Divine Murder Mystery

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Storytellers have known of the allure of mystery for millennia. The building anticipation, the frustration of the red herring, and the thrill of discovery draw us into these stories. As a kid, I loved to play Clue, the famous murder mystery board game. There was nothing more exciting than discovering whodunit and calling out, “Colonel Mustard, with the wrench, in the billiard room!”

Paul calls God’s story a mystery. It’s not like the mysteries that we’re used to, of course. In fact, in God’s mystery, the murder comes at the end – when we crucified Jesus Christ. The murder of Jesus actually reveals the mysterious plan of God to pay for the sins of mankind with his own death, and then unite all the peoples of the earth together in the resurrection of Christ. Of course, nobody really knew about this ahead of time. Sure, Isaiah pointed toward it in his prophecy about the suffering servant. But who could have guessed it would have happened like this?

Divine-Murder-Mystery-WebThat’s part of the appeal of the Gospel. Not only does it demonstrate the infinite love of God, but it’s also completely unexpected!

God is going to die?

Yes. The Son of God is going to die.

On a Roman cross, like a rebel of the empire?

That’s correct.

And in this death he’s going to forgive all the sins of the whole world?

You got it.

And then he’s going to rise again from the dead, thereby conquering death and disarming the powers of evil once and for all?

Nailed it.

God writes the best mysteries. He is full of surprises. And how fortunate are we who get to live after the great mystery has been revealed? In fact, we are the beneficiaries of the mystery, because as Paul said, “God has made known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you [plural], the hope of glory.” The mystery isn’t over. It’s still being told in and through the communities of saints we call churches. Jesus is among us, living his life through us, telling his never-ending story through the lives of generations upon generations of believers. And his presence gives us hope – hope that we, too, will experience the glory of resurrection into perfect communion with God forever.

What will that be like? Well, it’s a mystery.

Staying out of prison is one of my top priorities. I’m very careful to obey every law (with the possible exception of the speed limit) because I desperately want to avoid going to jail. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy going to prison. In fact, some of his best work, including the letter of Colossians, was done while incarcerated.

Paul saw the suffering of his imprisonment as an occasion to rejoice. That seems like an odd response to most of us, to be sure, but Paul viewed his suffering as an opportunity to participate in the afflictions of Christ. Because Jesus suffered, Paul reasoned, our own suffering brings us closer to him. Not only that, but when we suffer well, we become an encouragement to the church. But what does it look like to suffer well?

Suffering WellFirst of all, we must be honest. While we cannot allow our feelings to shape reality, we must be able to name our true emotions with honesty and integrity. It’s okay to not be okay. It is spiritually destructive to try to fake your way through hardships, and it robs others of the opportunity to learn from you how to suffer well. God is out to redeem every difficult circumstance we experience, but he cannot redeem the circumstances about which we are dishonest.

Secondly, we must have hope. Another way of thinking about this is “living with the end in mind.” If we live with an eye toward God’s new creation (the mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, totally redeemed world and humanity he is going to unveil in the final days), we will be able to endure the suffering we experience today. The resurrection of Jesus and the promise of new creation give us hope to overcome the disappointment and loss we live through today.

Finally, we must rejoice. This is where it gets hard. The journey from honesty to hope to rejoicing gets complicated because rejoicing is always out loud. This is an audible response to the hope that lives within us. You may not always feel like rejoicing. In fact, when you are suffering, you will probably never feel like rejoicing. But the more you rejoice, the less power your circumstances will have over you. As you move from honesty to hope to rejoicing, you will become an encouragement to people in your life and an example of what it means to suffer well.

