THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD Pete Bauer
This Sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on February 23rd, 2014. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Col 1C-a.
The church councils of the early centuries went back and forth trying to define exactly who Jesus was. The big debate at that time focused on just how human Jesus was. In those times it was a lot easier for people to think of Jesus as divine–above our normal everyday existence. They thought of Jesus as someone who looked human but not really as someone who was subject to germs or who sweat or had a pain in his leg or neck, or ever went to the bathroom. These things seemed too human and beneath him, and perhaps they still do so for us today.
We see manger scenes at Christmastime where Jesus is very clean, very white and perhaps even glowing. We sing hymns about how, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” We still dehumanize Jesus.
On the other hand, we also diminish the deity of Jesus. We have a tendency to draw a separation between Jesus and the Father. The Father is the Old Testament, fairly mysterious, definitely angry God, who seems to lash out–even at his own people–without much provocation. Whereas Jesus (our not quite human Jesus, but close enough so that we can feel comfortable with him), is the much more friendly God, who goes to parties and has even been known to hang out with prostitutes and traitors (they like him and think he is cool).
The two could not seem more different. So it is no wonder, nowadays, that a lot of people tend to talk about the Old Testament God and the New Testament God as two separate Gods rather than–as the word “Testament” or “Covenant” suggests–two separate agreements with God. So what do we do with this?
This morning we are going to begin to look at a poem in Colossians 1:15-18, written by Paul, about Jesus. The poem is intended to be beautiful and balanced (in its original language), it is also intended to make us stop and reflect and think about its subject – Jesus. For this reason, I want to take this poem and reflect on it in three sections: (1) Jesus, the image of the invisible God, (2) Jesus the Firstborn over all Creation, and (3) Jesus, the Beginning of a New Humanity. But this morning we are only going to look at the first phrase: “He is the image of the invisible God”.
We Separate Jesus From Ourselves – But He Became One of Us.
God Became Man: Before we talk about Jesus as the image of God, we need to talk about his humanity. We separate Jesus from ourselves, our experience by thinking about him as the glowing baby. In our hearts we truly believe that, being God made his life less human–easier.
If we are going to understand Jesus–who he claimed to be–and if we are going to have any depth to our faith, then we need to step away from the partial and half beliefs that characterize the way we think about his humanity. We need to decide whether we believe that Jesus is fully a human being. Does he fully know what it means to live in your skin, or is he a glowing baby–sympathetic, but not someone who really gets how frustrating, and tempting, and lonely, and tiring your life is?
If he doesn’t get it, then he can never, never understand you. If he does get it, then, in the first place, he really can care about you, and in the second place, the excuses that you and I make, under our breath, about how we deserve to go our own way because, after all, no one really understands what we go through and what it is like for us–are no longer valid.
God Became Our Priest and Example: If we believe in the humanity of Jesus–and we acknowledge that that humanity is like our humanity–then he becomes less otherworldly and someone we can talk to about our struggles, doubts, temptations–he becomes our priest–our confessor. His counsel and teachings through the word become more applicable, less alien to our experience. Jesus becomes someone we can understand and someone who understands us.
At the same time, if we are willing to see that Jesus has gone through what we are going through, and done so with integrity and holiness, his teachings and commands become less alien and otherworldly. He understands as a human being what the call to holiness means and costs us because, as a human being, he has lived them out in the face of our frailties.
We separate the Father from Jesus – But They are One.
But also, that if we are going to understand Jesus, then at the same time, and in the same breath, we need to see/believe/decide that he is, as he says, “One” with the Father.
Jesus is The Representation of God’s Experience to Us: Paul uses the word “image,” the Greek word “icon”, which has the double meaning of representation and manifestation. Icon means more than a stand in, it has to do with a mysterious bond, a oneness. We only ever see Jesus’ side of this unity in the gospels. He is constantly saying things like, “the Son can do nothing of himself, unless it is something he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).
But here, Paul is saying that there is another side to this connection, in which God is doing what Jesus is doing. So when Jesus is talking to the woman at the well, who is ashamed to be seen, and is drawing her out so that he can offer her new life (Jn.4)–the Father is there doing that. When Jesus is changing the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana (Jn2)–the Father is there doing that. When Jesus is saying to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk.2:5)– the Father is saying that. And when Jesus is suffering and dying on the cross–the Father is experiencing that.
Jesus is not the Father–he is the Son of the Father. But Jesus and the Father are one, as he tells his disciples (Jn.10:30). Jesus and the Father are connected in a very real way–relationally and experientially. Consequently, Jesus does not bargain with God–as though he were on our side against the Father. It is the Father’s love for us that is displayed in Jesus throughout his life and on the cross. Jesus represents God to us.
We Separate Ourselves from The Father – But The Father Loves Us.
We Separate Ourselves from God in Distrust: We separate ourselves from the Father by thinking of him as the untroubled, distant and disapproving God who is waiting for his chance to judge us. By conceiving of the Father in this way we separate ourselves from God.
John writes this: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18). This is the same as saying that Jesus is the manifestation (the other part of the definition of “Icon”) of the Father. To make something manifest is to put a light on it–to light it up so that it can be clearly seen. Jesus is like a spotlight who lights us the Father for us so that he can be clearly seen (John.14:5ff). How does he do this?
Through Jesus The Desire of God is Made Clear: What does Jesus show up or light up about God?
~ Through His Teaching: He teaches the kind of real, healing living that God wants for us–Make peace with your enemies–Love your neighbor as yourself–Don’t lie about people–Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by lust or greed. These are commands of holy living, but the point is, they are the ways that bring life into our lives. That is what the holiness of the Father is like – it is like life.
~ Through His Miracles:Jesus miracles display God’s desire for healing and mercy–and obviously his power. Jesus calms the ocean when his disciples are afraid. Jesus puts new eyes in a blind man and heals a paralyzed man, and a woman who is hemorrhaging. He does this not just physically, but he offers all of these people a new relationship with God. The miracles both display and offer God’s love.
~ Through His Kindness and Call to Repentance: Jesus forgives the sin of the woman caught in adultery, of the tax collectors and the prostitutes and then calls them to abandon lives that are empty and destructive–because that is what God is doing.
~ Through His Death and Resurrection:At the core of the life of Jesus, the most central understanding of who God is, we see the crucifixion. Jesus endures the atrocity of crucifixion and the hatred of men that put him to death in the most painful and humiliating way possible for preaching “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-29). This is why the resurrection is so important and exciting to the gospel writers–because it is the stamp of approval–the confirmation that the Father was in on what Jesus was doing. This is who God is and what God is doing.