I’m going to invite you to the book of Colossians 2. This is we’re going to be today. Here’s my hope and prayer for us, as we’ve had opportunities to sing music in worship to the Lord, as we open up the text of God’s word, I pray our hearts continue in worship. Colossians 1 and 2, these portions of scripture, there is no more powerful text that concisely communicates the significance of Jesus in theological terms for us to grasp as a church. These are the foundational points for us as the body of believers in what it means to pursue Jesus, which is why I really would encourage our hearts to continue to worship as we look at this text.
I would encourage you to open up to chapter 2 and follow along with this text together, because we’re going to skim through this whole chapter today. I’m going to point out some very important parts of this chapter. There will be a lot of information —it’s going to be opening up the fire hose this morning and you’re going to drink deep, as much as you can gather as we’re going along. If there’s anything I say that I don’t dive deeply enough into or something you want to check later, make a note for yourself, study it beyond this, ask me. We have those opportunities available for you. We always would encourage us to continue to grow. God tells us to love him with all of our mind. So we want to encourage questions and growth in the Lord. If there’s something that you’re unfamiliar with, please ask. We want to always encourage that.
Colossians 2 for us, just so you know, this text breaks down, Paul is now going to defend the statement that he made in Colossians 1:13 and on—we looked at this last week. This is a creedal statement, a hymn of the early church that they would sing acknowledge the significance of who Jesus is. It is what they stood for. This statement is jam-packed full of understanding the significance of Christ and our relationship to him and everything that Jesus is for us. Religion has the tendency to say, or religion will, undermine the authority of who Christ is. It has this thought with it: that Jesus isn’t enough, and so we need to make up the difference, so we invent religion to sort of make up where Jesus falls short. But what we find in the book of Colossians 1, is the Bible communicates to us, Jesus is enough. Paul sets out the creed.
This this word for “creed” is a Latin word for, “I believe.” This statement of “I believe” starts in Colossians 1:13, and it carries on into chapter 2. Now in chapter 2, he makes a defense for why he believes what he believes, or why Christians should believe what they believe about Jesus. A very interesting text for us this morning–the pinnacle of it we’re going to see in verse 8 as Paul lays out the before and after of what is significant as it relates to our faith in Jesus.
For me, coming to Christ, impacted my life in such a way that there was a radical transformation in who I was before Jesus and who I am now in Christ. Not to say that I am perfect, but God is certainly redeemed my heart, transformed my life and gave me a new perspective on the point of what life is about in him. One of the things that happen very early on as I started to skeptically study Jesus and then I put my faith in Christ, is I came to these types of books that made a defense of Jesus. To be quite frank, before I became a believer, the things that turn me off about Jesus were people that claimed to know Jesus. So I sort of based Jesus off what I considered just foolishness and thought, I want nothing to do with Jesus.
As I started to really research Jesus and and and come to understand the biblical Jesus, I realize when it came to faith specifically in Christ, there was a solid foundation in who Jesus was. So I started to really gravitate towards apologetic books. Books like, Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, which we give a little booklet on him when you visit our church for the first time, it’s called More Than a Carpenter. If you got ripped off and didn’t get that book, let me know and we’ll make sure you get it. There was a man by the name of Chuck Colson, who it was a part of Watergate who coincidentally enough, God use Watergate to bring him to Jesus because he realized that 12 most prominent men in American history couldn’t keep a lie together for a couple of days, but the 12 disciples did it for their entire lives, only it wasn’t a lie, with validated the truth of who Jesus was to them. So Chuck Colson, in understanding that story and reading about the disciples, wrote a defense of Christianity.
When I came to know Jesus, there was this book coming out by a man named Lee Strobel, who was a skeptic himself. His wife became a Christian. He was an investigative journalist and so he went on this journey of investigating Christianity. He wanted to really just disprove it because he didn’t want his wife to be a Christian. He ends up becoming a Christian, and in his journey he writes a book called The Case for Faith. When this book first came out, there was also an audio CD that came with it. I tried to find it this week, but I couldn’t find it. On it he interviews a man named Charles Templeton.
