Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: Learning About God

Purpose: To recognize Jesus Christ as the ultimate revelation of God’s work present throughout the history of Israel.

Scripture: Hebrews 1

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t speak to us the way He did in biblical times?

How does God speak to us in our times?

Does God speak to people outside of Scripture?

The Letter to the Hebrews has been called "the riddle of the New Testament". When it was written, to whom it was written, and who wrote it are all matters of debate. Even the label of "epistle" or "letter" is a matter of debate. It is written more like a sermon than a letter.

We can be reasonably sure that it was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. It was written to "second-generation" Christians, those who learned of Christ not through personal witness of Jesus himself, but learned of Christ from those who were personal witnesses (2:3). It was not written to new Christians, but to supposedly mature Christians (5:12). There is an indication that the recipients of this "letter" had experienced some persecution but not to the point of martyrdom (10:32-34, 13:7, 12:4).

It was probably not written to one of the great churches or certainly that church would have been named or at least tradition would have remembered the recipient. We are told that it was written to a long-established church (5:12). A church that had experienced some persecution (10:32-34). A church which had in the past had great leaders and teachers (13:7). It was a church that had not been directly founded by the apostles (2:3). It was recognized as a giving church (6:10). The only mention of place is a reference to Italy in 13:24. It is difficult to discern from that one reference whether the letter was written from a church in Italy or to a church in Italy.

It was not written to uninformed Christians. This letter seems to have been written to a group of scholars. Judging from the language in 5:12 we can conclude that the recipients of this letter were in some type of seminary preparing to become teachers of Christian faith. A reading of Hebrews makes it readily apparent, by the assumed Old Testament knowledge of the recipients, that this letter was written by a scholar for other scholars. It is possible that this is a letter written by a great teacher to a group of college students in Rome or some other location in Italy.

But what message does Hebrews convey?

The message of Hebrews was to address some concepts of the faith of the day. There are, broadly speaking, four concepts of faith offered in the New Testament:

1. There is faith as inward fellowship with God. A union with Christ so close and so intimate that Christians can be said to live in Christ and Christ live in them. This was Paul’s concept of faith.

2. There is faith as the standard for life (holiness) and the power needed to achieve that standard. This was the faith as described by James and Peter. To these two early leaders of the church, faith showed them what life ought to be and also enabled them to attain that life.

3. There is faith as the highest satisfaction of the mind. Some seekers seek and seek until they find what they seek: rest in God. Plato said, "The unexamined life in the life not worth living." There are certain people who must have an understanding of life in order to make sense of life. These are the philosophers among us. This was the faith of John. The first chapter of the Gospel of John is one of the greatest attempts in the world to state faith in a way that satisfies the mind as well as the heart.

4. There is faith as access to God. This faith removes the barriers and opens the door to the living presence of God. This was the faith of the writer of Hebrews. This writer’s mind was dominated with the idea of access to God. The writer of Hebrews found in Jesus Christ the one path which could take us into the very presence of God. It is possible that the group to whom the letter was written were debating a return to pure Judaism. The author made the case that God there can be no access to God except through Jesus Christ.

The Letter to the Hebrews through the sheer power of it’s message found it’s way into the canon of the Church without the name of an apostle, a charismatic leader or teacher or the name of one of the successful early churches.

The message of Hebrews is that Jesus is better, Christianity is superior, Christ is supreme and completely sufficient for salvation. The superiority of Christ over everyone and everything is clearly the intended message of the author. Christianity supercedes all other supposed paths to God and will never be surpassed. Where can one possibly find anything better than Christ? All competing paths are deceptions, cheap imitations, or delusions.

According to the author of Hebrews, both Judaism and Christianity are religions revealed by God. This writer argues that Christianity is superior to Judaism even though the ultimate revelation of God came to us through Judaism. The incarnation of God entered history in the history of Israel and there was a reason for that. God’s plan for redemption of the world involved choosing a people who would become so accustomed to hearing the word of God that when the Word became incarnate, they would be able to recognize that word as God’s. God promised Abraham that his descendants would become a blessing for all the earth. The early church and all Christians insist that through Jesus, that promise was fulfilled.

