Who is Jesus? So this is the time we celebrate Christ's birth. And we have many traditions to commemorate Christ's birth. But the question still is, who is he? The answers to that question are as many and as varied as there are people in this room. Probably even more so because people have two or three or four opinions. As we assess the different opinions of Jesus, there are a few opinions that trump them all.
The apostles, the biblical word, referring to those who are chronologically closest to Jesus and the events of his life. They were those who were there. They're not like me speaking this morning two thousand years removed from it. They walked with Jesus, or they walked with those who walked with Jesus. They were specifically commissioned by Christ to be his representatives. Jesus said, "You, go and tell people about me and represent me to the world." Which is why their writings, as recorded in the Bible, trump any other opinion about Christ.
One of those apostles is the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul was a man who lived in the same time and the same timeframe as Jesus, and his will, plan, even vocation was to destroy the church. But in God's will this same man was transformed utterly and completely. Paul went from enemy to primary advocate.
He writes a letter to the Christian church in the ancient city of Colossae, which is in modern day Turkey, because in that church and in that city, like today, there are varied opinions as to who Jesus is—Jesus is this, Jesus is that. Paul writes this letter to set the record straight. This is who Christ is. It's important to note that we believe, as does the church throughout history, that while these words are the very words of the apostle Paul they are equally the very words of God himself. So what we read about Jesus is not a suggestion, it's not a good idea, it's not a perhaps; it is the truth from God himself.
As we jump into these verses pay attention to the language that is comprehensive. Count all the "alls" you see or "heaven and earth." Whoever this Jesus is, he is all-encompassing. And that is quite clear.
"He is the image of the invisible God …" God the Father does not have a material body. Throughout the Bible you see this language used to refer to him as invisible, meaning he doesn't dwell in a body. However, in Jesus the invisible has become visible. Who God is, what God is like, and what God does is seen in perfection in Christ. "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being," Hebrews 1. So if I want to know what would it be like for God to live among humans, I don't have to speculate or guess, because he did in Christ, the invisible has become visible.
Years ago my wife and I lived in London, and we met a friend of ours who grew up in a fundamentalist Muslim country. In that country then, as it is now, Christians are being thrown in jail and are suffering for their faith. He, and his friend, were in their early to mid-teens, and like lots of teens wanted to take risks. The risk they thought that would perhaps trump all risks is to try to find a New Testament. So they dared each other, "Let's go find a Bible." In this country there is an ethnic minority, a small ethnic minority, that is allowed to practice Orthodox Christianity and they have these very historic churches. So my friend and his friend dared each other to go knock on the door and ask for a Bible. So they did. They went up, knocked on the door, and the priest opened the door very suspiciously. He said, "What do you want?" They said, "We want a Bible." The priest then asked them what their names were, because he's trying to protect himself. They said their names, which are both Muslim names, and the priest said, "Oh no," knowing that he himself could be in trouble. My friend and his friend were persistent, and finally the priest gave in and gave them a New Testament.
My friend read that New Testament in about two to three days, and his conclusion was if God is like this, seeing the life of Jesus, he said, I'm in. He has followed Jesus since that day, has been removed from his own country. His wife has been kicked out. They can't go back for fear of their own lives. They now live in Europe, working with people from their country, who have settled in Europe.
God has revealed who he is, the image of God is made visible in Christ.
'Firstborn of all creation'
Secondly, he is "the firstborn of all creation." "Firstborn" does not mean that Jesus was created. The Bible unapologetically affirms that Jesus is eternal. He has no beginning and he has no end. So what does it mean then? Firstborn in the culture that the Bible was written into is the person in the family who has the authority of the father. He will be the one who is the heir of all the father's wealth and responsibility. The firstborn would be the one that the family looks to, should the father depart. So this doesn't speak of Jesus being created; this speaks of Jesus' rank, authority, and honor. It's used to speak of Israel in Exodus 4. It's used to speak of King David in Psalm 89. It means exalted above all others. So the firstborn of all creation means that Jesus stands over all of creation and governs it according to his will. This is why it's connected to the next verse with this.
"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." Everything in the cosmos, temporal or eternal, seen or unseen, was created through Jesus, by Jesus, and for Jesus. My friend Luke Curillo explained it to me this way. Christ is the source, the agent, and the goal of all things.
Notice the language of authority—"thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities." There is no power, earthly or spiritual, that is equal to or greater than Christ. His plans are not dependent upon any one person or political persuasion triumphing. Nor is his battle over evil an equal battle between evenly matched adversaries. Jesus is supreme over every authority in the cosmos. That everything, whether it be an earthly throne or a spiritual throne, exists by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. It will ultimately serve his redemptive plans.
