God on the Move: “I Found a Little Jesus” – Colossians 2:1-3:2

olive wood jesusWhen we lived in a village on the southern edge of Jerusalem, we had an olive wood stove that warmed us during the cold and rainy winter months. I loved that little stove! It sucked the dampness out of the air, and filled the whole house with a sweet smell that wafts from that oil-laden wood. Because trees in Israel are in short supply, I bought wood chips and refuse from the shops in Bethlehem that carved olive wood figurines for the pilgrims that came to learn about Jesus in that town. The spare parts of the wood were excellent for burning, and they could be purchased relatively cheaply. In the pile of throw away pieces were any figurines that were improperly cut or marred in the process of carving. Some were only half carved.

One day I asked my son to get me some of the wood chips from the bag, and he brought me a little Jesus figurine that was holding a lamb across His shoulders. Aaron asked me what it was, and I described it as a “little Jesus” from the “Good Shepherd” teaching of John’s Gospel. He giggled! He thought the idea of a “little Jesus” was one of the funniest things EVER. Though he grew up in Jerusalem, the Jesus he knew was a powerful and immense Savior – and while this figurine displayed gentleness, this little statue didn’t communicate any of that power he heard about – and it didn’t SEEM like Jesus to him. Yet the truth is that a tiny Jesus (in the lives of those who claim to follow Him) isn’t nearly as uncommon as you may think. MANY people, even many Christians, have a “tiny Jesus”. They recognize the baby in the manger, and they identify with the lifeless crucified form on a cross – but they don’t see Him as He is – the powerful and High King of Heaven –the Master of salvation. Lost in the Lamb, they cannot see the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

It is worth noting that marred view began shortly after the church spread from those who saw Jesus after the resurrection to other places in the Roman world. The message spread about His Resurrection, His power and His glory in the Heavens, but believers struggled, almost from the beginning, to see the Master more clearly than the earth and its powerfully tugging fleshly enticements. The Apostle Paul could see it clearly as he traveled and encountered the “tiny Jesus” problem. Too many believers were too fixated on this world – and the problem became clearer as visitors came describing the events of the first century churches to Paul in chains. He knew that believers needed to be encouraged to see the physical world properly – by seeing it through the “lens” of a powerful Savior. Here is a truth he taught to the believers at Colossae, a truth we touched on in the previous lesson…

Key Principle: When we see the Savior clearly (as He truly is!) we see life clearly. We must learn to see earth and its history in the perspective of its larger Heavenly context – or we won’t understand the story properly.

Let’s face it – life here doesn’t make sense without the record of our true origin from above – out of the mind and purposes of God. I am not saying there is no other posited explanation for humanity – I am saying that all explanations come down to the same thing. We are here. We exist. The material world is here – and it either got here from nothing and has no purpose or plan – or it got here by intelligent intention. I believe unapologetically that we who believe in the Bible as God’s proclamation and trust in God’s prophecy of the destiny of all things are not casting into a dark sea without solid evidence – quite the contrary.

Men and women, left to themselves, will use the modern conventions they are inventing to paint themselves into awkward corners and be quickly be reduced to absurdism. A story was related to me last week of a man who stood before a local council asking that he be granted “special minority status”, with all the privileges it entails for assistance to his business, because he feels as though he is African-American. There he stood – blonde hair, blue eyes, and boldly claimed if he could not be denied rights to a women’s restroom based on what he “felt about his own sexuality” then he should be able to claim “minority rights” provisions under the council if he felt himself to be a person of color. The council deliberated and could not find a way to deny him the special provisions without hindering their other accepted positions. Do you see where we are going? The absurdity of self-definition erases logical identity – and we have only begun to step off the precipice. Soon, anyone who feels like they are a horse will claim they should be given “stable privileges” – and there is little in the modern thought process to stop them from getting what they request. Reason dies – not with belief in God – but with the absence of God and His implanted moral definitions.

