Spiritual vision

Preached on: Sunday 16th January 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Colossians 1:15-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I am a bit of an expert in physical vision or so I think.

I’ve had my eyes tested more times than I care to count and when I go to the optician almost inevitably the optician will put up a great big card and asks me to read the letters on the card and I start off very well, I can do the top lines, and I’m very pleased with myself, then we get to the middle and I can do some of them and then when I get to the little bottom lines and the letters begin to get smaller, I start guessing and eventually I run out of guesses. That’s physical vision, and I’ve had to go regularly to have my eyes tested, and one of the things that strikes me is how subtly I can lose my vision. I wonder what I’ll be like in another 10 years’ time. Wonderfully my sight is stable at the moment but I’ve got to be careful.

As I said to the children, there are more ways than one of seeing. The apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians that they had eyes in their hearts. ‘I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.’ We have different kinds of vision. I’m well aware of it when I’m working on an academic problem and it’s very difficult and then, suddenly, there comes a moment and from my brain and my mind these simple words ‘I see!’ We’ve got vision inside ourselves, we’ve got spiritual vision too, and I would just like to ask you how often do you have a spiritual vision check?

It’s very easy just to avoid that and our spiritual vision can sometimes certainly go away. As Eric was saying in his moving prayer, we’re bombarded with so many things. The world around us and we’re looking this way and that and we lose the central focus. So many things compete for our attention and we can lose our focus on Jesus Christ, our Lord, very easily. I was reminded of this even in preparing this sermon. I was pulling out books and commentaries that I hadn’t looked at in years and suddenly I realized that I’d been losing my spiritual vision. And I was reading about the person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ, reading very deep books and I don’t intend to go into their depths with you today. I’ll spare you that. But it made me aware of just how easily and how subtly we can lose our spiritual vision.

William Cooper, the hymn writer, put it like this ‘Where is the blessedness I knew when once I saw The Lord. When first I saw The Lord. Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus and His word.’ It’s just so easy to lose our spiritual vision. Things happen in life. Sadness, disappointments and all that. I’m just covered and we’re so glued to that and worried and sometimes we really redefine our faith. We even redefine the person of Jesus to suit ourselves, to make Him non-threatening, to make Him just somebody that we can refer to when we want, rather than when He wants to talk to us. Oh, it’s so subtle, certainly the essence of modernity corrode us.

But you know, the consolation is, as we come to God’s word and to the epistle to the Colossians and also to the Laodiceans, they were to read it too, it wasn’t just Colossae that had the problem, this is an old problem. Vision of Jesus was becoming fuzzy and colossal and the Colossians and evidently the Laodiceans too, were losing their focus.

It was happening for a variety of reasons. Different teachings around, different philosophies, and they were seeping into their souls and some were probably listening to the teachers and enjoying the different messages without being aware that they were gradually drifting away from the bedrock of their salvation. It happens so subtly folks and it’s an old, old problem, and Paul is tackling it in Colossians and what he does here is something quite dramatic, in a way, as he speaks to the Colossians telling them of how Jesus has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He then gives us this amazing picture of that very Son and it occupies most of the passage that we have read together.

It’s a very complicated passage in many ways. As I was preparing myself over the last six weeks to speak to you, I became aware of how scholars tussle with it and if we were to go round down their particular road we could be in here for weeks. I’ll try to avoid that.

But he puts it before them straight, a big picture of Jesus a big, big picture

The heights and depths of this passage are truly amazing, and the passage acts as the cornerstone for the rest of the letter. As I was reading through it I noted the number of times that the sections in this chapter were taken through like little blocks and built on again with implications for what the Colossians did in their own lives.

But what Paul does primarily is that he makes them look up. He says, come away from these teachers and the philosophies for a minute and start doing that, looking up and see the salvation that has been prepared for you in Jesus Christ. He puts this picture right at the center of the letter or at the beginning really, but it is central to it all and he asks them to look at it and what I want to do today is to take you and make you look up to Jesus.

