In 1850 PT Barnum approached one of the world’s most popular singers, Sweden’s Jenny Lind to do a tour of the US.
It earned her, in today’s equivalent, over 10 million dollars…she donated all of it to charity.
In the movie, “The Greatest Showman” she is fictionalized as pursuing a relationship with the married Barnum…a very unfair portrayal of the actual Jenny Lind.
Why the change in historical accuracy?
Well…what’s interesting about a content and generous person…much more interesting to watch an enormously talented and enormously discontented star.
But also, her character is used as a contrast to the portrayal of Barnum who, in the movie, goes from discontent to contentment in the end.
In the movie, she sings this song that highlights the discontentment of her heart…listen to some of the lyrics…it’s a beautiful and powerful song.
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough
Never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough
So, something of trick question.. are those lyrics descriptive of a growing, committed follower of Christ or not?
You say, of course not!
Be careful…The answer is…yes, at least partially so.
There is a part of the perpetual discontentment in the human heart that has it’s cure in the gospel applied now.
We can, and we must…as we discussed last week…become content with more and more…or we will become content with less and less.
Our hearts are going one direction or the other.
But there is a part of this built in longing for more…that only has its final cure, in the fulfillment of the gospel after this life.
We can, already, now…become more and more content.
But we will not, in this life…ever feel completely at home, completely satisfied, completely fulfilled.
Why, what is the problem…doesn’t the gospel “work”?
It works, we are fully redeemed…we are at peace with God.
But we are not fully changed…into the image of Christ and we are not home with him yet.
So, for now, meanwhile we groan…we long…we are not going to be fully satisfied.
Listen to how Paul describes it, in two different letters…
2 Cor. 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling
Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
What does he mean, “meanwhile we groan”…as we wait for our full adoption
Groan is a word like “sigh”…a deep expression of unfilled human longing, of unfilled desire.
Meanwhile…in the “not yet”…we long for what is fully and finally to come.
All of life, before death…is this “meanwhile”
And all of “meanwhile”…has a “longing, not yet fulfilled” aspect to it.
*If I only had a deep, close marriage relationship, a partner who understood and connected with me…it would never be enough.
*If I only had children, or children who thrived…it would never be enough.
*If only I had health, a good job, a house, a better church, closer friends…it would never be enough.
*If only I had a perfect family holiday…it can be great, but it won’t be enough…it will leave you wanting more.
*If I had a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus…it would never be enough either…not now at least.
“Come on, surely that would be enough!”
The day will come for the believer when longing will be fulfilled…but in this life…
No matter what…we groan, longing for the full redemption that is coming.
Historically, the church has celebrated the four Sundays before Christmas day as “Advent”
Advent simply means arrival.
It has been celebrated as a tension, life between the “arrivals of Christ”: Already/Not yet
-Christ has come, already in his first advent, the world has changed already, but only in part.
-Christ will come again, second advent, the world is yet to be changed in full.
So, this explains what we have seen in history… the Church…transforming entire cultures (slowly, and in imperceptible ways…like water dripping on granite carving a hole over centuries)…and yet, though changed by the gospel, cultures remain dark and broken.
It explains what we see in individual lives…Christians…changed in dramatic ways…yet, still not fully like Jesus…and prone, still to sin.
These four weeks before Christmas we will look at another of Paul’s prison letters, this one called Colossians…to a church in an Asia Minor city (modern day Turkey)
Paul was, enduring one of his many imprisonments for his faith, and he is writing a letter to a church he didn’t start…a guy from Colossae, a fella he had mentored, named Epaphras started it.
Epaphras visited Paul in prison and told him about some of the challenges facing the church and the good stuff happening there…so Paul wrote this letter to address some of those challenges…and to encourage their hearts.
After his customary greetings, he writes words of praise for their reputation for being a church of faith and love.
Not every church then (or now) was a mess…they were doing pretty well.
Next, he launches into a prayer for them:
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Here he lays out the strategy to counter the challenges facing the church at Colossae…challenges that are rooted in wrong:
Again, they were doing well…but he wants them to keep on doing well.
The strategy is: Grow in the knowledge of Christ, and grow in a life that honors Christ
At first glance this strategy as seen in verses 9,10 sounds like circular reasoning:
-“How do I live to honor Christ?”
– “Well, you need more knowledge of him.”
