Sermon for Sunday November 24th, 2019, the Festival of Christ the King, and Sunday next before Advent
The Lessons: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:9-20; Luke 23:33-43
The Text: Colossians 1:9-20
The Topic: The rule of Christ the King in the lives of the faithful
Once there was a very wealthy art collector, who shared with his devoted son his passion for collecting fine works of art. They travelled round the world, adding only the finest paintings to their collection. Included among them were works by Picasso, Van Gogh, and Monet. The old man was a widower, but his son filled the void in his life, and this was their common bond.
When war erupted, the young man enlisted and was sent overseas. Day after day, the old father prayed, held his breath, and waited for news. One autumn day near Thanksgiving, the dreaded telegram came, bordered in black. The young man had died bravely in combat, trying to evacuate those caught under fire. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming holidays with anguish and sorrow. On Christmas morning, a knock sounded at the door. On opening it, the father found a soldier there, carrying a small package. As they talked, the soldier explained, “Your son and I became very close, and he told me about your joint art collection. I myself am an artist, and I wanted to give you this.”
The man took the package, unwrapped it, and there was a portrait of his son in striking detail. Though not a masterpiece, it was the most precious work of art the man had ever seen. As he gazed at it, he wept. After the soldier had left, the lonely father pushed aside thousands of dollars of art and hung the portrait of his son in the prized spot over the fireplace.
With the passing of the months, the old man received many letters telling him of his son’s bravery and selflessness, and of how many lives he had saved, and how many more he had touched. With each passing day the portrait over the fireplace became more precious, and he told his friends that it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
The following spring, the old man fell ill and died. The art world eagerly anticipated getting its hands on the old man’s fabulous collection. The day came for the auction of his art collection, and by his own instruction, the first painting to be sold was one which was not on any museum’s list, the painting of the man’s son. When the auctioneer asked for an opening bid, the room was silent.
“Who will open the bidding at $100?” he asked. The moments stretched on until someone suggested, “Let’s go on to the next piece.”
“No,” replied the auctioneer. “We have to sell this one first.”
Finally a neighbor of the art collector spoke. ‘Will you take fifty dollars for the painting? That’s all I have, but I knew the boy and I like him, so I’d like to have it.”
No-one offered a higher bid, and the gavel fell.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that now they could proceed with the “real” auction and get their hands on the masterpieces. But imagine their shock when the auctioneer suddenly declared that the proceedings were over. A loud clamor arose. Stunned disbelief. “What do you mean it’s over?” the people shouted. “What about all the masterpieces?”
The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will, whoever takes the son gets it all.”
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
(I John 5:11-12, KJV)
In our Epistle Lesson today we are directed to consider who the Lord Jesus Christ is and his right to claim our absolute loyalty. In the first century A.D., there were many pagan deities claiming people’s loyalty, and many conflicting claims to authority in religion, and the Roman Empire tolerated a great deal of religious diversity.
In this atmosphere of religious diversity, there were teachers who were trying to persuade Christians that additional beliefs, practices and experiences were necessary to gain knowledge of God. These beliefs led to what was later known as Gnosticism, which tried to blend Christian beliefs with beliefs from other religions which emphasized salvation by knowledge. Against such mistaken ideas of Christianity St. Paul clearly expounds Christ’s deity and his headship of the Church.
The exemplary love and faith of the Colossian Christians leads St. Paul into a prayer which supremely illustrates the vitality of the practical Christian life. It is not for anything abstract that St. Paul prays at the outset of this Epistle Lesson, but something for which all Christians who are serious about living the Christian life have in mind as a very important goal – the knowledge of God’s will. He prays first that the Colossian Christians “be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9b, KJV). Now if they had already attained such a knowledge of God’s will, or such wisdom and spiritual understanding, there would have been no need for the Apostle to pray this. If one thinks that one has already reached the state of fully knowing God’s will, one might disdain or despise anything more advanced (Calvin), but here St. Paul indicates to the Colossians through this prayer, that Christians always stand in need of growth in the knowledge of God’s will, in their wisdom, and in their spiritual understanding.
The knowledge of God’s will arises from knowing His commandments and his word, which are recorded in the Bible, which is inspired by the same Holy Spirit who enlightens believers to understand and receive God’s word.
The purpose of such wisdom, spiritual understanding and knowledge of God’s will is very practical: it leads to a life lived worthy of the Lord (v.10), pleasing God fully, so that believers may be fruitful in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God. This speaks of the actions characteristic of the noble way of Christ. Yet the knowledge of God’s will, wisdom and understanding are not evident only in the things we do, say, or think, but also in how we behave under the pressure of temptations and trials of various kinds. St. Paul adds the prayer that they be strengthened with God’s glorious might to full endurance and patience with joy (Col.1:11). A life worthy of the Lord and his calling of us to be disciples of Christ is also demonstrated by how we endure trials, temptations and times of suffering. We must endure and be patient while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col.1:12).
Such exemplary Christian behavior reflecting God’s love and faith, and the knowledge of his will, follows from our knowledge of all that God has achieved for us through the Lord Jesus Christ. In making Christians worthy to share the inheritance of the saints in light, God has delivered them from the power of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Col.1:13). This remembrance of what God has done for his people by liberating them from the power and authority of darkness, of sin, and of Satan and bringing them into the kingdom of his Son, demonstrates the supreme power of God in achieving this, and the power of both Christ’s kingdom and of Christ the King. No mere human authority or human being was capable of liberating anyone from Satan’s kingdom and bringing him into God’s kingdom! Only the power and grace of God working through the Lord Jesus Christ could achieve this.
In Christ, therefore, Christians have redemption by His blood and the forgiveness of sins. The Lord’s miracle of raising the paralyzed man revealed that his power to forgive sins equaled his power to heal the sick person. The Lord Jesus Christ’s redemption of the world through his death on the cross demonstrates his power to save sinners and bring healing of every kind. Really this shows he is God, and the very next verse describes the Lord Jesus Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col.1:15, KJV). By this we must not assume, as the Arians did, that Christ was the first creature to be created by God, but rather as John Calvin concisely explained it:
He is not called the firstborn because He preceded all creatures in time, but because he was begotten by the Father, that they might be created through Him, and that He might be, as it were, the substance or foundation of all things.
St. Paul explains what he means by calling the Lord Jesus Christ the firstborn of all creation by stating that all things in heaven and on earth, whether visible or invisible, were created in him (Col.1:16), through him and for him. He even adds that Christ is before all things and in him all things consist (Col.1:17). Christ is also the head of the Body, the Church (Col.1:18), which means that He has supreme authority over the Church. These descriptions of the Lord Jesus Christ’s power and authority include the fact that he is the beginning, the first born from the dead, and that he has the preeminence in all things (Col.1:18), and in him all the fullness of God dwells (Col.1:19). Finally, he is the one through whose blood God reconciled everyone and everything in the universe to himself (Col.1:20). Through these descriptions, the reader can be left in no doubt of the power the Lord Jesus Christ has by being God, and by reconciling all things to God by his sacrificial death.
Knowing all this, as Christians, we must be all the more determined to know the fullness of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, with the purpose of living a life that pleases God, is productive in good deeds and leads to growth in the knowledge of God, together with added strength to bear trials with great endurance, and with thanksgiving to God who has given us an eternal inheritance.
The coming rule of Christ as King is an inevitable reality for the world. Does your anticipation of Christ’s rule lead you now to pray to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in the fullness of wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may live in the way that pleases God?