To Live with Jesus (and not be Kidnapped)

I am delighted Michael Gove, the Education Secretary is providing a copy of the Bible for every school in the UK. It is intended to mark the 400th anniversary of its publication in English. 24,000 copies of the Bible costing over £370,000. Mr Gove said ‘Every school pupil should have the opportunity to learn about this book and the impact it has had on our history, language, literature and democracy.’ Indeed, but why oh why, the King James version?

Children should indeed learn to appreciate the impact the Bible has had on our history and culture. But how many will come to know the Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour by reading the King James Bible?  How many will have their stereotypes reinforced that the Bible is an outdated book, as irrelevant as Shakespeare or the Magna Carta. How much more helpful it would have been to provide every school with a Bible in contemporary English. Until as late as the 1940’s, young people had little choice.  We would probably have never heard of J.B. Phillips, nor benefited from his magnificent translation of the New Testament were it not for a letter he wrote C.S. Lewis in the Summer of 1943. John Bertram Phillips was the vicar of the Church of the Good Shepherd in London. We wrote to C.S. Lewis to say how much he appreciated his writings and included a copy of his personal translation of Colossians.

With bombs falling and sirens wailing and buildings collapsing all about, London was not unlike First Century Rome, at least for Christians. Paul’s Epistles seemed right to the point. The trouble was, the young people of his parish could not understand the Authorised Version. What they needed was something a little easier to read. So Phillips’ attempt at translating Colossians. “What did Lewis think?” He asked. Lewis immediately put the translation to the test. He turned to Colossians 2:8 in the authorised version

“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 AV).

He then read the same verse from Phillips’ translation:

“Be careful that nobody spoils your faith through intellectualism or high-sounding nonsense. Such stuff is at best founded on men’s ideas of the nature of the world and disregards Christ!” (Colossians 2:8 J.B. Phillips)

Lewis thought he knew Colossians pretty well, but the paraphrase seemed to hit it right on the nail. He sat down and read Phillips’ translation of Colossians from beginning to end. He replied, “It was like seeing a familiar picture after it had been cleaned.”

Lewis encouraged the young vicar to continue his work and “to ignore the attacks that would be sure to come from the cultured asses who would say he was spoiling the beauty of the AV and who were always waffling on about “reverence”. “But we must kill that!” Lewis exclaimed.

Phillips did indeed complete the rest of Paul’s Epistles, and then the Gospels and then the rest of the New Testament. It took him 17 years to complete his paraphrase of the New Testament which was finally published in 1960.  It has a freshness and vibrancy that has lasted 50 years. Alongside Phillips paraphrase we now have Eugene Peterson’s The Message published in 1993.

“Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings.” (Colossians 2:8 The Message)

The latest translation available, the 2011 revision of the New International Version (available on the Church book store), says

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

And here we see most clearly the meaning of the verse.

The word used in verse 8 is very unusual and rather dramatic.
It describes the way a slave-raider carries off his victim, a spoil of war. That is why I have subtitled this passage “Don’t let anyone kidnap you!” Because there are people out to kidnap you just as they tried to kidnap the Colossian believers with their novel ideas. “Jesus is not sufficient, the spirit world can offer you direct access to god” they promised. Paul counters “Don’t go near them if you value your freedom”.

It is not an exaggeration to describe the techniques used by the cults as spiritual kidnapping. And they often prey on young and vulnerable people on the edge of the Christian church. The sad truth is that most people who join extreme cults do so because they have never realised that God has provided all we need in Jesus Christ. They are looking for something more. That is Paul’s purpose in Colossians 2.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Having received him, we should continue to live our lives in him and no one else. Then comes his warning:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

We are then given three reasons why Jesus is all-sufficient. We have, Fullness in Jesus Christ; Fellowship with Jesus Christ and Freedom through Jesus Christ. Let us consider each in turn.

1.    Fullness in Jesus Christ

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

Nothing could describe more simply, more profoundly or more  emphatically the place Jesus fulfils in God’s plan of salvation.

1.1          The Fullness of Deity

When you think of Almighty God, what comes to mind? The Sovereign Lord of Creation, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords,

“who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever.” (1 Timothy 6:16)

With that in mind, try and take in verse 9.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9)

That means nothing of God was missing or absent in Jesus. So much so, Jesus could say,

“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him… Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:7, 9)

The phrase “lives in” has with it the meaning of divine condescension in coming to earth to be accessible – to be ‘at home’ with us. And not only the ‘fullness of deity’ in Jesus,

1.2          His Fullness in You

“and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (Colossians 2:10). The verb tense here is very illuminating. The ‘fullness’ mentioned here is not for future attainment. It is something we have already received when we trust in Christ. Nothing has been held back. When we trust in Christ we have all that can be ours this side of heaven.

