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Ben Fleming: The Exalted Christ, Colossians 1:1-14

July 24, 2023

Audio Recording

Paul is imprisoned and writes a letter to a group he has never met and a church he did not found. The church is going well, but experiencing cultural pressure. Paul gives two prayers to the church: 1. Grow in wisdom & understanding. 2. A poem about the Messiah.

Jesus Above All
Jesus Above All
Ben Fleming: The Exalted Christ, Colossians 1:1-14
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Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

00:06 We're starting a new sermon series today on Colossians, the book of Colossians. We're gonna start at the front and we're gonna slowly make our way all the way to the back. And I love series like this because you really get to delve deep into the text, not just kind of flying by and finding, finding some decent inspirational scriptures, but instead going far deeper all the way into starting with the context of the letter. Now, context is really important. I'll give you a for instance. This last week or the last two weeks, I heard this one phrase in a couple different situations and this phrase is, hurry up. Okay. The first one, I was down in California with, my, my kids and my wife. And we were going to a hockey tournament for my son. My son is eight, and we took him to LA for a hockey tournament.

00:57 Why? Because I'm a sucker , okay? Just, we'll just name it right now. And we went down and we, we had to do a few things for my daughter along the way because as much as she loves hanging out next to hockey rinks for 12 hours a day, my six year old daughter Jovi, so, she got a day at Disneyland, and then we all as a family decided to go to the Knottsberry Farm water park for a day as well. And so we went and Jovi loves water so much, and as we're walking through the parking lot, she sees the gates, she goes, hurry up dad. And I'm carrying some of this stuff. And I'm like, oh, it just, it kind of sounds like summer, to be honest with you. You know, hurry up, dad, let's go. We're gonna, oh, it's gonna be so much fun.

01:36 It's this attitude and excitement and, you know, so that was a very sweet, sweet thing. But also while we were down there, we were staying in Anaheim. The games were in Irvine, and my son had a 6:30 AM game one of these days. Yeah, yeah. So my wife and I get up early, we're getting stuff ready. Joel, my son is awake early because he always wakes up early. But Jovi, my daughter, is like me in that the morning can just cease to exist and we would be far happier. I, we get 'em all up, we get 'em ready, get to go out, ready to go out to the car, can't find the keys. And my son's a goalie and it's difficult to win hockey games without a goalie. And so it comes up to the point where it's about a 23 minute drive from Anaheim to Irvine to the rinks that we're trying to go to, that I text the people about 25 minutes before the game starts and I say, Hey, I can't find the keys. They're the, his gears locked in this car, this rental car that we have. And shockingly, two minutes later, dude, a little bit of help, we find the keys, we bust it out to the car, and I get onto the interstate as fast as I can. I fly over to the carpool lane. I am driving this crappy little rental car as fast as it can go in a very unsafe fashion. And what do I get is text messages from people that I thought were friends saying, you need to hurry.

02:56 Oh, thank you. Hey Siri, ask them what they want from Starbucks.

03:05 Don't you dare tell me now. I am well aware of the situation. I am stressed and I am panicked, and now I'm angry. You know, he pull up, he made it with 20 seconds to spare. It was a miracle. Two different reactions from the same statement. You need to hurry up. Why did I have two different reactions? Well, when I heard those words matters, who those words came from mattered as well. And so when it comes to the Bible, really as a whole, and not just as, not just for the sake of Colossians, every time we jump into this stuff, it's so important to understand who is writing this, when is it being written? What's happening in the culture right at that moment? Otherwise, we end up with this really shallow view of scripture. We're essentially, we're perusing through the text and we look, we're looking for inspirational ideas or something that we can get tattooed on us, that that sounds right and feels good and might be the nature of God, but we miss out on the richness and the depth of the text by not understanding the deeper context of what's going on.

