Do you ever get stuck on some word in the Bible or even in reading other books or magazines, so that the remainder of what is said seems to lose out because you can’t get your mind off that word? I’ve probably read through the Book of Colossians several hundred times in my life and I’ve even quoted the particular verse to others when preaching. But there was something different a few days ago when I was readying, praying and thinking about a particular segment of the book from which I planned to preached the following Sunday. Let me share the verses to begin with to let you see what it was that struck and stuck in my mind. “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him – a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.” (Colossians 2:9-11)
There are many verses like this one in Paul’s writings, but the intriguing thing to me is that none of them are exactly the same. The other that is very similar to this one is found in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If you look at either of these list it is revolutionary for the time and situation they were in. Those with a Jewish background who had been taught from youth up that they were God’s chosen people and everyone else was on the outside would certainly be agitated at the list. Every person who had converted to Judaism by being circumcised as adults would be frustrated at the thought it was for nothing since now there is no difference. Those who were free and perhaps owned slaves had always thought of themselves being on a very different level than the slaves so to tell them that now the slaves were just as privileged as them with regard to salvation, Christ and the church, was a huge matter. And since men had been taught that they were far above the women and that women were indeed the property of the husbands, to now be told there is no male and female in Christ was about as big as you can get. The walls were being shattered and thats not easy when you are used to the walls. Greeks saw everyone who was not a Greek as a barbarian so they had that elevated feeling about themselves as well. But that distinction is now gone among the Christians.
But here in Colossians Paul had one word that is only found there. It is the word “Scythian”. Who are the Scythians? Originally the name was used of a nomadic people who immigrated into the Near East back in the 8th century B.C. They were one of several Indo-Iranian groups who appeared at the time. But they were largely destroyed long before the time of the writing of Colossians. By this time the word was being used of those people who were terrorist, brutal and dangerous on the other side of the tracks and rejected by people of Character. But notice that Paul, being led by the Holy Spirit includes the Scythians in the groups of people about whom there is no distinction in Christ. Probably the best description of such people in our time would be to see them as the gang bangers in every metropolitan area. Perhaps we might also identify them with the terrorist of our own day. But generally we think of terrorist as being in other countries who may come here with view to destruction or murder. The Scythian was more like the home grown variety of the rejected, outsider, who lives by their wits and by taking the things they want from others without their consent.
What God has done with each of these list is to point out to us that “In Christ” all the distinctions we wish to draw among people are torn down. He accepts all people on exactly the same basis. Those in Christ have come from every kind of background, from the religiously active to the completely unreligious. They come from the upper class and the lower class and everything in between. They come from male and female and from the slaves and slave owners. They are the educated Greeks and the uneducated Barbarians. The church is even made up of people who came from the gang bangers who have terrorized the community and caused innocent people to live in fear behind closed and locked doors. People of every background can be changed. They can turn from their way of sin and rebellion to a way of faith and obedience to God. The had put off the old self with its deeds and put on the new self who is being renewed to the true knowledge according to the image of the one who created them. Back in the Galatians passage the verses just before the one we referred to in 3:28 make clearer the process. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Then he turns to the point of there being no differences between us.
Think about some of the implications of these verses and others like them. It means first that the way is open to the Lord for anyone from any background imaginable. You could be the most deeply religious person like Saul of Tarsus and turn from that religious background to devote yourself to Christ. You could be like the slave Onesimus who was converted to Christ and baptized by Paul inside the Roman prison where both were prisoners. You could be like Simon the Sorcerer who had made his living fooling people to make them think he was some great power from God. You could be like the woman at the well who had lived an immoral life and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband. You could be like Timothy whose parents were a mixture, one Jewish and the other Greek which often left you on the outside of everyone. You could be like the Ethiopian Eunuch who would have had two strikes against him. He was a black man in a white culture and he had been castrated which would have made him an outsider as well. You see it just doesn’t matter where you have been or what you have done. What matters is that you turn from that life through faith in Jesus to give yourself to him and to change by putting off the old self and putting on the new self in Christ. You bury the old person in baptism and raise up a new person in Christ.
The second lesson is that if we really want to change the world to a better place it won’t happen by some political move but by the acceptance of the gospel of Christ. Real change happens on the inside of a person, not by them being forced to accept something they really don’t believe. I love being part of a free country where I can vote for those I think are the best candidates. But I know that it won’t be those people in Washington that really bring about change in culture. It will be those who share the message of Jesus to a lost world that can turn to God for relief.
The third lesson is that if we are still trying to rebuild the walls that God tore down we are in a losing battle. Every group whether political or spiritual that still tries to make a distinction between Jews and everything else is dead wrong. There is no Jew or Greek, no circumcised or uncircumcised in Jesus. He certainly isn’t coming back to establish some throne in Jerusalem to re-separate the people. The walls are down so get out the wall building business.
Finally, if you have ever felt as though you are on the outside looking in and that you aren’t accepted among the more godly crowd, I want you to know that Jesus died for you and that His church is open to you. You can change. You can be new from the inside out. You can bury that old life and start all over again. In Him there are no Scythians.