The writer contrasted the Old Testament system of Law with the New Testament ministry of grace and over and over makes it clear that the Judaic system of Law was temporary and that it could not bring about the eternal "better things" that are found in Jesus Christ.

The word "better" is used thirteen times in this book as the writer shows the superiority of Jesus Christ and His salvation over the Hebrew system of Law. Christ is "better than the angels"(1:4). He brought in a "better hope" (7:19) because He is the mediator of a "better covenant" which was established on "better promises"(8:6).

Another word used repeatedly in this book is "perfect". This word or synonyms for it is used fourteen times. The author refers to a perfect standing before God. This perfection could never be accomplished by the priesthood (7:11) or by the Law (7:19). This perfection could not be obtained through animal sacrifice (10:1). Jesus Christ, by giving Himself as the final offering has "perfected forever them that are sanctified" (10:14).

A third common word of the letter is "eternal". Christ is the "author of eternal salvation" (5:9). He has obtained for us "eternal redemption" (9:12). He shares with us the "eternal inheritance" (9:15). His throne is forever(1:8). He is a priest forever (5:6, 6:20, 7:17, 7:21).

Heb 13:8 ESV
(8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The Letter to the Hebrews is a book of exaltation. This is made clear with the opening verses of the letter.

Heb 1:1-3 ESV
(1) Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
(2) but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
(3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

These verses set the high and holy theme which is maintained throughout the entire letter. This letter is the most stylistically impressive piece of Greek literature in the whole New Testament. This is a passage that any classical Greek orator would have been proud to write. The writer of Hebrews brought to it every possible skill and form of word and rhythm that the beautiful and flexible Greek language could provide. The writer to the Hebrews felt that, since this letter was to speak of the supreme revelation of God, the ideas must be clothed in the noblest language that it was possible to find. The person who wrote this letter must have been trained in Greek oratory. When he became a Christian, he did not throw away his training. He used the talent he had in the service of Jesus Christ.

What seems to be the immediate purpose of these verses?

There immediate purpose is to prove that Jesus Christ is superior to the prophets, the men who were held in the highest esteem by the Jewish people of the first century.

In what ways is Christ superior to the prophets?

To begin with He is the Son of God, not merely a man called by God. He is an "exact imprint" of the glory of God, an "appointed heir", and "through whom" was created the world . This echoes last weeks scripture from Colossians:

Col 1:15-16 ESV
(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.

These descriptions could never be applied to a mortal man. The basic idea of this letter is that Jesus Christ alone brings men and women the full revelation of God and that He alone enables them to enter into the very presence of God.

Does the writer say in verse 1 that God no longer spoke to the people of Israel?

What is the difference between how God spoke to the prophets and how He spoke to first century Christians?

The writer contrasts Jesus with the prophets. The prophets were always considered to be the confidants of God. After the time of exile, the Hebrews believed that the age of the prophets was over. They believed that direct conversation with God through prophets was a thing of the past. By the first century, Jewish belief was that God’s means of communication was the Scriptures, the writing from the age of the prophets, when the prophets received and delivered direct messages from God. In the age of the prophets, God used many approaches, "in many and various ways (NRSV)" or "at many times and in many ways (ESV)".

What were some of the ways that God offered His word through the prophets?

Revelation means that something hidden has been uncovered and can now be known. We must remember that of God, we know nothing about him except what He has chosen to reveal using whatever method He has chosen to reveal it. There is very much about God that we would like to know, but we know with certainty only what God has chosen to reveal. Knowledge of God is not discovered by accident or chance. It has come to us through the process of revelation. We know about God because he reveals himself. Our knowledge is not due to our research or study or quest for knowledge.

Revelation is also progressive. God reveals Himself in stages. The prophets were one stage of the progression of revelation. The ultimate revelation of God came in the form of Jesus Christ. This passage of scripture and last week’s lesson tells us that God has revealed Himself totally in His Son. God has told us everything that we need to know for our earthly existence.

