The Supremacy of Christ
Colossians 1 : 15 - 23
Paul prays continually for everything. You might think Paul did not need to pray. Even Jesus prayed - a lot. No congregation can grow spiritually if its people do not pray. Serious prayer. Not just in Church on Sundays. Not just on your own. Together. Why? Paul says that is the only way we can learn and understand what God’s will is. Where atheists get it wrong is to limit the human possibility to our own understanding at any given point in time. Christians pray to enlarge their understanding, to let their minds grow and to deepen their spiritual apprehension of our Maker’s life. Prayer is necessary and essential and where a congregation prays strongly and consistently, there God’s will may become apparent.
We cannot survive or continue in the active Christian life without knowing God’s will. We will be confused, disappointed and inclined to give up. We will not have that immediate certainty that God knows and loves us and claims us as His own. We will doubt His forgiveness and we will be unsure of eternal life. Paul says that endurance, patience and joy result from confidence in God’s loving purpose for each of us. These are causes for rejoicing and thanksgiving. Christians are meant to be upbeat even in times of stress and trial.
For Paul Christianity is true because it works and it works because it is true. In verses 15 - 23 of Colossians 1, Paul clearly refutes the arguments of the Gnostics of the day. For them, the following things were basic:
i) God exists but is distinct and separate from creation and has nothing to do with our life which is all bad.
ii) Jesus was not a real physical person but a spirit. He did not eat and drink like us and he left no footprints as he walked.
iii) The desires and appetites and needs of the physical body must be suppressed through religious discipline.
iv) There is a spirit world in grades through which it is possible to ascend through spiritual discipline - this is very like the Scientology cult made up by the fraudster Ron Hubbard in, of course, America.
To put this more simply, God is not the Creator of Judaism and Christianity but a distant force unconnected to and unconcerned with human life. Jesus was not at all unique but just one of many spirits. He was not the personal revelation of God at all. Each human being has to make his own way to salvation through spheres of spiritual knowledge. Success through grading is common to many organisations and spiritualism reflects this idea also. There are people today in our own country, perhaps many, who think like that. Scientologists used to have a basement flat in Nicolson St in Edinburgh - they may still have it - and they used to stand on the street and offer ‘free personality tests’ to passers by, especially students - as a way of hooking them into Scientology. I remember house sitting for a couple who lived in Glenlockhart while they went on holidays. He was an architect and a decent man. His wife was into Scientology. She was nuts.
Paul refutes all these ideas. What you and I understand as basic to Christianity, Paul thought out and wrote down as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
i) 'He is the image of the invisible God'. You will be interested to know what the Greek word for image here used is - eikon - another word hijacked by the entertainment industry and the media today. For them - everything and everyone is an icon. 'eikon' means representation and better in describing Jesus - a manifestation. Jesus is a manifestation of the divine - a true and perfect representation.
ii) Jesus is 'the first born of creation'. Now admittedly this is not easy even for us to accept or understand. Paul’s purpose is to connect Jesus intimately and directly with the Creator - something Gnostics could never understand or accept. 'first born of creation' does not mean that Jesus was the first person to be born. It is a title of the Messiah as found in Psalm 89:27 'I will make him my firstborn higher than the kings of the earth'. God has given Jesus the status and honour of uniqueness begotten before all creation as Christmas carols say.
iii) 'all things were created by him and for him' - this connects God the Creator with Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the two are one and creation did not come about by inferior beings distant from God as held by Gnostics. So history and future are held in Jesus Christ also. That is what the Book of Revelation says too.
iv) 'all things hold together' - Paul was not a 21st century scientist and he did not separate the physical laws of our world such as gravity and cause and effect from moral and spiritual realities such as is done today. Here is a contentious example. Haiti is subject to extreme weather patterns and to earthquakes. Haiti legitimises vodoo religion - a mixture of spiritualism, occult and violence which is very destructive of personal life and society. Is there a connection? Scientists would say ‘Of course not’. Christians might say that if the Peace of Jesus Christ was paramount, it would effect nature as well as human nature. Paul does not separate the physical world from the spiritual in the way atheist scientists do today. When political leaders have done this in the past it has proved disastrous. Both Naziism and communism separated political controls from moral and spiritual principles and from personal Christianity. People in contemporary politics like Ed Balls and Nick Clegg are doing the same thing. They do not understand the consequences of rejecting Christianity’s teaching on the inter-connectedness of creation and Creator and Redeemer.
