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Sermon: Colossians 1:21-29
Pentecost 9 – August 11, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

Perfectionism is a problem for a lot of people. We all want to do well in what we pursue in life, but people begin to have some real problems with stress and unhappiness when they feel like no matter how well they do it’s never good enough. This urge or need to be perfect or nearly perfect often is a real source of stress and even emotional problems for young people that can linger on into adulthood.
As Christians we might ask the question, “Does God expect us to be perfect?” If you were to randomly ask that question of people I would guess that most of them would say, “No, God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. God knows we’re sinful. He knows we’re weak human beings.” There are others, however, who might argue, “Yes, God does expect us to be perfect. After all, he’s perfect. He’s holy, and he expects us to be holy as well.

In our text today the Apostle Paul talks about us being holy in God’s sight. He even speaks about the goal of his preaching as presenting “everyone perfect in Christ.” So perfectionism, or being perfect, is an issue that we Christians need to understand and concern ourselves with.

Today we ask

So what about that? Does God expect us to be perfect? He knows we’re not perfect. He knows we’re sinful from the moment of our conception and birth. But the honest answer is that God does expect us to be perfect, to be holy. That’s the way he created Adam and Eve in the beginning. We were all meant to be like Adam and Eve. We were all meant to be like God.

As a matter of fact God told the people of Israel, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” And just so we don’t get the idea that the LORD’s command to the people of Israel was just some Old Testament rule or law we don’t have to be concerned with, Jesus in the New Testament repeats that same command in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So what does Paul say about perfection in this letter to the Colossians?

Colosse was a small city in Asia Minor, present day western Turkey. A young man named Epaphras had brought the gospel there and started a Christian congregation. The congregation very quickly came under the attack of false teachers who began to claim that Jesus was not really fully God and that the gospel message was not really a sufficient spiritual message. There was other knowledge and behavior that people had to adopt in order to truly be children of God. Obviously Paul felt the need to write this letter to the congregation there and address these issues.

Paul immediately deals with the supremacy of Christ, that he truly is God. He writes that “he is the image of the invisible God, . . .” Later in the letter he will defend Jesus’ divine and human nature with these words: “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, . . .”
Then he proceeds in the words of our text to note that it is through this Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, that God the Father has saved us from our sins.

But Paul actually begins by reminding the Colossians that they were enemies of God in their mind and in their thoughts. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” If Paul were writing a letter to Immanuel Lutheran Church instead of the church at Colosse, could he say that we were enemies of God because of our evil behavior? Most of us probably would nod in agreement and say, “Well, yes, we were enemies of God because we were born in sin.” And we would be right in that theological assessment, but can you look back on your life and think of a time when you were an enemy of God or felt like an enemy of God because of your evil behavior? Many of us don’t remember a time like that.

For many people in the Colossian congregation and other Gentile congregations which Paul served there was a clear memory of a time when they were enemies of God because of very sinful behavior. But when they came to know Jesus Christ their belief about God changed and their thoughts and behavior dramatically changed. They knew exactly what Paul was talking about.

Many of us have been Christians all of our lives. We have believed in Jesus as far back as we can remember. Being an enemy of God because of our evil behavior is not something we remember well. And yet what Paul writes is true. Whether we remember it or not we were born as sinful unbelievers, enemies of God. And even though we are Christians now we carry with us a sinful nature that in this world will always be an enemy of God and strive to do sin and evil.

But then Paul writes the good news: “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 – . . . .” There’s that issue of perfection again. Paul uses the expressions holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. Paul also uses the word reconciliation. That’s a very important and very comforting word in Christian teaching.

God knew very well that we were born his enemies, that our sinful natures are his enemies, and that we do evil because of our sin. Yet God has reconciled us in Christ. When two friends are fighting, when a husband and wife are having differences, when a labor union is having disagreements with bosses, there often needs to be a mediator to resolve the differences. The difference between us and God, the separation between us and God, was our sin and evil. God sent Jesus to be the Mediator who resolved the difference. He took away our sin so that we were reconciled to God.

Paul is very specific about how God reconciled us. He reconciled us “by Christ’s physical body through death.” Not only did Paul write this letter to the Colossians to remind them that Jesus was true God, he also wrote it to remind them that Jesus was in fact a true Man, a real human being. We might take that fact for granted, but it was essential that our Savior be a true human being who could take our place and reconcile us to God. He was a true human being with a real physical body that was nailed to a cross where he suffered and died to atone for our sins. The Apostle Peter in his 1st letter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” And then Peter quotes the prophet Isaiah, “By his wounds we are healed.”

Note very carefully that it required the death of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, to atone for our sins, for us to be reconciled to God. It cost something. It cost Jesus dearly. God didn’t just wave his hands and say, “Oh, I forgive you. We’ll just overlook your sins.” No, God is a holy and just God. He cannot overlook sin. The wages of sin have to be paid. And Jesus paid those wages for us.
And then note what the result is for us: “to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” If God took our sin from us and put them on Jesus, punished Jesus in our place, then those sins and their guilt is gone, gone forever. In God’s mind, in his sight, we are without sin, we are holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. We are perfect.

That’s the gospel message that Paul taught as boldly and far and wide as he could. And that’s why he was so insistent with the Colossians and is insistent with us that we “continue in [our] faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Be faithful. Keep believing this simple message that Jesus died on a cross to take away your sins. That’s the gospel. That’s the gospel that reconciles you and me to God. That’s the gospel that declares us perfect in God’s sight.

In our text Paul says that the gospel is a mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” The preaching of the gospel first took place in the Garden of Eden when God promised that a Savior would be a Descendant of Eve and would crush the serpent’s head. About all that Adam and Eve knew is that a Savior would come and atone for their sins. Beyond that it was a mystery. God told Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that a blessing for all the nations of the earth would come from their descendants. That blessing was the Savior, but the details of the gospel remained a mystery. King David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Zechariah and other prophets wrote about the coming Savior, but even for them the details were a mystery.

The details were filled in when Jesus was born. They were filled in as Jesus carried out his ministry. The details of the gospel were clearly filled in when Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. And when Jesus rose from the dead the details were complete. Sin, death, and hell had been conquered. What Jesus did to reconcile sinners to God was the mystery revealed to the saints, revealed to the Colossians, revealed to you and me.

Don’t miss how blessed and privileged you and I are to sit here today and have a clear completed gospel that is not a mystery, but is fully declared and explained on the pages of the New Testament.

And though the mystery of the gospel has been revealed in our day, the gospel still has ongoing results. It continues to forgive, declare holy, and save millions of people who come to believe it.
But Paul also mentions a rather unusual ongoing result of the gospel. He says, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” We, the Holy Christian Church, are figuratively the body of Christ. Just as Jesus’ body was afflicted so we, the body of Christ, will also be afflicted and persecuted until Jesus comes again.

Paul endured this affliction and persecution, and Christians have endured this persecution for 2000 years, and we will too. We will, and we can because God has reconciled us to himself in Christ, he has declared us holy, perfect in his sight. Paul puts it perfectly: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” Amen.