(Please read Colossians 1:13-23 in your Bible. I have cited the NIV below.)
Jesus surrendered His life on the cross so we might live eternally.
One of the errors that threatened the first century Church, one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter, sounds very familiar to our ears as it is a growing error of our age as well. It is the failure to understand who Jesus Christ is. The understanding that is part of true and saving faith is that Jesus Christ is both God and Man. Anything else is false.
One of the oft-repeated things said about our youngest generation especially is that they want Jesus but they don’t want the Church. That’s error enough, but what really matters is the Jesus they want is one who’s been watered down to the level of political correctness, a Jesus that avoids offense at all costs. Anything other than the biblical view of Jesus is a false, worldly creation, impotent to save and not worth worshiping. Easter is robbed of its meaning and is a superstitious celebration of Spring.
I’ve learned a new word this week: “glurge.” Dictionary.com defines glurge as “stories, often sent by email, that are supposed to be true and uplifting, but which are often fabricated and sentimental.”
(Retrieved at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/glurge on 3/24/16.)
I learned this word because I almost shared a glurge with you to introduce this morning’s message. It seems that a story has been circulating around the Internet since 2001 that tells how Dr. Robert Schuller’s teenage daughter Carol (NOT Cindy), was in a motorcycle accident having a leg amputated. As the story goes this accident lead to an exchange of letters between Carol and actor John Wayne. Allegedly, Carol’s letter lead to “the Duke” receiving Jesus as his Savior three weeks before his death.
(To see this used as a sermon illustration by Jimmy Haile, (“Hope for the Hopeless,” 7/16/2011), go to http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-christianwitness-79891.asp to see it largely refuted, go to http://www.snopes.com/glurge/duke.asp or https://www.truthorfiction.com/johnwayne-schuller/.)
Unfortunately, the only parts of the story that can be confirmed as true are Carol’s accident and John Wayne’s death. If the rest of the story were true, you’d assume that Dr. Schuller would have told such an inspiring story in his own pulpit, but he never did. Too many people have decided that the Bible and the view of Jesus it presents are a “glurge.” They deny the truth of Easter and some go so far as to deny that Jesus existed.
And with these denials, they forfeit their only hope for life. Only the true Jesus offers any hope for a life of meaning in this world and eternal life after death.
You may not have known it before now, but part of the reason we’re here this morning is to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is NOT a glurge and that just as He lives, so shall all who – by faith – put their complete trust in Him.
- Jesus is supreme (15-19).
Verse fifteen states that He is the IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD. The word IMAGE has two meanings in the biblical Greek language.
The first is “likeness.” As you might expect, this refers to a reproduction of appearance such in a mirror or other reflective surface, or a portrait intended to be as realistic a depiction as possible. One way the ancients honored their rulers and heroes was to put their eikon, their portrait, on a coin. Wait. We do the same thing, don’t we? On a physical, scientific level, this sounds like nonsense: how do you reflect someone who is invisible?
The second is “Manifestation.” This is not a physical reproduction, but an emotional/personal/spiritual one. It can truly be said that Jesus reflected God the Father in thinking, feeling, morality, and spirituality. This is the meaning Paul intended.
The Greek word in question is eikon, from which we get an English word familiar to computer users and Orthodox Christians: “icon.” In computer usage, an icon is not a program, file, or website, but a picture that you associate with a program, file, or website, and the means of accessing them.
According to Genesis 1:26-27, God created humanity in his IMAGE; to be an “icon” that points back to him. A problem arose when our parents Adam and Eve sinned against God. The stopped being an accurate representation of God. Sin marred them and they were no longer a manifestation of God’s presence.
William Barclay commented on this word, “’Look at this Jesus. He shows you not only what God is; he also shows you what man was meant to be. Here is manhood as God designed it. Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and the perfect manifestation of man.’” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)
Also in verse fifteen, He is the FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION. In their culture, the firstborn son enjoyed privileges and rights that none of the other offspring held. He was his father’s representative and primary heir. In the Old Testament, this title is reserved for the Messiah. But here FIRSTBORN is a title of honor and rank more than a statement of birth order. Paul’s use of the term is not to imply that Jesus was created, but that He existed before creation and holds authority over creation.
That is why Paul wrote OVER ALL CREATION. God the Son played an active role in creation, as Paul makes clear in vs. 16+17: it is stated so plainly and forcefully, no comment is needed.
