Dr. Philip W. McLarty
What do you know about Jesus? How well do you know him? That’s what I’d like for you to think about this morning. Here’s where I’m coming from: The more you know about Jesus, the more you can appreciate his wisdom, power and love. And the more you embrace the fullness of Christ, the closer you’ll come to experiencing the joy of salvation in his name.
Let’s take it from the top. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard the Christmas story? There are two, actually – one in Matthew; the other in Luke. Luke is the one we usually think of first:
“Now in those days,
a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that all the world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1-20).
From the Christmas stories we learn that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that his mother was Mary and his father – well, step-father, if you will – was Joseph. They stayed in Bethlehem until he was circumcised and dedicated at the temple, then they moved to Nazareth, and that’s where he grew up, the son of a carpenter. We know nothing about his early childhood years.
The next we hear of him is how he got left behind on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. When Mary and Joseph realized he wasn’t with the caravan, they rushed back to Jerusalem and found him in the temple sitting among the rabbis, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke says, “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:47)
The story picks up again eighteen years later. Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist; then he goes out into the Judean wilderness to fast and pray. Satan meets him in the desert and tempts him to use his power to serve himself, rather than God. The temptations only strengthen his resolve to do God’s will.
He goes back to Nazareth, attends synagogue, and reads from the scroll of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to heal the broken hearted,
to proclaim release to the captives,
recovering of sight to the blind,
to deliver those who are crushed,
and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
The elders in Nazareth think he’s presumptuous: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they ask. They want to stone him to death for blasphemy.
So, he leaves Nazareth and goes to Capernaum, where he calls his disciples and begins teaching, healing and proclaiming the Good News of God’s kingdom. It’s through his teachings that we get to know the mind and heart of Jesus; also, by the way he interacts with others with compassion and understanding, and how he confronts the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders.
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We get a taste of his divine power in the miracle stories – how he turned water into wine and multiplied loaves and fishes to feed a multitude; how he walked on the water, healed the sick and raised the dead. Through signs like these, we come to know him, not simply as an inspired teacher and miracle worker, but the Son of God.
After three years, he takes his message to Jerusalem. It leads to a showdown, and that leads to his arrest. He’s tried by the Jewish Council then turned over to Pontius Pilate, who condemns him to die. He’s crucified on Mount Calvary on a Friday and buried in a borrowed tomb.
Then we hear the joyous news of Easter Sunday. The women come to anoint the body on Sunday morning and find the stone rolled away and two angels in the tomb. The angels ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but is risen” (Luke 24:5-6). They go back to the Upper Room and tell the others. That night Jesus appears to the disciples and, over the course of the next forty days, he appears to countless others.
The final scene comes on a mountain near Jerusalem. He commissions his disciples to spread the gospel, and he promises to be with them to the close of the age. Then he ascends into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Well, that’s what most people can tell you about Jesus and, to be fair, it’s pretty impressive. But there’s more. Looking back, we find hints of Jesus’ coming in the Old Testament – in the prophecies of a Promised Messiah we now know to be Jesus. Isaiah, for example, says,
“A shoot will come out of the stock of Jesse,
and a branch out of his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on him:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.”
Looking forward, we find hints of Jesus’ final reign over heaven and earth in the prophecies of the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation, for example, Jesus says,
“Behold, I come quickly …
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the First and the Last,
the Beginning and the End. …
I am the root and the offspring of David;
the Bright and Morning Star.”
(Revelation 22:12, 16)
Still, there’s much more to know about the fullness of Christ in the letters of the New Testament, and that’s where this passage from Colossians comes in. In these brief verses, Paul gives us four more pieces of the puzzle. Here’s the first:
“(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.”
The word, image, doesn’t do justice to what Paul has in mind. We think of an image as a picture, a photograph, a representation of some sort. Paul would have us know that Jesus is the perfect replication of Almighty God, so that to see him is to see God himself.
This is what Jesus told Philip when Philip asked, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8) Jesus said,
“Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip?
He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
To see Jesus is to see God; to know Jesus is to know the nature of God; to follow Jesus’ teachings and walk in his footsteps is to do the very will of God. Paul goes on to say,
“For by him all things were created,
in the heavens and on the earth,
things visible and things invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things have been created through him, and for him.”
Most everyone knows the creation story from Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) But did you know that there is an agent of creation at work here? Listen carefully:
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light …
God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters,
and let it divide the waters from the waters.’ …
God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together to one place,
and let the dry land appear.’ and it was so.”
“God said….” Seven times God spoke, and by the power of God’s Word, creation came into being. What Paul would have us to know is that Jesus is that agent of creation, the divine Word, through whom all things in heaven and on earth were created. This is what John told the early church in the opening verses of his gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him.
Without him was not anything made that has been made.
That’s not all. John goes on to say
“The Word became flesh, and lived among us.
We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father,
full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God. But Paul doesn’t stop here. He goes on to tell the Colossians, “He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” (Colossians 1:17)
I’ve known a lot of families over the years whose family life centered around an individual or couple. You see it all the time – the kids come home for Christmas and gravitate to the kitchen, where Mom is hard at work. They savor the rich aromas, as they talk and laugh and catch up on each other’s lives. Mama holds the family together with her graciousness and her love.
I’ve seen whole churches whose strength and character reflected the faith of one individual, who didn’t necessarily choose to be the patriarch or matriarch, but was cast into that role because of the respect and high esteem of the congregation.
Paul would have us think of Jesus as that eternal bond that holds us together in a spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and love. This is so important: When we are one in Christ, we are one in heart, mind and purpose; and when Christ is not the center of our common life, we are hopelessly fragmented and divided. No one knew this better than John Fawcett, who wrote,
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.
Finally, Paul reminds the Colossians,
“He is the head of the body, the assembly,
who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;
that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
In case you didn’t know it, this is Rule Number One of the Reformed Faith: “Christ alone is head of the Church.” All of the members of the body take their direction from him.
Four years ago my son, Patrick, suffered a stroke. It left considerable damage on the right side of his brain. The left side of his body was paralyzed. Slowly, he covered most, but not all, of the use of his left arm and leg. The therapist explained that the lingering paralysis was due to the brain injury, not the muscles; that the muscles depended on signals from the brain in order to know what to do.
Paul reminds us that the church is the body of Christ and, individually, we are members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27) Whatever we say and do must come at his direction. Until we share a common mind – the mind of Christ – we will be compromised and at odds. Only as we share the mind of Christ and work together by the inspiration of his Spirit, will we ever be united in thought, word and deed. This is the goal for which Paul would have us strive. He says:
“For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him;
and through him to reconcile all things to himself,
by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens,
having made peace through the blood of his cross.”
Jesus gave his life to set you free. Nothing would please him more than for you to devote your life to getting to know him better and building up his kingdom in this church and community.
Let’s wrap it up: Truth to tell, you’ll never completely know the fullness of Christ, any more than you’ll be able to comprehend the mystery of God. It’s a lifelong quest. But to whet your appetite for what’s in store for you if you’re willing to try, here’s a nifty little collection put together and set to music by J. H. Herbert.
Jesus Christ, the Mediator, God, Emmanuel, Messiah;
Advocate, King Everlasting, Cornerstone;
Christ, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God, Jehovah;
King of kings and Lord of lords, the Holy One.
He’s the Bright and Morning Star, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Glory;
He’s the Way, the Truth, the Life; He is the Word.
He’s the Chiefest of Ten Thousand, the One Altogether Lovely;
He’s our Savior, our Redeemer, Praise the Lord!
O, He is the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the Valley.
He’s the Dayspring from on high, the Mighty One;
He’s the True Vine, and the True Light,
Prince of Peace, a Star, a Sceptre;
He’s the Son of God, Only Begotten Son. (Refrain)
He’s the Lamb of God, our Passover, Deliverer, Good Shepherd;
He is Alpha and Omega, First and Last;
The Desire of all the Nations, and the Captain of Salvation;
He’s our Gov’nor, our Lawgiver, Great High Priest (Refrain)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.