Who Is Jesus and Why Does It Matter?
Introduction: The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ
Dr. James Allan Francis, in 1926, wrote a sermon about the Lord Jesus Christ, from which came this essay that has become famous. It is entitled: "One Solitary Life." He says:
"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years, He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life."
Today more than 20 centuries have passed and Dr. Allan's words still apply. Jesus Christ is the most influential figure in history and it would be a mistake of the greatest magnitude to disregard Him and His claims on your life. Indeed, if Jesus is who He and the writers of the New Testament say that He is, then none of us will be able to ignore Him. We may try for the duration of our lives here on this earth. However, the truth is that one day "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).
So just who is this Jesus of Nazareth and why does it matter? The Apostle Paul, in the book of Colossians, gives us that very answer. In this short Epistle, the Apostle was combating some heresies about Christ. And it is because of this that we get an accurate picture of what the first-century believers were being taught about Jesus and His mission to this earth.
Contrary to what some would have us believe, the idea of Jesus being the Creator-God is not some late addition to people's beliefs that men came up with centuries later. It was taught from the very beginning by those who knew the Lord personally. And just a few years after His death, people like Paul were recording their understanding about Jesus in the Scriptures.
Let us begin by giving some background to this epistle and the city to which it was written.
Background to Colossians
The book of Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in a prison in Rome because of his faith and the teaching that he was spreading about the gospel. By gospel we mean the good news that man can receive righteousness and eternal salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. This was the first Roman imprisonment that Paul underwent. He is believed to have been released from this but was later placed back into prison and finally martyred by being beheaded.
So the letter was sent by Paul to the Colossians between 62 and 63 A.D. The city of Colossae lay inland from Ephesus. Ephesus is the city in which Paul had spent 3 years, though he probably never visited Colossae at all. The church in Colossae was believed to have been established by Epaphras. It was an important city at the time that lay on the banks of the River Lycos near the modern town of Honaz in Turkey.
The Church at Colossae was a faithful body of believers but they were beginning to be infiltrated by a group which was starting to destroy the pure gospel and distorting who Christ is. In the second century, they became known as the Gnostics but they were around much earlier.
The name of these heretics came from the Greek word gnósis which means knowledge. They believed that they had a special form of enlightenment that no one else had.
The Gnostics saw everything as categorized under two opposing principles. There was the good which was associated with the immaterial or spiritual. The evil was anything material such as the material universe. Therefore, our fleshly bodies were thought to be evil. God, to be good, must be spiritual. Therefore, the idea of Christ becoming flesh was abhorrent to them. God would never become a man or step into man's world. Thus Christ must be a lower being, or like a shadow cast on a screen.
To the Gnostics, man contained a spark of the divine but it is trapped in a physical body. So they could never stomach the idea of the resurrection of the body.
In order to approach God, according to these false teachers, you have to go through a series of angelic intermediaries, each more distant from us than the first. They believed that if Christ were supernatural, then He must be a lower order since He had contact with the physical world.
Most of these false teachers taught that these powerful intermediary spirits, that all had to go through, held the destiny of individual in their hands. So they taught the worship of angels in order to try to placate them or make them less hostile to humans.
Before we get too haughty and think that man would never have such unbiblical views today, let's remember that there are many heretical views in the 21st century as well.
For example, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jesus is the first created being of God.
Mormons think Christ is the spirit brother of Lucifer. Although many will deny that they teach this today, it is part of their official doctrine. Mormon prophets have also taught that Jesus was conceived by sexual intercourse (physical union) between God the Father and Mary: Brigham Young once said: "The birth of the Savior was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action.
Looking further, Muslims say that Jesus is just a prophet. Hindus call our Lord an 'enlightened man.' And there are other groups such as Christian Scientists that would say that Jesus is not God.
If the truth is told, we have just as many, if not more forms of false teaching about Christ Jesus as there were in the first century. Even some churches that call themselves Evangelical have a questionable theology about our Lord. So we must always be aware of false teaching creeping into any church that we attend.
In order to do have this awareness, we need to get to know Scriptures like Colossians. If we were to summarize this book in one phrase it would be:
'The supremacy and all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.'
With this in mind, let us look at what Paul told the Colossians about our Savior. Just who is the real Jesus Christ?
I. Jesus is God, the Creator of All Things (13-17a)
First of all, Paul wants us to know that Jesus is God, the Creator of all things.