When Brent Haywood spoke to us at the very beginning, he used the image of balancing that broom on its handle and, you know, I’ve almost been going around with that, almost trying to do it because it’s such a good image. So often, when our vision fails, we start looking down and we can’t anymore balance the broom on our fingers. It’s a great image. And that’s just what was happening here so Paul’s antidote to that is to just give them straight, a picture, a great picture of Jesus Christ.

Now, there are various views about this passage. One of them is that it may well be an earlier statement of belief that Christians had been wrestling with this, before Paul wrote this letter. As I said, it’s not a new problem that they had formulated. What mattered, what really mattered, and it was a crucial statement of some kind and there’s a lot to be said for that because, if you note at verse 21, he changes a little and he says here’s the picture in verses 15 to 20, here’s the picture and here are the consequences of that picture, what you have to do and what you have to remember. Now, all I want to do today, very simply, is to take you through the main points as they seem to be to me, of the picture of Jesus that Paul gives. As I say, it’s very complicated at one level but I want to draw out just the simple points so that you take them away and perhaps will be encouraged to look at them further when you leave here, look at the picture as we go. What a picture.

As I was preparing, I was thinking of Rio de Janeiro and I’m sure you will know why because as you go into Rio de Janeiro there’s a huge statue sitting above it of Christ the Redeemer but even that’s inadequate, very inadequate. It lifts our eyes but it doesn’t take as much beyond stone and concrete. Here we have a wonderful picture in which Jesus is lifted up first of all. Paul says through this passage guided by the Holy Spirit Jesus is supreme in and over all creation.

First point – Jesus is not simply a spiritual being, He is spiritual, deeply so because He is very God of very God, He is the very image of God as well, but He is also supreme over creation, He’s not separated from creation, He’s not divorced from it, but at the same time, He’s over it. He’s come into this creation in the incarnation but the amazing thing is that He has been there from the beginning of time. He is before all things. He’s not simply being born for the first time at Christmas Day. He takes on our flesh but He’s there from the very beginning. It’s a complex thought but you know we acknowledge Jesus, The Lord Jesus’ role in creation. In our hymns don’t we and I’m going to put in a wee hymn, a verse from a hymn with each point so that you can think about it – ‘Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it, for by his power each tree and flower was planned and made. Jesus is Lord, the universe declares it, sun, moon and stars in heaven cry, Jesus is Lord.’ I often hear that verse going through my head.

Jesus, the supreme Son of God, coexistent with the Father, is the agent of creation. The process of creation is a different matter to me. I don’t fully understand it and I will leave it gladly to the scientists to work out all of it, but I know, on the basis of the scriptures, who has been the creator and for whom it was all created. So, that’s the first point.

Second, Paul points out that Jesus is supreme over all thrones and powers, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. All things were created by Him and for Him. He’s not just another king and He made that point Himself on this earth. He is integral, as we said, to the making and sustaining of the physical world but even its greatest rulers were created by Him and fought them in heaven and on earth and also in the supernatural realm because these principalities and powers often refer to the supernatural and it may well be that the Colossians were having a wee listen to all sorts of supernatural ideas and Paul brings them back and says, look here, there’s one that’s greater than all these powers, all thrones and powers. What did Isaac Watts say these many years ago ‘Jesus shall reign where the sun doth his successive journeys run. His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moon shall wax and wane no more.’ He’s over all of that.

Third, Jesus is supreme over the church and He is the head of the body the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead. We have funny ideas of the church sometimes, don’t we. We think of it sometimes as a building, sometimes as a denomination, and then we think who’s at the head of the denomination, is it the pope, is it the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and is it the Queen. And each of the structures has its own physical head but beyond that and over the church, as we know it, as we meet together as believers, with our fellow believers throughout the world, Jesus is Lord and He’s head of the church. We sing it as in these other hymns so we’ve got a hymn for this ‘The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. She is His new creation by water and the word. From heaven he came and sought us, to be His holy bride, and with His blood H bought us and for her life He died.’ We actually know these things. That’s what I’m telling you, but there are times in life when we need to come back and reinforce them and hear them again because of the seepage into our souls of modernity and our loss of focus and vision.

