Christ is the Lord of the highest and best
Paul's problem in writing to the Christians at Colossae was to make Christianity intellectually credible to an educated people. This is a problem for Christians in our country today. Christian thinking and Christian explanations have to compete with alternative views and philosophies. It is easier to distinguish Christianity from Islam than it is to distinguish Christianity from militant atheism because there is no common ground and no meeting place with those who think that even to talk of God is foolish and absurd and a waste of time.
In Florida, an atheist created a case against Easter and Passover Holy days. He hired a lawyer to bring a discrimination case against Christians and Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognised days. The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!" The lawyer immediately stood and objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, How can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays..." The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counselor, is woefully ignorant." The lawyer said," Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists." The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fool’s Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that, if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned..."
Colossians is a small but important part of the New Testament. Paul was forced to think through the issues and provide answers and these have stood the test of time. The first issue that Paul was refuting was a Greek view that this physical life we humans live – the animal part of our being – the bones and blood and sinews and organs – are a hindrance and a bind and in fact bad at the core. What was possibly good was the life of the soul, the spirit and the mind but these were not in harmony but in competition with bodily existence. The Jewish view of human life was not that at all. It was that body and soul are interlinked inseparable and blessed. The Incarnation takes that view further. God abhorred not the virgin's womb – the life of our Maker is united with our own human physical existence. Jesus was actually born, lived and actually died. But Greeks could not take easily to this stuff and Paul saw a danger for the Church in the rejection of Jesus as God incarnate. If that fell, he understood well – the whole of Christianity fell with it.
For Greeks, Jesus was not and could not be unique. He was a spiritual emanation, a spiritual manifestation of God but only one of many such. Hinduism says something similar. There are many Hindu gods – for Hindus – God is incarnate in many ways. For us, the statues of hybrid elephant-human god Ganesha – the lord of success - and such like are just man invented gods without anything like the singular reality of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without image and the historical Jesus, documented in Roman records as well as Jewish and of course the Gospels and Acts and the rest of the New Testament. For Greeks if Jesus was an intermediary with God then he was only one of many and had no special significance. For Paul, Jesus' uniqueness as Saviour, Redeemer and Mediator was the be all and end all of Christianity. So Paul says that Jesus is the image of the invisible Maker - in him God presents his fullness to the world – and so reconciliation and peace are made directly and completely. Paul adds words which Greeks would find hard to swallow, through his blood shed on the cross.
We also find that difficult to understand and this is the very first objection to Christianity offered by those who reject it today. Technological society does not relate easily or well to Calvary. The idea that God demands such a sacrifice of his own Son is hard to explain. But if we say that Jesus' death is God's own gift then that helps since it makes of God good and loving, consistent and whole. There is a contemporary image which helps us with this. It is of parents baling out their children financially. Here is a fairly typical story by someone called Val.
'Can anyone advise on the situation I am in. I have three non married adult children aged 21yr /24yr and 28yrs, they all work and live 5 miles away, but never bother to visit me unless they want something, mainly money or to be bailed out of a situation. Each has gradually returned to living with my ex, who allows them too trash his house, get him seriously in debt and drink with him into the small hours. I raised them for 9 years as a single/working parent and run a strict household with boundaries. I am always there if they need me and as a nurse, have good listening skills. I am devastated that since moving into my new home, I have had no visit from the boys or help whatsoever..but my daughter has visited a few times and has now fled since, I challenged her about paying me back the extensive lump sum (my savings) I lent her to travel around Australia 1 year ago. She states she cannot even afford to give me back a moderate sum from her salary. I now feel isolated and devastated by their neglect'.
God sends His Son to bale out the human condition. On earth, nothing is for nothing. The child who gets into debt must repay it or go bankrupt. The parent has often to pay up. Human wrongdoing has its consequences and they have to be recognised and dealt with. Drug dealers who do not pay their handlers are often murdered. As part of an acrimonious divorce settlement a builder was forced to give his ex-wife his £5,000,0000 dream home which he had built himself. Rather than let her have the house, he took his bulldozer and demolished the house so that she would not have it. On earth there is a mercilessness. Jesus suffered from human mercilessness not from divine demand for blood sacrifice. But – it was God himself who paid the debt. Like the parents who pay the debts of errant selfish and spiritually lost children. Jesus is God's own gift of redeeming love.
Paul adds realistically to the unqualified good news if you continue in your faith, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. That much we have to do in return. Keep the faith. Do not give up. Even if you are weary or disappointed, trust in God's overall purpose. Check out your own history and count your blessings.
Courage, brother, sister, do not stumble,
Though thy path be dark as night;
There’s a star to guide the humble:
Trust in God and do the right.
Let the road be rough and dreary,
And its end far out of sight,
Foot it bravely; strong or weary,
Trust in God, trust in God,
Trust in God and do the right.
Paul talks about the glorious riches of this mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Do you think that way? Are you conscious of Christ living within you? Each day? Are you uplifted, motivated and encouraged by Jesus Christ's own spirit within you? That's what drove Paul – not his own energy or will – he was kept buoyant and afloat by the power of the risen Jesus in his life. No matter how often he was knocked down, he got up again. He was inspired by the vision of the triumph of Jesus. He had a cosmic view of Jesus' importance. He is for all existence not just for earth and humanity. What is to follow is infinitely greater than what we see and know and have here. Paul says to this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. That is our calling, to be changed into Holy Spirit filled Christians and to exercise our role as witnesses for Jesus, receiving his blessing to do so and like Him being faithful and overcoming the odds of indifference and hostility that meet our claims for him today.
Christ is the Lord of the highest and best. We must do away with the negativity that surrounds Church life today, falling numbers, fewer young people, loss of position and status in society, exclusion from public life, marginalisation in schools. The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of active Christians in Scotland – enough to begin a world wide revival if we had a mind for it. What is lacking is that empowering by the Holy Spirit. We are not lacking in people, skills or money. We are lacking seeking, prayer and dedication. We prefer our own half life to Christ's full life within. We settle for comfort and not for exploration, for house slippers and not marching boots. Christ is the Lord of the highest and best. We are part of Christ's victory and we should remember this always.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Christ is in you The hope of glory in your heart He lives, He lives, His breath is in you Arise a mighty army Arise, arise.