My point is simple: either there is a Creator or there is not. Either there is an objective definition of right and wrong that transcends popular vote and strong opinion, or there is not. That leads us to the Bible. So that you will grasp our approach, we are going to state up front that we believe we were created by a personal, loving and purposed God. We believe He both created earth and later came to earth. We believe He spoke and that He preserved His words. It is to those words we turn to learn from whence we have come, why we are here, and to what end we have been made.

With our Bibles open to Colossians 2, let me admit something. In our last lesson, we went too quickly (in my view) through something that is far too important for our time…so I want to re-visit a teaching of Paul from the second chapter of Colossians. For simplicity, if you reduce the chapter to its essential components, Paul related that there were essentially three problems the early believers in that time were facing that I believe we can still readily relate to:

• Some believers were confused by the circumstances and couldn’t figure out God’s direction based on what they observed in the daily news (2:1-7).

• Other believers were distracted by a focus on “their felt needs” that led them to desire something “more than Jesus” to fulfill their religious impulses (2:8-15). They weren’t satisfied with Jesus alone – and that was pushing them to act up.

• Still others were frustrated by seeking affirmation from other men and women, allowing others to dictate their practices in following Christ (2:16-3:1). They wanted to fit in, and that meant they sought the “like” button of their neighbors instead of the approval of Jesus above all.

If you look at these three issues, they have one root – where can the truth be found that will affirm us and guide our thinking? That is at the heart of this chapter – and it is worth more time and consideration. Consider these important questions:

• Do circumstances always reveal what God is doing? Paul addressed that is 2:1-7.

• Since life is relatively short and the end of it is certain (I have never met someone who is 212 years old), should I chase my inner hungers, feelings and desires to find purpose and truth – and then somehow hope I have “done enough good” to be recognized and accepted by God as I leave this life? Paul peeled that open in 2:8-15.

• Since the sea of life is so big and I feel my boat is so small – shall I simply lean on the wisdom of others and seek to follow a path that pleases them? Paul unpacked an answer in the balance of the chapter.

Paul simply addressed the answer to a HUGE question people face…How do I move through life with meaning, purpose and anticipation of an end that will offer me grace and not reward my true inner selfishness?

Distracted by the Circumstances (2:1-7)

distractedAs we open to the first seven verses of Colossians 2, don’t forget that Paul was under a “light chain” of arrest, awaiting a hearing before Nero. He waited two years, and that slowed his travel plans and made it difficult for him to be on the front line of spreading the Gospel. Add to that, some were making noises in the church that Paul was actually in hiding, or afraid to be bold during his incarceration – as if any of them could have done better. The cheap seats are often occupied by loud critics!

Paul knew that every believer could get distracted and lose a clear understanding of the work of Jesus in the pile of confusing circumstances. In fact, when we see life through the lens of this world alone – we lose HOPE, we lose PERSPECTIVE and we can even lose our grip on THE TRUTH. Mature believers CANNOT let circumstances shape their view of the world. Take a look…

Colossians 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and [attaining] to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, [resulting] in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, [that is], Christ [Himself], 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude.

Three truths are perfectly clear.

First, Paul was greatly struggling in 2:1a – that is what the text said. Did that mean the message he was preaching was unreliable, because he emotionally struggled? Not at all! On our best day, we who know and love Jesus are broken vessels carrying a whole and perfect truth.

Second, Paul made clear his concern that some had never seen him or met him face to face in 2:1b-3. Did that imply they would be unable to grow to full maturity in his absence? If you read the verses carefully, Paul recognized that his work among them would be encouraging, but was not necessary for them to be fully completed in Christ. No man provides what God can do without a man. His Spirit and His Word can bring us into completion – and the body of Christ will shape us in our gifts and service functions. We are blessed to have each other – and we do help each other grow – but the reality is that God is doing the work. Paul’s concern was that “their hearts may be encouraged” (that is that they would have full and positive HOPE), that they would join with the others in the body “having been knit together in love” and that they would grow into a full and intimate understanding of Jesus “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” They needed to see Jesus clearly, not Paul. Godly leaders know they have a function – but it is NOT to give you more of THEM. They are to point you to Jesus – because He is Who you need.

