Our Only Hope

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now 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 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:24-29)

One thing I love about preaching is that the Scripture is so relevant to whatever’s going on in life. I never have to open up a passage and wonder, “Is this going to be meaningful to anyone here? Or meaningful to me? Is it really going to intersect with our lives?” Because it always does. We may have a hard time finding those connections sometimes, but I want us to see this morning how well Colossians 1:26-27 intersects with our lives. And I want to do that by talking about a few things that may be troubling to us.

This week another person, a nurse, was diagnosed with Ebola here in Dallas. There is Ebola news now on 24/7. With the Ebola news there has been much confusion. Government agencies and private healthcare providers are sparring over what is true and what is false regarding Ebola and how it may be spread. The spectrum of this discussion ranges from doomsday scenarios like “This is it for us,” to “We can handle this, it will be a mere blip on the screen of history.” My guess is in a group this big that we too fall all over that spectrum of concern. All of this is just here in our country, but in West Africa much of the guessing is over, Ebola is raging in those lands.

In Syria and Iraq ISIS marches on. Another American is being threatened with a public beheading. It seems as though those who hate us as Americans are continuing, at least for now, to spread their hatred and in many ways to silence their enemies through extreme and evil cruelty. Where will it stop? I don’t know. There have been numerous reports that ISIS or ISIS types have crossed our borders already, and what they plan we don’t really know.

Russia still poses a great threat to Ukraine and seems to be pushing for a new cold war with the U.S. 

Here at home, the city of Ferguson, MO is still experiencing unrest. A people group believes they have been targeted and mistreated by another people group. Assumptions are being made on both sides that vilify the other. Truth is not yet known fully, and even when it is, will it be believed? Will it matter? Anger, fear is in the air and it is spreading to other communities.

In Houston, my hometown of Houston, TX, the mayor and city council seem to be targeting pastors. A new ordinance allowing anyone, male or female, to use restrooms and showers that have public access, regardless of gender designation, has caused the Christian community to rally. In return, that local government has answered by requiring pastors to turn over sermons, speeches, even private conversations on this issue in an effort to intimidate them toward compliance with the city’s wishes. I understand that the city has narrowed the scope of their request but has not rescinded it completely. Governments trying to prevent pastors from preaching truth, here in the United States.

There is more, much more, but I’m not going to continue in this vein for long! 

You may be sitting there and thinking, “You know, those are worrisome things going on, but really, I wish those things were all I had to be concerned over. Those things are bad and maybe some day I can think on them, but I’d trade my child’s rebellion and their walk away from the Lord any day to worry over those things.” Or, “I can’t worry about those events because my marriage is falling apart and I’m afraid my spouse may walk out on me.” Or, “I don’t know how we will survive the next month because of the instability of my work, and our bank account is gone.” Some of you may be dealing with extreme physical or emotional pain, so thinking about Ebola or ISIS or Ferguson or religious liberty may not even be on your radar – I understand that.

I am saddened when I get to a place where things such as I have described begin to choke out my hope for brighter things. Do you know what I mean? When the negatives associated with living in a world of sin begin to take over my life to such a degree that I almost forget about my position in Christ, what that means, and my future of paradise with Him, and with many of you!

If our hope is to be Ebola-free, and for our family and friends to be Ebola-free, or our hope is in the destruction of the ISIS crowd, or our hope is in remaining a superpower over Russia, or our hope is in racial harmony, or our hope is in a government who loves Christianity, or our hope is in strong, God-honoring family relationships, a loving spouse, obedient children who love the Lord, or if our hope is in pain-free living and long life, then our hope is misplaced, and we are setting ourselves up for a miserable life of disappointment, grief, and depression. 

When I say “hope,” what I mean is that we think any of the things I mentioned are a necessary ingredient for our happiness, joy, peace, or contentment, and without them we cannot have happiness, joy, peace, nor contentment. Misplaced hope is a drag on the Christian life, it brings us down, it can throw us in a ditch, metaphorically speaking.

Life circumstances will never deliver our ideal. They are not supposed to. What we have to do is to learn to live in a sure, lasting, and abiding hope that God has prepared for His children what cannot be taken away. That is of course, for us, the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the central theme of Paul’s writing to the Colossian church, it is the central theme of the Bible, and it should be central to each of our lives as believers.

