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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:The glorious gospel of reconciliation
Text:Colossians 1:21-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 122

Psalm 15

Psalm 103:4-6

Hymn 70

Hymn 77

Scripture reading:  2 Peter 3

Text:  Colossians 1:21-23

* 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 our Lord Jesus,

In the Christian faith, we have to learn some big words.  There are words that are essential in what we believe.  We have big words like justification, sanctification, and glorification.  We have slightly smaller words like election and holiness.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for all of us to understand these terms – we need to understand them because these words are in the Bible.  If you don’t understand them, you’re not understanding the Bible.  If you’re not understanding the Bible, you won’t be growing in your faith.   God wants you to grow in your faith – we could hear that in our reading from 2 Peter 3 – “grow in grace and knowledge.”  Hearing that, I hope you want to grow in your faith.

I’ll be honest with you.  I sometimes wonder how many of us hear these big words and our brains instantly switch off.  “There’s that big word again and I don’t know what it means.  I’m lost.  What should we have for supper tonight?”  I know that happens sometimes.  That’s why I almost always provide a short explanation of a theological term when I first use it in a sermon.  So, for instance, if you hear me say “justification,” usually what follows is, “God declaring us right with himself because of Jesus Christ.”  That’s basically what justification means.  If you hear me say “sanctification,” usually what follows is, “the process by which we grow in holiness and become more Christ-like.”  I don’t want you to hear the big words and switch off.  I want to remind you of what they mean so that, over time, you automatically grasp the meaning without someone having to tell you.  That way you can go on growing, going from milk to meat, the way God wants you to.

This morning we’re going to hear a lot about another big word:  reconciliation.  Before we get into our text, it’s essential that we all have a firm grip on what this means.  You’re going to hear that word a lot this morning and I can’t stop every time and explain it.  So we need to first get a handle on this word.  What does “reconciliation” mean?

The best way to explain it is with an illustration.  There is a story in the Old Testament which vividly shows us what reconciliation looks like.  It’s at the end of Genesis.  In chapter 37, we read of Jacob and his sons.  Joseph was the favoured son, the one who received the robe of many colors.  Listen to Genesis 37:4, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.”  Joseph has this dream of the sun, moon and stars bowing down to him.  He tells it to his family and it makes his brothers hate him even more.  They understand that the dream is about them bowing down to Joseph.  Joseph goes out to his brothers as they’re taking care of the sheep.  They see him coming and devise a plan to kill him.  They really do hate their brother.  Some of them hate him a little less than the others.  So instead of killing him, they just sell him to some passing traders.  Imagine:  hating your brother so much that you sell him to some human trafficking ring.  It’s astonishing if you think about it.  Joseph ends up in Egypt.  He suffers some horrible things – all because of his brothers’ hatred.  But eventually the LORD turns things around for him and he becomes second-in-command of the whole land.  Because of a famine, his brothers come to Egypt looking for food.  Joseph has the opportunity to retaliate, but he doesn’t.  Instead, incredibly, he graciously treats them as his beloved brothers and gets back into a healthy and friendly relationship with them.  At the end of Genesis 43, we read, “And they drank and were merry with him.”  That tells us that the relationship between Joseph and his brothers was mended, healed.  That’s a picture of reconciliation.  You have two parties separated by hatred and enmity.  In this case, Joseph and his brothers.  But when they are reconciled, they are at peace with each other.  The relationship is repaired to what it should be.  That’s what reconciliation is:  the repairing of a broken relationship.  Where once there was hatred, now there is love.  Where once there was discord, now there is peace.  Reconciliation.

Now we’re in Colossians 1 and in verses 21-23.  Here too we find this concept of reconciliation.  This is part of the gospel which Paul proclaimed.  It’s an essential component of the good news which was entrusted to the apostles and through them, to the whole church.  We still announce it today and we’ll hear it again this morning.  I preach to you God’s Word and we’ll see that Paul proclaims a glorious gospel of reconciliation. 

