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Christ in You, the Hope of Glory (Col. 1:24-29)

Christ’s Sufferings and Joys Abound in Us (v. 24)

One with Us in Afflictions for His Sake (Acts 9:4)

On the Damascus Road, Paul encountered the risen Christ. Our Lord said: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” (Acts 9:4)? The Lord is our Head, and we are his members, his body. He indwells us by his Spirit, so that he never leaves or forsakes us. Thus, when Saul was persecuting believers, he was persecuting Jesus Christ. He did not say this for effect or drama. We are one with our Lord (1 Cor. 12:12-13). When we are afflicted, he is afflicted (Isa. 63:9). He loves us, is bound to us in covenant, and walks with us through every trial. The word used here for “afflictions” is not the word for Christ’s sufferings on the cross but for the distresses and tribulations that we have in common with him. We share in his afflictions, even as we share in his joys (2 Cor. 1:5). These afflictions are not redemptive. There is nothing lacking in our Lord’s sufferings to redeem us and atone for our sins. “For by one offering, he has perfected forever” (Heb. 10:12). “Through faith in his blood” the Father’s justice is satisfied (Rom. 3:25). What is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions” means the full tally of troubles that our Lord and his body endure for the glory of God and advancement of the gospel in the world until the whole church is gathered and the bride of Christ presented spotless before his throne. We share with Christ in these afflictions, which makes true Christian suffering for Christ’s sake our highest honor (Acts 5:41).

The Apostles First in Line (2 Cor. 1:5-6; 4:10-12)

The apostles were first in line in these shared afflictions with Christ. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, and therefore our apostle. He is not boasting of personal gifts or position. He boasted in afflictions for Christ’s sake. We are well-acquainted with his many labors and persecutions to bring the gospel to our peoples so that we might be saved from our idolatry and delivered from the wrath to come (2 Cor. 11:23-30). Though they were the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:21-22), the Lord made them last, extreme examples of enduring affliction to show his power in them (1 Cor. 4:9-13). They always “carried about the dying of the Lord Jesus that his life might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10). This is generally true of all believers, but it was a unique reality for the apostles, especially for the apostle Paul. He did not suffer so much to make up for all the evil he had done. He suffered so much in order to reveal the power of Jesus Christ and the sufficiency of his grace. He was afflicted for the gospel to reveal the paradigm of dying in the death of Christ and rising by his life that is the source of all our life and strength in this world to live for God’s glory and to love one another.

Thus, Joy in Afflictions for the Church’s Sake

Afflictions did not embitter Paul. He rejoiced in them. It is not said he rejoiced when they were over and not as extreme or painful as anticipated. He rejoiced in them, for he knew what they were – afflictions for Jesus Christ, part of the full measure of this wife’s birth pains as she confesses him before the Lord. They were for the church’s sake. Whenever anyone after the apostles is persecuted for Christ, he can see in the apostles a pattern of suffering and comfort. Our apostle Paul endured his afflictions to set an example for us of patience and joyful endurance. He did this by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, which is the same power at work in us (Eph. 1:19). He also learned by hard experience that in afflictions we learn more of Christ’s sufficiency than in any other way (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Therefore, he rejoiced in the hardships, persecutions, and labors associated with his apostolic office. He knew the Lord Jesus was with him, stood by him, upheld him, and was being glorified in them.

It is the same with us. We are not apostles, but each believer has his own tally of afflictions to endure for Christ. They are not always physical afflictions, like being beaten for Christ. Some are the burden of living faithfully for him in a secular age and feeling vexed by sin every moment, as Lot did (2 Pet. 2:7-8). To lose one job or a promotion or a family member’s affection out of loyalty to Jesus Christ is an affliction that makes up the full measure of his afflictions. He is our Head, and as his Body, we shall feel some blows for his sake. It is our common lot with our Lord to bear the cross, and with that commonality comes deeper fellowship and joy in him. These are not the afflictions of living in a fallen world – we tend to make too much of these, but they are our fault. It is because of our rebellion against the Lord and his curse upon us that we experience so many vexations, inconveniences, diseases, and hardships each day. By our sin, we bring much trouble upon ourselves. But, if we are afflicted for our Savior’s sake, slighted because we mentioned him, mocked because we confessed him, ignored and excluded because we love him, he shares in these troubles with us. We can rejoice in them, for he will make his sustaining grace and personal presence more known to us in them than in any other way.

