Psalm 139, Colossians 1:15-23
November 9, 2014
“If only we could get back to the first century church!” I remember a friend in college saying that. He was talking about all the differences between the various denominations and the different beliefs of the Christian Church, and how frustrating that was to him. So he said, “If only we could get back to the first century church!” And what he meant by that was, “If only we could get back to the time before all the differences in belief were formed. Then we’d be better off!”
Have you ever heard anybody say that? I have to admit I had some of those feelings myself in those days. That was a time in my life when I was trying to figure out what I believed, and why I believed it. And there did seem to be a lot of differences between the various denominations! There was even a certain amount of animosity between some of them! And that was confusing! Why couldn’t we all just believe the same things?
Well, fast forward to now. And as I’ve had the chance over the years to study and to look back on the first century Church, as I’ve had the opportunity to dig into the life and times of believers in those early days, I’ve come to realize that it wasn’t as simple as that. In fact, not only did those people believe different things too, but in those early days, many people weren’t sure what to believe!
Remember, this was all so new! And many people were hearing about this guy Jesus for the very first time. And frankly, he “rocked the world” of many traditional beliefs and practices! So, there was a lot of questioning going on in those days, and a lot of confusion! People weren’t sure what to make of all the different viewpoints!
That’s one part of this. The other part is that, much of what we think of as the “traditional understanding” of the Jesus, was not defined then – not the way it is today. The Church’s understanding of Jesus was not really spelled out until the time of the first Christian Council. Do you remember when that was? It was in the city of Nicea in the year 325AD. That’s three centuries after the time of Jesus! By that time, all the apostles were gone! And remember, they were the Church’s authority. But all that was left of them was their writings, many of which were then included in the Christian Bible – which was also being decided at that same council.
So think about it. For the first three centuries, Christians were guided in their beliefs mainly by their leaders. Again, it was the apostles at first – those people Jesus himself appointed. But then it was the leaders they taught, and so on, until the time of Constantine, when they all got together and talked about everything.
In the meantime – and this is the thing we didn’t realize back in college – there were a lot of different ideas floating around! Especially in that first century! Some were saying he was God. Others said “No, he was only human.” Some said a person had to become Jewish in order to be a Christian, others said “No, that’s not necessary.” And there were a lot of what came to be called “heresies” in those days. And so, in the early days of the Church, Paul and the other apostles had to help the people “wade through” all of that! It turns out the first century wasn’t so simple after all!
Well, this book, the book of Colossians, is a great one for understanding that world. Because it was written to a church that had heard a number of different opinions about Jesus. And they had a lot of questions! So Paul wrote this letter in order to dispel some of the false teachings, and to define things about Jesus as concisely and as decisively as he could. Hence the wonderful words we have in this first chapter.
Listen to these words again. “He (Jesus) is the (visible) image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities. All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Those are great words, aren’t they? Jesus is the image of God! And Paul doesn’t just mean that he “looks like God.” He’s saying Jesus is God! And so I would say, that if ever you are doubting the lordship or the deity of Jesus Christ, or if ever you are doubtful of what his purpose was here on Earth, then head straight for Colossians 1! (Do not pass Go. Do not collect Two Hundred Dollars!!!) But more than that, this is also the place to go if you want to know what all of that means to you! Paul defines that here, too. Listen to the next few verses. “And (so) you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind… he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.”
That’s what he – he who is the visible image of the invisible God – that’s what he has done for you! Do you see how clear and concise this is? Jesus is God! He has come! He has died! He is risen! And he did all that to reconciled you, “in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable!” That’s the story. That’s the deal! And that’s pretty amazing!
But it doesn’t end there. It’s not as simple as just knowing that – as amazing as that is! There’s one more part of this. There’s just one more provision. And here it is. All of that happens, “provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard…” (And of which you are stewards, I might add!)
That’s Christianity boiled down to its simplest and yet its most powerful form. And it’s laid out in a very neat progression! 1) Jesus is who he is. 2) Because of who he is, he has redeemed us. And, 3) We continue in the faith because Jesus is who he is and because of what he has done for us. Let me say that again more concisely. Jesus is who he is. He has redeemed us. And we continue in the faith because of that.
That’s a great little progression! And it’s the Christian faith, stripped down to it’s bare essentials. And the great thing is that you can jump in on it at any point you need. If you aren’t sure who Jesus is, read the first part of this again. “He is the visible image of the invisible God…” And if you aren’t sure what he has done for you, read the second part. “he has reconciled you, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him!” And if you are having trouble “keeping the faith,” read both of the first two parts! They all work together, and they are all easy to understand. If you don’t remember them, go to your Bible and read Colossians 1. Or take the printed copy of this message when you leave. Or read it again on the Church website!
And so, as we close, brothers and sisters, I would say to you what Paul would say to you! Keep the faith! Continue in the hope of the Gospel because of what Jesus has done for you. And know, that he is “the visible image of the invisible God.”
And to him be the glory, honor, and praise, now and forever, world without end, Amen!
Eternal God, we thank you. We thank you for sending your son in your image. We thank you for redeeming us through him. We thank you for your love and Grace, which surrounds us now and always. Help us to remember these things and to continue in the faith, rejoicing in the hope we have in you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.