Resolution Revolution

First in a series called Resolution Revolution,
Delivered January 4, 2004 by Andy Gathman.

Sermon Text:
Colossians 1:13-23

Video clip: The Matrix [26:15-28:37]
Morpheus: I imagine that right now you are feeling a little bit like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.
Neo: You can say that.
Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You are here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. But there is something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I am talking about?
Neo: Matrix?
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is? The matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo, like everyone else. You were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell, or taste or touch, a prison for your mind.

Happy New Year! I connect with this movie because it expresses something that I think we all at some point in our lives have felt.. Not necessarily that we are trapped inside a computer-generated matrix world (if that is something that you are struggling with you might want to schedule an appointment to see pastor John when he returns in 3 weeks). We do all battle this nagging thought that there has got to be something more than this. It seems as though something is keeping us from the life we feel is possible. We sense it, we feel it, and yet for all of our attempts to break free from the confinements the world encumbers us with, we never quite attain the satisfaction that we seek. We long for something to break us free. We long fora revolution.

Would you pray with me? God, I pray that during our brief time together, Lord I pray that you would be with us, that you would be opening hearts to your Word, and Lord I pray that the words that come out of my mouth and whatever forms they came, Lord that when they hit the ears of everyone here today, they would be planted in hearts as see-ers of your truth. Lord we desire to hear from you today and I pray that you will allow us to do that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The old year has passed into history and the New Year has begun. On the surface, our world likes to think of this as a time for new beginnings and I am going to take a new beginning right now and unplug myself. Sorry. During this time of year, many of us ascribe to the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. For some of you, you are looking forward to having a clean slate, getting a fresh start, having a new lease on life , putting your best foot forward. For others of you, the turning of the calendar seems more like a slap on the face, just another reminder of the relentless march of time, how you never seem to be able to get ahead, that no matter how hard you try, you always seem to fall short.

I made a few New Year’s resolutions of my own. To lose a little bit of weight. Marriage has been good for my heart, but bad for my waistline-thus the vertical stripes. I hop to start working out at a gym in order to facilitate that resolution, but if the past is any indication for me, I don’t know how long I will be able to keep up with it. I came across this essay by a woman by the name of Mariva Aviram, and maybe it will connect with you. She says:

Even when I resist it, she says, this is what goes through my mind every January 1st. “Starting today, I will exercise every day, eat better, watch less TV, and make more money.” I have, for over fifteen years, been the quintessential New Year’s Resolute. And, like any proper New Year’s Resolute, I have broken every single resolution I’ve made… This year, I’ve had enough. I’ve overdosed on self-helping and self-improving and personal growing. If I’m “recovering” from anything, it’s from being a self-help addict.

I recently did a search on Amazon.com under the category “self-help” and the result came up with 127,970 separate book titles that matched this category.

For all of those volumes of books in reality, these solutions and resolutions are powerless to change those things that are really keeping us from living life. No amount of self-help is going to fix what is wrong with us. We are not suffering merely from a collection of bad habits, or an overabundance of poor behavior. We are suffering from sin. Not from sins, in terms of this or that specific disobedience, but sin-a fundamental mis-orientation of our lives.

In our scripture passage today, Paul calls this the dominion of darkness. Where darkness reigns, we are unable to see our way out of problems. And so we sense that something is not right, but we have no idea how to fix it, and really we don’t even know what is really wrong. Salvation must come from the outside.

Today, I want to invite you to do something refreshing. I want you to give up trying to save yourself. How many Januaries have you made your resolutions, charted your self-improvement goals, only to end another year disappointed? I’d like to suggest something rather radical today. I suggest that we don’t need any more resolutions. What we need is a revolution. Turn with me in your Bibles or follow up on the screen. Colossians, chapter 1, verses 13-23. Here Paul is writing to a young church and he is encouraging and reminding them about this wonderful revolution of God.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you to Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Do you know what this is? This is a manifesto. This is a declaration of revolution. Not only that it is also an invitation. Did you catch it? The apostle Paul, who was once himself captive to the repressive regime of legalistic religion, is writing about a revolution-the revolution of God. He has begun to participate in the freedom that this revolution brings, and he is inviting us to join in.

Far from being able to help ourselves through the making of countless resolutions, Paul says that God has made them obsolete by beginning a revolution that would achieve the restoration of our relationship with him, and what’s more, the relationship of all creation.

