************ Sermon on Colossians 3:1-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 19, 1998
Colossians 2:11,12; 3:1-17
"Dying and Rising With Christ"
I The Past – The Ground and Guarantee
A According to the Spirit-inspired apostle we who believe have been buried with Christ and raised with Christ (Col 2:12). In a very real sense I can say, "I died on Golgotha when Jesus died and I arose from the grave when Jesus arose." In a mysterious way, I was in and with Christ upon the cross and in the grave.
Try to imagine yourself at Golgotha Hill on Good Friday. The cross is placed on the ground and you are thrown backward with your shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of your wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought-iron nail through your wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull your arms too tightly, allowing you some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place and fastened onto the upright set into the hill.
Your left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving your knees flexed. You are now crucified. As you slowly sag down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in your brain. You push yourself upward to avoid this stretching torment. But now you feel the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves of your feet.
As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through your muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push yourself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. You fight to raise yourself in order to get even one small breath.
What follows is hours of limitless pain: cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps; intermittent partial asphyxiation; searing pain as tissue is torn from your lacerated back as you move up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain within the chest as your heart cavity fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
It is now almost over: the loss of fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air.
Finally, you feel the chill of death creeping through your tissues. You welcome its approach.
In some mysterious way, congregation, we are joined to Christ so that His suffering and pain and death becomes ours. It makes me shiver that Christ did this for me.
B We can't leave it here, of course. Try to imagine yourself now in the grave on Easter Sunday. The tomb is dark and quiet. You are wrapped in cloths and lying on a stone ledge a foot or two above the ground. First one toe wiggles, then another. Your fingers start to flex. Your eyelids blink. Your body stirs. You sit up and pass through the wrappings. You stand up and walk through the wall. In the first rays of the morning sun you see the angels roll away the stone. You see the soldiers standing there, frozen with fright.
In some deeply mysterious way we are joined to Christ so that His resurrection, His new life, His glory, become ours.
C We have to go further than this yet too. It is now some 2000 years later. You are a baby. Your father is holding you. While water is falling on your head a voice intones, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
This baptism is God's guarantee to you and to everyone who is baptized, that you, in some mysterious way, have really died with Christ and have been really raised with Christ (Col 2:12).
Along this line, let me mention that the first form for baptism at the back of our Psalter Hymnal is biblical – baptism does symbolize the washing away of our sins as this form puts it. However, this does not quite follow the Bible's emphasis. When the Bible speaks of baptism, it more often speaks of our dying and rising with Christ than of the washing away of our sins.
Here then is our union with Christ in His death and resurrection in terms of the past: in a mysterious but very real way we were present with Christ at the cross and the grave so that with Him we died and with Him we arose. And this dying and rising with Christ was sealed and confirmed to each of us when we received the sacrament of baptism.
II The Present – The Living Out
A The Spirit-inspired apostle moves on from the past to the present. Those who were present with Christ at the cross and the grave so that with Him they died and with Him they arose must now make this a reality in their day-to-day lives. In other words, we who have been baptized must live out our dying and rising with Christ. And, we must impress upon the hearts and minds of our children that they too must live out or make real their baptism. We must nurture that seed that God planted in us and let it grow into a strong and mighty tree.
How are we to do this? How are we to live out our dying and rising with Christ? How are we to make the promises of baptism a reality in our lives? The Spirit tells us how:
(Col 3:1-2) ... set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Notice, the Bible tells us we have an alternative: things above or earthly things. There's always an alternative. Every time you have the opportunity to rid yourself of sin, to receive God's forgiveness, and to find strength and renewal, there is also an opportunity to remain in your sin and misery.
Not that long ago a church in central Louisiana had a message on her church sign: "All you that are tired of sin, come on in." Underneath that, scribbled in lipstick, were the words, "All you that ain't, call 2242."Temptation is ever present. The forces of evil are constantly at work. With every invitation to come to God there is also an opportunity to choose for sin.
The apostle reminds us today that we have this kind of choice. We can set our minds on earthly things or on heavenly things. We can pursue treasure on earth or treasure in heaven. We can seek first the things of this world or the kingdom and its righteousness.
We have to make a choice here between serving God and serving the Devil, between living for God and living for ourselves.
Those who were present with Christ at the cross and the grave so that with Him they died and with Him they arose must now live for Jesus. The words of the song we sing are so very appropriate here:
Living for Jesus a life that is true
striving to please Him in all that I do,
yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free;
this is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to you,
for you in your atonement did give yourself for me.
I own no other Master – my heart shall be your throne:
my life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ for you alone.
(Psalter Hymnal # 292)
"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." This is to be the goal of those who were present with Christ at the cross and the grave. This is to be the target of those who have been baptized.
B This is hard, isn't it? It isn't easy to concentrate on the things above where Christ is. It is so easy to go for the wrong goal.
