RPM, Volume 19, Number 34 August 20 to August 26, 2017

The Grateful Dead

Colossians 3:1-4

By Reverend Dr. Guy Waters

Please allow me to express my gratitude for allowing me to open the Word of God to you this evening. It is always a privilege to preach the Word of God. It is a particular privilege to preach the Word of God before this congregation of which Sarah and I have been a part now these nine years. As I travel through the state to preach and to teach and beyond, your aroma as a congregation precedes me. And it's always a treat to be able to say, "Yes, my family and I are part of this congregation, to enjoy the fellowship that we enjoy." And now as a part of that, let's turn to the Word of God together.

Our Scripture lesson tonight comes to us from the epistle of Paul to the Colossians. And as you're turning to the Scripture, let me begin with a question: What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you? What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you? I know you've thought about this a month ago on Easter, but I want you to think about it again. The trappings of Easter are behind you. What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you? If we were to poll folk in the church, you would undoubtedly find a variety of answers to that question. A large number of persons in the institutional church do not believe that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead the third day. His remains were committed to the tomb, where they decomposed and they decayed like any other body. His disciples, under the crushing disappointment of the events leading up to His death, began proclaiming that He had risen from the dead, an aspiration that somehow in some way life would triumph over death.

Then you poll folks who trust the Bible. It's historical trustworthiness they embrace unreservedly. You ask these individuals, these believers, "What does the resurrection mean?" and you'll undoubtedly hear at least one, if not two, things. The resurrection means that Jesus is the Son of God. The Father, in raising Jesus from the dead, authenticated the Son as His Prophet. And so we know that Jesus' claims to be the Son of God are in fact true. And we know that the resurrection means that believers, those who trust in Christ as He's offered in the Gospel, shall rise again bodily at the last day. When we come to our Scripture this evening, I think you'll find that the resurrection of Jesus Christ means those things, yes, but it means much more. Be thinking about that as we turn to Colossians chapter 3. We'll read the first four verses. Before we read, pray with me.

Our great God and our heavenly Father, we praise You for Your Word. We ask now, as Your Word is read and opened, that You would be pleased to grant us grace that we might hear with understanding and in hearing, to believe, and in believing to obey, to the glory of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Hear now the Word of God. Colossians chapter 3 beginning at verse 1:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Thus far, God's holy, inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word.

In this epistle of Paul to the church of Colossae, and to the church in every age, Paul's main idea is in chapter 2 verse 6. "As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him." And down through verse 15 of chapter 2, Paul unpacks what that means: the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the believer. And then in verse 16, he turns to an unpleasant but a necessary task. False teaching has made its way into the church at Colossae. Scholars pour and write many books about what this false teaching is. Paul is clear that it's not Christianity; it's not the Gospel. It is an enslaving religion; it is a fleshly religion. It rises no higher than the earth. Say what you will about these false teachers, they had a comprehensive plan to the Christian life. And Paul is concerned, you see, not simply to critique the false teachers, that is to say, where they've gone wrong, he has to show that the Gospel is better. It's the old adage — you'll never get a man off a sinking vessel, unless you persuade him that the one you're on is sounder.

And that's what Paul is about here in chapter 3. So Paul gives us, you see, a sweeping vision for the Christian life. The false teachers, he says in verse 19, they are "severed from Christ the head." But believers, we have been "raised with Christ," verse 1. We have "died with Christ," verse 3. Our lives are "hidden with Christ in God," verse 3. Christ "is our life." The false teachers, Paul says in chapter 2 verse 20, are "stuck in the mire of the world." Christian, you're in heaven — chapter 3 verse 1 and following. You have been raised with Christ. Your home is in heaven. The false teachers are telling you, Christian, to get from the world to heaven without Christ. And Paul says, "Christian, you're already in heaven and you are living out this heavenly life in this world where God has called you to be." And you see how Paul's vision for the Christian life is comprehensive. It is past, it is present, and it is future. "You have been raised with Christ," verse 1 — there's your past. "Your life is hidden with God in Christ," verse 3 — there's your present. "When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also shall appear with Him in glory," — there's your future.

And do you see how this all hinges on the resurrection? "Raised with Christ," again our past; our life is now "hidden with God in Christ," the present; "we shall see," Paul says, "Christ our life appear," verse 4 — there's our future. You see what the Scripture is saying to you and to me this evening? Before Paul goes on and spells out the particulars of Christian living, he says, "You first must be a Christian, yes, but there's something you have to know about what it means to be a Christian. You have an identity as a believer that's all your own. And if you're going to live the Christian life well, you have to know who you are in Christ and who you are in Christ is — you have been raised with Him." I want you to think about that with me tonight. I want you to look at the resurrection and your past, the resurrection and your present, and the resurrection and your future.