26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now 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. (Colossians 1:26-27)

In verse 24 Paul begins talking about how he rejoiced in suffering and moves to explain, at least in part, why he could rejoice. He could rejoice because he was delivering a message, the revelation of a mystery, a message of genuine hope. Not false hope, not fleeting happiness, not an imposter, but the real thing, and for that he could rejoice.

Don’t you get tired of hanging out with people who are always down in the dumps? Maybe Paul did, and so here he goes, delivering something so incredible that it had the power to raise each one up to a new plane, that is new life in Christ.

He speaks of this as a mystery that had been hidden, not just for a while, but for ages and for generations. God revealed many things in the Old Testament days, He showed many people much of His glory, for sure, but God’s purposes and His more specific plans were revealed more fully with the advent of Christ. 

What are some of these newly revealed mysteries? These are incredible, it is very interesting to read of all the things we are privy to as believers in this day and age that were not clearly known in the days of old! We are so blessed to know of these many things, to see the picture of God’s plan, of His work, so much more clearly in this day and age. We have what most never had. Listen to these things that are now revealed to us…

2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9-10)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:3-7)

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

But of all the mysteries that have ever been revealed or that will ever be revealed, there is this one that dwarfs all others in its relevance to us. This is what Paul is getting at now.

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. (Colossians 1:27)

The greatest mystery revealed: Christ in you!

This is the Christ, the same Christ that we talked about from Colossians 1:15-17…

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

The creator and sustainer, the preeminent one is the same one who is Christ in you, if you belong to Him.

It is for this reason that I can have such confidence for change in my life and in your life. It is this truth that drives our pastoral ministry in this church. It is for this reason that we can engage one another with sometimes hard biblical truth and be confident that in the true believer it will be received. 

Our confidence cannot reside in any person, only in the person of Christ who is, by His Spirit, indwelling every true believer.

Paul is defining the mystery here, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

From times of old God had revealed to His people that a Messiah would come. But the truth that this Messiah, God incarnate, would actually take up residence in the church, in His people, was not known. And it is clear from Scripture that this has happened.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:9-10)

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)

How can we, as Christians, get to a place where we let so many things crowd our thinking that we go on without dwelling on this single truth that Christ lives in us? Christ in us is our hope. Christ in us gives us hope. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Paul’s focus here is on how God’s people are completely to be identified with Christ, and how that new identity in Christ is to give us hope for our future. Again, this is a sure hope for God’s children, believers in Christ. 

You know, Paul often speaks of Christians as those who are “in Christ.” We are in Christ. But it is not so often that we read of Christ in us. But the point of both, us in Christ and Christ in us, is the same. They both stress an intimate relationship between Christ and His people. And it is because of this relationship that we have this, what is referred to as the hope of glory – that is the hope of experiencing final glory, ultimate glory. This hope, again, is only found in Christ.

What makes the gospel attractive is not simply that we will have present joy and present help, but that it promises eternal blessing and glory.

Thinking or dwelling on this reality, Christ in us the hope of glory, should work to temper earthly fears and anxieties. If we know who the true Christ is, and the certainty of His promises, then what really do we have to fear? Since we have the sure hope of glory this means the sting of death is gone. 

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-55)

Death is not to be feared, Christ has taken care of that for us. So we don’t have that to fear, nor do we have to fear the threat of living in perpetual, ongoing agony of any kind or misery.

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

So death is not be feared, and temporal circumstances are just that, temporary. And how is all this true, how can this be? Because Christ is in you, the hope of glory. If our hope is in Christ and what is true, our hope is centered rightly to bring us joy, even for today.

And so, even with the threat of Ebola around us, ISIS who hates us, Russia who taunts us, racists and bigots threatening us, or closer to home, relational difficulties, economic uncertainly, or pain that persists, even now we can choose to focus on who we are in Christ and His presence in us, and we can rise above what is hard and hold on to who He is. He is our hope, He is our all, He will hold us and He will bring us to Himself, in His time, in His way, and for His glory. Just as Jesus told His disciples who were fearful…

1 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going. (John 14:1-4)

It is in Christ alone where we find our hope, and He will never fail us!

26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now 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. (Colossians 1:26-27)