There was once a community of frogs that lived at the bottom of a dark well from which nothing could be seen of the outside world. The frogs were ruled over by a king frog, a tyrant who lived off the work and food of the other frogs. For they spent their days and nights searching for worms and grubs in the mud and slime. These, the king frog devoured, making him fat.
From time to time, however, a stray Skylark found its way down into the well. And hovering above the frogs would sing sweetly of the world outside - of the sky and stars, of the sun and moon, of cities and countryside and of mountains and seas.
The king frog told the other frogs to listen carefully to the bird for, he said, “the lark is telling you of the happy land you go to when you die and leave this damp, dark well.” But the king frog believed the lark was mad. Gradually, other frogs, also, grew cynical about such fairy tales. And free-thinking frogs thought the bird was being used by the king frog to distract the other frogs from their misery. Then a philosopher frog said this:
“what the lark sings about it not exactly a lie, nor is it madness. Rather it is a mythological way of telling us what a splendid place we might make of this well. But we need to take our destiny into our own hands and install electric light and proper ventilation. So the song of the lark is a poetic way of saying what a wonderful life we could live down here, if we did not have, always, to provide for the king frog. Without him we would be content and free.”
So there was then a revolution. The king frog was overthrown. And the well was transformed by magnificent lighting and ventilation. However, still the skylark came down and sang the same song about the outside real world. But then the philosopher frog said this:
“Perhaps, the skylark is mad. And we have now no need of these fantasies. They have lost their social relevance.”
So, the frogs set a trap, captured the lark and killed it. They then stuffed it and put it in their newly built civic museum in the place of honour.
Heavenly, we simply pray that, by your Holy Spirit, and from your word you will teach us about the reality of Jesus Christ; and how the gospel of hope is so relevant for now. For Jesus sake. Amen.
As we conclude our studies in Colossians chapter one, this evening, I have three headings: first, The Reality of Jesus; secondly, Getting Right with God; and, thirdly, A Challenge.
1. The Reality of Jesus
That (abbreviated) fable of the Skylark and the Frogs, I first read in the 1968 book by Theodore Rosak, The Making of a Counter Culture. But it is so true to what has been happening incrementally since the founding of Jesmond Parish Church in 1861. It is certainly true since 1968 when Rosak was writing and the whole Western World started to unravel 50 years ago socially and spiritually. And particularly in terms of physical violence and sexual decadence. Too often it seems to be self-destructing by calling evil good and good evil. And people are not only denying God; they are openly playing God themselves. And it is now being called “secular paganism”.
How we need to contrast its follies with the objective truth and righteousness and true love that flows from the reality of Jesus Christ, God the Son.
And there are three realities we see in our passage and with meaning.
First is the reality of Jesus’ relationship to God his Father. For as Colossians 1.15 tells us the risen and reigning Jesus Christ …
“… is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
So, there is someone, our God, behind and in control of everything. True, no one can see him, for he is invisible. However, after centuries of preparation, a baby was born in Bethlehem, who has made the invisible God visible. And he was the heir (that is what “firstborn” here means) - the Son of God.
Secondly, there is the reality of the fact of creation.
For Paul goes on to say in verse 16:
"… by him [Jesus] 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."
That means this universe was not an accident. Of course, Jesus Christ wasn’t part of that creation, as some say. He was the creator. For “by him all things were created”, however that creation came about.
And Paul adds, something beyond our imagination,
“all things hold together in him [Jesus].”
Jesus Christ, God the Son, the second person of the divine Trinity, therefore, is not only the agent in the creation of this universe and somehow the establisher of all “thrones, or dominions, or rulers or authorities”, but also the upholder of all the regularities that enable scientific endeavours.
To repeat. This life and existence, therefore, is not all an accident or chance happening. Sadly that is commonly taught in much of our education, by implication if not intention, along with other tenets of secular paganism.
And thirdly there is the reality of the Church of God.
As verse 18 says:
“ … he [Jesus Christ] is the head of the body, the church.”
But you say, how can you believe all this? Well, Paul goes on to give the answer in verse 18. It is because Jesus …
"… is the beginning. The firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent."
So Jesus Christ our Lord is supreme “in everything” and that must include human reasoning. And it is reasonable to accept the claims of these verses, because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead leaving a tomb empty that first Easter. That was an event in history, at least. So it can be historically verified and it has been.