Do you agree?

There is often a tension between our quest for knowledge and truth and Truth as has been revealed to us.

Dr. Robert Jastrow, a self described agnostic, has all the credentials of one who could be hostile to Truth as revealed by God. Jastrow, a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Columbia University, joined NASA when it was formed in 1958. Jastrow was first chairman of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Committee, Chief of the Theoretical Division of NASA from 1958-61, was a founding director of NASA’s Goddard Institute where he served until his retirement from NASA in 1981. Post-retirement he has served as Professor of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College and Professor of Geophysics at Columbia. Jastrow has appeared on over 100 television news programs concerning the space program. With those credentials, what do you think Dr. Jastrow’s position would be in the debate for intelligent design?

He has made several statements that have been picked up by those who support a theory of intelligent design that seem to support their cause. He has expressed views on creation, that although he is "agnostic, and not a believer" it seems to him that "the curtain drawn over the mystery of creation will never be raised by human efforts." In his 1978 book, God and the Astronomers, he tells a story of a "scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason." This scientist has "scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak. As he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Where do we learn about God, the one who created and sustains all things?

We learn about God, the one who created and sustains all things, from Jesus, the one who created and sustains all things.

There was great diversity in the revelation to the prophets. From age to age, the prophets had spoken, always fitting their message to the age, never letting it get out of date. And yet, at the same time, the message of the prophets was fragmentary. Their message had to be presented in a way that the people of the time would understand. Time after time, the prophets are characterized by one idea. For instance, Amos and Micah call out a cry for social justice. Isaiah had grasped the holiness of God. Hosea, because of his disfunctional family life and bitter experiences at home, discovered the forgiving nature of God. Out of their own experience of life and out of the experience of Israel, that prophets had each grasped and expressed a fragment of the truth of God. No prophet had grasped the fulness of the truth in its entirety.

The prophets used many methods to offer their message to the world. The most common method was speech. They spoke the truth as revealed to them by God. When speech failed they used drama. In 1 Kings 11, Ahijah tore his new cloak into twelve pieces to show King Jeroboam how God would tear apart the tribes of Israel. Jeremiah used a rotted loincloth (Jer. 13) and yokes and harnesses (Jer. 27) to illustrate how God would use Israel. Ezekiel laid on a brick engraved with the image of Jerusalem (Eze 4) and shaved his head (Eze 5) to show the people how they would be defeated. The prophets had to use human methods to transmit their part of the truth of God.

How was Jesus’ revelation different than the prophets?

With Jesus it was different. Jesus was not a fragment of the truth. He was the whole truth. In Jesus, God did not reveal just a part of Himself, but his entirety. Jesus did not reveal His message merely by word or illustrations (although He did use both). Jesus revealed God by being himself.

The revelations of the prophets was great and came in many forms, but it was fragmentary and presented only by such methods as they could find to make it effective. The revelation of God in Jesus was complete and was presented in Jesus himself. The prophets were friends of God. Jesus was the Son. The prophets grasped a part of the mind of God, but Jesus was that mind.

Did the author of Hebrews in any way belittle the prophets?

No, his only aim was to establish the supremacy of Christ. The author does not say that there is a break between the Old Testament revelation and that of the New. He instead stresses the fact that there is continuity, and that that continuity ends in consummation.

How does God speak to us?

The proper "Methodist" answer is through Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

What else does the author tell us about Jesus in these first verses of the letter?

He is the Son, the "appointed heir" to "all things". The age of the prophets may be over, but God has spoken to us in a new and more dramatic fashion, by a Son rather than by a prophet. This does not mean that the prophets were wrong but rather that the Son was much more than a prophet. Although the prophets spoke the word of God, the Son is the Word of God.

Last week we learned that "firstborn" does not necessarily mean born first. "Firstborn" was a title given to a chosen heir. Here we are told that Jesus was "appointed heir".

