Colossae was a town awash in silver and gold. The goods of the entire world passed through its streets and even the lowest servant had everything that most people could only dream of … Or so the old timers used to say. Colossae wasn’t like that any more. Once it was the most prosperous and important city in the whole region, but then the trade routes moved. Now she was only a washed up, has-been, backwater town, where life was a struggle for everyone, and people who once had it all now had nothing.
I suppose you couldn’t blame the Colossians if they had their moments of doubts and fears. If pushed by bad circumstances they occasionally took matters into their own hands. I suppose you couldn’t blame them if they longed for the good old days, or if they got jealous of towns like Laodicea who had everything while they went without. I suppose you couldn’t even blame them if they were to look at Paul’s brand of religion and say “so what”? Will this Jesus feed me when I’m hungry? Will He heal me when I’m sick? How can yet another brand of spirituality, another set of fancy stories, help us out here in the real world.
Isn’t that what the world still cries out? Isn’t that what still worries people today? That Christianity is of no practical good in the “real world.” Pie in the sky stories don’t help when I’ve lost my job, or my loved one is facing cancer. And all the church wants is my money anyway when I need it more than they do. When things are going well they have no need for Jesus, and when things are going downhill they want something different. Let’s be honest, there have been times when even you and I have thought that Jesus was the last thing we really needed for life in this world.
But that’s not the Truth of Christianity is it? Unlike other religions, it isn’t just a bunch of “just-so” stories. It isn’t about being divorced from this world. It is tied to this world in a way no other religious truth ever could be. The Gospel isn’t just a spiritual truth, but a truth that is tied up in the flesh and blood life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a flesh and blood hope for people living in the real world.
(21-23, 28) And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard … Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Sin isn’t just a problem in our hearts or in our minds. Sin is at the heart of all that is broken in this “real world” of ours – disasters, disease, suffering, and death. Sin is a problem in the body struck by cancer, or the family that goes without food, as much as it is in the heart that alienated from God. No spiritual answer for such physical suffering would suffice. The people in Colossae knew it, you and I know it. The people in our communities know it. No amount of moralizing, storytelling, or meditation will answer the problem of sin that plagues our real world and real lives.
And that is why God sent the real answer in the incarnation of His Son. By God we are saved from sin death and the devil. We who have alienated ourselves from Him in our doubts and fears and anger, have been reconciled By God to Himself, in the body of His flesh. The Son of the God, the only-begotten Son, the eternal Word, was made flesh. A fetus for all fetuses, a baby for all babies, a toddler, child, teenager for all who grow and change and struggle to find themselves and their place in this world. There is no part of this physical life that He doesn’t understand, for he has shared it all with us. It doesn’t get any more real than that.
But He didn’t share in it all just so we could swap stories and sympathies. It wasn’t so God could empathize with our aches and pains. Jesus became flesh and blood so that He could earn a full reconciliation between the righteous God and this sinful world. Through His bloody death upon the cross He bore the curse of being forsaken by God, of being condemned to the fires of eternal death. He paid the debt in His flesh. He delivered mankind from sin, death, and the devil.
And yet, If that were the extent of Jesus’ flesh and blood interactions with this world, it might as well be a bunch of fairy tales for people today. It is all just so far away from the press of the daily grind and the fears of real life today. But Christ Our Flesh an Blood Hope is not confined to the events of some two thousand years ago. He continues to make His very real presence known in this world even now, so that no one must go through life without Him.
(23-25, 29) and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 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, 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 … For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
The Office of the Ministry is God’s real flesh and blood gift of the gospel in our midst. It is one of Jesus’ ways of making his presence real for His beloved saints throughout all ages. A real flesh and blood person to stand in your midst, in the stead and by the command of Jesus Himself. Speaking His Words, giving His gifts, sharing in your lives. It is a flesh and blood ministry that includes two parts, namely, to suffer with (and for) the congregation, and to serve the congregation with the Word of Grace.
Fellowship with Christ brings with it fellowship in His sufferings. A certain amount of suffering will always fall to the Church because of her connection with Christ. And a large part of it will be borne by the leaders of the Church. The sacrifices, the heartache, the prayers, the scorn and ridicule, the blame – those who bear the authority of Christ also share in His cross. It is the real life consequences of bringing Christ to this world. Most Christians will never fully know or appreciate all that their pastors willingly suffers through for them. Nor would their pastors wish for them to, so long as they see Christ in their midst. So long as they can continue 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.
And this is the second part of the Hope that the Office of the Ministry brings to Christ’s people even now – the mystery of salvation revealed in the man Jesus. A hope that from the very beginning has been summed up in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. A hope that continues to play out in the very real Word and Sacraments. Real world gifts for real world living. Water of regeneration to cleanse of sin and bring life-long refreshment. A tangible gift to remember and rejoice in when life in the real world gets too hard to bear alone. For not only does God allow us to share in Christ’s sufferings through Baptism, but then gives us in it the power to endure them in Christ. The very real flesh and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. The same body once nailed to the cross. The same blood once poured out on the hillside of Golgotha for you. Forgiveness you can touch and taste. A meal given here as a foretaste of that great banquet to come, and the hope of glory that awaits.
You see, dear friends, salvation is no longer any great spiritual mystery divorced from life in this world. God loved us so much He came in the flesh to live, die, and rise again in that flesh for those of us who live in the flesh. God loves us so much that He continues to send His Son in the flesh and blood Office of the Ministry and the means of grace. God loves us so much that one day He will return in the flesh, and all his saints will be resurrected in the body for everlasting life with Him. Our life in this world may not always be easy. The glories of the past may fade, the future may even seem uncertain at times. We will never have everything we want, but we will always have more than we need. Christianity is of the greatest practical good in the “real world” for Christ is Our Hope in the Flesh. Jesus is the first and only thing we really need for life in this world. A real live flesh and blood hope for people living in the real world.