Monday, July 29, 2013

Sermon on Colossians 2:6-15, for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 3: "In Him, With Him"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our sermon text, Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 2.
Now that you have received Christ, now that you are called by the name Christian, walk in Him, Paul says. The words: in Him or with Him, by my count, appear 9 times in this short reading, telling how the Christian is joined to Jesus Christ. Now that you have received Christ, don’t fall out of step with Him. In other words, don’t let worldliness and clever talk turn you against Christ, and send you walking back in sin. We need this warning because the path that leads to life is narrow, and there are few that find it. It’s easy to steer back onto the broad, easy path that leads to destruction. In order that we might not be turned aside so easily, Paul calls us to strengthen our faith—become firm in our connection to Christ.
To walk in Him, shows that Jesus is more than just a guide—with us tagging along behind, trying to keep up. More than just a companion. Not one who walks outside us and with us, but rather we walk in Him. So who is He, that we can walk in Him? In the clear words of Scripture, Colossians 2:9-10 tells us Jesus is true God, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Take a moment to soak in the meaning of those words. In Jesus, the “whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Not part of God, not some aspects of who He is, but the whole fullness of deity, of Godhood, is in Him bodily. That means that all of God dwells in the human body of Jesus Christ. His body was not too small a Temple to contain God. He was not 1/3rd God, or merely on intimate terms with God—God fully dwells in Him. You won’t find God outside of the person of Jesus Christ. So to walk in Him, is to walk in God. It is to be joined to and filled up with Christ, who is God Himself. And this walk of our Christian life then, is not an exercise of our power or strength, but it is the grace of God working out our salvation in us.
Since it’s vital that we don’t turn astray from Jesus, who is our walk and who is our Way—we’re to send down roots, like a tree reaching deep into the soil for life-giving water, support, and stability. Be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Send down roots into God’s Word and build solidly on the foundation of Jesus Christ, so that your faith does not become like a shallow rooted plant that quickly dies in the heat of trial and suffering, or is blown over by the storms of life. Don’t be content to stay at the surface, but reach into the infinite depths of God’s love, His wisdom, and His truth. Rooted in the depths of His love, and founded on Him, your faith will not be shaken, and you’ll have no reason to be afraid—for God is with you. Times of testing and storms of life will come, but prepare for them in advance by deepening your relationship with Jesus Christ and your knowledge of His Word. A tree can’t suddenly grow deeper roots the moment it sees a storm coming—and so must we be life-long students of God’s Word, slowly and deliberately growing deep roots and drinking in God’s life.
In verses 11-13, Paul talks about how we’re joined to Christ in baptism, and how baptism parallels the Old Testament covenant of circumcision. Like circumcision, which was done on the 8th day after a child was born, baptism also is for children—God is not limited by age in making His covenant with us. And nowhere in the New Testament is any limitation placed on who should be baptized—no limitation of age, social status, sex, or nationality. Rather, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” is all-inclusive. Thus it’s no problem to baptize children, because they are being brought into God’s free grace and favor—gifts of His kingdom, that Jesus taught belongs to children such as these. Infant baptism, more than anything, shows us how completely it is God’s gift, and the gift of baptism doesn’t depend for anything on what we do. And, no different from OT circumcision, the baptized are to be brought up in the faith—taught to know and embrace this gift of God. But baptism is greater than circumcision, as it is the “circumcision made without hands” and the “putting off the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Baptism is Christ’s operation—joining us to Him by stripping off the body of our flesh, as though our sinful nature were old dirty clothes we could strip off. Consider that being stripped naked can leave one embarrassed or ashamed, if not clothed again. Keep it in your mind for later.
This weekend I caught a short part of the movie Spiderman 3, a superhero fantasy. In the movie, Spiderman puts on a mysterious new black “suit” that gives him invigorating strength, yet simultaneously turns him toward darkness and malice. The viewer learns this suit is no ordinary clothing, but a living organism, an alien-like parasite that would take over its host and gradually turn them to evil, anger, and hatred. Spiderman narrowly escapes being consumed by this evil, but a friend of his isn’t so lucky. Just in time, he learns that the only way to avoid being consumed by the evil of this “living suit” is to strip it entirely off, and keep free of it.
