Every day it seems we are seeing new “enlightened discoveries” on who God is and how those who follow Him alone should act and think. There are numerous books, programs, and talking heads that will give praise to Yeshua but then add their own personal interpretation and additions for how we must conduct ourselves. For some it is adding books from false teachers to Scripture, such as Mormonism, or taking away from God’s Word such as those who claim Biblical morality needs to be updated for the 21st Century. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how a Christian or Messianic Jew should live out their faith and to claim to follow Yeshua alone is to be unhip, backwards, bigoted, and ignorant. From a place of superiority we are judged by society and even by those who claim to be followers of God. This constant bombardment can lead to doubts, maybe doubts that the faith we began with, is the same faith we need to continue on. It is this kind of dangerous false teaching that we find the Apostle Paul combating in Colossians 2:16-23. I have entitled my message for today simply. “Is Yeshua Enough?” Is Yeshua enough to be reconciled to God? Is Yeshua enough for life in this world? Or do we need someone or something else besides Him alone?
But before we launch into this portion of God’s Word it is important that we have a bit of background on what is going on in this letter. This letter was written to Messiah’s community of Jews and Gentiles at Colossae by Rabbi Paul and served to combat false teaching and explain to us the supreme and sufficient nature of our Messiah. Colossae was mostly a community of gentiles and this particular letter is written for those who have already put their faith in Yeshua, but are being threatened by false teachers.
Now a certain type of false teaching had begun to spread at Colossae. While the exact nature of the teaching or the teachers is not given to us, the letter seems to indicate it was some sort of fusion of Jewish thought and paganism. The teaching involved a focus on Jewish customs, such as festivals and dietary laws, but also had a pagan emphasis on visions and asceticism, denying the body things such as food and drink.
I chose this passage in Colossians in particular because it reminded me of my High school experiences and a good friend from High school, Boris. When I was in High school I dealt with serious persecution from other Jewish people for my faith in Yeshua and spent all four years arguing with all sorts of people, one of these people became a good friend, Boris.
Boris came from a Conservative Jewish background, kept Kosher, the Sabbath, and many other aspects of Jewish culture and tradition. We would argue and debate and he would always say I did not act Jewish enough. Over time this got to me, I started to think that maybe I needed something more to be holy, that maybe Yeshua wasn’t enough, and one year I decided to abstain from leaven, yeast products, for Passover. However, he was happy to inform me that my spaghetti dinner the night before violated the Law because pasta “rose” by absorbing water. We would argue back and forth about Isaiah 53, who the Messiah was, as well as politics.
As we became older I started getting more serious about my Messianic faith as he became more engrossed in Eastern religions, mysticism, and drugs. He would tell me all about his supernatural experiences on LSD and other substances and encourage me this was a great way to experience the divine. I didn’t share his enthusiasm for these things and by the time we graduated, before we lost touch, Boris had basically given up on Judaism as anything but cultural and was firmly entrenched in a lifestyle of drug use and mysticism.
The false teachers with their combination of Judaism and mysticism reminded me of Boris, both his beliefs and judgments.
Our passage begins with the words, “Therefore”, so first we need to see why the therefore is there for. We read in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Messiah.” The Lord, through the Apostle Paul, is telling us that we need to reject empty human traditions that would seek to take us away from our walk with the Son of God.
Verses 9-15 in chapter 2 tell us what we as believers in Messiah Yeshua have in Him. We see in these verses a powerful testimony on what Yeshua has accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection. We are powerfully told who Yeshua is, that He is indeed enough. Our redeemer is the fullness of God, the exact imprint of His nature, He is God. Yeshua is also the head of every sort of ruler and authority. When He enters our lives we are brought to life from the dead, from the death caused by our trespasses and sins. Dead from the debt we have from failing to keep the Law of God. Every day we fail to meet the standard set before us by a blameless and perfect Creator. Each of us knows the sins in our lives, the secret sins we tell no one else, and the weight of these sins leads to a just punishment of judgment.
But nailed to the Cross was not just the sinless son of God, but all of our sin, our trespasses, and the destruction we would deserve because of it all. Our Messiah, the anointed ruler of all humanity, triumphed over every sort of ruler and authority both human and demonic. We have been made alive through Messiah, we are kept alive through His power, we have received a new heart, a new nature, and have been made complete. These are just some of the blessings we have received by accepting and walking in the ways of the Lord.
