“I BELEIVE IN JESUS CHRIST”

COLOSSIANS 1:15-23

 

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            At many grocery stores you can buy half of a fruit, like half a watermelon or half a cantaloupe.  Besides not buying more than you need, this also helps you judge something about the ripeness of the fruit, if not the taste.

            That reminds me of a woman who went to a grocery store and asked to buy half a grapefruit.  The clerk asked her to wait while he checked on that possibility.  He went to the back of the store and said to the manager, “There is some nut here who wants to buy half a grapefruit.”  Then he glanced over his shoulder and noticed that this woman had followed him to the back of the store, so he said, “And this gracious lady is willing to buy the other half.”  The manager was much impressed by the quick wit of this young clerk.  So, later he said to him, “You could have a bright future in the business.  By the way, where are you from?”  The young man said, “I am from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the home of ugly women and great hockey teams.”  The manager frowned and said, “My wife is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” and the young man replied, “And what hockey team did she play for?”

            Half of a fruit can be a good thing to have, but half of a gospel is a disaster. That was the problem in the early church.  Some false teachers were traveling around dispensing “fruity ideas,” “half truths,” particularly about Jesus Christ.  The false teachers were called “Gnostics,” a term that meant “the knowledgeable ones” or “the intellectual ones.”  They believed that Jesus could not have been God’s Son because God would not allow himself to be contaminated by this sinful world, and much of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written to refute these Gnostics.

            And think of our verses for today as a precursor to the Apostle’s Creed.  In all likelihood, what Paul writes in verses fifteen through twenty is an adaption of a creed that was circulating in the early church about Jesus.  This creed would have predated the gospels.  You see, the early saints needed something to cement their understanding of who Jesus was and is, so this creed, some think it was an early hymn, began circulating among Christian communities as a way of clarifying and cementing their understanding about Jesus.  Paul, then takes this familiar hymn or creed, and puts it in his letter to combat the Gnostic, half-baked heresy, which threatened the church’s understanding of Jesus.

            Let’s look at some of the highlights of this creed.  There are four.  Let’s begin with the first highlight ... He is the image of the invisible God.  Then skip down with me to verse 19 ... For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

            In other words, the creed begins by underscoring THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST.  Jesus is not some lesser God, a junior version of the real thing, he is the real thing.  All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him.

            You no doubt have heard of Nikon cameras.  Maybe you own one.  Well, the name “Nikon” is based on the Greek word here of “image.”  The Greek word is “eikon.”  It’s spelled “e-i-k-o-n.”  It referred to a precise reproduction or representation.  Think of it as a “good” picture or an “accurate” picture, image of God.  It’s not like a picture you would get on your drivers’s license, it is a good picture.   

            Occasionally when I’m visiting in homes, I notice a family portrait hanging on the wall.  Usually it is easy for me to see the resemblance between the portrait and that family, but occasionally I’m tempted to ask, “Who in the world are these folks in the portrait?”  I’m reminded of the woman who paid $5000 to have her portrait painted.  She went by the studio on the day it was to be ready.  When she saw it, she was horrified. She said to the artist, “I’m not going to pay you for that painting. It does not do me justice.”  He replied, “What you need, madam, is not justice but mercy.”

            Paul reminds us that in Jesus we see an exact likeness, a just picture, of God the Father.  If we want to we what God is like all we need to do is look at Jesus.  If you want to see God’s power, watch Jesus hushing a stormy sea with just a word.  If you want to see God’s wisdom, imagine yourself seated with that vast throng on a grassy Galilean hillside as he delivered his Sermon on the Mount.  If you want to see God’s righteousness, watch this fiery Jesus kicking over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, protecting the sanctity of worship and the poor people from exploitation.  If you want to see God’s compassion, watch Jesus weep with grieving friends over the death of his friend Lazarus.  Or watch him touch the lepers from whom everybody else ran.  Or watch him defend a terrified, guilty adulterous woman.  If you want to see God’s forgiveness, watch Jesus as he hangs on a cross, looking down on those who had hammered stakes through his flesh and had gambled for his clothes; and instead of cursing them, he cries out, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

            Jesus is what God is like.  So, first of all, Paul affirms the full divinity of Jesus.  He’s not a half-baked God, as the Gnostics would say, but full-baked, the real thing.  Secondly, according to Paul, CHRIST GIVES MEANING TO ALL OF CREATION.

            Paul writes that Christ is, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers - all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

            I’m reminded of a passage in Dr. Robert Schuller's book, Believe in God Who Believes in You.  In the book Schuller deals with Dr. Stephen W. Hawking's concept of "Theory of Everything" " called TOE for short.   Stephen W. Hawking is a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University and one of the world's most brilliant minds.  Listen to Hawking’s words.  He writes, The universe is a closed system.  We don't need to suppose there's something outside the universe which is not subject to its law.  It is the claim that the laws of science are sufficient to explain the universe.

            This "Theory of Everything" causes people to stop and ask: "If laws of science can explain everything, then where does God fit in?"

