Colossians #6: Created by and For Jesus

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Jesus Christ is God in visible form. Everything that exists was made by him, and for him. This means that our love for nature shows us what it is like to love Jesus. It means that our lives, created deliberately by Jesus, have meaning and purpose. It means that we do not belong to ourselves, but to Jesus, and when we live with Him as our ultimate authority, we are living as we were made to live, and that has many wonderful, gracious, joyful benefits.

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Colossians #6.  Colossians 1:15-17

Before we move on from Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, I want to add one final thought. We have looked at this phrase by phrase, and found many rich applications for us. But we should not forget that this is a prayer. It is a wonderful thing to find prayers like this in scripture, and to use them as “model prayers” when we pray for ourselves, and for others. I might use it in my own prayer time, something like this (read verses 9-14, and then look at the prayer I’ve written):

Lord, thank you for saving me. Let me be filled with the knowledge of your will, and increase in spiritual wisdom and understanding. Especially give me your spiritual wisdom and understanding to deal with the issues I’m having with Joe at work. Lord, please enable me to walk in a way that is worthy to you. Thank you, that through Jesus, I am already fulling pleasing you, but help me to live more and more according to that spiritual reality. Please use me to bear fruit – to help others become disciples, or be better ones. Help me to know you more and more. Lord, strengthen me today with your power so that I can endure and have patience and joy, even in the tough situation I’m facing at work right now. Help me to be more thankful to you; I am thankful that you have qualified me to share in the inheritance of the saints. Thank you, above all, that you have delivered me from the domain of darkness and brought me into your kingdom through Jesus Christ. Thank you for the grace and forgiveness you have given me! AMEN.

I’m sure you can see how easily that might be adapted into a prayer for other people, also.

In verse 14, Paul ends his prayer in praise of Jesus, who is the source of our redemption. He moves smoothly into a brief statement about Jesus Christ, himself. Remember, Paul has not personally taught these Colossians. It seems to me that he is making sure that they hear from him exactly who Jesus is, and what he has done.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Verses 15-20 all go together, and yet each phrase is important, and worthy of consideration. Let’s take a look at just 15-17, which tells that Jesus is himself one of God’s three persons:

He is the image of the invisible God… Paul does not mean “image” as in “a copy.” He means: No one has seen God the Father. He is a Spirit. In Jesus Christ, however, God took on flesh. If you want to see God, the only place to look is Jesus. Jesus is God in a form that is visible to the world.

…the firstborn of all creation…To understand this properly, we need to know about the culture to which Paul was writing. This does not mean that Jesus was the first thing created out all things. In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus was never created. As one of God’s three persons, he has always existed. “Firstborn” had a very special meaning in ancient times. In those days, the firstborn son of a noble father was considered to be, in some ways, exactly the same as his father. If a grown firstborn son of a wealthy family said to a farmer, “I want to purchase 25 cows,” the farmer did not need to follow up, and make sure that the head of the household agreed. To speak to the son was the same as speaking to the Father. Whatever the son did, the father would back him up. Whatever the father wanted to be done, he trusted his son to carry it out. Paul’s readers would have understood this. So “firstborn” to them does not mean, “created.” In means, “exactly the same as; having the same authority; representing the same thing.” If you spoke to the son, you might as well be speaking to father. So it is with Jesus: if you are speaking with Jesus, you are as good as speaking with the Father. Jesus himself made this clear:

7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (ESV, John 14:7-11)

Next comes this: 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

If we had any lingering doubts about whether Jesus Christ is a created being, we have this statement: he the Creator. He is the one doing the creating, not the other way round. Again, John affirms this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (ESV John 1:1-3)

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (ESV John 1:9-10)

Just to clarify, later John says that “The Word” became flesh, and he was known as the man, Jesus Christ (John 1:14-18). Now, you can be sure that both John and Paul knew Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (ESV, Genesis 1:1-3)

If Jesus Christ is the Creator, then he is God. Like John, Paul makes it clear that all things were created through Jesus Christ, and for Jesus Christ. He mentions things both visible and invisible. Of course in that, we would include physical “invisible” things like air and microbes and energy and subatomic particles. Also invisible, yet very real, are things like love, and joy and freedom and grace. I think Paul also intends to mean that through Jesus, the realities of the spiritual world were created. When he mentions things like “thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities,” Paul is usually talking about spiritual entities: that is, angels and demons, although, when Jesus created them, they were not yet demons. Demons were originally created by Jesus as good angels, but they chose to rebel, along with the former angel, Satan.