At this point we come to the passage we will be considering this morning, Colossians 2:16-23. I will be reading from the ESV if you would like to follow along in that translation.
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Messiah. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Messiah Yeshua you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The main idea of this passage seems to be powerfully clear. Since Yeshua is completely sufficient for every one of our needs, and because of the all-surpassing blessings found only in Him, we must reject false teachings whether of Jewish origins or pagan origins, and keep our focus on Him alone, the only real source of spiritual growth.
So what exactly is this false teaching the Lord has moved Paul to combat? We see in these verses it involved moving believers away from Yeshua as the foundation of their lives. These false teachers advocated Yeshua with a nice big Astrick next to Him. They taught that you needed to also keep in some form the Mosaic Covenant, most likely according to their own particular interpretation, and in addition live a life of self-denial angel worship.
The final verse of this chapter tells us that this asceticism is an empty human teaching, given by men promoting a self-made religion.
There is perhaps an impulse when we read Scripture to bring our feelings into the text. We can be quick to read what is a condemnation of false teaching, as a condemnation of everything Jewish, or anything spiritual, or to assume this is the same as the sort of false teaching Paul preaches against in the letter to the Galatians. The focus is that this false teaching has the appearance of wisdom and it serves no purpose but to lead believers away from God and to a deadly philosophy that seeks to take us captive.
God’s Word describes these false teachings as having the appearance of wisdom and it reminds me of the difference between Gold and Fool’s Gold. When I was a kid I was very interested in gems and metals such as Gold. Now the interesting thing about Fool’s Gold is that it tends to be much shinier than actual Gold. If you knew nothing else and had to judge the two on surface appearance your first guess would probably be to assume that the fake Gold is actual Gold. It is the same with false teachings of various kinds, whether it is the type we find in this passage, Prosperity teaching, Dual Covenant Theology, supposed Christian New Age Mysticism, or one of the endless other false teachings.
They can all appear to have this “appearance of wisdom”, they seem shiny and attractive but are really worthless. It is a safe assumption that most people would not trade pounds of Gold for worthless Fool’s Gold, but to avoid making these sorts of mistakes you must first know the difference. The reason why we read these incredibly powerful passages describing the nature, work, and blessings of our Messiah in this letter is so that we know what the Gold we have is actually worth. How compared to the shiny fool’s gold of false teaching it is utterly worthless.
Going back to the passage we read in verse 16 to not let anyone pass judgment on us in matters of Jewish observance. I mentioned earlier my friend Boris from High school and how from a self-made place of superiority he would judge me based on his standard of what was acceptably Jewish. This sort of judgment and strife is also unfortunately found in our communities today as well as during the time of Paul.
The Apostle Paul, through the Holy Spirit, powerfully wrote on this subject of judging one another on the basis of food and festivals in Romans 14. In this chapter we read that we are not judge one another on these matters or cause others to stumble, consider verses 5 and 6:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Continuing on we read in verse 13:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
Paul understood that these sorts of divisions could cause communities to shatter, and his rejection of false standards of food and festivals in Colossians is mirrored here in Romans 14.
The focus instead of on quarreling and judging should be the fact that joined to Yeshua we have experienced complete and everlasting forgiveness of our sins, of any debts under the Law, and are now being transformed into the same image as the one who has saved us. Each of us as Believers have a story, a story of how God entered into our lives, in many cases when we were at our lowest, and rescued us from serious physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.
There is a powerful joy in knowing God, in experiencing the Holy Spirit entering into our hearts, illuminating the Word of God in our lives and enabling us to persevere in the face of ridicule, pain, and loss. But even the strongest of believers experiences doubt. Doubt that we have truly been redeemed, doubt that God truly loves us, and doubt that Yeshua is everything that we need. It is a subtle thing, in my own experience, starting with a thought that maybe if I do a certain thing God will be more happy with me, that I can somehow earn more of His approval, that I can do something that will make me more holy.
It is this sort of need, this sort of doubt, that these false teachers were seeking to exploit. They wanted to defraud believers of our foundation in Adonai alone, to get us to move our focus from the teachings of God and believe them when they said we needed something more. In this case they used that which was holy and given by God; food, festivals, and the Sabbath to drive a wedge of doubt between us and God and make us exchange substance for shadows. Rabbi Paul, a well-trained Jewish Pharisee, a Hebrew of Hebrews, who studied under one of the greatest Rabbis, Rabbi Gamliel, was very familiar with everything Jewish these false teachers were trying to use.