An interesting thing about Templeton is that in his younger years and into young adulthood, he claimed to be a follower of Jesus and then he walked away from the faith and became a prominent atheist, broadcasting against Christianity. Lee Strobel had the opportunity to interview him, I believe he was living in Canada at the time. It was later in his life, he was in his eighties, and this interview took place just a couple of years before his death. He wasn’t doing public interviews anymore. He had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and so he had tucked away from public life. But Lee Strobel had this opportunity to interview him about why he walked away from the faith, what he thought about Christianity, and then he gets this point of in the interview where you asks him about Jesus. When Lee Strobel gives his introduction to his question about Jesus to Charles Templeton, he said he was hesitant to do it because he want to prod further questions to Templeton, but he knew Templeton’s health was frail and so he felt the need to press this interview further. So he asked him about Jesus knowing this could end the interview, but here is Charles Templeton in his eighties staring at his Maker very soon in the future. He has Alzheimer’s, he knows he’s getting to the end of his life.
This is what he says, when Lee Strobel asks him about Jesus, this is his remarks. I’ve cut this down—he goes much further into the beauty of who Christ is in this statement, but let me just read you some excerpts. He says, “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Just look at Jesus. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus. In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.” That’s when Templeton uttered the words, “I never expected to hear from him. If I may put it this way,” and voice beginning to crack, “I miss him.” And with that, tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept.
The significance of who Christ is, is the foundation of what Christianity is. Colossians 2 is the defense of that. Paul opens up this passage of scripture and I’m going to break it to us in chunks. In chapter 2, verses 1 to 3 he reveals to us the mystery and this is what he says, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea and for all those who have not personally seen my face.” So we said this in the beginning, when Paul wrote the book of Colossians, Paul didn’t start this church. In fact, he started of the church of Ephesus, and a man by the name of Epaphras came from the city of Colosse. He had gone back to the city and shared the message that Paul had given him and this church was born. Paul says, you know I’m struggling for you here. And we looked at the reasoning why. It’s because the significance of who Jesus is, the preeminence of Christ, the deity of Jesus, is under attack within the church.
People are coming in and saying they’re, “I’m a Christian too, but you’re idea of Jesus isn’t the right Jesus. Let me present to you some other persuasive arguments of Jesus is really and how you should embrace him.” They are undermining the significance of Jesus. They’re tearing him down. Paul is saying, “I’m struggling for you here, that their hearts may be encouraged having been knit together in love and obtained to the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ himself in who are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul is saying, look this mystery, these people in the church that are trying to pretend like there’s more to this, or adding or taking away from Christ, listen: God’s mystery has been revealed. People like to cling this word “mystery” in the New Testament, like there are these secret things of God that you don’t know. But here’s what I want you to know: when the Bible talks about the word “mystery,” almost immediately, every time this word mystery is presented, he always says what that mystery is. So look, God’s mystery, it’s not something that’s hidden from us like we don’t know. God’s mystery is Christ himself. The New Testament talks about mystery a couple of dozen times. Every time it talks about this mystery it is revealing to us what aspect of this mystery it’s talking about. All of it relates to Jesus.
In the Old Testament they didn’t quite understand how it was going to work out specifically. They would declare God’s plan: the Savior was coming, but in the New Testament we see specifically how it plays out. God comes in the flesh, dies for sinful man and brings together Jew and Gentile to enjoy God for all of eternity. Some aspect of that is discussed when God refers to this, or when the Bible refers to this as a mystery. But the mystery has been revealed. There is no secret the God is withholding from you. Jesus fulfills at all. In fact, when Paul wrote Romans and in chapter 16, this is what he said, “Now to him that has the power to establish you according to my gospel, in the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandments of the Everlasting God, made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith.” There is not this hidden revelation, this “mystery” has been revealed in Christ, for you, bringing us to him to enjoy him for all of eternity.