If we are believers in Jesus Christ then Paul tells us that God the Father has delivered us from darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. And who is this Son of God? According to verse 15:
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all of creation."
The phrase: "image of the invisible God here is the word Eiko from which we get the English word icon. It means "copy" or "likeness". Jesus Christ is the perfect image or exact likeness of God and is in the very form of God and has been for all eternity. By describing Jesus in this way, Paul is saying that Jesus is both the representation and manifestation of God.
The Apostle says something similar to this in Philippians 2:5-8 when he tells us:
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross.
The Apostle John also talks about this concept in John 1:1,14 when he says:
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."
And at least one other Scripture can be added to this mix. The writer of Hebrews tells us this concerning the Son:
"And He is the exact representation of His (i.e. the Father's) nature and upholds all things by the Word of His power." (Hebrews 1:3).
Not only is Jesus God, but He is said to be the Firstborn of all creation. Although at times the Greek term prototokos can refer to being born first chronologically, it more often refers to preeminence in position or rank. In both Jewish and Greek cultures, the firstborn son was the one who ranked first to receive the inheritance from the father. That is true whether he was born first biologically or not. It was actually used of Israel in Exodus 4:22 even though they clearly were not the first nation. And God is said to have made King David "my firstborn" in Psalm 89:27 even though he was the last son born to Jesse.
Here is what John Macarthur, in his Study Bible, has to say about this term:
"Firstborn in this context clearly means "highest in rank" and not first created, for several reasons.
- Christ cannot be both first-begotten and only-begotten.
- When the firstborn is one of a class, the class is in the plural. But creation, "the class" is in the singular form here.
- If Paul was teaching that Christ was a created being, he was agreeing with the heresy he was writing to refute.
- It is impossible for Christ to be both the created and the Creator of all things.
Thus Jesus is firstborn in the sense that He has the preeminence and possesses the right of inheritance over "all creation." He existed before the creation and is exalted in rank above it."
Isn't it amazing that when we worship the Lord Jesus Christ, it is sometimes easy to take for granted that this same person created all things? Just one example of Jesus' greatness is the Milky Way, the Galaxy in which we live. It contains over 200 billion stars and has enough dust and gas to make billions more. And yet the Scripture says that He knows each one by name (Psalm 147:4).
Our Solar System is about 25,000 light-years away from the center of our galaxy.
A light-year is a unit of length used informally to express astronomical distances. It is approximately 9 trillion kilometers (or about 6 trillion miles). As defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a light-year is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one Julian year, traveling at 186,282 miles per second. So we live in an enormous galaxy.
And just as Earth goes around the Sun, the Sun goes around the center of the Milky Way. Interestingly, it takes 250 million years for our Sun and the solar system to go all the way around the center of the Milky Way. And who created it all? Paul tells us that our Lord Jesus created, not only this but everything else that is in existence.
He says in verse 16:
"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things have been created through Him and for Him."
When he says that thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities have been created through Him, the Apostle is attacking directly the Gnostic heresy that Jesus is somehow lesser than the angels. These are all categories of angelic beings. Paul makes it clear that Jesus is not only superior to them, but it was He who brought them into being in the first place. Also, no matter what their rank, it is Jesus that rules over them.
And why were they created? This passage answers that question. And it answers the two biggest questions that mankind can ask: "Where did I come from?" and "Why am I here?" Colossians tells us that we came from the creative hand of Almighty God. Specifically, we came from Jesus Christ. And we exist for Him. We were made for the glory of God. And all that we do and say should be to that end, to bring Him glory.
II. Jesus is the One Who Sustains the Universe (17b)
As we continue in our text, we see that not only did Jesus create everything but He also holds it all together. Christ sustains the universe. He maintains the balance necessary for life's existence. If it were possible for Him to stop paying attention to it for one second it would cease to exist.
I like the illustration of laminin which is the cell adhesion molecule. Laminin molecules literally hold the cells together. And if you look at a picture of these molecules, or see them under a microscope, they are in the form of a cross. That is a beautifully natural picture of what the Lord Jesus does in our bodies and in the whole universe. He keeps everything from coming apart.
III. He is Head of the Body and the Firstborn from the Dead (18-19)
Paul continues further by saying that Christ is the head of the Body which is the Church. Just as a physical body cannot exist without the head and is controlled by it, so the spiritual Body, made up of all believers in Jesus Christ in this present dispensation in which we are living, cannot exist without the Lord. He controls the Body, His Church, and gives it life.
