Sermon by Rev. John Luth of St. Albert, Alberta
Explaining all that Jesus is about is like explaining everything about the mountains. How can you accurately describe something so breathtaking and majestic? Yet, you want your description to leave the listener with the same sense of wonder that you know.
Explaining all that Jesus is about is like giving careful directions to a hidden camping spot, just off the road, around the bend, past that large rock. You want your friend to be able to find that place and set up camp there, not end up next to the railroad tracks.
Explaining all that Jesus is about, is like giving precise instructions to a recipe for the best bread you have ever tasted. You want to do it so their loaf turns out just like yours.
And, explaining all that Jesus is about, is like passing along a set of physio exercises that will actually rehab the shoulder injury your friend has suffered.
That must be how it was for Paul.
God had shown him something that was a hidden mystery.
Prophets had sensed this mystery a long time back. But they had only seen it vaguely and not in fine detail. It was a mystery about something God would do. They just did not know how he would do it. They had seen parts of the picture but not the whole thing. They had seen it the way you see a thin red strip on the horizon but you still don’t see that great red ball in the early morning sky.
The prophets knew that God’s mercy is rich. They knew God wants to forgive people and help us start over. They knew that somehow God loves all people he creates. They had a dream of people from all over the world coming to know and love God. They said things like this: “From the west, men will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.” That’s Isaiah in chapter 59.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people….. they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” declares the Lord. That’s Jeremiah in chapter 31.
The prophets were inspired by the Spirit of God to say these things. But they just could not see how it would happen. All they could see was the promising thin red strip of light on the horizon.
God told Paul that the mystery “kept hidden for ages and generations…” is not a set of doctrines or some secret inside knowledge. The mystery is a person. The mystery is that God has come in Jesus Christ and all of these long-awaited dreams of the prophets are coming true in Jesus. Everyone , Jew and Gentile, Church-goer or not, who turns and trusts Jesus and follows him is forgiven and welcome and accepted by God. Old people, young people, everyone. All may receive life and come to God through faith in Jesus. Through his living and dying and rising for us. Through his gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the mystery now made known.
Paul gets it. Though it took a special revelation from the Lord, and the careful discipleship of some loving Christian friends, Paul gets it. And his special call now is to unwrap and explain Jesus to people who have never been included before in the family of God.
Paul wants to be able to tell about Jesus so that eyes will open. So that lights will go on, so that hearts will jump as more and more people come to know Jesus.
He wants that here in Colossians 4, even more than he wants to be free.
Did you notice that? Vs 2, Paul is writing to a church that was a daughter of the church in Ephesus. One of the converts in Ephesus carried the gospel down the road to Colosse and a church grew up. Paul has never met most of the people he is writing to. But he asks the people in the church to be devoted to prayer. Literally that phrase means to “stand on guard in prayer”, always watchful, and always thankful. And he asks them to keep on praying for him and for his partners so that God might open a door. This request says something about Paul, but also about God.
First about Paul. Remember he is in prison. Likely house arrest, not quite like what we see on the show ‘Prison Break’. But if we are being held against our will and cannot come and go freely, we want most of all for the door to swing wide open and to be free. That’s true whether we are in a maximum security jail, house arrest or even serving a detention after school. We want sweet freedom.
Paul is no different than you or me. He would love to be free to travel and visit the churches he loves. But the door Paul wants open most of all is the “door” for the good news of Jesus. That might be the door of opportunity to tell the story of Jesus. It might be the door of the critical moment, that “just the right time” for someone to hear about Jesus. It could be the door of understanding or the door of the Bible.
“Door” is used in all of these ways in the Bible.
But that is Paul’s prayer request. That God might open a door for his word. Have you ever met someone who cares more about the spread of the good news, than they do for their own physical freedom? Paul has experienced what David writes about in Psalm 63, that God’s love is better than life. The good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ is better than physical freedom. Have there been times in your life when you have realized that too?
