Simon Ponsonby, from St. Aldates Church in Oxford is leading the Main Bible Teaching at Spring Harvest this week, and he’s speaking this morning on Colossians 1:12-23: Giving thanks to the Father.
Laurence of Arabia grew up in Oxford. His mother heard the then Rector Canon Christopher, moved to Oxford after becoming a Christian whilst on holiday at the Isle of Wight. His brother and his mother went to be missionaries from St. Aldates to the China Inland Mission. Laurence of Arabia later in life said I only believe in the first four words of the creed: “I believe in God”. Is that enough? James says so what, even the demons believe in God. This God, this eternal father is revealed concretely, incarnately in the person of Jesus Christ. Karl Barth said “Jesus is the centre of the creed”. How do we know what the Father is like, because Christ shows us what the Father is like.
The Colossian church weren’t satisfied with Christ. Despite in 2:6 receiving Jesus as Lord they moved onto higher things. In 2:8 they were following hollow and deceptive philosophies. There is a lot of this in the church as well as the world. Too often we think Jesus is not enough, but we’ve been taken captive by false prophets. They exchanged freedom in Christ, moving from a religion focussed on special dates, astrology, diets and more. Paul wants to put Christ back in the centre of the Church. As J. John says if you take Christ out of Christian you’re only left with Ian and he can’t help you.
We believe in Jesus who is God with us
Verse 15-20 generally regarded as an early creed. Almost certainly they’re not Paul’s words but he is echoing back a creed, hymn or song that was written, possibly even in this church. Listen you’re singing this song, you wrote this song, but do you really understand the reality behind the propositions you are saying. So often we just sing songs and say religious statemtns, it is imperative that we understand the reality of what we are saying.
There are so many people who have fallen away from church having led worship and more, and that’s because there is a disconnect between their words and their reality.
There are 14 specific responses name as Jesus, He or Him with personal pronoun. It is all about Him, it is to Him, it isn’t for our benefit it is for His benefit. We delight in worship, but it is not about us. It is about Him and what He has done for us. Once asked about the worship, and said he didn’t think much about it. We think we’re the adjudicator of good worship. But God said, “I liked it”, oops!
Oswald Saunders said worship is “the adoring contemplation of God”. When he draws near it is wonderful to be in His presence, but regardless of that He deserves our worship.
Michelangelo was asked by his pupil Raphael to comment on a picture of Jesus. He went round and looked and wrote a comment. Raphael came back to find that Michelangelo had painted in huge letters “Amplius” – make it bigger – make Jesus bigger.
The challenge is is Christ at the centre of our Christianity.
It magnifies Jesus’ divinity
In v. 15 he is the seen, unseen God. The word image is “ikon” from which we get icon. It refers to an exact copy or portrait. Philo referred to it when speaking about logos, the human mind. Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
It is polemic in challenging the false doctrine that had seeped into the Colossian church. It was an early form of Gnosticism, a dualist idea driving a huge wedge between the divine and matter. Matter doesn’t matter to God, God who was Spirit and good. We get to God through secret keys, secret knowledge, opening secret doors with special prophets having special knowledge and passwords of access into the divine. If we are matter, and matter doesn’t matter to God who is Jesus, he can’t be Spirit as he is matter, but he can’t be matter as he is more like God. He is more a demi-God, a mishmash. Paul says he is both fully God and fully man. All the fulness of God dwelt, in verse 19, dwelling amongst us.
Dwelling is a great Old Testament theme, as he dwelled and lived among the Israelites now dwells amongst them. Verse 17: he is before all things – he is the ancient of days become flesh. As a little child once said, he was born when he was old. He didn’t suddenly become God at his baptism, he was the eternal logos.
Verse 18: He is the beginning, like Genesis 1:1. Jesus doesn’t just break into time, he was before all time, he is Alpha and Omega.
Verse 16 he highlights his creativity. The Gnostics emphasised levels of distinction, here Paul challenges this. Jesus stands over all these categories and levels. This is why we worship.
The Greek and Roman Gods struggled to hold up earth and sun etc., in the classical atlases, e.g. Hercules straining to hold the earth up. Mother Julian of Norwich presented the concept of Jesus holding the world as an acorn, spinning it in his palm.
Blaise Pascal: “Jesus is the centre of everything, and he is the object of everything, and those who don’t know that know nothing.” Science’s Grand Theory of Everything – how does quantum physics link with Newton etc., is there an overarching theory that makes sense of it all – yes it is Christ, the Logos!
We need to amplify our conception of Christ. He is not just the person who may or may not heal your toothache he is the Lord of all the universe.
It magnifies his supremacy
The word all in Greek means all. All things are created by and for him, all things are held together by him. All, every. “There is not a square inch of the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ who is supreme over all says ‘mine!’”.
Jesus is the head of the body, the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury good though they are are not the head of the body. Men are not the head of the body, Jesus is the head of the body. If you lose connection with your head you lose connection with the nervous system. It is always back to Christ, the supreme centre of operations. Kierkagaard said the church is like a train carriage that in uncouple from its locomotive that is rolling but will soon come to a stop and may even go backwards. We know people who get disconnected from the head, who have lost their faith, made life altering decisions.
We believe in Jesus who is God for us
Not so much in the song, but v 12-14 and v. 22 which bracket or sandwich the song. In the hymn we celebrate the person of Jesus Christ, God who is with us, but around this Paul is celebrating the God who is for us. The reason he is with us is to be for us. His back is not turned toward us.
Some of you think God is against you. Loved Pete Greig when he said sometimes he thinks God is after him, if he hasn’t had a quiet time etc. What a man of God he is. Because God is so awesome, and we are so creaturely, we live in fear of a Monty Python foot coming out of a cloud and squashing us.
He is not a moral traffic warden, he is not out to get you. He is out to get you out, out of your sin, darkness, bondage, away from judgement and brought into the light of God.
v. 12 the Father has qualified us. Some people think they stand over God qualifying whether or not he can exist. We don’t qualify ourselves for God or make ourselves acceptable, God qualifies us.
We are lost if you have to qualify yourself. Colossians thought it was your work, your merit, your clothes, no God qualifies us. Like the Prodigal Son you say you bring nothing, he didn’t say he was bringing anything.
Karl Barth said “so often we are refugees from grace, so often we try to do it on our own.”
We need to condor our inheritance
V. 12, we have an inheritance. Some of you are worried about your inheritance, and think your parents will live forever and you won’t get any inheritance. Dad collects antiques, others call it tack, and he says “one day son this will all be yours!” That’s what God does for us, sharing in the inheritance of the Saints. These glorious universe on universe on universe will be ours.
Recently been a circuit of books about people who claim to have visited heaven. They are as realistic as the Hobbit, their vision is not big enough. This world has no analogous correspondent to this.
V. 13 he has delivered us from the powers of darkness. He has delivered us from sin and condemnation. Note the tense, he has delivered us. Some Christians tie themselves in knots thinking they are still entrapped by the enemy. He has done it.
Much of the Colossian church was focussed on a spiritually of dualism, and if they didn’t do the right thing then evil would gain the upper hand. A lot of spiritual warfare rests on this theology, but he has delivered us, and we are mopping up before his return.
We love rags to riches stories, e.g. Les Miserables, Oliver Twist, Shrek, Cinderella. They are archetypes that touch something deep in our psyche as they are our story.
Redemption: to be bought out of slavery, used for the Israelites taken out of Egypt and brought into the land and brought into life. He brings us out and redeems us. Reconciliation: in the Greek it becomes he lassoos us. Brought to God, to an inheritance, to a new kingdom, to eternal life.