So Paul is saying this, your foundation, everything that we are is founded upon and in Jesus. So he says to us in verse 4 to 7 and let me just create these images in your mind of where we are going in Christ together. What Paul does is he draws on analogies from culture within these verses to explain to us what this journey is about. So he says this in verse 7, “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive arguments.” This word for “persuasive arguments” is a legalistic term. It’s something lawyers would use, so don’t be persuaded by the lawyers. But in verse 5, “for even though I am absent in body, nevertheless, I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and stability of your faith in Christ.” This word for discipline is for ranking in the military structure and so he saying, where you find yourself in Jesus and the stability is your formation in the army. Then in verse 16, he goes on and says, “therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” So if you’re not in the military, maybe you’re more of the pilgrim type. So he’s describing it as a hippie-dippie pilgrimage. That goes on forever and in verse 7 he says, “having been firmly rooted and built up in him.” so if you’re this nature lover he saying, don’t be the tumbleweed, but rather be the tree that goes deep into the ground. Hug the tree, right? So having been rooted and built up in him and established in him, this idea of being built up and established as this architectural term. God is working in his body to build you up into this beautiful structure in him, that is the church. So he says at the end, “just as you were instructed and overflowing with gratitude.” This word of overflowing it is symbolically represented as this river pressing beyond its banks. That God, in you, through Christ, working out his plan for eternity. That mystery now being revealed it’s like this well that just screams out of your life.
In all of these pictures, Paul is grasping. He’s just using these illustrations for your mind to grab hold up and the beauty of Jesus however you like to think whatever artistically that attracts you, grab hold of that. If you want to be a tree, be a tree. If you want to be a river, earth wind and fire, who cares? Just think about the significance of Jesus here. Paul is rooting us in that, so that he can get to this place and building his argument in verse 8, So if you think through this text for just a moment, in verse 8 he’s going to set 2 arguments out for us. Verse 9 to 15, he’s going to talk about one argument. Verse 16 to 23, he’s going to present the other argument. So this is what he says in verse 8, “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
I’m going to tell you what Paul is doing here. You’re really going to see this as verses play out, but he’s really taking every religious system of thinking in this world and he’s positioning it against Jesus. And he’s saying to us, “choose Jesus.” So he says, listen these religious thinkings in life will take you captive. Here’s where they come from: men make them up because they don’t see the sufficiency of Jesus. So they undermine Jesus. And because they don’t see the sufficiency of Jesus, they create their own legalistic rules. And here’s what happens within that: we start worshipping the elementary principles of the world. These things of the world we add as more significant than Christ. He’s saying that rather than pursue those things, see the importance of who Jesus is. Don’t allow yourself to be taken captive, but here’s the answer: Jesus.
So as Paula presents this argument he reminds us again in verses 9 to 15, exactly who Jesus is, what he’s done for us. He repeats a statement for us that he’s already stated in chapter 1 verse 15. So he says this, “for in him,” talking about Christ, “all the fullness of diety dwells in bodily form.” Jesus, literally, is God in the flesh. This word for fullness means the sum total of God. God became flesh. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. This is why Jesus said, “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus became flesh as God dwelling among us. The fullness is with him. So it says this in verse 10, “and in him you have been made complete.” Everything we need as human beings, everything we’re created for, everything that life is about. In Jesus there is sufficiency in him because, in Him, you have been made complete. So it says this, “therefore because we’re completing in Jesus, he is the head over all rule and authority.” Verse 11, “and in him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without human hands, by the removal the body, the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”
Now, let me say what this says and I want talk about how weird this is for a minute. Religiously, we like to do things externally to avail ourselves to God. Prove our worth. What it is saying in verse 11: what really needs to take place isn’t what happens externally. What really needs to take place in our lives happens in our heart. God needs to redeem our heart that’s where the wickedness is. You can go through your whole life not killing, not stealing, not committing adultery, not whatever rules you want to make. You can go through your whole life and do that, but here’s what Jesus said about it: so even you might not have killed, you may have been angry at someone and that’s where murder comes from. And you may not have committed adultery or you haven’t stolen from someone, but you’ve lusted in your heart and you’ve coveted it in your heart. That’s what really needs addressed. We’re all sinful human beings before a holy God. We need redemption in that.
The Bible uses this weird word of “circumcision”, which brings up an interesting point I want to say to you this morning, when it comes to Jesus: apart from the grace of God and the Spirit of God working in our lives, Christians what you believe is weird. You believe God becomes flesh, God dies for you, gives his life for you, and loves you unconditionally, despite sin, so that you can enjoy eternity with him forever. That’s weird. Could you imagine you called up your friends and just say, “Hey, let’s all get together. I want to talk to you about something that’s happen in my life. You guys come over, we’re going to sit down around the table. I just want to share with you circumcision. Let’s have some talks about circumcision! No thank you! That’s really not what I want to do with my day today. I’ve got watch some grass grow or something. This whole circumcision thing–I’m not going to gather around my kitchen table and have this sort of discussion.” But Paul goes on a little further and says this, “Having been buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the working of God, who raised from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all of our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of degrees against us, which was hostile to us, and he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities he made a public display of them, having triumph over them, through him.
