Mystery Revealed

Second in a series called Resolution Revolution,
Delivered January 11, 2004 by Andy Gathman.

Sermon Text:
Colossians 1:24-2:5

Born of Him, reborn, to be his children: Children of the Word who was with God in the beginning.

We are continuing our four-week series on the revolution of God. Last Sunday, we talked about how, in spite of our tendencies to better ourselves through the making of resolutions, God freed us from that by undertaking a revolution. This revolution brought us into his Kingdom, transferring us from darkness into light; from the power of Satan to the power of God; from slavery into freedom; and from hostility into forgiveness.

Today, we’re going to be focusing on our continual participation in this revolution through the Word of God. Now, to many, the word of God sounds like something that is stale, or boring, or irrelevant. A lifeless document full of writings written by inaccessible holy men. Sure, we might find some wisdom there. Some principles to help us to live by. A standard by which moralists can measure right and wrong.

But this is not the Word of God that we I am speaking to you about today. The true Word of God contains the power of creation and of re-creation, as we heard in our wonderful reading of John 1 and Genesis 1. It’s effect is powerful and transformational on all who hear it.

It is a word, that as the prophet Isaiah said,

… does not return to God empty, but accomplishes what he desires and achieves the purpose for which He sent it.

It is a word that, as the writer of Hebrews says,

…is living and active. Sharper than any double–edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

It is a word that, as the apostle Paul says to Timothy,

…is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the godly person may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

It is a word that, as Jesus taught his disciples,

is like the rock upon which a wise person can build his house. The rain comes down, the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat against that house; yet it does not fall, because it has been built on a foundation of rock.

If you are skeptical of this understanding of the Word of God, I certainly can understand that. I once felt the same way. Although I have gone to church since I was a child, I never thought too highly of God’s Word when I was younger. I knew my Bible stories, I knew to respect the Bible, I believed in Jesus, I believed the things the Bible said. But reading the Bible was just something Christians did, like schoolchildren read their textbooks.

This attitude continued as I grew up. As I got older I would occasionally try to pick up the Bible and read it because I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. Maybe some of you have had this experience. You’ve attempted to read the pages of the Bible and you kind of stare at it and it is just a chore. And more than likely you’ve given up shortly after you start, or if you have a high affinity for painful things maybe you continue on in that drudgery.

For me that changed during my senior year of High School, when at a youth conference it was suggested that the Bible is no dull textbook but God’s way of speaking to us, speaking to me, and engaging me in my journey of life and faith. This small idea started me on a different kind of adventure.

I finished High School thinking I was going to be an architect, but as I engaged God’s word on a personal level, He began to show me another path. This new path led me to get a degree in English, which led me to a writing job, in of all places, Baltimore, which ed Eileen and I when we got to Baltimore to a church in Towson. And I find it more than a little ironic that the Word that called me to a different path in High School happens to be the same twisting path that brings me in front of you today to speak about this living and transformational Word.

But God’s word is not just for those he calls into ministry. The great failure of the church today is that we don’t teach about the living and active Word of God. Sure, we preach the Bible, we put together Bible studies, encourage people to read their Bible. But how skilled are we if we are honest at really hearing God’s personal word to us. We have become desensitized to it. An abundance of other voices that we hear on the radio, messages in advertising, e-mailing, instant messaging has drowned out God’s voice. All of these messages has caused a tremendous amount of inflation in the economy of words, so that our tendency is to treat all of them as expendable.

But this attitude has left us poor, missing out on the treasures that God has for us. They are ours for the taking, if only we would hear them. For God’s word contains the riches of wisdom and understanding, not just for long ago, but for us today.

I invite you to take out your Bibles, if you have them today and open to Colossians 1, verses 24 through chapter 2, verse 5. We are picking up where we left off last week, where we saw Paul announcing the great revolution of God. Now he comes to his point in writing: he wants make sure the Colossians understand this great treasure that has come to them. Paul’s number one priority is to help this Church to become fully aware of the word of God.

Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness-the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

I think it is not insignificant that Paul, the great apostle, viewed his commission from God “to present God’s word in its fullness” as his number one enterprise. At first, it might seem shocking that Paul says he is filling up in his flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions. But if you think about it, Paul is on a calling that really is a continuation of the calling of Christ. Therefore it is a job full of struggling and hardship, and requires that Paul labor and struggle with all the energy of Christ himself. Because Paul’s goal is the same as Christ’s: that the word of God would be known. So as we unpack this passage together, I would like us to consider How we can learn about God’s Word.

The first thing that I think we can learn in this passage is that God’s word is a revealed word. No matter how hard we try, despite all the great resources we have in philosophy, sociology, psychology-from Plato to Dr. Phil-the only way that we have any knowledge of the true word of God is because he revealed it to us.

Before God revealed his word, it was, as Paul says in verse 26 “a mystery that had been hidden for ages and generations.” Paul is very aware of this great gift, this great opportunity, this great responsibility we now have: the fullness of God’s word, a mystery that had long been unknown, has now been revealed.

What this means to us is that we can no longer hold on to “our preferred way” of seeing the world. We’ve got to get outside of ourselves. We’ve got to be prepared to hear some things that might sound strange, that might be hard to understand, or even difficult to accept. We must humbly approach God, putting aside our desires and our tendency to hear only what we want to hear, and seek to hear His word.

When we turn to other sources, all we get are petty self-assurances and pats on the back. Yes, we might find a word that helps our cause, a word that justifies our behavior, a word that does not ruffle our feathers. And, sure, we get what we want, but only in God’s word do we really find what we need. It is a mystery that can be revealed only by God, so we must put ourselves aside and turn our attention to Him.

The second thing that we learn from this passage is that this word from God is a personal word. Notice that Paul does not say this mystery has come in the form of a textbook. Nor is it a collection of religious rites and enchantments. He does not even say that the Word revealed to us is the Bible. He says this mystery, hidden for so long-this word by which God brings us and guides us in his revolution-is a person. -Look at chapter 2, verse 2, it says:

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.

God’s Word comes to us in the person of Christ. His revelation shows us that Jesus is both the word of creation and the word of salvation. The word of God, that spoke creation into being, is also a word-made-flesh, containing the totality of God’s grace and truth. And by receiving His word, we participate in the revolution of God.

But it gets better. One of the results of this revealed mystery, is that when we receive his word, Christ lives in us. In verse 27 we read

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Not only has God given us a word of salvation-he’s given us a word of continual guidance, and a hope for the future. God knew that if we are going to participate in God’s revolution, we would need his guidance and assurance. And so Christ, the same word that brings us into this God’s kingdom, waking us up to the revolution, is also a continuous word guiding us and leading us through our lives so that we can participate fully in this revolution. Now some of you may be thinking to yourselves “attentive ones”, now what about the Bible? I thought that the Bible was the word of God-and indeed it is. One of the greatest treasures we have as Christians is contained within these pages: This is the word he has spoken to His people throughout history, and faithfully handed down to us in the scriptures.

But note, that the books in the Bible were not put together at a committee meeting of the church hierarchy to establish authoritative scripture. They were canonized-deemed authentic-because these scriptures had proved themselves to be authoritative, as they worked in hearts of God’s people and kindled the kind of transformation that only the word of God can bring. Let me give you an example.

Early in our marriage, Eileen and I were experiencing some tension as the honeymoon effects started wearing off. Let me say a word of warning to all you newly married couples. It does wear off. This is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, on the other side is a love that is deep and true and whatever those older married will tell you, you can still be just as in love three, four, ten years down the road. I am sure of it! Our different personalities, habits, and needs began to come out into the open. It wasn’t long before we began sparring over whose way was better, and feeling neglected because we weren’t having our own needs met. One day, after one of these “discussions” (cause Christians don’t fight- laughter) I happened to be reading the Bible and just happened upon Ephesians 5-a passage I had read many times before-but when I got to verse 25 it stopped me cold. Let me read it for you.

“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”

That verse hit me like a Mac truck at once judging me, but at the same time also showing me God’s wonderful love and grace. This word came alive to me, strengthening me to let go of my desires out of love for my wife, just as Christ left the comfort of heaven to show his love for me. The Word of God changed me, and it changed our marriage.