If we look carefully at verses 13 and 14 we can see the language of revolution.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

God has set out on a rescue mission, Paul says, and He’s brought us from the dominion of darkness, into his own kingdom. William Barclay points out that the phrase “brought us into” has a very interesting origin. It comes from a Greek word that describes what happens when a one empire takes over another. In the ancient world, when one empire defeated another that defeated population was transferred wholesale into the winning country’s land. Paul is saying that God, in his defeat of evil has transferred us into his own kingdom. And this revolution, this transference into God’s kingdom, has led to four great benefits.

First, we have been transferred from the darkness into light. Darkness is a condition whereby we can see nothing. It implies disorientation, confusion, fear. But in God’s kingdom, the center is Jesus Christ who is is the light of the world, as the apostle John says He illuminates our lives with his words of truth.

Second, we are transferred from the power of Satan to the power of God. Where before we were held firmly in the grip of sin, God now in his triumphant love brought us into his kingdom, under His rule and protected by his power.

Third, we have been transferred from slavery into freedom. The word redemption is from the language of slavery-and it is only when a slave’s debt is redeemed is he set free. I know many of us have struggled with the burden of debt, maybe it is paying off school loans, or mortgage, or paying off credit card bills. One of the most stressful things in the entire world is when we have an unpayable debt. And that’s exactly the situation that describes our relationship to God. And yet in this transference to God’s kingdom, He has given us redemption. Our debt Has been paid.

Finally, we have transference from hostility into forgiveness. Whereas redemption speaks about wiping the slate clean in a transactional sense, forgiveness speaks to the relational sense. Because for some things we do, no amount of repayment can repair the damage done to a relationship. But through this revolution, God has offered us total forgiveness, even for the most grievous, personal injuries we have committed toward God.

Looking back on these things-being rescued from the dominion of darkness, gaining entry into God’s kingdom, purchasing freedom from slavery, forgiving sins-we can see that our need far exceeds our ability to overcome, that there is more than any resolution could accomplish. We are utterly unqualified to undertake the revolution to bring about these changes.

But there is one who can. Just as every revolution in human history has a heroe, so the revolution of God has a hero as its architect, initiator, and champion. One so committed to the revolution that he would give everything-even his own life-to see it succeed. That one is Jesus Christ.

And as unqualified as we are to accomplish these things, Jesus is utterly qualified. So qualified, in fact, that he has single-handedly accomplished all that the revolution has required. Paul takes great care to consider Jesus’ qualifications as the instrument of this revolution.

First, he makes the case that Jesus is qualified because of his relationship with God. He says in verse 15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Now consider the radical thing that this does to our understanding of God For centuries the nation of Israel worshiped a God who could not be seen- who in fact refused to be seen. But Paul says here that this intangible, unknowable, invisible God can be visibly seen in Christ Jesus. In other words, if you want to see God, look at Jesus.

The word image here does not merely refer to a picture or photograph. The Greek word is eikon, which means an exact representation, This word would have had substantial meaning to both the Jewisand Greeks who are in the church at Colossi. In Jewish thought, the image of God was thought to be wisdom. The Greeks said that the image of God is logos (that is, logic, or understanding). It is as if Paul was saying to both the Jews and the Greeks, “All your dreams for spiritual fulfillment, your desire wisdom, for philosophy, all of it is found in the person of Jesus, who is the ultimate eikon.” To look upon Jesus is to look upon God.

Today we also live in a very image-conscious culture. Everywhere we turn, we are saturated with imagery. These images, whether in magazines, in movies, on television, or interactive video games, all attempt to draw us in to an alternate reality-convince us that something behind that image is real. Much of the time, as long as we behold that image, we are transported into another reality. Paul is calling us to re-focus our attention on another image, Jesus Christ, who is the perfect representation of God.

Paul also describes Jesus’ qualifications for this revolution as they relate to Creation, he says:

v16-17: For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.

So in relationship to creation, Jesus is the agent of creation, he is the purpose of creation, and he is the sustainer of creation. Our world today has plenty of powers and authorities that we believe in-whether it’s the buffet of religions, science and medicine, the government, or ourselves-things that we hope will fix our woes, and massage our hurts. But Paul is very clear on this point: nothing in the created order is outside of his scope, his ability, or his oversight.

