How often do we need to be reminded that there is One who is sufficient for us in every situation? Jesus is the One who is able to hold all things together, even when it feels like our world is falling apart. Paul, in writing to the church at Colossae, explains the identity and impact of Jesus Christ not only upon our lives, but in reality, upon all creation. The Colossians were being challenged and confronted in their faith. The temptation was to vacillate under the pressures of people promoting other ways of thinking and living. The Christians seemed out of step with the world around them. A world that was blending all kinds of various religious ideas and superstitions. It was a time very much like our own. A heresy was spreading in the church at Colossae.
The heretics, denying His humanity, viewed Christ as one of the many lesser descending spirit beings emanated from God. They taught a form of philosophical dualism, postulating that spirit was good and matter was evil. Hence, a good emanation like Christ could not take on a body composed of evil matter. The idea that God Himself could become man was absurd to them, thus they denied His deity. Nor was Christ adequate for salvation, according to the errorists. Salvation required a superior, mystical, secret knowledge, beyond that of the gospel of Christ. It also involved worshiping the good emanations (angels) and keeping the Jewish ceremonial laws.[i]
In a world of many ideas, the challenge of the Christian message that there is only one way to God seems out of step, intolerant, and even arrogant in the minds of some. It is a bold, but powerful declaration based on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The issue is one of reality. If Jesus is not just a man but also the Creator, then all creation is accountable to Him. The problem is that society, for the most part, is in a state of rebellion against their Creator. Just like those in the first century who were struggling not to conform to the pressures of their hour, we also need to come to grips with some of the challenges of our time.
Those living in Colossae, were under severe attack from those around them. In the minds of these early Christians, not only was there a sense of inferiority, but they were also experiencing an increased hostility toward them, even as we sense the same response from our culture. There are many voices making bold assertions that are conflicting with biblical values. There is a growing tension in our private worlds as we are being challenged in our faith. The result has been a growing silence from the Christian community. We are not taking the good news of God’s saving love to our world. Many today question the reliability and authority of the Scriptures. Many are witnessing the erosion of biblical standards and values, and the increase of insensitivity and sensuality. That is exactly how the apostle Paul described his own hour.
They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust [desire] for more.[ii]
But what is equally frightening is that these pressures are undermining people’s confidence and trust in God. Hopelessness seems to be extending into too many people’s lives. The question is asked in light of the outward circumstances and realities of life, “Is God really in control?” Is this world out of control? We may be wondering how long it will take before things become a crisis? Casmire Dabrowski, former professor at the University of Alberta, wrote a number of books around a concept he called, ‘positive disintegration.’
Isn’t that an oxymoron? Isn’t disintegration the opposite of growth and happiness? It would seem not. …human experience tells us that we usually grow by falling apart.[iii]
That only happens when we move away from our self-focus and turn to Christ. While that may be true for some, for others it buries them into addictions and despair. In times of perplexity, confusion, despair, and a sense of hopelessness, we must fix our gaze on Jesus. We need to rediscover the person of Jesus. Who is Jesus and what did He do, and how should that affect our lives in the 21st century? Simply put, Jesus is God stepping into our world to address the human problem. When we gain an understanding as to the identity of God in our lives, we experience the new creation. It is then we can engage with God’s purpose for our lives. Paul, in writing to the Colossians, encouraged them to stand complete in Christ. He wanted them to have a correct vision of God in order to remain steadfast and strong in faith. Even so, God desires the same for us. He wants us to remain steady even during the storms of life.
In Colossians 1:15-23, we find two truths that are designed to sustain us when our world seems to be falling apart. Jesus’ identity and mission still impacts lives today. So, who is Jesus and what did He do that is so significant that we can find hope in Him regardless of what is transpiring in our lives?
THE FIRST TRUTH THAT TRANSFORMS AND SUSTAINS US IS WHEN WE UNDERSTAND CHRIST’S IDENTITY
‘Who is Jesus?’ is the most important question that can be answered in shaping our lives both in the here and now and into eternity. Paul begins by explaining Jesus’ supremacy.
A. Jesus is the exact image of God.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.[iv]
We are created in the image of God, in that we have rational personality.
Like God, they possess intellect, emotion and will, by which they are able to think, feel, and choose. We humans are not, however, in God’s image morally, because He is holy, and we are sinful. Nor are we created in His image essentially. We do not possess His incommunicable attributes, such as omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, or omnipresence. We are human, not divine.[v]
In other words, we are not all knowing, all powerful, unchanging or everywhere present at one time. In other words, we are not God. Jesus, however, is the very image of God. He is God.
