Solus Christus

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 10, 2016

Colossians 1:24-2:5 Jesus is Better: Solus Christus

Jesus Plus
Open your Bibles, if you would, to Colossians 1 verse 24. Today we are going to continue our summer series from the book of Colossians that I am calling “Jesus is Better.”

I’ve been telling you, the last couple of weeks, that the point of this book is that Jesus is NOT just one of many choices on the menu of life. Paul was writing in a very multi-cultural, syncretistic time. Much like our own day. Where people saw belief in Jesus as one of many options.

And Paul’s point is that Jesus is not like any of these other options. Jesus is pre-eminent. Jesus is first. We saw that last week in the high Christology of Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus is first over creation. First over the church. First over the mission of salvation.

Now, another way to describe what was happening—and what continues to happen in our own day—is “Jesus plus...” That is to say, there are a lot of people who are fine with Jesus, even people who profess the name of Jesus, but believe that something else needs to be added to Jesus in order to have real salvation.

These people say, in essence: “Yeah, Jesus is cool. But have you had this experience?” Or: “What you really need now is…” Sometimes you get the impression that, for some people, Jesus is like kindergarten. That He’s good and interesting to get started, but you really need to move on to more important subjects. But the point of Colossians is that Jesus is the most important subject. There is no bigger deal than Jesus.

Let me give you an example from history. The title I’ve chosen for today’s sermon is Solus Christus. That’s Latin, and it means “Christ Alone.” It comes from the time of the Reformation. It’s one of what is known as the five “solas.” Sola Scriptura—scripture alone. Sola fide—faith alone. Sola gratis—grace alone. Solus Christus—Christ alone. And Sola Deo Gloria—to God alone be the glory. And what they were was a reaction to the teaching of the Catholic Church at the time.

You see, what had happened is that a lot of superstition had been added to the Catholic Church. They believed in Jesus, but they believed more needed to be done in order to be right with God. It was “Jesus plus…” So they had a lot of relics that were supposed to have come from famous saints—somebody’s collarbone, a kneecap—and you could earn credit with God by going to a shrine built around that relic. Or there was a lot of penance, repeating certain prayers, in order to make up for sin.

Or, most notoriously, there was the selling of indulgences. This was based on the idea that when we died, we would go spend some time in purgatory—a sort of halfway house between heaven and hell. And we’d have to spend time there until our sins were fully paid for. But if one of our relatives would give money to the church on our behalf—what was called an indulgence—then we could get out of purgatory quicker. One guy—Johann Tetzel—who was raising money to build the Sistine Chapel—went around Germany singing: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”

So, you can see how it was “Jesus plus…” Believe in Jesus, plus worship the saints. Believe in Jesus, plus pay your indulgences. It was against things like this that Martin Luther was reacting when the Reformation started. He was saying: “Wait a minute: what Jesus did on the cross was enough. There’s nothing left for us to do. It’s not Jesus plus. It’s Jesus alone.”

In our own day, the Catholic Church is quite a bit different, but you can still find all kinds groups who believe there’s some extra thing or some special knowledge that can be added to Jesus. For example, there are some conservative churches who don’t believe you are really saved unless you can talk in tongues. There are some liberal churches who believe the key to Christianity is social activism. Jesus is great, they’ll say, but the real key is to stand up for those who are oppressed.

Or, one more example, the biggest single congregation in America today is Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, led by Joel Osteen. They claim to be Christian, but the message they preach is the power of positive thinking. The real secret to living your best life now has very little to do with what Jesus does for us, but is all about having a healthy self-esteem.

Not that there is anything wrong, per se, with speaking in tongues or standing up against injustice or thinking positively; but when these things take the place of Jesus, then we are no longer practicing Biblical Christianity.

At least, that’s Paul’s point in our passage today. For the Colossians, there were apparently some people who were saying there was secret knowledge—some wisdom or philosophy—that needed to be added to what they had learned from Epaphras. At the end of our passage today, Paul calls them deceptively plausible arguments. Later in chapter 2 he calls it “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition” (2:8). It was Jesus plus… And Paul wants us to know that we need Jesus only.

I’ll summarize Paul’s argument like this: The real wisdom for knowing yourself and knowing God is unlocked in Christ and in Christ alone. Christianity begins and ends with Jesus. We don’t need to do more, we don’t need to know more. We just need Jesus. Jesus is everything.