Verse 15 is somewhat important and I’m going to scare the snot out of all of us at the end, a little bit I think, but I want you to just think about this: according to scripture this is what it says, “there is the spiritual realm, God, and the Devil representing the opposite, the kingdom of darkness. What Jesus is saying in representing what is pure, what is good, what is holy, he disarms what is darkness, what is ungood, what is hostile. In verse 14 he describe how this happens. Paul is using another illustration here that we don’t quite get in English, but during the time of Paul paper was expensive. You had to be wealthy to own paper. Whenever any legal document was written, like a receipt, they didn’t always do this, but because paper was so expensive, they liked to recycle it. When there was a debt and it was recorded on a receipt, like your home mortgage or whatever you’ve got a pay? When that bad boy was paid off and you’re excited to grab the deed to your home and say, “get lost bank.” Then you’d take that deed and and you would present it as having been paid off and they would take the parchment would literally wash it. I guess the ink was no good. They would just dunk it and clean off the ink so they could recycle that because paper was expensive and it took time to do that. So when it’s talking about Jesus canceling your debt against God, your sin against the Lord, that’s what it’s saying: Jesus by his blood, he has dipped it in his blood, he’s washed the parchment clean. So when God looks at you he sees the purity of who Christ is.
Now, apart from the grace of God, saying God came became flesh, died for our sins that we may enjoy eternity with him forever, it’s not an easy pill to swallow. Or to think about until, I think, the grace of God begins to work on our lives and reveal this to us. But for us and to our benefit, this is where I found myself years ago as is related to Jesus. Wanting to doubt, wanting to throw things at Christ, to disprove him, and here is one of the beautiful ways the grace of God has worked for us as people, that if you really cared enough, there is enough verifiable fact related to Jesus for you to look at him historically with certainty and to declare this very statement that Paul is making about Christ in Colossians 2. I’m just going to give you a few of them this morning and and if something is challenging you personally as it relates to Jesus, this help you find a place to rest in him as sufficient. If you know someone that is challenging Jesus and questioning where he is, this will help you in sharing with them how the sufficiency of Christ is made known to us in our lives. Were it really becomes real is you simply exercising your faith in what Jesus has declared.
Sometimes we have questions we skeptically asked about Jesus, but sometimes we don’t really take the time to answer them. Let me just ask a few of them for us this morning. Sometimes I’ve heard this from people wanting to deny Jesus: when we say he’s God become flesh, they might say to us that Jesus was taught to be God over time. Meaning, the Bible came a little bit later so after Jesus had died then some sort of mysticism came into that and romanticized Jesus and he was declared deity after that. To which I would say, when you study that historically, it really doesn’t hold any water. The New Testament started to be written around 45 A.D. Jesus was crucified around 33 A.D. So within just over a decade the Bible starts to be written. It’s written by the individuals that walked with Jesus, so I’ll ask a question about them and they’re vality in just a minute. But to romanticize Jesus and to mystically proclaim him something beyond what he was, you really don’t have time for those legends to build, because Scripture was written.
But even before the New Testament was written, when you go back to the Old Testament, you see Jesus declared as diety. There’s multiple places to point to in scripture. One that I love to is from the book of Isaiah, because we have copies of the book of Isaiah hundreds of years older than Jesus himself in the Dead Sea Scrolls. When you read those portions of scripture in Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 9 when it talks about the deity of Jesus, this is what it says, talking about Mary and prophetically stating about Jesus, “therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel being translated literally means God with us. God in the flesh. When you read the book of John in the beginning, that’s how it declares itself that God was with God, God was God and God became flesh and dwelt among us. In Isaiah 9:6, the way this passage translates if you look every time there’s a comma, until you get to the end, it’s saying Gods relationship to man and God and his identity as deity. So look at this: “for a child will be born to us.” This is talking about physically man. “A son will be given to us,” so at the same time the child is born by woman he’s also given to us, meaning he has the claim of deity. “And the government will rest on his shoulders.” This is talking about physically ruling in the world, and then look what it says about Jesus: “and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is called the Father in the Old Testament. Jesus is called Mighty God in the Old Testament. So this idea that Jesus was claimed to be God later doesn’t hold any water, because we have copies of the book of Isaiah which claims the deity of Jesus hundreds of years before Jesus existed.