04:13 So specifically in Colossians, this is written by the Apostle Paul as much of the New Testament is, and he's writing this in 61 or 62 ad from prison in Ephesus. Now he writes a few letters while he's in prison. We won't go into all that until we hit those other series, but he's writing to a people in Colossi that have gone through a lot. Now in a D 17 colossi is hit by an earthquake that almost overturns the entire city, but then they slowly build it up brick by brick until again, an earthquake hits in a D 60 just a little bit before this letter was written itself. And not only has earthquake caused tremendous trauma for this city and difficulty, but now the Romans who once created a lot of prosperity in Colossi through the consumption and the creation of Colossian wool, they were an expert producer of wool and colossi.

05:08 Now, the Romans have actually built a new highway that does not connect to Colossae. It bypasses them. So this is a group of people that have experienced an intense amount of natural disaster, which especially in this time, created a lot of superstitious communities. So not only is this a difficult thing that's happened to us, this earthquake, but now we have to understand why. And with all of the gods and ideas of religions and spirituality, everyone is slowly trying to piece together a reason why they have been hit the way that they have been hit. So add in the natural disaster with the economic downturn. And you've got a lot of interesting philosophies about humanity and of course, who God is or who the gods are. In the middle of this difficult and desperate time, a church emerges. Now, this isn't that long after the death and the resurrection of Jesus, but these people through epirus, have heard of the gospel of Jesus and they've created a church themself.

06:08 Now, Paul hasn't planted this church himself. He actually hasn't visited the church himself, but he writes to them because he sees something in them that is so valuable and important and so Jesus, and this is how he does it in Colossians chapter one, verse one. Now, before we jump into that text, the overarching idea of not just this chapter, but of the entire book, the letter is to keep Jesus as the focal point. Now, let me show you this picture of, the room that the Mona Lisa is in at the Louv. Okay? Have any of you guys ever visited the Mona Lisa or been in the Louvre? Yeah, so you guys are gonna know what this is like. So there's this room in which the painting hangs, and you would notice that there are other pieces along the wall. Everyone is there to look at one thing.

06:59 The rest of it is nice. I'm sure it's valuable, I'm sure it's okay. But everyone that walks into this room is trying to get in line as quickly as possible to get as close as they can to this painting. The idea that Paul is trying to create for the church in Colossae is that their lives would look like this room when it comes to focus on Jesus with all the earthquakes, natural disasters and philosophies. There's a lot of teachers and things trying to present them with an idea that maybe Jesus is good and maybe this gospel is okay, but you probably should add additional things to it in order to have all your bases covered. It wasn't necessarily always an attack on the Christian Church. It was your thing is fine, but it needs to have all of these other religions attached to it as well.

07:44 The focal point, Paul would contend needs to be on Jesus in order for this church and this gospel to last and flourish as much as it can. So Colossians chapter one, verse one says, this letter is from Paul chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. And from our brother Timothy, we're waiting, we're writing to God's holy people in the city of Colossae who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. May God our father give you grace and peace. So Paul starts off with a statement of faith and grace as well. I have never known, maybe you have known a church in which everyone inside of it exists as faithful brothers and sisters. Some of your translations might even say saints. Now this would've been read aloud to this church. They would've heard that this letter of Paul would come and the pastor or some of the leaders and teachers would say, everyone come. We're gonna listen to this message from Paul. And Paul begins with this incredible grace filled greeting. You are all saints and faithful bre. And now I could imagine as people are listening to this letter, they're looking around and going, I don't know if you met Jimmy, though, not a saint. You know what I'm saying? Jimmy's got problems and Jimmy's looking at them and going, you are my problems.

09:04 But Paul, knowing the heart of God speaks this statement of faith and grace over them. And then in verse three says, we always pray for you. We give thanks to God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we've heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God's people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the good news. The same good news that came to you as going out all over the world is bearing fruit everywhere, by changing lives just as it changed your lives from the day that you first heard and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace. You learned about the good news from EPIs, our beloved coworker, he is Christ's faithful servant and he is helping us on your behalf.