Servant of the Church – 1:24-29


24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Paul had never met the Colossians, but he saw his present imprisonment and consequent sufferings as being on their behalf. He understood his ongoing trials as a participation in the suffering of Christ. When he uses the term “lacking” in reference to “Christ’s afflictions,” he does not in any way diminish the salvific effect of the cross. As Wiersbe notes, “The word afflictions refers to the ‘pressures’ of life, the persecutions Paul endured. This word is never used in the New Testament for the sacrificial sufferings of Jesus Christ.”[i] Paul’s imprisonment does not work salvation for the Colossians (or Paul, for that matter); instead it serves as the fulfillment of Jesus’ own prophecy: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. …If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”[ii] Paul is continuing the work of Jesus. In fact, Paul clearly understood that it was Jesus himself accomplishing his work through Paul. In this sense, Christ’s afflictions were not finished. The Lord must continue to suffer through the suffering of his people, all for the sake of his church. Suffering, in fact, is fundamental to the vocation of the church. “Just as the Messiah was to be known by the path of suffering he freely chose – and is recognized in his risen body by the mark of the nails – so his people are to be recognized by the sufferings they endure.”[iii] In imitation of Christ, the Church is called to suffer and die at the hands of the world for the sake of the world.


In imitation of Christ, the Church is called to suffer and die at the hands of the world for the sake of the world.
Suffering on account of Jesus is, paradoxically, of tremendous benefit to the Church. Insofar as the suffering is endured with faithfulness, the one who suffers well is a great encouragement to the faith of those who are watching. Throughout the history of the Church, martyrdom has always strengthened the faith of others and caused the body of Christ to flourish wherever it has been resisted with violence and bloodshed. Indeed, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. The power of the Gospel is displayed not when life is easy, but when the storms of suffering, persecution, and hardship rage and roll. “All Christians will suffer for their faith in one way or another: if not outwardly, then inwardly, through the long, slow battle with temptation or sickness, the agonizing anxieties of Christian responsibilities for a family or a church, [or] the constant doubts and uncertainties which accompany the obedience of faith. …All of these, properly understood, are things to rejoice in – not casually, flippantly or superficially, but because they are signs that the present age is passing away, that the people of Jesus, the Messiah, are the children of the new age, and that the birthpangs of this new age are being worked out in them.”[iv]

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In 2010, the world watched anxiously as 33 Chilean miners were trapped over 2,000 feet below the surface of the earth. As you can imagine, the men faced overwhelming challenges living that far underground. But one of the most dangerous aspects of their plight was the complete lack of daylight. According to this Newsweek article, “the physical and psychological toll of the darkness” could have dramatic effects well after the miners are rescued. According to this BBC report, many of the miners are struggling to move on. Living in darkness wreaks havoc on both the mind and the body.

Darkness-and-Light-WebFor those of us who watched, the images of the dramatic rescue of the miners will stay with us forever. It is remarkable to see someone delivered out of darkness.

It’s no wonder that, in the Bible and many other religious texts, darkness is used as a metaphor for evil. In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” what he calls earlier the “kingdom of light.”

Just like the prolonged absence of sunlight, spiritual darkness takes a toll on our minds and bodies. Satan, the ruler of the dominion of darkness, seeks to enslave us through temptation and deception. Prolonged exposure to, and participation in, evil makes us less than human. The lies of the devil distort our minds and cause us to commit evil (sin) with our bodies.

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Our Reconciliation – 1:21-23


21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

In opening up his explanation on the hymn, Paul writes about the unredeemed state in which we find ourselves before putting our faith in Christ. Like all of us, the Colossian Christians were once at odds with God, alienated from him, and even enemies with him. Our minds are the battleground for our souls, and it is here that we wage war against the wisdom and understanding of God. Evil behavior stems from a mind at enmity with God. “People are not inwardly hostile vs. God because of their outward acts of sins; they commit sins because they are inwardly hostile.”[i] Sinful actions and behaviors are the evidence of an internal hostility toward God and a rejection of the “wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” This rejection in the mind results in ignorance of God’s will, and thus we find ourselves not only spiritually adrift, but applauding and encouraging evil. Such is our condition apart from Christ.

But in Christ, we are reconciled, made holy by Christ’s physical body in his death. Just as the hymn proclaims that Jesus has made peace between us and God through his blood, Paul here reaffirms that sentiment in proclaiming our reconciliation with God in Jesus. The scope of the hymn is universal, proclaiming peace for all things. Here, Paul boils down that universality to the specificity of the Colossian Christians. You have been reconciled.

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