Using language similar to last weeks lesson from Collosians, we are told that the Son was intimately connected with Creation itself. "All things were created through him."

Jesus is the "radiance (reflection) of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being".

The reason that various translations interpret the original Greek as "radiance" or "reflection" is that the original Greek word, apagausma, can mean either light that radiates from a source or light that is reflected from something else. The sun radiates light, the moon reflects that light. Apagausma could be used when speaking of sunlight or moonlight. Jesus is very often spoken of in terms of light. In the Nicene Creed we affirm that the Son is "light from light", not a separate, independent light and yet not simply a reflector of the true light. Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God, was not simply a reflection of God, but was, and is, God. However, as a human being like us, he reflected God’s glory rather than seeking to have his own.

Jesus is the "exact imprint" of the nature of God. What does "exact imprint" mean to you?

"Exact imprint" would have made more sense to the early Christians than it does to us. This phrase "exact imprint" is translated from the Greek word "charakter". All men of power in those days had a signet ring with a seal. Any time an important communication or contract was made, a bit of wax was placed on the communication, the ring was impressed into the wax. The image of the seal was the "exact imprint" of the important person. This "exact imprint" or "charakter" made the document official. Anyone who has any experience with contracts of any type is familiar with having documents notarized. A notary places a seal on a document, declaring that the signatures on the document are the "exact imprint" made by the signing party. "Charakter" means two things, first the seal, and second the impression that the seal leaves in the wax. The impression has the exact form of the seal. So when the writer of Hebrews said that Jesus was the "charakter" of the nature of God, he meant that he was the perfect image of God. Just as when you look at an impression made with a seal, you see exactly what the seal which made it is like, when you look at Jesus you see exactly what God is like. Jesus did not carry a seal, he himself was the seal, the charakter, the exact imprint of God.

Both the image of light and the image of the exact imprint convey the message that Jesus was not simply a bearer or prophet of God’s word. Rather, he was and is the Word. The Word incarnate in Christ and the word spoken through the prophets were both God’s word, but the means of communication had changed dramatically.

In another repeat from last weeks lesson, we are told that Jesus created the world and sustains the world. Jesus was God’s agent in creation. God had originally created the world through Jesus. The sustaining power in the world belongs to Jesus. Jesus did not create the world and then leave it to itself. The power that carries the world and each life on to it’s destined end belongs to Jesus.

As Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote in "In Memoriam":
(I would love to read you this entire poem, but at over 130 verses, time will not allow.)

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete.

To Jesus belongs the creative work, the sustaining work as well as the redemptive work. The one who created the world was also the one who redeemed it. By his sacrifice, he paid the price for sin, by his continual presence, he liberates from sin.

To Jesus belongs the place at the right hand of God as mediator. Jesus has taken his place next to the Father, not as judge, but as one who makes intercession for us, so that when we enter into the presence of God, we go not to hear his prosecution of us, but to hear his love plead for us.

How many of you have angels in your Christmas decorations?

Do you sense a renewed fascination with angels in modern culture?

Where is the evidence of this?

I did a Google search for "angel" and got 93 million hits. Television programs, movies, and novels are filled with fanciful accounts of divine visitations. Cards, pictures, and artwork have used angels as a decorative motif.

Why do you think that there is such a modern interest in angels?

What does the bible tell us about angels?

What was/is the angels proper place in the hierarchy of God’s progression of revelation?

Is the modern infatuation with angels really much different from the beliefs of the first century?

Let’s see what the writer of Hebrews tells us of the relationship between Jesus and angels:

Heb 1:4-14 ESV
(4) having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
(5) For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
(6) And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
(7) Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire."
(8) But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
(9) You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
(10) And, "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;
(11) they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,
(12) like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end."
(13) And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?
(14) Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Judging by what the author chose to say about angels, what do you think may have been some of the first century beliefs about angels?

