The popular narrative around religion today is that all religions have something to offer and none is any better than the others. I say the popular narrative because the adherents to a number of religions including Christianity would strongly deny that final assertion. We can certainly learn some things from other religions but at the centre of Christianity is the understanding that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and that no-one comes to God except through him. Muslims would disagree of course as would most Buddhists. But because we’re supposedly a Christian country we especially get criticised for that claim to uniqueness.
Well, you may not be surprised to know that nothing much has changed in this respect over the last 2000 years. As I mentioned last week, the church in Colossae was being infiltrated by a group of people who claimed that belief in Jesus was OK but he was neither the only way to God nor the most effective way. In fact it seems they had a three pronged approach to getting closer to God.
They claimed that they could show you a special form of spiritual knowledge and faith that would allow your spirit to be freed from the limitations of your physical body. This was important because in their view the material world was evil and therefore so too was the human body. Connected with this, they taught that Jesus didn’t really have a physical body otherwise he would have been tainted by sin. Rather he was a purely spiritual being with just the appearance of a human.
They promoted the observation of various forms of personal abstinence that would assist you in overcoming the shortcomings of your material body: for example prolonged fasting, which they thought would help you to achieve personal perfection; not bodily perfection but spiritual perfection.
They also suggested that you needed the assistance of angelic beings and other mediators to communicate most effectively with God.
The result of this teaching was twofold: on one hand it led to severe asceticism, denying the body through fasting, etc.; and on the other hand, because the physical body didn’t matter, any sort of physical sin was just fine.
So Paul sets out to demonstrate how wrong these false teachers are. His first corrective is what we saw at the end of the passage last week. They needed to remember that
Christ is the Saviour and Redeemer of Us All
If you’re seeking perfection in order to be acceptable to God, you’ve missed the point. It’s Jesus who’s made us acceptable to God. As he says: “1:13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” If we’re worried about our fallen bodies, our innate failure most of the time to do what God wants, we should listen to the gospel. Jesus has redeemed our fallen bodies. God has transferred us into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. “Transfer” there is a reference to the way ancient kings would take a conquered population from their own country to another that he’s conquered previously; except in this case God’s transferring a population that’s been brought out of captivity, back to freedom in his own kingdom.
Then as he moves on into this passionate description of the Lord we worship, Paul highlights the fourfold relationship of Jesus Christ to the creation. Now I imagine most of you have heard all this before. It’s not new to us, but do you remember what Paul said at the beginning of the letter? He wrote to remind them of what they’d heard in the beginning. And he did that because we all need to be reminded from time to time where our faith comes from, what it stands on. We need that because the voices we hear all around us will try to undermine that foundation.
So let’s recall who it is we worship and what he’s done for us.
He Predates the Creation
He begins by reminding us that Jesus, the Son, is the image of the invisible God? So what does that mean? Well, it means more than he just looks like the God. He means that he’s an exact representation and revelation of God. So when the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father in John 14 he was able to say “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. Why is that important? Well, because since the fall humanity has been banished from God’s presence; hidden from him because of our sin. But the wonder and blessing of the incarnation, of Jesus coming to us as a human being, is that it allowed us to see what otherwise was invisible; that is, the very essence of God. Observing the created world may give us something of the idea of God but only Jesus reveals the true nature and essence of God, in anywhere near its fullness.
And he’s described as the firstborn of all creation. That isn’t saying he’s part of the creation, since the next phrase explains that he was the creator. Rather it means he has a pre-eminent place over creation. Creation is subject to him as its Lord.
He Created All Things
He’s preeminent because in him everything was created, both visible and invisible. We know from the gospel accounts that Jesus commanded the winds and the waves and they obeyed him. We know that he commanded evil spirits and they departed from the people who’d been under their control. For those listening to the false teachers in Colossae it was important to understand that the angels and spirits they were being encouraged to call upon were also created by Christ and under his lordship. For us in this scientific age we need to understand that all the great things science has revealed to us came about because God made the world that way. The latest Apple phone only works because we’ve worked out how to harness the possibilities of God’s creation.
