Monday, July 15, 2013

Sermon on Colossians 1:1-14, for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 1: "Transferred into the Kingdom"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Amen. Today we’ll begin a four part series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This is one of his letters that he wrote from prison; in chains for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul most likely did not start the church of Colossae, but they heard and understood the grace of God in truth and learned it from Epaphras, their faithful minister. One of Paul’s co-workers in the Gospel, Epaphras was probably the missionary pastor who started the congregation in that city, and who told Paul of their great love and faith. Paul opens his letter with warm words of thanksgiving to God for the saints of God in Colossae.
With many beautiful words he expresses his joy at the Gospel at work among them, but one description particularly catches my attention. In verses 13-14, he says: “He [Jesus] 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.” He talks about our rescue from the powers of darkness, and our transfer into the kingdom of His beloved Son. Jesus rescued us from darkness, blindness, and sin, and brought us into God’s kingdom—as new citizens.
Anyone who’s heard the headlines knows that our government is vigorously debating immigration reform; trying to find a better solution for a legal path to U.S. citizenship. One reason we have this question is because so many are trying to get into our country, both legally and illegally. Most come seeking a better life; some come seeking refuge from violence or persecution. While I haven’t followed the debates closely and am not here to share any political opinions about immigration, it makes me reflect on the parallels to Paul’s description of how we’re “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” He too, was talking about a new citizenship, but not a change in citizenship that has to do with moving from one nation to another, or of changing political allegiance from one flag to another.
Our story of salvation is not a story of “immigration” at our initiative, our expense, or in our time—but instead a story of rescue and deliverance at God’s initiative, Christ’s expense, and in His time. Jesus Christ, by His power, rescued us from the authority of darkness, and God the Father by His love, qualified us to share in a rich spiritual inheritance and citizenship. Our citizenship came at Christ’s expense, as He suffered and died on the cross for us. He did this for the forgiveness of our sins. Without the forgiveness of sins, we’d still be slaves under the power of darkness, alienated from God and hostile to Him. But with the forgiveness of sins, we are citizens, members of God’s household.
The spiritual kingdom and citizenship we’re talking about, it’s not something visible to our naked eye, and the change in citizenship doesn’t comes from moving from one place to another. But it is a change that brings us new language, as we learn the vocabulary of the Bible and of faith. It’s a change that brings us new ways and customs, as we become members of Christ’s body, the church, and involves leaving sinful ways behind. And it’s a change that brings us new privileges and blessings as citizens of God’s kingdom. But that doesn’t mean that life as a Christian is an easy walk or has no challenges and dangers. The Colossians faced the threat of false teaching, and Paul warns them later that “no one take you captive by philosophy and empty deceit.” The powers of darkness will not let us go so easily, and by whatever means possible, the devil seeks to pull us back under his authority and his delusion.
But Paul rejoiced at how the Colossians, were adapting to the change, coming from out of the reign of darkness, to now living in the kingdom of light. He rejoiced to see that Jesus’ rescue from darkness had borne much fruit in their lives. They were living for Christ, and their love was shining out in all they did.  He gave heartfelt thanks to God for their faith in Christ Jesus and their love for the saints, the first signs of their new life and citizenship.
We too, as your pastors, can give heartfelt thanks to God for your faith in Christ Jesus and love for one another. We give thanks for you, saints at Emmanuel, for your love of God’s Word, and your desire to hear it and take it to heart. We thank God for your concern for the hungry, when you support the food pantry. We thank God for your prayers, and the prayer chain who regularly lift up the sick, the hurting, and suffering. On a personal note my family thanks you for the outpouring of support and love for us in so many ways, for the birth of our twins. Thanks be to God for our school & preschool teachers, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and parents, who all love the children and want them to grow up rooted in the knowledge and love of Jesus. For all who volunteer their time—servants of the Lord who serve as officers of the church to keep its affairs in order, for laborers who give of their sweat and toil to keep the campus beautiful and clean, for elders who pray for and give spiritual guidance to the congregation and its pastors. And we pray for all whose gifts and talents may yet be undiscovered or unused, that they would be used for the glory of God and the building up of the body of Christ.
