A Mystery No More
Study #12 Colossians 1:26-29
by Bob Burridge ©2022
It’s tempting to take a set of seemingly disconnected clues, then imagine that in some meaningful way they all come together. Good mystery stories are like that. The good author first sets up his mystery giving a few clues. He holds back just enough information so that we can’t quite see how it all fits together right away. When you finally find out who did what, all the clues come together. Mysterie stories often go in an unexpected direction so they have truly surprise endings. If done well, a story like that may become a popular book, play, movie, or television show.
There is something in us that likes trying to figure out what the clues mean as the story unfolds. We like to be amazed when they all fit together in an unexpected way.
That’s what this next portion of Colossians does. God over the ages had given pieces of information about how he would redeem lost sinners. Here in 1:26-29 we are told how it all comes together to fulfill God’s plan to reconcile his people with himself.
Paul had just told the Colossians about what God called him to do. Colossians 1:24-25, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,”
Then Paul explained this mystery
God had been unfolding through the ages.
Colossians 1:26. “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.”
God’s plan had been unfolding little by little through the ages past. It had been a mystery. It hadn’t been fully understood by the generations before Paul’s time. Of course it was always known fully in the mind of God.
When the right time came God no longer kept the mystery hidden. Ephesians 1:9-10 tells that the culmination of the promises of Christ came in God’s chosen time. “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Later, in Ephesians 3:8-10 Paul explained that there was a “mystery hidden for ages”, but now in Christ it was to be made known through the church.
In Romans 16:25-26 Paul had described the gospel of Jesus Christ saying, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith”
The right time was when Jesus came to fulfill the demands of justice for all his people. This was the message of the Apostles: Jesus Christ was the substance of the mystery. It was his work that brings all the clues together to show their full and true meaning.
We know that God used the Old Testament Forefathers and Prophets to give us the clues, but they didn’t fully understand the mystery that fit it all together. They only knew them as shadows of the reality. They weren’t yet fully revealed. 1 Peter 1:10, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, ”
They were hungry to know more and studied to learn all they could. But in the whole of history before the resurrection, there were only clues.
Abraham knew many of the clues and trusted in the general promises God had made. John 8:56 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Galatians 3:8 says, ” And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ ”
Though Abraham rejoiced in what he knew about the coming day of the Lord, and that somehow his descendants would be the source of blessing to the rest of the world, yet he had no comprehension about how it would happen.
He was tested when God called him to offer up his only son Isaac as a sacrifice. Then a substitute, a ram, was provided for him. This represented how Jesus Christ would be our substitute, dying for us, but Abraham didn’t understand how it would all be fulfilled by God as our Incarnate Savior.
These earlier believers trusted God without having a full understanding. Hebrews 11:13, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
They had God’s word; so it wasn’t an empty leap-in-the-dark type of faith. They trusted God’s promise even though they didn’t know how it all fit together. It wasn’t a rationalistic kind of faith. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Those Old Testament believers certainly trusted the promises of God. But in their time, God intentionally concealed how the “clues” fit together. It would remain a mystery until the work of Christ was completed.
Acts 8 tells about Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian man in Gaza, a high court official of Candace the queen. He was incharge of all her treasuries and had come to Jerusalem to worship. Such a highly trusted financial advisor was certainly very intelligent and well schooled. But as he sat in his chariot, he was puzzled while reading Isaiah 53:7-10, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”
There are a lot of clues there. To us it seems like such a clear passage. If we read it to one of our Sunday School children and ask who it was talking about, any one of them would probably know it was describing the death of Jesus on the cross. However, this trained adult couldn’t make sense of it at all. He had not yet heard the whole gospel. When Philip explained about Jesus Christ the clues all came together and made sense. But more than just that, God moved his heart to believe in the salvation our Savior earned for him. He was immediately baptized into the covenant community of believers. He understood in those few moments in the desert of Gaza, what all the great prophets and forefathers had searched for for millennia but didn’t fully understand.
The clues had been there for all to see. The main promise of redemption by grace through a substitute was also clear. They knew God worked in the lost uncaring heart to implant faith. But how it would happen, how all the prophesies would come together, remained concealed: No one knew that the 2nd person of the Godhead would be incarnated, that he would live among us and die on a Roman cross for the sins of his people, and that the covenant he made with the Jews was only a representative first step. People would be called to faith from all the nations and they would be equals in God’s Kingdom.
