Peace by the Blood of the Cross
“Peace by the Blood of the Cross”
Rev. Sherrad Hayes
November 24, 2019;
Christ the King Sunday
The true source of all our thanksgiving is the reminder of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The completeness of all our knowledge and all our spiritual wisdom and all our understanding consists of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The way in which we are able to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please him, and to bear fruit for every good work is through the knowledge of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The whole of our strength rests on the knowledge of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We are able to endure with joyful patience all the harsh realities of this world because of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Yes, sisters and brothers, the true source of all our thanksgiving – this week and every week – is the reminder of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Now try telling that to your annoying, overly-political uncle at Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday! If we’re honest with ourselves, the Thanksgiving holiday can often be for us a reminder of just how difficult it is to live a life with an attitude of thanksgiving. Sure, we can certainly find ways to list off things for which we are thankful. Some of them might be pretty selfish. Some of them might be passive-aggressive jabs at family members. Some of them might actually be 2 pretty good and real reasons for giving thanks. But to live with an attitude of thanksgiving, to live a life of earnest and joyful thanksgiving – not simply a “fake it till we make it” thanksgiving – that is not an easy thing to do, even with so much around us for which we should be thankful. No if we’re honest with ourselves, we find no surprise that Paul in our passage for today calls the world around us the “domain of darkness.” For all the joy the holidays bring to many of us, they can often bring despair to many of our friends and family and coworkers. This is indeed the time of year for Thanksgiving Day, the time of the start of the secular celebration of Christmas. But it is also the time of the start of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is indeed the time of year when many families are reunited. But it is also the time of the year when family trauma and disfunction and conflict often come to the surface. And I don’t mean to be a downer on any of this. I love the Thanksgiving meal and time with family and the lights and songs of Christmas as much as anybody. But we would be lying to ourselves if we used the happiness of the holidays to pretend that the world around us isn’t fallen and sinful and in desperate need of a savior. We often use the holidays as a veneer, as a way of covering up the ugly parts of life we’d rather not look at, and we do this even to the result of ignoring close friends and family members who are struggling during this time of year. How do we live a life of true thanksgiving? One that does not consist merely of trite lists but one that flows out joyfully from the heart of who we are? Paul – from prison – helps us here. True thanksgiving begins with prayer. Paul has not met the Colossians. But he prays for them. He has only heard news of their faith from Epaphras, their minister. And Paul is writing to not only introduce himself and his teaching of the gospel but to give them real encouragement, to remind them of the core truth of 3 their faith so that they might have the strength to endure… But not only that they might endure, but that they might have the strength and to walk in a manner – to live their life in a manner – that’s pleasing to God . . . that bears fruit . . . that produces good works to the glory of God as a witness to all the people around them. This is the content of his prayer in verses 9-11, and it is a indeed a prayer because Paul knows that the qualities of knowledge, wisdom, strength, understanding that lead to bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and enduring with patience and joy – all of these things are not achieved by effort or working harder or even a right mindset. They are all gifts of God by grace through God’s own Spirit working in them. By the end of the letter, he’ll have some very specific instructions on what a life that’s pleasing to God looks like. But first, he has to lay the groundwork through prayer and thanksgiving – the substance of which rests wholly and completely on who this God is and what this God has done for them through Jesus Christ. And in verses 12-14 he gives an overview of the miraculous things that have taken place for them. The Father has qualified them – made them worthy – of sharing in abundance of the inheritance he leaves only for his children. The Father has qualified them to be holy as God is holy. They – and we – are his holies. That’s what “saints” means. It means “holy ones.” God began his ordering of creation in Genesis 1 by commanding, “Let there be light,” and his light spread throughout the universe, throughout all of creation. Paul praises God because these ones whom God has made holy are now in that light of God that was from the beginning! Previously, the Colossians – and we – were in the domain of darkness. Friends, we must never forget that while we may sin individually and while each of us individually suffers the affects of sin after the fall and apart from Christ, sin is a global thing. It is impossible to sin in a 4 way that affects only you! Sadly, the family disfunctions that seem to creep their heads up around the holidays illustrate this. The wrongs we commit against one another, even wrongs done years ago, do not simply heal over time. They fester. And just because we ignore for years the wounds we inflict on those close to use does not mean they will stay hidden forever. Indeed, if any healing is to come, it must come from exposing those wounds to the light. No, friends, sin does not affect us individually. The whole world is impacted and affected by sin just as we are impacted by the sins of the world. But the good news