Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Two Things...

I was tempted to quote Robert Burns here, about "the best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley," but thought better of it. My plans to cover some Calvin this past weekend and post my sermon notes from last Thursday at UT's Chi Alpha were derailed a bit. Today, I'll give the sermon notes, and later this week it's Calvin's Institutes or BUST!

First, however, a shamelessly self-serving tip of the hat to A Boomer in the Pew, who's giving away a (*DROOL*) free calfskin ESV Study Bible.

And now, without further ado, Thursday's sermon on Colossians...

***

Chi Alpha
19 February 2009

“The Supremacy and Sufficiency of the Gospel”

I. Intro

Eliot Spitzer appeared to have the kind of life all the world envied. He came from a wealthy family. He’d flourished at school, earning 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT, graduating with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a doctorate in law from Harvard. He had been married for more than 20 years. He’d earned a spectacular reputation as New York’s attorney general, where he’d been instrumental in bringing down the Gambino crime family. He was elected governor of New York in 2006 after winning 69% of the vote, crushing his Republican and Libertarian opponents. He was also a keen observer at the national level—early in 2008, well before the economy fully tanked, he published a piece in the New York Times warning about the dangers of predatory lending well before many others were aware of the problem.

But in March of last year, all of this came tumbling down, as Spitzer was caught by police while attempting to solicit the services of a prostitute. The aftermath of all this, as you can imagine, was colossal: a wrecked marriage, a ruined reputation, a highly successful career irreparably destroyed, and so forth. As you can also probably imagine, this story provoked a feeding frenzy among op-ed writers all around the country.

One article in particular fascinated me. David Segal of The Washington Post wrote an article just after the story broke last March that started out with something I think was on the minds of a lot of people who followed this story: “What was he thinking?” Segal couldn’t understand how a man like Spitzer—rich, famous, powerful, respected, beloved—seemed to feel that everything he had and all his achievements simply weren’t enough! How could it be that all that money, all that fame, all that power, all that success utterly failed to satisfy a man like Spitzer???

What a profound question—profound not because it tells us anything special about Eliot Spitzer necessarily, but profound because it’s such a universal problem. Who among us hasn’t struggled with the problem of satisfaction? Who among us hasn’t gotten tangled up in greed, or lust, or covetousness? Who among us hasn’t found themselves thinking, “Things would be so much better for me if only I had X, or could do X, or had experienced X”?

II. Text

That kind of question is what the Apostle Paul is addressing in his letter to the Colossians. One of the things I love about this letter is that Paul (as he does so often) is writing to a 1st Century church with 21st Century problems.

The church at 1st Century Colossae was a good deal like the church in 21st Century America. It was full of genuine, precious people—but people who struggled with the same issues of satisfaction and fulfillment that we all do. Furthermore, Colossae in the 1st Century was, like America today, a major center of trade and culture, and it was permeated by an atmosphere of religious pluralism—the various pagan religions all thrived, as did Judaism and apparently even Christianity. And in the midst of all these things, the Colossians were encountering another problem: false teachers were on the rise, advocating an amalgam of all the things the Colossians would have been encountering in the culture at large around them—the false teaching seems to have interwoven elements of pagan philosophy, Judaism, asceticism, and Jewish and pagan mysticism. Just like America today, Colossae back then was a melting pot, and just like in the American church today, that environment coupled with the universal struggle fallen sinners have with fulfillment and satisfaction made the Colossian Christians especially vulnerable to false teaching.

So the question for the Colossians (and for us) is the same that it was for Eliot Spitzer: What is it that satisfies us? What’s really ENOUGH for us? Where do we find genuine, abiding, lasting fulfillment? And what’s at stake for the Colossians—and what’s at stake for you and me today—is the same thing that was at stake for Eliot Spitzer: Our name. Our integrity. Our reputation, and consequently the reputation of our Lord. Where Christians find their satisfaction tells the world where their treasure lies. All the world is watching to see whether the Gospel we proclaim is really ENOUGH for us.

***Brothers and sisters—is the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly ENOUGH for you? Is it SUFFICIENT? Is that where your treasure lies?***

You see, for Paul, this was the essence of the entire issue for the Colossian believers. In the midst of false teaching, he calls upon them to cultivate an awareness of the majesty and supremacy of Jesus Christ, and in that awareness to recognize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is sufficient to deal with every need, every desire, every aspect of the Christian life and witness. Walking in holiness? The Gospel is enough. Knowing God? The Gospel is enough. Evangelism? The Gospel is enough. Having communion with God? The Gospel is enough. Assurance of salvation? The Gospel is enough. Listen to what Paul says here, brothers and sisters—this is one of the most precious passages in all the New Testament:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (1:15-23, ESV)

This is the heart of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and it’s the heart of God for the church in America and all over the world today: that we would know and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and in knowing Him, that we would know the sufficiency of His Gospel to meet our every need.