And then, at the end Paul of the first passage, Paul makes clear to us and to the Colossians that Jesus is supreme in the resurrection. The first born from among the dead. When the phrase first born is used here it generally means that He’s got the position of the first son in a primogeniture context and has everything, the authority and He has this that in all things He may have the preeminence. He was the one who conquered death. There were other resurrections through His power before He went to the grave. Lazarus, for example, but Jesus did not die a second time, He went into heaven and there He is and He has and all of that, the preeminence, We need to remind ourselves of that. It’s a glorious truth put before us in the New Testament and we sing that too. there’s an Easter hymn that I just love ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son. Endless is the victory thou o’er death has won.’ It’s not just an Easter hymn, it’s a hymn for every day. Birch Hoyle’s wonderful translation of it. I often hear it going through my head and the music lifting me heavenwards.

And then finally, at least in my little interpretation, Jesus is supreme in reconciliation. He’s bringing us to God. He’s bringing many sons and daughters to glory and Paul emphasizes that there’s no need for any add-on. He’s complete. He’s got the pleroma the fullness of God within and He is the one who has the authority, solely Jesus, to bring us into God’s presence and that is profound as well. So many doctrines there are that tell us that we need something else, that we can’t really depend on the reconciling power of Jesus. These ideas have been around for a long time, as I’ve said, they were there in Colossae.

 

‘My hope is built’ said the hymn writer ‘on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but holy trust on Jesus’ name. On Christ this solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.’ I don’t know what hymns will be sung the day I go at my funeral but I’ll tell you this, I want that one sung because it really sums up the totality of where, as Christians, we ought to stand.

And then there’s the next section here, the consequences for us. We could just admire the wonderful work of Jesus but we’ve got to make it ours and we’ve got to persevere with it as the reverend George Macdonald reminded us last week. ‘But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body, if you continue in your faith established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.’ Brent mentioned the Christian hope when he was opening up this passage, this epistle to us and it’s a wonderful thing the Christian hope. The writer to the Hebrews says ‘we have this hope as an anchor for the soul’ and as somebody who was brought up in the Hebrides with boats I just love that. I see the times when we brought in the boat of an evening and we pulled up the anchor chain and we put it on it on the bow and we knew the ship was holding fast but we had to lift that chain put it on and do our bit and the same is through here.

See, when we lose the big vision, the up vision, we become very earthly, we start to look down. It’s the Brent’s brush again. Powerful image. And our eyes go down and we wobble and this was happening with the Colossians. I’m sure Reverend Scott Burton and others will cover these points better than I possibly could, but just at the beginning of chapter three Paul says this to the Colossians ‘Since then you have been, since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not earthly things, for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’ Wonderful words and it’s only by looking up, as I’m trying to encourage you to do today, that we can escape the down-drag the gravity of earth which is all around us and tries to seep into us and shape our spiritual vision and gradually we lose it.

So, my friends, this morning, the question as I conclude ‘How is your spiritual vision?

Often the optician will ask when he or she puts in a lens or adjusts the modern thing ‘Better or worse?’ and I would ask you this morning how’s your spiritual vision to come to this passage of scripture ‘Better or worse?’

I do hope that it will be just a little better for having been here today and you’ve been able to look up and not be pulled down as we so often are by the suction and gravity of this world. Paul has given us an eye-test here with a great picture, a great bit of writing on a book reading it.

How’s your spiritual vision? I trust this morning as you go out it will be just a little better. Mine certainly is a lot better for having had the great privilege of preparing for this service. Amen.

We are going to conclude now by singing a hymn, another modern one. Michael Soward’s lovely hymn ‘Christ triumphant, ever reigning. Master, Savior, King.’ A truly wonderful hymn. I love this one because it does exactly what I’ve been saying we should do, and Colossians encourages us to do – look up to Christ triumphant ever reigning.

The right heart

Preached on: Sunday 10th February 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-10-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Sunday 10th February 2019
Brightons Parish Church“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

Between my first sermon in November last year and the first three sermons of my time here, we have begun to explore what the early chapters of the book of Acts might say to us at this time. In Acts we find the early church experiencing the winds of change – they are on the cusp of huge changes, changes like they had never seen nor expected. And so, Acts, especially these early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember in the midst of change.

