Christ in You, the Hope of Glory
To them (saints) 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.
According to statistics reported in May 2013, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA there is a dramatic spike in suicides among middle-aged people. This now middle-aged generation of people are described as baby boomers. An article reporting on these statistics stated that “there are no large-scale studies yet fleshing out the reasons behind the increase in boomer suicides. … psychologists and academics say it likely stems from a complex matrix of issues particular to a generation that vowed not to trust anyone older than 30 and who rocked out to lyrics such as, “I hope I die before I get old.”
I think correct the observation that suicide arises out of a complex matrix of issues. A deep sense of hopelessness about life is never straightforward; there is no straight line of causality. Irrational things are never subject to rationality. We want to understand why; but complete or satisfying explanation eludes us.
Here again I wonder if the focus on some sort of self-understanding—if only we understood the human experience more clearly—has us looking in the wrong direction. Sometimes in counselling the person is so focussed on self-understanding it can lead to increased self-absorption. Every event of life is analysed according to its impact on me; it would be easy to conclude that life is about me.
“Christ in you, the hope of glory;” in this clause I think we hear a wonderful word of hope penetrating the darkness of our self-absorption. The supposition of the clause reorients us; we now look away from ourselves to him. Who is this person in whom the Apostle is confident that such all-encompassing hope is grounded?
1. “Christ in you, the hope of glory;” who is this “Christ” of whom Paul speaks?
When the New Testament writers speak of “Christ” they mean Jesus. Christ means “anointed one” or “messiah.” Jesus is the long promised messiah. (Christ is not Jesus’ last name)
It is difficult to read the New Testament and not be struck by the maximalist claims constantly being made about Jesus Christ. He is “Lord” (Matthew 21:3), “Son of God” (Hebrews 1:2), “Son of Man” (Matthew 12:8), “Messiah” (Mark 8:29), “Son of David” (Luke 8:39), “the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8), “Author of life” (Acts 3:15), and in the ecstatic words of Thomas the former doubter, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).
But there is no more extraordinary and far-reaching description of Jesus’ significance that the one found in this first chapter of Colossians. Here we read that Jesus is “the image (eikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”, the one in whom “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Lest we miss the power of these statements, their interpretation is clearly spelled out: “in him all things in heaven and in earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.” In this Jesus, all things have come to be; he is the prototype of all finite existence, even of those great powers that transcend the world and govern human affairs.
If we are tempted to understand his influence as only a thing of the past, we are immediately corrected: “in him all things hold together.” Jesus is not only the one in whom things were created but also the one in whom the presently exist and through whom they inhere in one another. And if we are inclined to view the future as a dimension of creation untouched by Christ, we are set straight: “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.” Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars—all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him.
Jesus is not merely the symbol of an intelligibility, coherence, and reconciliation that can exist apart from him; rather, he is the active and indispensable mean s by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, is short, is the all-embracing, all-including, all reconciling Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space. (Robert Barron, The Priority of Christ, p. 134-5)
Is it any wonder that Paul was so excited to proclaim, “Christ in you, the hope of glory?” To catch the import of what Paul is affirming read the clause with the following emphasis: Christ in you, the hope of glory;” the “singular, one-and-only, all-embracing” hope of glory. It seems to me that we have a great message of hope to proclaim in a world wearied by hopelessness.
2. We often think the Christian hope a future hope—and indeed it is. But it also is a present hope. Paul said in Christ all things in heaven and earth were created including thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers.
Exactly what are the principalities, thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers? For centuries many Christians have equated these with angels, now fallen, and therefore demons. To be sure, scripture speaks of the demons, demons whom Christ has to subdue. Scripture speaks also, however, of the principalities, principalities whom Christ’s cross has reconciled. (Please note that while the demons are exorcised, the powers are reconciled to Christ.) The demons and the principalities or powers plainly aren’t the same.
The principalities and powers, on the other hand, are very different. Paul speaks of them again in Romans 8. He uses much the same vocabulary in 1st Corinthians 2. In 1st Corinthians 2 he speaks of “the rulers of this age”. The rulers of this age aren’t individual humans. They are institutions, social entities, identical with the powers. The rulers of this age, he tells us, “crucified the Lord of glory”.
To be sure, we can name the individuals most immediately involved in the crucifixion: Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod, and so on. At the same time, these individuals represent, exemplify the force of, those powers that they happen to speak for: Pilate, Roman jurisprudence; Caiaphas, religious institutions; Herod, civil government amidst occupation.
Admittedly, the powers can work evil: they crucified the Lord of glory. But they aren’t inherently evil, since God created them. The powers (principalities) are the link between God’s love and visible human activity and experience. The powers are meant to be sinews, the ligatures that keep all the dimensions and aspects of human existence together, and keep it all together in God’s love.
Law, for instance, is meant to do this. Law conserves social order and fosters social intercourse. Social order and social intercourse are impossible without law. Therefore law as a power, a principality, has a divinely mandated role as a sinew of God’s love for his creation.
The economic order has a similar role. While it’s true that we humans don’t live by bread alone, without bread we don’t live at all. Since God wills our bodily life, God wills the economic order.
Education is a crucial principality. We can’t love God with our mind as long as we are ignorant. Therefore the apparatus needed to educate citizens is divinely mandated, and it too is another sinew of God’s love holding his people together.