09:48 He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you. So in the middle of all this turmoil and colossae all these different ideologies and philosophies and religions, Paul makes the decision to provide encouragement right off the bat, not just with a greeting about faithful brothers and sisters, but about a movement that has shown the fruit of the gospel in the form of the incredible love that God has given us. Now, fruit means a lot to Paul, which is a, a weird thing to just say out loud. fruit means a lot to Ben, pineapple and in Jesus' name.

10:31 But Paul, of course, is a Old Testament scholar, what we would call the Old Testament. It's really the Jewish scriptures and fruit, the conversation of fruit with anybody that would know. The conversation goes back to the, the Garden of Eden. And many things are compared to the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of life and the tree of death, essentially. And he's speaking to them as though they are creating fruit that comes from the tree of life. And Paul would famously in one Corinthians 13, go on to describe the, the fruit of the spirit. It's love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And he is telling them, and it means a lot to him again, that you are evidence of what love can do because it generates all these things. And I have heard about this incredible movement from these other servants that work with both of us.

11:21 Now, this is important because it would've been tempting for Paul to jump into the letter and instead of just encouraging them in the things that they're already doing, it would've been tempting to jump in and say, now I have heard who your enemies are and here's how we will crush them. These people with empty philosophies. And he talks about being blown about by every wind of doctrine, but it's not this offensive of how we can take down the other people. Instead, it's an encouragement that they would continue to cultivate this garden of love that they, they have created in a difficult situation in Colossae. Now, maybe you need some of this encouragement today. I've recently restarted, therapy. Now therapy's a lot like CrossFit. If you start it, you tell somebody and then you tell 'em a lot. You know, everyone you know that does CrossFit has told you already. I will tell you that , everyone that is in therapy has probably told you that as well, started therapy. It's amazing. Went once feeling better.

12:23 But I I love therapy. Love my therapist. They say that too. And, and I started going and the the first conversation that we had, I described this fear about becoming this kind of person that I've been afraid of becoming for quite a while now, several years, and how that's had an impact on my life. And we're about eight sessions in, and we get back to almost this exact same conversation where I'm describing being fearful because of some of these actions that I've taken or things that I've said that I'm becoming this person that I'm so afraid of becoming therapist stop. And she said it just slow down. What if I told you that based on the conversations that we've had, that everything that you're afraid of, you have absolutely not become that person and you will not become that person. And it just started weeping.

13:14 I mean, that was the the thing, the crux of the whole thing. Sometimes we get so caught up in the fear about the mistakes that we've made or the person that we're afraid of becoming, that we forget that there's fruit that's being born in the middle of this struggle and this difficulty. And so again, Paul, instead of identifying the enemies or calling this church on the carpet for maybe listening to some empty philosophy, he ghosts them. And he says, there is fruit that is being created by this beautiful movement that you have. And I could imagine as a leader who maybe is heard of Paul, a pastor, the people in there who are wondering if they're headed in the right direction to receive a letter in which Paul is going, this is incredible. You're doing it. I know you don't feel like it all the time and this is a struggle in so many ways, but man, this love that's being produced, this patience that's being produced, how you're changing the lives of the people in your city is so inspiring.

14:10 I just had to to write and encourage you to go for it even more. I wanna tell you today, for those of you who find yourselves toiling in a job or in a position or station of life than you're wondering if anything good is coming from, and I believe that God, that Paul would come and tell you the same thing that might, it might come in tears that you might feel like it's a difficult thing. But if this love is being produced, if some patience is being produced, it doesn't matter if the money has been produced yet, it doesn't matter if all of that good vibes and feeling is have been produced, yet you are doing an incredible work for the sake of Christ and for the sake of yourself and those around you. And that is a beautiful thing to be celebrated. So let's not discount those of you who are teachers in the room who are participating in our school system.

