This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace. –Colossians 1:6 (NLT)
They heard and they understood. Hearing alone is not enough. Many things enter our ears that make no sense. Many things enter our ears that never register at all in our minds, much less our hearts. The background noises of life hardly register in our consciousness. Sirens are piercing by design so they can knife through all the other noise and jostle us awake long enough to get out of the way, but after they pass, smooth jazz once again shuts out every distraction.
The Colossian Christians heard the Good News, which means what? These were Greeks, pagans from the point of view of Hebrews like Paul. The Good News to them would have been that the One True God, the God of all gods, had entered into the world in the person of Jesus and had proved his authenticity by many signs and miracles, capped by rising from the dead.
And what that meant was that this Jesus had opened up a means to forgiveness, to be at peace with God, a permanent peace not subject to the whims of the lesser gods, but guaranteed by the Father who honors the sacrifice of his perfect Son.
They heard at first without understanding. Some heard and dismissed the whole thing as nonsense. Rising from the dead? A god come to earth? If a god came to earth, why would he come to those strange people who only worship one god in their temple in Jerusalem? Surely that was a sign of a weak and ill-informed religion. Perhaps this god came to educate them about the splendors of the myriad gods they had failed to honor?
Some heard but could make little sense of it all. The burdens and uncertainties of appeasing so many gods to be able to have any hope of living in peace and prosperity were almost overwhelming, and it always seemed there was just one more gift to give, one more temple to honor, one more threat to life and fruitfulness around every corner. Could it really all be a myth? Could it really be true that there was one, mighty God who claimed to be able to settle all accounts at once, not by some costly bribe, but by the blood sacrifice of his very own son? When has that sort of generosity and mercy ever before been witnessed in the history of the world? Impossible.
A few heard, understood, and risked everything they had ever been taught, everything they held dear, to hope that it might be true. They threw themselves into this new thing and discovered a community founded not on class or rank or race, but founded on love, acceptance, and most of all, worship towards this magnificently generous God and his merciful and gracious son, Jesus.
A few heard, understood, and had their lives changed by the assurance that they were at last at peace with God, and by the challenge to live out Jesus’ same unstinting and extravagant love wherever they went, everywhere they lived, in the community of their fellow believers but, what was more challenging, in the community of their towns and cities, their homes and families, in all those places where love was rarely found but greatly needed.
To hear is to make a start, but to understand is to realize that Jesus upset everything, changed everything, promised big and delivered on that promise, because he opened up a door of peace into the house of the One, True God.