It is Jesus, in fact, who holds all of creation together. Now, think about this for a moment. Paul is saying if it were not for Jesus, the forces that hold matter together would come undone, the very fabric of time would unravel, and everything from smallest subatomic particle to the brightest red giant star in our galaxy would cease to exist. Who or what else would we want to put our hope in?

Finally, Paul describes Jesus’ qualifications in relationship to humanity in verse 18:

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Not only is Jesus the source and sustainer of all creation, but he is also the head of church. Now, metaphorically speaking, a body is dependant on the head and powerless without it. The head is the source of direction, power, and will, guiding the body to move and act. What I think Paul is saying is that the church, or the people of God, is the organism through which Jesus expresses his power with which he acts and which he shares his experiences.

Paul also says that Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead, referring to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Belief in the resurrection was central to the worship of the early Christians. For if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then all they were worshiping was the memory of a wise teacher. But Jesus did rise, in fact, many of the early Christians were eye-witnesses to that fact. Therefore, just as Jesus is the source of our life,and has the chief place among the living, so too , Jesus is the source of the new life and chief among the dead and who will be resurrected the last day. He is not only the initiator of life, but he is also the defeater of death.

Truly, Jesus is supremely qualified for the role of savior-and we can see, as Paul says in verse 19, that all of God’s fullness dwells in him. And because of this Jesus is called the Christ-the savior through whom God has brought about His revolution. I really enjoy how Eugene Peterson puts it in his translation of verses 20-22:

All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross. You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.

Whole and holy in his presence of God- now that is the revolution. I said earlier that this is not only a declaration, but an invitation: I think by its very nature, the revolution of God invites us to participate. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to be talking about how we can participate in the revolution of God through the word of God, through prayer, and through the Holy Spirit.

But Paul ends with a reminder that the only condition of participating in the revolution, the prerequisite of being transferred into his kingdom, is continuing faith in Jesus Christ and his revolutionary work of salvation, that was accomplished in his life, death and resurrection. Verse 23:

If you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.

Now, you might ask why, after going through all the trouble he has, why wouldn’t he simply bring all of humanity over into his kingdom without condition? And this can be turned into a very heated theological debate, but I think the answer is quite simple, yet it is central to the reason for the revolution in the first place.

You see, at the heart of the revolution of God is his deep love for us and his desire for a restored relationship. God desires an intimate relationship with you, so that he could enjoy and love you, and so that you could enjoy the wonderful life he has to offer. And so God waged war on the forces that were keeping you separated from Him. Through Jesus, He broke down every barrier and dividing wall. He did all the work, and has done it asking nothing in return.

But when it comes down to it, the relationship that God has done all of this work for us is still a two-way street, and so something must also be done on our part to restore the relationship. Our effort here has nothing to do with the work of salvation, but our participation is required to complete the restoration of our relationship with God. Every relationship is built on trust. And because that trust was broken by sin, faith is the necessary step that we must take to restore our relationship with God.

Now for some of you who are here today, this is not a new concept. You have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you attend church regularly, and try to do the right thing. But I have a question for you: How much are you still caught up in the old game of making resolutions, trying to better yourself, wearying yourself in your striving? I challenge you to let go. You do not need to be sufficient in yourself because, praise the Lord, Jesus Christ is our sufficiency. Forget your resolutions and embrace the revolution of God. And embrace anew the relationship that this revolution affords you.

Others who are here have never actually begun your participation in this revolution. Perhaps you’ve never heard about it. Perhaps you didn’t realize that something was required on your part. But today, I want to invite you to take a step of faith. There are no provisos, no need to get your life together first, no more resolutions. Simply trust in Jesus Christ, who is the revolution of God.

Pray with me. Dear God, I thank you that you have provided a way for us to reconnect with you, to restore our broken relationship with you. That you would set all things right, so we may have a life that up until now we have only dreamed of having. And it is not a life without troubles, but is a life with you Lord. And God, we desire to continue in that faith that will bring us into a relationship with you, Lord. I pray that you will help us to let go of our constant striving, our temptation to make resolutions in order to perfect ourselves, so we might be worthy of you Lord, and just simply embrace your love and your grace, that you poured out for us in your revolution through Jesus Christ. Amen.