This would be just another book if it were not for the word-in-us, guiding us, engaging us, prodding us. When we go to the scriptures listening for God’s voice, they come alive. and sometimes they are sharper than a double-edged sword. Our goal, as participants in this revolution, is seek out God’s word to us, and learn how to discern His voice.

The third thing that I think we learn about the word of God from this passage is that God’s word speaks above all other words. In chapter 2:3-4, Paul says,

“in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.”

I think that one of the things that keeps us from taking God’s word seriously is that most people tend to see life as generally neutral. That if we are a good person, play our cards right, get a few breaks, things should turn out okay in the end. When we join this revolution, we begin to realize that life is a perilous journey, an adventure that far surpasses our skill of navigation and survival.

As we learned last week, God’s revolution is waging war on the dominion of darkness. And now that we have become aware of God’s revolution, many questions come with this new understanding: What is my role? What is my purpose? How can I make his decisions in such a dangerous environment? Left to our own devices, we would surely come up with pretty inadequate answers. When we join the revolution, the revealed word becomes essential, we cannot do without it.

We need a trustworthy guide who will show us the way, helping us choose our path, understand our purpose, and make the right decisions. Paul wants us to be assured that our guide is the best guide we could ever hope to have. That in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The danger comes when we hit a place in life where we are stumped. Because when we’re in a difficult situation we naturally want to ask how? or why? Now these questions in and of themselves are not far off, in fact in order to have an authentic relationship with God, we may need to ask these things. And when God doesn’t seem to give us an immediate answer we are tempted to turn to other words for answers. We are at risk of “being deceived by other fine-sounding arguments,” as Paul says. But God’s answer, his Word to us, is consistently a “who”- Jesus Christ, the word above all other words.

I suppose that God could have given each of us, when we became a Christian, a huge book, indexed and cross-referenced with the answers to every question that we might ever have. And I bet that at times many of us would much rather have a word like that: something tangible, something to wrap our brains firmly around. But He has not done that.

Instead he’s given us a revealed word that goes beyond our simple-minded solutions. He’s unveiled to us the mystery of Christ, through whom we are saved and brought into God’s great revolution. It is a personal word, for it comes in the person of Jesus Christ, who lives in us, teaching us, instructing us, and guiding us in this revolution. And the word he’s given us in Christ is above all other words, and although we might not know the answer to our every question, we can be assured that He does.

If you are here today, and you are wondering how to better understand God’s word, If you are skeptical of everything I’ve just said, but are looking for a forum to discuss it, Or if you are trying to help someone else understand this word of God, I want you to know of a great opportunity we have coming up in the near future.

This opportunity is the Alpha Course, which begins Wed. January 21st and continues on Wednesday nights for 11 weeks. Now, you might be thinking, Hmm, sounds church-y. But it’s all done in a very warm, friendly, laid back environment. As Kevin said, There’s going to be dinner provided and a speaker via video who will give a teaching about Christianity. But the centerpiece of the course is a time to get together with a smaller group of people and ask questions and react to the word of God that has been presented. These will be conversations about the big questions, and a time to explore the meaning of God’s word.

The awesome thing is that because the mystery has been revealed, we can talk openly about our questions. So if you would like to learn more about the word of God in a safe environment, if you would like to experience it like you haven’t before, if you know someone who you’d like to share God’s word with but haven’t yet been able, I strongly want to encourage you to consider Alpha. Sign up at welcome center: brochures available.

I’d like to close today by reading from the great Psalm about God’s word, psalm 119:

Your word, O Lord, is eternal;
It stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
You established the earth, and it endures.

To this day, God’s faithfulness continues through his eternal word: a word that has now been revealed to us in its fullness: the word made flesh, the word in us, the word Jesus Christ. May we seek this word above all others. Amen.

Pray with me. God, we just come before you and are humble Lord, because we know our lives are struck by so many different words, so many different voices. And whether we have been aware of your word today, before today, or not, God this is a big thing, and we stand before you in the enormity of your Word. God we thank you for your grace, that through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, we might be able to hear. We might be able to receive; we might be able to live in your Word. God give us strength, give us courage and help us to live into your Word as we walk in this great revolution.