We’ll see that this gospel of reconciliation is:

  1. Needed by hostile sinners
  2. Bringing us to a final goal
  3. Calling for a response of rock-steady faith

Imagine for a moment that it’s around 20 A.D.  We’ve invented a time machine and we’ve gone back in history and we get deposited in the city of Colossae.  In today’s world, we would be in south-western Turkey.  It’s a typical city for its time and place.  That’s to say that the place is plagued by paganism.  Everybody lives in this way.  There’s wickedness everywhere.  As you look around in Colossae, you see troubling things.  We sometimes think that our world today is the worst that it’s ever been.  We think that the wickedness we see around us is something new.  It’s not.  There may be some new forms of wickedness, but it’s essentially the same old evils recycled through the centuries.  In Colossae, people hated one another.  They cheated and lied to each other.  They took advantage of the poor.  They worshipped countless idols.  Sexual immorality of various sorts?  Check.  It was all there.  And the people who would later become Christians were involved in all of it too.

In verse 21, Paul looks back to their past.  Remember:  as far as we know, Paul himself never went to Colossae.  But he’d heard about them and what the Lord had done among them.  He’d heard the stories of God’s liberating power.  He’d heard of how these people once were.  He says that they were “once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.”

Who were they alienated from and why is that a problem?  To be alienated means to be separated or estranged from.  If you have a feeling of alienation, it means that you feel cut off from everybody else.  The Colossians at one point were alienated from the true God.  They were cut off from a relationship of fellowship with their Creator.  They were cut off because they had minds hostile to God.  Now let’s just stop there for a second.  There’s something important to notice.  When the gospel had not even come to their city, they were hostile to the true God.  They were not neutral about him.  Paul says that they were against him.  It’s like what C.S. Lewis said about himself before he became a believer, “I maintained that God did not exist.  I was also very angry with God for not existing.”  What Paul writes tells us something about we could call the psychology of unbelief.  It’s not neutral.  It’s not like unbelievers have no position with regard to the true God.  They have a position and it is one of hostility.  They might be super religious, worshipping all kinds of other gods, but when it comes to the true God, there is enmity. 

According to verse 21, the Colossians had minds that were at war with God, having hatred towards him.  This is not just about the intellectual side of things.  The word “mind” here is used in the sense of what goes on inside us.  Inside the Colossians, there was hostility to God and that inside hostility showed itself in evil deeds.  What’s going on outside reflects what’s going on inside.  So the evil deeds reflect hostile minds, and these things result in alienation or separation from fellowship with God. 

But why is that a problem?  Paul doesn’t tell us right here in Colossians 1.  But certainly we can listen to what Scripture says elsewhere.  If you are hostile to God, that’s a big problem.  Having hatred for God never turns out well for the one harbouring that hatred.  Psalm 21 speaks about this.  David writes of how God knows the people who hate him and what he will do with them.  It says in Psalm 21:9 that “The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.”  And in verse 12, there is this powerful image that David uses, “For you will put them to flight; you will aim at their faces with your bows.”  The LORD does not ignore those who hate him.   He doesn’t walk away from them and say, “You know, I’m just going to leave you to your own devices.”  Scripture is clear that when you are hostile towards God, you’re in serious trouble with God.  The holy and just God does not turn a blind eye.

We need to hear this because what Paul writes in verse 21 is true of each of us in some way.  Some of us can distinctly remember a time in our lives when we were unbelievers, living in sin.  Not all of us grew up in the Christian faith. Some here can read these words and say, “Yes, that was me, I was just like those Colossians in 20 A.D.”  But others of us have grown up with the faith.  There might not be a time where we can look back and say, “I was living in unbelief and then the Lord grabbed me and turned me around.”  That’s okay.  You don’t need to do that either.  There’s no need to be able to identify a specific moment.  What you do need to recognize is that each of us by nature has something of what Paul writes in verse 21.  It doesn’t matter what our experience in coming to faith was, by nature, we are all “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.”  Apart from Christ and his Holy Spirit in us, this is the story of you and me.  Without God’s grace in our lives, we are all in verse 21.  In other words, without God’s grace, we’re all in serious trouble with God.  We all desperately need reconciliation with God. 