I was at a basket-ball game where a boy grabbed a fumbled ball, took off down the court dribbling like mad, and amid the screams of the crowd executed a perfect lay-up shot – in the wrong basket! He had worked so hard. But it was for the wrong goal. The opposing team got two points.
A lot of us work hard for the wrong things. Jesus chided His followers one time for not being as imaginative, hard working and dedicated as the "sons of darkness." People often use a lot more energy, effort and imagination in working for every other cause under the sun than in service for Christ.
Martin Luther King said "I have a dream." I also have a dream: that God's people put as much time, energy and imagination into living for Jesus as they put into their jobs, farms and businesses; that God's people put as much time, energy and imagination into seeking treasure in heaven as they put into seeking treasure on earth.
Let's suppose that this dream becomes a reality. What do you think would happen? Do you think things would be different in your life? Would things be different in this church? If this means big and drastic changes for us as individuals or as a church then our faith life is sadly deficient and our priorities demand a close examination and drastic revision.
C Those who were present with Christ at the cross and the grave, those who have been baptized, set their minds on things above, not on earthly things.
To truly accomplish this I think we all realize we need to undergo some radical surgery. The apostle speaks here of the need for death and dying; something within us needs to be put to death; capital punishment needs to be exercised against our old man of sin, what Paul calls our "earthly nature" (Col 3:5) or our "old self with its practices" (Col 3:9). And, at the same time, we must put on the "new self" which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col 3:10).
We must "put to death" whatever belong to our earthly nature: "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (Col 3:5). We must rid ourselves of "anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language" (Col 3:8). We must not lie to each other (Col 3:9). Instead, we must clothe ourselves with "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Col 3:12). We must bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances we may have against one another. And, above all we must have love (Col 3:13,14).
The image Paul has in mind here is that of a change of clothing. We must take off the filthy rags of sins and put on the clothes of righteousness.
This reminds me of my days in the tobacco fields of my dad's farm. After a day of picking tobacco leaves at harvest time our clothing and any exposed flesh would be stained with nicotine and covered with a layer of tar. We used to peel or roll the tar off our arms and legs in half inch balls. We used sand-soap, wire brushes, and bleach to get rid of the nicotine stain. Yet, to feel clean, really clean, I also had to change my clothes.
That's what the Lord wants of those who were present with Christ at the cross and the grave, those who have been baptized. He wants them to have a total change of clothing. Through the Spirit this comes about only through what Paul says at the end of our Bible reading about the peace of Christ, being thankful, the Word of God, and worship (that's a subject for another sermon).
Here, then, is our union with Christ in His death and resurrection in terms of the present: we must make it real in our lives, we must lead the converted life, we must live out our baptism.
III The Future – The Full Revelation
A Finally, the Spirit-inspired apostle moves on from the present to the future.
We who believe were present with Christ at the cross and the grave so that with Him we died and with Him we arose. And, we may strive to live this out in our day-to-day life. Yet the fact remains that our dying and living with Christ is not fully displayed in our lives the way it should be.
We have to face the fact of the "already but not yet." Already at the cross and the grave we have shared in the death and resurrection of Christ. Already the old man of sin is dead and the new man of righteousness is alive if we are a Christian. Already if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation and the old has passed away. But this is not yet fully displayed. The old man has not yet fully gone. The new man has not yet fully taken over. The fact is, we still sin. So we already have new life but it is not yet fully displayed.
Think here of a couple expecting a child. They are in the "already but not yet." In one way they already have a child and in another way they do not yet have a child. They can hardly wait for the child to become a full reality in their life.
Sometimes I cook on the gas grill at home. When I am the cook I get to check if the meat is done. I cut off a little corner of the T-bone and get to taste it before the rest of the family. I already have a taste but it is not yet a full reality. I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into more than just a little sliver.
In the same way, we believers experience the already but not yet of our new life in Christ. We already have the new life, we have been given a little taste of what is to come, but we have to wait patiently before it becomes a full reality.
B I have always loved the words of verses 3 & 4 here: "your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." The life guaranteed as ours at baptism is not fully ours yet; it is bound to Christ and is fully revealed only at His second coming.
We can draw great comfort and strength from this, my brothers and sisters. Many is the time when we become discouraged by our sins and failures, when accusing fingers get pointed at us. When this happens, we can console ourselves that there will come a time when our new lives will be fully revealed for all to see. At that time our new life will no longer be veiled. At that time our light will truly shine forth; we will no longer be like a light under a bushel. Instead, we will share in Christ's glory. At that time we will be fully vindicated: all will see that at the cross and the grave we died and have risen with Christ.
There is also a word of comfort here about wayward sons and daughters. We don't know but we may pray that for now their lives too are "hidden with Christ in God" and that there will come a time when they "also will appear with him in glory."
(Col 3:1-4) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ [as your baptism shows you], set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (3) For you died [again, as your baptism shows you], and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (4) When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
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