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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Christ in the centre
Text:Colossians 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 122

Hymn 82:3

Psalm 87

Hymn 79

Psalm 79:5

Scripture reading:  Acts 9:1-22

Text:  Colossians 1:1-2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Some people have the ability to focus intensely on something for a long time.  They can put all their attention on just one thing and do it sometimes for hours.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are those people who have what they call Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  They fly from one thing to another and are easily distracted.  They can’t focus on just one thing for long periods of time.  That can make things difficult for people with ADD, both kids and adults.  To be sure, they have other strengths.  ADD is not all negative.  For example, people with ADD tend to be more creative and they can think outside the box.  With some help and self-awareness, they can leverage these things and use them for their benefit.  

However, there is a type of ADD that has no upside.  There is a type of ADD that is all negative all the time.   There is an ADD that is completely destructive.  Unfortunately, this ADD is very common.  In fact, at times, we all suffer from it.  At times, we all get distracted from focussing on Christ our Saviour.  At times, we all suffer from what can be called Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.  Because we have the leftovers of a sinful human nature, nobody is focussed intensely on Christ all the time.  We are easily distracted from looking in faith to the one who has saved us and who has the power to transform our lives.

Loved ones, this is why the book of Colossians is in our Bibles.  Our God is aware that we struggle with keeping our attention on Christ.  This is not a new problem among God’s people.  The Colossian believers were in the same boat.  Therefore, the Holy Spirit gave them and us this letter through Paul.  He wants to remind us time and again:  “You need to focus.  You need to focus and concentrate on Christ.  Don’t get distracted.”

This book calls our attention to Christ and puts him in the centre.  It does so from the very beginning.  This morning we’re going to begin our series on Colossians with the first two verses.  Already here we’ll see that easily-distracted believers are called back on task.  I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see how Paul opens his letter to the Colossians with Christ in the centre.

We’ll see that he writes of:

  1. His divine calling
  2. Their distinguished standing
  3. A divine greeting

The authorship of Colossians is straight-forward.  Our text says that Paul wrote it and we take that at face value.  However, please notice that Paul also mentions Timothy here in verse 1.  In the book of Acts, Timothy joined Paul and Silas in their missionary work.  He was a young preacher of the gospel.  But he is not likely a co-author of this book.  It’s more probable that he was Paul’s secretary.  Paul dictated the letter to Timothy and Timothy wrote it down for him.  It was common for the secretary of a letter-writer to be mentioned somewhere in the letter.  That’s probably why Timothy is mentioned here.

More important is what Paul says about his divine calling.  As he does with most of his other letters, he begins by affirming that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.  Let’s unpack that.

First of all, what does it mean to be an apostle of Christ Jesus?  This is an important question because in the world around us you’ll still find people who claim to be apostles.  So what is an apostle?  To answer that, we need to go to what Scripture says in Acts 1.  After Christ ascended into heaven, the believers met together for the purpose of choosing an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot.  To be qualified to serve as an apostle, one had to be an eye-witness of the resurrection of Christ.  That doesn’t mean that the person actually saw Christ rise from the dead (because no one did), but that you saw Christ alive after his resurrection.  In Acts 1, two men were nominated, Justus and Matthias, and Matthias was chosen by lot.  So, after the ascension of Christ, there were two main qualifications for apostles:  they had to be commissioned by the church and they had to be eye-witnesses of the resurrection. 

Paul became an eye-witness of the resurrection in what we read from Acts 9.  There he was still known as Saul of Tarsus.  He had that dramatic encounter with our Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Christ went after him.  Saul saw the living Lord.  According to Paul’s words in Acts 22, Ananias said to him, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”  Paul saw the Righteous One; along that road to Damascus he was a witness of the resurrection of Christ.  Moreover, he was also appointed by Christ to be a witness.  Later on, the church recognized Paul’s calling and sent him out to do missionary work. 

We should never forget what an awesome thing this was that the Lord did in Paul’s life.  As we look at those words, “apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” we have reason to lift up our hearts in praise to God.  Saul of Tarsus had been a persecutor of the church.  In 1 Timothy 1, he writes of how he had been a blasphemer, persecutor, and a violent man.  He probably would have been voted the least likely man to become a Christian, let alone an apostle.  In Philippians 3, he lays out his Jewish credentials.  He had every reason to be proud of himself.  He was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, an uber-Pharisee.  He was a persecutor of the church and a super law-keeper.  This was the man who had it all together without Jesus.  He thought he was righteous in himself.  But the Lord grabbed this self-righteous Jew and made such a mighty change in his life that it befuddled everyone.  The Jews in Damascus couldn’t figure it out.  Here was the man who had come to persecute the followers of Jesus and now he was preaching Jesus as the Christ.  The believers in Jerusalem were also confused – and afraid.  He’d left Jerusalem a persecutor and now he comes back as a disciple?  Was this some kind of trick?  Were the Pharisees trying to infiltrate their ranks with false disciples?  But as time went on, it became clear that Saul was the real deal.  His heart really had been changed by the Holy Spirit.  He really was a believer in Jesus Christ.  This was such an amazing and astounding turn around, brought about by our Lord Jesus. 

Think of the person who today is the greatest persecutor of Christians.  Who might that be?  I would nominate Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea.  Under his brutal regime and that of his father and grand-father, thousands of Christians have been imprisoned and martyred.  Can you imagine Kim Jong-un becoming a Christian?  And then even becoming a missionary?  It’s hard to visualize that happening.  But the Lord could make it happen!  He did something exactly like that with Saul of Tarsus.  The least likely Pharisee to become a Christian became one because Christ pursued him and called him. Then the Lord made him one of the most effective missionaries in the history of the church.  Amazing.  Though it happened a couple of thousand years ago, the passage of time doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Paul became an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.  This speaks powerfully of the sovereignty of God both in his salvation and in his calling as an apostle.  He couldn’t have become an apostle if the Lord had not first graciously pursued him.  Paul was who he was by the grace of God.  It wasn’t because of his own initiative, not out of his own resources, because he was such a good person, but because God was merciful to him.  This is true not only of Paul, but of all of us.  We might not have the dramatic conversion story that Paul did, but the Lord has still worked a miracle in the hearts of all of us who believe.  We’re not called to be apostles, but we’ve all been called as children of God.  When we think about it in Paul’s life and in ours, sovereign grace should bring us to praise for our great God and Saviour.    

The believers in Colossae were also recipients of this sovereign grace.  The city of Colossae is in Asia Minor, in the western region of present-day Turkey.  The city had been an important center in earlier times, but by the time of the early New Testament church, it was much less so.  It’s not clear from the New Testament how the gospel reached this city.  We know from a little further in this letter that Paul never visited there.  For example, in chapter 2, he speaks of the Colossian believers as those who have not seen him face to face.  Yet he has heard much about them from his fellow gospel preachers.

One of the things he knows is that they are saints.  Of course, he doesn’t mean that in the Roman Catholic sense of the word.  The Roman Catholics have a special category of people they call ‘saints.’  These are people who were super-holy in their lives on earth, they performed at least one miracle, and because they were so good, they don’t have to spend any time in purgatory.  That’s not the way the Bible uses the word “saint.”  Here a saint is someone holy, someone set apart by God, chosen for salvation.  In the New Testament, the word is sometimes actually used in tandem with “the elect.”  These are God’s people.  How did they become that way?  Purely by God’s grace.  God graciously chose them.  In his grace, God brought them the gospel.  He worked faith in their hearts so that they believed the message of salvation in Christ.  There was a church in Colossae, ultimately not because people decided to have a church there, but because God decided.  The word “saints” speaks of God’s action among these people.

They also have a distinguished standing as “faithful brothers.”  When we read the word brothers here, we can certainly follow the footnote of the ESV and add the words “and sisters.”  The whole church, male and female, is in view.  Because the Lord has been at work in their lives, they are committed to him, faithful.

And they are “saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.”  As we’re going to see throughout the series, those two words are crucially important in this book.  Being “in Christ” speaks of a new identity in Jesus.  The believers receiving this letter might live in Colossae, but that’s not where their true identity is found.  The same is true for us.  We might live in this or that city but that’s not where our true identity is found.  For them and for us, that true identity is in Jesus Christ.  By faith, we are united to him, we are in him.   Through the Holy Spirit who lives in Christ and in us, we are the body of Christ.  Through our being “in Christ” we receive all his benefits.  They’re just two words, but they are so rich with gospel treasure.    

Loved ones, you see, these words at the beginning of verse 2 don’t only describe the Colossians, they also describe us.  By God’s grace, as a congregation we are also saints.  By his grace, we strive to be faithful.  By his grace, we are in Christ.  This is gospel encouragement for us, definitely.  Though we are sinners, God comes to us too and says that we are his beloved people because we have Jesus Christ as our Saviour.  There are two further things that we can draw from this. 

The first thing has to do with how the congregation is addressed in Reformed preaching.  You know that we have the custom of beginning sermons with words like, “Beloved congregation of Christ…”  That’s not only our custom, but if we take our cue from Paul’s letters, it’s biblical.  God’s church should be addressed with words like “saints and faithful brothers in Christ.”  Now someone might object and say, “Are you saying that everyone in the church is a true Christian?  That every single person, head for head, truly believes in Jesus Christ?  What about what the Belgic Confession says in article 29 about there being hypocrites mixed in the church?”  To answer that, do you think that there could have been hypocrites in the church at Colossae?  When Paul used those words in verse 2, did he mean to say that every single person in the church was a true believer?  Comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can say that this is not the case.  Elsewhere, Paul writes to churches in basically the same way, even when he also recognizes that there are those in the church living in unbelief.  A good example would be his first letter to the Corinthians.  So using this way of addressing the church is not a claim that every single person is a believer or that every single person in the church is elect.  Instead, this is a covenantal way of addressing God’s people.  These are the people whom God has covenanted with.  These are the people who profess to be believers in Jesus Christ.  They are addressed in this way on that basis.

The second thing we can draw out here is that along with the Colossians we have a distinguished standing, but it does have a bearing on how we live.  Along with the Colossians, we are saints.  By grace, we have been set apart by God.  We are holy in a definitive sense.  We can rejoice in that.  In God’s eyes, we are like the One to whom we’re united.  We are seen by God through Jesus Christ:  holy.  But our holiness is not just a standing, it’s also a calling.  We have to be who we are.  God says that we are holy, now we are also called to strive for holiness in our day to day lives.  Life in Christ is going to be a life growing in holiness.  This book of Colossians will lay out what that looks like.                  

Last of all in our text, we want to look at the divine greeting at the end of verse 2.  Our translation says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.”  Some of you may still be using the NIV and if you are, you can look at the bottom of the page and there should be a footnote there.  The footnote says, “Some manuscripts Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”   It’s too bad that there’s not even a note about this in the ESV.  While it’s good that the NIV notes it, the note is misleading.  It’s not the case that merely some manuscripts have this reading.  In fact, almost all New Testament Greek manuscripts have this reading.  I believe that these words should be considered part of the text here.  The greeting then reads, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

The standard way to open a letter in those days was to use the word “Greetings!”  Instead, throughout his letters, Paul has something richer.  He writes of grace and peace from God.  That reminds us that he’s not writing a personal letter.  Instead, he writes as an apostle, as a representative of Christ.  He is writing to them with divine authority backing him up.  However, that divine authority has a kind character to it.  It’s not authoritarian, not dictatorial, but fatherly.

That’s reflected in the words used.  From God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ comes grace.  That word is so familiar to us.  It’s a common part of our Christian vocabulary.  Because just because it’s common doesn’t mean that we should stop being amazed at it.  Grace is receiving the opposite of what we deserve from God.  We deserve eternal condemnation because of our sins.  But in our Lord Jesus Christ, God has become our Father.  He has forgiven us, declared us righteous and lovingly received us into his family.  The gospel is there in that one little word:  grace.

It’s also in that other word that Paul uses here:  peace.  Peace here is more than the absence of hostility.  It includes that, yes.  Because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have peace with God; there is no longer a relationship of enmity, but of fellowship.  But peace goes beyond that.  It speaks of wholeness and a return to God’s design for his creatures.  With God’s peace, we are what we were created to be.  We’re living in fellowship with him, living under his blessing.

It’s important to see two things in this divine greeting.  First, its foundation is the gospel.  God can greet his people in Colossae this way because of our Lord Jesus Christ, because of what’s been done through him, through his life, death, and resurrection.  Second, this divine greeting is not only for the Colossians.  This is also the way that our God kindly approaches us today.  Every Sunday morning, we’re greeted and blessed with words very similar to these.  God lovingly comes to us to bless with grace and peace in Jesus Christ.  That’s something that we should not take for granted.  When you have a set liturgy like we do, it’s easy to go on worship autopilot every Sunday and just let the words float by you without really thinking about what you’re hearing.  But loved ones, I encourage you to really hear what your God is saying when you come into his presence.  When he says, “Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” hear those words, believe them, and rejoice in them!  These are gospel words meant to encourage us as we come into the presence of our great and holy God each Lord’s Day.            

The stage is now set for what follows in this letter.  The first thing that’s been put before us here is the gospel.  The gospel of what God did in the life of Paul, of what he did amongst the Colossians, what he has done and is doing for us.  And this gospel has Christ at the centre.  It’s to him that we each need to continue looking in faith.  With the help of this book, we can all receive the treatment we need to overcome our spiritual attention deficit.  AMEN.

Prayer:

O God in heaven,

You have done wonderful and amazing things.  You took a blaspheming persecutor, a violent man, and you made him not only into a Christian, but into an apostle and missionary.  We praise your Name for that.  You brought the gospel to the city of Colossae and worked a miracle of grace there too.  Through your Spirit and Word, you brought new life to men and women in that city so long ago.  You called them holy and faithful in Christ.  You extended to them grace and peace through your Son.  We stand in awe at what you’ve done in the history of your people.  We also praise you for what you’ve done amongst us.  We’ve also received grace and peace and we’re so thankful for that.  We have been set apart by you and you’ve worked with your Spirit in our lives so that we want to be faithful to you.  Thank you, Father.  We pray for your continued grace in our hearts and lives.  Please help us to be who we are in Christ, please help us to live out of our identity in him, to live in union with him each day.  May your grace towards us not be in vain, but instead please strengthen us to live for your glory.  

       

                                     




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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