Brothers and sisters, do we TRULY acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the Supremacy of His Gospel? Do we TREASURE Him, not only in His Majesty and Sovereignty, but also in His Sufficiency? ***Is Jesus Christ TRULY “enough” for us today?***

According to Colossians 2:16-21, that’s exactly where the false teaching was going wrong…not unlike the heresy that Paul dealt with in the letter to the Galatians, it was making the fundamental assumption that the Gospel in and of itself just wasn’t enough: to it, believers were expected to add acts of extreme asceticism (fasting, abstinence, self-denial); they were expected to obey certain aspects of Jewish ceremonial law (Sabbath days, special festivals, circumcision, and so forth); they were expected to pursue ‘spiritual’ visions and dreams and angelic visitations and profound supernatural experiences as a way of obtaining special, private, personal revelation from God.

All these things, beloved, sound just ridiculous when we try to say that they’re necessary for believers to have or experience in addition to the Gospel. Think about what the Gospel means: it means that the God of the Universe sent His One and Only Son, born in the flesh, to die the death of a rebel slave on a tree, suffering the full measure of God’s Wrath against sinners on behalf of people who hated Him. The Gospel means that God gave EVERYTHING when WE could give NOTHING. The Gospel means that Jesus Christ suffers the wrath, and we receive the grace. Who on earth is so completely arrogant as to think of adding anything to that?

Listen to what Paul says about Jesus:

1. “He is the image of the invisible God” (v. 15); think about how profound and beautiful this idea is: no human being has ever seen God—but Jesus Christ is His Image: His perfect likeness and exact representation. His complete, consummate, ultimate Revelation of Himself. The writer of Hebrews really understands this, and he tells us the following:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (1:1-4)

This is also the heart of Paul for the Colossians, and the heart of God for us, beloved—to know Jesus Christ is to know God, fully and completely. This is what Paul means later on when he tells the Colossians that Jesus Christ is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3)—think about that: In Christ are ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…and not only that, but in Christ are all the TREASURES of wisdom and knowledge! If we want to know God, beloved, we have to look to the Gospel of His Son; there and ONLY there will we find true knowledge. There and ONLY there will we find true wisdom.

2. Paul goes on, telling the Colossians that Jesus Christ is “the firstborn of [this means “over” as in the NIV] all creation…FOR…all things were created through Him and for Him” (v. 15-16). Paul presents Christ here as the agent OF God’s Creation (see John 1:1-3ff, Prov. 8:22-36), the Lord OVER God’s Creation (Phil. 2:9-10, Rev. 17:14), and he also says here that Christ’s Glory is the GOAL of all creation (Eph. 1:11-12, John 11:1-4).

***Brothers and sisters, is Paul’s vision of Christ in His Majesty and Supremacy YOUR vision of Christ? Is this Jesus that Paul preaches the Jesus you trust for your salvation? Is this Jesus that Paul preaches the ONLY One you’re trusting to help you know and obey God? If not, WHY???***

3. Jesus Christ, Paul continues, “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (17). Note here, as well as in vv.15-16, the repetition: “all things…all things…all things…all things”; Paul, like me, isn’t exactly known for his subtlety—but even for him, this is laying it on a little thick! But Paul wants very much here to emphasize this point: Christ is Sovereign Lord over ALL THINGS: every rose, every penguin, every butterfly, every koala bear…and also every cockroach, every crocodile, every mosquito, every patch of poison ivy—and also every drop in the Dow Jones, every lost job, every ulcer of every husband and father who’s worried and stressed about the economy. Christ is Lord over ALL these things, and ALL these things exist to show forth His Glory.