Paul had a third concern. His emotional struggle surfaced because some were being misled (2:4-5) by evil men who were trying to pervert the truth for their own purposes. Did that mean the Colossians would be lost to persuasive arguments and perversions of truth? Not necessarily! Without Paul’s presence, yet some were exhibiting “good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.”

Here is the point: Men can mislead when troubles arise. Things aren’t what they seem to be – they are what God says they are. Close up, you cannot often see the truth – so God has revealed it in His Word.

The day that Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane – the devil danced and those who knew the One Who is truth incarnate were pushed aside and wept in hiding. The night Jesus was slapped about in the house of Annas and Caiaphas, He looked stripped, broken and weak while those men looked powerful in their colorful religious costumes. The early morning when they drove nails in the hands of the Savior as He cried out in excruciating pain, Rome looked powerful, and Jesus looked weak and broken… but things aren’t as they appear, they are as God declares them in His Word!

Rome was ridding itself of a nuisance. The High Priest was removing a public challenge and political distraction. Crowds spat and cursed to hurl insults upon another and hope they could feel better about themselves. Yet that wasn’t what was truly happening at its core. You see, in a place of filth God was saving mankind. It didn’t look like Jesus was King – but He was, and He is still.

Fast-forward to Paul’s time. He was under arrest. He couldn’t be with them, and others were preying upon young believers and confusing them. It looked like the Christian message was about to meet its end in Colossae – but it didn’t. Paul told them: “6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude.”

He said: “In the same way you accepted by faith”, now they must daily walk in light of that faith.” They were told not to look at the circumstances – but to look more deeply at Jesus as God had revealed Him and live according to the knowledge that He is alive and at work changing them! “Just as roots grew in the tenderness of your heart”, Paul said, “so they should encourage those roots to grow deeper and stronger.” Just as they learned first steps in Christ, now they should allow each new lesson to take hold. They needed to add back the WONDER and the OVERWHELMING GRATITUDE they had when they first recognized Who Jesus is and what He did for them. Can we do any less?

Dear ones, we must not build our faith upon men – but on a deepening of our surrendered walk to Christ Himself. Don’t despair as God’s men lose their voice. Billy Graham’s voice is now all but silent – but Jesus is still speaking loudly to those who are lost and in need of a Savior. As you mature, more and more, walk on the solid words and teachings of Jesus – and spend your time listening to His voice from His Word. In Heaven you will have neither a Pastor nor a teacher – you will have Christ Himself. As you grow, get more and more used to the sound of His voice. You will find it in His revealed Word.

Discontented by Choices (2:8-15)

discontentedFor some people, they matured past the point of looking at the circumstances. They were mature enough to know that whether it looked positive that day or not – God was very much at work. Yet there was still temptation to be drawn away from fullness in Christ. They weren’t distracted as much as discontented… and it was still rooted in their desire to be affirmed and accepted by others. Discontent was planted in them by men who desired to draw them away from Christ. Look at the words Paul wrote to them. As you do, notice the difference in the TONE from what we read in the first seven verses:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

Did you notice how much more DIRECTIVE the sound of Paul’s speech when he addressed this second problem. The first paragraph was tender and concerned – but this paragraph was more like a dictate than an encouragement. There is a good reason.

Truth isn’t something you can negotiate. You can’t add a little sewage to the water and still have a safe drink from that fountain. It takes more diligence, more tenacity to get to the truth and block the diseasing influences of the lies of the fallen world. Think of it as “spiritual hygiene”. Do you want your doctor to use clean tools in your surgery? If you do, then do you also want your teacher to use the cleanest moral tools in the training of your heart?

Paul cited specific traps that were set for them:

First, there were deliberate deceivers at work to trap them while appealing to “sensual tug points” in their still fallen hearts. Just because we love Jesus and trust Him for salvation does not mean we won’t still be tugged toward sinful practices – as though these will fulfill us. Paul warned: 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” The term “taken captive” implies a hunter is at work, and they are intentionally looking to ensnare your life. In truth, captivity necessitates a hunter, a plan and an ultimate goal.

