Happy Tuesday, Friends! Our Bible passages today are: Leviticus 2 and 3, Proverbs 18, John 21 and Colossians 1. Our focus passage is in Colossians 1, which contains yet another hymn/creedal statement about Jesus - very similar to Philippians 2. Before we get there, however, I'd like to focus just a bit on the post resurrection appearances of Jesus as described in John 21. Some of the disciples have gone out on the lake to fish, and they have spent all night fruitlessly trying to catch fish, and coming up utterly empty. Upon their return, a mysterious person near shore (100 yards away, approximately) calls out to them and tells them to lower their nets. This is unusual, and not at all the place to lower their nets - probably too shallow, but they do, and catch an incredible haul of fish. John notices that the mysterious person is, in fact, Jesus, and Peter - ever impulsive - jumps into the water and swims 100 yards over to Jesus, leaving the other guys to drag the nearly bursting nets, which contain 153 large fish. Now, I love fishing - it is one of my favorite things to do, so I took a break from writing this article to actually go and research what type of fish that John, Peter and the guys might have caught. Interestingly - the Sea of Galilee/Sea of Tiberias here is actually a lake - a pretty big lake, but not massive. Chances are, the fish that the disciples caught (which the Bible does not name) was a species of tilapia - some of which are known as the Saint Peter's fish, because that was traditionally thought to be the kind of fish that Peter caught with a coin in its mouth.
But I digress...a lot. My bad. Back to the story - the disciples have caught all of those fish, and the RESURRECTED KING Jesus is meeting them on shore. And what has He done for them - the LORD OF ALL who has already given His life and suffered for their sins? HE HAS COOKED THEM BREAKFAST!! How cool is that? He grilled them some fish, and had breakfast ready. I had not really noticed that before until reading John 21 earlier today, and it struck me what a kind and loving thing that was to do for a bunch of hungry guys who had been out fishing all night. But, again, that isn't our focus passage today. Our focus passage is Colossians 1 - let's read it together, and then return to discuss this amazing hymn/description of Jesus in verses 15-20.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
16 For everything was created by him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through him and for him.
17 He is before all things,
and by him all things hold together.
18 He is also the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have
first place in everything.
19 For God was pleased to have
all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile
everything to himself,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace
through his blood, shed on the cross.
What a powerful description of Jesus - it is stirring, and I would encourage you to read it in the Bible yourself a few times, as passages like this have a beautiful way of focusing on the nature and character of Jesus. Jesus is the Image of God - He is the creator AND sustainer of all things. He is the head of His body - the church, the people of Jesus. He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead. He is the FULLNESS of God. He is the reconciler who brought sinful man and Holy God into a right relationship by making peace and covering our sin with His blood, which was poured out on the cross. Man, oh man - praise Him! What do we learn about Jesus from this passage? Let's ask Spurgeon and Piper:
In order to preach the gospel fully, there must be a very clear description of the person of Christ; and we preach Christ as God,—not a man made into a God, nor a God degraded to the level of a man, not something between a man and a God; but “very God of very God,” one with his Father in every attribute,—eternal, having neither beginning of days, nor end of years; omnipresent, filling all space; omnipotent, having all power in heaven and on earth; omniscient, knowing all things from eternity; the great Creator, Preserver, and Judge of all, in all things the equal and the express image of the invisible God. If we err concerning the Deity of Christ, we err everywhere. The gospel that does not reveal a Divine Saviour is no gospel at all; it is like a ship without a rudder, the first contrary wind that blows shall drive it to destruction, and woe be to the souls that are trusting to it! No shoulders but those almighty ones which bear the earth’s huge pillars up can ever carry the enormous weight of human guilt and human need.
We preach to you Christ the Son of Mary, once sleeping in his mother’s arms, yet the Infinite even while he was an infant; Christ the reputed Son of Joseph, toiling in the carpenter’s shop, yet being all the while the God who made the heavens and the earth; Christ, who had not where to lay his head, the despised and rejected of men, who is, nevertheless, “over all, God blessed for ever;” Christ nailed to the accursed tree, bleeding at every pore, and dying on the cross, yet living for evermore; Christ suffering agonies that are indescribable, yet being at the same time the God at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore. If Christ had not been man, he could not have sympathized with you and me, nor could he have suffered in our stead.
