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Come to the Banquetting Table

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Come to the Banqueting Table

(Why hope?)

June 4, 2006

Colossians 1:15-23

Please turn in your bibles to the book of Colossians and we’ll begin reading there in a couple of minutes. 

Sometimes we fail to eat the main course of a Biblical feast because we choke on the hors d’oeuvres.  The meal is set before us - perhaps early in the morning alone in our study or sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee.  Perhaps late at night when others are asleep, or perhaps on Sunday morning in a sermon such as now.  You want to enjoy a feast of Biblical truth.  The main course is magnificent.  You catch a glimpse of it.  You are about to savor good meat.    You are hungry.  The anticipation rises.  You start chewing.  And suddenly you choke on an hors d’oeuvres.  In the end you get up from the banquet of Biblical truth and leave the table frustrated and still hungry.

While we’re talking about feasting, I’d like to read you an interview with an international authority on diet and fitness. Those of you who are serious about the subject may glean something useful from this interview:

So, here is the interview with the revolutionary "health" practi­tioner Dr. Feelgood:

Q: Doc, will cardiovascular exercise prolong my life?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats. Don't waste them on exercise. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer. That's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. If you want to live longer, take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more grain, fruits and vegetables?

A: What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are those? Vegetables. A steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism for delivering vegetables to your system.

Need grain? Eat a chicken.

Q: Is beer or wine bad for me?

A: My point about vegetables. Everything comes in three categories, animal, mineral, and vegetable. Beer and wine are not animals or minerals. Have a burger and a beer and enjoy your liquid veggies.

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: If you have a body and you have body fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are the advantages of a regular exercise program?

A: None that I can think of. My philosophy is "No Pain Is Good For You."

Q: If I stop smoking, will I live longer?

A: No. Smoking is a stress reducer, unless you're trying to quit. Try to quit, you'll stress yourself to an early grave. Not to mention the pounds you'll put on.

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?

A: You're not listening. Foods are fried in vegetable oil. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit ups prevent me from getting soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. Only do sit ups if you want a bigger stomach.

I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you had about rigorous exercise.

I hope you health and fitness nuts found that helpful. Now, on to some serious stuff.

I’m going to serve you a banquet this morning - a Biblical banquet from Colossians.  But before we savor Paul’s words, let me give you some background information.

The city of Colosse was 100 miles east of Ephesus.  It was not an influential  trading center  like Laodicea, but it was a crossroads for ideas and religions.  It had a large Jewish population.  The Christian church of Colosse was founded by Epaphros around 52 AD.  It is thought that Epaphros was a convert of Paul. 

In the church at Colosse, heresy was rampant.  The believers of Colosse were meshing the truth about Christ with a mixture of Greek, Jewish and mystical ideas which came out of their religious background.  Paul wrote this letter to set them straight.   Although Paul had not visited Colosse, he was eager to refute the reported heresy about Christ’s power and position which was leading the Christians astray.  The heresy was an early form of gnosticism.  Gnosticism undermined Christianity in several ways:

First, gnostics believed salvation was through secret knowledge, hidden from all but a few believers.  Paul however states that Christ provides all the knowledge we need.  Christ uncovers the mysteries of the ages.

Second, gnostics believed all matter, including our bodies, was evil therefore could not be created by God because God would not create anything evil.  Paul had to counter this by telling them God himself lived in a human body and Christ was sinless with no evil.

Third, gnoticism contended that Christ only seemed to be human, but was actually spirit.  Of course, Paul insisted Jesus was fully human and fully God.

Because gnostics believed all created matter to be evil, the belief was that God could not have created our earth but instead He created it through intermediaries.  God created a layered spirit world - which had the power to create.  Christ would have been one of these created spirits with the power to create.  This was the gnostics attempt to reconcile a holy God with an evil creation. Christ couldn’t be God so they made him a demi-god.  As you can imagine this leads to grave error about the person and work of Christ. 

And here the gnostics formed two camps.  One camp based their belief on Jesus being God .  The other camp believed he was human .  Neither camp believed he was both.  Those gnostics who denied Jesus’ humanity gave him  a phantom body.  According to them Jesus’ human form was just an illusion. 

The other camp who believed Jesus was human had to deny Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah - God with us.  Of course both of these beliefs run counter to the truth: Christ is God in Bodily form!  He was 100% human and 100% God.

These heresies persist today.  JW’s deny the divinity of Christ.  Mormons make Christ a created brother of Satan.  Heresy is not new!  And heresy is not gone!

So Paul sets out in the book of Colossians to address heresy with truth.  After preliminary niceties at the beginning of the chapter, he gets down to brass tacks in verse 15.  Here he makes one of the strongest statements about the divine nature of Christ found anywhere in the Bible.  Follow along with me as I read verses 15 to 23 in Colossians chapter 1.