-“Okay, how do I gain more knowledge of him?”
– “Well, you need to live a life that honors Christ.”
Here is cartoon depicting circular reasoning at its best:
“What is the key to success?
“Hire the right employees”
“How do you know you hired the right ones?”
“You know because the business is successful.”
“So, the key to success is circular reasoning?”
“Yes, because circular reasoning is the key””
You can’t do anything with circular reasoning, other than go in circles…but that is not what this is in this passage
It’s not a circle, but rather an upward, or growth spiral.
Paul prays that they will:
-increase in their knowledge of Jesus
-in order that they will live a life worthy of Jesus
-in order to increase in knowledge of Jesus
You see this growth spiral principle in many places in Scripture:
-Luke 16 “Faithful in little leads to opportunity to be faithful in much.”
-Philemon 1:6 “Be faithful in sharing your faith, so you will grow in understanding your faith.”
So, keep this “Know, grow” spiral in mind…we will come back to it.
There is much more in this passage but let’s move on to the heart of this chapter and this letter, verses 10-15.
These verses comprise what is considered to be one of the most important passages regarding Jesus in the NT…it is theology in poetry…touching head and heart at the same time.
The poem has two parallel stanzas:
First stanza (verses 15-17) Jesus is the true image of God, the royal firstborn, the king and creator of the cosmos.
The second stanza (18-20) Jesus is shown to be the one who is bringing about the new creation, through his resurrection and headship over his body, the church.
Jesus is Creator, Lord of the cosmos
Cosmos is a word that describes the universe as well-ordered whole.
As opposed to chaos…disorder
Jesus, Re-creator, Lord of the church
He is bringing order to the chaos created by our sin.
We read it together…let’s think about some…
( He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross)
15: He is the image of the invisible God
He is invisible, not because he is less than material but more than…he transcends the cosmos he has created.
He can manifest himself physically…but he is not tied to the universe…any more than a painter is an actual part of his painting.
But in the great mystery of Christ…the transcendent God has become immanent.
No one has ever seen God, John wrote in his gospel (1:18)…but God, the only Son has made God known.
Now we are in deep waters…many have written about the incarnation…which means God became man in Christ…but no one has fully comprehended it.
I have mentioned that I get regular questions from the grade school aged students upstairs.
-There are super fun ones…like
-“Were Adam and Eve married?”
-“What were Adam and Eve’s last name?”
And serious ones like…
-“Why do people we love get sick”
A couple weeks ago I got this one, from the entire 4th and 5th grade class…
-“How is Jesus both God and man?”
My answer was that we don’t really know…it is too big an idea for our minds to hold.
This doesn’t mean we can’t understand it to be true, or that it’s not true…it is true, and we can, to a degree comprehend it…but we can’t hold it completely in our minds…it’s too big a thought.
If we could hold God in our minds…he would not be God…or we would be.
We can know him accurately and adequately…but not completely.
What we know of him is true and able to be “applied” in our lives…but it is not all that can be known of God.
I asked them to think of ideas that are too big for their minds to hold.
Ideas about things they don’t fully understand, but yet they live with them every day…cars, lights.
We take these big ideas about God by faith…faith is not believing in something that is not real.
It means we trust God who we have come to know…with the thoughts too big to be fully known.
The incarnation is not contradiction it is mystery.
We can believe it, I said, because Jesus when asked “who are you?”
Said “Before Abraham was born, I am.”
This is the self-name God gave Moses…and Jesus gave it to himself.
Jesus, the smartest, kindest, best man to ever live…said that he is God…we believe him.
And this same Jesus, said that he would die on a cross, and he did.
And he rose from the dead, proving himself to be God.
“Okay, that’s good enough for super church, but not for me, I’m not in grade school.”
Maybe not…but there is a very small distinction between a 1st grader and a Ph.D. when it comes to understanding God…as it relates to all that could be known of God.
The answer…to all of us is the same…it too big a thought to hold completely in our minds.
The response…is also the same for all of us…faith, we trust Jesus.
We know true truth about him.
Jesus, Paul wrote, is the firstborn, over creation.
This doesn’t mean he was created.
It is, an OT title of priority…we see next that he was not created, but he is creator.
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Verse 16 goes with John 1:1
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Everything was made by him…and for him.
