This sermon is part of the sermon series "Jesus Is Lord". See series.
The first sermon in this series started exploring this passage by looking at how Jesus is the Lord of Creation. Part two is titled "Jesus is Lord of New Creation." My goal for this sermon is to paint a big picture of what it means to say that Jesus is Lord and Savior. So often when we talk about salvation, we focus only on our sins having been forgiven on the cross. As wonderful as that is, it's still only part of what it means to trust and follow Jesus as Lord. This morning I want us to look deeper into the scope of the Gospel.
I want to begin this message by telling you the story of a little wasp. It's an almost cute little wasp called the ichneumon wasp. This wasp belongs to a family of wasps that have two nasty habits: first, they sting human beings; second, they eat caterpillars. Actually, it's much worse than it sounds. The mama wasp will find a particular species of caterpillar and inject her eggs right into the caterpillar's abdomen. Then, as the eggs hatch and develop, the larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside out in order to become the cute little wasp.
I'm not trying to gross you out because this is an important story—theologically and historically. This wasp's shabby treatment of innocent caterpillars influenced Charles Darwin on a profound level. Darwin specifically mentioned this wasp when he spoke about how he came to adopt his theory of natural selection. Listen to Darwin in his own words:
I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of God's design and goodness. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the ichneumonida with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars. Or that a cat should play with mice.
He's got a good point. If Jesus is Lord of creation, what's the deal with this wasp and the poor little caterpillar?
How can we say that Jesus is holding all things together when there are tsunamis and earthquakes and cancer cells and e coli bacteria? What's the point of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder? Why are alcoholism and other addictive behaviors, at least in part, genetic in nature? If Jesus is the designer of everything, then is the design flawed or at least inconsistent?
Christ's plan to reconcile all things
What do we say to Darwin and others who cannot see the goodness of God in creation? Surprisingly, as a follower of Jesus, we would start by agreeing with them. As a believer, there's an underlying assumption in Colossians chapter 1 about the brokenness of creation. There is something out of whack in creation. In verses 20-22 we see the word reconcile. Reconcile implies changing a relationship back to what it was. For instance, if you smash my car with a baseball bat, we would no longer be buddies. But let's say we worked through that issue and got our relationship back to where it had been. You paid for my windshield (or maybe you could buy me a new Mercedes—swing away, my friend), and now you have atoned for your transgression. The relationship is reconciled. It's back to its original wholeness.
If you need to be reconciled with someone, you can assume that at some point the relationship broke down. Something went wrong. In the same way, Jesus came to reconcile broken relationships. But notice what Jesus also came to do: verse 20 says that all things will be reconciled—not just human beings with God, but all things. All of creation will be reconciled. I want us to see how big this is, because God is up to something massive—with global and even cosmic ramifications.
This is even clearer in another New Testament passage. In Romans 8, Paul talks specifically about the brokenness of creation: "For the creation was subjected to frustration, so that the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to our present time." We see the same theme again: Something is disordered and dislocated. When we fell into sin, the whole creation was affected—just as when I sin against God and against you, there's a much bigger impact that I imagine. There's a gigantic rupture and wound in creation.
In the movie Grand Canyon, Danny Glover plays a tow truck driver who is called to into one of the roughest parts of the inner city. The car of a wealthy businessman from the suburbs has broken down, and he's surrounded by a gang of thugs who want to tear his car apart. Danny Glover comes to the scene, and he looks at the driver and then he looks at the gang of thugs and he says slowly and calmly, "Man, the world ain't supposed to work like this. Maybe you don't know that, but this ain't the way it's supposed to be. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can; and that dude [the car driver] is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything's supposed to be different than what it is here." It's great theology; it's New Testament theology.
The Bible has a name for all the brokenness in our lives and in the world: it's called "the cycle of sin and death." All of creation is a part of it. Things die. Things decay. We grow old. Animals eat each other. Wasps eat their way out of caterpillars' bellies. Our bodies are a part of this cycle of sin and death. You know that. Every year that goes by you feel it even more. All of creation is a part of this cycle.
So what's the proper response to this? We groan. We ache, because we know there's supposed to be a better world. We know it ain't supposed to be this way. Charles Darwin felt it, too. Did you hear what he said? "There's too much misery in the world." Who told him that? How do you know there's too much misery in the world? By what standard? Well, as a Christian I would say there is too much misery in the world because this ain't the way it's supposed to be. God made us for a better world. There's a cycle of sin and death that's underlying this passage.