Once again Paul uses the word firstborn when he says that Christ is 'the beginning, the firstborn from the dead." The beginning refers to both the source and preeminence. The church had its origins in the Lord. He also gave it life by His death and resurrection. And now He is its sovereign or Lord.
Being the firstborn from the dead, Jesus is also the first to be raised never to die again. He is the beginning of a new humanity. We are originally the offspring of Adam, the first man, and are subject to death. In Christ, the second Adam, we will live forevermore.
The result of all this is not that Christ should be shown to be some second-class spirit or angel. He is to have first place in everything. That includes our life as well. Jesus doesn't want visiting privileges in our life. He wants and deserves to be the head of it. No other place will do.
Paul tells us as well that it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Jesus (19). This is a term probably used by the heretics to show that divine powers were divided among various emanations or spirits. The Apostle countered this false teaching by telling the Colossians that all the divine powers and attributes are not scattered. They are found in Jesus Christ alone.
IV. Jesus is the Reconciler of All Things (20-23)
Finally, we see in verses 19-23 that, beyond creating and sustaining all things, Jesus is also the reconciler of all those things as well.
Man has sinned and is in rebellion against God. Through His blood, shed on the cross, Jesus has reconciled us to Himself. The word for reconcile means to change or exchange. Jesus has changed man's relationship with a holy God. The Lord cannot look upon sin and His wrath is kindled against those who commit it. However, Jesus' death and resurrection have restored man to a right relationship with God. It is a free gift that is accepted by faith in Christ.
Not only that but Jesus' death will ultimately lead to the whole universe, which is itself affected by sin, to be made new. It will be brought back into a pristine state where it will do nothing but reflect the glory of the God who made it.
By all things being reconciled to God, Paul doesn't mean here that all will ultimately believe and be saved. Satan and his angels and all men that continue to rebel against God will be punished and will be separated from God forever. However, all will one day submit and bow before Christ. And those who have faith in Him will live forever in the new and sinless universe He is recreating. And they will be doing Christ's bidding.
This passage tells the Colossians, and us who read it today as well, that Christ has reconciled us through His fleshly body in order that He might present us before Him as holy and blameless and beyond reproach (21-22). He hasn't saved us so we can continue to live in our old sinful state and lifestyle. Rather He has given us salvation to present us as a trophy of His grace, freed from the presence of sin and made fit to live in the new universe that He is preparing for those who love Him.
The only stipulation that Paul gives for Christ to allow us to be a part of this is found in verse 23. He tells us:
"If indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the gospel that you have heard, which is proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister."
The only people who wouldn't continue in faith are those who aren't true believers in the first place. The Apostle John in his first Epistle tells us:
"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."
All true believers will continue in faith and obedience because, in addition to being declared righteous, they are new creatures in Christ as well (II Corinthians 5:17). They now have a disposition that loves God and wants to do His will. And they realize that Christ Jesus is the only solid foundation on which to stand. Also, they have the Holy Spirit in them who leads them and is the down payment showing that God will finish the work that He started in them (Ephesians 1:14; Philippians 1:6). This, and much more shows that the true believer is secure in Christ forever.
So there we have it. Now it is up to every person who hears this to make up their mind. Jesus made some extraordinary claims and, in Colossians, extraordinary claims were made about Him. I think C.S. Lewis said it best when he told us:
"You must make your choice: either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
If you haven't fallen at His feet and accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, there is still time as long as you have breath in your body. But those who don't fall at His feet as Savior today will fall at His feet as your judge when you die.
Jesus is indeed God, the Creator and the One who sustains the universe. He is the beginner of this new humanity called the Body of Christ, the Church. And He is the One person in this whole universe who can reconcile us back to a Holy God. Therefore, it matters eternally whether you know Him or not. If you don't get anything else right in life, get this: "Jesus is Lord of all. And He will have His way with you and with all of His creation, in the end, whether you want Him to do so or not. Every knee will bow before Him!!
May we all remember that we belong to Him by creation and by reconciliation. Let us acknowledge that fact by giving Jesus first place in everything. In doing this we will ultimately fulfill the purpose for which we were designed. For it is only in Him that we discover the meaning that we have been searching for all of our lives. When we find Jesus, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief. For the search is over when Jesus is Lord!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley