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 AVAILABLE SOON. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Colossians 1:15-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church
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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.

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Called and Empowered

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 2021
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 here21-08-08 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:22-25
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Holy Spirit come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God Holy Spirit come among us and help us to follow after Jesus Holy Spirit come among us with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen in the new testament we have four books on the life of Jesus Matthew mark Luke and John and they wrote it for a purpose I wonder what you would say their purpose was why did these authors write these books so if you feel able and you’re close enough to someone maybe turn to a neighbor and share with them just for 30 seconds the first thought comes to mind why did they write these books and if you’re at home and then do post something in the live chat so 30 seconds why did these authors write these books over to you

so

well I’m sure there are probably a many answers to that and we’ll see later on uh what comes up in the live chat about what people at home maybe thought if they feel able to share that but if I was to ask our wider community the parish I wonder what they might see I i wonder if they would describe these books as simply a means of passing on religious morals and stories I wonder if they would describe it as a kind of propaganda even I wonder even if I asked them do you think there’s any relevance in these books what they might say I suspect that many people would say no I suspect many people might say well there might be if you’re religious but there might even be some who say well this book is dangerous it’s oppressive even because over my summer break um I read this book it’s called a war of loves and it’s written by a celibate gay Christian and it partly describes his journey from hostile atheist to a passionate follower of Jesus and at one time he would have said the bible was dangerous and oppressive and he wanted nothing at all to do with Christianity but then he came face to face with Jesus and that changed everything friends we might summarize that the reasons for these books in the new testament as to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus and that is our purpose also as a church that the authors they wanted people to know about Jesus and by hearing about Jesus choose to follow Jesus and by choosing to follow Jesus recognizing then that needs some help to know how to follow Jesus and so they include material for that too they were willing to do this they were willing to prioritize this and to put their lives on the line because something changed their perspective just like that young author I read about the last two weeks they all met Jesus and by meeting him and learning to follow him their outlook on life changed forever our passage today is one of those moments one of those moments when the disciples themselves have their perspective on Jesus challenged and stretched if you look back in in the book of Luke chapter 5 that’s when Jesus called his disciples and since that point he’s mostly taught he’s done a couple of miracles and so probably in many people’s minds they’re beginning to think oh who is this guy who is this guy maybe he’s a prophet you know like prophets they challenge people and so Jesus is certainly causing a bit of a ruckus and challenging the religious leaders but prophets did miracles as well so maybe Jesus is just another prophet sure a great prophet but just another prophet but then one day Jesus tells his disciples they’re going to the other side of the lake and among these disciples are some experienced fishermen so the journey’s not unfamiliar and they know how to handle a boat and so off they go not giving it a second thought and at some stage in the sale things are so calm that Jesus he falls asleep in in the book and the disciples continue on with the task of getting them to the other side maybe they’re they’re talking maybe they’re thinking about all they’ve seen and heard and about this individual who now rests in their midst and then at some stage a squall a windstorm comes upon them and that wasn’t unusual in that particular area because the surrounding topography created those kind of events but it’s a particularly bad one these experienced fishermen are scared for their lives and so they cry out to Jesus master master we’re going to drown

upon waking and assessing the situation Jesus calls out to the wind and to the waves he speaks to them and the storm suddenly dies down and all becomes calm the disciples are left feeling both fear and amazement and they say to one another who is this he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him is he just a teacher is he a prophet is he maybe something more because they would have known from the old testament that God is described this way you rule over the surging sea when its waves mount up you steal them who is this who is this amongst the disciples what appears to be God God in human form because he has authority and power and if you look on in that same chapter the next three stories reinforce this Jesus has power and authority over nature over the spiritual forces of darkness over illness and even over death and in time the disciples would journey with Jesus and see him die upon the cross be buried but then raised to life again and though this would convince them that he is the son of God in human form and they would be willing to share this at risk to their life even imprisonment and death because they were fully persuaded that Jesus is God he is God in human form with all power and authority and the apostle Paul would one day write about this to the church in Colossae saying the son is the image of the invisible God in him all things were created he’s before all things and in him all things hold together he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him friends who is Jesus to you who is Jesus to you and might I ask what or who has supremacy in your life the disciples in our story were asked by Jesus where is your faith where is your faith basically in whom or in what is your faith we’ve all placed it somewhere our new members today they affirm that their faith is in Jesus that he alone is God he has supremacy in their life they take off the crown and give it to Jesus he’s their lord he’s their king he’s the one to whom they give control of their lives because he has all power and authority he’s more than a mere prophet or teacher so who is Jesus to you and what has supremacy in your life in our local community there were many answers to both of those questions some people might say that it’s work or success or popularity that has supremacy that’s the aim of life that’s what you have to aim for some people will prioritize family should have supremacy in your life for some individuals it will be circumstances or a particular experience which will define their identity a loss a an illness a really negative experience that’s what defines their life that’s what defines their values that defines their future and still others that I’ve met within our community they will turn and say supremacy is found in darker spiritual forces like tarot card reading or maybe a group that they belong to that group is the place that gives them identity and that group has the supremacy that group tells them what they can and can’t do so what are who is Jesus to you and what or who has supremacy in your life because the claim of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God he alone is God and as such he should have first place in our lives and to have anything else above Jesus is to commit the sin of idolatry and you know we can turn even good things into idols because as John Calvin reminds us the human heart is a perpetual idol factory we just turn out idol after idol even the good things and we put other things before Jesus so friends who is Jesus to you and will you allow him to have supremacy in your life now don’t think this is just for folks who are new to church or folks who don’t come to church because this was an important lesson for the disciples to learn to they needed to learn this to do what Jesus asked them to do next because if you go on in the book of Luke we read this when Jesus had called the twelve together he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill Jesus who is God in the flesh who has all authority and power he delegates some of that power and authority to his disciples now we might say well that was just a 12. well go on to the next chapter what do we see the lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go the 72 returned with joy and said lord even the demons submit to us in your name so he gives power and authority to the 12 and to the 72 and can you imagine being one of those disciples can you imagine it one of the fun things to do with scripture is to imagine yourself there can you imagine it Jesus comes along and says hey could you go and heal someone hey could you go and cast out that demon what would be your reaction would you be all cool calm and collected I think inside I’d be slightly freaking out I’d be like really me and when you left and you came across that first unwell or demon-possessed person how ready and willing would you be to do what Jesus has done to give it a show like imagine that standing in front of that person and knowing that Jesus has sent you to do what he’s been doing imagine that would you feel up for it if you do it right now