Christ in You the Glorious Mystery (vv. 25-27)

Mystery Once Hidden, Now Revealed

So that we would know the glory of our union with Christ, he sent a great company of preachers into the world. The Lord created the world by his word, and he reconciles the world to himself through his word. Paul was a servant building the Lord’s house. “Dispensation” is a commission to manage household affairs. The Lord Jesus gave to Paul of all people the responsibility to establish and organize the Gentile church so that Jew and Gentile believers together would be one body in Christ. This ministry was to fulfill God’s word to bring Christ to the Gentiles. This was promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). It was a mystery, for Israel was separated from the rest of the world by a rigid ceremonial system (Eph. 2:14). Priests and sacrifices were necessary to point to Jesus Christ and also because all peoples were enslaved to the devil and given over to idolatry and perversity. Christ was promised, but it was a truth dimly known, even in Israel. This is what a mystery is – a truth that we can know only because the Lord shows it to us. It is not discoverable by our intelligence or experience. Christ Jesus the Redeemer and the union of Jew and Gentile together in one body were promised in the older covenant system, but it was a hidden truth, veiled under types and ceremonies.

The Riches of the Glory of the Mystery

It is hard to take in this verse and all the Lord’s truth and purposes that lie behind it. He is so modest, even when he is sharing his great love for us. His plan from the beginning has been to gather all things in Christ – so that all would honor the Son as they honor the Father (John 5:23; Eph. 1:9-10). The reason for the creation of the world, for your existence and mine, for the particular plan of redemption by substitutionary atonement is so that we would know the Son of God, his glory as the Father’s eternally begotten, his glory as the Head of the church, and his glory as the One who loved and gave himself for us. To see his glory we must also know the Spirit as the One who quickens us to new life, unites us to the Son of God by faith, reveals the Son in us, does mighty works of holiness and love in us, and is the downpayment of heaven itself. This is the reason that the Triune God created the world and all things in it. It is at least one reason he allows ungodly men to make a mess of things – to bring all men back to the mystery of Jesus Christ as the only hope of men and nations. With this caveat – by bringing us back to the gospel as our hope, he brings us back to Jesus Christ his beloved Son as our life.

This mystery is rich in glory in that it reveals the triune God, whom we could not otherwise have known. It is rich in glory in that he redeems fallen and enslaved sinners and brings them into the circle of his love and glory. It is rich in glory in that he reconciles us to God, and in so doing, frees us from our slavery and in place of our death gives us peace and hope, faith and strength, purpose and joy. It is rich in glory because it magnifies God’s grace to sinners, his unbelievable kindness to us through his Son. It is rich in glory because his grace made us alive together with his Son, raised us up with him and seats us with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:5-8). Rich means overwhelming abundance. Riches of his glory means the overwhelming weight of what God has done for us, his magnificence revealed in our salvation, his great love, mercy, grace, and kindness to us. Whatever else is happening to us, we must stop and consider the riches of God’s glory to us in the mystery of Jesus Christ.

