JESUS THE REDEEMER – Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 27th, 2014. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Col 1C-2.
This morning we want to return to the poem about Jesus in Colossians 1:15-18. 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.
Back in February, when we last looked at this passage, we focused on Jesus as the image of the invisible God. This morning we want to look at several positional statements the poem makes about Jesus (“over all creation”, “before all things”, “head of the body”), which point to the meaning of his redemptive work–a work which is about more than just personal salvation, but which is about the redemption of a people and all of Creation. The establishment of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus preached in the Gospels.
Jesus the Redeemer is the Firstborn Over All Creation.
We Live in a Fallen World: “15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” What does it mean, to say that Jesus is the “the firstborn over all creation,” in light of the fallen world in which we live? “Firstborn” in the Greek does not mean that Jesus was the first created creature. Rather it is a term referring to his place as the one who will inherit. Jehovah’s witnesses twist this term to try and make Jesus a demi-god–a notion Paul would certainly never have accepted or taught as a monotheistic Jew!
Sometime in the mid-16th century, philosophers began to say that while the world was created by some higher power, God did not involve himself with the working of the natural world in any way. Rather, after God had created the world, or set creation in motion, he went off to do other things.
That understanding characterizes what many people believe today. Appearances can lead us to believe that God is no longer involved with the creation–that he has stepped away and allowed mankind to pollute, abuse, neglect and destroy the earth. Not only that, but the earth itself seems to be, at the same time, both hostile to life and nurturing. Things grow, “life springs eternal,” and yet we also experience earthquakes, tidal waves, fire, drought, fluky weather that ruins crops.
Certainly, Jesus does not keep these types of things from happening. So, again, in what way is Jesus the firstborn over all of creation–and what difference does it make if we believe such a statement?
Jesus The Firstborn is Also the Redeemer of the Earth: We tend to view the gospel in a very narrow way–to see it as being exclusively a matter of having our individual sins forgiven. Forgiveness and mercy are primary aspects of the gospel, however the issue of a fallen world is much bigger than just individual sin. The world is fallen, broken, distorted, ruined. The work of Christ has set in motion a new Creation.
On the one hand, Jesus told his disciples, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (Jn.14:6), and God tells Isaiah, “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Is.65:17) But on the other hand, Paul tells the Corinthians “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor.5:17).
Christ the firstborn and the redeemer is over the creation. His death and resurrection point to the healing and remaking of this ruined planet (all that this means is still somewhat mysterious), as well as human beings, created as the image of God and as co-regents, rulers of the earth to tend and care for it.
We are the Sign of the Redemption of the Earth: What this means for us is that redemption is not only about the forgiveness of sins, but about the restoration of our lives, behavior as the image of God, and as those who care for this Creation–which is not just “a planet”, but the glorious, intricate creation of God. Care for the creation is a redemptive act. The restoration of the physical creation, of our relationships with one another, of our own conduct to reflect the glory of God–is all new creation.
Jesus is Ruling Over All Things as the Firstborn and Redeemer: “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.”
Paul leaves no aspect of Creation–whether seen and unseen (an entire spiritual world of which we are only dimly aware)–outside of the rule of Jesus. Every aspect of creation is meant to be subject to Jesus, both physical and spiritual. Paul explains this program in 1Cor.15:20-26, where he makes it clear that the resurrection of Jesus is meant to bring all of creation under the rule of God.
Jesus the Redeemer is Before All Things and Holds All Things Together.
The Meaning of the World Seems Random: Paul makes the statement that Jesus holds all things together. Theologically this is correct, and yet it seems that God is allowing history, crime, evil, ruin, disaster, oppression to run its course. We know more about what is going on in the world now than we ever have and the response of many people is despair, fear, detachment and this sense that the world is random. Even acts of kindness have no purpose or point but are random.
Jesus is Before and Sustains the Work/Kingdom of God in the World: In the face of these things scripture makes a startling statement, “17 He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” In other words, there is a plan to history and the world that makes sense of life. That plan is the plan of redemption. Paul is telling us, through this poem, that Jesus Christ not only knew about but authored this plan before the world (which is a mystery), that Jesus was carrying out his plan through history, and that he is the one who sealed the plan of redemption and fulfilled it through his life, death and resurrection (which is why the Gospels are always telling us how the scripture anticipated the actions of Christ’s life–triumphal entry, birth, crucifixion, resurrection). The plan of redemption is the unifying plan that makes sense of the world. So the Bible does not give us straight history–it gives us redemptive history, leaving out things historians would have put in (Example: the life of King Ahab).
Jesus is the final expression–the end of the story who clarifies everything that was going on before and fulfills redemption so that all of those who were before him and after him are saved and redeemed in him and by him.
We Are Called to Be Witnesses to the Kingdom Story: We believe that the story told by Scripture is The Story, that is unfolding in the world. We believe that life is theological–God designed and only truly understood as we become the children of God through Jesus, and God-Worshippers. This does not mean that being a Christian causes all of life to work out really great and just the way we want it to. It does mean that we, who are now part of Jesus great plan/work/kingdom, have the true understanding of what is happening in the world and are called to tell others.
~ The Story of the Kingdom gives Purpose to our Existence: We were made by God to love and worship God–to be in relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.
~ The Story of the Kingdom gives Direction to Life: We were made to be like God–his Image. Becoming like Jesus in holiness and service to God is our calling.
~ The Story of the Kingdom gives Meaning to Suffering: We understand suffering as part of the curse and living in a fallen world. We also understand that there can be redemptive reasons to suffer in order to do good to others, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Jesus the Redeemer is Head of the Body the Church.
The Church Often Seems Headless and Wandering: The church (universal) is constantly wandering into false teaching–sometimes even ceasing to be the church. There is division between believers, denominations, evidence of cruelty, sin and scandal. Churches run amok, and it can be difficult to see how Christ is head of the church.
But Jesus is at Work Directing and Healing the Church: “18 And he is the head of the body, the church.” Paul could have said, He is the head of every individual believer, but instead he speaks of “the body” of Christ.
It may be helpful here to think of the church like the Disciples (sometimes believing, often arguing, ignorant, even denying and betraying, but other times speaking with power) with Christ is at work among them, to correct, rebuke, encourage, bless, instruct, convict, protect, exhort. The church is the Bride of Christ–specifically “a people that are his very own, eager to do good works” (Titus 2:14). Revelation 1:12,19-20, tells us that Jesus holds the church in his hand, walks among the churches (a picture of his personal presence and care), and disciplines them.
Just as the created world and the story of life make no sense apart from the redemptive rule of Jesus, so, the church/Disciples make no sense apart from belief that Jesus is ruling over, healing, redeeming, correcting and caring for them/us.
We are Called to Be the Sign of His Rule Over the Church: Where the people of God come together and worship God through Jesus Christ, teach the scriptures, take the grace meal of communion–we are a sign to the world, to those who see us and know us, that God has created a people and is restoring true relationship between human beings and between God and human beings.
When we come to worship together we step into the community that was created to heal us and others–to overcome the false living and corruption of the world. We place ourselves before Jesus Christ who is our ruler, head, and we anticipate our eternal life together united with him.