The author has already proven Jesus’ superiority over all the prophets. Now he attempts to prove Jesus’ superiority over the angels. That he thinks it worthwhile to do so, proves that belief in angels had to be in the thought of the Jews of his time. At that time, like today, belief in angels was on the increase. The reason, and probably the same reason holds true today, is that people thought more and more about the transcendent nature of God. People feel the distance and difference between themselves and God. The result is that people come to think of angels as intermediaries between God and human beings. They believe that angels bridge the gulf between man and God, that God speaks through angels, and even that angels carry their prayers into the presence of God. We can see evidence of this belief in the New Testament itself. In the Old Testament story of Moses meeting God and receiving the Law at Mt. Sinai, the Law was given directly by God to Moses, without the need for an intermediary. But twice in the New Testament the account is told in a way that seems as if the Jews of that time believed that God gave the law first to angels and the angels passed the law on to Moses. The Jews of the first century believed that direct communication between God and man was unthinkable. (Acts 7:53, Gal 3:19)

With these prevalent beliefs the author felt the need to show that the Son of God was far greater than the angels and that those who knew the Son had not need for angels to be their intermediary with God. The one danger that the author wished to avoid at all costs was this common belief that there was a group of beings, other than Jesus, through whom people could approach God. In Christianity, there is no need for any other beings in between. Because of who Jesus was and what he did, we have direct access to God.

As Tennyson said in "The Higher Pantheism":

Speak to him thou for he hears, and Spirit
with spirit can meet-
Closer is he than breathing, and nearer
than hands and feet.

How can we use this modern infatuation with angels to point people to Jesus instead?

This section from Hebrews is comprised of seven quotes from the Old Testament, each of which prove the superiority of Jesus Christ to the angels and together gives solid, without-a-doubt proof.

The "more excellent name" that Jesus has inherited is "Son". While angels could be collectively described (as we could) as "sons of God", no angel (and no person) could be given individually the title Son of God, Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 6 returns to the language of "firstborn". As we learned last week, the term firstborn does not always mean born first. Solomon was name "firstborn" and heir of David even though he was not born first. Israel was called the "firstborn" nation of God even though there were other nations in existence before them. The title of "firstborn" is one of rank and honor, for the firstborn receives the inheritance and the special blessing of the father. Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, because He created all things.

Angels serve Jesus and in fact served him while he was on earth (Matt 4:11, Luke 22:43).

Angels minister before the throne of Christ, but have no throne of their own. The angels had no part in creating earth, for they are created beings also. Jesus Christ is the creator. The fact that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God is mentioned at least a dozen times in the New Testament. The angels are never offered this type of honor. In fact angels are servants of the Lord seated on the throne and also serve those "who are to inherit salvation".

Who is that?

That’s us.

The angels should never be confused with, or given the same honor, as the Son of God. The angels are messengers of God, but they are not God or gods. The angels could never make a sacrifice for sin. They are not the beginning or the end of creation.

Several points from this lesson:

We should never expect God to speak to us the same way he did in the time of the prophets. We should never accept any teaching that disagrees with what Jesus taught. We should never put any man or even an angel above Christ. Our worship should be to God and God alone, that includes Father, Son, and Spirit. It is never enough that we respect Jesus as a great man or a great teacher alone. God has ordered even the angels to worship Jesus.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday School Lesson: Seeking Reconciliation

Purpose: To discuss the cosmic significance of the person and work of Christ and its effect on us.

Scripture: Colossians 1: 15-23

Who and/or what is Jesus Christ?

From Adult Bible Studies:

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season that "proclaims the comings of the Christ - whose birth we prepare to celebrate once again, who comes continually in Word and Spirit, and whose return in final victory we anticipate." During the next weeks we will sing and hear familiar carols. People all across the world will hail the Christmas holiday with parties, decorations, and greeting cards. But will these parties, decorations, and cards acknowledge who this Jesus is whom we call Christ? What does his birth and life, his death and resurrection, mean to us and for us?