But Paul’s prayer request also says something about God. Paul recognizes that if the good news of Jesus is going to go anywhere, it is up to God to get it done. Jesus himself said that no one comes to him unless the Father “draws” him. (John 6:44) Jesus used the same word there that we would use to describe hauling water from a well.
We need to make a decision and we need to turn and follow Jesus. But under it all is the action of the Father, lifting us, hauling us from our sin and bringing us to Jesus. Exactly how our decision is prompted and motivated by God from the inside out is a mystery too. But that is a mystery for another day. For now we need to recognize that God is the one who opens doors for his word. That is a good picture and a phrase to take into our prayers for friends or family members, for anyone who has not received the good news of Jesus: “Dear God, please open the door for your word in Janine’s life, or Dustin’s life.” “Please open the doors of this church so that the word may get out into our community of _____________.” “Please open the door for your word in this world”.
But…. The door opens when the good news of Jesus is explained clearly. We often say that God is a covenant God. The Bible tells us that this is so. The covenant is not some special arrangement that God has with special people who are somehow better than anyone else. The covenant means that God calls us. He drafts us. He uses us as his partners in his saving work in the world. His work is always to reach more and more people with his love. Here is one example of how God uses our work for his purpose. He uses clear presentations of the gospel to open the door for his word.
That’s why the second part of Paul’s prayer is that he may make Jesus known
clearly as he should.
It’s easy to be vague about Jesus. It is easy to reduce the gospel to a formula or to some spiritual laws. But to know and teach and speak clearly about Jesus and all that he means for us is hard work.
It is hard to know just how to clearly present the gospel to a teen. The speakers at SERVE sites are really skilled in doing that. But it is also tough to know just how an elderly person needs to hear about Jesus, or a child, or young parents, or people who have never heard of him at all. It can be a special challenge to know how to speak of Jesus to someone whose trust has been deeply betrayed by a close friend, or even a spouse.
And when the gospel of Jesus is not made clear, the result can be misunderstandings about who Jesus or what he is about.
Here is one of the most common:
“I need to ‘smarten up’, ‘shape up’, ‘get my act together’ and follow Jesus. If I do that he will come and help me and love me”.
But the clear good news is that Jesus loves us already. He loves us in our foolishness and our mistakes and blunders and sins. The good news about Jesus and his Father is that grace always comes first. While we were sinners Christ died for us!
When the gospel is not clear in a conversation or in a sermon we might go home depressed (a lot or a bit) by what we hear. The British writer Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote to a friend, “I have been to church this morning and I am not depressed”. He sounded surprised by that.
When the gospel is not clear we might think it is not for us. If we see a commercial on television and do not understand it, there is nothing wrong with us. It just means that the commercial is not addressed to us. The car being sold is for our parents. The ipod for sale is for our kids. The cell phones are being targeted to teens.
But the gospel of Jesus Christ is targeted and addressed to every age group. It is specifically good news to every culture and to both men and women. That’s why it needs to be clear.
You know how sometimes it can be different and we hear the good news explained and we understand that Jesus came into the world to teach us what God is really like. And Jesus died on the cross so that we could be forgiven for cheating or lying or stealing or manipulating. He died on the cross so that we could be forgiven for every single sin that haunts us and for the sins we have never remembered. Jesus rose from the grave and gave his Holy Spirit so that we could have a whole new life with God.
That’s what Paul is hoping for. That’s what he works for. That’s why he sometimes uses songs or phrases that people cannot forget. “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation”. (Col 1:15)
He gave them explanations and sometimes he just said, “Here is a trustworthy saying”, and gave them a sound bite to take home. Look for his trustworthy sayings and you will see what I mean.
Paul wants clarity even more than he wants to get out of jail. So he asks the Colossians to ‘stand on guard’ in prayer.
Today I am asking you to stand on guard and pray.