Paul understood that this was a gospel that promoted self-reliance, a false teaching that sought to convince us we can earn God’s favor and eternal life.
Some may be quick to read Rabbi Paul as condemning anything Jewish in this passage, but I would argue they are mistaken. The condemnation comes down on the human and pagan rooted foundations of this teaching, not the Mosaic Covenant. Paul does not condemn the idea of having a place in your life for God-given holy concepts such as the Sabbath. But while these things are holy, they are also shadows, they are signposts pointing us to the Son of God and we cannot focus on the Sabbath and ignore the Lord of the Sabbath.
These false teachers did not only try to replace the focus on Yeshua with Jewish traditions but also pagan practices. We read in verse 18, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.” Denial of various things is practiced around the world today as a form of spirituality and many people admire those who live harsh aesthetic lifestyles. We see that this denial was connected with perishable things, matters of food and drink according to verses 21 and 22.
This was not holy fasting but denial coming from a Greco-Roman hatred of anything to do with the physical and the mistaken belief that hurting our bodies would somehow translate to spiritual enlightenment.
This is still practiced and lauded today with many people feeling Buddhist Monks, such as the Dali Llama, as containing deep spiritual wisdom because of their lifestyles.
I recently had an article from the Huffington Post’s religious section appear on my Facebook feed, the title of which was, “5 Things Christianity Could Learn From Buddhism”. It had the typical personal interpretation of Scripture to be expected from this fine news source, with the author rejecting the notion of a personal relationship with God. While the article was heavy on Buddhist ideas that the author was enamored by, it was woefully light on Yeshua. The reader was led to the conclusion that Yeshua was not a solid foundation for our walk with the Lord. While the article may have been cleverly written, and had the appearance of wisdom, it was in fact full of judgment for those who would seek to live a Bible and Yeshua centered life. It was a modern day version of this false teaching.
Verse 18, which describes the worship of angels and teaching of asceticism is a difficult verse to translate from the Greek and various Bible translations have different renderings. What is common to them however is that this worship of asceticism and angels would defraud, swindle, or disqualify Believers from the sufficient power of Messiah Yeshua. Moved by the Spirit of God the Apostle Paul strongly warns us that we must reject these teachings made by egotistical people who are convinced of their own righteousness.
Today there are still those who practice the worship of angels and puff themselves up with visions. A quick search online will find you many people, including those who call themselves Christians or Messianic Jews, that will go on and on about their spiritual experiences that serve only to inflate themselves. Many are quick to write a book, sell a trinket, or just spend hours and hours talking about themselves with seemingly no foundation in the Lord. They may have an appearance of wisdom but these things are clearly empty human created philosophies. Living a life of denial cannot save anyone from their sins and cannot add to atonement and peace found in Yeshua.
So if we are not to seek additional things like Law keeping or self-denial to grow in God what are we supposed to do?
The answer is to focus on Yeshua as the source of real spiritual growth. Rabbi Paul uses the familiar imagery of the body, with Yeshua as the Head to point out the true source of growth. In contrast to the shadows and empty teachings of false teachers, Yeshua provides us with every sort of spiritual growth we desire, if we are willing to join and accept Him as the head of our own lives. God’s Word has inf
ormed us exactly what we need to do to grow in our walk with God and we find this truth in verses 6 and 7:
Therefore, as you received Messiah Yeshua the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
It may not be trendy, it may not be hip, but it is the Truth, if you want to know God, if you want to find relief for every burden, pain, and loss this world will throw at you, you need Yeshua. Yeshua alone, Yeshua without astricks or exceptions or additions or human cleverness. To find Yeshua you need only turn to the only book that is written all about Him, the Word of God, accept no substitutes. To experience the power of God in your own life is to start and continue with prayer. Praying to God to forgive you of your sins, praying for His help and admitting you cannot save yourself.
If you have placed your trust in Him then we are urged to continue walking with Him. In Yeshua alone are we rooted, build up, and established in our faith, to our amazing joy. I opened this message with a question, “Is Yeshua Enough?” I hope at this point you see that He is indeed enough, more than enough for us.
May the Lord enable each one of us to continue walking in the faith we began with. May He give us the strength and wisdom to reject false teachings and may He give us the peace that comes with knowing Yeshua is indeed enough, enough to set aside our sin, our pains, and our guilt. I pray that the Lord would encourage each one of us to have the desire to continue to spiritually grow in our walk through this world as we look forward to eternal life with Him.