14:57 And maybe you feel like so many things are coming against you, but you continue to do the hard work that God has called you to do. Be encouraged today. Those of you who in jobs that feel like you get forgotten or you get walked over, continue to do this work with the love of Jesus in your heart and you are doing the work of God today. It's not about this perfect result or this idea that we often perceive as success. Instead, Paul would write to you and he would say to you, this saints and the faithful brethren who are churning up love and grace and mercy and forgiveness in your context, continue to do so with all of the love of Christ. Amen. Paul is trying to get at this idea that we don't serve a diminished Christ or a a partial Christ, a Christ that can't get the job done so that we need to add things to our spirituality in order to close the circle. Jesus plus something will finally get you to the place that you need to arrive to. And Paul is saying, you guys are working with just the focal point on Christ and that is the way,

16:08 But it's not just this one moment of bearing fruit, it's not just this one time of inspiration. A lot of times we look for those things in church and that's not necessarily a bad thing, an inspiration, a kickoff, a start, an excitement. But Paul is interested in a church that will last beyond that. And so he goes to describe in verse nine, he says, so we haven't stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. And then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord. And your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. And all the while you will grow. As you learn to know God better and better, we also pray that you'll be strengthened with all of his glorious power, so that you will have the endurance and the patience that you need.

16:55 May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people who live in the light, for he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his dear son who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. So Paul is describing the gospel and now the need for a depth of it in order to create what? Endurance and patience come on. For those of you who are single and looking for something, God wants to create some endurance and patience for those of you who are parenting young children, for those of you who are parenting old children, endurance and patience. For those of you feel like you're in a dead end job and wondering what to do next, endurance and patience. Well, how do we get there? It's with this depth of understanding, it's a depth of love of Christ, starts with wisdom and understanding.

18:00 I, I use this illustration in the first service and I realize I dropped my wedding ring in a lake, okay? my marriage is good. All right? It was very good. I heard a passive comment from someone after life service and I was like, I talked about online dating apps and I don't have a ring on. I am good. Okay? Yeah, she is stuck with me forever, cuz she's the best. She is a traveling nurse. So she's not always here on Sundays all day. I don't have to explain my personal life to you, . Geez, my gosh. Look, when I swim, I play with my, it's a mistake, it's a problem. I gotta get rid of the habit.

18:38 I, I have, I have, I have friends that use online dating apps, right? Geez. And, , and by the way, this isn't gonna be some commentary on the evils of online dating or anything like that. I don't, this church has been weird in the past about online dating. So you find someone online, amazing. God bless you, that's gonna be awesome. You wanna be single for the rest of your life? Amazing. God bless you, that's gonna be awesome. but I have some friends that have described their online dating app experience to me. And I gotta be honest with you, if you are walking through this right now yourself, it sounds like so much work. You guys you gotta like find a picture yourself. I was scrolling through some of these profiles. I I was like, these people I think hired a professional photographer for this app.

19:25 And then you gotta like write a little biography about yourself. And some are big and some are small, and then there's like a photo album they can go through and it links to your Instagram. And then some people have music on their app. You know, it sounds like MySpace to me, but whatever. And you can check out what kind of music that they like. And there's, and then there's certain ways you kind of dance and talk to each other in the dm, then how the first date goes. And, all you poor ladies are like, I have to have five of my friends track my location when I go on these first dates. I'm like, what? This is horrifying. I never wanna do this. I got married at 22 and that was really hard and I don't want those first couple years of marriage back, but man, I didn't have to do this.

20:08 And in talking to my friends, they're like, and yeah, and part of the problem is that while we are often interested not in, in really finding somebody, not everybody treats the app necessarily that way. And so now not only are you sifting through even somebody that I might have a connection with, but you're sifting through people that are maybe more serious or less serious. And I said, these are the people that have learned how to use the app so well. They are experts on what kind of language to use and how to present themselves online maybe in a, a dishonest way even a lot of times. And you have to watch out for these kinds of people. You gotta step over these landmines, so to speak if you're serious. And I was like, man, fascinating that we have people that have become online dating experts.

