Over the past year I’ve learnt a lot about the media: what they value in a story; how one article feeds off another; which newspapers are always at each other’s throats. It’s been particularly interesting to observe the tricks of the trade – like ‘noddies’. The TV producer interviewing someone wants some shots of them nodding as they listen to a question – but it’s hard to get that in the actual interview. So you sit there at the end, being filmed nodding wisely – hence the term ‘noddies’.
I wonder if anyone here has been in a recording studio? I haven’t, but it must be a strange experience. Watching as a succession of musicians record their pieces in isolation. First there’s the drummer, a solid rhythm for several minutes. Then the bassist plays a few riffs. The guitarist come and goes, then the singer tries a few times to get it right. That’s why they do each separately – so if there’s a mistake they don’t get everyone doing it again. Hearing the piano, the backing vocals and every part separately sounds really strange, but then the tech guys work their magic and it ends up as a beautiful synthesis.
The Bible passage we heard from Colossians 1:15-20 is also about a beautiful synthesis. It describes how everything is held together in Christ – how believing in him gives a comprehensive world-view. Jesus makes sense of life and every area of human activity falls into place.
Yet for many of us, and for our society, our beliefs may feel more like being in that recording studio. We have a bit of scientific understanding here, maybe some superstition ‘touch wood’ there. We go to church on Sundays, but can end up with a different morality under pressure at work on Monday. There’s the person I am at home, and the happy image I project on Facebook. We easily end up living a compartmentalised existence, allowing Jesus into the smart, well-kept hallway and sitting room of our lives, but no way is he allowed to see the mess in the kitchen or all the rubbish we moved upstairs when we heard he was coming round.
It’s similar in our broader society: Christianity is one faith among many. It is tolerated in the public sphere. Christianity may be seen as a matter of curious personal morality, a spiritual comfort blanket, or a part of our heritage and custom to teach children at school.
But what Colossians 1:15-20 tells us is that Christ is the integrated centre. Believing in Jesus gives us a coherent world-view. For years science has been searching for a unified theory of everything. Remarkably Colossians tells us we already have it in Christ.
The glorious order and beauty of creation – however we think it came to pass – find their meaning in God. The wondrous things of this world are not purposeless but reveal God’s glory. By their life and flourishing and vocation they show his wisdom and love. This universe is God’s, so his presence can be discerned everywhere, we can look for meaning by his Spirit. The rulers and authorities about whom we worry so much are not all powerful – they are under God’s authority. Even the brokenness that we see all around is being redeemed. The new creation is beginning with the church and it will be fulfilled in its marvellous destiny: healed, reconciled and full of the love of Christ.
It’s worth looking at this passage more closely, so please do have it in front of you. There’s so much here – but we can’t spend all day!
v.15 says that ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God’. In other words, Jesus makes God known. When we look at Jesus we see what God is like, and he completes our understanding of God. On my computer I have a 3D printer app. It’s very clever: the idea is that I can design anything at all – from an alien spacecraft to a new hip joint. I could draw it in 3D on the laptop – and then send it over the internet to a company who will 3D print it, and drop it off to my door. It could do anything – there’s even an old lady walking around who’s got a 3D printed replacement lower jaw!
Through a 3D printer, the unseen idea becomes visible. The image becomes concrete. In Jesus, God, who is unseen, reveals himself. God who dwells in unapproachable light makes himself known to us through his Son.
So when we look at Jesus we get an accurate picture of God the Father. For me, that brings God so much closer. ‘God’ can be quite a loose word – we can have different ideas of what ‘God’ is like, depending on what we’re like. If I’m a guilty sort of person, then I’ll probably have an image of a vengeful God. If I’m complacent, then my idea of God may be a Santa in the skies. Or maybe my God won’t bother me if I don’t bother him. We can very easily make God in our own image.
But if Christ is the image of the invisible God, then we know what God is like. When Jesus heals the sick we feel God’s compassion for the suffering creation. When Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ tomb we see God’s commitment to defeat death. When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees we hear God’s passion for justice. When Jesus clears the temple we see God condemning greed and idolatry. In his words we hear God’s perfect will for us, in his forgiving embrace we feel God’s love for the world.
So, when you think of God, do you think of Jesus? If not, why not? Are there bits of the character of Jesus that you do and don’t have in your image of God? If so why? And how can you imagine God in a more Biblical way?