Jesus, sometimes it’s said, was just a fable over time. Maybe you’ve heard of this. People will say that there are gods around the time of Jesus, or a little before Jesus, of which the story of Jesus was fabricated from. There were gods named Mithras and Horus and a few others, and they’ll say what really happened in this area of Jerusalem, they took the stories of these other gods in the area and made the story of Jesus. They say when you read the story these other gods, you can see how they would formulate the story of Jesus. That became really popular in the book written by Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code, and it was started first century, not second century, not third century, fourth century. It actually came in the 19th century by German philosophers. They started to propose this idea, having studied different gods in the Roman Empire. They said that when it realated to Jesus, they formulate these ideas of Christ from these other gods.
But there’s there’s a couple of problems with that. The first is, if that were true and it was so obvious, you would expect some point in the first ten centuries for someone else to say it, right? But no one else makes that claim because if it didn’t hold any water and no one would have thought that it held any water within the first few centuries. Which brings me to the second problem. When you read German claims, when you read The DaVinci Code claims that these stories about Jesus were stolen from these other gods and you actually read the stories about these other gods, you seeing nothing that symbolically represent Jesus in any way. To take these stories and say that they developed the story of Jesus off that, you have to be on some sort of trip. It is so far out beyond! The only thing out of all these stories, and I’ve read them because I was a skeptic myself.
The only thing in this stories that remotely comes close to identifying something related to Jesus is the god Mithras. He was claimed to have been born on December 25th, which by the way, isn’t Jesus’s real birthday to begin with. It’s just the day that the church selected in order to honor Jesus. I think it was because pagan gods were honored on this day. Christianity gave such a rise that they want to eliminate these pagan gods and wanted to honor Jesus and picked a day on the calendar year to celebrate the birth of Christ. Which we call December 25th. Which, by the way, historically around the world the Christian church, not every Christian church around the world celebrates December 25th as Jesus’s birthday. Some of them celebrate it, believe it or not, in January. So this idea of these gods even coming close to Jesus — it holds no water. When you hear someone question that, you know they’ve never even researched that. They’ve only really just questioned it. Because when you study it, when you dive into it, it doesn’t hold any water.
And lastly, what I want to say is this: really all that we believe hinges upon whether or not Jesus was resurrected from the grave. He was in this tomb for three days. Did Jesus really resurrect from the grave or did the disciples just make this up? When you read the New Testament, you read Luke 1:2. Luke was sent to investigate Christianity. He was paid for by his belief. Theophilus paid Luke to journey around the world and document the gospels, document the book of Acts, and what was happening Christianity. It is believed that Theophilus was a wealthy individual. Luke was a Godly doctor and so knowing he paided with a very close attention to detail, he sent Luke out to write the story of Jesus. Luke traveled with Paul and he gets this gospel story doing ministry with Paul. But when Luke starts the Gospel of Luke, which was the very first writing he is given to, he says this, he write the the accounts of Jesus from eyewitnesses. When Paul writes 1st Corinthians 15, he shares the gospel and then he goes on to list the individuals Jesus appear to after his resurrection. He even says at one point, Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time. The point of that is this: in the first century, Christianity spread so rapidly, it’s unbelievable. But when the writers are writing these documents, what they’re saying is, if you don’t believe me, people are still walking having seen the resurrected Jesus. And when Paul says he appeared to 500 people one time, what Paul is saying is that it might be possible for one person to just go a little crazy and say, “I saw Jesus!” It might be possible for ten people to say, “We all saw Jesus!” But 500 people gathered together at one time trying to come up with some sort of make Believe story that they saw Jesus becomes a bit ridiculous. Especially when you consider the expense these individuals are going to pay because their faith in Christ.
