Sunday, 31 August 2014

Who is Jesus?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created... He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things... making peace through his blood, shed on the cross... Colossians 1:15-23

I imagine all of us have our pet hates, things that make us grind our teeth. One of mine is when people cheapen language by using exaggerated words - words like fantastic, incredible, awesome, mind-blowing, sensational - when “very good” or “excellent” or “outstanding” would do perfectly well.

What does it matter? Well, the trouble comes when something happens that really is fantastic, sensational, mind-blowing, incredible or whatever. You have used up all the words you might like to use. There just aren’t any left.


What has this got to do with Colossians 1:15-23? Well, for once all those extreme words really do apply. (I have only quoted bits from the passage - I would encourage you to get your Bible out and read these verses very carefully.) The incredible (or should I say “truly incredible”?) thing is that they were written about a man who just 25 or so years earlier was walking the hillsides of Galilee, a man with a tanned skin, sweaty brow and muscular arms, a man who could be lonely and tired and hungry, a man who could laugh and cry. A man who died by crucifixion. 

How utterly extraordinary that the early Christians could, so early on, see him in this way. Mind-blowing!

Who is this man Jesus, according to Paul’s description? I’ve boiled it down to five things...

First, Jesus is God made visible

He is “the image of the invisible God”. In other words, if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. This echoes something he himself said (John 14). One of his apostles, Philip, asked him (cool as you like!), “Lord, show us the Father and that will do for us”. To which Jesus gave the mind-boggling  reply, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” This man Jesus is God in the flesh. Put it like this: all the very “godness” of God is wrapped up in Jesus. Incredible!

Second, Jesus is the Lord of creation.

“By him all things were created...” Hang on, I thought God the Father was the creator. Well, yes. But it seems that God the Son was right there too. In fact, that word “by” could be translated “in”, which is, if anything, even more amazing. I can’t work it all out in my mind, but let’s just put it like this: Jesus isn’t part of creation; no, creation is part of him.

And not only did he make the creation, but he also sustains it: “in him all things hold together”. Just as our sun holds all the planets and the solar system together, so Jesus holds together the universe in which we live. Jesus really is Lord! Fantastic!

Third, Jesus is the head of a new creation.

That first creation went tragically wrong, which is why our little world is in such a mess. But God made up his mind to make a new creation. And it all started on that wonderful morning of the first Easter day, when Jesus, the new Adam, rose from the dead, never to die again. Ever since that marvellous heaven-lit morning, God’s new creation has been embodied in the church, the community of Jesus’ followers. If you are a Christian today, you are already part of the new creation centred upon the risen Christ. Isn’t that humbling - and sensational?

Fourth, Jesus is the ultimate peace-maker.

He “made peace through his blood, shed on the cross”. He is the supreme reconciler: God “was pleased to reconcile to himself all things” through Christ. I don’t think Paul means that every person or being that has ever lived will be finally brought to God; that teaching, known as “universalism”, is not found throughout the New Testament. But he does mean that a day will come when all evil and sin will be overcome and there will be perfect peace. And what will be the means by which this comes about? Answer: the blood of the cross. 

Have you yet been reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood?

Fifth, Jesus can be your saviour.

I didn’t quote any of the last part of the passage, verses 20-23. But they are truly wonderful, because they bring all this heavy-duty theology slap bang down to earth: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death...” 

In the earlier verses, 15-20, Paul doesn’t use the words “you” and “your” once. But in these verses he does so seven times. Yes - incredibly - it’s now all about you and me. 

Paul isn’t only talking about the majesty of God, the glory of Christ and the wonder of creation: he is talking about the salvation of your soul and of mine. Mind-boggling!

I have a number of scholarly commentaries on Colossians. Now, scholarly writers are not usually known for their exaggerated language; but one I have been referring to, a learned Cambridge professor no less, cannot resist using the words “staggering” and even “stupendous” to describe this teaching. Who am I to quibble with that? And wouldn’t you agree?

Soak up these words! Digest this description of Jesus! 

Christian, this is your lord, your saviour, your master, your friend, your prophet, your priest, your king: your everything. Fantastic!

Lord God, give me today a fresh vision and understanding of all that Jesus is. Amen.

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