How could he have been the covenant Head of the sons and daughters of Adam if he had not been made in all points like them, except that he was without sin? With that one exception, he was just as we are, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, yet he was as truly God as he was man, the One of whom Isaiah was inspired to prophesy, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” So, in preaching Christ crucified, we preach the glory of heaven conjoined with the beauty of earth, the perfection of humanity united with the glory and dignity of Deity.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Preaching Christ Crucified,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 56 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1910), 482–483.
There are two more phrases in the verse to look at, but they are easily combined, and in fact do go together: “He [Christ] is the radiance of His [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature.” Or, as we saw from the original words: “He, being the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature … sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
The difference between this qualification for sitting at God’s right hand and the other two is that those described what Christ did, while this describes who he is. What he does is “uphold all things by the word of his power,” and “make purification of sins” by the worth of his blood. But what is he? Who is he? That’s our last question this morning. Who died for sins? Who rose from the dead? Who upholds the universe by the word of his power? Who is sitting at the right hand of God?
The answer is: Christ is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature.” What does this mean? It’s important that we take these two phrases together, because they control each other and keep us on track.
When it says that Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature, we are to realize that to see Christ is to see God. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God.” To see what God is like, you see what Christ is like.
But that could be taken in an entirely wrong way. Suppose you take it to mean that Christ represents God the way a photograph or a painting represents a person, or the way an authorized letter represents the king, or the way a wax impression represents a golden ring. That would be totally wrong. And the other phrase here is meant to protect us from that misunderstanding. He is the exact representation of God’s nature not the way a painting represents a person, but the way radiance represents glory. Verse 3 says, he is “the radiance of God’s glory.”
An Analogy of Sun and Sunlight
In other words he relates to God the way radiance relates to glory, or the way the rays of sunlight relate to the sun. Keep in mind that every analogy between God and natural things is imperfect and will distort if you press it. Nevertheless, consider for example,
1. There is no time that the sun exists without the beams of radiance. They cannot be separated. The radiance is co-eternal with the glory. Christ is co-eternal with God the Father.
2. The radiance is the glory radiating out. It is not essentially different from the glory. Christ is God standing forth as separate but not essentially different from the Father.
3. Thus the radiance is eternally begotten, as it were, by the glory—not created or made. If you put a solar-activated calculator in the sunlight, numbers appear on the face of the calculator. These, you could say, are created or made by the sun, but they are not what the sun is. But the rays of the sun are an extension of the sun. So Christ is eternally begotten of the Father, but not made or created.
4. We see the sun by means of seeing the rays of the sun. So we see God the Father by seeing Jesus. The rays of the sun arrive here about eight seconds after they leave the sun, and the round ball of fire that we see in the sky is the image—the exact representation—of the sun; not because it is a painting of the sun, but because it is the sun streaming forth in its radiance.
So I close this morning by commending this great Person to you that you might trust in him and love him and worship him. He is alive and sitting at the right hand of God with all power and authority and will one day come in great glory. He has that exalted place because he is himself God the Son; and because he upholds you and me by the word of his power; and because he made a perfect purification of sins.Would you not know the one who holds you in being, and offers you purification from your sins, and reveals God to you the way light reveals the sun?
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
Finally, I want to close with verses 21-23, which form a kind of thesis statement for the letter to the Colossians, and also serve as a great summary and exhortation of the good news:
21 Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. 22 But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him— 23 if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.
One of these days, we will talk about that little 'if' in vs 23, which is very similar to what is found in 1st Corinthians 15:
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain
1 Corinthians 15:1-3
Yes, one day soon we will talk about the perseverance of the Saints, but today, allow me to simply exhort you to remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, not shifting away from the hope of the gospel. Rejoice that it is not your strength that holds on to the rope of rescue of the Gospel, but the strength of Jesus that clings to you!
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