Colossians 1:24-29

What is the most profound, life altering experience that has happened in your life?

For some people the experience blinds them or at least restricts their vision. It makes them cynical, distrustful, angry, suspicious, and resentful. They become people who transform blessings and opportune circumstances into curses. They delight in destroying the hope of other people.

For some people the experience opens their eyes and increases their vision. It has a positive impact on the way they understand other people, the way they see themselves, the way they view the world, and the way they relate to God. They transform hardship and pain into blessings. They delight in giving other people hope.

The person whose life altering experience opens his or her eyes to hope and possibilities is blessed. The people whose lives are touched by such a person are blessed.

  1. Paul had a life altering experience on the road that led to Damascus, Syria.
    1. That experience is discussed three times in Acts: chapters 9, 22, and 26.
      1. The accounts are brutally honest about the kind of man Paul was prior to his life altering experience.
        1. He obtained permission from the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, Palestine, to visit the Jewish synagogue in Damascus, Syria, and arrest any Jew who professed to be a Christian (Acts 9:1,2).
        2. He persecuted Jewish Christians by imprisoning men and women and voting for their deaths (Acts 22:4; 26:10).
        3. He was hostile toward the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 26:9).
        4. When he visited synagogues, he used physical pain to attempt to make Jewish Christians blaspheme (Acts 26:11).
        5. He said, "I was furiously enraged at them" (Acts 26:11).
        6. All of this was done as expressions of religious zeal and faith in God.
      2. Of himself, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:13 that formerly he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor.
    2. Then a sudden experience literally changed everything.
      1. With blinding brilliance, a bright light put him on the ground.
      2. Jesus asked Paul why Paul was persecuting him.
      3. Jesus sent him on into Damascus to learn what he must do.
      4. Jesus also commissioned him as a servant and a witness to open the understanding of Jewish people and of people who knew nothing about God.
      5. Instantly Paul's entire life totally changed.
        1. The man Paul said was an impostor was in fact God's Son.
        2. The man Paul said was Israel's greatest enemy was in fact Israel's Savior.
        3. The man Paul said was not raised from the dead was in fact resurrected.
        4. The man Paul said was a liar was in fact God's greatest spokesman.
    3. I am certain some of us are tempted to say, "I wish I had a defining experience in my life like that."
      1. Are you sure?
      2. Instantly, Paul knew everything he believed was wrong.
      3. Instantly, Paul knew everything he did to express his faith was wrong.
      4. Instantly Paul knew everything he assigned to God's purposes was wrong.
      5. Instantly, Paul knew that 100% of his religious understanding was wrong.
      6. Instantly, Paul's relationships changed: his past friends would be his enemies, and if he had friends, they would come from the people he persecuted.
      7. Instantly, Paul knew, if God let him live, everything about his life had to change immediately.
      8. Do you think you could handle that?

  2. With that understanding as a background, read with me Colossians 1:24-29.
    Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
    (In this reading I want to focus your thinking and understanding on three things.)
    1. The Damascus road experience completely changed the way that Paul looked at pain and suffering.
      1. Before that experience, he inflicted the pain and caused the suffering: "My faith should produce suffering in the lives of people who believe in Jesus."
        1. He dragged men and women out of their homes in Jerusalem.
        2. He visited synagogues to abuse men and women who believed in Jesus.
        3. He put men and women in prison for believing in Jesus.
        4. He voted for their deaths.
      2. After the Damascus road experience he was a physical threat to no one.
        1. After that experience he endured pain for Jesus and Christians.
        2. After that experience he wanted to endure pain and suffering for Jesus Christ and for Christians.
      3. After that experience, Paul was happy to suffer for Jesus and for Christians.
        1. "Paul, what is wrong with you? You consider physical pain and suffering caused by faith in Jesus Christ as blessing and opportunity?"
        2. That is precisely what he told the Christians at Colossae.
        3. He said that he rejoiced to suffer for them and for Christ.
        4. "Paul, you must be crazy!" No, he was not crazy.
      4. He rejoiced in suffering for Christians or for Christ for three reasons.
        1. First, he understood and appreciated what Jesus' willingness to suffer did for him.
        2. Second, his suffering for the Colossian Christians increased their opportunity for spiritual growth and maturity.
          1. If he was to be a missionary in that region, he had to suffer.
          2. If he did not suffer, the gospel would not be shared in that region.
        3. Third, Jesus wanted the Colossians to hear what Jesus did for them, and Jesus' message could not be shared without suffering.
      5. For Paul, the issue was not centered in physical pain; the issue was centered in God's purposes in Jesus Christ.
        1. If serving God's purposes produced suffering, so be it.
        2. If serving God's purposes produced pain, Paul rejoiced that he could suffer the pain.
    2. The Damascus road experience opened Paul's mind to the mystery of God.
      1. First, we need to understand the concept of "mystery" as Paul used it.
        1. A mystery was not understood in the past, but now is clearly revealed.
        2. In the past, neither Israel, the prophets, nor the angels understood the purposes of God's work.
        3. They understood God was at work, they had faith in the fact that God was at work, but no one understood God's purposes.
      2. That is not based on my speculation.
        1. In verse 26 Paul plainly said, "the mystery ... has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but now has been manifested to his saints."
        2. Listen to Peter's words in 1 Peter 1:10-12: As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look.
        3. Before the Acts 2 day of Pentecost, no one understood God's purposes--His purposes were a mystery.
          1. Israel did not understand.
          2. The prophets did not understand.
          3. The apostles did not understand.
          4. No one understood at Jesus' crucifixion.
          5. No one understood at Jesus' resurrection.
          6. No one understood the first 49 days after the resurrection.
          7. It was not fully understood before Acts 10 when people who were not Jews or converts to Judaism were converted to Jesus Christ.
          8. The truth is that we do not fully understand today because we have not fully opened our minds and hearts to the revelation of the mystery.
          9. Too many times we focus the mystery in the church.
          10. We understand the mystery when we understand what God did and is doing in Jesus Christ.
        4. The basic understanding that the Colossian Christians needed was an understanding of God's purposes and work in Jesus Christ.
        5. The basic understanding that we need is a biblical understanding of God's purposes and work in Jesus Christ.
    3. The Damascus road experience opened Paul's mind to this truth: our hope of heaven depends on Christ living in us.
      1. The key to eternal salvation:
        1. For first century Israel was "Christ in you."
        2. For first century people who worshipped other gods was "Christ in you."
        3. For first century people who believed in no god was "Christ in you."
        4. For any person in any age is "Christ in you."
        5. For us is "Christ in you."
      2. We desperately need to restore Jesus Christ to his God-given place.
      3. Let me illustrate our desperate need.
        1. Too many Christians believe that they are saved because they can say they had membership in the right church.
        2. God will ask, "Did Christ live in you?"
        3. Too many Christians believe that they are saved because they attend where the right acts of worship occur on Sunday morning.
        4. God will ask, "Did Christ live in you?"
        5. Too many Christians believe that they are saved because they did church approved works.
        6. God will ask, "Did Christ live in you?"
      4. Too many place their hope of salvation in the wrong things.
      5. There is only one hope of salvation: Christ in you.

When your eyes are opened to God's purposes in Jesus Christ, it is a life altering experience. When you see God's purposes in Jesus Christ, you will never be the same. Who you are changes. How you think changes. What you value changes. How you behave changes. The kind of husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter you are changes. The way you use life changes.

Why? You understand what Paul understood on the Damascus road. You understand God's purposes in Jesus.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 4 June 2000
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