June 27, 2021. Series on Colossians
Colossians 1;13-23, 2:13-15, Mark 7:31-37
Lord of All
Some of you may have noticed that last Sunday we read from the same chapter of Colossians. The reason is that these verses are theologically dense. The implications of what the Apostle Paul is saying are profound and far reaching.
There are, in essence two aspects of his theology that stand out. The first one we dealt with in depth last Sunday. However, the theological significance needs to be emphasized again for it is at the root of our only comfort in life and in death: The Apostle Paul’s writes this hymn as a song of praise, a song of gratitude, and a song of joy. And the one fundamental reason why we sing a joyful song is this: Jesus is Lord of all! If and when we hold onto this greatest theological truth, then there is nothing in this world and beyond that is able to dilute our joy and gratitude. There is not a force strong enough, no danger great enough, or an enemy shrewd enough to rule over us. The turning point of the universe was when God sent Jesus. In Him we “see God’s original purpose in everything created, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank of angels-everything got started in him and finds purpose in him.” And it did not stop here: God rescued us from all powers and dark forces “……and from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He set us up in the kingdom of His Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.”
This theological conclusion is clear: the things we fear, the powers that are too strong to resist, the forces that cause havoc in our lives are now decisively disarmed: “….He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their authority at the cross and marched them naked through the streets.” The rich image he uses was a well-known one at the time. A powerful Roman general, after defeating the enemy would take prisoners of war, tie them to a chariot and parade them through the city, ridiculing them, revealing how powerless they are. The citizenry would mock their defeat and celebrate the general’s triumph. The enemy has no power any more. God makes the conquered powers march behind Christ to mock the defeat of these forces. They are publicly humiliated and derided. They are powerless, without influence. They cannot harm us, they can never separate us from God’s love in Christ, they have no power over us! The Apostle emphasizes the victory of Christ to comfort the congregation.
Swiss theologian Karl Barth was once asked what he thought of the devil. After thinking for a moment he said: “Christ triumphed over him. Christ is the Lord of all, our Lord. There is no need to fear the devil.”
The second theological aspect is equally important and as far reaching. Christ is supreme and he is towering far above everything and everyone. He is the One who put all these powers in their right pace. All the broken and all dislocated pieces of the universe, people and things, animals and atoms, -get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies – because of his death, his blood poured down from the cross. This is the Gospel. Note that the Apostle Paul is using the past tense! It has already happened.
He comforts them and now he also urges them to accept that Christ is their only Lord. Christ is Lord over all powers and authorities, everything got started in him and finds purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds everything together. And therefore we cannot and should not elevate any power, idol, interest, cause – anything or anyone above Him! He is Lord of all, he is our only Lord and we belong to him, body and soul, in life and in death!
The church, over the centuries, was often forced to ask herself: “Is Christ really our only Lord? Do we show his reign in what we do, in our attitude, our service, our thoughts, our words? IS Christ the Lord of all in the way we treat others, the way we are engaged in business, paying taxes, casting our ballots, and living our lives?”
Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper once said: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” This includes the economy, science, art, literature, politics – Christ is Lord of all! We cannot make excuses saying, I am going to cheat on my taxes because others do so anyway. We cannot exclude parts of our life.
During the 1930’s the Nazi’s seized more and more authority over German institutions. Soon they also claimed authority over the Church. Some German Christians accepted and even promoted this because they accepted, not Christ as Lord over all, but rather Deutschland ueber Alles, Germany over all! However, there was another group of German Christians, known as the Confessing Church, who rejected the Nazi’s claim that they have authority over the church. They refused to accept the Nazi’s claim that their ideology was their lord or had power over the church. At a Synod meeting in Barmen, Germany, in 1934, the Synod released a declaration. This what they declared:
“We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.
We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.
We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.”
We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfil the vocation of the Church as well.
We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.”
What the Barmen Declaration proclaimed and affirmed was that Jesus is the One with authority, the Lord of all.
During the persecution of the Jews in Germany, the well-known Minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up for the Jews for one reason, because he was a Christian. He famously once said that only he who speaks out for the Jews can sing Gregorian chants.
Gregorian chants are affirming Jesus as the Lord of all! So, Bonhoeffer meant that only those who confess that Christ is Lord of all, in everyday life from Monday to Saturday, have the right to sing hymns of praise on Sunday. You cannot say Jesus is the Lord of all on Sunday during worship and then bow the knee to the lord of anti-Semitism or racial ideology during the week. The one who confesses Christ as Lord of all, seeks for God’s kingdom of peace, love, justice, and mercy during the week and in all of life. Affirming Jesus as Lord of all on Sundays is in fact the easy part. Doing so every day of the week is the challenge.
If one is not willing to confess Jesus as Lord of all during the week, following his words, commandments, and his example from Monday to Saturday why would one do so on Sunday?
So after almost 2000 years, the Apostle’s words of comfort and urging us to confess Christ as Lord of all, are still relevant. Christ conquered all powers so we can find comfort, we are not prisoners any more. And it urges us to confess Jesus is Lord of All – and to do so every day of the week, wherever we find ourselves. For the Apostle Paul is clear: Jesus reigns over every aspect of our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.