Ralph Martin relates the significance of the meaning of the word eikon, which is the Greek for the image of God.
…in ancient thought eikon was believed not only to be a plaster representation of the object so portrayed, but was thought in some way to participate in the substance of the object it symbolized. …it has a share in the reality. Indeed, it is the reality.’ Thus Christ as God’s image means that he is not a copy of God, ‘like him’ he is the objectivization of God in human life…[vi]
That’s why Jesus could say to Philip. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father (Jn 14:9).”
This was a declaration of His nature. He is God in the flesh. John begins his gospel stating this fact.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.[vii]
We have a true and not a distorted picture of God found in Jesus. When we see Him, we see God. He is the image of the invisible God. Paul describes Jesus this way in Colossians 2:9
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,”
B. The Firstborn over all Creation.
Jesus is also described here in Colossians, as the ‘firstborn over all creation.’ That expression is often misunderstood. Some groups have used this passage to suggest Jesus was a created being. However the context argues against that interpretation.
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.[viii]
Jesus did not create Himself, rather He is self-existent. This expression that He is the firstborn speaks of rank or position.
The term first-born is commonly used to mean ‘supreme’ or ‘sovereign,’ that is, ‘having the rights of the first-born. The best illustration of this usage is found in Ps. 89:27, where God says of the king, ‘And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.’ The king is not the first king ever to exist. ‘First-born is a synonym for ‘highest of the kings of the earth.’
The first-born means supreme in rank is confirmed by what Paul says in the following verses. Jesus is the agent of all creation (vs. 16) and exists before all things (vs. 17). He is not classed with the creatures but with the Creator.[ix]
John MacArthur states it this way: “…firstborn clearly means highest in rank, not first created.”[x]
C. Jesus Christ is the Creator.
Along with God, the Father and God, the Holy Spirit; we find that Jesus was involved in the creation.
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.[xi]
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.[xii]
In other words, God spoke the worlds into being. That is exactly how the book of Genesis describes how the universe came into being.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.[xiii]
Jesus Christ is above all. Jesus Christ is not just a good teacher, or a prophet. He is not just one of many gods. He is the creator of the universe. He created all angelic beings. He is above all authorities, rulers, powers or thrones. He is king of Kings and Lord of lords. He is the ruler of the universe and all creation including everyone who was created by Him and for Him, will one day give an account to Him.
D. Jesus is the Sustainer of life.
Jesus enables and sustains life. Everything is under His control. There was a little song that we used to sing, ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands.’ He’s got everything under control. He is the One holding our world together.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.[xiv]
Though, for some here today, you may feel life is out of control. Jesus is in control of our world. Victor Hugo, author of ‘Les Misérables, once wrote:
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have finished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake![xv]
Regardless of your circumstance and situation, He never sleeps nor slumbers. We are encouraged to cast our cares upon Him for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Release those anxious thoughts. God knows how to handle life. We need to allow Him to be in control of our lives. The reason why our world has not fallen apart from the hands of sinful and evil men is that God is in control. For every brutal dictator and system that threatens the existence of humanity, God has kept humanity from totally destroying our world. Though creation itself groans because of sin entering our world, which is manifested in things like tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and other what we call, ‘natural causes,’ the reality is that they are all under God’s hand. Our world is also waiting for its redemption (cf. Romans 8:20-22).
Once we see Him clearly and recognize His identity as God our Creator, the One who sustains our lives, many fears and anxieties disappear.
THE SECOND TRUTH THAT SUSTAINS US IN LIFE’S CHALLENGING MOMENTS IS WHEN WE ALLOW JESUS TO IMPACT OUR LIVES
Jesus can only help us and change us when we allow Him to. Unfortunately, many people resist and rebel against God’s will for their lives. We must entrust our lives to Him regardless of what is happening to us. We are often derailed in our lives because the focus is on our weaknesses or the challenges that seem beyond us. In our desire to make God more accessible we often focus on the humanity of Jesus, and there is nothing wrong with that, however, we must not only look at that, but remind ourselves of why He came. He is not only Creator, but also Redeemer.
He is not only the God of creation, but also of a new creation called the church. Jesus came to redeem our universe from the effects of sin and it begins in the lives of people who receive Jesus as their Lord. The church is not brick or mortar, nor a building, but it is the people that Jesus has rescued from sin.
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.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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.[xvi]
Here we have a picture from His incarnation (when He came to earth as man) to His resurrection from the dead.
