outside view

Going where you are Looking

Going where you are looking: Colossians 2.
Colossians 2: 1 – 23
Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Treasurer Island, is a great tale. At the centre is a mysterious map with secret codes directing the treasure hunter.  The path to the treasure is strewn with many dangers.  That’s the stuff of many adventure tales. Strangely Stevenson’s tale may help us understand the Colossian letter. There is the mystery of Christ and the great treasure of knowing Christ, and the Christian path is strewn with danger especially if one doesn’t strictly follow the map.
Paul virtually uses the image of a treasure map in chapter 1 verses 25 – 28. He speaks of the Word of God being hidden for ages and generations, which is now known to us through Christ Jesus. Jesus has unlocked the treasure chest so to speak. Paul wants the Colossian Christian to understand the mystery of Christ Jesus, so they can enjoy the hidden treasure. Now you may be wondering what is hidden and what is the mystery?
The first Christians lived in a world of power and influence. There was the Emperor’s absolute power. The Emperor disposed those who opposed him. They were stripped of their clothes, naked they were whipped and nailed to a cross to die slowly. What a demonstration of power.  In this context Christians were saying that Christ Jesus has destroyed the power of this world and is Lord of all creation. Yes, all of it – the Emperor as well. Christ Jesus is Lord!  That s eemed absurd to non-Christians. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians saying that the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing and the power of God to those who are saved [1 Cor 1: 18]. Paul recognises the absurdity of the Christian claim. Even today the notion of the Cross is foolishness to the wider community. Some religions find it utterly insulting to say that God died on the Cross, because God doesn’t suffer as suffering belongs only to humans. Sadly some Christians try to explain the Cross away and focus on some other aspect of the Christian story.  For some it is the teachings of Jesus and for others it is justice.
Now these thoughts really take us back to our text.  You see the Colossian Christians were being distracted. Yes, they had demonstrated their faith in Jesus through their love for others, which was grounded in their hope in God’s plan.  That was the theme of last week’s sermon based on Colossians 1.  But in a few places we saw hints of the Colossian’s faith being threatened. Now in chapter 2 it becomes quite clear.  In verse 8 Paul warns them not to be captivated by false philosophies that take them away from Christ Jesus. In verses 16ff he warns them against following pagan practices, religious rites and Jewish food laws that lead them away from Jesus.
There is always a risk that Christians will be distracted by their culture’s values and beliefs. For example, the Colossian Christians were distracted by their Greco-Roman culture’s view that one needed to escape from this world to the perfect one above, through ascetic practices such as strict food and drink laws.  This is not surprising. Indeed even today some very sincere Christians are being distracted by our world’s materialistic, individualistic and rationalistic beliefs and values. And other Christians shelter behind strict rules or unreflected understandings about gender orientation.
Now Paul argues that any reliance on their culture is wrong. His argument is that Christ Jesus meets all our needs because:
the fullness of God dwells in Jesus [2:9; 1:19];
Christ Jesus is the head of all powers and authorities [2:10; 1:17];
when we accept Jesus God accepts us and we become part of Christ and God the Holy Spirit begins the transformation of our lives – we are forgiven and God looks upon us as forgiven / reconciled [2:13;  1:20];
we are no longer of this world but belong to God’s world [2:20]; and
we share in the Resurrection of Jesus [2:12].
Because Jesus is Lord and Creator of all and we share in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are not subject to anything else.  We are only subject to God who has revealed himself in Jesus [1:15; 2:9]. This points us to the amazing freedom we have in Christ Jesus. In following Jesus we enter his life and his life transforms us.
Consequently Paul asks this question of the Colossian Christians: If with Christ you died  to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? [2:20].  So why did they? The same question to us would go something like this. ‘If you have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savour, why do you continue to trust the things of this world?’  And why do we? At times I am disappointed and surprised to find Christians thinking they are not ‘good enough’ for God. They don’t take seriously the forgiveness of God, nor their new status as an adopted child of God [John 1: 12].
Now I have been speaking about  .  The treasure is Christ Jesus himself, in whom all the treasures  of wisdom and knowledge exist[2:3].   That little song, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these shall be given to you, says it all.  
In Colossians chapter 2 Paul re-iterates the importance of looking to Jesus only. He writes; For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [2:1-3]
Now Paul’s point is extremely valid. I want to use the metaphor of steering-with-your-head to illustrate that truth. I want to suggest to you that you are going where you’re looking.  I’m going to show you some pictures of motorcyclists and cyclists. [I feature in one on a blue motorcycle.] Notice where the rider’s head is pointing when turning a corner.  In our first picture we have a top world class motorcycle racer cornering. His head is pointing away from the apparent direction of his motorcycle. Now you might think he is looking at something on the side of the track but he isn’t. He is looking where he wants to go. By keeping his eye on where he is going he pulls the motorcycle through the corner and stays on the track. Notice in the second picture the rider’s chin is in line with his left shoulder and that is where he is going. His direction is almost 75 degrees to the left of where the motorcycle’s wheels are pointing.   If he were to look anywhere else he would miss the corner. Given the speed he is travelling it would be disastrous if he missed the corner, even by a small amount. He would crash out of contention.  The direction of the head is so important when riding a two-wheeled vehicle.  The direction of the eyes is crucial to executing the corner. That is true of driving and anything else I would add, but it is acute when you are travelling at speed on a two-wheeled vehicle. So in looking at these pictures we see the importance of focussing on where you are going, because you are going where you’re looking.
There is a profound spiritual lesson here. When we take our eyes off Christ Jesus we stand to miss the corner. When we look elsewhere we will miss the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Christ Jesus doesn’t call us to follow him because he wants to control us but to set us free to be our best – to be God’s person. In all those pictures of cornering at speed the discipline is not about restriction, but freedom to enjoy the thrill of riding at speed.  Christ calls us to follow so the restoration of ourselves can begin to take place. Christ Jesus offers us freedom from the enslaving attractions of this world’s values and beliefs that tell us the lie that we are in control of life and our destiny, that wealth means health and that there is nothing more to this life  but to indulge ourselves.  Remember Jesus’ words :
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Luke 12: 34]
Friends, you’re going where you are looking.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  01/08/2016
 / www.leighmoorunitingchurch.org.au