1988, he was the voice and the face of the radio
program The Lutheran Hour, and arguably the most famous Lutheran in the world during the
latter part of the last century. He even spoke at the Lutheran School of Evangelism at Trinity,
Abbotsford in the mid-1990’s. But at this 1985 Convention, I remember him standing before the
assembled delegates with just his Greek New Testament in his hands, and expounding on that
phrase “HIM we proclaim!” – the Him, of course, being Jesus. As a church, still today, it is HIM
that we proclaim so that people might know Him, believe in Him, live for Him, and have that
hope of glory.
5. Christ-like living
As we wrap up the last couple of chapters of Paul’s letter, we see that, like the letter to the
Ephesians, Paul ends with how the rubber of our faith meets the road of our daily lives. He
encourages the Colossians and us to keep our priorities straight – to have our minds and hearts
set, not on earthly things (the laws and philosophies, the shadows), but on the things above, the
heavenly things, for our lives are all wrapped up in the reality and substance of Jesus.
Then Paul contrasts our earthly nature with our identity as God’s chosen people. He calls us to
put to death a whole catalog of vices, things like lust, evil desires, greed, idolatry, anger and
filthy language. Then, immediately, he turns the thought around and catalogs a list of virtues that
are part of our nature as God’s holy and dearly loved children – things like compassion,
kindness, humility, forgiveness and love.
He explains how those virtues are lived out in our family vocations, and even in an employment
setting. He writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord not
for men.” What he’s saying is that in all of life we are and we live as Christ’s people.
Before Paul closes with greetings, he urges the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer,
especially prayers for him so that he may continue to clearly proclaim the mystery of Christ. He
advises them to be concerned about those outside the Christian faith – being wise in their actions,
being gracious in their speech and conversations so that they take advantage of and make the
most of every opportunity to proclaim that mystery of Christ and the hope that we have in Him.
May that mystery of Christ in YOU, and may that hope of glory, bolster your faith and inspire
your love so that you, too, make the most of every opportunity – in actions and in conversations –
to proclaim HIM! Amen.
Some prayer topics for Sunday, June 24 are:
– Thankfulness for (end of) the school year (Susan)
– Commencement Celebration (Susan)
– Prayers for the BC Mission Boat team and ministry (Jordan)
– Prayers for the July 2-6 soccer and Bible camp (Stephanie)
– Prayers for our country (in advance of Canada Day) (anyone?)
– Spiritual conversations (seasoned with salt) and the people we have had them with
– Vicar Peter and Laurel Knelson as they prepare to move here and begin their ministry