Brothers and sisters, this is a tough idea. We don’t always like it. Sometimes it sticks in our throats—mine as well. BUT IT’S ABSOLUTELY INDISPENSABLE TO PAUL’S ARGUMENT HERE. THE GOSPEL CAN’T EVER BE ENOUGH FOR US IF GOD ISN’T SOVEREIGN OVER ALL THINGS. The one area of our lives that we believe God doesn’t control and own absolutely is the one area we will NEVER surrender to His Gospel. If you don’t really believe God owns and controls your finances, you won’t submit them to Him. If you don’t really believe Christ is Lord over your relationships, you won’t treat others the way He demands. If you don’t really believe Christ is Lord over your words, you won’t care how you speak. If you don’t believe Christ is Lord over your mind, you won’t care about how you think, what you watch, etc. Beloved, this is unacceptable. Christ doesn’t want part of you. He wants ALL of you, because your WHOLE LIFE was created to demonstrate His Glory and His Goodness. This is what John is getting at in chapter 9 of his Gospel:

“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (v. 1-3)

This man’s about 30 years old or so, and Jesus says one of the most shocking things in all of Scripture: He tells us that this man’s blindness from birth—and consequently every MINUTE of that 30 or so YEARS of suffering—was for the PURPOSE of displaying God’s mighty works by the hand of Jesus. I heard a popular evangelical leader not long ago talk about prayer and healing, and he said that when we pray and someone isn’t healed, it must be because we lacked something on our end—faith, the knowledge of God, whatever. What nonsense, brothers and sisters! What damnable and ungodly nonsense that is—it turns all of Christianity on its head. All of a sudden, God’s Power to heal depends on our ability to pray?

This is where I am, beloved—we found out last week we just had another miscarriage. That makes two in a row for us. I say that because it’s one thing to talk about suffering like it’s an academic problem, but it’s not for me, and it certainly isn’t for my bride. And think about how godless and offensive the teaching I just talked about really is—if we lost these babies because I wasn’t praying right, what exactly do I need to do the next time? Did I not pray long enough? Would 15 minutes longer everyday have been enough? What if I’d only prayed fourteen and a half minutes? Is that 30 seconds really what determines God’s ability and willingness to save my baby? What would this teacher say about our last one—we didn’t even know for sure we were pregnant! How were we supposed to pray to keep this from happening?

I beg of you, beloved—don’t fall for hucksters like that. Don’t think of the Gospel as though it’s something that depends on our effort, our mystical disciplines, our knowledge, our will power. Brothers and sisters, the only thing that can really speak to suffering like this is the Gospel. IF THE GOSPEL ISN’T TRUE NOW, THEN IT NEVER EVER WAS. AND IF THE GOSPEL CAN’T SPEAK TO THIS—IF THE GOSPEL DOESN’T HAVE AN ANSWER FOR THIS—IF JESUS CHRIST ISN’T GLORIFIED IN THIS, THEN NONE OF IT MATTERS. “MEANINGLESS! MEANINGLESS! SAYS THE TEACHER—ALL IS MEANINGLESS.” We must have a Gospel that’s not only glorious to behold, but sufficient to meet our needs, beloved.

4. Back to Paul: “He is the Head of the body, the church” (18); notice how Paul has shifted from Christ’s Lordship over Creation to His Lordship over the NEW Creation—the community of the redeemed, the church. “Head” here refers to Christ as the source of the church and as the authority Who RULES the church. When Paul goes on here to say that Christ is “the firstborn from the dead THAT [i.e., “so that”, “in order that”] in everything He might be preeminent [NIV = “have the supremacy”],” He’s expressing the same idea as in 15-16—Christ created and reigns over His Church, and the Church exists for His Glory and Good Pleasure.

5. “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (19)—Christ is preeminent, or has the supremacy, above all things (v. 18) because in Him dwells all the fullness of God, or even (as Douglas Moo tells us), “God in all His Fullness.” Here we begin to see ever more clearly not only the SUPREMACY of Christ, but the SUFFICIENCY of Christ. If ALL the fullness of God abides in Jesus, and all the FULLNESS of God abides in Jesus, then Christ and His Gospel are and MUST BE all we could ever possibly need—and Paul goes even further when he tells the Ephesians that we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (1:13-14). Again, beloved—who on earth is so arrogant as to think that we need to ADD anything to this??? Do we begin to see, brothers and sisters, why that kind of thinking is so repulsive to God? Has He given His ALL, and yet we feel the need to add to it as though God’s best isn’t enough?
6. Paul tells us that God’s intention in His Gospel is “through Him [i.e., through Christ] to reconcile to Himself all things…making peace by the blood of His Cross” (20). Note once again—“all things.” This is exactly why the Gospel has to be enough for us, beloved—because Paul says that it’s enough for ALL CREATION. The thought here is similar to Romans 8:19-21:
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
***Brothers and sisters, is Paul’s view of the Gospel YOUR view of the Gospel? Is this Gospel, which Paul says is enough to redeem an entire universe that’s been twisted and warped and mangled by the fall—is THIS the Gospel in which you believe? Is this Gospel ENOUGH for you tonight, or are you seeking fulfillment and satisfaction in something else?***
But it gets even better—when he says, “making peace by the blood of His Cross,” Paul begins to go further still for the Colossians. Not wanting them to think of redemption solely in abstract, cosmic terms (though it is certainly that), he brings it home to them in a personal, experiential way:
“And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (v. 21-23)
Paul brings it all home with this passage: the Gospel that portrays Christ as Lord over all Creation, Lord and Head over the church, the One Whom all things were created to glorify—this eternal Gospel is also a PERSONAL Gospel, and the message of it is that God in all His Fullness has given of Himself to redeem us so that we can be holy and blameless. Beloved, what more can there POSSIBLY be for us?

