Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
2016 Christ the King
Colossians 1: 11-20
Luke 23: 33-43
Today is the last Sunday of the Church calendar. The Church year begins with Advent, which is next week - as the coming of Jesus as our saviour is acclaimed. It will be time to get your house in order before God comes; which as you probably know we celebrate on 25th December. But also, to prepare yourselves for His coming again in Glory – (more of that next week). Over the course of the Christian year, we celebrate the significant events of Jesus life and ministry – not always in any kind of chronological sense, but at their appointed anniversaries. We also develop our understanding of Jesus’ place in God’s kingdom.
Today, we celebrate that Christ is King – and we start that celebration by reminding ourselves of his terrible death on the cross. Not the death itself, but those moments on the cross before he died, The ‘world’ – in the guise of criminals, Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders and others; the ‘world’ surrounds Jesus as he hangs. His friends have, for the moment, deserted him. And we get a world view. Jesus is mocked, he is scoffed at, he is ridiculed and abused. What does he do? Does he rant, does he protest his cause, does he proclaim his kingship? No, he does not react in the way any earthly ruler would when deposed. Jesus quietly accepts the abuse – but when one person acknowledges him – and this is one of the two criminals beside him; then Jesus acts like the King he is. He welcomes the poor wretch into the kingdom of God – “Today you will be with me in paradise”, he says. That saving grace is for us, at any time in our lives, even up to the moment of death – we can be saved by Jesus himself and welcomed into his kingdom. Jesus is as magnanimous as God himself.
Let’s move forward to the time of Paul. It is not many years – probably only 30 or so. Paul met Jesus while he was on his way to destroy as many followers of Jesus as he could. And he was dramatically shown the true kingdom. From then on, Paul worked tirelessly, all his life, refuting false teaching and proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world –the only saviour of the world.
False teachers have always been around, and probably will be until God’s kingdom is firmly established here on earth. Jeremiah even prophesied about them: He says: “woe to the shepherds who are scattering my sheep”. This analogy refers directly to those false prophets who damage God’s people. But Jeremiah is totally confident in God, in God’s promises and in God’s kingdom. He says, (I’m paraphrasing) “the days are coming, when I will raise up …a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right…… he will be called the Lord our Righteous saviour”.
Well, he came, didn’t he? What are we doing about it?
Remember the church in Colossae? We have talked about this before. Colossae was a primarily gentile area and the converts brought into the church gentile culture and habits. It made the problems there very different to those in churches founded with a strong Jewish background. The problem that Paul is dealing with is false teaching, heresy – or even heresies.
Colossae had been a major port and trading centre, but by the first century it had dwindled to a second rate market town. It became an important centre for the Christian church and that was largely due to Epaphras, who heard Paul’s teachings (probably in Ephesus) and started up his own church at home. The young church became a target for heretical attack. We all like the comfort of familiar things – and the new believers in Colossae were no different, they wanted ceremonies that were familiar, and they wanting teaching that they were comfortable with. The early traces of Gnosticism are visible –the secret knowledge of the few – very attractive if you are one of the few, but not so, if you are on the outside of the inner circle.
Paul was in prison in Rome, and Epaphras came to see him, telling him of the problems and seeking his advice. We read an excerpt from his letter. A letter like this was meant to be read aloud, copied out many times to send to other church groups; and kept to refer to again and again – which is why we have a copy for us today.
Starting at verses 11 and 12 - these are part of Paul’s prayer for the people and it should be our prayer too, for our church. May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power. May you be made strong with His strength. Wow, that is quite something. We know how powerful God is, and we pray for that strength for our church! Wow. But we need that strength, of course. The world, and worldly values, is against us. There is always someone somewhere trying to make rubbish of our beliefs. You will all have heard them. We need strength to withstand that kind of attack. We are not persecuted like some Christians, like those that the Barnabas trust supports, but we still face mockery and ridicule if we speak out. The scathing “oh you’re in the God squad”, I find it hard to deal with sometimes. And Paul prays that we have endurance and patience to deal with all the world throws at us.
Next, Paul prays that we give thanks with joy to the Father who made us “fit to have share of what God has promised”(good news). Don’t we just? What joy! I know that I am always astonished that God thought I was fit to wear this white alb and blue scarf and share God’s message with you, I give thanks with joy that he trusts me.
Paul reminds us that we have been “brought safe in to the kingdom of his son. And that our sins are forgiven. Our sins are forgiven because of that dear son. Note that carefully – we are forgiven because of his son. We are not forgiven because of anything an angel has done, nor of anything we have done (except to ask for forgiveness). Worshipping angels or angelic beings was common practice in the pseudo religious world of the first century. Bizarrely, it still happens – perhaps people don’t actually worship angels, but they are seen as some sort of ‘good luck’ charm. No, it is only through Jesus Christ that our sins are forgiven.
So, who is this Christ, this Jesus that is so powerful? Paul says he is the visible likeness of the invisible God. That is the Good news translation, which I think is the most poetic. The NIV says ‘the image of the invisible God’, and Peterson’s The Message prosaically says ‘we look at the son and see the God who cannot be seen’. Same thing, but I like the GN poetry “the visible likeness of the invisible God. (Joke about Sunday school child drawing a picture of God).
He is the first born son. This does not mean that God has dozens of children like Jesus. It means that we are all sons, daughters, children of God. We have that privilege because Jesus came to save us. It was through Christ that all things were created, and Paul lists it all – the seen and unseen (material world and spiritual world) all powers were created and through him the whole universe. Christ predates the universe and is responsible for everything being in its proper place. He is head of the body – that is, the church. He is the source of the body’s life – in other words the life of the church depends on him.
It was his resurrection that earned him that first place, because, as Paul again says “it was God’s own decision that the Son has the full nature of God.” (GN)
It is through him that God has chosen to bring the universe back to him.
Christ is king, lord of all creation and it is God who makes him King.
We are proud to call ourselves “Christ church” or as Mike prefers it “Christ’s church”. We belong to Christ and through him we belong to God.
The uninitiated may have mocked him on that cross over 2000 years ago. They could spit at him, beat him, divide up his clothing. They could sneer, taunt and torment him. But the mocking sign that they put over him “this is the king of the Jews” has a greater truth, that those mockers could never have known. The second criminal recognised this, even at the last minute before his death. A life of crime ending in being with Jesus in paradise.
Don’t copy that criminal in his life of crime, but please do, copy him in asking “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom”...