One piece of this that I have not thought about very often is that the universe was created not only through Jesus, but also for Jesus. We were made for Jesus. Sometimes, lovers exclaim to each other: “We were made for each other!” With Jesus, this is literally true. We were made for him. We belong to him twice over: he made us for himself, and then he also went and redeemed us for himself.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  Once again “before all things” reminds us that Jesus is God. Only God himself was before all things. Christians have also always believed, based upon this verse, that Jesus Christ is actively involved in the day to management of universe. If Jesus chose to let go, everything would fly apart.

As we speak of Jesus creating everything, and holding everything together, I want to make sure that we understand how to speak about this to others who may not share our beliefs. This verse, that Jesus holds all together, provides us with a very tempting idea. At this point in the development of science, astrophysicists realize that actually, their calculations concerning the universe must be incorrect somehow. In fact, based on our current understanding of physics, the universe ought to fly apart. There is not enough mass in the universe for gravity to work the way it does. Planets and stars should never have formed, because, as far as we know, there isn’t enough mass to hold them together. So, they have come up with two theoretical entities called dark matter, and dark energy, to account for the missing pieces of the current theory.

It is very tempting for us as Christians to say: “Ha! Jesus is what holds the universe together! There is no dark matter or energy, it is Jesus!”

Hear me, my fellow believers: that would be a mistake.

Whatever dark matter and energy are, they are part of the created order. But Jesus is not part of creation. Imagine that we were people inside a painting. Someone has painted us. The role of science is to find out all about what sort of brushes were used, and what kind of paint, and how we hang on the wall, and so on. But the role of Faith is to talk about the Artist. Now, the artist uses brushes, and techniques, paint, and other materials. But those things are his tools and materials – they are not the Artist Himself. You can find out about them without knowing much about the Artist. And it would be wrong to confuse what the artist made with the Artist Himself.

Jesus certainly made whatever dark matter and energy are. He probably (though we don’t know) created them for the very purpose of holding the universe together. But his holding the universe together is a step beyond what can be discovered by science. It is important for us to understand this, because it may be that at some point in the future, scientist understand better what dark matter and energy are. If we Christians are confused between the Creator and the Creation, when that happens, scientists will say: “See, there’s no God! It’s just a subatomic particle.” Confused Christians will have their faith shaken by such things. What we do believe is that whatever substance is holding the universe together, Jesus is the one that created it, and gives it the power to do so. If he so chose, Jesus could let go, and it would all fly apart.

I think a lot of people, if they pay attention at all, have noticed that our world is a beautiful, awe-inspiring place. I love driving through Middle Tennessee, and coming around a corner, or over a hill, finding unexpectedly, a beautiful valley ringed by hills and trees with a  stream running through it. All over here, I see beauty and peace. This is true of many, many places in the world. Human beings see cliffs, and the ocean, and mountains, and empty plains, and great forests, and we love it all. Some people dedicate their entire lives to trying to protect the world from human damage.

But why? Why in the world should we love the physical world? Why does it inspire us, or evoke longing in us? What is that?

I suggest to you that the reason we love the world, and are so inspired by it, is because in the world, we see the reflection of its Creator, Jesus Christ. Jesus made everything there is. The longing we have for physical beauty in the world is first of all a longing for Jesus himself. This should be good news. Loving Jesus is not a feeling that is totally alien to us. The love we feel for nature is, at least in part, a love for Jesus, who made nature.

Let’s look for some application of this truth that Jesus is God made visible, and that he created all things for his own purpose and pleasure.

I think sometimes, I am in danger of becoming a little too casual about Jesus. He is so kind, and so good. He forgives and loves. It seems easy to me to start taking him for granted, and to not give him the kind of respect and awe that he deserves as God, Creator of all things.

It is easy to get the idea that God is there to help us out. Without really thinking about it, we think operate as if God exists for us; that his job is to work on our behalf. But that is the opposite of the real situation. He created us for his own purpose and pleasure. That means many important things. It means that we exist to pleas him, not vice versa. In spite of the fact that many act that way, Christianity is not about getting God to do what we want. It is about God saving us from the destruction we cause when we don’t allow him to lead our lives. And then, it s about letting him fulfill his purpose in us.

It is a wonderful thing that God created the universe in such a way that when we do live with Him as our ultimate authority, we find joy and peace and grace.

Also, the fact that he created us gives our lives value and meaning. You are here for a reason. Someone – the Ultimate Someone – wanted you to exist and to live. That means that you are important, and that your life has value.

Another direction we might go for application is to think about how the beauty of Creation reflects the character of Jesus. If we love nature, then we should look beyond nature to the One who created it. The beauty and joy that we get from nature come ultimately from Jesus Christ.

THE FAITH OF SCIENCE

SCIENCE

 

Scientists often try to make people choose between believing in their discoveries or believing in a Designer who made what they discovered. This is a false choice. The moment we start talking about what it all means in terms of God, Life and personal significance we have left the realm of science.