Christ in Us Gentiles

The mystery is “Christ in us.” This is the most pregnant description of the mystery Paul uses. The reason that Jew and Gentile believers can be together in one body is because Jesus Christ indwells each by his Spirit. Our Lord reconciles us to God, and therefore we are reconciled to each other. “Christ in you” is almost a return to Eden – but better. God coming and walking and talking with Adam was the highlight of his day. To enjoy our Maker’s fellowship is the most satisfying, most settling, and most renewing part of our existence. We lost him by our rebellion. Losing him, we lost our way and ourselves. We tried everything: philosophical speculation, astronomical inquiry, the darker arts, world empire and Babel building, sensuality, asceticism, and spiritualism. We could not find what we lost. There is an echo of this loss in every human heart. We were made for the Lord our Maker. Only the Son of God brings us back to fellowship with God; only he reconciles us to God and restores us to ourselves. He did this by humbling himself to assume our nature, to live in obedience in our flesh, to become cursed in our flesh, to become sin for us, to die for us, to be buried for us, and to rise again in our flesh for us.

And now, he is with us. It was not simply a death for our sins we needed to be saved. We need fellowship with God. We must have it, or life is meaningless, tasteless, and pointless. We must have him or we destroy all we touch and finally ruin ourselves in hell forever. Death seems preferable to life without God. We try to convince ourselves we can live without him, but it is useless. We must have fellowship with God, and thus we must have the risen Christ indwelling us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is God incarnate, God with us in love and grace, fellowship and power, approval and delight. This is the great mystery now revealed in the preaching of the gospel – God with us in his Son, the Father loving us in his Son, the Father and Son together in union with us by the outpoured Spirit of truth and holiness. The triune God is our reconciled Friend, our satisfied Judge, our loving Father, our life-giving Son, our interceding Comforter.  Christ has brought us back to God, and he will never leave us. We cannot lose what he has purchased for us by his blood. He will bring us to heaven. Our destiny is to be with him forever. We now have the hope of this glory – life with God, glorifying and enjoying him.

It is possible to run into extremes by this way of putting it – “Christ in you.” The danger is worth the truth. We are in a personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a union ordained in their eternal counsels by the Father, Son, and Spirit – called the “everlasting covenant” (Heb. 12:24). It is important to understand that “Christ in you” is not a mystical or whimsical feeling we are chasing but that always seems to elude us. Christ in us is the culmination of God’s covenant – his pledge to walk with us and dwell with us. Christ in us is not seasonal, dependent upon our feelings or circumstances. It is the reality and fulfillment of God’s promise, his pledge to us through his Son. By the Spirit, the Lord is with us always (2 Cor. 3:17). As we abide in his word, Christ abides in us, and we in him. This is the reason the Reformation had to happen – Christ’s word must be unchained from the doctrines and commandments of men, or we cannot have him. We do not have him by ritual or experience or reason – we have him by faith, by covenant, by blood, and by grace.

The Hope of Glory

Such a dense gospel, a weight of glory revealed to us when the Father sent his Son into the world? Could it be otherwise when “the Word was made flesh?” The glory of Christ in us defines our very existence as believers. It means we are bound to him by covenant love and grace. It means he will never leave us, never lose us, always care for us and guide us. Jesus Christ in us means hope. No one outside of Christ has true hope, for we have no legitimate reason for confidence about the future if we are estranged from God, outside his covenants of promise, unforgiven, and unreconciled (Eph. 2:12). To be without God in the world means hopelessness, and we only have God as our Father if we have Christ for our Savior. Make no mistake, however. There is a future aspect of the glory of Christ in us. In this life, we experience but a taste, enough to keep us seeking him, crying to him, and trusting in him. We also have suffering for a while, as Peter wrote, so that we learn not to set our affections here but upon Christ in heaven, when Christ in us also becomes Christ before us, Christ held, Christ adored with all the assembly of his angels and saints, Christ enjoyed and served forever. Christians have this hope that nothing can take fully away from them, not even the worst diseases and persecutions. This is because Christ is in us now and will never let us go. If you have lost hope, be sure your hope was in the right things – not earthly peace and prosperity, but in heaven’s treasures and inheritance – not in man’s approval but in the Lord’s “well done.” The Lord is working today to smash his church’s false hopes, so that she may return to her true and solid hope – Christ in us, the glory coming, the expectation of heaven and everlasting life with the triune God.

