Sunday, February 26, 2012

Colossians 1:1-14

"Hope on Deposit -- Good News"
MasterPiece Church
26 February 2012

People are ready for some good news – including you. What would be good news to you this week?
  • The Dow tops 13,000 and stays there for longer than 11 minutes? 
  • Your boss calls you in to announce a bonus which includes an extra month's worth of salary and a two week salaried, all expense paid vacation to Maui – just because you're so valuable to the company? 
  • You find a lottery ticket in the parking lot as you leave here this morning, check the numbers you discover that you've won $73 Million? 
  • 60 Minutes runs a story tonight on a new inexpensive harmless drug, made from aspirin, which cures all forms of cancer, takes off 14 pounds a week – and makes you 10 years younger at the same time? 
  • Christ returns before we have to endure another week of election bantering?  
We'd all like to hear some good news.

This morning we're starting a new study on the New Testament book of Colossians – which is about the challenge behind receiving good news.

The Colossians needed some good news.

At one point Colossae had been the Greatest City of Phyrgia – (that's not just chamber of commerce hype either) huge and wealthy – the center of wool industry. It sat on the Lycus River and was on the highway between Ephesus and Euphrates. Coloassae was prime real estate.

It had been a happening place. But by the first century it was in major decline – a victim of political shifts and economic realignments. You think you're underwater in your mortgage – at least you have hope that it will eventually spring back.

Colassae was a “has been” – in need of some good news.

Along comes Epaphras, a native of Colassae, who had perhaps heard Paul in Ephesus and had embraced his good news message – and had become an evangelist himself in the Lycus Valley – perhaps planting the churches in Laodecia and Hierapolis, as well as Colassae.

It appears that he is the one who brought the good news of Jesus to Colassae and that Paul's relationship with the Colossians was through Epaphras.
Col 1:7 -- “You learned it (that is, the good news message of God's grace) from Epaphras, who is the fellow slave we love and Christ’s faithful minister for your sake. 8 He informed us of your love in the Spirit.”
Since, we are planning to spend the next few months with the Colossians I thought ti might be helpful to do a quick introduction to this letter and then jump back into the flow of it.
  • Colossae was about 120 miles east of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. 
  • Colossians was written by Apostle Paul and his sidekick Timothy, according to 1:1. Although Paul's is the major voice he probably used a secretary – but at the very end he writes a greeting in his own hand. 
  • The letter was intended to circulate – 4:16 -- “After this letter has been read to you publicly, make sure that the church in Laodicea reads it and that you read the one from Laodicea.” 
  •  Paul wrote the letter from prison – but we don't know which one or at which time. 
  • Reading between the lines it seems that the Colossian letter was written near the end of Paul's life – perhaps AD 59-60. 
  • There are two sections to the letter. Chapters 1-2 deal with theological issues and 3-4 practical matters. 
  • As with most of his writing Paul is dealing with the incursion of bad thinking and behavior into the church. The Colossian heresy was probably a fusion of some ideas common in the culture with some religious and philosophical ideas that were making the rounds at that time. 
  • There is a major thematic and linguistic overlap with the letter to the Ephesians. For both letters are dealing with variations of the same issues.
So, that should be enough to get us started. The block of verses that we identify as 1:1-14 is typically celebratory. Paul doesn't always begin his letters with upbeat energy – but usually he does. And if I had to label this block I would call it CELEBRATING GOOD NEWS.

Now, Paul kind of backs his way into the topic. He is not exactly direct. But he eventually gets there.

Starting at verse 1 – and I'm using CEB today. Typically, as Bible translations go I bounce around a lot because some translations are more engaging in certain places and others in other passages.

The CEB is a new translation. But I also use the NLT a lot – and the Message – and the NIV. Don't feel that you have to be locked into one Bible translation. Use one or more – whatever it takes to get you reading and studying.
1 “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. 2 To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”
Very typical start to a letter. Paul identifies himself – an apostle (someone sent on a mission) and his authority (by the will of God).

To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. That is, they are set apart and are faithful – faith-filled or reliable because they are a part of the Christ union.

That is followed by the a blessing – “Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

If we are all siblings in Christ, than God is our Father – and he extends his hand of blessing to you.

Again -- very upbeat start of a letter.

And typically it's followed up by a word of thanksgiving – which is the case here.

3 “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.”

Why? And here we are starting to back into his discussion of the good news --
vs 4 -- “We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. 5 You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.”
Note the triad – Faith, Love, and Hope.

(Where have you heard that before? – 1 Corinthians 13:13 – “Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.)