 

I’m doing some different writing for a few weeks, because, for various reasons, I won’t have any new sermons to post until August 19th.

A lot of folks seemed to appreciate my last post on faith and science, so I thought I’d share a little more. I just read a pair of articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Links are provided, but wait a second before you read them. One was written to defend belief in Evolution: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/163231226.html.

The other was written in response to the first one, defending the idea that God created the world without Evolution: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/164491876.html?refer=y.

One of the pieces was written by the fire-chief of a small town. The other was written by a city pediatrician. One cited a number of scientific discoveries. The other spoke of personal experience, and stuck to generalities.

The surprising thing? The article defending evolution was written by the fire chief, and lacked any reference to a single scientific discovery. Instead he spoke of his own personal journey of coming to faith in evolution. The pediatrician defended creationism, and cited many discoveries in support of his beliefs, generally avoiding anecdotes from his own life.

The comments afterwards were also surprising. Many people attacked the Pediatrician for not being a “real scientist.” I wonder what they thought of the Fire-Chief. They insisted that the Pediatrician had offered no support for his argument. I wondered if they actually read what he said. On the other hand, it was apparently assumed that the Fire Chief did not need to actually offer support for his belief.

Now, the truth is, I’m a little bit on the fence about evolution, and I lean toward believing that the universe is about fourteen billion years old (though, obviously, I don’t really know). I also have a rock solid Evangelical Christian faith, and I believe the bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. But these articles and the comments following it helped me sort through something that has bothering me for some time.

I believe the primary reason for the Creation-Evolution debate is that scientists relentlessly and continually insist that each new discovery they make proves the non-existence of God. In a previous post I shared the non-sequitur of Lawrence M. Krauss – who insisted that the recent discovery of a new particle made God vanish in a cloud of illogic. Krauss is not alone, unfortunately. It seems that the scientific community cannot announce a new discovery without also trying to make it a religious statement. After all, “God does not exist” is a religious statement; in fact it is quite definitely a statement of faith.

What this amounts to is this: many Christians suspect secular scientists of religious motivations, and we have reams of writing to support the suspicion. If science is about God not existing and proving a certain world-view, then it IS a religion, and one that is vehemently opposed to Christianity. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss and many others essentially put it this way: “Science is right and that proves Christianity is wrong.”

This leaves many Christians understandably believing that they can either accept what science says, or what the Bible says, but not both.

The good news is, that is not the case. Dawkins, Hitchens and company are wrong. Science is not a religion. It is a method used to discover the universe around us, but the moment we start talking about what it all means in terms of God, Life and personal significance we have left the realm of science. These questions cannot be subjected to the scientific method. The answers can’t be found in laboratories or particle accelerators, any more than you can answer “what is your favorite movie?” with a mathematical equation.

As I shared before, imagine that ancient Greek scientists have somehow obtained a modern automobile. Through theorizing and testing they learn more and more about how it works. They are often right about what they think they’ve learned. They say, “Now we understand how the ABS brake system works.” That is all well and good, but then they add, “The whole system is automated, therefore this proves there was no designer or driver to the car.” Non-sequitur – it doesn’t follow. The conclusion isn’t even relevant to the work the scientists are supposed to be doing.

In other words, scientists often try to make people choose between believing in their discoveries or believing in a Designer who made what they discovered. This is a false choice.

I can believe that various aspects of the universe are, in fact, as scientists describe, and still believe that Someone designed the whole thing. There is nothing incompatible in those beliefs.

By the way, the Bible does not demand a belief in a literal six day creation. I won’t go into the whole thing here, but if I am an expert in anything, it is the bible. I’ll just give two quick thoughts here. First, the ancient Hebrew word for “day” is “yom,” and it can mean a 24 hour period. But it can also mean simply a segment of time with a definite beginning and end. In this third definition, yom could be several weeks, or years, or even an epoch. The second thing I would point out is that “yom” is certainly not describing a literal 24 hour day until at least the fourth day (Genesis 1:14) because before that, the Bible records that there was no fixed orbital pattern. Therefore you can believe the bible wholly and truly, and also believe that the universe is billions of years old. In fact “young earth” Creationism was not a Christian doctrine at all until the late 1800s. Up until that point in time, Christians did not consider the age of the earth to be significant, nor did they believe the Bible had to be interpreted in such a way that we must believe the earth is very young.

Don’t believe scientists when they start talking religion. At that point they are just un-educated couch-theologians. Understand this: in spite of what people on both sides of the issue may say, science done scientifically does not exclude faith, and Christian faith does not exclude science.