N. T. Wright states concerning these verses.
The exaltation of Christ after his work on the cross gives him publicly, the status which he always in fact enjoyed as a right. The puzzle is caused by sin: though always Lord by right, he must become Lord by fact, by defeating sin and death…[xvii]
Author Max Lucado describes the pivotal nature of the cross in history and in each of our lives. It rests on the time-line of history like a compelling diamond. Its tragedy summons all sufferers. Its absurdity attracts all cynics. Its hope lures all searchers. History has idolized and despised it, gold-plated and burned it, worn and trashed it. History has done everything but ignore it. How could you ignore such a piece of lumber? Suspended on its beams is the greatest claim in history. A crucified carpenter claiming to be God on earth. Divine. Eternal. The death-slayer. Never has timber been regarded so sacred. No wonder the apostle Paul called the cross event the core of the gospel. Its bottom line sobering: if the account is true, it is history’s hinge. Period. If not, the cross is history’s hoax. Which is the cross for you, hinge or hoax? Or in the words of Jesus, ‘Who do you say that I am?’[xviii]
God is reconciling all things through the work of Christ. This reconciliation does not just extend to people but toward all creation. All creation was affected by the fall of man. Death and decay have been the result, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that everything will one day be affected as a result. The salvation that God has secured will affect every aspect of our world.
The day will come when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But for the here and now, this work of Jesus on the cross brings us to God.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
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 – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved 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.[xix]
John Chrysostom, the bishop of Antioch, wrote in the fourth century: “Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how good we are, we need God’s mercy as provided by Christ’s death and resurrection. When we put our faith in the person and work of Jesus we are saved from sin and all of its effects.
Peggy Noonan, one of the brightest journalistic minds around in a Forbes magazine article entitled, ‘You’d Cry Too If It Happened To You’ shares how eleven men and women were asked to answer the question ‘Why are we so unhappy?’ They all agreed we were unhappy because we had lost our moral and spiritual center. As Noonan stated: [Poet W. H.] Auden called his era ‘the age of anxiety.’ I think what was at the heart of the dread in those days was that we could tell we were beginning to lose God – banishing him from the scene and from our own consciousness, losing the assumption that he was part of the daily drama or its maker. It is a terrible thing when people lose God. Life is difficult, and people are afraid, and to be without God is to lose man’s greatest source of consolation and coherence …[xx]
Paul describes the condition of those without God as ‘without hope.’ Christ brings hope because He breaks into our world in weakness and offers us His strength. Eugene Peterson’s translation of this text of Colossians in his paraphrase called the Message describes the supremacy of Jesus in this way.
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank of angels – everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and – leading the resurrection parade – he is supreme in the end. From the beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything in God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that. You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned into the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other message – just this one. Every creature under heaven gets the same message.[xxi]
Is your world falling apart? Place your trust in the One who created this world! Jesus is your maker and He will be the One who will sustain you. I want to encourage you today to surrender to Him, pray and ask for His help.
[i] John MacArthur Jr. Colossians & Philemon, the MacArthur, New Testament Commentary, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1992), 44.
[ii] Ephesians 4:18-19, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iii] Ronald Rolheiser, “Let the Pain take you where you need to go,” Western Catholic Reporter, December 2006.
[iv] Colossians 1:15.
[v] John MacArthur Jr. Colossians & Philemon, 45.
[vi] Ralph P. Martin, Colossians and Philemon, The New Bible Commentary, (London: Oliphants, Marshall & Scott, 1978), 57 as quoted by R. Kent Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 168.
[vii] John 1:1-3, 14.
[ix] Thomas Trevethan, Our Joyful Confidence: The Lordship of Jesus in Colossians, (Downers Grove, Il: Inter Varsity Press, 1981), 37.
[x] John MacArthur Jr. Colossians & Philemon, 46.
[xi] Colossians 1:16.
[xii] Hebrews 11:3.
[xiii] Genesis 1:1-3.
[xiv] Colossians 1:17.
[xv] Victor Hugo, as quoted by Michael Green, ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 21.
[xvi] Colossians 1:18-20.
[xvii] N.T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Carol Streams, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 75.
[xviii] Max Lucado, The Cross, (Sisters, Or: Multnomah Press, 1998), 5.
[xix] Colossians 1:21-23.
[xx] Ravi Zacharias, “If the Foundations Be Destroyed,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 142.
[xxi] Eugene Peterson, The Message, Colossians 1:15-27, (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2002), 2145.