Nothing comes before the thorns. Five centimeters (2 inches) long, they bristle all across our path, snagging shirts and piercing skin. Nature and […]
Nothing comes before the thorns.
Five centimeters (2 inches) long, they bristle all across our path, snagging shirts and piercing skin. Nature and the ravages of time have made it hard to see what’s left of old Colossae.
Between the choking goat-thorn bushes, you can glimpse the evidence that once this was a place where families lived and children played. Crumbling bricks, unspeakably old, poke through unexcavated mounds. The crescent of a Roman amphitheater emerges from a sunbaked hill, teasing the imagination with what transpired millennia ago.
When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Colossae, the recipients could probably gather in a member’s house. Their city was declining; their church was small. No great thing was ever going to arise among the thorns. Wealth, commerce, art, and culture flowed away with younger citizens to bigger, better places. Opportunities were always going somewhere else. Even the fact of a Christian church in this town was an act of faith—faith that the gospel doesn’t need endorsement from the wealthy or the famous; from art or culture, politics or trends.
And yet, to these beleaguered Christians, ringed by pagan deities and cults that worshipped angels, the apostle wrote some of the most cosmos-circling lines recorded in the Scriptures: “He [God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. . . . He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:13, 17, NRSV).
Lest they imagine that they and their small congregation had been forgotten in the sweep of time, Paul reminded them that the Lord before whom they bowed in love and awe was ruler of far more than just this planet. When thorns both real and symbolic blocked their way and pierced their hopes, they found new comfort in the surety that “all things have been created through him and for him” (verse 16). When earthquakes rattled; when friendships weakened; when faith got shaken by deep scorn or failing health, they had a word to cling to: “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
It is the message God’s end-time remnant surely needs today. We see the thorns—the obstacles—that block our paths and thwart our dreams. We worry to ourselves that faith might fade with those who follow— with children and grandchildren; with friends, with new believers. We wonder when the rains will come to green our church and raise our hopes—when we will see the gospel move with Spirit-power unstoppable. A hundred kinds of thorns are painful evidence that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12, NRSV).
But there stands Christ among the thorns—all-confident; all-powerful. He rules the future and the past, and brings omnipotence to now— our small, obscure, uncertain now. There is no place He doesn’t rule. There is no power that will not bow. His crown was made of thorns.
Take courage, church, in every trouble: “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”