The resurrection and your past

First, the resurrection and the believer's past. Now the Scripture is adamant here as elsewhere that Jesus died and rose again, bodily, in history. Paul has stressed that in chapter 2. He has died on the cross; God raised Him from the dead. We know these are facts. The Gospel stands or falls with them. Rudolph Bultmann, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century — I wish his influence were some measure of his soundness, his orthodoxy; it's not. He said, "If the bones of the dead Jesus were discovered tomorrow in a Palestinian tomb, all the essentials of Christianity would remain unchanged." That is not true. If the bones of Jesus were discovered in a Palestinian tomb and that claim were authenticated, then the last thing you and I need to be doing is to come here on a Sunday night to do what we're doing. Go shopping, go play golf, go be with your grandkids — do anything except be here. Because, as Paul wrote the Corinthians, "if Christ be not raised, your faith is futile." He's raised. God raised Him from the dead, and on these facts we stake our lives and our future.

But more than that, "Jesus," Scripture said, "died and rose again for the believer." Because Jesus died on the cross, chapter 2 verse 13, God has forgiven us all our trespasses. Not some, but all. God raised Him from the dead and we have been raised with Him. We live because He lives. His life, His resurrection life, is our life. How is this ours? It is ours, Scripture says, in union with Jesus Christ. We have been united to Him by the Spirit and through faith. And we share in the dead and in the resurrection of Jesus. So Paul has said in chapter 2 verse 12, "we were buried with Him," as though we were buried in the tomb of Jesus. And then in verse 13 of that chapter, you were raised with Him through faith. "You have been raised with Christ," verse 1. And what does that mean? Well Paul spells it out elsewhere in Romans chapter 6. But it means this — Christian, you are no longer in bondage to sin. You are no longer under its dominion. You are now alive to God. You are enslaved to righteousness.

So the resurrection and your past - why is this so important for you to know? Why does Paul lead his exposition of the Christian life with this, pressing on the believer how important it is to know who we are in Christ? So you understand, I hope, the Gospel and your justification, that you, Christian, putting your trust in the Savior alone have been fully pardoned of all your sins, accepted and accounted as righteous in His sight, clothed with righteousness divine. But have you thought about your Christian life? Your day to day living, as part of the Gospel? You see, the Scripture does not want you to come away saying, "Well, God has forgiven me my sins, He has clothed me in the righteousness of His Son, and so my Christian living is what I do in my unaided response. God did so much for me and now I'm going to have to do this much for Him." Paul is saying, "Your sanctification, Christian, your day to day Christian living, is part of the Christian Gospel. It is the gracious work of God in you and for you. Yes, you play a necessary role to work out your salvation with fear and with trembling, but how did God find you? He found you when you were dead and He made you alive so that if anyone be in Christ, behold, a new creation."

How do you live with that sense of wonder? Did you wake up this morning and look in the mirror and say, "I am a resurrected person"? You probably didn't. We don't feel this way. Paul is saying, "It doesn't matter, Christian, if you feel this way. This is who you are. You have a new home." Warfield recounts that the wonder — and perhaps you've seen this, that recent immigrants of this country have the privilege that it is to live and be part of this nation, the United States. You've met, I'm sure, immigrants who have left places of tyranny and of bondage and they've come and they are enjoying the freedoms that are ours in this nation. And Paul is saying, "Christian, you have experienced a freedom far transcendent in the Gospel. And what that means is that you live the Christian life with confidence. We have been raised by the powerful working of God, and that same power," Paul says, "is at work in us now." How does Paul pray? How does Paul pray for the Colossian believers in chapter 1 verse 11? "May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy." The very power that raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in you, Christian.

Now I think we often get the downsides to the Christian life. We understand the persistence of sin. You understand, don't you, the shortcomings of your Christian life, your failings. You resonate with that lovely phrase in the Book of Common Prayer, "we are miserable offenders," and that's true. But do you also understand that in Christ, you are raised from the dead, spiritually raised from the dead even now, so that you are dead to the bondage of sin and you are alive to God in Christ?

My former professor of theology, Sinclair Ferguson, puts it this way — You remember the story of the ugly duckling. You've heard the story of the ugly duckling and this poor little bird who is teased by all the other ducklings growing up. He doesn't look like a duck, he doesn't do very duckish the resurrection and your present h things, and he's mocked and he's ostracized until one day, you know the end of the story, he's a glorious swan. He was never a duck! He was a swan, this glorious creature, so much greater than the duck. And he goes on, Dr. Ferguson to say, that so many Christians live the Christian life like that ugly duckling when they're not ducklings at all, they're swans through the Gospel. You see, Scripture is saying, Christian, that there is a divine power at work in you to strengthen you and to motivate you to live your Christian life. Now understand this is not wishful thinking. This isn't Paul saying, "Just think it and it may be so." Wouldn't it be great if?