            Hawking's credentials are impeccable.  When he speaks, people listen.  They believe him, but let me share the rest of the story.  Hawking goes on to say, Even if we had a TOE we would still be left with one final question.  What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?

            For Paul, the “what is it” is Jesus Christ.  He is the “TOE," the theory of everything.  To get a picture not only of God but also the meaning of reality, look at Christ.  He holds everything together.  His life and ministry give meaning and purpose and fire to the created order.  Without Christ the world would be a jumble of relative laws and incoherent principles. 

            Let’s review.  Christ is the image of the invisible God and, secondly, he gives meaning to all of creation.  But there's more.  The creed or hymn also affirms that CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might have first place in everything.

            Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty.  Up to this point we might get lost in the philosophical abstractions in the creed, but it's easy for us to understand that Christ is head of the church.

            Maybe you heard about the man who drove into a small county seat town looking for the Church of God.  The stranger asked a man he found whittling on the courthouse steps.  "Church of God, you want?" asked the whittler.  "Well now, there's a big church over there called the Baptist Church but it really belongs to Mr. Jones.  He runs it.  There is a beautiful church on yonder corner some call Presbyterian but it belongs to Mr. McGregor.  He runs it.  There's a building around the corner I've heard called a synagogue but Mr. Stein calls the shots there.  Then there's the cathedral but Mrs. O'Murphy is the boss there.  You know, stranger, I don't believe God has a church in this town."  There are some churches in which that little story would be painfully true.

            I am not the head of this church.  You are not the head of this church.  Christ is the head of this church. 

            There is a church in the southern United States that no longer exists, due in part to an incident that took place in the church kitchen one Sunday afternoon.

            A new family had arrived to take part in their first pot-luck luncheon. The aroma of casseroles, baked beans, and Tater-Tot dishes wafted through the building. The unsuspecting wife cheerfully brought her red gelatin salad to the kitchen, and headed back to the fellowship hall to join her family.

            The moment the pastor said "Amen," hungry parishioners politely charged for the serving line.  There were dozens of dishes to sample. "Where's our salad?" the woman's husband asked innocently.

            "There must be some mistake," she said. "I'll find out what happened." She reached the kitchen door in time to witness the queen of the kitchen ladling the last of her salad into the disposal.

            "What are you doing?" the newcomer shrieked. "That's my salad!"

            Without batting an eye, the woman looked up and said, "You're new to this church.  You'll soon learn we use only real whipped cream around here, not Cool Whip." She hit the switch.  The garbage disposal rumbled and gurgled and sucked the salad down the drain.  That one incident started a significant church battle that escalated into all-out war.[1]

            It seems incredible that such a thing could happen where Jesus Christ is head of a group of people and that is just the point.  He was not the head of that church.  The woman operating the garbage disposal was.  None of us is the head of this church.  We are the body.  Jesus Christ and Christ alone is the head of the church!

            But there is one thing more the hymn or creed affirms about Christ: HE IS THE RECONCILER BETWEEN GOD AND HUMANITY.   Paul writes: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood on the cross.

            A Russian fable tells of two men, a wealthy man and his servant, unable to reach their destination before nightfall due to a blinding blizzard.  The next morning friends searched for them and finally found the master, frozen to death, face down in the snow.

When they lifted him they found the servant, cold but alive.  He survived and told how the master had voluntarily placed himself on top of the servant so the servant could live. 

            Jesus is the master who died for the servants. 

            Speaking of death, a wealthy man who was powerful and influential died.  At his funeral there were many prestigious people from the political and business levels of society.  As these people drove up the road to the cemetery, they saw a huge throng of people walking up the roadway.  The sidewalks were so filled with people that many had to walk off the curb into the street.  A man in one of the limos wondered to himself, "Are all of these people coming to the funeral of Mr. Jones?"  All the people that were walking were simple people and didn't look well-dressed.  As they neared the front of the cemetery, the crowd thickened to where a police escort had to make way for the limousines.  Finally, the man's curiosity got the best of him.  He poked his head out of the window and asked the officer, "Who are all of these people?"

            "They are all here for the woman's funeral," the policeman told him.

            The man in the limo was shocked. "What woman?" he asked. "Who could be so important?  Who is she?"

            "Did you pass the school on the way here?" the policeman asked the man.

            "Yes, we did," the man answered.

            The policeman responded, "She was the crossing guard for twenty-nine years. These are the families of all the children she took care of all those years."

            The creed affirms that Jesus is our crossing guard.  He is our bridge to the Father.  By his death on the cross he has reconciled sinful humanity to its Creator.  He is the image of the invisible God.  He gives meaning to all of creation.  He is the head of the church. He is the one who reconciles us to God.

            Let’s affirm our faith.  Take out the pew Bible. Turn to Colossians 1:15.  Let’s affirm what we believe about Christ by reading verses fifteen through twenty.


[1] "How to Split Your Church,” Robert Moeller, MOODY, February 1995, pp. 22-23.