“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation.  16  Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth.  He made the things we see and the things we can’t see - kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities.  Everything has been created through him and for him. 17 He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together.  18 Christ is the head of the church which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything.  19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and by him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace      with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross.  21 This includes you who were once so far away from God.  You were his   enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 yet now he has brought you back as his friends.  He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body.  As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him       without a single fault. 23 but you must continue to believe this truth and stand in it firmly.  Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.  The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed by God to proclaim it.

This seems very clear to me.  Does it to you?  But there are translations out there which are not so clear.  If your translation is not the New Living you may find words and phrases which cause you a problem.  It seems in dispelling 1st century heresy, Paul was creating a new set of problems.  Good people like you  and me often choke on parts of verses 15, 20 and 23. I want to look at those problems.

In verse 15 your translation may say “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.”  Does it?  Well, JW’s take “first-born of all creation” to mean that Christ is part of creation.  Is he a created being?  No!  That is not what first-born of creation means.  The term “first-born” is a term of preeminence and dignity.  It refers to Christ’s unique and tremendously exalted status as bearer of God’s image - Jesus is OVER all creation not part of it.  There is no reason for this to create a problem.  In fact instead of being an hors d’oeuvre, it should be a magnificent meal in itself, if we had the time to serve it up - our LORD Jesus is not only our Savior but our Maker.  You were created by Christ.  And that should intensify your trust and obedience and worship. 

But now we must hasten on to another potential problem area.  In verse 20 it may sound like all creatures are eventually going to be saved, so that there will be no one in hell in the end.  Look at this verse with me.  Starting at verse 19

        “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in           Christ and by him God reconciled EVERYTHING                (your version may say ALL THINGS)...He made                        peace with (again) EVERYTHING in heaven and on                earth.

 

Because of this verse, universalists, since Origen in the 3rd century, have taken this to mean that ALL CREATURES will be saved and none condemned.  No!  This too is wrong!

So don’t choke on the possiblility that Paul is teaching universalism, namely that all creatures will eventually be saved and none will be punished forever.  Again that is not what the scripture is saying.  If it did, if God reconciled to himself ALL persons, would that not include the devil, himself?  I don’t think so!  That would certainly contradict what Paul says elsewhere. Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 1:9: (give everyone time to find this passage)

         “ They will be punished with everlasting destruction,     forever separated from the LORD and from His                   glorious power.” 

Who are “they” that will be punished? Well, look at verse 6 above it. 

        “and in his justice he will punish those who                            persecute you” 

Now look at verse 8        

        “in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t    know God and on those who refuse to obey the          Good News of our LORD Jesus”

That doesn’t sound much like reconciliation to me.  Does it to you?  Of course not.  Paul is not preaching universal reconciliation.  We were hostile and estranged toward God before we were saved and that is the condition of the whole of creation.  Rebellion against God reigns in the hearts of men - you and me included.  We are rebels by nature just as much as Osama Bin laden or Khadafy! But by Jesus’ death he presented us - his church - holy and blameless before the throne of the Almighty. Praise God!!

There is a another verse in Colossians - 3:11 - which I want to look at together - which will help us further to understand what Paul is saying in chapter 1(or what Paul is NOT saying!!).  Turn to it with me. (wait)

In 3:10 Paul is describing Christians as people who have      “put on the new nature, which is being renewed in           knowledge after the image of the Creator”

Then in verse 11 he begins with the word “here” or “In this new life”, depending on your version, to show that what he is about to say is limited in its scope to renewed man, limited to believers.  Look at it with me.

        “In this new life it doesn’t matter if you are Jew or          Gentile, circumcised or uncircumsised, barbaric,                 civilized, slave or free.  Christ is ALL that matters                and (look!) HE LIVES IN ALL OF US.”

In your version it may say, “Christ is all and in all.”   By itself, you might say that it is teaching universalism.  “Christ is all and in all human-beings without exception”??  No, that is not what it says or means. We know Paul is referring to the church - new humanity that Christ has redeemed, his chosen servants - us!  He is in all of us!

Now let’s get back to our Colossians passage.  In that first chapter verses 15-17 are speaking about all creation. Christ is preeminent over all creation - He made it and he holds it all together.

Then in verses 18-21 the focus shifts and the scope is no longer the whole universe but the new creation, namely the church.  Notice how verse 18 turns our attention from creation to the church: “He is the head of the body, the church.”  New Living says, “Christ is the head of the church which is His body.”

Antoher bone to pick out of your teeth may come in the 20th verse where we read that “He will reconcile all things to himself in heaven and on earth.”  The “all things” here should be limited in the same way as in Colossians 3:11 which we just looked at - “He lives in all of us” is limited to those who belong to him - his new creation.  He lives in all of us!  He reconciles all of us!  Us being those who believe and receive the gift of salvation.  We are the ones that are reconciled to God.  We are the ones He is head over.  Let’s not choke on this Hors d’oeuvre.  This too could be another main dish.  Christ is  sovereign master over all creation and he is head over all his church.  He is the redeemer.  Nothing in heaven or on earth that God has appointed to be a part of the new creation in Christ will fail to be reconciled to him.  The Lord reigns and he will save his people and subdue his enemies.  And all the people said !!  AMEN

Briefly lets look at one other hors d’oeuvre that might stick in our throat and cause us to choke.  It is found at the end of verse 23.  Here Paul refers to “the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven.”  What does that mean?? - that the gospel has been preached to every creature under heaven? 

