Christ is all you need - Colossians 1:14-23
A story is told about William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper owner who
died in 1951. He revolutionised journalism and his career was the model for
the film Citizen Kane. He was fabulously wealthy and over the years invested
a fortune in collecting great works of art. One day he read about some valuable
pieces which he must also have for his collection. So he sent his agent off
to track them down and see about acquiring them. It was several months before
the agent returned and reported to Hearst. He'd found the works Hears wanted,
but it wouldn't be possible to buy them. The truth is that they were already
sitting in Hearst's own warehouse - he'd purchased them years before.
Many Christians are like Mr Hearst, desperately searching for and longing to possess what already belongs to them. Something has persuaded them that Jesus Christ isn't quite enough to meet all their spiritual needs. So they're looking for something more: more of the Holy Spirit, more power, some kind of special experience, the higher life, the deeper life, signs, wonders, miracles, a second blessing, a third blessing, or whatever. In short, they're looking for more of God.
The Christians Paul is writing to in Colosse are in that category. Someone has got to them and influenced them into looking for something more of God than they already have in Jesus Christ. Paul is urging them not to fall for it. Why? Not because he doesn't want them to have more of God. He does. But he knows that Christ is the treasure house where God has hidden all his treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
And if many Christians don't realise the truth of that, then nobody who isn't a Christian knows it. It is only when we are persuaded that everything of God is to be found in Christ that we become Christians in the first place. And it's the only way we'll remain Christians at all.
I'm going to use an offensive word tonight. Not that I wish to be offensive, but nor am I naive. This is a word which you'll hardly ever hear in the media. If it's used, there will be howls of protest: letters, emails, faxes and phone calls. What's the word? Let me introduce you to it gently, so you can cope with it. Suppose I say that Christ makes God known to us, how many people would be offended by that? Well, quite a few!
But let me add one word, and the offence quotient (if there is such a thing) will go through the roof. Suppose I now say Only Christ makes God known to us. See my point? The stakes have suddenly been raised astronomically high. Jesus is no longer on offer as one among many. He is the one and only. That's the religious four-letter word today.
Waterstones currently has a promotion on spiritual books, called 'With you in Spirit - the best in inspirational writing'. They've chosen fifty titles to recommend. The Bible's there - in the Authorised Version. The only other Christian book is CS Lewis' Mere Christianity. There are also books on all sorts of religions, also Feng Shui and even witchcraft. The leaflet assures us that "whatever your interest - meditation or prayer, firewalking of kung fu, yogic flying or shamanic drumming - you will find something to suit your personality." Now, suppose that they'd had a promotion with the same title and had promoted only Christian books and the Bible - can you imagine the outcry?
Yet, the truth is that only Christ can reveal God to us and only Christ can reconcile us to God.
1. Only Christ can reveal God to us There are two statements here about Christ which put him out on his own. Verse 15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Verse 19: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. It's hard to get across how great a view this is of Jesus. It means we cannot think too highly of him. There's nothing of God to be known which is not in Jesus. God's not holding anything back which is not to be found in Jesus. He is fully God. If you met Jesus, you would meet God. If you know Jesus, you know God. All God's fullness dwells in him. There's no adequate human parallel to a statement like that. Even in families, where the likeness between us human beings is strongest. The older I get, the more aware I am of how like my father I am. It's uncanny, sometimes, when I look in the mirror, only to see his facial expressions. It's almost as if I'm seeing him looking back at me. Some people think it would be a big improvement if it was him instead of me. But, however much of my father you might see in me, no-one could ever say that all his fullness dwells in me.
Can I ask you: where do you expect to find more of God than in Christ? You can't do it. He is the image of the invisible God. If you go looking for other images, you'll only get dizzy and blur your vision until you lose sight even of what you already have. Jesus is literally the icon of God. That' the problem with any physical image that we create to bring us into closer touch with God, icons included. They just cannot do the job. And rather than clarifying our view of God, they only confuse it and blur our vision.
Today, some are trying to get back, behind Jesus to find God. They're looking for something more ancient, more fundamental, older than Christianity. So, New Agers say something like this: "We have a faith which is older than the creed of Christ, because it is rooted in the earth and the universe." Christianity is portrayed as the new kid on the block. But they just haven't squared with who Jesus really is. Mind you, I guess that few of us have really taken it in. Verse 16: 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. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
If that's who Christ is, how can you get back behind him? He's not so much the new kid on the block as the architect who designed the block in the first place.
Others today are trying to get ahead, beyond Christ. They're happy to say that Jesus had his day and still has an important contribution to make to the way we think and act. The best-selling book Sophie's World does just that. It gives a pretty fair summary of what Jesus taught and what Christians believe. But Jesus takes his place in a long line of philosophers: before him there's Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others - after him Hume, Hegel, Descartes and so on. But the real Jesus doesn't just take his place in history. He did come into history, but he did much more than that. He's the Lord of history, its beginning and its end....
all things were created by him and for him. How can you get ahead, beyond this Jesus? He's waiting there at the end of history to inherit it all.
