This week we have moved on from Paul’s salutation, but not his focus on the Gospel and not the preacher’s focus on the Gospel. This pericope brings us into a fresh round of gospel considerations as the Apostle unfolds, “the ministry of reconciliation,” and unpacks, “the mystery which indeed was hidden from the ages” (1:26).
Now Paul is into the main body of his epistle to the Colossians. Paul E. Deterding provides a concise summery of verses 1:21-29 and what follows:
Even as the overture (1:3-20) ended on a note of cosmic reconciliation as a corollary of the reconciliation of mankind, so the main argument begins with a description of the reconciliation of readers. The main themes of ministry, soteriology and Christology, introduced by way of the preceding overture, are here brought together. In this section, the apostle sets forth in a positive manner the work of Christ, the significance of the ministry of the Word, and the resulting life of faith(fulness) before turning to a refutation of the [heresies challenging the Colossians]...
The text itself possesses some interesting features which may enrich an auditor’s appreciation of both Law and Gospel. Verse 21, for example, uses a term for “alienated” as it describes something akin to a broken family relationship—an acrimonious divorce or painful estrangement. Human rebellion, the sinful heart which neither understands nor seeks after God (Romans 3:9-20), is as sharp to the Lord as a heartbreaking divorce. Sin divorces us from God and so God opposes divorce. Sin estranges us from our Father. Such a term beckons for the good news of adoption as sons from last week which Paul also extols elsewhere (e.g. Galatians 3:26; 4:5). Now we are getting a glimpse at the nature of reconciliation Paul expounds. The divorce is reversed. The one estranged is brought near (Luke 15:11-32; Ephesians 2:13). This is what it means to be reconciled. The obstacle is removed (sin), forgiveness granted (pardon), and familial status and blessings bestowed (justification and sanctification). The result is a new creation. The whole of it is regenerative.
Likewise, in verse 22 Paul selects the word παραστῆσαι (“to present”) to denote the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work. παραστῆσαι is in the infinitive, setting the entire clause in the infinite, disclosing the goal: “to present… before Him.” This presenting before Christ of the faithful envisages the Last Day when Christ will judge the living and the dead. They are presented in Christ and Christ in them or, in other words, united to the Passover Lamb and justified by God’s grace through faith. Final judgment passes over them and they share in the hope of glory.
The text beautifully sets up a Law/Gospel preaching dynamic. In the opening verses of the pericope, Paul contrasts his readers/auditors’ former state (“at one time” 1:21) with what Christ’s work has “now” (1:22) conferred upon them. This makes today’s lesson a great one for juxtaposing, just like Ephesians 2:1-10. Law and Gospel are explicit in these verses. The preacher is set to herald the truth about “hostile,” “alienated [from God]” humanity and the truth about a reconciled-to-God humanity because of Christ. Baptized believers are in Christ and of Christ. Once they were alienated from and hostile to God, now they have been reconciled through the work of Christ. This forgiveness is not unconditional. Christ is the condition and, indeed, He fulfills all the conditions.
Reconciliation dramatically reverses alienation. No one should feel loneliness in the Church, that is, in the reconciled family. This may require the family (the Church) to act more like family; especially among singles and widow(ers) in our midst.
Verse 27 brings about the stunning result: the revealing of an ancient mystery—
Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν (“Christ in you”) the hope of glory. Bear in mind how the Colossians are, in large part, gentiles; non-Jews. This was God’s plan from the beginning. Our first parents were not Jews. Neither were Noah and his sons. Indeed, Abram received the Covenant and was justified by faith as a gentile, too. Thus, it has always been the purpose of God to reconcile in One, namely Christ, the Last Adam, all of humanity… Jew and gentile alike. Nay, more than that, God has long desired to be self-giving to both Jew and gentile. He does so by reconstituting Israel in and around Jesus the Messiah. The result is not merely communion with God, but a union with God through the Son: Christ in you. That is the extent to which we have been reconciled as family. This could only be possible if sin were purged, reconciliation effected and so justifying us by His blood, rendering us suitable to be clothed with Christ’s righteousness, indeed, indwelt by Christ Himself. Jesus is the mystery! We also find this truth in similar texts like Romans 8:10 and 2 Corinthians 13:5. In Colossians 3:16, as Deterding notes, the context emphasizes the corporate Church. Christ dwells in the members of His gathered, worshipping Church through the Word and Sacraments. This mystery is revealed to the world through the Word in preaching. No Christian is an island. They cannot survive alienated from the family.
The Theology of the Cross supervenes this text. Not only does Paul mention Jesus’ death, but he also identifies the Lord’s “body of flesh” in 1:22. It took this—incarnation and crucifixion—to reconcile you to God and make you family with the Lord and one another. It could not have happened with mere edicts pronounced from the sky or the waving of a magical wand. No, God became man—the Last Adam—in order to effect mankind’s salvation and engender a new humanity demarcated by the great mystery revealed. Heralding this news constitutes Paul’s, and every duly called and ordained pastor or priest’s, ministry of reconciliation.
The heralding of such news is a divine, creative act, not unlike God speaking the world into existence. So, too, the bringing of faith and light is a re-creative act of God. In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis reflects this reality when he sets forth the image of his literary Christ figure, Aslan, singing the Creation into existence. Similarly, speaking the tune of the Gospel a preacher sings faith into existence as enabled by the Holy Spirit.
Faith, then, is necessary for being reconciled and presented acceptable before Christ on the Last Day. What is more, the exercise of faith—faithfulness—is part and parcel of such faith. “There is no saving faith in Jesus Christ that is not also faithful to Him, and the only means of faithfulness to Christ is faith in Him.” Faithfulness, post facto to justification and regeneration, is the highest form of worship and obedience to the One who is the Word of God. “Thus, the ongoing ministry of that Word provides the power by which Christians remain founded and firm in the faith and do not shift from it, that they many continue to be reconciled with God.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Colossians 1:21-29.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Colossians 1:15-29.