All Things Exist For Him
Not only was the creation brought about through his action, it was done for his use, his pleasure? For those who are interested in philosophy, it might be interesting to understand that for Greek philosophers everything needed a primary cause (a plan or intention), an instrumental cause (the power by which it was achieved) and a final cause (its purpose). And here we find that Jesus Christ is the primary cause (he planned it all before it was made); he’s the instrumental cause (it’s through him that creation came about) and he’s the final cause (he did it for his own pleasure).
The implication of all that is that if creation exists through and for him, then there can’t be anything in creation that’s evil of itself. Certainly things can go wrong because the creation is broken as a result of the fall. And creation can certainly be used for evil purposes but the evil there comes from the user not from the creation. So again these false teachers have got it wrong. There’s nothing about the creation that we should avoid as long as we use it as God would want it to be used.
He Holds All Things Together
The next statement is perhaps the most mind boggling of the lot: “in him all things hold together”. I’m not sure what a scientist would say if you asked her why the earth keeps spinning at exactly one revolution every 24 hours without slowing down but the Bible’s answer is that Jesus Christ keeps it going that way as its creator.
Christ is the Head of the Church
Not only does he keep the creation together he also keeps the church together as its head. Head by the way is often used by Paul to indicate the source of our life and growth, like the head of a river. You’ll see that in Ephesians 4:16 where he refers to Christ as our head “16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.”
Christ is the head because he’s the beginning, that is the originator, of the church and the firstborn from the dead; again, not the first ever but the primary one; primary because his rising from death was to eternal life and brought about the possibility of resurrection to eternal life for everyone else. And so he has the first place in everything.
Are you ever tempted to find the arguments for the equality of all religions convincing? There are plenty of people who would argue that there are lots of ways to God. But the point here is that Jesus Christ is in a class of his own. He’s the creator. He’s the saviour. He’s the head of the Church. He’s the one who’s made a way for us to come to God.
Christ is the Beloved of the Father
And he’s the Beloved of the Father (1:13).
In fact he’s not just beloved. We’re told all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him. That is, the sum total of all God’s power and attributes makes its home in him. In other words God doesn’t just bless him with divine attributes. They’re actually part of his essential being. He is God incarnate. And because he’s God in human form he’s able to reconcile the entire creation to himself by making peace through his blood on the cross. As I said, the result of Adam and Eve’s decision to disobey God, to not follow his rules, was that all of their descendants, including us, were estranged from God. We didn’t want him to rule over us. Instead, we were hostile towards him. That doesn’t mean we actively wanted to attack God. It’s more that whenever we’re told not to do something we immediately want to do it, or vice versa. Do you find that? There are some things you’d never think of doing but if someone tells you not to do then there’s an itching desire to just try it. Or maybe that’s just me. You see, that’s our rebellious human nature coming out.
But Jesus has come in human form, in a real human body, to undo that first act of rebellion, to restore the image of God in a human body, to renew humanity. His death on our behalf and his resurrection to new life has reconciled our fleshly bodies, so we can be presented holy and blameless and irreproachable before God.
Is that a relief? To know that despite your human weakness, human failures, despite your ongoing sinfulness, you’ll appear before God’s throne in the end, blameless and irreproachable. It’s mind blowing isn’t it?
Though, as he says, that’s provided we continue established and steadfast in that faith. This is an architectural metaphor written to a city that was known for earthquakes and tremors. It’s a picture of buildings set on firm foundations that remain stable even when the ground around them shifts. That firm foundation, as we saw last week, is the hope of the gospel that they’ve heard and, as we’ve read this week, the knowledge that the person we worship is the image of the invisible God and the creator of the world and everything in it. This is an encouragement to refuse the false teachers and remain faithful to the message of the gospel that they first heard.
When you think about all of this, when you read this hymn of praise to Jesus Christ, does it make you wonder why anyone would abandon such a faith, such a saviour? We are the beneficiaries of a gift beyond human imagining. The God who created the world chose to become one of us so he could take us to live with him in eternity. And, as Paul says he’s done, all we have to do is accept that gift and choose to serve him for the rest of our lives.