How many of you have been mentally absent at some point during this service? Go on, you can be honest – have you checked out and gone some where else in your mind?
Maybe you're looking forward to holiday and you've been picturing yourself kicking back on a beach. Maybe you've just got back and you're dreading going back to work on Monday…
Maybe you've got a big event coming up – have you been going over a few check lists of things to get done?
Maybe some of you don't need a good reason to mentally wander off during church….
Whatever the reason, even if you've not done it tonight, if you've ever let your mind wander onto something else – and I think I'm talking to the whole room here – if you've ever let your mind wander onto something else then you've got a really good handle to hang our passage from this evening, because Paul is teaching that Christians are already spiritually somewhere else, and as a result we should train our minds to go there so that our lives can change.
Did you see that when we read the passage? There were three points Paul made that make that clear:
First: Christians are already elsewhere – we're with Christ in heaven.
Second: Our reality is hidden now, but when Christ returns in glory we will be revealed in glory too; and
Third: Since Heaven's where we are, and Heaven's where we're going, Heaven's where our minds should be now.
Let's have a look at those.
Point 1 Christians are already elsewhere – we're with Christ in heaven.
That's a strange thing to say isn't it? But that is exactly what Paul says in verse one –
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2
… And down to verse three …
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
This is a little strange, but we can get our heads around it when we remember that a Christian is someone who's united to Christ by faith. So if you're a Christian, by definition, you're united to Christ. And that means that wherever he goes, we go too, in him.
I don't know if you ever think of it like that, but union with Christ stands behind every aspect of salvation – God takes what belongs to us, our sin, our imperfection and our guilt, and allocates it to Christ; and God takes all that belongs to him – his perfection, his righteousness, his reward, and allocates it to us. And he does it by uniting us together; we're united to him so that he can take our punishment in our place, and we're united to him so that we can enjoy his reward with him.
So Paul says that in reality, but behind the scenes, all those who've put their trust in Jesus have died with him, and been raised with him. Because of our union with Christ we enjoy his resurrected new life now.
This hasn't come out of the blue here; it was in fact the main topic of chapter 2, which we looked at last year. There Paul told us that we've died with Christ and been raised with him. In fact much of chapter two was spent spelling out the implications of dying with Christ.
It seems some false teachers were telling the Colossian Christians they needed to add religion to the Christianity. But Paul argued that religion has been rendered obsolete for those who died with Christ. Religion pointed to the reality of sin and guilt, and the need for repentance and forgiveness. It pointed to Christ. Now that Christ has come he's dealt with sin. His death was the once for all sacrifice that cleanses us. Since he died to sin and death and even law, then we died to those things too.
So that's the negative side of the coin – he died, so we died, and since we died, we don't need religion, we don't need sacrifices and special days and times and asceticism and all those religious things.
And having shown the negative side of the coin in chapter two, chapter three takes us to the positive. If we're not doing religion anymore what are we doing? Well, we work that out by the same reasoning – since we've been raised with Christ, then we do the things that are appropriate for Christ's resurrection life.
So what is appropriate to Jesus' resurrection life? Well that's the topic of the whole of chapters three and four, we'll spend the next six or so weeks looking at it.
But there's one very important thing that Paul introduces to us right up front.
Jesus is now ruling with God.
I'm sure you picked up on that when we read verse one. Have another look at it:
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2
Christ is seated at the right hand of God. If we've been raised with him, what does that say about us? Remember verse 3:
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Our life is hidden in him. We're united to him. So in some amazing, spiritual way we're seated with him at God's right hand.
I don't know about you, but I reckon that's not easy to get a handle on. So let's take a moment to think it over.
Sitting on God's throne is a classic description of sin. The Bible defines sin as saying 'No' to God and 'Yes' to ourselves; sin is us claiming the throne as if we were God. That's part of the reason sin is so bad, so offensive to God. Sin is trying to push God off his throne so that we can have a seat. It's living as if there is no God, as if we were God.
I know many of you know of the Australian evangelist John Chapman – or Chappo. Chappo loves to tell the story of a visit to the House of Lords. Some of you will have heard it. He was invited to visit by a friend, who as it turns out was a member of the House of Lords. The Lord's weren't in session so he got to have a walk around the actual chamber. Chappo was particularly impressed by the Queen's seat – her throne, elevated above the chamber so that she can sit and tower over the standing Lords.
In classic cheeky Chappo style he asked his host if it would be OK for him to sit in the Queen's seat for a moment, Chappo being Chappo he even asked his host to take a photo of him on the throne to show his mates back home in Australia.
Do you think he got a laugh for that joke – he most certainly didn't! His friend was horrified at the very thought of even suggesting such a thing.
Chappo uses that story to illustrate just how scandalous sin is – if it's a scandal to sin in the queen's seat, how much more to sit on the throne of almighty God. He says imagine waking up to find yourself sitting in God's seat – what would you do? Get off, and beg for mercy!
That's right isn't it? Claiming God's throne puts us in a very dangerous position with God. When we come to our senses and become a Christian we repent of trying to sit in God's throne – we stop doing it. And we ask God for forgiveness.
But do you see the amazing reversal that's taken place in this passage? The Scandal of sin is that it tries to take what doesn't belong to it. And the wonder of grace is that God forgives us for what we've done. And that would be amazing enough. But this is going far, far beyond forgiveness. Not only does God not give us the punishment we deserve, but when we die with Christ we also rise with Christ.
And we find ourselves once again sitting in God's seat.
Only this time we're not sitting there illegitimately, having shoved God out of the way. Now God himself invites us to come and to sit with him, to share his rule.
I think that's stunning. I find that hard to get my head around.
Bit, if we died with Christ, then we rose with him and we are seated with him in the heavenly realms at the right hand of God.
If that's the reality of our lives then won't that change everything? We appear to all intents and purposes just like everyone else. Some of us might seem more or less successful, some of us less so. But the reality is that we are seated on the throne with God. Not renegades, falsely claiming rule that doesn't belong to us, but joint heirs with Jesus of his eternal majesty. We won't think of ourselves in terms of worldly rank or marks of success – career, house, car; what can they give us that comes even close to sitting on the throne with Christ?
And think about what it says about ultimate reality. This life is reality, and the things that happen here have eternal consequences – things like Jesus' death and resurrection, things like our faith and union with Christ. This life, this world, it's real. But it's not the ultimate reality.
Where Christ is, seated with the Father, that is the ultimate reality. It's easy to think of things we see as being as being all there is – but they're only part of what is: what we see was created, but what we don't see has always been; and what we see is passing away, but what we don't see will continue forever. The things of heaven, the invisible things are the things that are real and lasting. And that is where we are already in Christ. Our lives are already tied up in that creation, in that ultimate reality. We are already there in Jesus, seated with him at God's right hand. Our lives are hidden with him in God.
And that leads to the second point Paul makes:
Point 2 Our reality is hidden now, but when Christ returns in glory we will be revealed in glory too.
The reality check continues – not only are we seated at God's right hand with Christ, but we have a glorious future to look forward to – he will return in glory and we will be revealed as glorious with him.
Have another look with me at verse 3 and 4:
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Let's be frank. You and I don't look glorious. Early in the morning we look far from glorious. Our bodies are in decay – we have joint pains, hearing problems, sight issues, injuries, aches and pains, spots, eczema, creases, lines and so much worse.
And if you were able to see into my heart like God does, or I into yours, we would see something that is far from glorious. We are riddled with sin, permeated by it like dye through clothes.
But Christ is glorious. He's been raised from the dead and he's clothed with a resurrection body. That's a body that's suitable for God's presence; a body that's suitable for eternity; a body that knows no decay, no illness, no lack; a body that radiates glory.
And just as Jesus is removed from death and decay, Jesus is far, far removed from sin. He sits in God's presence where there is no sin, where there can be no sin, no imperfection, no lack of holiness.
Where Jesus is, in God's presence, there is no death, no decay, no mourning or pain. He has destroyed all the things we struggle with, he has conquered death and sin and he rules over all the powers and principalities of the whole universe.
But again, what he is, is hidden from view. You might remember U2's song 'peace on earth'. After singing about the pain of war and loss they finish with these words:
Jesus this song you wrote The words are sticking in my throat Peace on Earth Hear it every Christmas time But hope and history won't rhyme So what's it worth? This peace on Earth?
What's the problem? We don't yet see Jesus' rule over all things. Sin still ruins relationships, natural disasters, illness, corruption, wars, hatred, anger, violence – all these things characterise the world that's under God's curse and under the effects of our sin.
Jesus has already conquered all those things, but his rule won't be put into full effect until he comes back again to put those enemies under his feet once and for all. Then he will bring in the new heavens and the new earth with all their perfections, a perfect expression of his reign. But for now, his rule is hidden.
And so the same goes for us too – we're a sorry bunch. But what we are is not what we will be, and what we will be is already hidden with Christ in God – and it will be revealed in all it's glory when he comes back again. When Jesus comes back we will be revealed in all his glory.
Then we'll be clothed with heavenly bodies that are appropriate for the new creation, bodies like his – no more corruption, no more decay, no more death – perfect incorruptible bodies. And we'll be cleansed from the power and presence of sin – no more struggle with temptation, just perfect service, even perfect desires. What a transformation that will be.
That's what it means that our life is hidden with Christ in God. It means that there'll come a time when our lives are revealed. And what will be revealed will be glorious, just as he is glorious. We'll be like him, reigning under him as we were designed to be.
If you want to make an analogy, you could say this is a bit like when Prince Charles joined the army. (Or was it the Navy?) Imagine a situation where he could join incognito, so that no one knew he was the next in line to the throne – no one but him. Imagine the prince in boot camp, a private having to do all the same training, get up at the same time, do the same drills, carry the same pack, get shouted at just the same as everybody else. On the outside he's no different to any other private. He's treated just like everyone else.
But even so he'll never be like everyone else. He has a very different relationship to his experience – especially the experience of being bossed around by his superior offices. He knows that one day he'll leave all that behind. His birth right is to rule over all of them.
And even if they don't know it, even if they were to refuse to acknowledge it, he'll still take the throne, and then they will have to honour and serve him.