Suppose for a moment that you encountered a couple of people who had just heard the name Jesus Christ for the very first time. Suppose these people asked you to tell them who Jesus is and what he means. If you had just five minutes to tell them what they needed to know, what would you say? Where would you start? What points would you include in your five minute introduction to Jesus Christ?

Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians from prison. This letter was to a church that was not founded by Paul and was never visited by Paul. The church was most likely founded by Paul’s fellow servant Epaphras.

Paul’s purpose in the letter to the Colossians was to head off a threatening heresy that had found it’s way into the church. The false teachings consisted of combining Christian beliefs with ideas from other philosophies and religions. This blending of thoughts and beliefs came to be known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism emphasizes "special knowledge" of spiritual matters and has become very popular recently. Gnostic beliefs have been popularized through "The DaVinci Code" and "The Gospel of Judas" and others.

While Gnosticism is never named in the Letter to the Colossians (there may have not been a name attached to this belief system until many years later), there are many clues in the text that indicates the false teachings:

It was clearly a heresy which attacked the total adequacy and the unique supremacy of Christ. No Pauline letter has such a high view of Christ or such insistence on His completeness and finality. Paul went out of his way to stress the part that Christ played in creation. Gnostics believe that material things (all matter including the earth and all creatures on it) are evil and only spirits could be good. Therefore, according to Gnosticism, an altogether good God could not have created the world.

This belief went even further to say that if matter is altogether evil that Jesus could not have possibly been the son of God and have had an earthly body. If Jesus were the son of God he would have had to be some sort of spiritual phantom. They believed that when Jesus walked, he left no footprints. Spirits can’t leave footprints, you know. This belief completely removes Jesus from humanity and makes it impossible for him to be the Savior of human beings.

Gnosticism attempts to be a highly intellectual approach to life and faith. In order to get to know God, one would need all kinds of secret knowledge, hidden passwords, etc. The Gnostics, or intellectual ones, were dissatisfied with what they considered the unrefined simplicity of Christianity, and wanted to turn it into a philosophy and to align it with the other philosophies which were popular at the time.

If faced with gnostic beliefs, how could you answer the question "Who or what is Christ?" in a way that would show the Gnostics their errors?

The Gnostics believed that Jesus was not unique but only one of many paths to God. The Gnostics believed that one sent by God to be the revelation of God to mankind could not have had a human body. Gnostics believed that there is no simple path to God. The simple truths of the Gospel were not nearly enough.

What was Paul’s answer to the question "Who or what is Jesus Christ?"

Col 1:15-20 ESV
(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.
(18) And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
(19) For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
(20) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Let’s take Paul’s description of Christ and see how it responds to the Gnostic belief that Jesus was only one among many revelations of God and that, however great he might be, He was only a partial revelation of God.

Paul’s answer is loud and clear in his very first statement: Jesus is the image of God. This word image is translated from the Greek eikon. An image of God could be just a representation of God, but a representation, if it is perfect enough, can become a manifestation. When Paul uses this language, he declares that Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God. To see what God is like, we must look at Jesus. He perfectly represents God to us in a form that we can see and know and understand. Not "just one of many" manifestations of God like the Gnostics believe. No partial revelation. Just Jesus.

Let’s look at other thoughts about image or eikon as used in relation to the revelation of God:

We had a lesson not very long ago on Proverbs 8. Proverbs 8 deals with Wisdom. Wisdom is said to exist in eternity with God and to have been with God when he created the world. In the Deuterocanonical book The Wisdom of Solomon, Solomon says that wisdom is the eikon (image) of the goodness of God. Paul seems to say, "We have been taught (in Proverbs) that Wisdom is as old as God, that Wisdom created the world. Now Wisdom has come to us in human form in Jesus Christ."

What is the first mention of the image of God in Scripture?

Gen 1:26-27 ESV
(26) Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. ...."
(27) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Human beings were themselves created to be the eikon of God. That is what we were meant to be. According to Paul, Jesus not only shows us what God is, He shows us what we were meant to be. Humanity as God designed it. Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and the perfect manifestation of what it is to be human.

