4 February 2018
Second Sunday before Lent
Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:1-14
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who is Jesus?
Perhaps a strange opening question in this context but, actually, our answer to that question is hugely important.
Who is Jesus, to you?
Was he simply a wise and good man who did good deeds and said nice things but perhaps went too far in challenging the authority of the Temple and of Rome and was killed for his efforts?
Many people would take that view, including many atheists, and many self-help books are willing to quote Jesus the sage, alongside sayings of the Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi.
Was Jesus perhaps a divinely inspired Prophet of God, standing firmly in the line of old testament prophets and encouraging people to practise their faith without hypocrisy? Islam certainly takes that view of him – not as divine but as a divinely inspired prophet, preparing the way for God’s final prophet Mohammed.
Perhaps you are sitting there thinking, I am a Christian, of course I believe that Jesus is God’s son.
If that’s you then what does it mean for Jesus to be God’s son? After all, aren’t we all God’s children?
When did Jesus become God’s son? When he was conceived at the Annunciation? When he was born at the nativity? Perhaps when he was presented in the Temple or even when he was baptised as an adult and God said: ‘This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased’.
And what does it mean to refer as Jesus as the Son of God at all? Is he human or is he God and, if the latter, then is he somehow junior to or inferior to God the Father?
I would just reiterate at this point that this is not simply abstract theology – how we think about Jesus, what we say about him and how we live our lives following the Jesus event, if I can call it that, is of huge importance to our lives and our faith as Christians.
So, Who is Jesus?
This morning we heard two beautiful readings which seek to nudge us closer to understanding the answer to that question.
You may have been surprised to hear the reading from John 1 again, coming so hot on the heels of Christmas. They are wonderful words and imagery, and I shall touch on them today, but I wanted to think mostly about the reading from the letter to the Colossians, which we don’t hear very often.
The reading is from Colossians 1 verses 15 to 20. Depending upon the translation one looks at these verses have an almost poetic feel to them. It is thought either that Paul may have been quoting from an existing hymn about Jesus when he wrote these words or that they were so poetic that they were taken and used as a hymn – certainly some of the lines appear in the creed. It is not a long reading so I am going to look at each of the five verses in turn.
v.15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
I talk often of us being made in the image of God, and I do so because I think it is important – as we uncover or recover the image of God in which we are made, which is so often disfigured by our sin, then we become more and more the people that God made us to be.
But this verse is saying something a little different. It does not say that Jesus was made in the image of God, because that is no different from anyone else, it says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. If you want to know what God looks like then you just have to look at Jesus. That doesn’t mean that God looks like a young, perhaps bearded man, from 1st century Israel, although that may well be the face we encounter when we come face to face with God. It means more than that – Jesus is the image of God in what he said, what he did and what he achieved. In Jesus the image of God was never marred or spoiled so, in him, we see the true image.
The firstborn over all creation. How can Jesus be the firstborn? Surely Mary was born before Jesus. Of course Jesus the human person was born at a particular place and time. But this is talking about the divine nature of Jesus – his Godliness if you will, which was in existence before anything was created. This should remind us of John 1: “He was with God in the beginning.”
So although Jesus was born in human flesh some 2000 years ago here we are told, not once but twice, that God the Son existed with God the Father before all things.
Verse 16 takes things further: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”
Again this echoes the words of John and makes the point, loud and clear, that Jesus was not simply born into a creation made by God the Father, rather that Jesus as God the Son was part of the creative power behind the universe itself. And it is fascinating that this list does not just include the natural world, but also includes the powers and authorities of this world. Of course all people and authorities are subject to sin and disobedience, and Jesus the man suffered at the hands of earthly authority, but it is interesting to reflect that behind our human structures can still lie the hand of a creative God.
Verse 17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
You may have noticed that we have already departed a long way from Jesus being a good man or even a prophet. Not only was he present with God the Father and brought all things into being, but his creative power actually holds all things together. This is saying that no Jesus, no nothing.
If there is no Jesus there is nothing at all.
Verse 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 supremacy.”
I have heard far too many stories about people either coming to church or leaving the church because of who their priest is, or who the archbishop or the pope is and wars were fought in this country over who should be head of the church. Well, we should never let any of that stuff change our faith because Jesus is head of the Church, always has been and always will be. When I or, Christopher or, later this year, Nicky celebrate communion in this church we are each of us simply standing in the place of Jesus, who is the true celebrant and head of the church.
This verse also tells us that Jesus was not only the first of all creation but also firstborn from the dead. This reminds us not only of the resurrection but also of the fact that the resurrection is not intended as a one time only event for Jesus – he is the firstborn because he leads the way for all those who follow him.
Verse 19: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”
Jesus, as God the Son, is in no way inferior to or less than God the Father – all the fullness of God dwells in him. God the Son doesn’t just share the DNA of God the Father – this is true God from true God.
Finally verse 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.”
The God who created all things, and who holds all things together, was born on earth in the person of Jesus for a mission and a purpose – to reconcile, to bring back together in peace and harmony, all of his creation. The image of the invisible God seeks to restore the image of God in creation. And he did so through the shedding of his blood on the cross.
The fact that God can bleed reminds us that the creator of the universe became fully human – this was not God pretending to be human nor a human pretending to be God – but this was Jesus, God the Son, who was fully human and fully God and who shed his blood on the cross to reconcile us with God.
Jesus was no sage, or good man, or prophet.
Jesus was and is God. God the Son who created all things, who holds all things together and who restores all things to their proper relationship with God by his death on the cross. But who was not defeated by death, he trampled down death by being the firstborn from the dead and when we join ourselves to him we don’t just join a church but we become brothers and sisters in Christ and adopted children of God, heirs to the promise of new and eternal life in God, because of Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is?