9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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 the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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.
I grew up just north of the heart of Amish country in Ohio. As a young driver I soon knew to watch out for buggies when I drove over the hill at nighttime. I interacted with Amish men at the local auctions, where I picked up a few phrases in Pennsylvania Dutch, some of which I later learned were not necessarily appropriate. I don’t know if things have become more commercialized since my childhood years or if I am just more aware of it today, but when I go home now, I can clearly see that Amish sells. Amish romance novels, Amish cooking, Amish furniture, and Amish country vacations were never a part of my experience growing up and never a part of my vocabulary. These things may have been a part of the world around me, but I guess the phrase is true that a fish does not notice the water in which it swims.
One thing that I do recall from my coming-up years is playing with up some Amish toys in the gift shop of an Amish food restaurant. I recall holding the wooden dolls in my hands, looking down at them, and noticing something different from the toys that I had back home in my toy box. None of these toys had faces. They just had round heads with a little black hat on the boys and a little bonnet on the girls.
I must not have been the first person to notice this important detail because there was a sign posted above the dolls explaining why Amish dolls do not have faces. It was based on Exodus 20:4a, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…” (KJV).
I remember thinking on one hand how silly that seemed. I didn’t have a word for it back then, but I would probably call it legalistic today – and that would probably be the first time the Amish were called legalistic, right? But yet at this young age and in spite of my initial response of “You missed the point,” I recognized within myself a sense of respect. The Ten Commandments warned, not once, but twice, to not have engraved images. No images of things on the earth, like human beings or animals, things in the waters, like the fish of the sea, and not even images of things in heaven. That’s right, don’t even try to make an image of God. Of course the reason for doing this is to avoid any chance of worshipping the image as an idol, as the Israelites did when Moses was on Mt. Sinai.
I am not as legalistic as the Amish in a number of ways. I don’t have a problem with toys having faces, though some do have the ability to freak me out a bit. But this week I saw a toy that really made me uncomfortable. That toy is the “God Almighty” action figure. The God Almighty action figure comes complete with, and I’m not making this up, an AK-47 assault rifle and a cloak of invulnerability.
Part of me is really disgusted by this depiction of God as an AK-47 wielding super hero. Part of me wants to know where I can find one for myself. I really hope that it was made as a bit of a joke, a satire of how many people view God as the ultimate super hero. But even that is problematic for me because many people do see God in such a way. And in their minds, they make God into that kind of god.
I wonder what the most recognizable image of God is today. I would think it is probably Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In this image we see a bearded man with long, flowing hair reaching out to touch the finger of the newly-created man, known as Adam. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel during the years of 1508-1512 (and my wife gives me a hard time about how long my renovation projects last).
I bring up all of these different images of God, or lack thereof, to draw our attention to Colossians 1:15 where we are told that the Son is the image of the invisible God. Something that I believe the Amish and Moses knew is that the image we have of God in our minds affects how we view the world and how we live out our calling as Christians. If we view God as an action hero with an AK-47, we celebrate the death and destruction of those who would otherwise stand in our way. If we see God as a bearded old man, we see the world through the lens of the male perspective. But when we see God as fully realized in Jesus Christ, we see a God who has created all things and seeks to bring all things back into right relationship with himself.
I want to work through today’s scripture backwards, so we are going to address the second part first and the first part second. When we begin with the second part of today’s scripture we find what we call “High Christology.” Christology is the study of the nature of Jesus, his humanity, his divinity, his relation to the other manifestations of God in the Trinity. You know, simple stuff like that. This is a High Christology because these verses reveal the divine nature of Jesus and his role in the creation of the world as we know it. In verse 15-20 Paul equates Jesus and God the Father to one another. Jesus was there before creation, Jesus was there during creation.
Check out the second half of verse 16, “all things have been created through him and for him.” Take a look out the window. All of the beauty of creation, all of the wonderful things that we get to enjoy, they weren’t created for you. They were created through Jesus and for Jesus. We get to enjoy them, but we will get to that in the second part of the sermon.
When we read through the Bible it is important to ask why the authors wrote what they wrote when they wrote it. One of the challenges with the letters of Paul is that we only see one side of the conversation. We have Paul’s side, but we often do see directly what issue he is trying to address. We can often get an idea from the context clues, but it takes some skills to discern what the issue of the day was. For one, we need to know the situation of the world at the time Paul was writing.
The world as Paul knew it was dominated by the Romans. The Roman Empire had control over all of the major cities and ports, enforcing their laws and practices. Now the Romans were pretty open to the practice of other religions, like Judaism and Christianity, as long as that religion didn’t cause any acts of rebellion.
When one nation takes over another nation you will often see the lifestyle and beliefs of the conquering nation trickle into the world of the conquered nation, regardless of how open the dominating nation might be to other religions and beliefs. So many people believe that a part of what we find in the New Testament is a response from Jesus, the writers of the Gospels, and the writers of the Epistles to the way that the Jewish and Christian people were slowly becoming more and more Roman and less and less Christian. But remember, it is difficult to just come right out and say that the Jews and later Christians needed to stop becoming so Roman because this would be viewed as an act of rebellion against the Roman Empire and would get a person killed. Remember, Jesus was killed because the Jewish leaders lied and said he was claiming to be king.
Luke 23:1-3, “Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’ So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.”
The high priest wanted to get rid of Jesus, so he told the Romans that Jesus claimed to be king and that he was starting riots. And what did Pilate put on the sign over Jesus’ head at his crucifixion? “King of the Jews.”
So you dare not question the position, power, or role of the Roman Empire or the Roman Emperor, who was given the title “Caesar.” But what did the Romans believe that the Jews and Christians feared might find its way into their people’s system of religion?