We need to appreciate this point because it makes the Incarnation so much more powerful; it gauges the depth of His sacrifice. Think of it: the Creator made Himself subject to creation!
In verse eighteen it is written that He is the HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH. In this Greek, the word HEAD has these two meanings.
The first is what we’d expect from our own use of the English term. A person who is “head” of an organization is its leader, its chief executive officer.
The second is unfamiliar to us; Greek scientists considered the head to be the source of the body. In intercourse, the man supplied the head and in gestation, the limbs and body descended from the head. So they thought of Jesus as the source of the Church’s existence.
In Hebrews 12:2, Paul identifies Jesus as the AUTHOR of our FAITH. Jesus is the Writer, the Originator of the story of the Church. Whether or not we’ve taken the story in the direction the Author intended, well, that’s a discussion for another day.
One of Paul’s frequently used metaphors for the Church is THE human BODY. In this physical life, the head guides the body. The function of all the organs and life itself depends on the brain inside the head. The Church is called the Body of Christ so that we never forget from whom we came and always maintain the greatest possible reflection and imitation of the life of our HEAD, Jesus Christ.
Also in verse eighteen, He is THE BEGINNING, THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD. These phrases sound like repeats or restatements of what we’ve already learned. But the details of the Bible are important, so we know this is not just repetition. Instead, it reveals a new truth and looks ahead to the resurrection of the faithful to eternal life.
By virtue of His death and resurrection, Jesus is the BEGINNING of the resurrection that puts God’s people in heaven. The Resurrection of Jesus set into motion a series of events that have been playing out in human history ever since, events that will culminate in His Second Coming and our being raised to eternal life.
Here the word FIRSTBORN does mean first in the sense of order. Jesus is the first person to be resurrected from death to life. This means our resurrection will be similar to His.
In vs. 19 we read that IN HIM ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL. The focus here is on the word FULLNESS. It means that the entirety of what it means to be God could be found in Jesus. He is not a “second rate” version of God, but God in flesh. Picking up the picture of an “icon” again, we can say that Jesus is not just a sketch of God, but he is a full and personal testimony to all that God is.
I like the part that says THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL in Jesus. Remember that on more than one occasion in His ministry years, God the Father expressed His pleasure with Jesus by means of a supernatural voice that came from heaven itself! In the Greek the word DWELL suggests a permanent residence, not a temporary one. The divine side of Jesus’ nature is permanent; He always has been God and He always will be God.
In verse nineteen Paul wrote that He has FIRST PLACE IN EVERYTHING. The phrase FIRST PLACE is a description of authority. Having a divine nature, Jesus also exerts divine authority over EVERYTHING.
This is what Paul wrote to the Philippian believers; in response to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, God the Father recognized His ultimate authority: THEREFORE GOD ALSO HIGHLY EXALTED HIM AND GAVE HIM THE NAME THAT IS ABOVE EVERY NAME, SO THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BEND, IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH AND UNDER THE EARTH, AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Let’s look one last time at that Greek word eikon which is so important to our understanding of why Jesus was born into the human family in the first place; why He ministered, then was killed and raised to life. Jesus is the means by which God became personal to His people, a revelation of man’s ideal and God’s eternal nature.
Here’s what William Barclay wrote, “Eikon…was the word which was used for portrait in Greek. But this word had still another use. When a legal document was drawn up, such as a receipt or IOU, it always included a description of the chief characteristics and distinguishing marks of the contracting parties, so that there could be no mistake.” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)
One of God’s purposes in this text is to remove all doubt about the person and nature of Jesus Christ. He was and is God. It’s mind-boggling to think that God would choose to become part of His creation; that He would suffer insult, pain, and death at the hands of people He created.
What grand motive would compel such a choice? We’ve spent the last seven weeks examining several motives. Today we’ve begun to look at the effect of Jesus’ choice: our salvation. Jesus did it to save us.
Primarily, this was to save us from eternal death, to bring us to life just as He had been brought to life. Jesus wants to share His life with us.
But it isn’t just eternal life Jesus wants to share. It is, secondarily, abundant life in this world. Abundant life is found in choosing to be like Jesus. It is experienced when we act as icons of Jesus, personal manifestations of His character, acting in obedience to His will.