I’m glad that God doesn’t run his kingdom like the A.A. runs their breakdown insurance. I wouldn’t stand a chance. You see, they wanted to kick me out. I had this breakdown cover insurance on my car – d’you have that here in Sri Lanka? It means that you pay £50, £100 a year and if your car breaks down, then someone comes and fixes it to get you going again.
I received a letter saying something like “Dear Mr Foggitt, We note that you have made use of our services five times this year. As a result, we are unable to renew your membership and we regret to inform you that we cannot cover your breakdown issues in the coming year.”
When I read a book by Max Lucado a wee while later, I realised that he had had the same experience! I mean, what is the point of a company offering breakdown cover if, when you use it, they throw you out? That’s something like a doctor putting up a sign in his window: “Sick people not welcome here. Healthy people only.” Or a dentist refusing to take you on as a patient if you ever need a filling or extraction.
So I phoned them up. I told them how upset I was that they were throwing me out. A very nice gentleman got my details up on his computer screen. “Yes, Mr Foggitt, I see that on such-&-such a date you called us up from Oban…” Yes, I did. My exhaust pipe had come loose and was threatening to fall off. The man fixed it in 5 minutes. “And 3 weeks later you called us from a village near Inverness…” Ahem, yes, that was awkward. I had run out of fuel. Y’see the fuel meter thing on the dashboard wasn’t working well – it would sometimes show full all the time; it got stuck. & then I ran out. “And then you broke down near your home in Buckie and called us out…” & so it went on. I had to admit it; five times I had called upon their services in the one year and they explained what I already knew, which was that their limit was four. After four, they’re not supposed to rescue you. So they kicked me out. They didn’t even offer me another deal!
I had an old car – a rather old Volvo automatic – it must’ve been 20 years old – which a friend of mine had given to me. It wasn’t worth a lot, but it was good for the icy roads in the winter in the North of Scotland. But it broke down a lot.
Now I’m glad that God’s k/dom doesn’t work like this; imagine if one day you got a message from God: “Sorry, Chandan, you’ve committed five sins today, so you’re out!” “Sorry, Tineke, you saw in the contract that you had special cover for seven sins per day; you’ve done eight now – two days running. You’re out!”
Now the problem is this: the Automobile Association, who provided me with this breakdown cover, could hardly bend their own rules. If they made an exception for me, allowing me say, eight breakdown call-outs per year, then everyone else would be wanting eight as well. It would only be fair. Or maybe there would be no limits at all – & then there would be no incentive for anyone to look after their car – “It’s all right,” people would say, “if I break down, I can always call out the A.A. – twice, three times or more a day if I want.” & the poor AA mechanics would be rushing about madly & people would be waiting for hours to get their car fixed. There has to be a limit; the AA have to put their foot down, otherwise they would need to charge a huge sum of money to get their breakdown insurance.
& God in this regard is similar; he has his limits. With him, one sin is too many. & without the cover we get from Jesus, we would be lost. He’s the one who rescues us, time after time if necessary. So Paul writes to the Colossians: through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. He paid the bill, once and for all; he provides the cover, for as long as we need it.
But Paul seems to say that there’s a condition; he seems to suggest that we can’t just stupidly & blindly drift away from God, disobeying him & ignoring his word, again & again & again: see what he says in v23: provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith. It’s almost the only place that I know of where the apostle seems to suggest that it’s possible to fall away from faith & so fall away from the kingdom. It’s a reminder that we need to be growing fruit – fruit of the Spirit, and also fruit in our lives – results that can be seen from the lives that we lead.
But there’s another side to this “worship poem” as someone has called it and it’s very different. You see, if you remember from last week, Colosse was in modern-day Turkey & that whole area was under the Roman Empire. People had strange, Greek ideas about secret knowledge & codes. & everywhere you went there were images of Caesar, who was considered to be God. He had got that power & the right to rule through his lineage, his family. (Previously they had elected Caesars, but not any more. If your father was Caesar, you would get to be Caesar. All thrones, dominions and powers were under Caesar. & the peace which the Romans brought – the pax Romana – was held together only, according the Romans anyway, by the Emperor, Caesar himself.
BUT, Paul says: v15, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Not Caesar. & also in v15 he writes that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation.” Even more tellingly, v16: thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him (that’s through Jesus) and for him.
So it’s like Caesar is being directly challenged.
& finally, v17: In him all things hold together. You see, the Romans saw themselves & Caesar in particular as holding out against the barbarian – Rome was seen as the force for good against the chaos of terrorism & paganism all around them. But here’s Paul telling them that the primary force for good is Jesus; He is the one who holds out against the corruption & evil all around.
&, note this: it all happens on a cross; a wooden cross which, according to the Jews’ own beliefs meant that Jesus was cursed: Cursed be he who hangs on a tree according to Deuteronomy 21:23. The Pax Romana was established & maintained, basically, by terror & fear – of the cross. Thousands and thousands of people were crucified by the Romans. One Roman general marched hundreds of miles north to Rome & crucified a captured soldier every mile – as a warning to others who dared to oppose them.
So Paul turns this Roman cruelty on its head & says that Jesus achieves & proves his Lordship over all creation & brings salvation to us by making peace through the blood of his cross v20. That which for the Romans is a sign of their power over others is actually a proof of the power of God over death & sin.
He could hardly oppose Roman rule more overtly & powerfully; some years later, the writer of Revelation, John, wrote in very forceful terms about the evils of Rome. What he wrote is very obscure to us, but to his readers it was clear enough: Rome is an evil force and those who live under its sway need to be very careful to avoid being drawn in & corrupted.
Now, as we sit here in Colombo, today, what does it say to us? Well, we need to be clear what are the evil forces that seek to draw us in & corrupt us. I’m pretty clear that it’s not the government – even though many people are very quick to blame all their problems on politicians & governments! No, I don’t think for one moment that today’s message is directed at them. Instead, I believe it’s directed against the real forces, dominions and powers that are at work: the cultural forces which make you believe that your value lies in how many “likes” you get for a photo on Facebook or in how large a car you have; the dominions that tell us that “market forces” must be the all-important issue in any decision; the belief that because there are many religions in the world, they are all the same & we don’t need to be too committed to God. Against all these, Jesus stands clear & strong.
We are called into a kingdom of faith, which, through faith in Christ, enables us to be brothers and sisters – whether we are rich or poor, Tamil or Sinhala, upper-, middle- or lower-class; there is no difference & Jesus doesn’t care – so neither should we. Because these divisions of class & caste are not from God; they are inventions of men who want to hold power over others.
Don’t forget – & this passage reminds of this fact – don’t forget that the heart of the Christian message is not some lesson that Jesus taught, even though he taught some wonderful lessons. & it’s not some good moral example that he set, even though he did that again & again. No, the heart of the Christian message, v20 & v22 is that Jesus died on the cross – for you and for me. Everything else is secondary. We are forgiven; we are restored; we are healed. And we don’t get kicked out of that service for calling upon it too often!