So here's another revolution in our thinking – not only do we have an alternative present, but we have a glorious future. And knowing that the future will be so glorious enables us to endure just about anything. We might be like that private, slugging away in an unforgiving boot camp. We might even find ourselves under enemy fire in live conflict. Or maybe we've worked up through the ranks to enjoy a bit more comfort and responsibility. Whatever our situation we won't be too caught up in it – neither giving in to despair when we're in difficulty, nor pinning our hopes on our achievements when we're doing well.
But before we move on to the next point, I need to point out that if you're not a Christian, then I can't say the same about you. But I wish I could. I'm not going to say much more, just this – don't you want a piece of that? Wouldn't you love to be able to join in with all that? You know you can, and I hope you know how, if not, pick up a copy of 'A Fresh Start' in the foyer and give it a read, or tick the box say 'I'd like to know more about Christianity Explored' – or just come and talk to me after. But by all means do something about it.
And if you are a Christian, well then there is one very big implication that Paul spells out in this passage. And it's the third point I want us to look at this evening:
Point 3: Since Heaven's where we are, and Heaven's where we're going, Heaven's where our minds should be now.
Look at verse 1 again:
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Set your hearts and minds on the things above – this is the command, the instruction, the outcome of the first two points. The truth is that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and he will come back and take us up to be with him forever. So don't get carried away with fading trinkets, and don't get distracted from the important work he has for us to do.
Now there are two commands in these verses. Verse 1 'set your hearts on things above' and verse 2 'set your minds on things above'. But these aren't so much two distinct commands as two different ways of saying the same thing.
Verse one is literally 'seek' the things above – almost like saying pursue the things above. It's translated 'set your hearts on', because we work for the things we want. But it's worth saying that this is more than just an emotion thing. It's more than just emotions, because we're supposed to act, not just desire passively. This isn't like a teenage crush, where we long for something from a distance, this is an active pursuit, we're to go after these things. If we're seeking the things above we'll pursue them rigorously.
The second command, in verse 2 is 'consider', 'ponder', or as Calvin's commentary translates it 'Cogitate' on the things above. This is very closely related to the idea of seeking – if we're going to set our will to pursuing the things above, then our minds will need to be clearly focused on them.
Now all of this is necessary because our daily lives are so focused on this world. That's why we so easily forget or miss the significance of our heavenly inheritance. So we need to make time to deliberately think about the things of heaven. We need to concentrate on them – to turn off the TV, the ipod and the phone and to set aside time for deliberate reflection. And we need to ponder them, to cogitate, to mediate on them. That's Christian meditation - not clearing our minds of all content and allowing them to wonder to a higher plain – but focusing on Christian truths; turning them over in our minds, exploring their implications.
It's a bit like when we're worrying about something, or when you're really excited about something. It's difficult to stop thinking about it. We might find ourselves making mental lists of all the things we've got to do before our holiday; or we might find ourselves thinking about all of the possible consequences if we mess up at work. When we're faced with major crises or with exciting opportunities we find our minds going back to them again and again and thinking about what they mean, what implications they might have, how they might change our lives. We can't help but let our minds play on it…
And that's what we're supposed to be like when it comes to heaven – but it doesn't come easily to us. So we need to discipline our minds to think about it. As significant as our heavenly life is, this life, the things that dominate our time here, can fill our vision and take our attention so that the things of heaven become harder and harder to keep a focus on. That's why we need disciplined reflection, why we need to keep these things in our minds, why we need to weigh them up and turn them over and explore them in our minds. That's why Paul says 'think about the things above, seek those things, pursue them'.
See in all this we're a bit like those deep cover Russian spies arrested this week. They were living in America as American citizens, but their allegiance was to foreign soil. They carried out their day to day activities as if they were just like everyone else, but they had a secret identity.
While they showed every appearance of living a normal life like all their neighbours they talked about their task at home and when they met with each other. They met with a handler who encouraged them. They set their minds on things of Russia, they sought the things that would further the cause of Russia, not the cause of the USA.
Now I'm not saying we should emulate their spying, or even learn from their techniques (although I'm sure we could make some useful analogies if we worked hard enough) – but they had to work to keep their minds focused on the job. They had endless opportunities for distraction. Who knows, there may have been hundreds of these sleeper spies sent out, and most may have been simply assimilated into American society and just forgotten about their role. But to stay focused on the job through 10 years of living undercover they will have had to exercise their minds, reminding themselves why they were there, what their roles were, where their allegiance lay.
And like them, we're here for the long haul – all our lives in fact. And we can't ship back home if we're getting homesick. But like them our citizenship's elsewhere, and our primary allegiance is elsewhere. So like them we need to exercise our minds, retain our focus, discipline our thinking so that we don't get distracted and forget what we're doing here.
We're going to see more about what that means as we spend the next few weeks unpacking the rest of this letter to the Colossians. For now we're told to remember where our allegiance lies – if we're Christians then we're already elsewhere – we're with Christ in heaven. Our reality may be hidden now, but when Christ returns in glory we will be revealed in glory too; and therefore, since Heaven's where we are, and Heaven's where we're going, Heaven's where our minds should be now.