'He is before all things'
"And he is before all things … "—this speaks of his eternality and his worth—"… and in him all things hold together." Hebrews says it this way: "He upholds the universe by the word of his power." Meaning, the entire planet and cosmos is held together by the sustaining power of Christ.
I was thinking about this verse this last week, as my daughter and I went to The Nutcracker at The Oregon Ballet Theater. When I was younger I really wasn't into that stuff. Now I am, I'm fascinated by it. As I watched this I was amazed by the artistry, choreography, talent, discipline, and athleticism of professional ballet dancers. It's remarkable, actually. Then the thought struck me, because I've been these verses this week, that the creativity, artistry, athletic ability, and the ability to pull all those different ingredients together to create one product that blesses and entertains and encourages and helps people, is sustained by Jesus. So in that auditorium, Christ sustains everything possible to make this beautiful piece of art possible for enjoyment. Theologians calls this "common grace." That God, because of his great kindness, even people that hate him the sun still shines and there will still be rain. Christ sustains it all.
For those of us in this room who recognize Jesus and love him, for those of us in this room who are completely indifferent to him, and for those of us in this room who are against him, we are all completely and totally dependent on Jesus for everything. We understand that even as we say that, particularly in a Christmas service, there's going to be people that disagree. "Jesus sustaining the Oregon Ballet Theater. What are you talking about, man?" What we would say to you is this: Ask God to open your eyes to the reality of what's really going on around you. We submit that to you respectfully. Ask him to show you the truth.
Head of the body, the church'
"He is the head of the body, the church." Church not being a building. Church being people who have true faith in Jesus at any time in history and throughout the world. They are, we are, the church. So whether it's those of us who are currently living in the free and wealthy North America, or whether it's the numerically exploding church of Central and South America, or whether it's the historical churches of Europe—I was in Sweden in April and met a guy whose church, a small fellowship, has been meeting and faithful to the gospel since the sixteen hundreds.—or the small and suffering church of North Africa and the Middle East or the beautiful growing churches of West and Sub-Saharan Africa or the growing, often persecuted mission minded churches of Asia, Jesus is our source. Jesus is our leader. We exist to fulfill the redemptive purposes of him.
"He is the beginning … " My children all asked me at various stages of growing up, and I'm sure your kids have said the same, "When did God begin?" Because in the finite mind everything is bordered by time and space. There's a beginning and an end to everything. The Scriptures affirm that Jesus is the beginning. He didn't have a start. He is the start. He is the beginning.
'Firstborn among the dead'
"… the firstborn from among the dead …" There's that word again. We already established it doesn't mean he was created. It's referring to his rank and honor. So what does it mean that he's "the firstborn among the dead"? Everyone who trusts in Jesus will rise from the dead. Meaning this body is temporal. The work of the gospel is that I will get a new body completed in Christ, free from death and sin, in a restored world. How is it that that resurrection is even possible? Why is that going to happen? The Scriptures affirm that the reason my resurrection is possible is because Jesus already rose. 1 Corinthians 15 refers to him as the "first-fruit." It's like the down payment. You go buy a car and it costs ten grand and you put a grand down on the car, the grand is a guarantee that the other nine thousand is coming. This is Christ. His resurrection guarantees your resurrection. So he is the greatest of all who rise from the dead, because his resurrection secures our resurrection.
'He might be preeminent'
"… the firstborn from among the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." So God has so willed that everything is summed up in Christ. That the pinnacle of all things is Jesus. This is how God has willed it. God so wanted to demonstrate that and solidify that, that his Son Christ Jesus conquered the greatest enemy to you and I, death. If he is conquering even death, then there is nothing in the cosmos that is not subject to Jesus.
'Fullness of God' dwells
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell …" So Jesus was not an emanation from God like we used to watch in Star Wars or Star Trek. Jesus was not a hologram. Jesus was not a partial representative of God. Jesus is not a piece of the pie. Tim Keller says it this way, "Many people have this perception that Christ is a piece of the pie, and you have this pie and the Holy Spirit is one piece, and God the Father is one piece, and Jesus is another piece and you take that piece but that piece is separate from all the other pieces of God." He was not just a piece of the pie, nor was he just a good guy with extraordinary abilities. Jesus was amazing. It's really amazing how he could do those things. He had some kind of miracle powers. He was much more than that. The Bible affirms that the totality of who God is dwelt in Christ. So when we go through Mark and we see Jesus showing particular concerns for social outcasts, people who've been pushed off from society, whether that's lepers or people with chronic illness and everyone else says, "Stay away from us." We see Jesus' compassion and grace towards them, that's not a partial representative of God doing it, that's not an emanation from God doing it, that is God doing that. Or when we see him say that we're to love our enemies or be humble or serve people or not lust, that's not a representative of God saying that. That is God saying that.
