Claiming Christ as King

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully

12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.


 

Today is the end of the lectionary year, celebrated in the Reign of Christ – or Christ the King Sunday.  We celebrate the sovereignty of Christ, and claim Christ’s power in the world is alive and active.  Next week, we begin Advent and start the journey towards Bethlehem and start the task of preparing ourselves and the world for Jesus Christ, our Lord.  But today, we commemorate Christ’s rule over all the earth.

What does it mean to claim Christ as King?

Those who mocked Jesus, gave him a crown of thorns – they didn’t see that Jesus was being exactly the kind of leader that they (that we!) asked him to be. 

“What is missed in all the mockery, is that Jesus is doing for them exactly what they ask, and doing, for himself, exactly what any true leader or king should do. For the people there is real saving going on – the forgiveness spoken even as they mock; the promise of life for the repentant thief; the recognition (if you read a little further) of Jesus’ identity by the Roman Centurion. For Jesus, there is the determination to live what he taught – to die in the living of it – and to lead from the front, by example, by attitude, by commitment. Not for Jesus the “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” kind of leadership. Not for the Jesus the “follow-me-I’ll-be-right-behind-you” kind of leadership. This is a king who talks about laying down his life, and then actually does it.”[1]

God’s form of king-ship and leadership does not mean a dominion over the world or the loss of freedom and human autonomy.  Jesus Christ embodies a leader and king so well that he does not exert power over, bully, or push people into his version of right – he leads by example, inviting people to follow and be transformed.  Jesus’ understanding of leadership takes shape in service, not dominion.  This is an incredibly powerful example to follow.  It inspires and strengthens us, encouraging us to think first of others and of God.

Some people may struggle with the image of a victorious Christ the King with sword held high (though others  may feel relief at being rescued), but the position of this topic, this celebration on the eve of Advent & Christmas reminds us of what kind of leader and king Jesus would be.  He did not descend on a flaming chariot like Elijah departed … instead, we have a king who has entered the world in the form of a baby and continually chose to be vulnerable to the world and its powers.   And in doing so, he claimed ultimate victory over those powers, as we remember each Sunday in our celebration of the Easter victory in resurrection.

12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 

This sacrificial leadership and example of true service is what shaped the church and it is that faith and heart for Christ that we have inherited from Christians who came before us.  We look to our church’s history and to the history of the church universal to teach us about what a life of faith looks like. That history tells us that an amazing God is at work in and around us.  Whatever form our worship and ministries take, we must always give thanks for God who has brought us together

The faith that we inherited is rooted in Christ, God has enabled us to connect with people we admire and respect.  We must remember that we do not inherit their faith … we inherit a relationship with Christ and an understanding of what Christ has done in the world and what Christ continues to do in our midst.  It is Christ who brings us together and Christ who enables us to stay together.  What does it mean to be a church that claims Christ as King?  How does this shape our faith and our decisions?

rescued us from the power of darkness  v. 13

Christ rescues us from the power of darkness.  He rescues us from the power of evil in this life.  No more can the spirit of evil possess and control us.  It can try and we need to pay attention to ourselves so that we remain in Christ’s light and in Christ’s kingdom.  But the servant king, Jesus Christ, frees us from all that would hold us down, all negative thoughts about ourselves or negative or hurtful thoughts of another.  When ministers in the church talk about the “powers and principalities,” we are mostly talking about anything that attempts to control our decisions or claim priority over everything else.  Christ has rescued us from the power of darkness so that sin and evil can no longer control us or bind us.

This letter was written to a church at a time when Christians were surrounded by a polytheistic culture.  In Eugene Peterson’s introduction to this book in The Message, he states, “Most people of that day believed the air around them was thick with unseen spirits that humans ignored at their peril … the Colossians were terrified that if they didn’t appease the spirits, they laid themselves open to disease and poverty.  Who was Jesus when compared to such powers?”

This may sound like a distant historical experience, but the truth is we also are surrounded by a competitive market of philosophical ideas, spirits, and religious experiences even today.  From Lady Luck to fate, from lucky socks to our favorite church pew, we throw salt over our shoulder if we spill it, and we wonder at the possibility of ghosts and evil spirits.  In the midst of all of this, the writer of this letter “wants to make it abundantly clear that Christ is not just one among many competing approaches to life, not just the first among equals: Christ is at the very center of the meaning of everything, for all people … following Jesus is a big-time ‘game-changer.’”[2]

transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son v.13

Paul, or someone writing under his name, speaks of our being transferred from one kingdom to another.  Neta Pringle comments, “his image conjures up pictures of refugees, rounded up after battle and taken to the victor’s land, of Israelites marched far from home to live in Babylon … All the assumptions about the way in which life goes on – indeed about its very meaning – are different … It is not simply a matter of fitting Jesus into our present way of thinking.  We are transferred, moved, deported from one kingdom to another.  Nothing is as we have known it.”[3]

This word, “transferred” is very important in our passage.  It was the practice of a conquering army/kingdom to capture the people from the land they have overtaken and transfer them to a land far away from their home.  This is what the exiles experienced while in Babylon.

Jesus, as King, transfers us from our place where we reside and live in the world to abiding and dwelling with Christ, the light of the world.  We are forever changed by this king who laid down his life for his kingdom.  How we think about the world is changed by Jesus, how we make our decisions is changed, how we act in the world is changed when we follow Jesus.  The song They will know we are Christians by our Love was written from the mindset that being a Christian is radically different from the way that the world operates, and that we will show in the way that we treat one another.

in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins –v.14

First and foremost, in Christ we find forgiveness.  Not only do we find forgiveness, but we are redeemed – restored to a point where we can choose to be faithful.  We are freed from the power of sin.  This does not mean we will never sin again … but it does mean is that each day we have a chance to begin again, to try to live better, and to try to be more like Jesus.

As we personally are forgiven, we are enabled to forgive others around us.  We find that they too are in Christ’s power, and they too are growing and learning and responding to God.  As such, we forgive them so that we may be freed to live as Christ in the world.

He himself is before all things
and in him all things hold together
v. 17

This declaration in verse 17 “lends itself to wondering what some of those things are that might feel as if they are falling apart or are not held together.”[4]  Every church has issues that divide its members and leadership.  This passage stands as a strong reminder that it is not our work that holds us together and guides us … it is Christ Jesus, himself, who holds us together in love.  Elizabeth Barrington Forney brings this together beautifully, saying:

“Here we are given a summons to unified vision and ministry … celebrating Christ and sharing his message of reconciliation and forgiveness is our supreme task.  While there are as many different views of God as different denominations, it is love for Christ and Christ’s love for us that ultimately trumps any one doctrine of theological dispute … Christ ‘is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.’ (v. 18)
How many church arguments, mission statements, or personal dilemmas might be resolved simply by asking the question, ‘Does this allow Christ to have first place?”
There is a fabulous invitation here to take stock of our personal lives and our common life to see what else might have edged into first place, and to ask that God reorder our lives to suit God’s holy purpose.”

Colossians is a pastoral letter to a congregation struggling to figure out how to live in a culture where there are many demands on their time, energy, and faith.  Paul is encouraging them to hold fast to what brings them together: Christ.  Desmond Tutu, the South African bishop channeled Paul wonderfully when he spoke these powerful words:

“Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours; victory is ours, through God who loves us!” [5]

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.


[3] Net Pringle, Feasting on the Word, Colossians 1:11-20

[4] Elizabeth Barrington Forney, Feasting on the Word, Colossians 1:11-20

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