Praise God that we have verse 22.  Once alienated and hostile to God, the Colossians (and us with them), we’ve been reconciled to the holy God.  How has that happened?  It’s because, in his love, God sent his Son into this world to die for us.  It’s because the real human body of Jesus Christ died on the cross in our place.  Paul says that reconciliation is a reality for believers because Jesus took the penalty of death that we deserve.  If we take a look back at Psalm 21, we can say that God swallowed up Jesus in his wrath.  Divine fire meant for us consumed Jesus as he hung on the cross.  God treated Jesus like someone who hates him.  He aimed at his face with his bow and arrow and then fired.  Jesus took the deadly arrow meant for you.  He put himself in the line of fire and took one for you.  Think about that – amazing isn’t it?  What love!  By doing that, the wrath of God against us was satisfied.  God was propitiated – his wrath was turned away, and his favour returned to us.  The result is reconciliation.  Loved ones, this is the gospel message.  Left to yourself, you’ve got bad news.  Alienation from God and hostility towards him always means bad news.   But when you have Jesus Christ as your Saviour, alienation is gone.  Instead of alienation, there’s fellowship.  Instead of hostility, there’s a family relationship.  Your enemy is now your Father.  This is the glorious gospel of reconciliation! 

This is the hope of the gospel which Paul mentions in verse 23.  Paul and the other apostles preached it far and wide, “in all creation under heaven.”  They preached it because it is the good news which transforms lives to the glory of God. 

The transformative power of this message is seen in the last part of verse 22.  Here Paul writes about how this gospel is bringing believers to a final goal.  That final goal is a presentation.  Christ wants to present us “holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

The language here is drawn from the Old Testament.  Paul uses words usually connected with the sacrifices commanded in the ceremonial laws of the Pentateuch.  Moses writes about sacrifices.  The people had to bring sacrifices.  The sacrifices that were to be presented to God had to be perfect.  If you were an Israelite and you had a bunch of sheep and you wanted to make a sacrifice, you couldn’t go and pick the one that was sick and diseased and offer that to God.  “This animal is dying anyway; it’s not producing any wool, so I may as well make a sacrifice of it.  I’ll give it to God since it’s not of much use to me.”  You couldn’t do that.  God didn’t want the left-overs or the second-best.  He wanted sacrifices that were holy and perfect.  They couldn’t have any blemishes or defects.  You couldn’t take that lamb that was born missing a leg and make a sacrifice of it.  That was simply not allowed according to the law.  Only holy, healthy, and complete sacrifices were acceptable to the LORD.  That’s what Paul is alluding to with his word choice here in verse 22. 

Without Christ’s reconciliation, we would come into God’s presence with all kinds of blemishes and defects.  Without Christ’s reconciliation, we would simply not be allowed into God’s holy presence to live with him in fellowship.  There would be no presentation, and no opportunity for us to come before him.

But look at what we have in Christ.  He is holy and blameless and above reproach before the holy God.  He is the perfect and unblemished sacrifice made for us.  He is our Saviour, and what is true of him is true of us.  His righteousness is ours when we believe in him.  Because he brought about our reconciliation, at the last day we will be presented holy and blameless before God, without reproach before him.

This is the good news of our future glorification. Today we struggle with sin and its effects in our lives.  It’s frustrating sometimes.  If we’re honest, sometimes it doesn’t look like we’re all that holy and blameless in this broken world.  But remember:  all believers are works in progress.  We’re not there yet.  But the Word of God promises us that one day we will be there.  We will stand before God holy and blameless, and we’ll do that not because of ourselves, but because of the glorious gospel of reconciliation.  Loved ones, you can find comfort and joy in that.  Look to Christ in faith and be assured that verse 22 is your destiny, your final goal.  Christ reconciled you and he will glorify you.

