Some of the most enduring stories in literature and film are about finding treasures: Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug.” Or movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean and one of my all time favorites: The Goonies.
If you haven’t seen the Goonies or haven’t seen it in a while please do yourself a favor and watch it over Thanksgiving break. It’s such a great movie. It’s about a group of ragtag kids who call themselves “The Goonies,” because they live in the GoonDocks neighborhood of Astoria, Oregon. The local Country Club wants to expand into their neighborhood and the families don’t have the money to save their homes. But then one of the kids happens upon a map to lost treasure once owned by the pirate One Eyed Willie. And all hilarity ensues. And if they find that treasure their families would be able to save their homes and the entire neighborhood. The hidden treasure is the answer to all of their problems.
While Paul doesn’t mention pirates or maps in our passage from Colossians today, Paul does refer to hidden treasure.The answer to “Who is God?” can be found in the treasure of Jesus Christ. Paul describes Jesus as the one in whom all the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” of God can be found.
When Paul says he wants their “hearts” to be encouraged by this knowledge, we understand this with our modern eyes as Paul wanting them to “feel” encouraged. Which is part of what he meant, but for him it means something deeper. It means to be encouraged from the deepest part of who we are to the point that the rest of your personality is affected. That not just our words, actions, but also our thoughts are permeated by the knowing of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ, God reveals everything we need to know to be in a relationship with him. In Jesus we see that we can trust God. In Jesus we see that God is faithful. God promised a Messiah and that Messiah is Jesus. In Jesus we see God’s deep love in how Jesus loves others. In Jesus we see God’s mercy in how Jesus was merciful to all people.
For Paul, to know this, to know Jesus Christ is to experience “the riches of assured understanding” of who God is. In Jesus we know that our relationship with God is secure.
Going back to the Goonies, the treasure was important, but what was most important was the assurance that their homes would be saved. That their neighborhood wouldn’t be demolished. The assurance that their friendships would be secured because so much of their friendship was defined by living on the same street.
Similarly, in Jesus Christ we know our relationship with God is secure. No matter how far we’ve strayed or how shaky our faith may seem due to circumstances beyond our control, Jesus is our way back to God.
Which is why biblical scholar NT Wright points out that not only is Jesus the treasure, he is also the map. Paul writes earlier in Colossians chapter 1:
Colossians 1:19-20 states: 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
As Jesus Christ, God reconciles us to himself. We see the lengths God will go to for us as seen in what Jesus did for us on the cross. The power of God is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not even death can keep us from God. Through Jesus Christ and because of what he did on the cross, we can always find our way back to God. Or to quote another passage of scripture: “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.” If we want to find our way to God, look to Jesus. If we want to see who God is, look to Jesus. Jesus is the way to God and is himself God. Jesus is both the treasure and the map.
Stories about lost treasure usually involve a map, but a map that is always difficult to decipher and read. If the map was easily understood the treasure would’ve been found much sooner. But that wouldn’t make a great story. Thank goodness this isn’t the case with Jesus Christ. God has made it clear to us that all we want to know about God can be found in Jesus Christ.
For the early church in Colossae this was easier said than done. There were many outside forces that made it difficult to be followers of Christ. For one thing to be a Christian was to be in the minority. Unlike our context of Grand Haven or the Tri Cities there wasn’t a church on every corner in Colossae. The fledgling church in Colossae was surrounded by pagan religions that were more popular and therefore more acceptable. To be a follower of Jesus Christ was to be in the minority. In Paul’s day it would’ve been easier to belong to a pagan religion because that was what most people believed.
The Roman Emperor himself was a god. There were gods whose specific role was to look over and protect Colossae. It seemed strange to the majority of Colossians that anyone would choose to believe that a peasant Jewish carpenter (who arguably was a persuasive teacher, but who then died a criminal’s death on the cross) would be considered the God of the universe. That didn’t make much sense.
It’s why Paul warns them against false teachings. Other religions offered protection, comfort and prosperity. Those things were not guaranteed to the early Christians in Paul’s day – in fact it was an invitation for persecution. Comfort and prosperity still aren’t guaranteed for Christians today. Such things were never guaranteed. But the treasure we do have in Christ is the guarantee that God is faithful even when we are not. In Christ we always have a way back to God no matter how far and how long we’ve chosen to stray away. God is the same yesterday, today and forever even when life is not.
It’s why Paul says we must remain “rooted” in Jesus Christ and to keep building upon the faith we’ve already received. Being a Christian is an ongoing process. Do we have a better sense of God’s love today than we did yesterday? Are we continuing to know God through Jesus Christ by spending time in the Bible, in prayer and together in worship?
When we first moved into our house we learned that one of the four 60 feet tall oak trees in our yard was infected with oak wilt. We had to inject the non infected trees with medicine to help them fight off any of the oak wilt virus that had potentially passed to them. We also had to call someone to dig a trench and sever the roots of the infected oak tree from those of the healthy ones to contain the oak wilt. It was fascinating to see just how extensive and numerous the roots of these giant oak trees are. An oak tree’s root system can be as long as 90 feet in length, which can be taller than the Oak Tree itself. It’s a reminder of what needs to happen below the surface for an oak tree to remain standing tall and firm.
When we are rooted in Christ we remain standing tall and firm. It is Christ, not ourselves who holds us steady. We may still be tossed to and fro in the midst of really bad storms like any other tree. But if we are rooted in Christ we have a foundation like an oak tree’s root system that extends way beyond our very selves.
We need that reassurance now more than ever. Just when we thought life was feeling more “normal” we’re reminded it’s anything but normal. Just this week a family shared with me that between their three kids they’ve received 10 phone calls in the past week notifying them that their kids were considered “close contacts.” And I thought that the six calls that I received about my two kids was bad enough!
We’ve all been on, and continue to be on, the roller coaster that COVID has created in our lives. The “ups” of vaccines for adults, yay! The “downs” of Delta variants. The “ups” of our 5-11 year-olds being able to be vaccinated! The “downs” of cases in schools that are worse that they’ve ever been. If that isn’t emotional whiplash I don’t know what is. Someone please stop this roller coaster! But unfortunately we don’t have control over that.
We ourselves can’t be the roots that keep ourselves from falling in the midst of the storm that is COVID or anything else life brings our way. But if we remain rooted in Christ we have the assurance that God has us even when we think God doesn’t.
It’s why Paul refers to Jesus Christ as a treasure. But a treasure that we don’t have to try very hard to find because he has already found us. And when we’ve lost our way, whether it’s due to our own choices or the circumstances of life, he himself is the way back. The more we know this for ourselves the more we realize how important it is to remain rooted in him.