For we are, ourselves, in the midst of change too. You have a new minister here and that will bring change, in time, maybe even already.
But more broadly, the Church, both the Church of Scotland and the universal Church, finds itself in changing times. As a denomination, numbers are falling and we struggle to know how to engage with today’s generation; indeed, we struggle to engage with any of the generations that don’t come to church, not just the young. In our denomination too, it is predicted that minister numbers will continue to fall, that in ten years’ time, maybe less, there will be around half our current number of ministers, meaning about one minister for every three churches. We are very much in changing circumstances, and Brightons Parish Church will not remain unaffected. What’s more, you also may be facing a change in personal circumstances. Change is everywhere.

So, what core things has Acts taught us so far? Well, we’ve thought about how Jesus IS risen and His ministry continues, even to this very day. We’ve seen that part of His continuing ministry is to challenge us, to force us to reconsider the box we have Him in, so that He can expand that box, or even blow it apart, leading us into a greater fullness of life with the aid of His Holy Spirit. And last week, we thought about how Jesus was shown to be the promised Messiah and that He is Lord and so in Jesus we see the reign of God.

In our passage today, Peter has covered the same material we have, and he reaches that point where he says: “‘Therefore…be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’”

But the moment does not end there, for we read: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to
Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

The people were conscience-stricken and convicted; they were convicted of their need for Jesus; they were convicted that their faith had not been in Him, but in other things and in other people.

Another translation puts it this way: ‘Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?”’

So now what do we do? That question is as applicable for us as it was then. In the midst of change – so now what do we do? After we know whom Jesus is: that He is alive, that He is Lord and Messiah,…
that He His ministry is continuing by His Spirit through His Church – so now, what do we do? So now what do we do when we know He is challenging us and calling us to expand the box? So now, what do we do?

We read on: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

First off, Peter says to repent and to repent is much more than saying sorry or feeling remorse for what we’ve done. True repentance is when our minds are changed about Jesus such that our attitudes towards Him change and consequently, the direction of our life changes too…
In essence, we need to know for ourselves what the Apostle Paul wrote: That ‘he [Jesus] died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

We see here that repentance involves two things. Firstly, we can’t truly repent if we don’t truly know who Jesus is and why He died on the Cross.

In the same passage, Paul writes in v21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.’ It’s a strange sounding idea, but what Paul wants us to understand is that Jesus, the perfect, holy, sinless Son of God, was treated as a sinner and bore the penalty of all sin in place of us. But why did God do that?

Well, our God is a holy God – and thank God that He is! Imagine a God who could simply overlook sin? That God would not be righteous, that God would not be perfect – that God would not even be loving because love does not delight in evil. And so, sin offends God, it grieves God, it alienates God and ourselves, and so we need a Saviour – everyone of us needs someone to save us from our alienation from God and the brokenness we have brought upon ourselves. And Jesus is that Saviour, He is the Messiah. Jesus died, that we might be reconciled to God, that we might be forgiven for our sins.

But it is perfectly possible to know who Jesus is and why He died, but never to repent. And so, Paul’s second point about true repentance comes to the fore.

‘he died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

That those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him. This is the true mark of repentance – do you live for Jesus? Does He shape your life? You will know you have truly repented when you see Jesus as He truly is and you can honestly say that He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for Him. That’s true repentance.

But as I say, it’s entirely easy not to repent because so often we only get half of the story. In the Church of Scotland, we have not been good in calling for a response to Jesus, we shy away from it and so we leave people short-changed…
Sure, we share that God loves you, that Jesus died for you, but we don’t tell people the next bit – that they need to respond. And so, they miss out on the whole package. My own story is a testimony to this very failure in our denomination but also of God’s grace.

I grew up in the Church of Scotland, being baptised within it, going to Sunday School and then to Youth Fellowship. I remember one time in my teenage years of being motivated to read the Gospel of Mark, and going to my minister with my questions, but he simply brushed over them. I could never really understand his preaching, and I cannot remember hearing much about the love God has for me, nor that I needed to respond…

And so, I went to Youth Fellowship until it stopped, and then to the Sunday evening service when I worked in the morning, and I thought I was genuinely a Christian because I went to church, I helped run my local Cub Scout Pack and I had a good public image.

