June 20, 2021 Music Sunday Series on Colossians
Exodus 20:3-6, Colossians 1:13-23, 2:13-15, Mark 4:35-41
East of the city of Jerusalem, the mountainous landscape plummets to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. Some of the most dramatic biblical stories are set in the rocky caves of this region, between the Judean hills and the Dead Sea. This was where king David fled from King Saul seeking refuge in the desert’s mountain caves. This was where Jesus rejected the temptations in the wilderness.
In 1947 a young shepherd left his flock of sheep and goats to search for a stray. Amid the crumbling limestone cliffs that line the northwestern rim of the Dead Sea, around the site of Qumran, he found a cave in the crevice of a steep rocky hillside. Intrigued, he cast a stone into the dark interior, only to be startled by the sound of breaking pots. This sound echoed around the world. For he had stumbled on the greatest find of the century, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
One of the scrolls is called “The War of the Sons of light against the Sons of Darkness”. The leader of the Sons of Darkness is Belial. Belial’s presence is found throughout the War Scrolls. Belial, and his scores of demons are the fierce opponents of God. The Sons of Light shall battle against the forces of the Sons of Darkness, the army of Belial.
The name of Belial appears more than 20 times in the Bible. Belial is later the personification of evil, the Devil.
The was the worldview of people during the time of the NT and the Qumran community. The world is divided into 2 realms. One where God rules and is symbolized with light and the other of darkness where Belial, Satan, or evil is in charge. All of humankind is aligned to the one or the other; they were either sons of darkness or sons of light. There is no neutral ground. Those who are in the darkness are under the authority of Belial or evil are unable to escape. They are prisoners of the domain of the power of darkness. Their fate is sealed, escape is impossible, and they remain in darkness for eternity.
The apostle Paul wrote Colossians. He was a son of his time and as a former Pharisee it was his worldview too. And he has great news for the congregation in Colossae: God has rescued them from the power of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of God’s Son!
The English word “rescue” does not do justice to the meaning of what he is saying. The Greek word used here is the same one used in various texts in the early Greek translation of the OT, the Septuagint. This is the Greek word used in the LXX to describe God’s actions to liberate the Jews from Egypt. God delivered God’s people from the hands of the Egyptians, from bondage, from the hands of all its foes. God delivers them! The image is from the world where a mighty king who is able to remove whole peoples from their ancestral homes and to transplant them to another realm. So, the Apostle Paul is saying that God is taking the community from the power of darkness and transferring it to the domain of the rule of God’s beloved Son.
It is a powerful image but our worldview is different today. We generally don’t think of a world where dark, evil, and powerful forces rule over us. The biblical view that these forces enslave or imprison us, or that our fate is in their hand, or that we have to show loyalty and obedience to them in order to escape their wrath, is not easily compatible with our worldview.
Even when we don’t think this way, or have this worldview, the essence of what Paul is saying still matters. Christ pulled us away, rescued, or delivered us from powers that rule over us!
But what are these forces or power today? I believe that these forces of darkness come in many shapes and forms.
Paul in other letters refers to them as the rulers of this world or age (1 Cor. 2:8), or ruler of authority of power (1 Cor. 15:24), or rule, and authority, and power and dominion (Ef. 1:21). It is clear that he is suggesting there are many forces and powers that can play a role in your life, that have influence and pull, so strong that you feel powerless, manipulated and controlled by them.
John Chrysostom, a 4th Century theologian, church father and archbishop of Constantinople, saw the tyranny of darkness as the power of sin that rules over our lives and alienates us and causes deep unhappiness.
There still are many personal and impersonal forces that threaten, rule, capture, and control our lives. Against these powerful forces we are helpless for they manipulate us, and they have power over us.
They may be structures and systems in which an individual is completely powerless and unable to escape. A prisoner without any freedom or unable to resist them. In South Africa that system had a name, Apartheid. Here segregation. It could be systemic poverty where one generation’s captivity is carried over to the next, impossible to escape from. Unemployment or lack of skills to adapt to a new economy are examples that come to mind.
At the other end of the spectrum, these forces may come in the form of unrelenting pressure to work 12-15 hours a day unable to escape for your lifestyle demands you to work and work to maintain that lifestyle. A prisoner of your lifestyle.
I think you get the idea of these powers and forces that steal our joy in life, that imprison us because we simply cannot liberate ourselves from them.
They come in the form of ideologies that force me to think a certain way, or an approach to the world that “makes” me see others as inferior, or me superior. They come in the form of me not being able to question fixed ideas for “everyone thinks this way” or “everyone does it this way”. They come in the form of a “Zeitgeist” and anyone who has a different view is likely to be ridiculed, “cancelled” or labelled. It is very difficult to have a different view if “everyone believe this, or talk or think this way, or act this way”.
These powers question the reign of Christ. In such a world the truth is being oppressed, the lie is promoted, justice is denied, love is neglected, injustice is ignored. The forces of darkness seem to reign supreme! We feel powerless, we feel that these forces are too strong, we feel hopeless, and it seems as if the world is spinning out of control!
We see the forces as fate! We talk about as “fate would have it”, or it is “karma” for deep down we still feel that our lives are ruled by unseen forces that we have to please.
English Renaissance playwright and poet Ben Jonson wrote: “There is no greater hell than to be a prisoner of fear”.
We live in fear that these forces may retaliate in the form of disease, drought, accidents, dangers, tragedies, or failure. We live in fear that these unseen forces may cross our path and harm our children, or ourselves. We live in fear of what we call the randomness of life. Deep down we are anxious for we are not really in control. We don’t sleep well for we expect that it is just a matter of time before we will be on the receiving end of these dark powers.
Swiss NT scholar Eduard Schweitzer sees these forces as a dominating paternalism which never allows a child to grow up and be independent, or pressure from others to the point of breaking down under pressure of work.
You see, we know these forces and powers in our own lives. We know how strong they are, how hard it is to resist them and what it feels like to be prisoners of them.
This is the danger that we in theory know that a loving God is in control of our destiny, we have faith in God, we trust the power of Christ as revealed to us in the Bible. But in practice we live in fear, and accept it as inevitable and resign saying, “this is just how it is.”
Martin Luther said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together faith and God. “That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.”
The thing that speaks loudest to you, that you trust most, that you spend most of your time on, what you hope, what you live for is your god. This God is either God with a capital G or with a small g. It is either God or an idol.
The Apostle Paul is saying we should grow in wisdom so that Jesus is our only Lord, Lord of all, of our entire lives, our thoughts, actions and attitude.
He reminds us to recognize these powers and forces who want to rule over us. And then in one of the most profound hymns, he shows that Jesus is the One with the power to rescue us from all powers. He points out that Jesus delivered, rescued, liberated us from these forces and power of darkness. He not only delivered us from them, he transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. In Jesus, the fulness of God dwells. In Him God reconciles to himself all things. Therefore, we are free, no need to fear, no need to yearn for something better, no need to feel the world and life are a burden. In Christ, we have seen God’s power and God’s willingness to rescue, to deliver us from everything that wants to imprison us!
Now we can live as people without of fear and despair. We are liberated from systems, ideologies, guilt or any other power. Thanks be to God. Amen