I've watched I don't know how many hours of children's television programming in my short tenure as a parent. And one great theme in these programs that you've undoubtedly come across that's being drilled into children, just a very little, is that you can be anything that you want. You can be anything that you want if you just put your mind to it. You know it doesn't take long before we grow up and we realize that that's just not true. I discovered that I was never going to be a physician when I was seventeen. My blood was drawn, I thought I'd take a peek at the blood, and put it to you this way — I was just glad to walk out not having lost consciousness in the doctor's office! Providence confirmed that I was not going to go the route of medicine. You can't be anything that you want to be if you put your mind to it.

That's not what Scripture's saying. This, Christian, is true of you because Jesus has died and is raised and you have been united to Him by the grace of God. The Spirit has united you to Jesus Christ through faith and there is power at work in you to live this Christian life, to subdue sin, and to present yourselves as instruments of righteousness. When you're tempted, Christian - and temptation comes on in different ways. Sometimes it's those sudden fiery darts that the devil lobs at you and they come out of nowhere. And then other times, the temptation is a steady pressure, you know, the way the rivers are pressing on these levees now and the massive weight and pressure on these levees. Sometimes temptation comes in and crushes us and crushes us and won't let go. What do you do? Well, you start here. You say, "I'm not the person I once was, by the grace of God. I am in Christ. I am no longer bound to the dominion of sin. Through Christ, I can put up a fight. The very power that made Christ alive from the dead, this power is at work in me." That's where you start, Christian.

The resurrection and your present

But then Paul continues. There's the resurrection in your past and then there's the resurrection and your present. What does it mean for me in the here and now as a Christian, that I am spiritually raised with Christ? And the Scripture puts it in two commands. You find them in verse 1 and then verse 2 — "seek" and "set." "Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God." Verse 2 — "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Well what's all this business about things above and things on earth? Well you know, to many, in the history of the church this has suggested the life of the monastery, the life of the nunnery, the ascetic life, the hermetic life — that's the Christian life. Some of you may have come across the new film by Xavier Beauvois, Of God's and Men. It features a group of monks, and Cistercian monks in Algeria, and a number them were tragically kidnapped and brutally murdered by their Muslim neighbors. It's a gripping film, I'm told. But one reviewer, tipping his Roman Catholic cards, said of this monastic life, "This is the essence of the Christian life. Ah, to withdraw, to contemplate — that's the Christian life."

That's not what Scripture says, because if you look down to verse 5, the things we are to put to death are your members that are on earth — sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry. To set your mind on things that are above and not on things that are on earth is to pursue holiness, but you see how Paul goes on in verse 18. What is the life of setting your mind on things above? It's the life of the boardroom; it's the life of the kitchen; it's the life of the ball field; it's not the sequestered, monastic life. Paul goes even deeper. Yes, it's a call to holiness, but where are the things above? They are where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Christ rules - His authority over all things as our mediator; His supreme Lordship. So when you seek the things that are above, you are seeking what is pleasing to Christ, what exalts His Lordship, what Christ approves, what promotes fellowship and communion with Christ. And we're to seek it. We're to seek hard after it.

Does that strike you as a little odd? You know normally we look for things that we don't have. I live in a household of five people. We do a lot of seeking. Things get lost. I'm as guilty as anyone else, I'm not pointing fingers, but we have to do a lot of looking for things that are lost to find them. There's a lot of seeking in the Waters' household. That's not the kind of seeking you're called to do, Christian. You don't seek what you don't have, you seek what you already have. You have Christ, now run hard after Him because He's yours in the Gospel. We're to seek Him. What does that look like? Verse 2 - you "set your minds on things that are above." You think about Him, you set your mind on Him, and when you set your mind on Him, as He is revealed in the Word, then you've begun the work of seeking Christ and the things that are above.

Richard Sibbes observed many years ago that God has so created this world that His creatures live and flourish in a sphere and in an environment. Fish have their water; you and I have air to breathe. I can remember as a boy when the first images of the Voyager were starting to come back and we were seeing these crisp pictures — they seemed crisp at the time — of the outer solar system - all of these planets and all of these satellites. You know, there are dozens of them. You and I wouldn't live for five seconds on a one of them. This planet is the place that God has crafted and adapted for our life and wellbeing. And you know, Paul is saying to you, Christian, you have a sphere where your life flourishes, and that sphere is in heaven and that sphere heaven is not a place you are not in presently, it is a place where you already are. As Sibbes puts it, "Heaven is begun here or else never begun." And so are you heavenly minded? That's the question the Scripture puts before you and me this evening. Not, "Have you retreated from the world monastically?" but "Is Christ first in your life — His prerogatives, His glory, His commands, His priorities, His approval? Is that reigning supremely in your life? Is it your desire to bring that to bear in the whole of your day to day living? Are you seeking Christ?" You know, that begins with the mind. It doesn't end there but it begins with the mind.