What is, according to Paul, Jesus Christ’s relation to Creation?

The Gnostics believed that creation was brought about by some being hostile to God. They believed that creation was wholly evil and could not have been created by a good God.

Paul said that Jesus was the "first-born" of all creation. What exactly is meant by the word "first-born"?

If we read this word literally with our English definitions of first and born, we would think that this tells a time of Jesus being created or born, that Jesus was the first person to be created.

How can an eternal being be ascribed a time of creation?

"First-born" in ancient cultures was not necessarily the first born, but was the title of honor given to the most favored child. Solomon was not the first child of David to be born but was named the first-born and thus the heir of David. The nation of Israel was called the first-born of God, although there were other nations in existence before Israel. First-born is a title for the Messiah in Psalm 89:27. So, clearly, first-born is not to be thought of in a time sense at all, because, as Paul continues, Jesus was not the first of the creation, but was the creator, existing from eternity, before all created things, before any concept of time. This phrase, "first-born of creation" assures us that Jesus' teaching is not just an afterthought or something tacked onto God’s original intentions in creation. First-born does not refer to time at all, but to place or status. Firstborn simply means "of first importance, or rank." If we change the "for" at the beginning of verse 16 to "because" we see more clearly why Jesus can be given the title of firstborn, "Because by him all things were created...."

Col 1:16 ESV
(16) For by him all things were created...

What was created by Him?

ALL things. What does "all" include?

Watch this passage of Scripture and see how many times Paul used the word "all"and synonyms for "all".

What do you think are the "invisible" things of creation?

What are some things that we cannot see, yet know they exist?

We cannot see oxygen, but we draw it in with every breath. We cannot see poisonous gases, yet that makes them sometimes all the more lethal. We cannot see thoughts and emotions, yet they sometimes control our very lives.

Scientists have determined that only 4% of the mass of the universe is made up of stars, planets, cosmic dust, and gases, much of which is invisible to the eye. But what about the other 96% of matter? 22% of this is made up of what scientists call "dark matter". Dark matter cannot be seen even with the most advance scientific equipment. Dark matter does not reflect electromagnetic radiation, but scientists know it exists because it creates a gravitational pull on visible objects. The remaining 74% of our universe is made up of what scientists call "dark energy", an even stranger component than dark matter. The visible things are actually only a very small portion of the "all" of creation.

What other relationships are there between Jesus, the creator, and creation?

It was for Him that all things were created. Jesus is not only the agent of creation, but also the goal of creation. Creation was created to be His, and in the worship and love of and by all creation, He will find His honor and joy.

Is it any wonder that the storms and waves obeyed Him?

What does the phrase "in Him, all things hold together" mean?

Not only is Jesus the agent of creation in the beginning, and the goal of creation in the end, but between the beginning and the end, during time as we know it, it is He who hold the world together.

Now read carefully all you scientifically minded people out there:

All the laws that govern and sustain order in the universe are an expression of the mind of Jesus Christ. The law of gravity and all the other laws by which the universe hangs together are not only scientific laws but also divine laws.

The Son is the beginning of creation, the end of creation, and the power that holds creation together, the creator, the sustainer, and the final goal of the world.

Can see why one of the commentaries that I read this week says that "probably no paragraph in the New Testament contains more concentrated doctrine about Jesus Christ than this one."

But we are just getting started.......

We’ve already asked who is Jesus and what is His relation to creation. Now let’s ask: What is Jesus to the church?

He is the head of the body. The church is the Body of Christ, the organism through which He acts and which shares all His experiences. Look at this in human terms. What is a body without a head? Dead. The body is in reality the servant of the head and is powerless without it. Jesus Christ is the guiding spirit of the church. It is at His bidding that the church must live and move. Without Him, the church cannot think the truth, cannot act correctly, cannot decide its direction. There are two things combined here. There is the idea of privilege. It is the privilege of the church to be the instrument through which Christ works. There is the idea of warning. If we neglect or abuse our bodies, what happens? We can make them unfit to be the servants of the great purposes of our minds. By undisciplined and careless living, the church can make itself unfit to be the instrument of its head, Jesus Christ.