Jesus, says Paul, is 'the head of the body that is the Church'. We are the body of Christ - he is the head. He is the director, we are the eyes and mouth, the arms and hands and legs. We are organically united if we cling to the head and follow Jesus and do his will. The body of Christ is what Jesus left in the world when he left. It is imbued with His Holy Spirit, with His own life and love and power. But we do not apprehend these as much as we could or should. Because we have different motives and reasons for coming to Church and other things are more important to us. Yet Jesus is worth and worthy of our very best intentions and commitment. No-one else will welcome us into heaven.
Jesus is the beginning of the Church. It was born of His resurrection and nothing less. It was not born of the faith of the disciples because they had lost faith. It was not born out of Peter’s charismatic leadership because he had gone back to the fishing. It was not born of success or prestige because Jesus died as common criminal. The Church is a living miracle and proof of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection reconnected life here on earth with that of the highest heaven, the life of creation with that of our Creator, the life of conscious human beings with the life of the highest dimension of existence. And Paul connected these great themes with something deeply offensive to gnostics - the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. You can imagine the disgust and contempt that these self-thinking sophisticated people would have for this. But it has always been central to Christianity’s struggle with spiritualism to refer to the shed blood of Jesus because Christianity is so opposed to the separating of the spiritual and the physical because Jesus was God incarnate among us. Calvary is as much a difficulty for thinking secular people in Britain today as it was for Greeks listening to Paul’s sermons or Christian preachers in Colossae and elsewhere.
Jesus’ blood is a definition - an icon - a perfect manifestation of God’s unconditional love for us. Gnosticism was not about love and neither is Scientology or spiritualism. Blood is the life force in Judaism and it was that which was poured out. Jesus’ blood also indicates and reflects that which humanity does not want to consider easily, our sin and wickedness and wrong-doing - our hapless and self-destructive rebellion and waywardness - the story of everyone’s life to some extent or other. Yours and mine. Clever people don’t think these are issues that they need to be bothered with. Lots of agnostics and atheists inhabit academic circles. Lots of arty crafty people writers and poets don’t like it either. And we ourselves are repulsed by Jesus’ suffering. Why was it necessary? Perhaps so that no area of our life would be beyond redemption. You will have heard of more atrocities in our own society recently. Two boys in Kilwinning who set fire to a house which led to the death of a mother of five children. A young man in Dundee who poured petrol on and then set fire to his girlfriend and held the door closed so that she could not escape for help. Random beheading of people in Haiti after the earthquake. Multiple suicide bombing in Kabul Afghanistan. Because Jesus shed his blood nothing that happens on earth is beyond the love of God. Nothing is so bad that it cannot be redeemed. No-one is beyond the pale. That is Christianity’s great message in every age and generation. If Jesus had not died as he did that unconditional message would not have been possible.
Paul then reminds the members of the Church at Colossae that they were lost and at enmity with God before they had become reconciled through Jesus Christ. Some had lived badly and others had worshipped falsely. Now - through Jesus Christ they could become perfect and enter heaven with great joy. 'If' says Paul, 'If you continue in your faith' and you don’t wander from its Christ-centred truth. The Gospel which Paul had preached at Ephesus and which his converts had carried to Colossae. The Gospel which was spreading throughout the ancient Graeco-Roman world. The supremacy of Christ - a high and heavenly supremacy - a spiritual supremacy - a supremacy in the hearts and minds of his followers and believers. Count yourself in.