Mystery Theater (Colossians 1:24-2:5)

OTR

How many here know what the acronym OTR stands for?

Now…before I asked that question I figured I’d better do a Google search to make sure that there wasn’t some other meaning even more common than the one I’m used to…and visiting Wikipedia I found that…in part…it can also mean:

  • Ótr, a dwarf in Norse mythology
  • “An airport that serves Coto 47, Costa Rica”
  • Optical Transition Radiation
  • Off the road tires
  • On the run

And so on…1

But none of those are it…anybody who knows some of my personal history and likes know what it might be?

Old time radio. You know, the golden age of radio when it ruled. When great shows like The Shadow (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”) and Abbot and Costello (“Who’s on first?”) kept people close to radios (that were more furniture than electronic devices).

As hard as it may be to believe for the kids here, I am actually not old enough to have listened to most of those when they first aired :-), but there was one series that I did listen to every weeknight growing up in Canaan, New Hampshire. With my AM/FM radio…one with tubes and not transistors…where only the AM worked…I would tune to 1210 on the dial…and not tune digitally…where you know exactly what frequency you’ve got…I had to use a good old analog one where sometimes you have to have very accurate wrist action to get the exact spot you want.

The reward for getting 1210 was receiving WCAU out of Philadelphia (now WPHT)…and hearing CBS Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall narrating. For those who haven’t spent some quality time on the AM dial, that set of frequencies is fickle, with atmospheric conditions greatly affecting what you can, or can’t, tune in. (That’s why you can listen to stations much further away at night.)

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

And that fickleness can be second by second…for instance, the punch line of each mystery theater story came at the end, and it seemed very often it would be right then that WCAU would start fading out. I would get closer to the radio…turn the volume up…and hope that the signal would remain just long enough (and the interference would remain low)…just long enough…to catch the climax of the hour long episode.

Sometimes it did…sometimes it didn’t… 🙂

Why would I put up with such potential aggravation? Because “everybody loves a mystery”…and I think especially show when it enters the realm of supernatural. Beyond the great quality of the production, I enjoyed a story where I didn’t know exactly what was going on until the very end…where there could be twists and turns.

However, nobody enjoys a mystery whose solution is never revealed…

Colossians 1:24-2:5

With that on our minds, let’s go ahead and reach this week’s selection in Colossians as we continue in our series, “Dear Least Important Church…”

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ (Colossians 1:24-2:5).

Any word stand out to you?

If not, then you didn’t pay attention to everything I said just before we read that pericope 🙂

But, before we talk about mysteries…let’s cover some other items in those eleven verses.

Lacking in Christ’s Afflictions?

First, am I the only one who scratched my head at the first verse we read?:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1:24).

What is Paul saying here? That when Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished” and then “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30)…that our Lord misspoke and there was some more suffering required for the salvation of members of the church?

And if you check the major current popular translations that are actually translations (and not paraphrases), you don’t really receive any help in getting around the implications of the word “lacking” in “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” It really does sound like “it is finished” should be “it is almost finished.”

There are many possible explanations for what Paul said here…from pretty simple to “Paul was employing apocalyptic language.”2 However, until we get up to heaven and have a chance to ask Paul exactly what he meant, we’ll mostly have to remember how the Apostle to the Gentiles who wrote those somewhat confusing words also made clear statements like this:

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:15-19).

We are saved…and so, so much more…through “one man.”

So, what did the Holy Spirit, through Paul’s pen, mean in Colossians 1:24?

I’d like to posit on explanation I didn’t notice in some commentaries (well, not exactly in this form)…but hit me as I was about to paraphrase one of the more simple explanations into this sermon.

What did Paul do before his “road to Damascus” experience?

He persecuted the church. He zealously persecuted the church. He was hunting down Christians so “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2).

But, praise God, Jesus had other ideas…and after knocking the “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) off his horse…

4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4-6)

Who did we say Paul persecuting? [ The church. ]

Who does Jesus say Paul is persecuting? [ Him. ]

What was lacking wasn’t some portion of atonement…instead, even after the cross Christ’s sufferings continued. Jesus is the head to His body…the church…isn’t He? Don’t anyone lose track of the fact that when the world attacks the church, they are really going after its head…its cornerstone.

I also kind of like how Word Pictures in the New Testament says “that which is lacking” is “The left-overs,” so to speak.1

Christ promised that if they persecuted Him they would persecute us (see John 15:20). There is a good chance Paul is just saying that he is experiencing those “left-overs” of Christ’s sufferings. If we are faithful to the gospel…we will too. And, like the Apostles before us, let’s praise God for it when we are given the opportunity.

Suffering

It’s amazing how just a couple words can take so long to explain, eh? 🙂

But let’s not miss the forest through the trees. Paul is talking about suffering in these verses to prove his genuine concern for the Colossians. Those sufferings are for “[their] sake” (verse 24)…and he struggles (verse 29)…and he struggles specifically for the Colossians and those in Laodicea (verse 1). Even though he has never met them in person, the words he writes are not from some uninvested televangelist hoping to expand his ministry…they are from someone who has been (and is) afflicted for them, and who (as we learned in the second sermon in this series) has been praying for them from the day he first heard of their blossoming church (Colossians 1:9).