Paul knew full well that the gospel had not yet reached  all the peoples of the earth.  He is writing from Rome and his intention according to Romans 15:20-24 is to go on to Spain, if he ever gets out of jail, because he wants to preach where Christ has never been named. 

Literally we could translate the last part of verse 23 to read, ”the Gospel which you heard, the one preached in all creation under heaven.”  This implies that it is the gospel’s destiny to be preached everywhere and this is in fact was happening.  The point is that the gospel is for all the world; and that it was in fact making great headway through the world. 

Turtullian, who was born only 100 years after Colosians was written was able to say to the Jews about the spread of the gospel, “We (meaning Christians) are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate, and forum.  We have left you only your temples.”

So I hope nobody choked on those three hors d’oeuvres which I just dished up.  In fact I hope that you will see that they are not hor d’oeuvres at all.  They are so doctrinally necessary to our faith, we must not get confused with them.  I wouldn’t have spent all this time dispelling the problems if it wasn’t important. 

Remember!  Christ is no mere creature.  He is the very image of the living God.  He is very God of very God, begotten not created.  All things were made through him and for him.  He is before all things and in him all things hold together.  If these things were not so, if our Lord were not the Lord of glory there would be no Christian gospel to preach.  If you rob Christ of his divine preeminence over all creation then there is no Christian gospel.  Angels and men cannot atone for sin!  Only the God-man - Jesus - can save your life.  It pleased God to make the old creation through the power of his Son, and to make the new creation by the death of his Son!

Doctrine can be dry meat, can’t it?  But it is main course meat and important for us to feed on it.  Doctrine is the non-negotiables in our faith.  We must be firm on who Jesus was.  But, I do have to admit, doctrine does need a bit more chewing than milk, doesn’t it!?

I am pleased to dine with you today.  To share a meal of biblical truth.  By the death of His Son, God is now creating a new race of holy people who have given up their hostility to God.  God aims for Jesus not merely to be the first-born over all creation by virtue of his authority and power, but also the redeemer of a new creation by virtue of his love-sacrifice.  That is the heart of the gospel.  It is the gospel.  Jesus came; Jesus died for my sin; Jesus rose again.  If God didn’t overcome my hostility and estrangement by the blood of Christ, it would never be overcome.  I would never be a new creature and there would be no gospel - good news! 

And the gospel continues to be preached in all creation.  And it continues to be for everybody! You don’t have to be Jewish or Anglo Saxon or free or male or even good in order to be saved by the gospel.  “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for EVERYONE who believes...” (Romans 1:16)   for who??

FOR EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!!

Because of the power of the gospel, it is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.  The gospel is not an interesting side-dish.  It is main course.  If the gospel did not win victories in the world, it would not be the power of God to save, and it would not be the good news.  The gospel is more than a proclamation of what we have in Christ.  2 Thessalonians 1:11 says it is giving you power to live  worthy of his kingdom and “accomplish the good things your faith prompts you to do.” 

2 Thessalonians 2 :14 says now because of the gospel you can share in the glory of our Lord and Saviour.

Best of all, 1 Peter  chapter 1 reminds us that the gospel gives us new life that will last forever.  We are heaven-bound!  Yahoo!!  And verse 24 ends the chapter this way:

        “As the Scriptures say,

        “People are like grass;

                their beauty is like a flower in the field.

        The grass withers and and flower fades.

                but the word of the LORD remains forever.”

        And that word is the Good News that was preached               to you.”

The gospel accomplishes what God sends it forth to do for it is the voice of the living God.

Paul ended our key passage in Colossians by referring to the “hope of the gospel” or the “assurance of the gospel” as New Living puts it.  Is there any sweeter message of hope in all the world that to hear God announce that when you get up in the morning you belong to him? Or when you go to bed this very night, you can know every sin you committed this day is forgiven and you are reconciled to the Almighty by the death of His Son?  What sweeter gift is there than the free gift of salvation.

The offer of the gospel is hope for sinners : the hope of forgiveness; the hope of reconciliation; the hope of holiness.  And more!  It is worldwide hope to satisfy all hearts.  “It is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword peircing to the division of soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:11-12)  It is fire.  It is a hammer.  It goes forth and does not return empty.  Remember, the grass will wither and the flowers fade, but the word of the LORD stands forever. (Is. 40:8)

This is the great global hope of the gospel.  It will reach every people and tribe and nation.  The ransomed will be freed.  The eyes of all Israel will be opened.  The Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  What hope!!  And the wheat and the tares will be divided - one into the furnace and the other into the master’s arms.  And those who have believed the gospel, will shine like Christ in the kingdom of their Father, and we shall reign with him on high. 

Receive the gospel.  Stand on it.  Hold it fast.  There in no other hope than the Hope of the gospel.  Amen!

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