Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sermon -- 9th Sunday after Pentecost (July 17, 2016)

COLOSSIANS 1:21-29

WE PROCLAIM 
THE MYSTERY OF GOD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Behold!  We are proclaiming the mystery of God, and that mystery is this: Christ dwells in you.  He has to, or else you are not saved.  He has to, or else you are unclean and under God's curse.
     That Jesus is your Savior is a great mystery.  It is not a secret.  A secret is something which is unknown.  But once a secret is revealed, you know all about it.  But a mystery is something that we ponder and will never unravel.  We know the message, but we can never truly grasp the depth of it.  We proclaim the mystery of God—that God has become man to dwell with sinners, to save them, and to dwell in them.  He has to; for, if God is unwilling to dwell with man, then there is no way man can ever dwell with God.  But Jesus is your Immanuel.  He is “God with us.”  He is God for us.  By faith, he is God within us—conforming our lives to his will, working in us to do good works through us, and sustaining us even through death to the resurrection to eternal life.  This is the mystery of God we proclaim.  We continue to ponder it, because our reason will never grasp it.
     Unfortunately, we lean on our reason to figure these things out.  We look for evidence of godliness, and we end up drawing faulty conclusions.  For example, your friends like you.  They speak favorably of you.  They might even say that you are such a good person that God will reward you for being nicer than most other people are.  Now, I am not going to tell you that you are not nice people.  Most people are nice.  But being nice does not save anyone.  Even felons can be nice, but they are still criminals.  Our senses and emotions prove nothing.  Our fondness for or dislike of someone should never be confused with God's judgment.
     This is what the Lord says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  Our hearts deceive us.  We credit ourselves with good intentions even when we do selfish things or think vicious thoughts.  We don't put the best construction on other people's words and actions; rather, we are quick to take offense that people do not regard us as highly as we regard ourselves.  If you don't think so, sit in the ER sometime.  You will see the people waiting ahead of you and wonder, “Seriously, what is their problem?  They don't look bad at all.  I am the emergency.  And why are the nurses so slow?  What's taking them so long?  Why aren't they tending to me?  They must take great pleasure in making me wait and watching me suffer.”  We assume the worst of others and despise them for not making us their first priority.  We are self-absorbed and self-important, and we still believe that we are good people.  The heart is deceitful above all things.
     But now, we proclaim the mystery of God, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:27-28)  Notice what Paul says: “Him—that is, Christ—we proclaim.” (Colossians 1:28)  You see, the kingdom of God is not about you.  Your sinful nature sure wants it to be.  You want to be exalted and praised and honored and respected and accepted.  You want God to notice you and tell you how he loves what you do.  But St. Paul reminds you that God's stamp of approval does not come because of your deeds: “You … were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds....” (Colossians 1:21)  The sinful nature never improves.  The sinful heart remains deceitful above all things.
     It is not that you have overcome what you once were; it is that you have been rescued from what you once were.  Christ has put his stamp on you, and that is why God approves of you.  That is why we proclaim the mystery of God, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:27-28)  With that, our focus and our gospel rest on the one who delivers us.  If we are in Christ and Christ is in us, then we are saved.  Then our hope remains firm.
     We proclaim the mystery of God.  Jesus Christ is God who became man, not merely to live with us, but to become one of us.  Our Lord desired your salvation to the extent that he united himself to you and took up your cause.  Jesus did the good that is supposed to be done.  Not only did Jesus' friends and strangers recognize the good he did, even his enemies could not deny his good works.  Pontius Pilate, who finally ordered Jesus' execution, repeatedly announced that he had done nothing wrong.  That's because Jesus was not merely nice, he was holy.  That holiness answers for you.  It is why you get to stand before God with the verdict Jesus has earned: holy and blameless and above reproach. (Colossians 1:22)  That is why we proclaim Jesus rather than ourselves, because salvation is found only in Jesus.
     We proclaim the mystery of God.  He has now reconciled (you) in his body of flesh by his death... (Colossians 1:22)  We proclaim the mystery: our God is a man.  He took our sins into his fleshly body.  Jesus' body was nailed to the cross for sinful acts he did not commit and for perverse thoughts he did not ponder.  He bled and died for you in order to reconcile you.  Jesus was forsaken by his Father at his death so that the Father will never forsake you at yours.  Jesus became “God with us” in order to bring us back to God so that we would dwell with him forever.  By faith, we even have our God dwell within us, creating in us a clean heart and renewing in us a right spirit.  All the good that we do is God working in us and through us.
     This is a mystery which we continue to marvel at, and the world continues to mock.  The world declares a work to be good if it benefits one's neighbor.  The world says it is good if you help people do whatever makes them happy, even if God forbids it.  The world will rebuke and reproach you if you fail to do so.  The world is outraged when we do not praise sins and is perplexed when we do not participate in them.
     God, however, declares a work good only if the one who does it is good.  In God's assessment, a wicked man cannot do good at all.  By his death, Jesus Christ has rescued you from wickedness.  By faith in Jesus, you have been declared holy and blameless and above reproach. (Colossians 1:22)  The blood of Jesus continues to purify you of all sin. (1 John 1:7)  That holy blood is the stamp that Jesus has put on you, and therefore, God approves of you and your works.  Now, if God will not reproach you, then you know that glory awaits you in the life to come.  To the world, that is an inexplicable mystery.  To us, it is the mystery of God which we proclaim, ponder, and put our hope in.
     We proclaim the mystery of God which also consists of this: God delivers his salvation to us through material things.  Just as God took on flesh to save us, so God continues to come in material things to deliver that salvation to us.  He attached his word to water to wash you clean of sin and guilt.  He attaches his word to bread and wine to deliver to you the body and blood which reconcile you to God.  He delivers his word through the mouth of fleshy ministers who bestow God's peace upon you.  Jesus does not divorce himself from these tangible things; rather, our Immanuel continues to be with us and to come to us through them.  For, God does not merely save spirits; he saves people.  Therefore, Jesus died in his body, but also rose in his body from the grave to redeem you completely so that he will raise you up completely in body and soul for eternal life.  And therefore, you serve him not just in spirit, but with your whole being.
     We proclaim the mystery of God: The man, Jesus, is God.  God is the man, Jesus.  He who became flesh takes up residence in your flesh to make you God's own forever.  Your goodness, your salvation, and your hope are found only in Jesus Christ.  And by faith, Jesus Christ is found in you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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