This is where I start to think of Spitzer. I’m tempted to blast the man, just like so many of the newspapers and commentators: how could he have been so foolish and hard-hearted and self-absorbed that he failed to value and cherish everything he had? What arrogance! What ingratitude!

But then I’m convicted, beloved—because I know that in a thousand, thousand ways I’ve done far, far worse: I’ve lived as though the Cross didn’t matter. I’ve skipped through the New Testament and haven’t stopped to think about how AMAZING it is that God should send His Son to suffer and die for me when I HATED Him. I’ve longed for spectacular, sensational experiences—healings, angelic visitations, manifestations of the Spirit—to demonstrate the Awesomeness of God, when I’ve neglected the Greatest Demonstration of all: Romans 3—God demonstrating BOTH His unfathomable Mercy AND the endless perfections of His Justice in the Person of Jesus on the Cross. I’ve wanted manna from Heaven when I had the Bread of Life in front of me.

It’s when I stop and think about this that I Thank God for things like our miscarriages—anything that drives me closer to the Cross is something I rejoice in. Anything that reminds me that I’m weak, that I’m desperate, anything that reminds me that without the Gospel of Free Grace for sinners I have NOTHING—whatever it takes, that’s what I want.

Brothers and sisters, that’s God’s heart for all of us tonight, and that’s my heart’s prayer for you all—that Jesus Christ would be truly Supreme in your eyes, and that His Gospel would really, truly, genuinely be ENOUGH for you tonight.

If you’re here, and you know that your Gospel isn’t the Gospel we’ve been talking about here tonight—if it doesn’t speak to every area of human existence, and if it doesn’t make demands of every area of your life—then you need to repent. You’ve pursued a false Gospel, and you’re searching for satisfaction where it was never meant to be found. And I can tell you from experience that doing so will ALWAYS disappoint. The false Gospels are never going to be able to meet all your needs, and at some point in your life you will face some kind of trial that a false Gospel can’t address. Remember what the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, BEFORE the days of trouble come” (12:1). If the Gospel you believe in isn’t enough NOW, when you’re comfortable, when you’re well-fed, when you’re at ease…then it will NEVER be enough for you. Repent, brothers and sisters, and cry out to God to give you a fresh vision of the Majesty, Glory, and SUFFICIENCY of the Gospel.

Or it may be that you’re here and you know that you’ve lived your entire life as though the Gospel doesn’t matter at all: you’ve given little or no thought to the Cross, little or no thought to your sin, little or no thought to God’s Holiness. I pray you’d open your eyes right now to the truth of the Gospel: God’s WRATH—His pure and perfect HATRED of sin in all its forms—rests on you. When you stand before a Holy God, and He asks you, “Why should I let you—a sinner, an oath-breaker, a murderer, a liar, an adulterer, an idolater, a God-hater—why should I let you into My Heaven?”—what will you say? Know that this night you can be saved—you can turn to the Cross, repent of your sin, and believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved from God’s Holy Judgment. Do so now. Do not wait another moment, because you don’t know how many more moments you have. Let no one here wait for any reason to do business with God—if you wait because you don’t think you’re holy enough, you never will be. If you wait because you don’t think you’re good enough, you never will be. The Gospel is enough, brothers and sisters—as one of my favorite writers, Jerry Bridges, would say, not only is it the most IMPORTANT thing you’ll ever hear; it’s the only ESSENTIAL thing you’ll ever hear. Believe on the Lord Jesus. Salvation may be found in no other.

Let us pray.

2 comments:

David Porter said...

Thanks for stopping by the "Boomer in the Pew" blog to register for the new ESV Study Bible. I hope you enjoyed your visit to my blog, as much as I enjoyed my stop by yours!

If you like, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed, so that we may interact now and then.

Clint said...

Thanks for coming Thursday. I liked this a lot. It was very timely for me. I'll definitely use this in my Bible study in the future.