Think of health care. In view of our Lord’s concern for healing throughout his earthly ministry God promotes human health. The Christian then, understands the importance of the apparatus required to foster human health; comprehends the divine mandate of this particular principality and its role as a sinew of God’s love.
Christians, however, are aware of the Fall. We know that since the Fall affects the entire creation, the powers are fallen too. Simply open a newspaper to read of how far short of the glory of God the powers have fallen . As fallen the powers, the authorities, no longer fulfil their mandate unambiguously.
They are now compromised, to say the least, in their acting as links between God’s love and different aspects of the created order. Worse yet, Paul tells us in Galatians 4 that the powers, now in revolt against God, deify themselves. They claim an allegiance and adulation from humans that God never mandated them to have. Fallen, the sinews of God’s love have perverted themselves into idols, lethal idols.
Not only do the powers revolt against God; in their hostility to God they set themselves against one another. They savage each other. Education blames business for everything that’s wrong in the society. Business blames the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system blames health care. They slander and falsify each other. This being the case, why doesn’t the creation spiral down into chaos? Paul tells us why: Christ is supreme—and therefore sufficient for the task of preserving the cosmos. “In Christ”, Paul announces in defiance of powers run amok, “In Christ all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17 assures us that however fast, however violently, the world spins (metaphorically speaking), it can never fly apart. “In him all things hold together.” Why doesn’t the creation fly apart (metaphorically speaking)? Why doesn’t human existence become impossible? Why don’t the countless competing special-interest groups, each with its “selfist” savagery, fragment the world hopelessly? Just because in him, in our Lord, all things hold together. What he creates he maintains; what he upholds he causes to cohere. “Hold together” is a term taken from the Stoic philosophy of the ancient Greeks. But whereas the ancient Greek philosophers said that a philosophical principle upheld the cosmos, Christians knew it to be a person, the living person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He grips the creation with a hand large enough to comprehend the totality of the world.
3. A few weeks ago I participated in theological conference held at Princeton Theological Seminary; the campus is part of the sprawling campus of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. I had opportunity to explore the campus and was grateful for the maps on signposts strategically placed throughout the university. And, of course, when you are looking at a map like this—trying to figure out where you are in relationship to the map—you look for the “you are here” indicator that shows where you are standing.
In considering these great affirmations about Jesus’ identity in Paul’s Colossian letter we have been looking at a rather large map that encompasses both heaven and earth. These verses that follow—in which we find this clause, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”—function as a “you are here” indicator on this great map of Jesus’ all-encompassing significance.
In locating where we are on this map Paul speaks of justification by faith this way: “you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled* in his fleshly body* through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.” We are set in right standing with God. All of this is presupposed in the faith experience of “Christ in you.” The consequence of Christ in us is hope of glory; as he was raised in glory so we too will share in it with him. Jesus represents all his people—what is true of him is true for them.
Hope, in scripture, is never wishful thinking; hope is a future certainty. To be set right with God—Christ in you—is to be certain of finally sharing the glory of Christ. Christians are destined to be immersed in the majesty of God, the grandeur of God, the radiance and splendour of God.
We must be sure to notice here, the emphasis is on God. Not so with much preaching today where the emphasis is on us: what God can do for us, how the Christian message can profit us. Why, God is said to direct our investment portfolio, calm our nerves better than a prescription, make us social standouts and guarantee success where everyone else fails.
Scripture speaks differently. From cover to cover scripture is about a singular, looming, awesome reality as dense as concrete: God. The book begins, "In the beginning, God." It ends with the magnificent picture of God’s people awaiting the final manifestation of God’s own glory. From cover to cover scripture depicts God’s relentless reassertion of his own goodness and glory in the face of our short-sighted self-preoccupation. The one thing God is never going to do is endorse our short-sighted self-preoccupation. He aims only at directing us away from ourselves to him. We have been appointed to share his glory.
To say that we are going to share Christ’s glory is also to say that we are going to be rendered those children of God whose resemblance to Christ is unmistakable and undeniable. Now Paul goes on to say that his work of proclamation of Christ—teaching and admonishing—is aimed to “present everyone mature in Christ.” We are each a work in progress; a work that will one day be complete.
On that day we shall have been brought to share the glory of God. Sharing the glory of God, we shall be rendered glorious ourselves. Knowing that this is our hope, a future certainty, should make our hearts sing as nothing else can. Of course we rejoice now in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
We read today the story of one of Jesus’ visits to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha headed into the kitchen to prepare a feast. Mary sat at our Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. Martha was not happy with Mary and let Jesus know that she thought Mary was not holding up her end of the bargain. Jesus responded by saying that “Mary has chosen the better part”.
Jesus was not saying that the work of hospitality should be ignored; he does show us how to prioritize. Sitting at Jesus feet is the better part; it is here that we are sustained in this faith experience of Christ in us. Hearing and heeding Christ today always takes the form of hearing and heeding the Apostles—the teaching of Apostle and prophet now written (Bible) serves this purpose. Whenever you draw aside from the important things of life to sit at Jesus feet you have chosen the better part.
God’s commission to the Apostle Paul was to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints … 27…...which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.