Please pray for parents who are telling the story of Jesus to their children. Pray for those whose special call is to explain the mystery of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Pray for Sunday School teachers and leaders. For elders and deacons as they make their visits. Pray for the people who write Christian books that try to explain the wonder and mystery of Jesus. Pray for the missionaries our church supports. (insert their names here…. )
Please pray for me as I read this message. Those of us who read these messages want more than to just get through them. We want the gospel of Jesus and his love to be clear in our voices and in our faces and in our hearts.
Please pray for our pastor (insert name ) Pray that he/she may explain the mystery of the good news of Jesus Christ clearly as they should and as we need. They want more than anything to explain and preach and see in our eyes that you are getting Jesus.
It is a terrible thing for a congregation to sit through a boring, dead monologue. Sometimes messages seem to turn wine back into water.
Pastor Luth says that it is a terrible thing for preachers to go home feeling like their sermon suffered from a failure to launch. That it was pushed off the pulpit and then flopped to the floor somewhere between the pulpit and the first pew.
But regardless of how anyone feels, it is even worse to be in the presence of Jesus and just not see or find or know him.
It is easy to think that preaching is all up to our pastors. After all, they went away to seminary and studied Hebrew and Greek and theology. And, that is what we pay them for isn’t it? Doesn’t God just tell them what we as a congregation need to hear? Isn’t it enough if we all sit quietly and listen?
The early church did not seem to think like that. In Acts 6 the church was growing. The twelve got side tracked from their first calling. They got too involved with the daily food distribution. The needy were not looked after well. And, it seems, the ministry of the Word suffered too. The situation was resolved when the church gave the ministry of bread distribution over to some wise, Spirit-filled people.
But that doesn’t seem to mean that each apostle then went back to his own study. Listen, “we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word”. Acts 6:4 Notice that the pronouns are plural. It seems that the ministry of the word and of prayer was done together.
The ministry of the Word is a ministry of the congregation. Many years ago, Rev. Jake Eppinga wrote in the Banner that “the pulpit does not rise higher than the pew”. By that he meant that the expectations and feed back and support of the congregation is crucial to clear and solid preaching.
In some congregations Bible study during the week focuses on the same passages that the sermon will be about. In some congregations, the pastor is involved in these Bible studies, not only to teach, but also to listen to the insights and questions of the congregation. The ministry of the word is more enjoyable for everyone in those situations, but it is also clearer for everyone.
Preaching is work that a pastor and congregation do together. Our pastors need our honest feedback, encouragement and challenge so that together we can make the best and clearest sermons. But most of all they need our prayers.
So will you do that? Will you pray for the ministry of the word in this church?
Will you do that routinely at home at supper time or whenever your family has prayer time? Kids, when you pray at bed time, will you pray for your Sunday School teachers and your pastor? The mystery of the gospel of Jesus needs to be clearly spoken. So that we and our neighbours and friends may know that the grace of God in Jesus is higher than the mountains, deeper than the ocean and warmer than the sunrise. And many doors may be opened to Jesus Christ.
And all God’s people said,
Suggested Order of Worship
PH 244 God Himself is With Us
Call to worship: Isaiah 55 (from The Message)
"Hey there! All who are thirsty,
come to the water!
Are you penniless?
Come anyway—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything's free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words.
May the Lord bless us today with his grace and peace.
(we greet each other)
Service of Reconciliation and Renewal
…..sometimes we come together from difficult places
PH 256 Out of the Depths I Cry
God’s word of assurance
1 John 3:1-3
God’s Will for our Lives (Exodus 20)
PH 288 Take My Life and Let it Be
Children’s Message (if desired)
Prayer for the Holy Spirit
Service of the Word
Bible Reading: Colossians 1:24-29, 4:2-6
Message: Paul’s Prayer Request
Ph 265 Standing in the Need of Prayer
We Bring our Gifts to God
We Leave to Love and Serve
Ph 530 I Love to Tell the Story
God’s Blessing: May the Lord bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face shine upon us and give us his peace.
Ph 638 Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow