INTRODUCTION: To understand this Christ, all we have to do is look at His Words and His works. More importantly to understand God, all we have to do is look at His Words and His works of His Son.
EASLEY: Well Christmas is everywhere, in the shopping malls, even on the radio. We hear a lot in the media about Christmas being vilified, about we can’t say Merry Christmas, and yet music plays. It plays in department stores, it plays underneath a lot of things, whether it’s a radio broadcast or a television special. We hear a lot of Christian, patively Christian music that’s used for these specials. But do the men and women who produce, and sing, who perform, do they understand? Do they embrace the lyric? Do they embrace the story? Or is it just packaged in this holiday winter Christmas kind of genre that we all use this time of year? We’ve been listening to the Pentatonix version of Mary Did You Know. Not sure what they think about the lyrics that they’re singing, but as you and I approach this season and we look at a passage in Colossians in two parts about the firstborn of all creation. Who is this Jesus Christ? Normally, we think of the birth narratives this time of year, but I’d like you to think a little bit deeper and to think about who this incomparable Christ is. Let’s look to Colossians, Chapter one, verses 15 and following.
After the 9/11 incident, Cindy and I and the family were living in the Washington DC, Northern Virginia area. The day of that of course, we all remember where we were. We were right across the street from an Afghan Mosque, our church was situated. We had a relationship with the mosque of a sort. We had had meals with the imam and some of his leaders on a number of occasions; we had broken bread with them and reached out to them in friendship. On Friday afternoons, our church parking lot in Northern Virginia looked like a cab depot because all the Muslim men would park their cabs in our church parking lot and walk across the street to the mosque because they didn’t have any parking spaces. So we had carried on this relationship with them and after the 9/11 incident police cars surrounded the mosque, both protecting them and us, if you will. It began a difficult relationship as we went forward knowing how to process through all of that. A few days later, the media swarmed the mosque and as media representatives came around, both the Red Cross, the Police Station, police officers and so forth talking to the public through media about the mosque and how we were going forward as friends and neighbors and so forth was a difficult time. The Imam sent one of his men over to find me at the church and said, “Would you come and speak before the cameras?” which I did not want to do and he persuaded me and I went over and stood in the shadows of the fence line. In the parking lot, there were several hundred people. Of course, we couldn’t enter the mosque, so we sat in chairs in the parking lot; they had a little small parking area there. I listened to speaker after speaker talk about what the Red Cross was doing, about what the police were doing, and some of the other media spokes men and women. Then the Imam got up and gave a traditional Islamic blessing, the one true god, Allah and his only prophet, Muhammad and on and on. The group responded obviously quite well to his remarks and then I was motioned to come up. So I walked up and I don’t know what you would say and I’m not a media guru by any stretch. But I went up and I looked at this audience; many of them I had come to know and half the population in that parking lot were folks from our church. I said, “The same government that affords your Imam the freedom to give the traditional Islamic blessing is the same government that affords me the freedom to say Jesus Christ says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; and no one comes to the Father, except through me.” And I went on to talk about the Imam and our breaking bread and our having a friendship of a kind and that we would continue to be friends; we would continue to be neighbors because in our government, in our land, in our great country, we have this freedom to express our religious beliefs without fear of persecution. Well, our remarks were not well received. It was as though I had thrown a hot water blanket over the whole thing.The anger and push back was very evident. As I went on to try to say, “We will be neighbors, but we won’t agree on what we believe and that’s still ok, because we have a country that affords us that privilege.”
Whether there’s a war on Christmas or not, I will leave for you to decide; whether there’s a sense that we can’t say Merry Christmas and you’ve got to say Happy Winter Solstice or whatever you want to say. Just don’t let them understand the word holiday means Holy Day and we’re still pretty good when they say “Happy Holiday.” How do we navigate a culture that seems and it sometimes feels like we’re the only group you can vilify? I don’t want to be polemic; I don’t want to go out and carry banners and get in front of cameras, and scream and yell like some people do, but I want to enjoy the privileges and freedoms we have to open this book and to sing the songs we just sang, and to not fear the government or anybody else to tell me what I can or cannot do when it comes to my faith in Christ. It seems like that’s why this country was founded. It could change.
Christmas is a complicated time because we’re driven by culture, by consumerism, by materialism, by children and grandchildren, by traditions, by expectations of what the season supposed to be like. Some of us it’s a hard time, some of us it’s very difficult because of strained relationships, broken families, lost loved ones, geographic separation, on and on we could go. For some Christmas is a very difficult time. For others it’s like crack cocaine; we can’t get enough of it. It’s just this narcotic, this drug that we just keep on decorating, and consuming, and buying and the planning, and looking forward to the comfort foods and what means Christmas to you or me. How do we navigate it all?
We’ve been during it all trying to focus on the time of Christmas, the time of Christ’s birth, the timing of God entering through Mary the Virgin, fully God, fully man, Jesus being born. We’ve chosen some different passages. I’ve chosen to use some of Paul’s Christmas section if you will and I would like to use another one today out of Colossians Chapter 1. I’d invite you to stand and we will read it together as Paul instructed, “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” So let’s read well this section of Colossians Chapter 1:15 through 20. We can read from the screen and read the same version together. Would you read in unison with me?
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers or authorities- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
You can be seated. This is very likely a hymn in the first century. Verses 13 and 14 speak of Christ rescuing us and transferring us to the Kingdom of God. We’re being rescued from our sin; from a world of sin and transferred into the Kingdom of His Beloved Son in whom we have this redemption. The hymn we just read has at least seven and I want to point out seven unique characteristics about our Christ. Seven unique characteristics. I’ll repeat them many times for the super Godly who take notes and refer later. So you’ll have many chances to catch them all so don’t fret or be anxious if you don’t get them the first time. The first one is: 1) Christ is the image. The image of God. Image in our text is the word icon. Now we know a desktop icon or shortcut to a program, but in the first century the term meant more of an impress or a dye on a coin. So if you look at a quarter, a U.S. currency quarter, you have George Washington’s impress on that coin. That’s the idea; there was an impression made on that coin, a dye made the face of George on that coin. The word is an exact representation; a perfect manifestation in Jesus Christ. One author describes Jesus as the portrait of God. I like that, but it fails in many ways. He’s not just a picture; He’s the exact representation of God. Hebrews 1: 3 and He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. Question: What is God like? Answer: Look at Jesus Christ. What does God think? Answer: Look at Jesus Christ. Study the words and works of Jesus and you will understand what God is like, what God thinks. Many years ago, we had the WWJD craze. We had bangles, and bracelets, and hoola hoops, and lanyards, and key fobs and hats, and visors, and stress balls. You name it, we had WWJD stuff going everywhere. My wife wanted a sterling silver WWJD bracelet which she still has by the way. She wears it no longer, but still has it. I asked her the other day, “You still have it?” She said, “Yeah, I’m going to look for it. I found it, I can’t believe it. But I do have to polish it.” She polished it up so you could see that she had a WWJD bracelet. When these came out, I remember wishing it had been WWJT- What would Jesus think? Not just what He would do. Spy novel thing, it’s a good reminder. The media since has made great mockery of it, against us. They still use it once in a while to make fun of us. It’s fine. Doesn’t bother me at all. It gets the name of Jesus out there. It’s all good. But what does Jesus think? What does He do? What is He like? To understand this Christ, all we have to do is look at His words and His works, more importantly, to understand God all we have to do is look at His words and His works of His Son. In Romans 1:20, Christ has made the invisible, visible. Listen carefully…For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes; the things we can’t see. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, Listen! and eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen. His invisible attributes are clearly seen; being understood through what has been made, that they are without excuse. II Corinthians 4:4 in similar fashion. In the case the god of this world, has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they may not see the light of the gospel, the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Same word, the icon of God. The exact representation of God. Christ the invisible, has become visible for what God has done. He is the perfect image, the perfect nature of God. It was clearly seen, but it was invisible.