And when you really want someone to pay attention, isn’t letting them know just how much you care effective? Even, potentially, “guilting” them a bit so they think twice about undervaluing your concern and advice? 🙂

Mysterious Mysteries of Strange Mystery

Now that we’ve gotten that off our plate, time to return to something everyone loves… 🙂

And to segue…part of Paul’s sufferings on the Colossians behalf was being in prison. Why was Paul in prison? Let’s sneak ahead to Colossians 4:3-4 to find out why:

3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

It is on account of “the mystery of Christ” Paul is in prison…and this week’s verses speak of that mystery quite a bit.

As a quick aside, any Invader Zim fans sitting in the pews?

For those not familiar with it, it’s a long-cancelled cartoon about a bumbling little green alien who wants to conquer the earth…and his nemesis is Dib, the only one who knows (but consistently can’t prove) Zim is not of this world. Either way, for some reason while I was working on this sermon, I couldn’t get the title of Dib’s favorite TV show (and the title of an associated Invader Zim episode) out of my mind. It was called:

“Mysterious Mysteries of Strange Mystery”

Like I said, everyone likes a good mystery, especially if its supernatural. 🙂

And that’s what we have here!

So back to the mystery of Christ…

The mystery theme is so embedded in today’s selection that we almost have to re-read the entire thing to discuss the subject…but we’ll shave a little bit off:

…of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 1:25-2:3).

What can we learn about the mystery from those verses:

  • That it is part of the word of God (verse 25)
  • That it was hidden for ages (verse 26)
  • That it was revealed to the saints in Paul’s time (verse 26) and thus it is revealed to us
  • That the glory of the mystery is Christ in us (verse 27)
  • That there is a lot of wisdom mixed into the mystery (verses 28 and 3)

And there is one more thing it tells us about the mystery, but before we discuss it…let’s go to another section of Paul’s writings whose recipe includes a lot of mystery. Maybe it was something about being locked-up that inspired Paul to consider the mystery of God…since the other letter that includes it in great measure is also a prison epistle. Let’s look at Ephesians 3:1-10:

3 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Talk about Mysterious Mysteries of Strange Mysteries! 🙂

From this we learn a few more things about the mystery:

  • That it was made known by revelation (verse 3)…men didn’t figure out themselves
  • That it has something to do with Jesus (verse 4)
  • That it wasn’t made known before (verse 5)
  • That it was revealed to the apostles and prophets in Paul’s time (verse 5)
  • That it was revealed by the Holy Spirit (verse 5)
  • That the mystery was hidden (verse 9)
  • That the mystery is that salvation isn’t just for the Jews, we Gentile get in on it too (verse 6)

Well, there we go…in Ephesians 3:6 Paul lets the cat out of the bag—the mystery is that we Gentiles are “fellow heirs”…and 3:10 tells us that this inclusive version of God’s saints will have an important side effect…that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to rulers and authorities in heavenly places.”

Dib watched “Mysterious Mysteries of Strange Mystery”…we are being watched by rulers and authorities in heavenly places!

The Real Mystery

So, there we have it. The AM signal stayed clear…and we “heard” in Ephesians 3:6 that the mystery that was hidden thousands of years was…us Gentiles being saved…

But wait, E.G. Marshall is revealing that’s a bit of a trick ending…and he’s pointing us back to our original selection of verses in Colossians…specifically Colossians 2:2:

2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,

What is God’s mystery?

Jesus!

But what about Ephesians 3:6? If you go re-read both sets of verses, both in Colossians and Ephesians, clearly the context, in great measure, is what would be of special interest to the churches lucky enough to get a missive from the imprisoned apostle: salvation. So, in great measure, the discussion of the mystery has a “salvation in the church age” flavor to it. Considering how long salvation seemed tied to the Jewish nation and all the ceremonies involved in the Old Covenant, the New Covenant and it’s more obvious inclusiveness would be a great part of the mystery.

But, it’s only a part of the mystery. The “complete” mystery is Jesus Christ Himself, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”…including how we Gentiles get to hop on the train that Curtis Mayfield wrote about in his song, “People Get Ready”:

People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

My favorite version of that classic is done by Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart 🙂

And There Is More…

It Wasn’t Entirely Hidden

Before we wrap up, there are a few things we should mention about the mystery.

First, contrary to how you might digest those mystery verses we read in Colossians and Ephesians, the faithful weren’t 100% ignorant of the mystery. Hebrews 11:13 says:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

And 1 Peter 1:10-11: states:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

And Jesus Himself shares in John 8:56:

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.

The Spirit revealed what was to come…but only in Jesus was it revealed completely…and to the whole world!

There Is Still More

Finally, even though the “manifold wisdom of God” may be being revealed through us, and the mystery, which is Christ (“in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”) has been explained to us…until we get to the other side, we’ve still got a lot we don’t know:

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

“For now see in a mirror dimly”…only “know in part”…but when we see Jesus “face to face”…

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

I can’t wait, can you?!

A Confession

Let’s close with a saying about this mystery that was on the lips of the early church. Paul shares it in his letter to Timothy:

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory (1 Timothy 3:16).

And, might I mention, He’s comin’ back!

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

“Dear least important church, let me explain a mystery to you…"

Footnotes

1OTR. (n.d.).Wikipedia. Retrieved January 28, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OTR

2Ash, A. L. (1994). Philippians, Colossians & Philemon. The College Press NIV commentary (Col 1:24). Joplin, Mo.: College Press.

2Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Col 1:24). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.


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