of the gospel is that Christ has overcome the world. The good news, as Paul tells us here, is that he has transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son! We are no longer citizens of the domain of darkness, but we are citizens of the light! The image of being transferred here is the image of a conquering army. We are the spoils of Jesus! He has claimed us in his victory over the world, sin, and death and he is leading us triumphantly into his kingdom as his own people. We have redemption. We who were once slaves to darkness have been bought for a price. And even the sins by which we have harmed the whole world – including those closest to us – have been forgiven in him. Too often we view Christ’s Kingdom as something off in the distance. We think of it as something we will know only when we get to heaven in the sweet by and by. But the good news of Jesus is that God’s own Kingdom has come crashing into and onto this domain of darkness Paul calls the world around us. The Kingdom of Heaven is a present reality for us, yes, it is one we will not know in its fullness until the resurrection, but it is one that we know in the here and now. We are the citizens of this Kingdom, now and forever! And none of the politics or policies or princes or politicians of this world can separate us from our King, Jesus. 5 Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the end of the Church Year, which is itself shaped after the life of Christ and his church. It falls at the end of a season we call “ordinary time” – or “numbered time” – a season marked by ordinal numbers instead of a particular event. It is a time where we mark the life of the church as she has been for two thousand years after Christ’s ascension into heaven. Christ the King Sunday is also the Sunday before we start Advent, the season where we remember, as did the saints of the Old Testament, what is was like to wait in anticipation for the savior of the world – the messiah – to come. And in remembering the waiting for Jesus by saints of Old, we learn what it means to wait for Jesus’ coming again, for the arrival of Christ and his Kingdom in its fullness when all things in heaven and on earth will be made new. But it is on this day in between those two seasons that we remember that Christ is reigning now! He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and though the earth may be going through the pains of childbirth, darkness and sin and Satan and death no longer rule. Christ does. He is the image of the invisible God – Paul tells us in verse 15 in a beautiful poem that concludes our passage today. Jesus is the image of God, and we (who were in the beginning made in the image of God) . . . we now find the completion and fulfillment of who we were always meant to be: Jesus. It is in Jesus that we see what it really means to be human. And it is in Jesus that all our assurance rests. He is the firstborn of creation – not because he was created, on the contrary! He is first and over all creation because he is fully God, the creator of all things. By him and through him all things were created. (And again, you can see the echoes of Genesis 1 all through this passage.) He is before all things – nothing takes precedence over him – and through him all things hold together. Even if the world seems to fall down all around us, we have the strength to endure because we know that not even a sparrow falls without the will of God and that we, his precious children, are worth many sparrows. The one who calls us “friend” is the 6 same one who keeps the planets in their orbits and the stars 10,000 thousand light years away burning bright in the darkness of night. Even when the church seems to fail us – even when preachers miss their mark, even when pastors fail, even when leaders fall – he remains our head, the rock upon which we are founded, and the true assurance that not even the gates of hell will prevail against his church! Even in times of uncertainty and dwindling numbers and fear about the future, we find certainty and vitality and confidence about what is to come. As the firstborn from the dead, he is our assurance that not even death has the final say over our lives. Christ the King always has the final word. And this great King who is fully God is not far off from us but has reconciled us to himself. And it is here at the end of the poem that Paul makes one of the most shocking claims about this King who has brought us into his kingdom. For all the earthly powers that have ever existed, for all the human empires that have ever ruled, they have brought peace through only one way – violent conquest. But Christ brings peace through the blood of the cross. The human nations subdue by violence; Christ our King subdues by willingly taking on the violence of the world – our violence – onto himself. The human nations demonstrate power through military might; Christ our King prayed for forgiveness for the very soldiers crucifying him. The human nations bring peace, for a time, through the shedding of their enemies’ blood; Christ our King brings about peace by the shedding of his own blood for us. Friends, the source of all our thanksgiving and peace – the one whom we can truly call our Lord – is the one who laid down his life for us. The same Jesus through whom and for whom the whole universe was created is the same God who became one of us, who experienced the dirt 7 and darkness of the fallen world with us, who stayed with us – even to the point of a humiliating death – so that even in death, there is no place we can go where he has not already been. And (thank God!) he is risen from the dead to new life, the firstborn from the dead, and he brings us with him in triumph into his Kingdom – both now and for eternity. And for this Christ our King we can take a long, honest look at the realities of this world and give heartfelt thanks with abundant joy. In the name of the One who has transferred us out of the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of the children of light, who holds all things together and who reconciles us to himself; to him be all honor and praise and glory, now and forever. Amen!