"Will the real Jesus Christ please stand up?" That was the title of a feature article in the paper. After mentioning a few alternatives, the writer clearly stated his preference for the version of Jesus presented by the Gospel of Thomas, with no mention of virgin births of resurrections, but an insistence on making this world a better place,.... where Jesus becomes less the crucified and risen Lord and more a spiritual master with a timeless message for humanity. [Alan Stanford, GW w/e Jan 5 2000]. But why should anyone bother with a Jesus like that? Who needs him? There's no end to the number of spiritual gurus and religious leaders on offer who could do much the same job for us. But if he's the image of the invisible God, in whom God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell, then who could want for anything more or for anyone else? Only Christ can reveal God to us.
2. Only Christ can reconcile us to God That is, only Christ can make peace between us and God. When you fall out with someone you live with, you need to be reconciled if you're to live at peace with each other. They may have failed to do the washing-up for the third week in a row. You may have left your dirty clothes in the bathroom again.
The Bible takes it for granted that there's a gulf between God and us. There's an intellectual gulf, a gulf of knowledge, so that we can't know God unless he makes himself knwon to us. But also, and more seriously, there's a moral gulf, a gulf of goodness, such that we don't even want to know God, because he threatens the evil behaviour that we've set ourselves on. It is Jesus who bridges that gulf. He bridges the intellectual gulf by revealing God to us, and he bridges the moral gulf by reconciling us to God. Verse 19: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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. Everything has been put right through the death of Jesus. Heaven and earth are brought back into their divinely created and determined order... the universe is once again under its rightful head... cosmic peace is restored. How has this happened? through his blood shed on the cross.
Have you ever tried to do one of those 3-D wooden puzzles? It's easy enough to get them apart. They just fall apart in my hands when I look at them. But you try putting it back together again.... very hard. It turns out there's one key piece right at the centre which holds it all together. Get that right and everything else fits back together. Without it, you're completely lost and you might as well give up - except it usually takes about three and a half hours to discover that piece of information. It was very easy to shatter the peace of our world. It only took a moment to reject God, and then everything fell apart. We fell out with God, we fell out with each other, we fell out with the world we live in. It's very easy to shatter the peace. It's impossible for us to put things back together. God had to do it, and it took the blood of Christ shed on the cross. That's the vital piece at the centre of the puzzle.
Only Christ can do it because only Christ bridges the gulf for us. In his death he has taken the punishment we deserve from God. Without justice being done, there can be no real peace. But justice is done when our sin is punished in Christ and so peace is made between God and us. I expect there'll be some surprises in heaven. Surprises about who'll be there. We'll ask them, "What are you doing here?" Mind you, there'll be plenty asking us the same question. But there'll be no surprises about how they got there. Because each one will say the same: through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross... reconciled by Christ's physical body. It's the only way.
Shortly we'll be sharing bread and wine as we gather around the Lord's Table. What are doing when we do that? We're not making our peace with God. Peace was made when Jesus died on the cross. What we're doing is enjoying the peace which Jesus has won. As the bread is broken, turn your mind to his physical body broken for you. As the wine is poured out, think again of his blood shed for you. How costly that peace is - it cost Christ his life. To look for peace with God anywhere else is an insult to Christ - whether it's in a mystical experience, or in the communion ritual itself, or in an act of worship. That's to say to Jesus: "I don't think you've done enough. I think there might be another way." And we turn, to walk back across the bridge that God has thrown across the gulf, away from him.
Don't do it, says Paul to the Colossians, and God says the same to us. Once you had nothing, verse 19: you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now you have everything: he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. All that is yours. Don't give it up. You can't lose it, if (verse 23) you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved 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. The gospel where Christ is the only one to reveal God to us and the only one to reconcile us to God. Continue in that. Don't be moved from that.
If you go to see a financial adviser, you'll probably be told not to put all your eggs in one basket - it's safer to spread your risk. [I realise that for some here tonight, the thought of having that kind of financial dilemma is the stuff of dreams, but hang in there with me]. Wisdom says that if you have savings, a mortgage, life insurance, a pension that you shouldn't have them all with the same provider. Because, if that provider goes down the tubes you lose everything. Better to spread your risk and limit your liability if things go wrong. And it seems very sensible.
And many advisers on religious matters would give you much the same advice. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The safest thing is to spread them around. It would be far too risky to stake everything on a single faith or creed or religion. "What if you're wrong? And to say that there's only one basket to put your eggs into... well!" And from a human point of view, it all seems very sensible. It's just wrong, disastrously wrong.
There's one big problem with that way of thinking. God has put all his eggs in one basket. He's put all his fullness in Christ. Only Christ can reveal God to us. We have much more of God to learn, but he has no more to reveal of himself than he has revealed in Christ. And Only Christ can reconcile us to God. We have much more to receive from God, but he has no more to give than he has given us in Christ. So, if you want more of God, and that's a good thing to want, then go to Christ. That's where you'll find it, and nowhere else. And if you don't yet know God personally, then come to Christ. That's where you'll find him, and nowhere else.
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