When I began this series I took issue with the strap line on our noticeboard. To claim to be God centred is fine for religious people, but we are more specific than that, because we are Christ centred. There are many people and faiths that are God centred – Muslims, Seikhs, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers. However, what is understood by God will be different for each of these groups. When we say that we are God centred, we are not meaning a general concept of God that anyone can buy into on their own terms, or to be so vague as to be meaningless.
We don’t believe that God is found in nature, but revealed in creation. We don’t believe that God is in the stars, but that they declare God’s glory. We don’t believe that God is a higher power on whom we call to face each day, but a loving heavenly Father revealed in Jesus Christ. We don’t have a vague concept of God and who God is, but believe that he is revealed in Jesus Christ.
There are many cultures and many faiths in our society, and secularism is increasing in dominance. Pluralism recognises that there are many faiths and many ways of understanding the world and viewing life, some of which are not religious at all. That someone else’s view may deserve respect, I agree with. However, no-one believes all worldviews are worthy of respect. To move from showing respect to different views to saying that all religions are the same, each expressing a different pathway, but ultimately leading to the same God, displays misunderstanding of those religions and worldviews.
The passage from Colossians declares quite clearly the uniqueness of Jesus in ways that no other religion speaks of its prophets or founders. It is the insistence of this uniqueness that has got Christians into trouble down through the centuries and continues to do so. We cannot say that he is one among many, that he is a way of meeting with God or that he is on par with other deities. This passage makes that clear.
The first bold statement Paul makes concerning Jesus is that he is the image of the invisible God and that the fullness of God was and is in him. It is the claim of Christmas that God came to earth in the form of a baby and allowed himself to be constrained in human form. It is the statement of Genesis 1
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”…So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Not only does God make humankind in his own likeness, he also takes on that likeness in perfect form, bringing together the physical and the spiritual.
It is the opening of John’s gospel as he writes, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ There is no separation of God and Jesus – they are united. John also points to the fact that God became incarnate and lived among people
‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
It is the opening words of Hebrews:
‘In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’
The Bible is quite clear that Jesus is God incarnate and that in him we see the creator and sustainer of all things.
There is also the claim that the whole of creation came into being through Jesus: ‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.’ This underlines the unity of the godhead. Difficult as the concept of Trinity may be to get our heads round, we do not worship three gods, but one united God in three persons. One God made manifest in Jesus Christ and living in his people through the Holy Spirit.
Paul declares that Jesus has supremacy over all. This is demonstrated by his presence in creation, having the fullness of God through incarnation, being the first born raised from the dead and the one who brings reconciliation between God and humankind. Paul is making the point that Jesus is all sufficient for believers and they don’t need any add ons or upgrades. There are no more superior powers, because he is the one who was there at the dawn of time and there was no other. Why the need for this? Well very early on the Christian church suffered from those who began to claim special spiritual powers, a closer connection to God than others, a special revelation. Paul not only reassures the Colossians that their faith is genuine – something that is shown in their lives and caused people to comment; he very firmly gives them the reasons why they don’t have to worry or listen to these new teachers that were emerging.
My first experience of this sort of thing was when I was helping to run a youth group and some people from another church were saying that the youngsters were Christians but somehow it wasn’t the real deal and they needed the Holy Spirit. They needed to experience the Holy Spirit in the way they claimed to have done through speaking in tongues, which lets face it is easily faked and fails to take into account what Paul said about the use of tongues. It is the old story of Christian spiritual elitism, which Paul told the Colossian Christians was nonsense. They didn’t need anything else, they didn’t need special spiritual knowledge, they didn’t need a new experience. The only thing they needed was to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and to continue in faith living in the light of his forgiveness and salvation – which they were already doing. Paul told the Corinthians there was only one Lord and Saviour and that was Jesus and that you can only genuinely declare Jesus is Lord by the Holy Spirit. Genuine faith is demonstrated in a changed and changing life that seeks to conform to Jesus.
There is only one to whom we look and whose authority we accept – that of Jesus Christ. In order to do that we need to know, absorb understand and apply his teaching, which comes back to my old hobby horse of reading the gospels. It seems that the people disturbing the Colossians were setting themselves up as an authority. Paul pulls them back to Jesus and connects them with those who lived and walked and talked with Jesus – remember they didn’t have the gospels or the letters that we have. They are the focus of one of those letters so that we can learn and generations could be informed and guided.
Christians have fallen prey to many deceiving teachers who have used the gospel for their own ends and to promote themselves. We see it time and again in sects that have sprung up. Whatever teacher may come onto the scene, they are subject to the authority of Jesus through the scriptures and his teaching in the gospels. When people fall foul of distorted versions of the gospel (whether it is prosperity teaching or that everyone should be healed all the time); when people become victims of those serving their own ends, making a name for themselves or seeking to line their pockets, it is often because they don’t know what Jesus taught in the gospels well enough, and subject these teachers to his authority. Paul is reminding the Colossians not to become sidetracked by new personalities but to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.
‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.’
It really is true that there is nothing new under the sun. People have always and I suppose will always be susceptible for whatever reason to those who preach another gospel. And we shouldn’t think we are above this because at the moment we feel secure. Take the example of scammers on the internet. Professional people who use the internet all the time, taking all the precautions possible, have still become victims of scammers. As Christian believers, there may be a moment of weakness when we fall victim to the lies and deceptions of the evil one, if we are not firmly rooted in the teaching of Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to be at work – reassuring, leading and correcting.
Another point Paul makes is that the work of God and the work of Jesus is one. That is why he emphasised the unity of the godhead in creation and he makes the point that it is the Godhead at work in redemption. God through Christ was reconciling the world to himself in the sacrifice on the cross. God through Jesus turned enemies into friends, strangers into family, the guilty into the acquitted. There is no other religion that makes this claim. No other religion that can give this assurance. No other religion that can promise this reconciliation with the creator from whom we have become alienated.
One final point to make this morning is that God is not distant from his creation and had not abandoned his creation. God did not and does not despise the material nature of his creation and the material beings he created. 2 Corinthians 5:19 again: God was in Christ reconciling the world himself. This was important for the Colossians and the early Christians, because there was a movement around that said the material was inferior to the spiritual and the material was unclean so God could have nothing to do with it. In this opening, Paul is making the point that God was very much involved in the creation and in reconciliation he was central. God has reconciled the world and will bring in the new creation at the end of time. It is important for us to hear because there can be a tendency to make the same mistake and believe that God is only interested in the spiritual. In the incarnation of Jesus he showed otherwise.
These verses at the beginning of Colossians were a reassurance for those Christians and a reassurance for us. They sum up very clearly who Jesus is, his unity with God, his supremacy over all things and his authority in the church. They unify the work of God in the world and bring the material and spiritual together, because they are one. We are followers of Jesus Christ.