Paul knew the Colossians were still young in the faith, and so he prayed for them constantly. He prayed that they would be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Gaining spiritual wisdom and understanding is a lifelong endeavor, but the way we learn God’s will is by listening to His Word and growing in faith by the Spirit. We don’t learn God’s will from vague intuitions or our feelings that change from one moment to the next. Following God’s will in all our life is a topic beyond this sermon, but Jesus taught that His Father’s will is this: “that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). God wants this above all, that we believe in Him, and being rescued from darkness—be brought into life.
Paul also prays, that knowing God’s will, they would also “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Christ has delivered us from darkness and sin to serve in life and light with Him, so we ought to glorify Him in the good works that we do and the fruit of the Spirit we bear. We let God’s grace have its course in our life for our good, and for the good of the neighbor. Our hands, feet, mouth and ears are put ready into His service. “Walking in a manner worthy of the Lord” means that our life is not just a passive one of listening and thinking, but an active one of doing good in the name of the Lord. To be doers of the Word, not hearers only.
He also prays for them to increase in the knowledge of God. How does that happen? The same way that we learn the will of God—through hearing and studying God’s Word. In worship, in Bible class, in reading the Bible, you are fed with the knowledge of God. I pray that you all take advantage of those opportunities to hear and grow in God’s Word as often as possible—not begrudgingly, but with the desire that you might better know God. And knowledge of God, for the Christian, is not simply mastery of facts, or being able to pass a Bible history test—but “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” It’s knowing God and being known by Him. It’s knowing that He is Lord above all, that His kingdom, to which we belong, is a kingdom of goodness, righteousness and peace. It’s not just a knowledge of God, but a reverence and a trust in Him. This knowledge is a saving knowledge, a spiritual knowledge, a knowledge by faith that is just as accessible to the most intelligent as it is to the infant or the simplest person.
And finally, Paul prays for their strength, endurance, and patience with joy. And for these He again calls upon God’s glorious might to deliver. Every Christian finds their strength, their endurance for whatever challenges that lay before them, in God who gives us strength. With Him, all things are possible. And when trials test our patience, God carries us through, and even gives us joy in the midst of our sorrows. Life as a citizen in God’s kingdom certainly doesn’t compare to our old ways—and it takes some getting used to. And I don’t say that we won’t sometimes long for the old ways, or feel the flesh pulling us back toward the “old country” of sin. But fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and consider the hope that is laid up for you in heaven. Delight in the knowledge of God, and the surpassing peace that comes from knowing Him, and look at your trials and sufferings as but a light and momentary thing compared to the eternal weight of glory. And in the end there won’t be a shred of regret that we have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son—because His joy knows no end.
Please pray with me: “Father, you saw me when I was still walking blind in sin and darkness. You had mercy on me, a poor, miserable sinner, and sent your beloved Son to rescue me. By His suffering, death, and resurrection, He has set my feet upon solid ground and taught me your will. He has purchased my freedom to make me a citizen in your kingdom and a rightful son, heir to all you have promised. This is more than I could ever ask for or deserve—but it’s your free and generous gift. Teach me to walk in a manner worthy of you, and strengthen me for all my life holds in store for me. Keep my eyes from looking to sin, and draw them up to your loving gaze, so that I may never forget what you have done, and that one day I may see you face to face. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.”

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      Paul wrote the following letters from prison, sometimes called his “Captivity Epistles” or “Prison Letters”: Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, and Philippians. Why was Paul in prison? Colossians 4:3, 18; Philippians 1:7.
2.      What was the reason for the profound warmth and thanksgiving that Paul expressed for the church in Colossae? Colossians 1:3-8. How did they bear this fruit? John 15:1-17.
3.      How does Paul describe our rescue and our new citizenship? Colossians 1:13-14; 1:21-22; Ephesians 2:12-19. What parallels might this have to an earthly change in citizenship? In what ways does this heavenly citizenship far excel anything here on earth?
4.      All this comes at whose initiative and whose expense? Colossians 1:12; 1 Peter 1:17-19; John 15:16.
5.      What do you give thanks for, about your fellow Christians here at Emmanuel? What has God done in your life by His grace?
6.      How do we come to the knowledge of God’s will? Where does He reveal it to us? John 6:40. Later in Colossians Ch. 3 & 4, Paul gives specific instructions for applying God’s will in our life.
7.      How do we grow in knowledge of God? Proverbs 1:7; Galatians 4:9. Who is the revealer of God to us? John 14:6-11.

8.      What counteracts the longing for the “old country” or the old life of sin? Hebrews 12:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:17

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