Next week we will begin our yearly Advent series as we build up to Christmas day. There is a wonderful account of Jesus’ birth found in Luke 2, which I won’t read for you today. In the days of Jesus it was common for the birth of a future Caesar to be announced to the entire empire through a letter that was sent from town to town. That letter was called the euanglion, the Good News, or the “Gospel.” Here is a euanglion from the birth of Caesar Augustus:
Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him which Asia resolved in Smyrna.
Good tidings, savior, god, and lord are all words used to describe the Caesars. They were god in human form. Now look at the opening words of Mark’s gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Any guesses as to what the Greek word used by Mark is that is translated as “good news?” It is euanglion.
The early Christians believed that Caesar is not savior of the world, Jesus is. Caesar is not the son of God, Jesus is.
In the Roman Empire, one way to show whether you were friend or foe when you first meet another was to express your allegiance to your master, your lord, as a greeting. You might be walking down the street and meet up with another and you would pronounce, “Caesar is lord!” If they responded, “Caesar is lord!” you knew that they were on the same side as you. This is similar to the way Germans greeted one another during the reign of Hitler…just saying.
So for a Christian to announce that Jesus Christ is Lord takes on an entirely different feeling. It makes a little more sense now to read 1 Corinthians 12:3b, where Paul writes, “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” That took courage.
We come back now to this passage from Colossians where Paul is saying to the church in Colossae, Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all of creation. All things in heaven and earth were created by him, through him, and for him. It is through Jesus, not through Caesar, that all things are reconciled to God. The Romans tried to kill him, but he rose again on the third day. And you want to talk about bringing peace? Jesus did it, and he did it through the cross, not with a sword.
The claim that Caesar was the image bearer of God led to his worship. That is idolatry. The Bible teaches that the fullness of God has only ever dwelled in one person, and he is the one worthy of praise. Jesus is Lord.
So let’s back up a bit, and we are going to go to the text before our scripture for this morning. Verse three starts by saying, “In our prayers for you we always thank God…” Paul doesn’t say that they occasionally thank God for the church in Colossae. It isn’t something that they do once a year, around a table filled with turkey and mashed potatoes. They always thank God.
Paul goes on to thank God for the believers in Colossae and to pray a blessing of strength and endurance upon them. Verses 11-12, “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”
There is that word, thanks, again. Give thanks to God, in spite of your suffering because you are able to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
Remember that line about all things belonging to Jesus? Here is the part about thanking him for allowing us to enjoy the beauty of this world and the world to come!
Sonya and I were given a handy-dandy little Pampered Chef vegetable chopper for a wedding present just over 10 years ago. I usually do not remember who gave us what presents, but this one is a bit unique. Mostly because I thought someone else had given it to us for about five years or so.
I need to warn you all about quiet people. Some quiet people are shy, others just don’t have a lot to say. Then there are quiet people who use their quiet nature to get away with pranks that you would not expect from them.
One such quiet person is our friend Wayne. Wayne would become known as Wayne “the Payne” after his true nature was revealed. Wayne and his wife came to our wedding, I think they read scripture for us, and attended our reception. We did not open our gifts until after our honeymoon, but when we got around to opening them, there was a gift from Wayne. It was this vegetable chopper. So we did what people do when they receive gifts: we sent Wayne a thank-you card.
About five years later the truth finally comes out. Wayne can keep the secret no longer. When he arrived at our wedding, he walked in with a woman from our church. Wayne was carrying a card, she was carrying a present with a card attached to the outside. So this quiet, innocent man took the card off her present and put his on it. And didn’t tell us…for five years.
We had thanked the wrong person. And it is probably time that we got around to giving credit where credit is due.
And on this Sunday, which is designated as “Christ the King Sunday” on the liturgical calendar, I want to thank my King for what I have.
I recently watched a video where someone when up to random people on a street and asked them what they were thankful for. The answers were the normal responses that you hear every year at Thanksgiving time: health, family, a home, friends. So after a while I kind of stopped paying attention to the video and started wandering off mentally.
As I allowed the video of the street interviews to conclude, I noticed a couple of powerful lines, written by the author.
Holding thanksgiving and hardship together is a spiritual challenge. We struggle to give thanks after the death of a spouse. We try to be grateful when a child is sick. We do our best to count our blessings when we lose a job, fail a class, suffer an injury, or experience a crushing disappointment.
Fortunately, many people find a way to do this. In on-the-street interviews, men and women rarely talk about material gifts when they are questioned about being thankful. Instead, they mention the gifts of God that sustain them through the struggles of life: Children, friends, partners, good health, kindness, generosity, knowledge … plus the gift of life itself.
I guess Thanksgiving is truly a time to remember the things that are most valuable to us, the things that cannot be bought and sold; the things that are a gift. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
So today I thank the King of kings for all that I have been given. I am excited about the way that God is working through this church and its members. I am excited about the tutoring programs at the Valley Mission and I am thankful for the people that are leading up that effort.
A couple of months ago we had to start thinking out loud what in the world we were going to do with all of the children at church. And as someone mentioned, “What a great problem to have!” I am thankful that we have too many children in this church and I am thankful that we are doing something about it!
The nursery behind our sanctuary is getting a facelift. We are knocking out some walls and trying to make it a little more conducive for our goals and aspirations. I’m thankful that we have gifted people in our church who can help do this kind of work!
I am thankful because we know that God is here and God has a future for this church.
And I am thankful for my children that get me up in the middle of the night to use the potty and for the little girl who combines words like “hello” and “hi” to make the most adorable greeting in the world as she calls out with emphasis, “Hi-O daddy!”
I don’t thank Caesar or the empire. To do so would be like sending the thank-you note to the wrong person, but times 10. It would be idolatry! As Paul made abundantly clear in our text for today, everything was made by, through, and for Jesus. And today I thank him for allowing me to enjoy some of it here today as well.