When we look at nature sometimes, we say we see God in nature. We don’t want to be pantheistic and worship God through nature. We don’t hug a tree or pray to a rock. But when you look at nature, you see evidence of a creator. Young man, when we were in the DC area, we love him but we also secretly hate him. He made a 4.0. This was before you could make 5.2 type GPA’s. But he made a 4.0 and he made perfect scores on the SAT and ACT. That’s just wrong. Those people are ill. I’m sorry. But he made a perfect score and got a full ride to a very prestigious university. He went on to med school. He double majored in pre-med and biological engineering. He came home for a break and I ran into him one time. You know, people that are that smart sometimes they intimidate us and they’re a little odd. In God’s great sense of humor, He compensates. if you’re that smart, you’re weird. Right? I mean, come on. Come on. I mean sometimes it’s better to be normal, but anyway, love this young man. I said, “Tell me about your experience. What’s it like?” He said, “Michael, the pre-med they’re all evolutionary folks, but the biological engineering, many of the men and women who teach are Christians.” I was going, “Explain that to me.” Now you don’t ask a really smart person a stupid question, but I did. He goes, “Well think about it. When you’re in pre-med and med school, it’s all comparative anatomy. It’s all comparing to animals and how things function, and respiratory systems, but when you’re in engineering, it’s design. It’s how things work, it’s how they got there, it’s why they’re the way they are. So those people are looking through a presupposition of design.” We talk about intelligent design; the big theology word is the ontological argument. Big word! You look at nature; you look at the stars; you look at the data the hubble brings in and you go, “Wow!” It keeps on going. We can’t figure it out. Jesus Christ is the image of God and He has taken what was invisible and has made it visible to those who can see, who are not blind. Number 1: He’s the image.
Number 2) He’s the firstborn over creation, vs 15. This does not mean He was the first person ever created. For example, our friends who call themselves, Jehovahs’ Witness, would argue. This means that He has always existed. He is the preeminent. He has the first place as the Creator. He has always existed. He was first there when Adam was made in the image of God, talked many times, the Adam, (pronounced in Hebrew) is a wordplay. The dirt was made into Adam. So God in Jesus Christ fashioned the sandman and breathes the breath of life and he becomes an animate being. He’s the image bearer of Christ. He’s the image of God. In fact, John Francis Wade, 1740ish wrote a very wonderful Christmas song we all love to sing, Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him, the adoration, the advent of Jesus. Listen to one stanza:
“True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal, Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s Womb;” He eternally existed, but He wasn’t unwilling to be born a virgin. “Lo, not He shuns not the Virgin’s Womb.”
Listen to this. “Son of the Father, begotten, not created.” He got it. “Son of the Father, begotten.” He wasn’t created. He’s always existed and He entered time in a unique time. Galatians 4:4 Under the law born of a virgin. To be the firstborn is of course to have special rank. It would be common for Judaism to understand the privilege of the firstborn. The rites that fall for the firstborn. Now, of course, we want to be careful today in our politically correct world, self esteem worshiping culture, and so on and so forth but there’s something about the firstborn. It doesn’t matter if they’re the compliant person or the rebellious difficult one. There’s just something about the firstborn. They have a certain preeminence. A lot of it’s because we learn how to parent because we do all the mistakes with the first born so they’ve got to live up to expectations that none of the other kids have to live up to. My sister who’s eight years older than me, she’s the first born. When my father was dying, Joanna was the one with all the information, not Steve who’s the far smarter of the three of us, not me. That wasn’t even a consideration. Joanna got all the information and he told Joanna how things were to be done. She’s the firstborn and she has a rank and she did it very well and still takes care of mom very well. It’s not just privilege though; it’s preeminence; preexisting. He’s always existing. As I read in Psalm 89, as we began our service, I shall make HIm My firstborn. he’s speaking about David, also about Christ. I will make Him My firstborn. He’s always existed. The highest of Kings over heaven. The highest of the Kings of the earth. So Christ eternally existing will humble Himself to be born of a virgin emptying Himself, to become our Saviour. He is the very being and very nature of God.