When you look at the disciples, the early disciples died. Jesus’s 11, apart from Judas who was 12th, Jesus’s 11 disciples died thousands of miles apart from one another. Bartholomew is flayed alive in Armenia. Andrew is crucified in Greece. Matthew gives up his life for Christ in Ethiopia. Paul is beheaded in Rome. These individual spreading all over the globe, thousands of miles apart, get no accommodations for this and continue to give their lives for Christ. Now, when it comes to religious ideology, we know there are plenty of people who will give up their lives for some ideology related to some god. People just getting emphatically nuts. We’ve seen that in American history. We see that across the globe in the last 10 years. The disciples didn’t give up their lives or kill other people giving up their lives for this ideology. You remember, when it relates to their lives, when you read the gospel about the disciples. If you’re going to talk about this religious belief that you want to tout yourself in, on of the things are certainly going to do when you write this holy book, is you’re going to make yourself look a little bit good in it. When you read the gospels, what you see about these disciples is that the only one that continues to get the identity of Jesus right is the demons. Come on guys! You’re hanging out with Jesus for 3 years here. You guys continue to get it wrong, moment after moment, and it’s the demons that come before Jesus to pronounce the goodness of who Christ is. Even to the point that when Jesus was crucified, the disciples are the ones that are cowards running away. If you’re going to make up a faith and write something about it, you probably as a leader for this faith, want of make yourself look a little bit good.These disciples didn’t do that. Nor do they give up their lives for a religious ideology.
The reason disciples gave their lives for Christ was a fact. The fact was something that they could not deny. Because as you read the end of the gospels, what you see in the lives of these disciples, as they are cowards running away, something happens within them where everything changes in a moment. What is it? It’s the resurrection of Christ. They couldn’t deny it. A dead man was walking. Jesus is who he said he was. I can imagine the disciples when they heard Jesus say to the religious leaders, “destroy this temple and in three days I will build it again.” When Jesus said that, they were probably wondering what is this man talking about? This is crazy. How is going to build it 3 days later after he dies. Finally they realize, wait a minute. Jesus is dead, and now he is alive. On the day he died, a earthquake happened, it ripped temple veil, symbolize to the world that no longer did the presence of God dwell in the temple, but the New Testament says the presence of God dwells in his people. People will die for religious ideology. That’s not why the disciples gave up their lives. That’s not why the first century church endured such hardship and give up their life for Christ. It was a fact. A fact that Luke says, “test the eyewittnesses.” A fact that Paul says there were 500 people at one time that saw this.
When you read beyond just the disciples, you see it continue in church history. Church history is so well documented for Christianity, it’s unbelievable. A parchment, a pounded out piece of weeds that turns in grass that lasts thousands of years is unbelievable, but to think we have over 5,000 Greek texts of the New Testament, it’s just ridiculous to me to even think that much exists. As if God is saying, “listen, there is no way parchment should exist this long, but I’m saying to you, this is how you know the New Testament is valid, because here it is. Thousands of Greek texts for you to examine you faith to know it hold water. Now, when you examine religions if general and you compare that to Scripture, to the Bible, it is unfathomable to even think that religions would hold water in comparison to Christianity. I don’t want to say to undermine religions, but if you’re coming towards faith intellectually, you understand that God gave you your mind to understand who he is truthfully. There are major religions in the world that when you say, on what basis have they established their faith? And they have no way to trace back where their ancient creeds even come from. But they just say, you just simply do it because.
Christianity has thousands of Greek textx and not only that, early church fathers dating as early as 500 A.D. are on the scene, writing about faith in Christ. Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Irunaious, Polycarp, Issubious who documented tons of church history. Tertullian, Ambrose, Augustin. The list goes on and on of early church history. Hippolytas origin. Even in Christianity today, you see skeptics who approach it using their minds like Lee Strobel, who I shared in the beginning. Chuck Colson, who I just talked about. Josh McDowell just wrote some great books called The Coffee House books, and these three little books under 100 pages on who is Jesus and how do you know the Bible is valid. Great reads. Even if you go back further in American church history, Simon Greenleaf, the man who started Harvard Law School. He was a Jew who was known to be against Christianity and would make fun of law students who came to Harvard Law School who believe in Jesus. One year, a freshman comes in and says, “Listen as a lawyer, the thing that you teach us in Harvard Law School, is to examine the evidence. I just want ask you as you mock my faith, have you ever really examine the faith of Christianity?” Wanting to be a man of his word saying, “examine the evidence,” Simon Greenleaf goes back and examines Christianity, becomes a believer and writes a book about it. The man who starts Harvard Law School.
