When people remember the concept of the resurrection of Jesus, when we read in the New Testament the story of the empty tomb, what leads us to conclude that that in some way involves us? What does the resurrection of Christ have to do with us now? The answer is bound up in a little New Testament phrase - "with Christ." N.T. Wright in some of his comments says "that the logic of such constructions [as this phrase with Christ] is that when God looks at those who are in Christ, he reckons that what is true of Christ, particularly his death and resurrection, is true of them also." In other words, "with Christ" suggests that in some way or another it is possible for God to look at us and to consider what was the case with Jesus to be also the case with us.
There may not be a paragraph where this theme is illustrated more vividly than the first paragraph in Colossians 3. If you will notice as I read this text, Paul will bring up this idea of "with Christ" at least in three different ways. "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."
This text tells us first off that it is possible for us to be raised with Christ. Now when he says "if you have been raised with Christ," please understand that what is at question here is not whether Christ has been raised. Remember that time on that first day of the week when the news was brought to the apostles by the women who had been out to the tomb that the stone had been rolled away and that the body of the Lord was not there. In John 20 we read that Peter and John ran out to where the tomb was, and that when they got there John stopped but Peter went on into the tomb, John says, and looked around. He saw there the place where they had laid him, and he wasn't there, and he saw the cloth that had been laid over his face folded up in another place.
A man named Sigman Brouwer in his book, "The Carpenter's Cloth," has suggested an idea about that scene that, at the very least, is a good illustration. He writes how carpenters in Jesus' time would let contractors know a job was finished by leaving a folded work cloth at the job place or on what they had made a signature - kind of like an artist's signature on a painting he has finished. Whoever inspected the work site, understood the simple message of that carpenter's folded towel. The work is finished. We wonder whether it is possible, then, that Peter remembering going into that tomb and seeing that cloth folded up by itself might have gotten the message eventually that Jesus was sending. The work is finished. A sacrifice has been offered once for all. Sin and death has been defeated and conquered. Life is now available.
The way the New Testament unfolds it certainly is obvious that that is what the apostles believe. They boldly and simply announced, as incredible as it would have seemed, that God had raised him up, and they went out claiming that there is a message in that point about how we ought to live and how what we ought to hope for. And they were willing to stake their lives on it. In the news in our country in the last two or three weeks there has been the tragic story of a lady in Texas who was being tried for having stoned her little boys. She was tried for the crime and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. And as the details came out, it was said that this woman took this action believing that her oldest boy would raise up from the dead. You can see how unbalanced that idea would be, how unreasonable, how thoughtless, and how much without foundation that kind of thinking would be. And yet in the New Testament, we find people so convinced that Jesus actually was raised up that they went out, not to stone people, but willing to be stoned because of that conviction. There is no question of their being convinced that Jesus was raised up.
What Paul is saying here, though, is that it is possible for us to be raised up with him somehow. This is not merely a future expectation of that great day which finally will come when we'll all be literally raised up, but that this is something that had already happened in the experience of the readers of this book. "If then you have been raised with Christ" is sort of like "since you have been raised with Christ." It is a true condition. And fortunately, Paul doesn't leave us wondering what he is talking about. Beginning all the way back in chapter 2:6, Paul has talked about what it means to have received Christ Jesus, the Lord. And, when you come down to chapter 2:12, you see what Paul is getting at. He writes that these people, who are now the body of Christ, "having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him, through faith in the powerful working of God who raised him from the dead. And you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh (that last phrase simply means they were not part of God's people), for God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses."
What he is saying is that when people, through faith in the God who raised up Jesus, are baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, they receive Christ. This is what the New Testament means by receiving Christ Jesus. In this action, through faith, a person was buried with Jesus in baptism and was raised up. In what sense does he have new life? The verse says that they are now alive from the dead because they have been forgiven of all their trespasses.
Now think of that. What he is saying is that being forgiven is like a resurrection. Having your sins blotted out is like being brought to life again from a past of darkness and failure and hopelessness and despair. Imagine how Peter and John might have felt looking in that tomb and finding it empty and then learning that it is possible for the same thing to happen in a way in our own lives. How would they have felt? How do you feel about that? What do you think of the power of the God who raised him up? Are you willing to share in that kind of power? Isn't it a privilege to be raised up with him?
Paul doesn't leave us there, though. Having been raised with Christ, he goes on next to speak of living with Christ. You can't be raised with him without also thinking about living with him. Paul says in our text in verse 4, "Christ is our life." If I have been raised with him, he is my life.
