by Pastor Cherie Dearth
Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night, or maybe it’s early on a Saturday morning, turned on the TV, and there’s this person talking… To you… “Do I have a deal for you, for the low low price of 19.99 … plus shipping and handling.” He or she will send you the latest cooker, baker, smoothie maker that will chop up a bushel of vegetables in 60 seconds, and wash all your dishes. If you order the next 10 minutes, they will send you a second one for free. You wonder how have you lived your life without this amazing product. Before you know it you’re calling them up to order one. You just want one. The sales rep tells you they really can’t do that. They have to send you two, and they can’t accept a PO Box address either… And it goes on getting more complicated by the minute.
This is kind of how the Colossians felt. They heard the gospel from Epaphras, and then some other teachers came through, and it was getting more and more complicated. Special knowledge, special rituals. The Apostle Paul is writing these people he’s never met to provide clarification. He tells them despite all the fancy details, all the extras the new teachers brought, only one thing is important. God has rescued us from sin and death through His Son Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 6:14, “Sin shall no longer be your master.” We have been forgiven, but how can Jesus do this for us? This is where the scripture picks up this week, with one of the most powerful poems in the Bible.
Colossians 1:15-28 NIV
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 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. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 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.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 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— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move 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.
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Tom Wright tells this story. “I flicked the switch to turn on the television. I didn’t know what the program would be; I was tired of the end of long day and just wanted to relax for a few minutes.
“The sound came on a little before the picture appeared. A voice said simply, ‘This is the head.’
“At once – still before the picture – I found myself wondering what sort of head this might be. Was the program about archaeology, with people looking at a human skeleton? Or was it perhaps about a small animal or insect? Or was it about a school or college, introducing us now to its principal? Was it a particular musical instrument – the scroll and peg box of violin is called the head -? Was the program showing some coins, and pointing to the side where the monarchs head appears? Was it about the source of a river? Or the top of a full pint of beer?
“Actually, it was none of these. It was about a new type of tape recorder, where the head is the device which converts the electrical signals into recorded form. And no doubt there would have been other things that could have appeared is well.
“The poem that we just heard is based on the different meanings of the Hebrew word for head. Just like in English, in Hebrew, the word can carry several different ideas and Paul is exploring and explaining some of them.
“Christ, he says is the first born. That’s the first meeting, which comes twice and vs 15 and 18. Jesus is before all things. Jesus is the head of the body, which is the church. Jesus is the beginning.”*
The Colossians with their doubts about whether the gospel is enough need to know about the centrality and Supremacy of Jesus. In truth many of us need to be reminded of that too. We can get used to and idea of a tame Jesus with his interesting stories, advising us to turn the other cheek. The truth is that if we look those stories. They are anything but tame. They are pushing the authorities and the status quo at every turn, but we go back to our everyday lives, and we can forget. It can be easy to be enticed by the next new thing.
Paul is inviting us to remember who Jesus really is. It is similar to the opening vs of John’s gospel.
In the beginning was the Word… Jesus… And the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made it has been made. (John 1:1-3)
Compare that with what we seeing Colossians. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the first born overall creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and indivisible. (Col 1:15-16)
This image Paul mentions of the invisible God. It is the Greek word “eikon”. Like the icons you have on your phone or your computer, we click or press on the icon, and we get the real thing that is running underneath, that we can’t see.
Another way of thinking about it is this way. Imagine there is “somebody sitting in the next room, you can’t see them because there’s a wall in the way. But if there is a mirror out in the hallway, you may be able to look out of your door and see, in the mirror, the mirror image of the person in the next room. In the same way, Jesus is the mirror image of the God who is there but who we normally can’t see. We may be aware of God’s presence; many people, many religions, many systems of philosophy have admitted there is a something or somebody there. But with Jesus we find ourselves looking at the true God. [The great thing about that is] the more we look at Jesus, the more we realize that the true God is the God of utter self-giving love.”**
We live as Easter people, post resurrection, the start of the new creation. Jesus not only made the original, including the goodness we see in it every day – if we look at the news too much we can forget all the goodness that there is in the world. But we are blessed to be in Wallowa County, where all we have to do is look out the window to be reminded of the goodness in the world. Jesus was part of making it that, and he is the one who redeemed the rest, redeemed creation. Jesus is the linchpin, holding together creation and the new creation.
