Sermon on Colossians 1:15-28 (the divinity of Christ)
New International Version (NIV)
The Supremacy of the Son of God15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Paul’s Labor for the Church24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
When I became a Christian I remember being really drawn to Jesus, obviously, but I also remember being really confused by him as well. He would say things like in John chapter 10, "The Father and I are one", and in chapter 14 "anyone who has seen me has seen the Father". I was confused because Jesus was human and he would sneak off to deserted places to pray to God. If he and the Father were one, who was he praying to? Why did he need to? Jesus was the one to follow. I was becoming more and more convinced of that, but it seemed like the more I tried to understand him the more mysterious he seemed.
I went to university and took classes in Christian history and then later in seminary I took classes on Christology, which teaches who Jesus is and was. I started to realize that when I became a Christian I drifted through numerous heresies. I remember being fascinated in my classes because I had lived these debates. These debates and counsels had taken place in my soul. Reading about others that had struggled with who Jesus was and is was reassuring and exciting because it showed me I was not alone.
The Church had a very powerful experience by coming into contact with the teachings and person of Jesus. It was such a powerful experience that it took them generations to begin to realize the depth of their experience with Jesus. And I think if we are honest, we as the church are still unpacking our experience of Jesus. Perhaps you have had an experience like this. Have you ever had an experience with God that took you weeks or even years before you felt like you understood it? And if you think back on that experience I bet the meaning of that experience is more clear to you now. The details of that experience might not be crystal clear, but as you have reflected and unpacked that experience you have understood it's meaning more clearly.
As the church attempted to more fully understand their experience with Jesus they inevitably bounced from one extreme to another. Those extremes began to be called heresies. We all struggle with heresy as we attempt to grow in our understanding of Jesus. We have a natural desire to follow an idea to its extreme. So, for example, some couldn't understand how Jesus could be a divine being and be human. Some wanted him to be 100% human, and not God at all. They could accept him as a teacher, or a prophet. Others wanted him to be 100% God, and not human at all. To them there was something very unholy about human flesh. It's messy. Humans have to go to the bathroom. So, they started to say that Jesus only looked human. It was as if Jesus was a holographic projection sent from heaven with a message for us.
There were those that believed Jesus was a divine being, but not God. Jesus was an incarnated being. A powerful being, but a created being. There was a point in time when The Son did not exist. He was a creature created by God, and therefore is not God.
Most Christians agreed that Jesus was God, but the difficulty was in understanding exactly how that worked - how exactly is Jesus God? Was Jesus 50% human and 50% God? Was he some kind of hybrid? Maybe instead of a human mind, Jesus had God fill that space that was usually filled with a human mind. But others wondered if Jesus was still human if he didn't have a human mind. Wouldn't that make him a third kind of being, neither God nor human, but some hybrid? And would Jesus still be able to safe us if he was only sort of human?
Others started to wonder in what way Jesus was God and they imagined that God the Father left heaven and became incarnate in the baby Jesus. But some started to ask who kept everything in existence while the baby Jesus was sleeping. And when Jesus died on the cross, who kept the universe going? Did God really die and suffer of the cross? And who was Jesus praying to? What was Jesus speaking about when he spoke about the Father?
It seemed like each time they came to a conclusion, they had more questions to deal with. They started to wonder about If Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine, then was how exactly did that work? Was there a divine Jesus and a human Jesus? Could the divinity overpower the humanity?
Now we just blew through a few hundred years of thought on Christ. If you've never dealt with any of this your head might be spinning a little. It is a difficult subject. Some of you might have never thought about any of this, and some of you might be wondering what you believe about Jesus at this point. Some of you might be thinking that this is a lot of silly theology about things we really have little clue about. We might as well discuss how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. However, these beliefs mattered and still matter. What is at stake is how salvation works, if we pray to and worship Jesus, and whether we can trust Jesus or not. That's why they struggled so hard with these issues. And these opinions are not just deep in history covered by ten feet of soil. They all exist here and now. Walk down the street and ask people who Jesus is and all these opinions are still present in our world.
There are those who still believe Jesus was just a human teacher, nothing more. There are those who believe that he came from some distant planet to teach us. There are those who believe that Jesus was just a vision received while someone was on hallucinogenic drugs. The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus is the incarnate Archangel Michael, a creature of God, but not God. The Mormons believe that Jesus is a god on his own, separate from God the Father.
These heretical positions weren't and aren't acceptable because they aren't supported by scripture, and they don't make sense in terms of the Church's experience of Jesus. They change who Jesus is, and so in a sense set up a different Jesus. That's why the church cared so much about attempting to get it right. Each time the Church heard an idea they kept coming back to the scriptures that were handed on to them. They kept going back to what they were taught by those who were with Jesus. This didn't mean that all Jesus' mysteries were explained. What the Church was trying to do was set boundaries on how we talk about Jesus. At what point do we stop talking about Jesus of Nazareth? Well, when we deny that Jesus was a human being we have stopped talking about Jesus and are really talking about something else. When we deny that Jesus was God we have stopped talking about Jesus of Nazareth and are really talking about something else.
One of the places in Scripture that was returned to again and again during these controversies was the Colossians reading we heard today. Most scholars believe that chapter 1 versus 15-20 was an early Christian hymn that Paul incorporated into his letter to the people of Colossae. The letter is believed to have been written in the 50's or early 60's. We're talking 20 or 30 years after Jesus had died. That means this hymn is dated even earlier than that. Listen to this hymn again and think about what kind of a person we are talking about- who is Jesus?
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
He is "the image of the invisible God". Imagine that being said of a human being. "by him all things were created". Close your eyes, now think of something... Jesus created that. Okay now close your eyes again, think of something else, ... Jesus made that too. (We could do this all day.) All the atoms and energies of this universe- Jesus created it all. But not only did he create everything, everything was created FOR him. It's hard to even imagine what that means. Okay close your eyes and imagine something ... that was made for Jesus. And then we read that "in him all things hold together". Okay so close your eyes and imagine something... you know why that thing doesn't stop existing? Jesus. All things were created by him. Go back to the beginning and Jesus is there. Go to the end where all creation is heading and Jesus is there. And right now everything is being held together by him. "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus]". All God's fullness is in Jesus. This is not something that can be said of someone who was only a human being. That can't even be said of an angel. No angel has all God's fullness dwell in him.
This is a difficult place to use words. If Quantum Mechanics is difficult to grasp then how much more the deepest nature of God. And just because it is difficult to understand doesn't mean it's not true.
Each generation that passed unfolded a little bit more of the mystery of Christ. and as they did this they allowed us to stand on their shoulders and learn from their wisdom and from their experience of Christ. They gave us more words to speak about the mystery of Christ.
Jesus is 100% God. He shares God's nature with the Father and the Spirit. He has always been, but it is because of the Father that he has always been. So we say that he is begotten, rather than made, because there was never a time when he was not. He is fully God. Jesus is also 100% human. God the son took onto Himself human nature. A human being has been incorporated into who God is. And because he is both fully God and human, he has brought broken humanity back into relationship with God through his death on the cross. He is fully human, so he understands your struggles. He understands how difficult life can be. And being God he brings that understanding into God as a human being speaking for us, as one of us. As one of us he resisted Sin and defeated evil. That is a human victory as well as a victory of God. This means we can benefit from the spoils of that battle.
If Jesus is God then we can pray to Jesus and worship him without being polytheists. If Jesus is God then God sacrificed himself on the cross for us, taking on the full power of evil to show His love for us. He didn't send one of his poor creatures to endure the cross for our sake. He endured it for us. If Jesus was just a creature, then we are still reaching up towards God while stuck in the mud. But, if Jesus was God then God has reached down to us to pull us up. If Jesus is God, then we can trust what he says about God, because he is God. He isn't a creature giving us good guesses. He is God himself revealing himself to us. In Christ, God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
It's a hard thing to talk about. Partly because it's technical, but also it is difficult to talk about because it is true. Evil and darkness and suffering is easy to talk about. But the reality of Jesus as the union between humanity and God isn't easy because I can never get the words beautiful enough. I can never convey the grandeur of the God of the universe being present in a human baby in his mother's arms. I'll never have the language to truly communicate the love felt for you as he drew his last breath on the cross. And I'll never really be able to fully describe the human being now present as God in the realm of heaven looking at us all here as we worship him. I'll never have words beautiful enough.
As a new and growing Christian I sat and had conversations with a variety of people about who Jesus was and is. As I got to know Jesus in my prayer and through my Bible I started to recognize Jesus. I started to know when something just didn't feel right. I continued to struggle. And there are some things I continue to struggle with, but I was continually drawn to him and the closer I got the harder it got to squeeze him into a box so I could understand him. I still want to speak about him in ways that honour Jesus because I desire to love him with all my mind, as well as my heart. But, as hard as it can be to understand Jesus we can rest assured that we are not saved by understanding every intricate detail of who Christ is. He sees us longing after him. and we long after him because he is the "image of the invisible God". In seeing him we have seen God. Ultimately our salvation rests in the fact that Christ knows who we are. And because it depends on him we can grasp onto him with a childlike faith-
Jesus loves me this I know,
for the bible tells me so,
little ones to him belong,
they are weak but he is strong,
yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me, yes Jesus loves me,
the bible tells me so.