Let’s read the text. Colossians 1:24-2:5:

24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

2 For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. 2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Now, there’s a lot there. Reading the Apostle Paul can be tough sledding at times. I listened to a sermon on this passage by Joshua Harris this week, and he said that the Apostle Paul never met a run on sentence he didn’t love. In the original language, verse 24 through the end of verse 26 is all one sentence. Even the Apostle Peter, at the end of 2 Peter, said that Paul’s letters “contain things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). So if you have to read through some of Paul’s writings a few times—or dozens of times—before they make start to make sense, don’t feel bad.

But I’ve been chewing on this all week, so let me see if I can help you follow it. The point, again, is Christ alone. And there are three places where Paul wants us to see Christ Alone.

Commissioned by God
First, Paul’s ministry is in Christ Alone. Paul wants us to see how the pre-eminence of Christ affects the way he does his job. His ministry is in Christ alone. For the moment, let’s skip over verse 24 and look at verse 25:

25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

Paul is explaining here his job. He’s defending his ministry.

Here’s something, which, if you are reading the New Testament, you might notice and find a little off-putting. Paul spends quite a bit of time in his letters talking about himself. Paul spends quite a bit of time explaining his ministry and defending his ministry. He does it in 2 Corinthians. He does it in Galatians. He does it in Philippians. He does it here in Colossians and elsewhere. You might think: why does this guy spend so much time talking himself up?

The reason, I think, is that was a culture where people would attach themselves to certain teachers. There was a certain status that went along with being associated with certain teachers and so, of course, different teachers would go around making themselves sound more important than they were. And, in particular, there were these teachers that were following Paul around—or going to churches that were started under Paul’s teaching—and presenting themselves as more important than Paul. They would say that they had knowledge that Paul didn’t have. Jesus Plus…And, consequently, they would lure people away from the true gospel.

So Paul had to defend himself. Paul had to talk up his position as an apostle. He had to point out his credentials. But, get this, it was never so that Paul could get more people to follow him. The point was never to puff himself up. The point was always to point people to Jesus. If they followed these other teachers, they were being pulled away from Jesus. So it was like Paul was saying: “I want you to look at me, but I want you to see Jesus.”

And you can see that in verse 25. He talks about how he sees his job as an apostle. It’s not a career for him. It’s not about building a personal following. Rather, it is something that God has entrusted to him. He’s a “servant.” “Commissioned” by God. He is stewarding this ministry on God’s behalf for the sake of the Colossians and others who are learning about Jesus.

The point, again, is to minster for Jesus. So, verse 24:

24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Paul is writing this from a jail cell. We’re not sure which imprisonment this was—there were several for Paul—perhaps it was while he was in Rome; but Paul notes that he is suffering. That’s something Paul did a lot of. He suffered a lot, read 2 Corinthians 11.

But he says he rejoices in his sufferings. How can that be? Well, Paul sees it as a part of his ministry for Christ. Do you see that? Paul’s ministry is so about Jesus that he sees even his suffering as being an essential part of that ministry.

Now, there’s an odd phrase here that we’re going to have to spend a few moments on. Paul says that in his flesh he is “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.” What does that mean? What does it mean to say that there is something lacking in Christ’s afflictions?

Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t suffer quite enough for our redemption. Paul is pretty clear, our redemption is fully paid for by Christ (Col. 1:14; 1:22). It also doesn’t mean that Paul needs to suffer in order to be saved. Paul’s not saying that in order to be right with Jesus you need to believe in him and suffer a little on his behalf. This isn’t Paul’s version of Jesus plus. Jesus plus suffering. No.

So what does it mean?

One theory I read about this week points to some of the end times thinking that was prominent at the time that said there was only so much time in the world, and so much suffering. Maybe think of it as this giant bucket. And once that bucket of suffering had been filled up, then God would come and close the curtain on history.

So, if that’s the thing Paul has in mind, then he’s saying that he rejoices in his suffering because he is adding to that bucket, and in that sense he is taking some of the suffering so the Colossians don’t have to. There’s a pretty good scholarly argument for this interpretation.