Now these gospel truths do call for a response from us and Paul writes about that in verse 23.  He says that you will be presented holy and blameless before God, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…”  Don’t let that word “if” throw you off here.  You might think that Paul is expressing some doubt.  You might think he’s saying something like, “I’m not sure about you Colossians, not sure whether you’re going to continue in the faith…”  But there’s nothing of that here.  The point is not to express any opinion one way or another about what might happen with their spiritual lives in the future.  Instead, the point is to encourage the Colossians (and us) to have the proper response to the glorious gospel of reconciliation.

The proper response is to continue in the faith.  We are to keep on resting and trusting in Jesus, the one who has reconciled us to God.  The key word here is “continue.”  You could also translate that as “persevere.”  It’s not enough for someone to say, “Oh, I believed in Jesus once.  Twenty years ago, I believed in Jesus.”  No, you have to persevere or continue looking to Christ in faith.  It’s not enough for someone to say, “Oh, I did that already when I made public profession of my faith.  I believed back then and now I don’t think about it anymore.”  No, a Christian is someone who keeps on keeping on in faith.  Our text calls us to respond to the glorious gospel of reconciliation by actively maintaining our gaze on Christ, every single day. 

We’re called to a “stable and steadfast” faith, one that does not shift.  These words would have connected well with the Colossians in their context.  Remember, the city of Colossae was destroyed by an earthquake in 61 or 62 A.D.  The entire city was levelled and it was never rebuilt.  The region around Colossae is known as the Lycus Valley and it’s an active seismic zone.  The earth is often shifting and trembling in this area.  I recently saw a video of an earthquake in Japan.  The ground was moving and you could see these fissures in the earth opening and closing.  It was really dramatic.  That’s the kind of thing that often happened in Colossae.  For the Colossians, they were not to be like the ground under their city, shifting back and forth, always unstable.

There are some things which are certain to create instability in your faith.  One of those things is false teaching.  False teaching threatened the Colossian church and occasioned this letter.  False teaching always threatens the church and it does for us today too.  False teaching aims to put shaky ground under your feet.  For our faith to be firm and steadfast, we need truth, the truth of God’s Word.  The more biblical truth we know, the less likely we are to be shaken by false teaching.  Loved ones, we need to grow in our understanding of the Bible and how it applies to our lives.  Where are you at on that?  Do you long to know more about the Bible and what it teaches?  What are you doing to help yourself grow in God’s Word?  Treasuring the Word and working with it regularly is an important way of getting solid ground under our faith.

But ultimately if we are to continue rock-steady in the faith, not shifting from our gospel hope, we depend on help from above.  Do you want to continue in the faith?  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you with the strength and power to do that.  You have to ask him to work through the Word to strengthen your faith so that it goes the distance.  He will hear and answer, I guarantee it.  I can guarantee it because that is a prayer that is pleasing to God and in accordance with his Word.  When you ask God to give you a persevering faith, he will come through. 

And listen, to be clear, it’s not a matter of ‘either…or’ here.  You can’t have two people, one who says, “Okay, I’m going to continue in faith through the Word, through Bible study and listening carefully to the preaching.  That’s my way.” and then the other person says, “For me, I’ll just ask God to help me continue in faith.  I don’t need the Bible -- I just need God’s help.  I’ll pray.  That’s my way.”  No, it’s not the Bible or prayer and you get to choose.  To continue in faith, you need both together.  You need both absolutely.  Continuing in the faith depends on both prayer for God’s help and devoted attention to his Word.  You can’t isolate one from the other. 

The gospel is like a diamond with many facets.  This morning we’ve been focussing on one of those facets:  reconciliation.  What a beautiful word!  We have peace with God by the blood of the cross.  We’ve seen how this is necessary for all of us, because by nature we are all hostile to God and therefore in serious trouble with God.  We’ve seen how this gospel of reconciliation holds out for us the hope of glorification.  Some day we will be presented holy and blameless in heaven.  And last of all, we’ve heard that this gospel calls for our response of continuing faith.  Loved ones, let’s continue steadfastly looking to Christ, because through him we have peace with God now, and we will have glory in his presence later.  AMEN.   




* 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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