Every Christian is a member of this spiritual body, and Jesus is the head.

He is the beginning of the church. What are two different senses of the word beginning?

There is beginning in the sense of time, and there is beginning as sense of priority, A is the beginning of the alphabet, 1 is the beginning of the series of whole numbers. In which sense is Jesus the beginning of the church? Both. Jesus is the originator of the church. The church had its origins in Him. As the source from which the church came, Jesus is the moving power which set the church in operation. The church had its origin in him, and today it has its operation in Him.

Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. Paul returns here to the event which was at the center of all the thinking and belief and experience of the early church, the resurrection. Did Paul say that Jesus was the first person to be raised from the dead? No, and He was not. But he was firstborn, the most important of those who have been raised. Christ is not merely someone who lived and died. Jesus is alive. Christ is not a dead hero who founded a movement, but a living presence in the church.

He is not only the beginning of the church, but has first place in everything. The resurrection of Christ is his title to supreme lordship. By his resurrection, He has shown that He has conquered every opposing power and that there is nothing in life or in death which can bind Him.

Four great facts about Jesus Christ in His relationship to the church: He is the living Lord, He is the is the source and origin of the church, he is the constant director of the church, and he is the Lord of all, by virtue of His victory over death.

We are still not finished with that paragraph...

What is Jesus Christ to all things, the whole universe?

In Him, the fullness of God dwelled. This statement took Paul’s argument directly to the gnostic believers. The word translated as fullness was the Greek word pleroma, a technical term in the vocabulary of the gnostic false teachers that meant "the sum total of all divine power and attributes." Paul used this word eight times in the Colossian letter in an attempt to meet the false teachers on their own ground. The gnostic believers would never accept that God would allow His pleroma to dwell (much more than merely reside, but to be at home permanently) in a created being. By telling these people that it pleased God to have his pleroma in Christ, Paul was in fact telling these people that Jesus Christ is in fact God.

And because He is God, what is He able to do that no man could ever do?

He could reconcile a lost, sinful world to God.

The object of Christ’s coming was to reconcile or reconciliation. What is reconciliation?

What do we do when we reconcile our bank accounts?

We check our register of the account against the banks register of the account to find any mistakes or omissions and correct them. The goal of the reconciliation is for the two registers to balance or agree.

So what does it mean that through Christ all things are reconciled to God?

First it means that there is a need for reconciliation. There was an imbalance that needed correction. The imbalance came through the separation of the will of man from the will of God. The natural mind of the unsaved sinner is at war with God.

How can a Holy God ever be reconciled with sinful man? Can God just close His eyes, lower His standards and make a compromise with man?

Reconciliation is mentioned in other passages of the New Testament, also, but never is there any mention of God being reconciled to the world. Every mention of reconciliation is of the world being reconciled to God and the initiative in reconciliation was with God. Because God so loved the world, He sent His Son. His object in sending His Son was reconciliation.

What was added to the account to bring it into balance?

The blood of Christ. The driving force behind the reconciliation was the death of Jesus Christ.

Who other than God could offer reconciliation to sinful man?

Was the reconciliation only for man?

No, it was for all things. There is that word all again. God’s reconciliation extends not only to all persons but to all creation: animate, inanimate, seen, and unseen. Not only did Christ come to redeem all people, but also all things.

How in that statement did Paul speak directly to the gnostics?

Remember the Gnostics regarded all matter as essentially and incurably evil, therefore the world is evil. But according to Paul, the world is not evil. This is God’s world. And as God’s world, it shares in the reconciliation offered by Christ. And through Christ we live in a redeemed world, where even inanimate objects are reconciled to God.

And now the second paragraph of our Scripture lesson which tells the aim of reconciliation:

Col 1:21-23 ESV
(21) And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
(22) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
(23) if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

And what is the aim of reconciliation?

Holiness. The foundation of the Methodist movement.