Let me say it plainly: As a believer, you walk with a target on your back. The enemy of Christ is the enemy of Christ’s people – never forget that. The brutality of that enemy on Jesus during the passion is no more content today than two thousand years ago. He wants to destroy you, your family, your testimony, your nation – everything you treasure. He wants to frustrate you, make you impatient for God’s assistance, and push you toward doubting God’s goodness. If he cannot have your soul in eternal destruction (because you have trusted Jesus as Savior) he will work to cut your progress down, and punish your every disciplined step if he is able.

Don’t forget also that he has familiar agents. Some come in lab coats and professor’s robes. I had a fifth grade teacher who did all he could to persuade me the Bible was false, and I was just a child! Some have erudite speech and persuasive arguments – but they do not know where man came from, why man is here and where mankind is going. They are both smart and clueless, educated and ignorant. They offer the best the “tradition of men” can dispense – but without Christ they do not offer life. They have the ABC’s of the world – but lack even the first syllable of an eternal vocabulary.

Second, Paul made the point that some of the most profound traps are found in philosophical systems that are carefully constructed to compete with and even attempt to defeat a Biblical world view. These “air filled” systems are carefully constructed deceptions that offer a life devoid of any eternal values, push against any personal accountability to God, and even distort temporal value systems. We live in a time when “smart men” can argue wrong into being right, and right into being silly. We are spending millions to invent a morality without God, and an existence without a Creator. Modern philosophies of naturalism (hoisted over an obviously created world), hedonism (as if one can ever get enough pleasure to stop focusing more and more on SELF), and humanism (as if some new technology can take away our basic penchant for violence, hatred and injustice) – all these have been carefully placed in our path to replace God and His Word in our public square. Some of our most educated men and women act as if all that was created on this continent was done by godless men – when the opposite is the record they left behind for us to follow. They need only read of William Bradford’s commitment to Christ to recognize they are fabricating their own history.

Bradford completed a work on the “Plymouth Plantation” in 1651, some six years before his death, and told us why he did what he did: His driving force was “a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world–yea, though they should be but even stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.” Find that in a modern text book. You won’t, because it doesn’t fit the pagan narrative re-written for the upcoming generations. Modern history books are far too often fashioned on cleverly devised mythical scenarios – but the truth lives in the quills of our founders – and that truth can be a stubborn thing.

Note that 2:8 makes a clear statement that the goal of worldly philosophies is singular – to reduce the world to THIS LIFE. The goal is to ERASE any real thought of a spiritual world – to relegate it to the “hocus pocus” of superstitious fools. Look at the prescription Paul left – the inoculation every believer can have that will gain them resistance against the virulent power of the lies… It is the Person, work and Word of Jesus Himself.

Paul made clear that Jesus was the agent of Creation – so in Him the answers about origin, purpose and destiny lie open in the book of the past. The point of Colossians 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form…” is that He has all that we need to get to the truth – because the Truth is His very name.

He is enough – we need nothing more. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:10 “…and in Him you have been made complete…” there is nothing more, nothing better, no additional parts necessary. Jesus alone will bring you safely home to God when life’s journey is done.

He cannot be overruled – as Paul continued in Colossians 2:10b “…and He is the head over all rule and authority.” No other prophet, book or work needed to be completed for salvation to have its full effect. Buddha offered nothing more. Joseph Smith didn’t need another document to explain the contribution of Jesus. It was over when Jesus was done speaking His Word.

Note as well that He isn’t “part” of your sin solution – as Paul made clear in Colossians 2:11: “…and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” There was no need to add practices, even good ones, to the payment Jesus made. He cancelled the full debt of our sin. He took the dead and gave them life.

Jesus triumphed over every spiritual authority – Paul made clear that we march in a triumphal procession because the war has been won. He wrote: “15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” Jesus isn’t competing with the devil for the world – He patiently awaits the devil to play his last card. His Father will raise His hand from Heaven’s throne and in a mere hour the religious rebellion around the world will be stripped of power and splendor. When the Father speaks, the markets of the world-wide economy will be crushed in short order. Jesus has won, and in a day soon, every knee will bow –without exception. No one is powerful before the Creator. No one is His rival. No one else will win in the final day. It will be as He has promised. The text of 2:15 declares there is a public spectacle coming when the world will marvel that it followed the enemy after he has been broken by the Savior.