Number 1) He is the icon, the image of God. Number 2) He’s the firstborn over creation. Number 3) He’s the Creator. Vs. 16 and 17. I want you to notice the prepositional phrases. This is not complex grammar. It’s easy to see. These are like little yellow flags as you read your Bible. You’ll see by Him, through Him, for Him, in Him. Most of your translations will say in Him, through Him, for Him, in Him. The prepositions is just that, for, of, because, for, in, with; those phrases carry us along in language usually explaining, expanding something. I won’t bore you too much with the grammar. I wanted to show you the four: by Him, through Him, for Him, and in Him. Let’s look at each briefly as Paul explains Christ is the Creator. First of all, by Him, all things were created. Notice the list: in the heavens and the earth, so that is the universe. Secondly, the visible and invisible, the material and the immaterial. That’s what we can’t see and we can see. Thirdly, thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. This one gets some intrigue because this has to do with the angelic spiritual realm that Scripture teaches is there, but we don’t have a lot of specific data on what’s going on. We have a lot of information about angels, elect and evil, but the angelic realm is shrouded in mystery for good reason. But Paul here through God’s Spirit is telling us Christ is the Creator, by Him, He created that angelic realm. He created the thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. He has eternally existed. He existed before the angels existed, before these spiritual realms that we can’t see and He was the one who created them. Now the Colossians were taken, if you read the book of Colossians. They were taken with the angelic spiritual realm. That was their hot topic. That was their popular thing. You might remember, some of us were old enough to remember when the angel thing came through television and the Raphael Angels were on shirts, and coffee mugs, and you could by them in Hobby Lobby, and Michaels. All the Raphael thing came back and now it’s in garage sells and basements, but these things come and go and we get very intrigued. We have shows about angels, Touched By an Angel, and so forth and so on. All this angelic intrigue for a period of time because we’re interested in what’s going on in that spiritual realm that we can’t see but that does exist. There are a number of people on television this time of year, talking about near death experiences. One that has been very interesting to me and I’ve listened to him being interviewed a number of times. I’ve not read his book, nor will I after the last interview, but he was dead for a period of time and comes and tells us everything is going to be fine. He didn’t believe in God and now he does. He’s telling people his experience and to his great credit I guess making lots of money with his book, and so forth and so on. As I listen to the last interview he gave, he is talking heresy. But the public is intrigued by this notion of a near death experience. What happens? We all see the bright white light. Neuroscientists have some good explanation for that. There’s a kind person at the end of that white tunnel. Well I don’t even want to pretend to guess, or have a guess what people are experiencing. What I can tell you is not what this teaches. If you have not trusted in Christ, and Christ alone for your salvation, there is no good ending. Anything that teaches something different as he goes on to expound that everybody’s is going to be ok and euphemistically speaks evil and gloss terms, he’s missing the mark. He’s teaching heresy. Put your thinking caps on men and women when people are selling snake oil. Just like you don’t invest in a bad investment, you don’t invest in bad theology. Put your Biblical ears and eyes on when you listen and read these things. But we’re intrigued by thrones, and dominions, and rulers, and what’s out there. What Paul, and what I want you to see is, Jesus created that realm. He’s bigger than what we can imagine.
So while all the trappings of Christmas might distract us or even discourage us, I hope you’ll remember who this Jesus is, that you’ll see that ,He’s bigger than we have ever imagined as the firstborn of creation. Join us next time as we continue Colossians, Chapter 1, vs 15-20. The Time of the Firstborn. This is Michael Easley inContext.
SONG: Mary Did You Know?