This is where Paul is saying, the significance of what Jesus has done for us is important for us to understand. So then, he gets to this, verse 8 he says, “Don’t let anyone deceive you.” Don’t undermine the beauty of who Christ is. So he’s going to go on from verse 16, he’s going to talk about three religious ways of thinking that undermine who Christ is. In verses 16-71, I’m going to tell you what it is. Verses 16-17 legalism. Verses 18-19, mysticism. Verses 22-23, asceticism. I’ll tell you what those are in just a moment. Warren Wiersbe, coming to this text, this section, says this, “Anytime a person adds religion, he is also judging Jesus Christ. He is saying that Christ did not finish the work of salvation on the cross and that he must add something to it. He is also saying that Jesus Christ is not sufficient for all the spiritual needs of the Christian.” Verses 16-17, if you want to know when Paul is saying, this is how we get deceived, verses 16-17, now he is going to explain it. “Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to festivals or a new moon or a Sabbath day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Jesus.” He’s saying, listen, men will establish these religious ways of thinking and saying, do this, do this, do this and you earn your favor for God and God finds you acceptable. Look, it all belongs to Jesus, our substance is in Jesus.
Verse 18 talking about mysticism. This is accknowledging spirits. He says, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels. Taking his stand on visions he has inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head from whom the entire body being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments grows together and him.” What he’s saying is this, people are coming along and they are saying these having spiritual feelings and it’s denying what scripture has already declared. So Paul is saying, you want to know where that really comes from? It’s not of God. When it comes to you and your feelings and the word of God, God gave his word for a reason and that’s for us to examine where we are. To understand if we were really walking in truth. The argument goes like this, let know one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in selfabasement and the worship of angels. They would have said this: You know Jesus is good and you can include Jesus in our religous thinking, but Jesus isn’t all. He’s just a part, or maybe a piece, or he’s one of the many roads that you can take.
Then he goes on further beyond mysticism, which is this idea of angelic worship. Legalim is a system of rules, mysticism in a type of angelic worship. In verse 20 it says this, talking about asceticism, “If you have died with Christ to the elementery principles of the world, why as if you were living in the world, do you not submit to your yourself to decreases such as, do not handle, do not taste, you not touch, which all refer to things destined to perish with use, and accordance to the commandments and teachings of men, these are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom, self made religion, self-abasement, and self treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” What he’s sayings is asceticism is like taking legalism to the next step. Asceticism is like abusing yourself because you don’t find yourself worthy and so by torturing yourself, to some degree, in some way, then God will find you acceptable. So these religious thinkings are all these systems are trying to avail yourself to God, so that God loves you. So that God embraces you. But the truth of who Jesus is, is there is nothing you’ve done to make God love you less and there’s nothing you will do to make God love you more.
God loves you, so much so he sacrificed his life for you. Sufficiently, so that you could be what Paul describes in verses 4-7. Whether you want to be the hippie on the pilgrimage who is hugging the trees, next to the river that’s overflowing, or the military guy, or whatever. The architect that builts, whatever. The point is that you can just sit in the joy of Jesus and rest in the joy of Jesus.
Now, when it comes to these ways of religious thinking, I think they are present in our culture today, but let me just share this. I don’t think our battle is as much legalism, mysticism, and asceticism. I think those interference into our lives religiously. But I think we’re even a step below that now culturally. If this was the 1950’s, I would probably talk more about legalism. But here’s where I think our battle starts, before we even get to legalism. I think our battle is really with moralism. And the reason is because we haven’t been taught to think theologically. We have facts to establish everything in life, but when it comes to faith, we don’t know how to think through things theological. So we used the word “faith” like it’s sort of this Russian Roulette guessing game. The way that we use this game is we use our own value system of moralism, apart from God, to determine if a religion is valid. So the thinking will go like this, moralism makes religion correct and since we can find a hint of moralism in ever religion, then they are all right.
