Knowing the Direction We Face

We have been building to this moment in our sermon series “Known.” Colossians 1:26-29 shaped the scope of the series. Where in a world of faulty maps we see what Paul says about the map that can be known and followed—in Jesus.

In the first sermon of the series, I began explaining about Captain George De Long’s expedition to the North Pole. Captain George De Long set a course for the North Pole and crashed because he hoped that there would be a warm North Polar Sea. Instead, he ran into the rocks of reality. The North Pole is surrounded by ice. Trevin’s Wax’s book, This is Our Time, uses Captain De Long’s journey to set-up the longer illustration that we live in a world full of faulty maps. I carry on the same illustration to communicate the truths in Colossians 1.


Every day we are surrounded by people who are in search of the meaning of life, community, purpose and the map they are using cannot adequately guide them. 

Right out of this section Paul has used himself as an example and he continues to describe his role within the world. The reason Paul uses the example of himself as he makes this point to the Colossians is to how God uses us to expand God’s family.

Here’s an example of what I mean…I was in Starbucks…I’m sitting there and right beside me a two people are talking about religion. As they discuss religion the second person describes the religious relics within his house while railing against Christianity and religion. While the first person it attempting to follow Jesus, they have no rebuttal for the second. Having been in the first person’s shoes, the easiest question to ask, “Have you ever tried getting to know Jesus?”

The second person has left Jesus on the walls. When you leave Jesus on the walls you can make-up whatever Jesus you want to follow. When we leave Jesus on the walls and uninvited to our life we will be unable to identify the faulty maps that attempt to guide us off course. It’s a Jesus that you make look more like what you want rather than Jesus providing the map that leads you to the very thing you are searching for—himself.

God has been working plan to rescue and redeem through history chronicled in the stories in the Old Testament. The question remains: How would God fulfill his promise of rescue and renewal?

Paul describes this “how” as the profound “mystery.” The mystery is made known in Jesus. The mystery was something previously unknown, but is revealed by God in Christ in the power of the Spirit—and open to all.

Christ enables the Gentiles to be part of God’s family through faith. This mystery used to describe the newness of the age that creates Paul’s mission: what was once given to Abraham as intended to be a blessing to the nations is finally fully underway in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles (non-Jews). The presence of God no longer needs to be mediated in a temple. Paul is willing to suffer so that all people know of their access to God through Jesus. Not only that, but that they begin to apply the way of Jesus in every area of their life.

The presence of Christ among the Colossians, then, is ground for their hope of life in the age to come. Having explained that the term “mystery” is the plan of God to expand the people of God to include everyone. Re-read Colossians 1:15-20.

Here’s the difficulty: Even though it has been disclosed, it remains partially grasped.

My kids were watching Scooby-doo the other day. It’s so funny because time and time again the group of Fred, Vilma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby know that behind every monster is an explanation. It’s just that they have to go on a journey to figure out who it is.

The journey begins with God’s people. They are identified with their representative, Christ, and how that new identity gives hope for the future. Christ dwells in the new people of God, the church (corporates), through the Spirit, he truly also indwells the believer (individual).

As individuals, we have to apply the good news of Jesus to our life. However, we do not do this alone. We follow Jesus as the church.

In the Gospels, Jesus called the would-be disciples to follow him. But the actual relationship between Christ and his follows is greater, deeper, and higher than that: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The church is spiritually united to Jesus Christ.

No other religion speaks of the relationship between its leader and followers that way. But this is the spiritual union between Christ and the church. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.  The indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King resides within each us and has made us one in Christ.

It is still a mystery to others. God “wanted to make known to the Gentiles” and he chooses us to make it known.

Paul’s work was empowered by God’s mighty strength. This is true for everyone: Part of the deception of the false teachers is that the way of salvation to be so involved that it could only be understood by a select few.

When you have a relationship with Jesus and relationships with people who are pointing you over and over again to the character and priorities of Jesus—you don’t need me in that coffee shop with you.

You will be able to discern the longing and the lies and live according to the map that leads to peace and purpose.

James K.A. Smith sums it up this way: “To be human is to be for something. To be human is to be directed toward something, oriented toward something. To be human is to be on the move, purposing something, after something…We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures direct toward some end.”

When we follow Jesus together as the church we will be able to identify the gravitational pull of false hope. Together we will be able to present what it looks like to be directed toward Jesus especially when we reflect a community of people that come from all walks of life.

Trevin Wax presents sums up his illustration and main point this way:

The first people to reach the North Pole were Frederick Cook and two Inuit men. On April 21, 1908. Unlike George De Long, they didn’t try to sail there. They were well aware that there was no “Open Polar Sea.” Instead, after an arduous journey across the ice, they arrived on foot, stocked with the provisions they needed to achieve their goal.

When you compare De Long’s expedition to Cook’s, you find that all of these men exhibited similar character traits. They were brave and courageous, ready to persevere through the worse circumstances. Why, then, did Cook make it to the North Pole while De Long did not? It wasn’t because Cook was braver then De Long but because Cook had a better understanding of the terrain he world encounter. Therefore, Cook had the provisions he needed for the long trek across the ice. De Long did not. No matter how strong these men were, one crew made plans that took into account what was really there while the other made plans based on what they hoped to find.

There is an important lesson for us here. You can be courageous yet still be wrong about the world. You can be brave yet perish. You can be a strong and determined person on a path to destruction. Sincerity, as a good quality as that may be, cannot ultimately save you.

So what does faithfulness look like in a world where everyone has a different map—a different idea about what life is all about and the best route to take toward your destination? A world in which people seem to think sincerity is all that matters? That is doesn’t matter what map you have a long as you think you’re right? Even more, how can we be faithful when so many Christians have faulty maps too?

Here, we join with Paul in being prepared for the journey. Recognizing it is Christ in us. It’s not us knowing or us proclaiming. It is resisting and re-applying the message that we are included in God’s family because of Jesus. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. 

Living as if we know that behind every monster is a man.

We repeat some version of the rhetoric that the point of life is to “enjoy God forever and glorify him.” But our actions often reveal that another map has captured our imaginations. We give the right answer but sail the wrong way. Even worse, sometimes we hoist the Christian sail over a boat that’s being directed by mythical map. We use Christianity in order to go where we want to go.

What is our North Pole? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

You want to show the world a different map? Then focus not on being true to yourself but on loving and being true to God and neighbor. See your life as a journey in which you were rescued from your fallenness, not affirmed in it. See your life as a journey in which you recognize the great mystery of Christ in you—embracing a vision of who God is making you to be—the hope of glory.