But over the course of my teenage years I grew in confidence and with that I grew in selfishness, and that particularly impacted the girls that I dated, for it was all about me and what I could get from the relationship. It came to a head when I was out celebrating my 19th birthday, and the parts I can remember from that night continue to shock and horrify me. My selfishness was rampant, and I lived for me.

But in the small hours of the morning after, God met with me, as I lay in bed, and He convicted me of my sin, and I repented – I didn’t say anything, but I died to self, and I got up that morning, out of that bed, a new man, a new creation as the Apostle Paul puts it, and I no longer lived for self but for Jesus: He was the centre of my life now, His will and His call and His goodness and love shown on Cross were the things I would build my life upon.

Friends, we don’t all need to have such a dramatic change, but do all need to repent – to respond to the Good News of who Jesus is and why He died, such that He becomes the centre of our lives and we then live for Him. Hopefully you’ve heard that before, but if you haven’t, now is the day of salvation, now can be the day of your salvation – and so as Christ’s ambassador, I implore you: be reconciled to God. Humble yourself, truly repent; come to God anew, set your hope upon Jesus, and come in to that new life with God. Before I became a Christian, I thought I was living life to the full, I thought I knew what the good life was, but it wasn’t the whole truth; it’s only through Jesus that you can know life in all its fullness – not an easy life, not a perfect life – but a life beyond imagination, a life we all hunger for in the deepest parts of our souls.

Friends, if you haven’t repented, if you don’t live for Jesus, then today could be your day, and I invite you to come speak with me after the service and together we can help you find that new life in Jesus.

But if you have repented, if by God’s grace you are a new creation, then there is a call upon your life for Peter says: “‘Repent…every one of you…And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Now what is that gift given for? We’ve heard in recent weeks that the Holy Spirit helps us to know who Jesus is and assures us that we are children of God – but the Spirit is also given for another reason. As the Apostle Paul said: “All this is from God, who…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

So, there is call for all of us to live for Jesus by being His ambassador, His witness, and so you are called into the ministry of reconciliation;…
you are called to share your faith with others, to see everyone you meet through the lens of the cross, and to give of yourself for that ministry, the continuing ministry of Jesus.

Today, I want to focus on our hearts and outlook, because in all likelihood, some of us may shy away from this for any number of reasons. We might let fear, or feelings of inadequacy or awkwardness, or past negative experiences put us off. We might also shy away from it because we are not motivated to do so, that “Christ’s love [does not] compel us”. And that may have happened because of any number of reasons as well.

But whether you shy away because of fear, or for lack of love for God and neighbour, today God wants to help you have the right heart –
He calls you back to live for Jesus, He calls you out of fear and out of apathy, because today, now, is the day of salvation, and what you have received is not for you alone, but for every person that Jesus died for. Friends, if that is you – if fear or apathy hold you back from sharing in the life of this church, from sharing your faith with others – then you need to do business with God, and in a few moments, we’ll have an opportunity to pray about that.

So, we need to have the right heart for this ministry of reconciliation – but we also need to have the right outlook. We need to see, we need to appreciate, that “now is the day of salvation”. Now is the day, now is the time. Now is the day that people can come into a lifechanging relationship with Jesus; now is the time for broken hearts to be mended, and injustices to be challenged, and the poor helped…
Now is the day, now is the time, for the kingdom of God to come in our midst – and for that we need to have the right outlook, so that we can see the world as it is and see the world as it could be within the kingdom of God. With the right outlook we will see that “now is the day of salvation”, and we will do everything we can to usher in the kingdom.

Friends, we are in changing circumstances, and more change will come, and will need to come, if we want to know life in all its fullness, for ourselves, for one another and for the wider world. But for that to happen, we need to have the right outlook – that “this is the day of salvation” – and we need to have the right heart – that
“the love of Christ compels us” –
because then we will give of ourselves to that change, we lean in to that change, and before we know it, we’ll really be living for Jesus and participating in His continuing ministry, the ministry of reconciliation.

Brothers, sisters, what shall we do? First of all – have you repented? Do you live for Jesus? Secondly, will we commit to this ministry of reconciliation? Do we have the right heart? Do we have the right outlook?