This mystery was to be revealed to those moved to faith by God’s grace. These weren’t specially elevated or honored holy people. They weren’t just Jews who had good family upbringing and Synagogue training. They were sinners, redeemed by grace from every background and understanding.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, he didn’t come to where he had not been. God is altogether everywhere all the time. He came in a new and fuller ministry to those moved by grace to believe. The spiritual veil over God’s promised blessings by the Messiah was lifted. The Holy Spirit worked in a new and special way teaching us how the clues all fit together, and about the solution of the mystery of redemption in Christ.
Paul then more fully described
what this means for believers.
Colossians 1:27, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
The center of it all is the fact of the indwelling Christ. For those redeemed the resurrected Savior works in them spiritually.
– He enables them to know the certainty of God’s promises.
– He stirs them to repent from their sin, and to work toward a better obedience.
– He ensures them of eternal blessings in the house of the Lord.
No earthly riches, treasures, or titles can secure these kinds of things. But Christ indwelling us is the treasure (the riches) that brings us that assurance of glorious blessings.
This hope of glory is promised for all who are redeemed by grace. It’s not just for one nation or group. It’s for those from all backgrounds, Gentiles too.
This was the part of the mystery that many Jews found hard to accept. We will see that Paul deals with this matter more directly in the next chapter of Colossians.
Paul wanted them to understand
how this mystery was to be disclosed.
Colossians 1:28. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
God’s method was having the truth proclaimed by called men such as Paul. The Apostles appointed Elders in every new church that was established. The Elders shepherded the people to live as lights to the world. The people were to be examples who bring that gospel message to those God brings into their lives.
This is the continuing work of the God-ordained organization he established as his church. We need to be declaring the whole truth about what our Lord accomplished for his people. We need to be encouraging others to submit to God’s ways in thankful obedience. We need to be wise examples as we carry out these duties. God created all things, and redeemed his people, to declare his truth and glory.
Unlike the way God works, some cults carefully guard some secrets from everybody but those who join the cult. One of the marks of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that it loves to give out all it can of God’s truth. We’re to tell as many as we can not only the clues, but also how they come together. There’s no secret mystery.
Jesus, God as the promised Messiah, is the center and substance of the gospel. Paul wanted to proclaim this truth, to teach all people about it. He had a deep desire in his heart to present every believer mature in Christ. That mature state translates the Greek word “teleios” (τέλειος) which means to complete, to reach a set goal. Spiritual maturity is what truth produces in us when it comes by the work of our Savior.
To grow and be mature in Christ we need a solid and steady diet of God’s truth. If we aren’t regularly involved with the church family and its ministries, we’ll lack the loving admonitions of sermons, Sunday School lessons, and friends, we’ll hear more of the false wisdom of the world, than the true truth from God’s word.
How is such a huge goal to be accomplished?
Colossians 1:29. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
The words here for toiling and struggling were often used in athletics back then. Paul was working hard at the job God had given him. He was striving and agonizing like an athlete to reach the end of the race.
The power and ability to do this came from God alone. Paul knew he was unable to do it himself. But with that ability Paul worked hard to do what God called him to do.
The promises God made to his people included clues about how it would all be accomplished. In Paul’s time they were explained by the mystery finally revealed in Jesus Christ. We have more reason to be confident than the great prophets and heroes of the Old Testament. We have lived to see the mystery explained! We are very privileged.
Getting the whole truth out is our duty as redeemed believers. Confidently trusting in God to enable us, we should fulfill that duty as responsibly as we can.
We all may have different duties in this process, but all of us should be encouraged in our work of getting God’s word out in what we say and in how we live. It might mean personal sacrifices, struggles against those who reject the Gospel mystery fulfilled in our Savior.
Our message is that the clues have come together in the completed work of Jesus the Promised Messiah. He took our place to pay for our sins against God while he hung on that Roman cross. Now that risen Savior is with us to enable us to carry out what he calls us to do. We have and can share the riches of this revealed mystery.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.