Let me get to the point: If you want more than Jesus, it is because you do not truly understand Who Jesus is. You only want something other than Jesus because you neglected truly grasping the Person of Jesus! The careful gaze upon Christ will quench the thirst of your heart. We must come to recognize the great prize of salvation is not Heaven – it is Christ Himself. When we DIE to self, we are raised in new life with Jesus. He becomes our life, our hope, our satisfaction. That brings us to the last concern… some were…

Derailed by Consensus (2:16-3:1)

DerailedWe don’t get salvation from others accepting our way to doing things. We don’t get it from religious accolades and lists of rules that define us. We are defined by Christ, by love for Him and trust in His Person and work alone. That is why lists don’t replace relationship with Christ. That is why though we are called to love one another, and to respect one another – we must carefully follow what Jesus told us to do in His Word, and not to take our cues from those who cannot show us from Scripture the path we should take. He argued:

Colossians 2:16 “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—17 things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. The celebrations God called upon Israel to learn of Him were no replacement for the relationship with the Savior God gave to the Colossian believers. They were given to Israel to help them see Who God is – but they were not intended to replace God in them.

God wasn’t against the disciplines, rules and celebrations He instituted in the Law. He simply didn’t want people to think that by following them people cooperated in their own redemption. We don’t. You and I do NOTHING to make God happy with us but believe Him and trust the payment Jesus made on our behalf. The bottom line is that anything that tries to provide “something more” is a FRAUD. People who bind us into other things DEFRAUD us from the prize – having and trusting Jesus for our salvation. Paul said it this way:

Colossians 2:18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on [visions] he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head…20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all [refer] [to] things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

Here is the issue:

• Some will offer a prescription of DENIALS – acceptance by NOT DOING a list.
• Others will offer a perversion of WORSHIP – seeking another in the place of Jesus.
• Still others offer a personalization of TRUTH – THEY ALONE saw and heard from God – and you need to trust THEM to get to HIM.

People often prefer to obey rules instead of seeking Christ. Why? Because some religious lists appear to offer wisdom and make us look humble and austere as we harshly treat ourselves in self-denial – thereby making an attempt to earn God’s favor. The truth is that ANYTHING WE DO THAT REPLACES CHRIST’S WORK IS SHEER IDOLATRY – no matter what it looks like. When we look at life – we need to see it through the lens of what God says is right – not what others say. Chapter two tells us WHY we need to see life through Jesus – because circumstances cannot lead us; because a choice for anything other than Jesus will lead astray; and because there is no other consensus we need to be affirmed by other than Christ Jesus.

Chapter three opens with two verses that are not about WHY, but rather about HOW! How do we see life properly? We look at here through the lens of there.

3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

That is the way to view life… I was sorely tempted to close this message with a cute story – because it has been heavy. I will tell you a story, but it isn’t cute – it was a real story.

Let me tell you of a man who made his living as a fisherman until he met Jesus one day. He followed Jesus, sometimes incredibly badly, but he kept at it. God used him mightily, though his flaws and weaknesses were ever obvious. He was with Jesus. He walked on water with the Savior. He saw Lazarus raised from the dead! He ate bread multiplied by the hands of Jesus Himself…and one day, he heard God’s voice over Jesus’s head, declaring Him to be God’s Son. Peter told the story until he was ready to die. His last letter made it clear:

2 Peter 1:12 “Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things…14 knowing that the laying aside of my [earthly] dwelling is imminent…16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 [So] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.”

Peter was dying, and he wasn’t lying. He knew Jesus was real, and that made everything else in life clear – including his life’s purpose. When we see the Savior clearly (as He truly is!) we see life clearly. We must learn to see earth and its history in the perspective of its larger Heavenly context – or we won’t understand the story properly.