If we believe moralism it is the way, we say things like, if it seems moral, it must be true. If it’s good, it must be true. And that’s the way we think moralistically as it relates to religion. What we don’t realize is in that statement, although we’re saying moralism is a good thing, and I definitely want us to live holy, good lifes, we use moralism to gauge what is true and what isn’t true. There is profound danger in that. Let me just give you an example. I heard this news this week and thought it fit perfectly for us. I’m going to talk bad about something for a second, but just hear me out. Because if we can’t think through this, we’ve got some serious issues to address in our life. And this is why I want to bring this up. There is that an individual running for office right now. He is a US Marine Sergeant named Steve Hill — I don’t know what you’re thinking I was going to say there — but he is a sergeant named Steve Hill. He is the Satanic Temple’s first political candidate, who is openly acknowledged an affiliation with this Temple. He’s running as a Democrat for the senate in California, if you’re part of D21. So I’m listening to this on NPR radio this weekend and even though it starts off he’s satanic, then they give this appeal in the end, so that you’re not afraid of the fact that he’s offering up his services as a governmental leader representing the Satanic Temple, he says this, “Don’t worry. Our mission statement at the Satanic Temple is this,” I looked it up online and got the quote directly. “It’s to encourage the benevolence and empathy among all people.” And since moralism determines what’s truth, that doesn’t sound bad, right? To encourage the benevolence and empathy among all people, that’s pretty good. So he’s got validity there. So we present that and we allow that because, it’s okay.
When we make moralism the point, here comes the problem. This is where it starts. When you say, you know, as long as it’s good, it doesn’t really matter what you’re worshipping. as long as it’s good. This is what we’ve already done. We’ve said moralism is of greater value than the God who defines the moralism. Doesn’t matter, as long as what you do is good, moralism and then God below that, really serves moralism. But we know the point of anything good in this life is determined by the one who created it all. So we’ve already got the system in reverse by saying, moralism and it doesn’t matter what God says as long as there is moralism. It’s already in reverse by acknowledging we’re okay with moralism.
But here’s the thing gets scary, and this is maybe where I might concern you a little bit in thinking through this. If moralism, if we live under the thought of moralism, this is the the way we tend to think, if we believe in spiritual forces in this world. We tend to think that what the spiritual forces are after, or what Satan’s really after, is the bad guys. Those are the ones that belong to him. It’s the bad guys, it’s the murderers, it’s the prostitutes, it’s the drug dealers. Satan’s after the bad guys, right? The question I just ask is, if you believe that what he’s really after is the bad guys, why would Satan go after what he already owns? If you get into a gun fight, the first person you attack isn’t the unarmed man. The thing you want to bring down, is the one that holds it all together. Satan isn’t after what he already owns. Spiritual forces are real, Satan isn’t going to attack what belongs to him. In Christianity the weapon is Jesus.
I honestly mean this and I want to encourage care for another in the world, love for one another in this world, but I honestly believe this: moralism is Satan’s facade to distract you from the truth of Jesus. That is Pauls’s argument. He doesn’t use moralism here, but he points to Christ. Let me close with this illustration. The first two chapters of Colossians cannot emphasize the significance of Jesus enough. The way Jesus loves you. The way Jesus has given his life for you. The way Jesus has created all things. The way Jesus is God come in the flesh. We cannot emphasize that enough.
I heard the story of a man. His name was Hernán Cortés. In the 1500’s, he want to the Yucatan Peninsula, which was Central Mexico. He brought just over five hundred men, 10 ships, into that area to fight the Aztecs. The Aztecs were known to have this unbelievable treasure. People groups have come against them to fight them and to no avail. No one was victorious. This empire is estimated to be as high as 15 million people at this point. He comes into this area, and I’m not saying this is a good thing, but he comes into this area in 1519, with 10 ships and little over five hundred men, and these men defeat a people group of 15 million and seize this treasure. No one have been victorious to this point. These individuals come in and are victorious. Let me just share how. When they got off the ship, Hernán Cortés ordered some of his men to go back to the boats and burn the ships. That when the army look behind them, there was nowhere else to go.
If there are spiritual forces at work in this world, what they want to present to you is the facade of ships. Our heart holds onto ships, not wanting to completely embrace the beautiful of who Christ is. Paul, in this passage encourages you of anyone, believer in Christ, hold to Jesus. He is the way, he is the truth, he is the life.