Jesus is our example in more ways than one. We’re most familiar with what Jesus did and taught to the disciples to do during his earthly ministry. But he is also our example on a larger scale. He was the first born before creation, but with his death and resurrection he became the first born of the new creation, what Paul here calls, “first born from a month the dead” (1:18).
We are able to experience the new creation through him and by being in him. This spring we talked a lot about what it means to be “in Christ.” One thing it means is that when you understanding except what Jesus Christ has done for you, you are “in Christ.” And what is true of Christ becomes true of you. You are regarded by God is someone without flaw. You are regarded as perfect as Christ is perfect. You are adopted into God’s family. We drew a parallel within international adoption where with the stroke of the proverbial pen, you become a citizen of a new country, and you belong to a new family. The old country no longer has any legal power over you.
The old power can come knocking at the door. When Jesus answers the door, he says, “No, you have no right no power over them. They belong to us, and they are under my protection.” He is our shield, our strong tower (Psalm 61:3). You have memories of the old life, and it may take a while for all parts of your brain to accept the reality. Often adopted children will hoard food because they used to have to do it in order to survive. It takes a while to get used to new reality. Jesus shows us what being human really means, how God designed it.
That’s the big picture, but how does it apply to us. Tom Wright describes it this way. “On the edge of Minneapolis Minnesota is a shopping center so big it there is room for an entire fun fair in the middle of it. The center is called the Mall of America. People who like shopping love the mall. You can spend all day – no all week – there, and not visit the same shop twice. You can also, of course, spend all your money there, and many people do. But I’m not a great shopper I went there to buy something once and I almost got lost.
“Fortunately, there were maps on almost every corner. I spotted one and lurch towards it. It swam before my eyes. How could I make sense of it. Then, at last, I saw the little red blob which meant You Are Here. At last I could get things in focus and find my way.”***
This realization of who Jesus really is can be overwhelming, but Paul is going to break it down into more practical terms. He is going to show us where we are on the map. He tells the Colossians they were not even on the map. Neither where we. For some of us, we got on the map before we can remember. For those of us who did not grow up in the church, our addition to the map is fairly recent.
Because they – we are inside, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. We can be brought into the very presence of God. We can do this because of what Jesus, as a human, did for us through his death. He paid the penalty for our every error, once for all. It other words, his one act did it for all eternity. But… Now that this has happened, we have some responsibilities to. To learn more about God. If we don’t continue in this relationship, we can get to wonder if it was real and drift away, or be drawn to something else, something spectacular, new and special.
But if you stay with God and develop your life of faith, hope, and love, you will learn how to live as a member of the new creation. You will have the opportunity to experience the wonderful, fulfilling existence that God intends for humans. Don’t be fooled into thinking that God wants us to be miserable, and that sin or wickedness is where all the fun is. Christ truly sets us free from all the pain in misery that “fun” causes… Maybe not necessarily for us we’re a pretty fun loving group.
But that seems to be what some people think. The Christian life must be full of misery and drudgery. This does not sound like the “abundant life” or “life to the full” that Jesus promises us and John 10: 10 (NRSV and NIV).
In verse 26 Paul admits that this is a holy mystery. This is THE secret…. The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them [to you,] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious Rich’s of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the Hope of glory (v 26-28). What was a secret is secret no more.
What more than that do we need, really? Boy do I have a deal for you! The God of the universe wants to save you and give you new life, and what do you have to do to earn it? What will it cost you? Absolutely nothing. For the low low cost of nothing, you get to become God’s adopted child. How is this possible? Why would God even want to do it? That is the mystery. That is the secret. God has redeemed the world, and God wants to include you! You can’t get a better deal than that!
* N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002, pg 149.
*** pg 154.