Enduring to the Rescue Christ the King
Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43
Do you remember Rubik’s Cubes? Years ago, I was using a Rubik’s Cube for a children’s sermon. The guy I borrowed it from had aligned all the sides so that they were the same color, and I made just 3 twists to kind of “mess it up.” I thought I could make it perfect again by just reversing these twists, and my talk was going to go something like this: “See this messed-up Rubik’s Cube? Sometimes our lives are messed up just like this. But then God comes along and makes a few simple changes (that’s when I wanted to make those 3 simple moves) and everything is as it should be!” The problem is that, when I made my 3 moves, it only messed up the Cube even more! So I said, “And then, sometimes, it takes God a little more time to fix things in our lives.” And, by that time, it was hopelessly mixed!
Then an 8-year-old boy sitting next to me said, “Mind if I try?” I gave it to him, and, in a matter of seconds, he had it all straightened out! I had to modify my children’s sermon to say, “And then, when things look really hopeless, God sends us help from the most surprising source!”
That was about 36 years ago, and I’m still learning that lesson: When things look really messed up, God might have a solution waiting just around the corner! People of faith are called to trust God’s wisdom, God’s timing, God’s ability to save us.
One of the “problem characters” we have in the story of our faith was named Judas Iscariot. He was a Disciple, a follower of Jesus, hearing him teach and watching his perform miracles—and yet he somehow didn’t GET it. Many Bible scholars look closely at Judas and conclude that he got impatient with Jesus, and expected him to 1. Ascend to the throne of Israel, 2. Use his mighty power to throw out the hated Romans, and 3. Restore Israel to its rightful place in the cosmos. They say he tried to force Jesus’ hand, wanting to be the “catalyst” that propelled him forward. And then, when things didn’t go the way he had anticipated, he gave up hope and ended his own life.
IF ONLY Judas had been a little more patient! If he had been more patient, he would have seen the resurrected Christ face-to-face, could have asked for his forgiveness, and would have been restored. But he did not have the power to endure.
In our epistle reading for today, we hear Paul praying for the Christians in Colossae that they would have the strength to endure to the rescue…that they would see that their Savior had transferred them into God’s Kingdom. It’s a recurring theme in much of Paul’s writing and teaching: hold to the faith as we delivered it to you; stand firm in the Gospel; remember our prayers for you; be on your guard; be strong in the Lord; put on the full armor of God! His words of encouragement and inspiration are just as appropriate 2000 years later as you and I wait for God’s salvation.
And in our Gospel lesson, we go once again to the place of crucifixion of one who was said to be “King of the Jews”, and we hear the criminal hanging on the cross next to him say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And we hear the reply, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Waiting for the Messiah
There were many prophecies concerning the Anointed One who was to come. This person would be a righter of wrongs, would set the world right-side-up again, would conquer evil. The Jews had been waiting for generations. This is referred to in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” There is a sad moment when all the Jews were being forced to leave Anatevka, and someone asked the Rabbi, “Rabbi, wouldn’t this be a good time for Messiah to come?” And the Rabbi answered, “I guess we’ll have to wait for him somewhere else.” Waiting is a key ingredient in Judaism: “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings as eagles.” The capacity to wait is key.
The same is true for Christianity as we await the Return of Christ—often called “The Second Coming.” At the beginning of the Book of Acts, the Resurrected Jesus has final words with the Disciples, telling them to wait for the Holy Spirit and then carry the Gospel to all the world. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” And every time we celebrate The Lord’s Supper, we hear the words of Paul, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” The capacity to wait is key.
Already Transferred to the Kingdom
But Paul has some good news for the Colossians—and for us. He says that God has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light! God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. This word for “transferred” is a Greek verb with a very special use. In ancient times, when one empire won a victory over another, it was the custom to take the population of the defeated country and transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the conqueror’s land.
Paul says that God has transferred the Christian to God’s own kingdom!
- From darkness to light (by which to live);
- From slavery to freedom—emancipation;
- From a state of condemnation to one of forgiveness: “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, by making peace through the blood of the cross of Christ.”
In Philippians 3:20 he writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” Even though we are earth-bound, we already have new citizenship, and we are just waiting for our transformation. Key word: waiting.
While we wait, we must endure. Sir Winston Churchill is remembered most for leading the people of Great Britain through one of the darkest times in its history. In one of his great speeches, he encouraged them, “Never give in; never give in. Never; never; never; never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
Chris Bradford wrote, “Anyone can give up; it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart—now that is true strength.” Here is Paul’s prayer from our epistle reading today:
- May you be made strong;
- May you be prepared to endure with patience.
The word for “endure” is hupomone, and it is translated as patience in the King James. But this does not mean patience in the sense of simply bowing the head and letting the tide of events flow over one. It means not only the ability to bear things, but the ability, in bearing them, to turn them into glory. It is a conquering patience. William Barclay says, “Hupomone is the ability to deal triumphantly with anything that life can do to us!”
The choir this morning did a piece called “Restless Weaver,” and it portrays God as someone sitting at a loom, creating a tapestry in each of our lives. It reflects an idea expressed in a poem by B. M. Franklin called, “The Weaver.” Here it is:
My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors, He weaves so steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God roll back the canvas and explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.
I’ll finish today by taking us back to “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye, the main character, explains: “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: TRADITION!”
If the Apostle Paul had written this, he probably would have said, “And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: HUPOMONE!”—we keep our balance, as we endure to the rescue, with the fortitude which no situation can defeat! Amen? Amen!