Paul makes a big point of saying that Jesus has been raised up and that he is now above, seated at the right hand of God. He is there, first and foremost, as an enthroned king. Being seated at God's right hand is really from Psalm 110 in the Old Testament, and it was a prediction of the Messiah of the Christ rule over all things. The Hebrew writer says that he is seated because his sacrificing work is over. And, we are also given the good news that he is there to appear before the face of God for us. He ever lives there to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Now the question is "What should we who have been raised with Christ do about the fact that he now lives above?" Well, Paul, in talking about our way of life now, insists that people who are going to claim to have been raised with Christ ought to now set their minds on "things that are above where Christ is." That makes all the sense in the world to me. Does it to you? That if we have been raised with Jesus, if he is our life, then our hearts ought to be on where he is and what he is about. What does he mean by "things that are above"? Things that fit with the nature of Christ and who he is and what he is like and what he has done. These things are opposite from the "things on the earth" Paul discusses in verses 5 and following. You can see what he means. He says that my mind doesn't belong on sexual immorality and impurity and passion and evil desire and covetousness which is idolatry. Those are earthly things. If I have been raised with Christ, I have no business occupying my mind with stuff like that. Chapter 4:8 of the book before this, Philippians, Paul describes some of the things that my mind ought to be set on. "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Set your mind on things above where Christ is. In the Lord's public ministry, the very first time he made known to the apostles that he was going to be suffering and that he would be killed, the Bible says that Peter took hold of him and rebuked him for that idea, and that Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind me Satan because you mind the things of men and not the things of God." To be raised with Jesus and to be thinking on the things that don't belong on a Christian's mind is a terrible wrong. Living with Jesus means thinking right.
Secondly, he says that living with Jesus involves acting right. He says, "Seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." Think on them, but then seek them. Take action. Paul's way of emphasizing this you can see in Philippians 3. In this passage, having listed several of the advantages and opportunities that he had had in his life, Paul said, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as lost because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which comes through faith in Christ. The righteousness from God that depends on faith that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection of the dead." That is seeking things that are above. He is putting a priority on being with Christ.
I want to point out to you the way this unfolds through the rest of Colossians 3. Paul says that seeking things that are above involves adopting a new set of standards for how we live. And you see that one part of the problem is the kind of immorality in our behavior that I have read about in verses 5 and 6. Another part of the problem has to do with the putting on a whole new set of values modeled after Christ (v. 10). Put off some things but put on some things. That involves action. Not only is there a new set of standards, but there are new relationships called for. Verses 8 and 9 say, "But now you must put them all away, anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." He is calling for action which involves new standards and new relationships. "With Christ" must become the great guideline in the lives of those who have been raised with Christ. We are to go only where we can go with him. We are to say only what we can say in his company. We are to do only what he would do. "Christ is all" to us (v. 11). Whatever we now do, in word or in deed, wee want to do in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17). That kind of action is what is being called for here. So he said, "You are raised with Christ. You live with Christ."
And in the third place, notice that Paul talks here about being hidden with Christ (v. 3). Did you ever hide anything? Some of you in this auditorium have hidden things before to keep them safe and secure, and then you forgot where you hid them and you haven't found them yet! To hide something means that you put it in a safe place for keeping and for security and for preservation. To be hidden with Christ means that our life and our destiny and our hope is safe and secure in him where he is. The Jews of New Testament days thought that to bury someone was to hide that person. If we have died and are buried with Christ, we are hidden with him or in him. The idea is that there is a way that the Lord can take care of us and provide for us.
Now think of how this works out in the rest of the New Testament. We have a life, a hope which the world can't see. Did any of you see on ABC news just recently their program about Jesus and Paul? You saw in that report that there are things that the New Testament says that Christians believe but the world just cannot grasp. It is hidden from them. And what Paul is saying here is that someday what is hidden is going to be made known (I Cor. 4:5). The faith of Christians is going to be vindicated. The glory that Christ has and will bring with him will be seen and his people will be with him. The world will finally see that the faith of Christ is just and right and true.
Then those whose life is hidden in the Lord will ever be with the Lord (I Thes. 4:17). The last thing Jesus prayed in John 17 is that those who have been given to him might be with him and see his glory (v. 24). His request will finally be answered when we are with him in heaven (Rev. 21:3,4).
What Paul says in verse 4 is, "When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory." Maybe the best comment I could find on that statement is in I John 3 - the best explanation of it - what it means to be hidden with Christ. "See what kind of love the father has given to us that we should be called children of God. And so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now. And what we will be has not yet appeared (it is hidden), but we know that when he appears, we will be like him because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." That idea is a wonderful statement of our values and security with Christ.
When you think of Jesus having been raised up, think of this idea of "with Christ." We are raised with him in obedience to the gospel, we live with him in Christian living, and our life is hidden with him. And some day it will appear and we will be with him. In L.O. Sanderson's great hymn "Be With Me Lord," the third stanza says, "Be with me Lord, No other gift or blessing Thou couldst bestow could with this one compare - A constant sense of Thy abiding presence, Where-e'er I am, to feel that Thou art near." That is what the Lord is inviting us to have. But his insistence is that in order for him to be near to us, we have to be with him. He said in John 12:26, "Where I am, there shall my servant be also." That means that I have to decide now whether I want to be with the Lord. Have you been raised up with him? Would you want to be? If we can help you today to make it your practice in life to walk with the Lord, then take what action you need to take. Let it be known while we stand and sing together.