Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Readings: Colossians 1:9-23; WCF 20:1
Text: Colossians 1: 13&14
Colossians 1 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Thankfulness for Spiritual Attainments
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ [a]by the will of God, and Timothy [b]our brother,
2 To the [c]saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have [d]for all the [e]saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in [f]heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, [g]the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as [h]in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and [i]increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and [j]understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the [k]knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, [l]to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and [m]increasing in the [n]knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to [o]His glorious might, [p]for the attaining of all steadfastness and [q]patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us [r]to share in the inheritance of the [s]saints in Light.
The Incomparable Christ
13 [t]For He rescued us from the [u]domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of [v]His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 [w]He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For [x]by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He [y]is before all things, and in Him all things [z]hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For [aa]it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the [ab]fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in [ac]heaven.
21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in [ad]the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, [ae]was made a [af]minister.
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I [ag]do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking [ah]in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I [ai]was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might [aj]fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His [ak]saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man [al]with all wisdom, so that we may present every man [am]complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His [an]power, which [ao]mightily works within me.
Readings: Colossians 1:9-23; WCF 20:1
Text: Colossians 1: 13&14
What is freedom? It can be understood as the opposite of bondage or slavery. Bondage can take several forms, such as enslavement to substance abuse, a besetting sin, being trapped in an oppressive relationship, or idol worship which involved human sacrifice as was the case with the central American Aztec religion before European settlement. Freedom represents release from fear and bondage. Many other central American tribes supported the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs because it mean freedom from the fear of being sacrificed on one of their altars in order to appeased their so-called god’s whose thirst for human blood seemed insatiable. What a blessing when the gospel changed their lives.
The leading image of bondage and freedom in the Bible is seen in the slavery of the Israelites and their deliverance through the Exodus. That event was a pattern which repeated again with exile of the Jews and their return from Exile under Ezra and Nehemiah. Both these events are types of the spiritual freedom Christ has won for all God’s children. When Christ began his ministry he made this announcement. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free those who are downtrodden and to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.” (Lk. 4:18). And then in the gospel of John, “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.
The Apostle Paul picked up on this motif in his letters in several places including our text in Colossians. We’ll look at it in three parts
1. what we’ve been rescued from
The text tells us that we’ve been delivered from the dominion of darkness.
What does Paul and the Bible mean by darkness? When God first created the earth it was a formless and empty and darkness covered it. The first thing God did was create light. Genesis 3 then says that God separated the darkness from the light. Job 26:10 says that God set a boundary between light and darkness. That tells us that God is in control of his universe. He sets the boundaries.
As we read further into the Bible darkness also has figurative meaning often associated with evil. In Job 34:22 darkness is a place where evildoers hide themselves. In Psalm 11:22 “The wicked ambush the innocent” under cover of darkness. In Proverbs 7 it says that the adulterous have their adventures in the dark. Elsewhere in the Bible darkness is a figure of speech for ignorance, folly, a silencing of prophetic revelation, the state of the human mind which doesn’t know God’s word, living in sin, and ultimately darkness represents death and the grave.
Darkness is also revealed in the Bible as a spiritual force, Jesus spoke about the powers of darkness when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and said to the chief priests who instigated his arrest, “this hour and the power of darkness are yours.” Paul also wrote about the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places and contrasts it to light. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 he asks, “What fellowship is there between light and darkness?” There Paul also makes it clear that Satan is the principle power behind darkness as evil.
Perhaps the most striking picture of the power of physical and spiritual darkness we find in the Bible is seen in the three hours of darkness which covered the earth between midday and 3pm when Christ hung dying on the cross. According to the Apostles creed which says that Christ was “crucified, dead and buried he descended into hell” the three hours of darkness represents the fact that God is the one who consigns the disobedient into the darkness of hell itself. Christ suffered that punishment for those whose sins were nailed to the cross with him. (Col. 2:14)
Now according to Paul in Colossians 1:13 unless you’ve been delivered from the dominion of darkness you remain in it and the Westminster confession spells out what that is like. Those who have yet to see the light and experience God’s deliverance remain in their sins. They remain under the wrath of God. They remain under the curse of the moral law in bondage to this present world. They remain in bondage to Satan, within the domain of sin and the suffering it causes, having to endure the sting of death which is eternal damnation.
That’s the dreadful reality for all who have yet to experience deliverance. That dread was felt by Paul himself when he realised that even as an apostle he struggled with ongoing sin in his life and almost despaired over it saying, “O wretched man that I am who will rescue me from this body of death?”
It’s a reality every Christians is aware of too. We know what the darkness of sin is like because we know our own sin. We know how David felt when he said in Psalm 51 “against you only have I sinned.” We too would be enslaved to sin but fir the fact that God has rescued us from it.
2. That brings me to my second point the rescue operation.
Verse 13 begins with the words “for he delivered us”. Paul of all people knew what that meant. When he asked, “who will rescue me from this body of death?” he answered in the very next sentence, “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and further on “there is no condemnation in Christ.” (Rom. 8:1)
Jesus is the one who rescues us from darkness. John wrote in the first chapter of his gospel that Christ is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. He also wrote that whoever follows Jesus will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” And “whoever believes in him will not remain in the darkness”. Then Paul wrote that “you were once darkness but now in the Lord you are light.