20:56 And I'm going, are you an expert if you never really arrive at like the destination? Or maybe we just have a different idea of what destination means, you know? And I think sometimes we can treat the church in this way too. And Paul is trying to encourage people away from this. He's saying, look, I, I know that you can show up and you can maybe even worship and you can participate in some of the programs and you can receive some inspiration and all that. But the end goal of this entire thing, the place that we're trying to learn and love and minister from is this deep focused love on Jesus Christ. We are trying to fall in love here. We're not trying to play games with some mo foe MySpace way down the, the tracks. You know what I'm saying? We're not here for biographies and dms. Instead, we're about this real true deep connection with Jesus Christ. We're not here to play church. We're not here to go through the motions and have the best music or the good vibes. Now I chose this church because I really like the lighting that just stop it. Speaker 5

21:53

21:57 Environments and all that stuff is great, but we are trying to create a life for each and every single one of us that is so deeply in love with Jesus, that these fruit of the spirit then come forward from that. And that way we don't just handle the good times really well or the full churches really well, or the well put together programs really well in the Bible studies. Instead, we can handle deep sorrow. We can handle incredible financial success as individuals and collectively we can handle the ups and downs of life. Why? Because our relationship with Christ looks like the Mona Lisa. It's sitting right there as the focal point of the centerpiece of the room. And there is a depth there where we're not just looking to play church and play around, but instead we are looking for this incredible deep connection with Jesus. That is what creates endurance and patience. The wisdom and understanding that comes from seeking after the Lord as a centerpiece of our life and not just a side mission.

22:58 And then Paul finishes up that piece, and I'll read it again in verse 13. This is the gospel in travel form. He says, for he's rescued us from the kingdom of darkness, he's transferred us into the kingdom of his dear son who purchased notice the past tense that already happened. Yeah. Who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Now we can experience endurance and patience through the wisdom of the understand and the understanding of knowing what God has already done. Christ is a vessel. God pours all of his fullness into this vessel and we are invited to swim in and experience and be covered by Christ. The fullness of humanity is invited into this place and that disciples to salvation. We're gonna go to John chapter four here as we close. And I want to talk about this fullness of humanity.

24:02 I want you to understand that all of you as we delve into this focal point of Christ, is welcome into the presence of God. I was hanging out at our church, picnic last week with somebody and we were playing corn hole and he was describing a little bit of his life experience to me. And, he's talking about overcoming addiction and repairing these pieces with his family and children and ministering in these ways and growing in these ways and trying in these ways. And it was the most beautiful, incredible story I've ever heard, especially I've ever heard over a game of corn hole. You know, and he finishes all that up though, this, this kinda long storytelling with he says. And so now I've gotten here, I think he met at West Side and he was like, and I'm, I'm hoping that I can really start my discipleship journey. And I was like, no. I was scared of him, you know, messed up. he wasn't on my team. So it was good. And I'm going, what? Start now as if you haven't been along this road for who knows how long, man, it's so tempting to feel like some, at some point I'm really gonna jump into this Jesus thing.

25:25 I gotta tell you, just, even just the agreement to be here this morning and to listen to someone like me and have a desire, even in a small way, to want to pursue this life of Jesus. Man, you are, you're on this trip. Discipleship doesn't just start someday for you, all of your humanity, all of your past and present and future, all your thoughts and mistakes and victories, all of this is welcome into the presence of God. So don't think, well, I'll get that endurance and that patience through someday gaining this understanding of wisdom. Paul, again, is inviting us into this life with somebody who has already purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. And this is a good illustration of it in John chapter four. And I'm gonna read it from the message translation. It says, Jesus is, is talking to this Samaritan woman. This is kind of a famous story. So Jesus goes to this, well, all the disciples take off. And he finds this woman who's out in the middle of the day on her own and Jesus is like, huh, middle of the day, all on your own. I gotta believe that people don't really like you around here. And so he talks with her and sure enough, she's a little bit of an outcast cuz she's been, she's had difficult romantic relationships. She's had five different marriages. And