But I think a simpler explanation, one supported by John Piper, is to say that what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions is that not everybody knows about it yet. That is to say: Christ’s suffering on the cross fully and irrevocably paid for our sins. Nothing more needs to be added. But what was lacking at the cross is the proclamation of what Christ had done. He needs messengers to go and tell people about the cross.

That’s what Paul is doing. And part of sharing that message is suffering. In fact, back in Acts, when God first called Paul, he told Ananias “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). Part of Paul’s commission is to suffer on behalf of Jesus. Part of the way that Paul is going to communicate what the suffering servant accomplished for us is by suffering himself.

And that’s what it means to say that Paul’s ministry is in Christ alone. Paul accepts suffering as a part of being with Jesus. Notice he identifies his suffering as “Christ’s afflictions.” He so identifies with Jesus that his pain is Jesus’ pain. He understands that suffering is part of the experience of being on mission with Jesus to a world that is broken and in rebellion against the king.
So, skip down to verse 29. Paul writes:

29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

So Paul toils and struggles at his ministry. He works hard. He suffers. But he does so with the energy and the power that comes from Christ. His ministry is in Christ. It is Christ’s ministry. He only wants people to look at him and see Jesus.

We Proclaim Him
So, second, Paul’s message is about Christ Alone. Everything Paul talks about is pointing back to Christ. He’s not preaching any other way or hope. Look at verse 28:

28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

I’m using the NRSV translation of the Bible this morning. But for this verse, case I prefer the NIV 1984 (what you have in the pews) because it phrases this much more simply. It says: “We proclaim Him.” That would be a good slogan for a church. It would be a good way to summarize a church’s reason for existence in three simple words: “Hope Church: We proclaim Him.” If that’s what my career as a pastor was known for, if that’s how I am remembered, I’d be good with that.

That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about other things. We talk about marriages. We talk about good leadership. We talk about not gossiping and being good neighbors and taking care of the gifts God gives us and all of that; but ultimately we see all those things in the light of Jesus. It’s because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done, that our views on all those other things are shaped and formed.

And so, Paul says: “We proclaim Him.” To the Corinthians he writes: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) Jesus is the message. Jesus is everything.

Christ is our salvation. Christ is our justification. Christ is our sanctification. Christ is our present. Christ is our future. Christ is all.

So, look at verses 25-27:

25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

You can see how Paul is tweaking his opponents here a little bit. Again, we don’t know exactly who they were, but they were coming to the Colossians and saying that they had “secret knowledge.” They had information, ways of thinking, a special club, that Paul was holding back on them. Or that Paul didn’t know about. They were saying: “Yeah, Jesus is cool, but let me tell you about this…”

And you can see Paul tweaking them in the words he uses. He says: my commission is “to make the word of God fully known.” It has been “revealed.” “God chose to make known.” He says: “There’s nothing secret about Jesus. There’s nothing hidden. It’s been revealed. It’s fully known in Jesus. Jesus is the message.

Now, Paul uses a word here that sounds secret. He uses the word “mystery.” We hear the word mystery and we think of a “whodunit.” Sherlock Holmes and his magnifying glass or Shaggy and Scooby and the Mystery Machine, trying to figure out this puzzle of clues. Or, when we think of something being mysterious, we think it means something we’ll never fully understand. So when Paul calls Jesus a mystery, we think that there’s a whole part of Jesus that is still in the dark, that is unknowable.

But in fact, Paul means just the opposite. He means that for ages and generations the people of the Old Testament knew that God was going to do something, they just didn’t know what. But in Jesus, the mystery has been revealed. Jesus is the scene at the end of every Scooby Doo episode where the unmasked villain complains about those “meddling kids.” Jesus is the part of the story where Sherlock says: “It’s elementary my dear Watson.” Jesus is the answer to the mystery. Jesus is the revelation of God.

So for the Colossians and the Gentiles and for everybody else, Jesus is the answer. Paul uses a great phrase here, another phrase from Colossians that is worth memorizing and savoring, he says: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The glorious riches of the mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Those who were far off, those who were alienated from God—God hasn’t just brought you near, He hasn’t just made a way for you to be close to Him, He’s actually in you. Present in your life. His resurrection life, in you. His Holy Spirit, in you. His forgiveness and mercy and grace, in you. That is the hope of glory.