And it says that " … the fullness of God was pleased to dwell … " That for God to become a man as celebrated on Christmas Day brought God joy and pleasure.
'Reconcile to himself all things'
" … and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven … " Before sin, as recorded in the Scriptures, God and his creation were in perfect harmony. Not only human beings, all of creation. Sin, disobedience to God, came into the picture thus creating brokenness. It's why I can be a believer now for twenty years, one of the pastors at a church here at The Well, and still be battling my brokenness. It's why all of us, no matter how mature in the faith we get, there will always be part of us that wants to sin. It's because something in us is broken. It's why creation itself is broken. It's why even the planet itself is not all right. The promise of the gospel and the work of Jesus is that he will restore things to how they were before sin. So the work of sin to bring this brokenness will be undone. The harmonies that existed between God and his creation, Eden, will continue. We see some of that around us, but we haven't seen the full show.
It's like if you go to a movie and you see the previews and you watch the previews and they give up a glimpse of the movie that's yet to be released and you say, "I kind of know the main characters and I kind of see some of the plotline and I kind of know what's going to be interesting or intriguing about the movie, but there's no way I'll fully understand it or see it until the movie hits the theaters." This is the work of redemption. Christ has come and set in motion the redemptive plan of God, but we are still in the previews. We know the main characters. We know the plotline, kind of. We know what's intriguing and exciting. We don't quite know how it's all going to come together and when it will. But the promise is is that it will. This is the work of the gospel restoring all things.
And I heard every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might and power forever!"
Now I've read that verse a lot, but I've never seen the emphasis on the creatures. The creatures in heaven, the creatures on the earth, the creatures under the earth, and the creatures in the sea will worship Jesus. I thought of my daughter's little rabbit, Wesley the rabbit, and this verse hit me to say the worth of redemption is so comprehensive and complete that even little Wesley sings the glories of Jesus, so teaches the Scriptures. That's how comprehensive, the restoration of creation is. Now I know it's probably not going to be Wesley himself, some sort of prototype. I know it's figurative language. I don't know how it's going to fully look. But there is a worshiping of all creation that happens to Jesus in the new heaven and the new earth.
Now this does not mean that everyone will be saved. The Scriptures make it very clear that this restoration and reconciliation and the participation in the new kingdom is reserved for those who have come to faith in Christ. How does this great restoration happen? By the blood Jesus shed on the Cross.
A just God requires an offering for sin. Use the analogy of a crooked judge, a judge who sits on the bench and governs the affairs of his certain jurisdiction but does so on brides, on crookedness, on putting justice under the rug, on letting whoever he wants get through arbitrarily but then punishing others is not justice. And we, the human side of us, would say that's totally unjust. God cannot allow sin to go undealt with. He is the perfect definition of all things right, true, good, perfect, and just. He must deal with sin. So in the Old Testament, before Jesus came, it was through animal sacrifices. That's why you read the first five books of the Bible and you think, What's up with all the dead animals? What's going on here? It's because God must deal with sin. But the gospel says because of his great love for us and his mercy towards us and his kindness and patience with us, he does not want to unleash that judgment upon us. So satisfying his just wrath, of taking upon himself the punishment, was the Head of the church, the One to whom all things belong and through whom all thing were created, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn among the dead, him whom God was pleased to dwell in totality. Jesus stepped in for us; whereon the line of guilty people it's time to step forward and take the punishment, and Christ comes from behind the scenes and says, "It's my punishment to take on behalf of these guilty ones." That is the power and love and mercy and kindness displayed to us in the gospel of Christ.
So this is the Christ we celebrate at Christmas.
For those who believe the gospel, we would encourage you to continue in the faith. I've been struck recently, especially at the end of the New Testament—2 Peter, Jude, Revelation— by all of the encouragement to continue in the faith, that we must each day recommit to Christ's gospel, each day recommit ourselves to the lordship of Jesus, and not be one who doesn't make it. The gospel is so great and so good and so glorious. May nothing steal us from him. For those who do not believe the gospel, we would say respectfully and humbly and graciously, that there is no middle ground. You either believe on Christ or you reject him. As Scripture calls, as Jesus calls, us to turn from sin and believe in the gospel.
As we were talking about this at our pastors' meeting this week, we were talking about the fact that God knows what's best for us because he's the One who made us. So the person living in sin says, "I don't want to follow Jesus because I like this," is in reality destroying himself or herself. God made you and God knows what is best for us as human beings, and he has so determined that the best thing for us is to leave the false lie of the pleasures of sin, to repent, and turn to Jesus. That is your great reward and the great grace he offers to everyone in this room. This is Christ, our amazing, wonderful, gracious Savior.
CJ Coffee serves as one of the pastors of The Well Church in Portland, Oregon.