We share all the benefits won by Christ in all that he accomplished at Calvary. Forgiveness and redemption are not separate from fullness but synonymous. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus indwells us and fills us from conversion even if we are not aware of his presence. The rest of the Christian life, until the day Christ returns, or we go to be with him, is about discovering what we already have in Jesus. When we are born into God’s family, we are born complete. Our spiritual growth is not by addition but by nutrition, letting his word dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), allowing His Holy Spirit to fill us continuously (Ephesians 5:18). We grow from the inside out, becoming conformed to the image of Jesus. We don’t get more of God. He gets more of us. Fullness in Jesus Christ. Secondly,

2.    Fellowship with Jesus Christ

“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12)

The cults plaguing Colossae were offering ‘deeper union’ with God, a second blessing beyond Jesus, a higher spiritual experience through their esoteric teaching. But once again the tenses here deny that there is any further blessing to come. “You were circumcised… you were buried… you were raised with him.” All this lies in the past.

What Christ accomplished then, Christians share now. Indeed, what has happened to Jesus, has happened to us. See how intertwined our destiny is with Jesus, circumcision and baptism, dying to our old self, being buried and then raised to new life, a new person. Fullness in Jesus Christ. Fellowship with Jesus Christ.

3. Freedom Through Jesus Christ

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

Do you know why the Christian message is so offensive to some people? Because the Bible describes them as ‘dead in their sins’, powerless to change their condition or pay off their debt to God. But so humbling, so dramatic is the liberating work of Jesus that it is described as literally being raised from the dead. The blessings of this new life are twofold: In Jesus we not only have forgiveness for all our sin (2:14) but also deliverance from all the powers of evil (2:15). Not only the past forgiven but the future certain. And it all took place on the cross.

3.1 Our debts have been wiped out

“He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us” (Colossians 2:13-14a)

In those days documents were either made of papyrus, a paper made from bulrushes, or sometimes of vellum from animal skins. Both were expensive and not wasted, indeed they would often be reused. The ink used then had no acid in it. It lay on the surface of the paper and did not, like modern ink usually does, bite into the paper.  When a document was no longer needed, the scribe would simply take a wet sponge and wipe the words clean away. No trace remained. When a debt had been paid, the paper could be washed clean. That is precisely what Jesus did to our sin. In his mercy he has wiped it out as if it had never been. He literally erased the charges. We may sometimes feel our sins are indelible, visible for all to see, but the truth is very different.  In the cross of Christ, God has wiped out the record of our sins so completely, no trace remains. Our debt has been wiped out.

3.2 The charges against us have been removed

“he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14b)

Paul may have been thinking of the titulus which Pilate wrote and had nailed above the head of Jesus. Placing the written accusation above a condemned criminal for all to see explained the reason for his punishment and acted as a deterrent to others. In the case of Jesus, the charge was that he claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. In reality there was another hidden titulus nailed above Jesus head. The accusations against us were nailed there by God the Father and borne in our place by God the Son.

Death cancelled all. When the body of Jesus was removed, so too was the titulus. Death cancelled all. Our debt has been wiped out. The charges against us have been removed.

3.3 The powers have been disarmed

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15)

On Friday a family in Virginia Water asked me to pray with them in their house because they had heard unexplained noises and seen what appeared to be a person walking around. They were anxious, possibly even afraid. I simply prayed with them in the name and in the power and authority of Jesus and asked him to deliver them from the presence and power of evil.
Although some people doubt the existence of God, I have yet to meet someone who doubts the existence of evil. Demon possession and the destructive power of evil spirits was as common in the First Century as it is now. In Colossae, the Gnostics offered special power to overcome evil. “No”, says the Apostle. “we have already been delivered.” The picture in verse 15 is of a Roman triumphal procession. When the Roman army returned from battle they paraded the plunder seized and the prisoners who were now slaves. Chained, shamed and exposed, everyone could see that there was nothing to fear from their defeated enemies. That is what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He has disarmed them and taken the forces of evil captive.

The cross is where we find forgiveness of sin. But it is also where we find deliverance from evil. It is impossible to know the King and not have a share in his victory. Freedom from demonic forces is no second or subsequent work of grace to be sought from the hands of God. It is simply the gospel privilege of all.

Stuart Briscoe describes one of the happiest days of his life…

Sin’s power was broken by Jesus at the cross, sin’s penalty was paid by Jesus on the cross. Satan’s defeat was accomplished by Jesus through the cross. At the cross of Jesus, our debts have been wiped out; The charges against us have been removed; and the powers of evil have been disarmed. This is our joy and peace.

Fullness in Jesus Christ. Fellowship with Jesus Christ. Freedom Through Jesus Christ.

Lets pray.