I'm preaching to the proverbial choir this evening. You have come on a holiday weekend to hear the preaching of the Word on a Sunday night and that is a wonderful thing, but I want to know what has brought you here this evening. Sometimes it is habit and custom, and habit and custom are not bad in themselves, but is it only habit and custom that has brought you to sit under the ministry of the Word or have you come to hear the Word of God, to commune with your Savior, to leave this place resolved to live under His Lordship, to honor Christ in your thinking and in the whole of life?

The resurrection and your future

Third and finally, the resurrection and your future. Christian, you're alive in Christ, but you haven't begun to live. There is more to come, because, verse 4, "when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." Your life now, Christian, is a hidden life. What does it mean that your life is hidden? It means a couple of things. First, Scripture is saying your life is secure. Your life is safe. You know, we do that. Things that are precious and valuable to us, we tuck away, we hide away in safe places. Scripture is saying to you, "Whatever you lose in this life — things, your loved ones, your body to disease, your mind to dementia, your life is hidden with God in Christ." Christian, you cannot lose it. The life that you have now, Christian, is unseen. It's veiled from the eyes of the flesh. We carry around now in our body the death of Jesus. Our outer nature is wasting away even as our inward nature is being renewed day by day. But then, Christ our life will appear and we shall appear with Him in glory. That eternal weight of glory — perfect, conformity after the moral image of Jesus Christ, our bodies made like to His resurrection body.

What does this have to say to us this evening? You understand, believer, the privilege that's yours in Christ. You know, Adam had life and Adam lost that life. He lost it through sin. Believer, you have life in Christ. Not a day goes by when you don't sin, as Billy Joseph reminded us just now, when God might not on just grounds say, "You have forfeited your life," but God is never going to do that Christian, to you, because He has said, "Your life is secure in My sight." But you know that ought to humble you every day of your life. You have done nothing to earn this life. Day by day, your track record, demerits this life, but God has said, "In My grace, this life is yours and I will not take it away." What a privilege.

But then, what an encouragement. Do you know where Paul is writing this letter? He is not under a beach umbrella under the French Riviera having sandwiches and drinks brought to him by a steward. The closing verse of this letter is, "Remember my chains." Paul is in a Roman prison, and I don't have to tell you, ancient prisons were not nice places to be. And Paul is saying in all this, "My hope, it's not vested in this world. My hope is in Christ." Do you see the confidence this gives to the Christian in trial? Paul knows that whatever happens comes from the hand of his heavenly Father, and he knows that God is doing this — whatever comes into his life — to draw him closer to and to conform him after the image of His Son. There may be something in your life this evening that you just cannot fathom and your calling by faith is to look to the good hand of your Father, Christian, and by faith to say that, "My Father has brought this into my life that I might be more like Christ and my destiny is sure."

But then, what a call. How do you know if this glory and this life is yours? What is your hope of glory? It is Christ in you. It is Christ in you. Is this resurrection life in you now and is it bearing the fruit? Go on and read in verse 5 and following. Is it bearing this fruit? Because if Christ is not in you, then you are spiritually dead and you are justly subject to God's everlasting punishment and wrath for your sins. And there is nothing that you can do to make yourself alive. But there's One who can, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was dead and is alive evermore and holds the keys of Hades and of death. And if you don't know Him, He bids you come. Cast yourself onto His mercies, turn from your sins, trust wholly in His merits, and friends, witness the powerful working of God.

So what does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you? If you're a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, every day is resurrection day. It is your past, it is your present, and it is your future, through Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Let us pray.

Our great God and our heavenly Father, we do rejoice that You have raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. We rejoice that He is at Your right hand, seated in glory where He ever lives to make intercession for us and we rejoice as many of us have put our trust in Him that we shall see Him at the end of the age. Our Father, we pray that these truths given to us in the Gospel would so enter our minds and through our minds our hearts, that they would take root and that they would bear fruit in the whole of our lives. Oh Father, may we leave this place and demonstrate the beauty and the joy that it is to serve this Lord who has loved us and given Himself for us. It's in His precious name that we pray. Amen.

Please rise for the benediction.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all both now and forevermore. Amen.

©2013 First Presbyterian Church.

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