suspect many of us wouldn’t

and to for those disciples to be willing to follow through on that call from Jesus they needed to know that Jesus was more than a mere man and they needed to be committed to hem more than to their own comfort because they were going to have to get out their comfort zone and to more than what seemed possible because to the rational mind this is just crazy now why am I bringing this up well often I think our perception of what it means to follow Jesus is quite limited we limit it to verses or ideas that we are comfortable with and we push aside a greater vision of Jesus and a greater vision of what it means to follow Jesus one author put it this way it’s a wee bit jargony but it’s worth reading it is a tragedy that the Christian religion is in many minds identified merely with pious ethical behavior turning up to church saying prayers and vague theistic beliefs you know some weird ideas about God suffused with aesthetic emotionalism so it makes you feel better and a male glow of humanitarian benevolence so you end up doing some good stuff for your neighbor this is not the faith which first awakened the world like a thousand trumpets and made people feel it blessed to be alive in such a dawn at one time people knew what Christianity really was the entrance is the history of a force of immeasurable range

what does it mean to follow Jesus to you is it about morals is it about knowing some good stories and turning up to church is it about being a good neighbor is it about making you feel better what does it mean to follow Jesus because those things aren’t necessarily bad they’re just not the whole picture because Jesus later on by the same author says you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth the church apparently has power if you follow Jesus you have a power within you to be his witness now why is that important why am I laboring this well if we reduce Christianity to morals and old stories and religious duty and a warm fuzzy blanket then we rob Jesus of glory and we rob ourselves and our children of what we need to follow Jesus because today we heard one of our promises that many of us have made one of our membership promises and it says this do you promise depending on the grace of God to profess publicly your loyalty to Jesus christ to serve him in your daily work and to walk in his ways all the days of your life and in our last teaching series if you remember on grace we learned that grace is intrinsically tied to God’s power and here in this context of this promise is the power to equip us in the power to sustain us and without a greater vision of Jesus and without a greater vision of what it means to follow Jesus we will not publicly profess our loyalty to Jesus we will shy away from that oh I’m not a Christian I don’t go to church and we will never invite anyone else to know Jesus because we will shy away from it because we will not rely on God’s power and our children and our children’s children will not walk in his ways all the days of their lives if again we and they don’t learn to rely on the one whose power can steal the storms and his power now resides in you and me we need to recover a Christianity that is more than turning up to church being nice because if that’s all that is I’m walking out the door and not coming back because I cannot be bothered with that and you know too many of us are not like this with our faith we are timid and many of our young people are timid because we’re not passing on to them a faith that makes them anything otherwise we’re timid in our faith and it’s got nothing to do with being an introvert or an extrovert so please don’t give me that excuse it has more to do with our conviction of who Jesus is and who we are as his disciples do we really under believe he’s God with all power and authority do we really believe that we are called and empowered to be witnesses and make known the kingdom of God

will we keep our faith in Jesus and hold on to his promises and allow him to have supremacy in our lives even over our comfort or what seems possible or will we become fearful the disciples became fearful in this story because they did not hold on to the promises God made God in Jesus he said they were going to the other side it wasn’t a wish this was going to happen this was a promise but when surrounded by that storm they forgot what he said and they were gripped by fear rather than by faith are we a church who are gripped by fear or by faith are we laying hold of God’s word even the uncomfortable bits or do we minimize Jesus and what it means to follow him to what is familiar and comfortable and by doing that are we robbing Jesus of glory and are we robbing ourselves and our children of what we need to follow Jesus you know over the years i’ve learned different ways to help me have a broader vision of Jesus and nurture ways that help me understand more of Jesus and what it means to follow him and there are there are various things but you’ll not be surprised by now that I’m going to recommend you some books are my thing I like reading stories and usually once a year I try and read a book that is more about someone else’s story and so the recent book was a war of loves but I could recommend you book after book here or something chasing the dragon red moon rising God smuggling a war of loves as I’ve mentioned surprised by the power of the spirit or the hiding place these are real people’s stories across the decades across situations demographics countries but they all tell a real life story of how someone met with Jesus and by meeting with Jesus their vision of Jesus was enlarged and they were helped to hold on to the promises that are there in scripture friends maybe your one take away from today is to go get one of these books and have a read and then come back to me with your questions because I’m sure there’ll be some there’s more to Jesus there is more to following Jesus than what any of us know and if our perspective of Jesus is to grow if our self-understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is to mature if we are to have boldness to live for Jesus and our readiness to let him have the supremacy in our lives then we need to get to know Jesus better and we need to get to know his promises and his word better and hold on in faith to him and to those promises. I pray