Hope is not wishful thinking – as we often use the word.
  • I hope we can go to Disneyland again. 
  • I hope I can go to Guam for a few weeks to teach a class in the summer or fall. 
  • I hope I can buy a new car soon.
Maybe it happens -- maybe not. But biblical hope is a certainty. It's almost like money in the bank. Or more precisely on reserve in the heavenly bank.
“You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, 6 which has come to you.”
Note that it comes to them – to us. It's not something we make happen or quest after – but it comes at God's initiative to us. Hope – the good news is a grace thing – an undeserved, unearned gift.

Okay, here we are – at the message – the true message of the aforementioned hope is the good news. And Paul is all jazzed because the Colossians have not only accepted it but they've made it the hub of their lives.

This message -- vs. 7, this message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace...

No wonder he is excited. The Colossians have heard and embraced the good news message.

But it's not just happening in Colossae! And you start to sense the excitement growing in Paul's voice – he talks a little faster with a little more passion –
“This message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace, in the same way that it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world.”
The good news of grace and hope is expanding and changing things all over the world. First century globalization! It's a good news movement – a positive uprising – a revolution of hope!

And as we go through the letter you'll start to see why the language of revolution is so appropriate. There is something very subversive about this good news. We talked briefly about vss. 7 and 8 earlier so we'll jump down to verse 9.
“Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding.”
This is our goal as developing followers of Jesus – right? Knowledge of God's agenda, wisdom, and spiritual insight.

When was the last time you prayed for those things for yourself and those around you? Are you seeking deep lives or are you merely trying to get by with the least possible effort and investment?
10 “We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people.”
Wow – That's what I want for me. I'm not there, yet, but I want to be growing in depth and knowledge – fruitful – thankful – joyful.

Are you joyful?

What about patience? (vs. 11) That's an area where I've grown a lot. I'm even starting to think of patience not just as a better reaction to the negative things that come my way but I'm working now on becoming proactively unhurried – relaxing in the knowledge that it's in God's hands. I don't have to fix everything that is wrong. Sure he wants to use me to fix somethings but ultimately it's all in his hands anyway.

And if God is not in a rush – I'm not going to be in a rush. Patience is a matter of pacing yourself with God and his timing. And Paul says in vs. 12 that we move this direction by giving joyful thanks to the Father – to God. For he is the one who makes it all possible.

And then, finally, we get to the crux of the matter. Paul has been dancing around it – giving thanks for its impact, acknowledging how it is at work in the Colossian church – but finally he comes right out defines the good news message.
13 “He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.” 
Jessica Buchanan, an American and Poul Hagen Thisted, a Dane, had gone to Somalia as Aid workers, intent on making a difference in the lives of the poorest of poor.

They worked with a unit that was clearing the landmines that have been blowing up children – and farmers. But in October they were kidnapped by a Somali gang which demanded $10 million in ransom.

Negotiations had stalled out and intelligence indicated that Jessica's health was deteriorating.

Just a few weeks ago, on January 24th, a dozen special ops US Navy SEALS under the cover of darkness parachuted into a site two miles from where the aid workers were being held captive. They then surprised the kidnappers, and in a firefight rescued Poul and Jessica – unharmed.

And while I detest resolution through violence – even in the most justified situations – I have to admit that I was elated when I heard that the SEALS had penetrated enemy lines and rescued these people who had gone to Somalia to help and had ended up as victims.

It's an amazing story – and a modern illustration of what Paul says that Jesus did.

We were hostages to a foreign dark power. But now through what Jesus did, we've been rescued, set free – transferred into the kingdom of the Son – and on top of that – forgiven for our own voluntary collusion with the enemy – more about that later.

The Colossian believers embraced this message – and it changed them and filled them with hope. It's amazing what happens when you have hope on deposit. You turn the world upside down – or at the very least you don't allow the world to turn you upside down.

That's the good news message – with a ripple that changes not only our lives but the lives of everyone with whom we have contact. And I would challenge you to embrace this good news whole-downheartedly – without reservation. Receive Jesus, the Son of God, not only as the rescuer of humanity but of your own heart, soul, and life. Turn and follow him. He's loaded up with hope. And he wants to share it with you.

Earlier I mentioned that Colossae was a has-been kind of place.

Shortly after Paul and Timothy wrote this letter – perhaps the most elegant of the Pauline letters, there was an earthquake that devastated the central portion of the area we now call Turkey.

In AD 61, on top of all their previous decline problems, Colossae was a city in nearly complete ruin and it is likely that many of the recipients of the letter were killed in the quake.

Even though, the city lingered for centuries after that, it was never the same. The nail was in the coffin.

Yet, in spite of the tragedy – the pain and the suffering in the world. The good news is that through the rescue mission of Jesus we've been freed and given a vault full of hope on deposit in a place where earthquakes, political turmoil, spirits, diseases, disasters, kidnappers can't touch it.

And indeed, that is the good news!

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