Now earlier I mentioned that the leading biblical image of bondage and freedom is seen in the Exodus. Well there is an interesting parallel between the Exodus and the coming of Christ
Israel lived in Egypt for about 400 years before God delivered them through the Exodus. During that time there was no new revelation from God until Moses and one aspect of darkness as a figure of speech in the Bible is the lack of the light of God’s word.”
Similarly from the time of the last prophecy by Malachi to the time of Christ is also about 400 years. During that time there was also no new revelation from God until the coming of Christ. When Christ came Matthew recorded this in his gospel “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light.” Meaning;… that when Christ came into the world as a)the highest and final revelation of God b) as the deliverer of God’s people…….. the light of God’s word shone once more.”
Well it has been 2,000 years now since Christ but that light is still shining. Christ is still being preached and it is when people believe the gospel and determine to follow Jesus they are transferred out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved son.
Listen to what it says in John’s gospel, chapter 1: 12. “As many as received him he gave the right to become children of God even to those who believe in his name.” Further on in Colossians 1 Paul explains how Christ did that. In verses 19-21 it says “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him and through him to reconcile all things to himself having made peace through his blood shed on the cross. Though you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind engaged in evil deeds (There you have that darkness again) he has now reconciled you through death to present you holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”
Clearly then, deliverance from the dominion of darkness is not something we are capable of doing ourselves. Only Christ could do that for us. This happened when he suffered the three hours of darkness, when he cried out my God my God why have you forsaken me when he felt the judgment of God fall upon him. His judgment was our deliverance our rescue operation. That then brings me to my third point.
3. What we have been rescued into When we think of a rescue operation we usually thing of a rescue from danger to safety or something similar. Like the stricken yacht that was caught in a storm north of New Zealand last week. The boat was all but wrecked at sea and three survivors were left floating precariously above what was about to became a watery grave for them. Thankfully they were found and winched by helicopter to safety, warmth and soon with their feet planted firmly on terra firma once again.
Our spiritual rescue is a little like that. We’ve been rescued from danger to safety from uncertainty to a firm foundation. We’ve been rescued from darkness into the kingdom of God’s son. What is this kingdom? Well the Bible provides many pictures which help us understand it. In 2 Samuel 7:14 it is described as an everlasting kingdom. Following the failure of the kingdom of Israel Jesus is presented as God’s righteous representative king who rules over an eternal kingdom. In Jesus kingdom parables the Kingdom of God is like seed which is sown and yields a great harvest. Or a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large tree and a small amount of yeast that leavens a whole lump of dough. It is like a drag net which captures a large number of fish although some have to have thrown out.
Another cluster of images captures the festive spirit of the kingdom such as wedding feast or a lavish banquet to which many people are invited. In the feeding of the 5,000 there is the image of feasting on bread and drinking wine in Mark 14:25. Life in the kingdom of God is not a time for fasting which was a practice associated with Israel’s exile and longing for deliverance. John the Baptist came eating no bread and drinking no wine but Jesus came eating and drinking. Those who didn’t understand the presence of the kingdom called Jesus a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. And then the great value of the Kingdom is pictured in the parable of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price.
So the picture we find in the gospels especially is that the kingdom of God is a place of blessing and growth. It is a place of joy and is our most precious possession. And it stretches into eternity. One final thing. Its citizens according to Mark 1:15 are those who repent from their sins and believe the good news of the gospels as such they have received the forgiveness of sins. And it into this realm of blessing which Christ has rescued us into and it yours and mine through faith in Christ alone.
Now one thing which plagued the church in Colossae was false teaching which said you need more to become citizen of the kingdom of God. You need to be on a higher plane you need extra knowledge or a special experience to be saved. And others were saying you need this special diet or you need to live like an ascetic. All that comes out in Colossians chapter 2. But No, Paul makes the point very clearly that Christ is enough. We have in him all that is necessary for entrance into the kingdom and God and don’t let anyone tell that he is not sufficient for your salvation.
The Lord Jesus is our portion. He is sufficient. Sometimes I come across Christians who say they don’t feel that they are qualified for heaven. Even the well know apologist CS Lewis struggled with that (according to his biographers Green and Hopper on page 234). But you know the gospel is about justification by grace through faith alone and the unassailable verdict given by God for whoever believes the gospel is” you are accepted into my kingdom and heaven” and that verdict can be depended on because promised this to us by God by his own oath according to Hebrew 6.
So if you believe in Jesus as your saviour and Lord,…you need not doubt for a moment that you are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
And when this is understood then you have a powerful unifying factor in the church. But its not always understood as well as it should be because historically the church has divided over issues which have not been matter which the church should have divided. When you consider all the ecclesiastical parting of the ways for one reason or another one is moved to ask, did they really not understand the grace of God sufficiently to be gracious to their brothers and sisters in the church rather than break fellowship over minor matters such as the free offer of the gospel or what songs should be sung or whether or not there was more or less participation by lay members in the church? Do people really understand or embrace the gospel of grace if they easily get offended and indicate they no longer want anything to do with those whom God has called then to serve with in a local church? Isn’t the gospel, a gospel of reconciliation rather than separation?
Yes it’s a gospel of reconciliation and the Lord has rescued us out of the domain of darkness, of hatred, divisiveness, meanness and into the kingdom of his son; a Kingdom of forgiveness and redemption. A kingdom where, as the WCF says we serve the Lord with a childlike love. He has rescued us into a kingdom where we are free from the yoke of legalism, and ceremonialism; free to live a life of love as God first loved us. That is what the confession calls Christian liberty.