26:45 You know, for a long, long time I read this as you know, she messed around five times with different guys. But in this culture, if you were divorced that many times, it was almost always because the dude had other plans. So this broken person who's received this bad reputation, maybe it's fair or not, I mean, it's to the point where at the end of the story, the disciples come back and they're like, Jesus, you should not be talking to this person. But he takes her through this, he, he prophesies over her and then they start talking theology because she believes that he's somebody that might be a prophet. And then Jesus is talking about worship and he says it's, it's who you are in the way that you live that count before God. You must worship, you must, you must you. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is looking out for. Those who are simply and honestly themselves before him and their worship God is sheer being itself spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of the very being their spirits, their true selves in adoration.

27:52 See? See he says as he talks about this full humanity simply and honestly themselves in their worship. Then in verse 25, the woman says, well maybe a lot of us would say, I don't know about all that, but I do know the Messiah is coming. And when he arrives, we'll get the whole story. I just, I'm believing, I think there's just a lot of people in here right now that find yourself in the position of this Samaritan woman. You know all the answers, you know the philosophy and the theology. You can even sit down with somebody and have a conversation that sounds like this. But it ends up with, I know someday something good's gonna happen. I don't know about all of this kind of stuff, but maybe someday. And what she doesn't even realize is that the whole time she's been sitting next to the one that she hopes comes and arrives, and Jesus says, in this powerful moment, I am Him. I said, Jesus, you don't have to wait any longer and you don't have to look any further for a church in Colossae that is hearing all these philosophies and theologies that you should have Jesus. And that's fine, but you need to add all of these other things on top as well to make this life complete. Jesus is saying, I am him.

29:21 Don't look any farther and don't wait any longer. I'm on. There's somebody in here today, at least one person. And if it's just one, it's worth all the preaching that is waiting and you're waiting to feel loved. Speaker 6

29:43 You're

29:44 Waiting to feel valued. You're waiting to feel like you belong. And Jesus invites all of humanity to be honestly yourself in his presence and worship. This is the journey of discipleship in and of itself. And you guys, we do this to people, we do this, honestly, I joked about it a few times today, but I'm serious. We do this to single people all the time. You seeing anybody? When are you gonna get married? Oh, you got married? Were you gonna have kids? And we have these continuing conversations. It's like, when will you arrive at the point where you are gonna find the most value? Because we've got plans for you man. Parents with kids are fantastic. They're like, oh, I'm exhausted. It's terrible, it's crazy. Little Johnny drives me absolutely nuts. So when are you having kids? They're a beautiful dream from Jesus. Speaker 6

30:37 ,

30:39 Shut up. You know, man, some of you're single in here and you're going, I'm waiting for this marital status to arrive me at this place where I have value. You're waiting for a certain amount of success. You're waiting. Maybe you've gotten all the success that you've ever dreamed of, but you're waiting from a word, from a father or a mother or a person of authority that you have in your life to assign you this specific kind of success and belonging. And I gotta tell you today, the Church of Colossi, the woman at the well stop waiting.

31:10 Jesus is here right now. The grace is being poured out right now is forgiveness is for you right now. That all thing is through him and for him. And without him, nothing was made that has been made. That everything is with intention and purpose. And you have found yourself right now in the presence and the position of being a loved child of God. And nobody can take that position away from you. We're not starting a discipleship journey someday. We're not waiting and hoping for the time to be right and for us to have the right vibes and the right feelings in the church. Instead, God has arrived for us here now and in this day. And so matter hell or high water, no matter rain or sunny Central Oregon Day, we can celebrate and find ourselves loved by Jesus Christ himself because he sits next to us. So I want you to change this question that is tempting for all of us to ask. When is God gonna show up? I want you to change that question to where did I see God today? Cause it's happening. It's all around us. And if we allow ourselves to center our room, our lives, our hearts, our minds, and our souls on the Mona Lisa, on Jesus Christ is the center. I promise you'll see and hear from God in ways that you never have before.