Distant stars in mind-blowing distant galaxies…the smallest matter and energy that make up your own body…all made by and held together by him.
This eternal, always existing Christ…is Lord over the cosmos, supreme king and creator.
This, was important for them to hear then (and for us as well now).
*Think about when Paul wrote this, and who he wrote it to.
He was in prison…put there by the human and demonic power structures of his time.
He had been tortured, persecuted by the thrones, powers, rulers, and authorities…seen and unseen.
This little church in Turkey…likewise, was seemingly at the mercy of the powerful forces swirling around them.
They lived in a culture that worshipped the Roman emperor…and many other local gods.
But this little church…was an outpost of truth in a sea of untruth.
“What you see”, Paul is writing…”is not what is ultimately real or most powerful.”
You see local officials bowing to Caesar…you experience bullying and threatening local governments and Roman soldiers.
You see people going to prison and dying…at the hands of those who seem to be charge for now.
It looks like evil power structures are winning the day…but they are not, they will not.
These power structures…will fail. (and they did, the Roman empire, like all human empires…crumbled.)
What is true in fact…forever true…is that Jesus is Lord of all creation…all powers and authorities are under him.
Jesus is king of the cosmos…all things were made by him and for him…
This message is as important for us as it was for them
We have no Caesar but, the power structures that impact our lives…can seem to be all important, all powerful…but they are not.
This must reorient us when we become disoriented by displays of human power and wisdom and especially when evil and corruption seem to be winning.
When we become drawn to the “stuff of earth” or awed by “human power structures”
Stop, grow in your knowledge of Christ…leading to worship in your heart…leading to growth in a Christ honoring life…
This poem is given by Paul to empower the growth spiral…grow to know to grow to know…
The first half of the poem…Christ is the firstborn over creation…the king and creator of the cosmos.
Look at the second half…
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross
Paul has, very intentionally, moved from creation to new creation.
Christ, the head of the cosmos, is head the church…of which the Christians there in first century Asia Minor were a part.
Their little house church…that hardly anyone in town thought much of…was at the heart of what the creator of the cosmos is doing.
See what he has done?
Has taken them from Christ, eternal, cosmos creator…to Christ, who is head of their little church there in space and time.
See how this gives perspective and meaning…to everyday faithfulness”
Christ is the firstborn over creation…and the firstborn from the dead, his resurrection is a preview of what is to come for his people, the church.
This is modeled after Paul’s other great “Jesus poem” in Phil. 2
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christ, willingly surrendered his greatness to humble himself in death on a cross…and God exalted him to the highest place because of his obedience death.
Those, are big thoughts to hold in little minds…but we must try our best to hold them there none the less.
And when these big thoughts fill our minds to the overflow and begin to spill over…we don’t become confused, or skeptical…
“I can’t fully understand all this…my mind reaches it limits…so this cannot be true!”
No, of course your mind cannot hold these thoughts in full…but that is because they are true…they are true thoughts of the true God.
It is so good to fill your mind with these thoughts…and your mind will grow as you do.
And as your mind (knowledge) increases, so CAN your relationship with Christ…if you take that truth out into the world and live a transformed life.
*Think about this in relationship to another person: friend, spouse
-You know them (who they are, what they like and don’t like, what matters to them)
-This happens through time and effort
-As you know them, you grow in relationship with them…as you apply that truth to the relationship.
-As you grow in relationship…you learn more of them…you trust them more.
*Over time…if the person is trustworthy…your trust in them grows.
-Your relationship becomes strong, resilient, able to help you through difficult times and to make your life more full and enjoyable.
*This is how it is with God…he is good, trustworthy, beautiful.
-AS we grow in knowledge of him (not silly, cultural wrong ideas of him)…we grow in relationship with him.
-As that happens, we grow in trust, and we become people who move through life with this knowledge…this trust or faith.
So, Paul gives them this wonderful “truth poem” to shape their minds and hearts:
-It would be very good if you read this everyday this advent season.
-Never mind if the thoughts it provokes are difficult to think…keep thinking hard about them.
*If you want to grow in relationship with another person…you must think hard and long about that person…how is this not true in regards to God?
Paul says in poetic fashion:
“Once you were an enemy of God because of your sin, but Christ died on the cross to restore you to full friendship with God…you are forgiven, you are loved.”
Jesus the cosmos creator has made these Colossian Christians new creations.