Though it’s just a comic-book fantasy, it shows a powerful image for us, paralleling the “living suit” of our sinful nature. Though it’s very much alive and desires to turn us toward evil, the way of our sinful flesh leads only to spiritual death. Corrupting not only our actions but also our thoughts, turning them away from God, so that we were “dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh.” As long as the “evil suit” of our sinful flesh is not “cut off” from us, we’re dead to God. But only Christ can perform the radical surgery, the circumcision “made without hands”—that strips off our sinful flesh in baptism, crucifying and burying it with Him. Sin is so deeply intertwined with our human nature that we have no strength to pull ourselves free. Christ alone performs the operation, taking all of our sin upon Him, clothed with our sin and shame—which killed Him, but couldn’t corrupt Him or turn Him toward evil. Jesus’ heart and will were peerless, wholly committed to the Father, incorruptible and pure. His motives were love, obedience, and the joy of redeeming us from our sin slavery. Sin died with Him, and was buried with Him. In His cross, the ugly record of debt, the account of all that we have done wrong—the whole story of your sin and shame, was nailed to the cross. They can no longer stand against you, no longer condemn you, when you are in Christ Jesus.
But Satan does not care—he knows the power of guilt and the accusations of the law to burden our conscience, to fill our heart with despair and grief, to steal every bit of peace that would let us trust in God. Forgiven? The devil doesn’t care, and he will continue to try to hound you with the guilt of sins that have already been paid for and taken away, in the death of Jesus on the cross. Luther gave one of the best pieces of advice for this when he told the Christian to answer the devil, that old accuser: “Go to the cross! There you will see my sin paid for in full!” If our hearts and conscience trouble us with accusations of past sins, we have the greatest and only consolation in Christ Jesus, and to tell the devil that if he wants to bother us with our sins, he must take it up with Christ!
If he tells you of your many sins, then confess them all and name even more that he has forgotten. Say “Yes, I have done those things, and I am not proud of them, I know they are sinful before God, but I have confessed them to God. Jesus Christ has borne these and more that I don’t even know, to His cross. My record of debt was paid in full, paid in the death of Jesus Christ. Satan, drop your ugly accusation, I am baptized into Christ!” Christ is my consolation, my forgiveness, my honor and my life. To stand apart from Him is to stand naked, ashamed, but to be baptized is to be clothed with Him. No ordinary clothes, but a new “living suit”, if you will. Christ’s own goodness alive and at work on and in you. The very opposite of the sinful “suit” of our flesh. Clothed with Christ, He awakens Godly desires and pure motives in us, moving by His Holy Spirit to live a life set apart from the world, sanctified and kept toward Him in love. Wearing Christ we are not slaves or subject to sin and guilt any longer, but we are free men and women in Christ. We are alive and free to serve God and our neighbor in love. We joyfully and eagerly “put on Christ” whenever we return to our baptism by repentance, stripping off the old sinful nature, and putting on the new life of Christ.
Those little words, in Him; with Him; come drumming the Gospel into our ears—joyfully repeating the gifts we have in Christ. Buried with Him in baptism; raised with Him through faith; made alive together with Him. In joining you to Christ, God has joined you to life. And forgiven in Christ, the accusations of the law and the record of debt from your sin, hold no force against you—as Christ has nailed it to the cross. Done! Forgiven! Sealed with His own death and resurrection. Embrace this forgiveness and new life—count yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus. Do not be haunted by sins confessed, but root yourselves in the word of Christ that announces your forgiveness, and cling to the joy of knowing that no sin can condemn you if you are in Christ Jesus. And if you are still troubled by your sins, come in private confession to your pastor and hear the words of absolution spoken personally to you, for your forgiveness and your comfort. God has left us with no shortage of the forgiveness of sins, the comfort of the Gospel, and the unfathomable depths of His love and mercy. Reach deep into His gifts and find the joy of walking in Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why is it important that Christians, both new to the faith and mature in the faith, be “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith”? Ephesians 2:20-22; 3:17; 4:13-14.
  2. What sort of “philosophy and empty deceit” is at work to “captivate” people today? 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 6:3-10, 20-21
  3. How does Colossians 2:9-10 make the full divinity of Jesus apparent? Where does the fullness of deity (God’s very being) dwell? How extensive is Christ’s rule and power? Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.
  4. In verses 11-13, how is baptism the New Testament parallel to circumcision? When was a boy circumcised? Genesis 17:9-14. If a child is brought into God’s covenant, either by circumcision in the OT or baptism in the NT, how does that picture God’s grace? Are infants/children also able to have faith, even before they express it in words? Psalm 71:5-6; 22:9-10; Matthew 18:1-6; cf Acts 2:38-39
  5. What is the “record of debt” that “stood against us with its legal demands”? Ephesians 2:1-5; Galatians 3:10. What does it mean for us that Jesus Christ has nailed those demands of the law to the cross? How does it change our relationship before God? How does A) Jesus’ innocence & perfect life, and B) His payment in death for our guilt, throw the “scales of justice” toward innocence and forgiveness for us? What new life does this grant you?
  6. Who are the rulers and authorities Jesus disarmed? How did He put them to shame? Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12; Psalm 68:18; Ephesians 4:8-9; Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 12:29; 1 Peter 3:18-20. 

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