Pentecost 9c

Preached: July 21, 2013

Tell the Secret: Christ in You, the Hope of Glory
Colossians 1:24-29

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Christ is Colossians 1

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up in my flesh what's left of Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the Church. I became a servant of the Church according to the divine commission which was given to me for you, namely, to fully proclaim the word of God, the mystery hidden for ages and generations. This was now shown to his saints to whom God wanted to make known what the glorious riches of this mystery among the Gentiles is, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He's the one we proclaim, warning every person and teaching every person in all wisdom, in order to present every person complete in Christ. For this I labor on as well, struggling with his energy that's powerfully at work in me. (Colossians 1:24-29).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Mommy was planning a surprise birthday party for Daddy. How hard it was for little Rachel to keep it a secret! When Daddy came home from work tired, she wanted to cheer him up by telling him how Mommy was buying party decorations. But it was a secret. When he struggled to get the old lawn mower started, she wanted to tell him about the new one Mommy bought. But it was a secret. How happy she was when the day finally came, and she could tell the secret.

When we have good news, we want to tell it, not keep it a secret. And you and I, dear friends, we have the best news of all. Tell the secret. It's not just any secret, but the secret that only God could reveal. No human investigation could uncover it. That's why the text calls it a mystery. But God wanted to make this mystery known. What is it? Christ in you, the hope of glory. That's the secret for us to tell.

Let's think about that theme as we take to heart the words the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul to write. We pray that the Spirit open our minds to see how Paul told the secret, namely, Christ in you, the hope of glory, and we also pray that the Holy Spirit move our hearts and mouths to tell that same secret.

A. Hope that joyfully suffers for Christ's body

Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness” (Colossians 1:24-26 NIV84).

First, let's be clear on what Paul is not saying. He's not saying that Christ's afflictions were insufficient to pay for sins so that Paul had to suffer to somehow fill up what's lacking. That would contradict what he's written up to this point. Back in verse 14 he made it clear that in Jesus we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He doesn't say partial redemption or limited forgiveness as if Christ had only made a down payment and we had to suffer to pay off the rest. Then he launches into the greatness of Christ in whom the fullness of God dwells and through whom all we're reconciled to God by his blood on the cross. He doesn't say that Jesus only started this reconciliation and now we're left to finish it. Christ did it all, just as he declared from the cross: “It is finished.” So in no way did Paul suffer to somehow finish paying for sin or somehow complete the work of redemption and reconciliation. Christ Jesus has already done it all.

So what suffering is Paul talking about? How are his sufferings connected to Christ's afflictions? Jesus had told his followers that the world would hate them just at it hated him. As a faithfully follower Paul experienced much of that persecution. In fact as he wrote this letter, he was in jail for spreading the Gospel. Now Jesus takes personally what happens to his followers. “He who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16 NIV84), Jesus said. So what Paul suffered for spreading the Gospel was the world's attempt to continue its afflictions against Christ. See the connection?

In addition, Paul suffered all this for the sake of the holy Christian Church, which is the body of Christ. He wasn't suffering for the sake of the Church's sins. As the body of Christ, the Church is holy, washed clean in Christ's blood. For the Church is the communion of saints, the community of believers, who all stand before God blameless, covered in the holiness of Jesus Christ. Paul wasn't suffering to pay for sin; Christ had done that fully. Rather Paul was suffering because he was bringing the Church the word of God in all its fullness. As God's faithful servant he served the Church by presenting God's message fully and completely. When he suffered for doing this work, he suffered for the sake of the Church so that she could continue to hear God's Word.

How could Paul keep serving the church despite the suffering it brought? Because Christ was his hope. In fact, he rejoiced in his suffering, for Christ would not fail him. Rather the testimony of his joy as he suffered for the Gospel would build up Christ's body, the Church.

How does this help us tell the secret? When you suffer for sharing God's Word -- and I think we can broaden it to include suffering because of the troubles, hardships, sicknesses, and losses that infect this world -- when you suffer, dear Christian, let your hope in Christ joyfully shine out. That doesn't mean wearing a painted smile or pretending to be happy. There's a lot of false hopes people grasp at. But our hope is different, dear Christian. It's not built on our own goodness or self-esteem. That's false hope, for we're sinners. It's not built on the advancements of medicine and technology, for this world is passing away. Our hope is built on Christ. He will not fail, for he has the supremacy over all. In him you have God's glorious approval, not because of what you've done, but because Christ's righteousness covers you. He is your hope, your only hope, your sure, unfailing hope. What joy that brings!

As we focus on Christ and the hope he gives, then our present sufferings, no matter how weighty, fade into the background as the glory of heaven shines ahead of us. What a secret to tell, the secret that builds up Christ's body, the Church!

And what strength that hope gives! This brings us to the second part. The secret of Christ in you, the hope of glory, is not only hope that joyfully suffers for Christ's body but also hope that powerfully labors with God's strength.

B. Hope that powerfully labors with God's strength

The Apostle writes, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28, 29 NIV84).

Just read through the last half of Acts to see Christ's energy powerfully working in Paul. He proclaimed Christ in Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconoium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Troas, and more. Even when arrested and persecuted, he continued to powerfully testify.

And the same God who was powerfully at work in Paul is powerfully at work in you, dear Christian. That does not mean that we will do the same work the Apostle did. The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different Christians, just as a human body has different parts, each with its own functions and abilities. You are the body of Christ. His Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in you to use your gifts and abilities to build up the body, the Church. A hymn puts it this way: “If you cannot speak like angels, If you cannot preach like Paul, You can tell the love of Jesus; You can say he died for all” (“Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 573:3). We have different gifts, but the same message.

You know that message. You know the secret. You know Christ and the hope he gives. Proclaim him, “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom” (Colossians 1:28 NIV84). God's law admonishes each person. It exposes sin and convicts everyone, just as it did for you and me. Each and every person deserves hell. How much each and every person needs a Savior! And what sweet teaching the Gospel brings! Here is the Savior. His name is Jesus. Although he's the eternal Son of God, he was born into this world to carry all sins in the place of each and every sinner. To make that payment for all sinners, he sacrificed himself on the cross like a slaughtered lamb. Then he rose from the dead on the third day because God has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as the complete payment that brings full and free forgiveness. What a wonder!

How does this secret save? When this Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, is told, Jesus comes to the heart of all who hear and believe. What a mystery that Jesus would dwell in a heart of a sinner like you or like me! But when Christ is in us, we are in him. And in Christ, our sins are covered with his blood and righteousness. So in Christ we stand before God perfect and holy. What glory! Who would have guessed it?

You know the secret. No human wisdom could have uncovered it, but the Holy Spirit has opened your heart and mind to know and believe. That's how he empowers you.

Christ in you, the hope of glory. This is not a secret God wants us to keep. Like little Rachel in the opening story, how happy we are that the day has come for us to tell it! Tell the secret: Christ in you, the hope of glory, the hope that joyfully suffers for Christ's body, the hope that powerfully labors with Christ's strength. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313