Jesus shows us God’s love in this physical world. For God is not part of this creation. Militant atheists like Dawkins are fond of saying that the chances of a supremely intelligent, hugely capable being arising in the universe are infinitesimally small. Which is correct. But God isn’t part of this universe, that he should arise within it. God is totally other.
The Son of God is eternal too. But in the incarnation he takes created flesh. God’s Son becomes a human being. That’s what it means in v.15 when it says that Christ is the firstborn of all creation – he also has the right of a firstborn, of inheritance. As v.16 says, everything was made by him and for him.
This doesn’t commit Christians to a naïve view of creation, as if Christ makes the world out of a kind of divine plasticine. The Big Bang and evolution are perfectly compatible with Christianity, they fit with the belief in John’s Gospel Chapter 1 that the creation is ordered and intelligible – and that sense and reason is derived from the Word of God. Paul expresses the same belief in v. 17: ‘He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.’ Christ is the Wisdom of God and that Word of God becomes flesh and dwells among us.
Does it then seem a bit odd for Paul to start talking about the church? We’ve had this amazing scenic sweep through all creation, a grand theory of everything in which Christ is the pinnacle, and now Paul’s talking about the church?
We so often sell the church short. The church is not a group of people meeting on a Sunday where we might decide to turn up if the music’s good enough. The church is spread throughout time and space, a vast army of those who have trusted in Christ, people from lands we have never heard of, people who have gone before us, who are alive with God now. The church is eternal, timeless, Christ’s treasured possession and the beginning of his new creation.
The church is all about Jesus. Particular denominations here on earth can get distracted by all kinds of issues, but we need to remember that the church’s job is to point to Christ.
There are many great things associated with the Christian faith: art, architecture, music, education, spirituality, community. Yet none of these is the ultimate purpose of the church. They’re all good things, but they need to be built on Jesus. He is the cornerstone, all else follows. That’s what we’re here for! The church is only the church insofar as it is faithful to the teaching and example of Jesus. We are here to bear witness to the resurrected one.
Verse 19 reminds us that ‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’. In other words, Jesus is fully divine. Knowing Jesus we can know God. If anyone wants to know what God is like, point them to Jesus.
For above all, Jesus shows us the immense love of God. As an accurate image of God, Christ reveals amazing things we could never have imagined had he not come.
Picture a naked man, bleeding, battered, gasping his life away, nailed to a rough wooden frame. Not exactly the first image that comes to mind if we’re asked to picture God. But that is the reality. The cross shows us the depth of God’s self-giving love. Paul has been leading up to this picture – the crucifixion of Jesus is the deepest insight into the nature of God, the most profound image of God we can have.
A God who loves us so much that he did not leave us unforgiven. He did not leave us hopeless, unable to help ourselves. Despite the immense cost, Christ sacrificed his life for us, reconciling us to God.
Later on in Colossians, Paul reflects on how this happens. In Chapter 2 verses 13-14 it says: ‘God made you alive together with Christ, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside nailing it to the cross.’
It’s like there’s a record of all the wrong things we have done. The trespasses, the things we did that we shouldn’t have – and the things we didn’t do that we really we ought to have done. For some of us this record will be long, for others a bit shorter, but I guess for each of us we wouldn’t have to think for long to appreciate what would be on that record – or how we might feel about it.
But the amazing thing is: God has taken that record away and nailed it to the cross. Does that mean it is gone forever? Yes! Because when something’s nailed to the cross, it’s the charge against you. That’s what they used to do with the charge against criminals. If a thief had been caught and sentenced, the record of their crime was nailed to the cross with them. So ‘the record that stood against us, with its legal demands’ has been nailed to the cross of Christ – the cross on which Jesus died.
The meaning is clear: Jesus died to deal with our sins. The verdict, the punishment that stood against us, has been paid for by Christ. Basically, he dies in our place. God’s Son suffers the pain involved in forgiving, gives up his life that we might live.
It’s not only for us either, but for all creation. Back to Chapter 1, verse 20: ‘through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself All Things, whether on earth or heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross.’ If you wonder about the future of our planet, if you fear for our earth and worry about how the environment can survive, then this passage can give you hope. The new beginning for us, will also be a fresh start for the whole world. God’s plan is not just for us, it’s huge.
In this we see above all what God is like. Through the whole life and ministry of Jesus, God reveals himself to us. On the cross he pours out his love for creation and calls us back to himself. What an amazing God Jesus has made known!