This is the message we need to hear. This is the message that we need to proclaim. It’s not some secret knowledge. It’s not Jesus plus something else. It’s: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Perfect
Now, third: Paul’s Definition of Maturity is Christ Alone. Paul’s goal for us is to grow in Christ. Verse 28 again:

28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

The word “mature” here in the NRSV is the word “perfect” in the NIV 1984. Both are good translations for what is an important, and complex, Greek word: Teleios. This is a word that means “end game,” or “the goal.” It’s used to describe things that are complete or perfect or fully grown. And what Paul is getting at is that all of us need to grow up, or mature, in Christ.

Again, Paul is tweaking the opposition here a little bit. We know, from what we’ll look at next week, that they were promising a “fullness” to people who would listen to them. Again, they were claiming secret knowledge that would lead to a “fullness” of life for those who were in the know.

To which Paul says: “No, no, no. Everything you need for a full life is in Christ. Everything you need to be perfect, is in Christ.”

Or, again, Paul uses the word “everyone” three times in this verse. The idea of secret knowledge is that only an elite few who have it. You get to be pretty special, if you are in the know. But Paul says there is no elitism in Christ. There’s no separation. No categories. This is possible for everyone.

So what does this Christian maturity look like? Paul gives us an idea at the beginning of chapter 2. Verses 2 and 3:

2 I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Hearts encouraged. United in love. Riches of assured understanding. And knowledge of God’s mystery.

And then, Paul can’t help himself, he’s right back to Jesus. Knowledge of God’s mystery is Christ himself. It’s in Christ that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found.

So, again, the big idea of this sermon: The real wisdom for knowing yourself and knowing God is unlocked in Jesus and Jesus alone.

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in him. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can learn nuclear physics from Jesus. You’re not going to learn how to do surgery by reading your Bible. But in Jesus, we learn about ourselves and about God, and then all those other things—whatever else you might study or learn—are put into proper perspective because of Jesus in our lives.

So, verses 4 and 5:

4 I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

Don’t be misled Paul says. Don’t be sucked in by fine sounding arguments. Be very wary whenever someone comes to you and promises you maturity or deeper knowledge or a better life, but it’s leading you away from Jesus. Whether it’s the Catholic Church of the middle ages telling you to pray to saints or a revivalist ministry that says the key is found in certain spiritual gifts or Joel Osteen telling you that you just need to visualize your happiness: be very wary of anything that takes you away from Jesus. Anything that diminishes the importance of Jesus dying and rising again for us takes us away from God’s will for us.

Christ alone. Solus Christus. That’s what we need.

What do we do?

So, now, what do we do? How does this apply to us? Let me give you three things, real briefly.

One, 1) We should listen to Paul. Paul wrote much of the New Testament. Paul helped to shape the Christian worldview and the Christian ethic.

But there are going to be times when conventional wisdom, the spirit of the age, is going to run counter to the things that Paul wrote. It’s happening all around us, at a pretty alarming rate in fact. There was a time when a Biblical worldview was assumed in America. Now it is largely scorned and considered out of date.

So it is going to be tempting, when you hear things that run counter to Paul, to discard Paul and go along with the wisdom of the age. It’s going to be tempting, just like it was for the Colossians, to follow other teachers.

Don’t. Listen to Paul. His ministry was given to Him by God. The truth he spoke is timeless.

Second, 2) We should follow Paul’s example. Paul kept Jesus at the center of his life. At the center of his ministry. And, especially, at the center of his message. Even in suffering.

So, let’s follow Paul’s example. Let’s be people who are constantly pointing to Jesus. Let’s be a church where people say about us: “They proclaim Jesus.” Hope Church, let’s make that a goal. That when people interact with us here on Sunday, or when they bump up against us out in the marketplace or in our neighborhoods (because, remember, we are still the church whether we are in this building or not) let’s be a church where people say: “They are all about Jesus. I see Jesus in them.”

Third, 3) Be cautious of anything that diminishes Christ. Don’t be pulled in by things that push Jesus aside. No matter how fine the argument sounds, no matter how spiritual or profound the latest book or fad appears, let’s be people who have a very sharp radar for: Does it build Jesus up? Or does it shove Jesus aside?

Let’s be people who find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ.