Christ the King
Humanity had a very powerful experience when it came into contact with Jesus. It was such a powerful experience that it took the church generations to begin to realize the depth of that experience. And I think if we are honest, we as the church are still unpacking our experience of Jesus
As the church attempted to more fully understand their experience with Jesus they inevitably bounced from one extreme understanding to another. Those extremes began to be called heresies. We all struggle with heretical ideas as we attempt to grow in our understanding of Jesus. We have a natural desire to follow an idea to its extreme.
For example, some couldn't understand how Jesus could be a divine being and be human being. 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, which isn’t very dignified for God. 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 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.
In the early church 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? Would Jesus still be able to save us if he was only ‘sort of’ human? Wasn’t the whole point that he came to be one of us?
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? 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. The only way that seemed to make sense of the Church’s experience of Jesus was to see Jesus as 100% human and 100% divine. … That brought up more questions.
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 can’t really know. 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 the Church 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 some New Agey folk who believe that Jesus 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. There are those who believe Jesus was just a human teacher or prophet, nothing more- That is what Muslims believe. 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 positions weren't accepted by the ancient Christians because it didn’t hold together what they had received from the Apostles. You have to ignore or twist significant chunks of Scripture to make it work. These positions don’t make sense in terms of the Church's historical experience of Jesus. They change who Jesus is, and so (in a sense) they 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 all 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? The Church concluded that 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 and was resurrected. 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?
"15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For 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. 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."
He is "the image of the invisible God". Imagine that being said of a human being. … "by him all things were created". Think of something... that exists because of Jesus. … All the atoms and energies of this universe were created by him in some amazing and mysterious way.
But not only did he create everything, everything was created FOR him. It's hard to even imagine what that means. … Imagine something- anything ... that was made for Jesus.
And then we read that "in him all things hold together". … 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.
This is a difficult place for words. If Quantum Mechanics is difficult to grasp then how much more the nature of God. And just because it is difficult to understand doesn't mean it's not true.
Jesus is 100% God. He shares a nature with the Father and the Spirit. 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 life, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension.
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.
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. God endured it for us. … 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 revealing Himself to us.
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. I'll never have words beautiful enough.
We are talking about a great mystery, 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 we sense the reality that he is the "image of the invisible God". In seeing him we have seen God. AMEN