What does it mean when we say Jesus is Lord of the new creation? There's astounding universe-healing good news for us, for our children, for our community, for our world. Verse 20 says that "through him," through Christ, "God is going to reconcile to himself all things, whether things in earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross." Now I want you to notice this: all things. All things can be restored. Human beings are made in the image of God, so we are people who have free will. So this verse doesn't mean that everyone will be saved from their sin. We can decide that we don't want to be a part of God's work of reconciliation in and through Christ. We can say no to God's offer, but the Bible offers huge promises of redemption.
Let me read a few of these promises so you get a taste of how good and amazing this is. There are dozens of these promises for reconciliation, especially in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah 11 says, "The wolf will live with the lamb. The leopard will lie down with the goat, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Now this isn't just fancy poetry. These are examples of what God's restored creation is going to look like when Jesus gets done with it. Another promise is in Revelation 21: "God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." This is what Christ wants to do in and for his broken creation.
Jesus didn't stop at forgiving our sins. Through him, God is reconciling all things to himself. Is this too good to be true? Is this a fairytale? How do we get from brokenness to restoration? How do we get from the state we're in now, where it ain't the way it's supposed to be, to this place where all things will be reconciled? This passage contains one story in three parts. Here's the story of what Christ has done in three words: resurrection, incarnation, and crucifixion.
Christ's process of reconciling all things
It's really interesting that Paul started with the resurrection. The resurrection is where God begins to restore all things. Notice what the verse says: "Christ is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead." Remember that cycle of death we're a part of that goes on and on? Jesus' resurrection is the first time in human history that anyone or anything broke out of that cycle of sin and death. Because he's the firstborn, when we trust in Christ we become a part of his victory over the cycle of sin and death. We also get to be born anew with him. We share in his resurrection life.
Imagine there are a bunch of people locked in a dungeon with no hope of getting out. They live their whole lives under the doom of darkness and gloom. It's a cycle of sin and death. Then someone finds an escape hatch, opens the door, and finds his way out. It looks like he's gone. But he looks down through that hatch with a huge grin on his face, and he reaches his hand down and says, "Come on up! There's new life! It's better than you could ever imagine. Trust me. Take my hand."
That's a small picture of what Christ has done through the resurrection. He's opened the door to a whole new life. But he's only the firstborn. You, too, can share in that life. You take the hand of Jesus, you share in the hand of Jesus, and you have resurrected life. Your body's still going to decay, but you're experiencing the power of the resurrection right now with Christ in you. That's a picture of the resurrection. Jesus broke out and he broke through, and he gives us an invitation to new life. That's the first word in this story.
The second word is incarnation. God becomes a human being in the person of Jesus. Verse 19: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him." That means that the full nature of God—God in all his fullness—dwelt in the person of Jesus. And then Jesus dwelt with us and walked among us. This is the story of Christmas. God becomes incarnated among us, enfleshed among us.
Why is this so important? In order to renew our lives and all of creation, God didn't just push a button. God didn't just say a magic word. That's not the way love works. When you really love someone, you show up. You make contact. When you love someone, you enter their world. You come close. And that's exactly what God has done in Jesus. That's the incarnation. Jesus has come to us.
So we have the resurrection. We have the incarnation. The third word is crucifixion. Notice how our passage describes the crucifixion: "God made peace through his blood on the cross." So from the lofty heights of the resurrection and the incarnation, we now have the depths of human pain—and the pain of all creation. Blood suggests death by violence. The cross suggests shame and humility.
As N.T. Wright wrote, "The death of an obscure Jew [Jesus] on a seemingly God-forsaken hill in a backwater of the Roman Empire attracted no notice from the historians of the era, but it was the event that reconciles heaven and earth and us to God." How did the cross do that?
There are a lot of different ways to look at what Christians call the Atonement, which tries to define exactly what Jesus was doing on the cross. Let me give you one way to look at it, which I think is consistent with the Book of Colossians. (In the third sermon in this series we'll look at another biblical image for the atonement of Jesus.)
A few months ago, I noticed that in the bowels of our basement, a valve was leaking. I decided to fix it—which was my first mistake, because I shouldn't fix things without proper instruction. I turned a knob on the valve just a bit, and it started leaking a little less. I turned it a little bit more; it leaked even less. I thought, I'll just keep turning it, and it won't leak at all. One more turn, and then all of a sudden—snap!—the valve stem broke and I was left holding the entire valve in my hand. There was this pause (like the pause of a baby who has fallen down and is preparing to scream)—and then booosh! Cold water started spewing out at me. I mean, it was gushing like a fire hydrant. As I'm standing there, utterly drenched, cold (but still holding that valve, by the way), I had no idea what to do. I can't see anything. Water is spraying all over the place. I call the county water authority but nobody answers the phone. By now we have two inches of water covering the floor, and it's still gushing out.