Now…grow in these big ideas(knowledge of Christ), so you will grow in heart affection and Christlike direction…so you can grow in these big ideas.
Engage the growth spiral…grow to know to go
“There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Lewis
All of the cosmos is a single whole…for now, for awhile…it is a battlefield that begins in the world of “ideas”
What is true?…then it goes to hearts (what is valuable) and then to lives…how will I live.
Once again, let’s return to that useful mental hook of…the “single-story life”
There is no “religious, semi-real upstairs”
Then the “normal, real downstairs.”
The cosmos, is a single story house…or Temple…where Jesus is Lord of all.
All is made by him and for him…the Cosmos is his temple, and now the Church is as well.
Christ’s Lordship, therefore has bearing on every part of our lives
As we know to grow to go…we learn to see him in all of it.
We go into the world, in every single venue God places us…jobs, battlefields, classrooms, hospitals, nurseries…and we go as his redeemed people…
His “re-created” People.
Looking for what it means to be found faithful.
What do we do about Social justice, stewardship of the earth, medical care, working for the lives of the unborn and the discarded already born…
What about sharing the gospel in overseas missions
What about the fatherless
What about the far from God wealthy.
Whatever faithfulness looks like for you…engage there.
It’s never the gospel…OR this or that…it is always the gospel “in” everything…because the gospel is the good news of Jesus…who is Lord of the Cosmos and head of the church.
By all means have a compelling vision for changing the world…but watch out for a near-sighted vision.
A compelling and eternal vision for world change includes… “meanwhile we groan.”
Do what you can do to “fix” what is broken, but do not be surprised that things will remain broken.
Recently I held a little boy who was being fostered by my daughter and son in law.
-I looked at him as he held sucked his little blanket and watched a TV show…and sat in my lap.
-I felt enormous sadness as I had thoughts of his life…but I prayed…and my part, for those few minutes was to hold him, and to pray for him.
That’s not much…no, not much…but it was my role, my part that day in reversing the curse.
I could…have just let sadness, brokenness…the powers that create such scenarios…win the day in my mind.
But I didn’t…I played my role…small though it was.
Others have a much bigger role in his life…but I have a bigger role in other parts of what God is doing.
But big or small…we are to just be found faithful at our posts.
When we expect our efforts to “change the world” in ways that are more obvious and immediate…then we become disillusioned when do not see the impact we desire.
When we set our hearts on faithfulness…then we can remain faithful…regardless of what we see or don’t see happening around us.
Do you think as the little church in “Rome dominated” Asia…read this great Cosmos creating Jesus poem…they didn’t look around and think…
“Okay, Paul…we believe…but man, it’s hard to see.”
ON a personal level… “when friends disappoint…be faithful” “when jobs are not fulfilling…be faithful” “when bodies fail…be faithful”
Faithfulness as a response to the gospel…is how we reverse the curse now.
Meanwhile we groan…but we are not disillusioned by the fact that this life is never going to be enough
We don’t have to try to wring every drop of meaning out of people and experiences…desperate for them to satisfy us completely.
Thanksgiving for me this year was wonderful, one of my best…but when it was over and while I was enjoying it…it was not quite all my heart would want.
“That is your problem, you are discontent.”
Of course it is my problem…I am discontent…less so than in years gone by.
But, it was so helpful…to just enjoy the time with family as it was…and not try to wring every drop of meaning from it…to not demand that others act in my imagined version of a reality free from all groaning…all unfilled longing.
It can be enough for now…that this life will never be enough…the full fulfillment is yet to come.
I sat Thanksgiving morning…having my QT…
Thinking about how I wish I had more time with this person, or could engage more deeply there, thinking about days gone by, days yet to come…thinking about difficulties in the world…about my own sin.
I thought even on a very, for me, happy and fulfilling day…. “meanwhile I groan”
Now…meanwhile…I must take what God gives from his hand with gratitude.
Paul, is, above all…wanting to infuse this little church with hearts that are grateful.
So he fills this minds with big ideas of Jesus…so they can fill their hearts with thankfulness…and live their lives with faithfulness.
That is advent:
-Christ has come, the Lord of everything has come…so now everything has changed
-Christ will return, the Lord of everything will return and remake everything…but for now the change is not complete yet
Christ has died
Christ will come again
Be found faithful.