He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20)
Who do you think Jesus is? For two thousand years people have given their opinions, their answers to this question. It has not gone away, because the answer you give has enormous consequences. You might express an opinion about the Prime Minister or some celebrity, and ten years later your answer is irrelevant. Not so the answer to this question.
Who do you think Jesus is? Not your parents or friends, but you. Who is Jesus? Not the church, or a particular denomination but Jesus himself.
I wonder what your answer would be? For many he is a teacher or a healer. The Pharisees thought he was a companion of the wrong sorts of people, and Caiaphas thought his a blasphemer, worthy of death. Judas Iscariot saw a failed revolutionary, worthy of betrayal. Who do you think Jesus is?
The answer to that question is gloriously answered in today passage. Paul paints a vast picture on an eternal canvas, and it is a portrait worthy of our attention. In it we find our vision of Christ enlarged, and so perhaps we should simply gaze upon what Paul displays.
Paul begins: “he is the image of the invisible God”. That is a vast claim - Jesus is the visible form of God. He is divinity displayed to the human race. Once Philip, one of the disciples, asked Jesus to “show us the Father” (meaning God). Jesus’ reply was breathtaking: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8–9). “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. Perhaps you might dwell on that claim for a moment!
Then, as if to prove his point, Paul goes on to say that this Jesus is the creator of everything, an echo of the first chapter of John’s gospel where we read: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Again, dwell over that claim. The man who gave up his life on a cross is the same man who breathed life into creation. Everything is created through him: there is nothing that does not owe its existence to Christ. Consider that. All things.
Do you remember the story of Jesus asleep in the boat as a huge storm whips up (Mark 4;:35-41)? The disciples shook him awake: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”. He awoke and said “Peace! Be Still”. And it was. You see, “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). There is nothing that can look Jesus in the eye and claim superiority. Not even those who knelt on his chest and drove nails into his hands and his feet.
But, you might say, that was then. That’s two thousand years ago, when men wore sandals and dresses. The events of creation are lost in the mists of time. That’s true, but today’s passage goes on to say that he is the head of the Church, and that means when you threw your lot in with him, based your life on him, you became part of him. The church is called the body of Christ and Christians make up that body. We exist as part of him. When we look at Jesus’ death we can cry “Alleluia” because we too will follow him through death into glory. We can bring his good news to the poor, we can set free the oppressed. We have the same future as he has., a future beyond death. A future which takes the sting out of death.
And then Paul throws in a twist. We are presented with Jesus, the Jesus who is God. We are presented with Jesus who created everything, who sustains everything. We are presented with Jesus who is the power behind the church, who gives us hope, who gives us a future, who gives us meaning to our lives. And then he says he was killed:
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19–20)
If you or I were to design a God we would make an all powerful conquering, powerful God. We would make a God who snapped fingers and everything OK. A God who never left his armchair throne. Jesus, though, is a different God. He is a God who brings peace through the shedding of his blood. A God who pours out his own life to give us eternal life. The creator of life gave up his life. Oh! no armchair for this God. Only a cross.
Yet we wear this cross around our necks. We hang this cross on our walls, because this cross is no defeat. This cross is the doorway into reconciliation with God. A life where heaven and earth can live together. As we pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, we follow him through death into eternity. We have a life with no fear. No fear of death. We have no fear because “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
Let me ask you again the question I asked you at the beginning: Who do you think Jesus is?
Think carefully. Don’t be satisfied with anything less than “God” as the answer. Anything less cannot save you.