Finally, I call my friend Henry, and he tells me, "Well, there should be a little, tiny gauge in that water main that you can turn with pliers." So I go back down to that wet and cold and dark basement and I try to find that tiny gauge. But every time I get close, every time I stick the pliers into the gushing water, it just makes it worse. Finally, after about an hour I found that stem; and when I got the pliers on it, I could turn off the water. Henry was right. There was only one way to stop the flow of that cold water: someone had to walk into the wet, cold, dark bowels of the problem and turn it backwards. So I emerged from the basement soaking wet and shivering but utterly triumphant. I had turned off that evil flow of water.
If that example's a little too homey for you, think of The Lord of the Rings. Where does Frodo have to take the ring of power? He has to go right to Mordor. He has to walk into the source of evil, suffering and pain. There's no other way to get rid of the evil except by walking right into the source of evil. Someone has to go, and Frodo has been chosen to take the ring and drop it into the fires of Mordor.
As Christians, we say that Jesus died for our sins. Someone had to walk into the very source of evil and reverse it. That's exactly what Jesus did at the cross. The story of the death of Jesus is the story of the point at which evil in all its forms—political and human and demonic and even religious evil—came rushing together, and Jesus walks right into it.
And remember the incarnation: This isn't just a human being. This is God in human flesh. He takes it all upon himself. He bears it—all of our sin, and even the world's evil and darkness—and he begins to exhaust it. He makes peace through the blood of his cross. He takes the sting out of it, like I took the sting of water upon myself. He takes it upon himself. And so this passage says "through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross." Resurrection. Incarnation. Crucifixion. This is how God restores a broken world.
Our response to Christ's work of reconciliation
I said I wanted to just give you a really big picture of what Christ did. But I also want to make it smaller—to make it about me and you—because verse 21 says, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior." Notice how Paul moves from the big story about all things to the story about you. You were once alienated from God.
I'll use my own life as an example: I was raised in a church family, but it never really meant anything to me. I went to church out of habit. But when I was sixteen years old, I started reading the Bible for myself, and things began to click. I realized, You know, this is about me. There's something for me to do here. So I knelt beside my bed, and I opened my heart, and I said, "Jesus, I have no idea what to pray. I don't know if I'm doing this right. But I'm sorry and I want you to forgive my sins, and I want you to be my Lord. And I have no idea what that will mean for the rest of my life, but I want you to come into my life." Now, you don't have to kneel beside your bed; you can pray to Jesus anywhere. But let's say you open your heart to him. What happens inside of you? Let me close with four things.
First of all, according to this passage, you are forgiven. Isn't that amazing? You were once alienated in your minds because of your evil behavior. We often call our sins mistakes. God calls them evil behavior. But Paul says this: "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation." Did you get that? Free from accusation. Wow. Who can stand before a holy God and say "I am free from accusation"? What kind of arrogance is that? It's not arrogance for a follower of Jesus; it's obedience, because that's what he says about me. I am free from accusation. Christ has reconciled me. He walked into my sin, and he bore it. I don't have to bear it anymore. I'm forgiven.
The second truth in this passage is that you share in resurrected life. The power of resurrection for a Christian doesn't begin when you die; it begins when you open your heart to Jesus. And throughout the rest of your life you're going to learn to appropriate that truth. You face sin in your life; you face temptation; you face trials and struggles; you face evil and injustice in society, and you can turn to the Lord and say, I know you made a way out of this. I need your help. Pull me out of this, Lord. That's the power of the resurrection. He made a way out of sin and temptation and death. We can share in that power.
The third truth is that we join a new community. Notice what Paul says in verse 18: "Jesus is the head of the body, the church." So wherever you find Jesus, you find the church. They're never separated. I don't just trust in Jesus for my personal forgiveness. I don't just trust in him for my own daily needs. I trust him as part of a community, because I belong to something bigger than just my personal journey with Jesus. We experience more of who Jesus is in the context of his body, the church.
The fourth thing I want to mention as you share in this big restoration story is the "and you" part. When you open your heart to Jesus, you become one of God's instruments to bring about this restoration of all things. So whatever you do—whether you're taking care of your family, you're mowing the yard, you're getting to know your neighbors, you're going to your job, you're practicing medicine or law or counseling or sales or running a business or painting or whatever—you are actively part of restoring this broken world. So if there's ugliness in your world, you're called to bring beauty. If there's disorder, you're called to bring order. If there's cruelty, you're called to bring kindness. If there's confusion, you're called to bring faith.
Listen to the way it says it later in Colossians: "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Whatever you do is charged with meaning. If God has called you to a certain job, a certain family, a certain neighborhood, a certain school, a certain network of friends—wherever you are and whatever you do—you are an instrument of restoration, and God needs you in that place.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?_____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________
Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.