Christ Revealed by Preaching (vv. 28-29)

Preaching is Warning and Teaching

This glorious mystery is not for the privileged few – every man, every man, every man. Three times Paul repeats this refrain. Every man must hear of this great mystery. We hear it by the preaching of God’s word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Here is a good little definition of preaching – warning and teaching in wisdom. Preaching means to announce or proclaim publicly. Preaching is not yelling, but it is not a quiet affair, a therapy session, an engaging talk. It is an announcement of God reconciled through Christ crucified and raised from the dead and reigning at the Father’s right hand. It is a warning of the need to repent and believe this gospel. Why a warning? We are delivered from the wrath to come only through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:10). Preaching that does not warn of sin, righteousness, and judgment is not preaching – at least, it is not Bible preaching, apostolic preaching. Since the Holy Spirit is in the world bringing conviction of these very truths, our preaching must agree with his to be usable by him (John 16:8-11). Preaching is also teaching every man in all wisdom. The mystery preached must be personally applied – how do we live since Christ is in us by his Spirit? What should be our life priorities? How does heaven apply to earth, and earth seek heaven, in our daily work, relationships, quiet moments, and trials? Christ in us is the most colossal and astounding truth we can ever hear. When we believe and live it, Christ in us wrestles down our fears, pursues and kills our lusts, conquers our covetousness, makes us bold as lions and harmless as lambs.

With an Eye on Our Presentation before God

We must hear the warning and follow the teaching we hear in the preaching of God’s great mystery of Christ in us. Each time we hear a faithful gospel presentation, the Lord is unfolding the mystery to us, gathering us up into the mystery, preparing us to stand before him. Then, the mystery will be completely realized – we shall be one with the Father and Son and Spirit in love, beholding the glory of our Head, being transformed as his Body, his Bride. No more sin to ruin and torment us, no more tears to blind and choke us, no more vexations of the fall to frustrate and defeat us. We shall stand before God holy, spotless, blameless! Always our motivation in the present should be the end – the climax of the story. We know it. The end of the story empowers to faithfulness as each chapter is written – youthful service and preparation, young adult focus and consecration, family faith, training, discipline, and preservation, older age ripening, looking back to bear witness to God’s faithfulness and forward to anticipate your life with him forever. Too few give serious thought to our standing before the Lord. Every one of us will give an account of himself to the exalted, reigning Savior (Rom. 14:10-12). Yes, we are righteous in Christ, without spot or charge, but we must never forget the reason we will have boldness in the day of judgment. Christ alone! Remembering him, love and joy will uphold us in our struggles. Thankfulness will open our mouths to bear witness to our Savior.

With Labor and Energy in the Strength of Christ

There is another glory of Christ in us. We work by his strength. All that Paul endured and accomplished was by the strength of Jesus Christ. Rely upon his working in you, for he labors in us mightily when we are doing his will. If we think less of what we want to do and more what could be done by the power of Christ, we would accomplish far more eternal good (Phil. 4:13). If we prayed more and complained less, Christ would work in us as parents, giving us wisdom and strength. He would make us more faithful spouses by his strength, helping wives to submit to their husbands rather than wearing them out with complaining and husbands to love their wives and nurture them without crushing them. All that we are legitimately called to do in this life, including to die well and stand boldly before God, it is all Christ’s strength. His energy is limitless. He has the dew of his youth. Seek his strength and trust him. He is the Lord of glory, and he is in you. We can do all things through him, for he strengthens us.

We must not allow the world’s bleak future and the weight of our burdens to make us discouraged. We are children of the living God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We have a glorious future in Christ. No one can take his joy away from us, or our hope. It is purchased by his blood. This life will have its share of afflictions for Christ’s sake, but these are working for us an eternal weight of glory. As we look at the unseen glories and depend upon our Lord, he will give us strength.

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