True, it was an event that invaded space-time history as well, which means we cannot understand it all. But it was possible, surely, as verse 19 says …
“ … in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Jesus was not a demi-god, or a half-god. No! He was fully God, as we say in the Nicene Creed – “God from God”.
So how Christian people should not apologize for the Christian faith and their commitment to Christ as Lord. It is so reasonable. It is not blind faith. Of course, it contains much we don’t understand. But God has revealed enough for us to trust and obey.
That brings us to our second heading
2. Getting Right With God
And here Paul gets very personal. He moves away from the reality of God, and the Created order, and the Church as an institution, to “you” – the people he is writing to. But also, by the providence of the Holy Spirit, that means believers today. And, note, there are past, present and future facts regarding getting right with God. Let me explain.
The past fact is that the day you were born, naturally you were morally tainted in three ways. Paul puts it like this in verse 21:
"you … once were [one] alienated and [two] hostile in mind, [and three] doing evil deeds."
One, when you were born you were “alienated”. “Alienation” is a common concept in the religion of secular paganism. Marx made it popular. He argued that workers were economically alienated from the benefits of their sweat and toil when factory owners kept the profits. This concept then in the 60s counter-culture was used of being alienated from “your true self”. But Paul sees that, behind all the other alienations, you are alienated from God, which leads to these other alienations – economic, psychological and so on.
Then, two, you were naturally “hostile in mind” (verse 21). You say, I’ve never been “hostile” to God. But are you sure you’ve never been hostile to the true God as revealed in the Bible. For the God, to whom people are usually not hostile, is a Father Christmas-like God of their own making? It is not the living God revealed to Moses in Exodus 34.6-7:
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
So, you were born alienated from God, hostile in mind, and, three, you are born naturally with a disposition that leads to “doing evil deeds” – evil defined by God’s standards and not the world’s. If we are honest, we know we are sinners.
So this is a threefold profile of every person by nature. Following the “Fall” – the sin of Adam – all start life with a handicap. That is the past fact.
But the present fact is the good news that Jesus Christ can deal with that handicap – that alienation, that hostility and the evil done and make you right with God.
Paul referred to this back in verse 20 where he said, …
“God was pleased … through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
And here in verse 22, writing to the Colossians and about their own experience now he says:
“You … 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.”
These Colossians believers are reconciled to God because of their “faith in Christ Jesus” for which Paul thanked God in verse 4 of this chapter. How does this happen? Well, verse 20 speaks of Jesus, “making peace by the blood of his cross”. Verse 22 also speaks of Jesus’ death on the Cross. Yes, Jesus’ death on the Cross again is something bigger than we can fully understand. But at least Christ was bearing the punishment for our sins on the Cross, whatever else was happening. For as Moses was told, our God “will by no means clear the guilty.”
So how we should thank Christ for enduring the dreadful pain “in his body of flesh by his death” on the Cross in your place and mine.
And that was,
“in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach [or free of every charge against you] before him [on the final judgment day]”
That is the great future fact of getting right with God. Who watching tonight has never yet trusted Christ and thanked him for dying for them, and having that assurance of being declared …
“… holy and blameless and above reproach”
at the final judgment when Christ returns? Why not do so, tonight?
But, finally, and briefly,
3. A Challenge
Paul says there is a condition to that reconciliation or getting right with God.
It is, verse 23 …
“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.”
Of course, Paul wants these Christians to be confident of their forgiveness and their assured acceptance by Christ. Paul himself was confident that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.39).
But he, himself, never presumed he was saved totally regardless of what he did.
So, verse 23, how do “you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast”? Surely, by how he goes on in verse 23 ...
“[by] 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.”
And, four things, may help:
One, regularly remind yourself of the “hope of the gospel” and so of heaven, with its assurance, and its glories and wonder and, yes, good times, with our God not a kill-joy.
Two, work now, with the Holy Spirit’s power, on being “holy and blameless and above reproach” and when you fail, regularly seek God’s forgiveness. That’s not to earn your place in heaven – Christ has earnt that place for you. But because it is God’s will and God’s will is always best.
And, three, help spread “the hope of the gospel” of Jesus, as you can, individually or helping others do so. Remember it is universal – it “has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven”. It is not just for one nation, but for all tribes, races and nations.
And it is a gospel, “of which … Paul, became a minister.”
So, four, learn from Paul, who was an eyewitness of the risen Jesus.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that by your Holy Spirit, you will hide your word in our hearts that we do not sin against you, for Jesus’ sake.