Based on Colossians 1:15-20
FIRST: Two things to remember when we read the Bible: (1) The Bible is NOT about us; the Bible is about God. It has a lot to say about us, both good and bad; but it is about God. (2) The Bible was not written to us - not those of us living in 2016, nor to the colonists who came to this place called America 500 years ago. The Bible was written to people living 2,000 to 3,000 and more years ago; speaking different languages, living in different cultures, facing different social, economic and political challenges. In order to apply it today, we need to learn as much as we can about the historical, cultural, social, and literary background of the biblical text we read today.
SECOND: Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul to a church he had not planted, in a city he had not visited, speaking to people most of whom he did not know personally, but about whom he had heard good things (1:9); people coming from (at least) two different cultural and religious backgrounds (Jews and Gentiles) who often looked down their noses at each other, including even when in the church of Jesus Christ; all of whom lived under the imperial, colonial rule of Roman military, political and economic power.
Into this mix Paul gave this young and growing church some personal, communal and (yes) even political advice about how to live faithfully as Christians in this fallen world. Paul wrote as an apostle of Christ, to brothers (and sisters) in Christ. He wrote about God the Father, about Jesus the Son, and about the Spirit. But pre-eminently, Colossians is a letter about the Son of God, the Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The title “Christ” appears in this short book of four chapters 29 times (by my quick count). Colossians is about Christ and Creation; about Christ and the Kingdom; about Christ and the Church; about Christ and the Christian; about Christ and the Powers; about Christ and the Law – six themes you can find in the text, read about and study after you leave here today. It is critically important to remember that “Christ” - christos in the Greek in which the New Testament was written - is not Jesus’ last name! Christos is the word the Greek translators of the Old Testament, written in Hebrew, chose to translate the Hebrew title messiah - meaning “king” - the long-expected deliverer who would rescue God’s people from their enemies, the coming Son of David. Christ meant then, and means now, King! The divinely-promised, long-expected, fervently-prayed for, desperately-hoped for king; king not only of the people of God but of all peoples everywhere.
THIRD: This Christ - the rabbi Jesus, the Son loved by the father - (we are told in v. 15), is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” We must be clear here: Paul is not saying that Christ is the image of God in the same way that humans, created beings - are created in the image of God. Christ was not created; Christ is God the Son. And Paul is not saying, by calling him “the firstborn”, that there was a time when Christ was not, or was not God. Christians are Trinitarian, a word not found in Scripture but coined very early in the Church's history, using human language to try and describe the divine reality, beyond our comprehension. Instead, by using language like "image" and "firstborn" Paul is referencing the creation-events of Genesis 1 and 2. The best reading of verse 16 says that “in him all things were created...[they] were created through him and for him.” Paul then uses parallel language, resurrection language, in v. 18: “he [i.e., Christ] is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead”. Christ is - if you will - both the architect and the builder of both Creation (Genesis 1 and 2), and New Creation (Revelation 21 and 22).
We too often think of salvation as simply – if we can use such a word for such an amazing grace – personal salvation from God’s wrath. Salvation is much grander and much deeper - though not less than – being delivered from death and going to heaven. Salvation extends to all of creation: v. 19 - “God was pleased...to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through [Christ’s] blood.” And v. 23: “the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven...”. This thread runs through all of Scripture, we just have not had eyes to see it or ears to hear it.
FOURTH: Into this theological mix we have the language of the Kingdom of God having arrived in the person of Jesus the King. [Back to v. 13]: “For he [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” ‘Dominion’ is a reference to someone [or in the Colossians’ case, something] having sovereignty over a territory, as well as the people who live in that territory. It is another way of describing a king’s power and authority in his kingdom. The Jews had lived under the dominion of Egypt; God rescued them in the Exodus; now [in Paul’s time] they live under the dominion of Rome, as do the Gentiles. Rome was the imperial power of the first century. In fact, much like the Babylonian Empire 500 years before Colossians, destroyed the temple and carried the people into exile; so a few years after Colossians was written Rome would destroy the 2nd Temple and sack the city of Jerusalem.
But! There is another Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Son God loves. All things were, and are, in him, through him, and for him. Christ reigns supreme! (v. 18) Christ reigns over all things: things in heaven and things on earth; things visible and things invisible: thrones, powers - the power of Sin (Sin with a capital 'S'), the power of money, the power of sex, the power of disease, the power of terrorism;
political rulers and authorities - tyrants, dictators, elected officials, governors, heads-of- state, presidents; demons and other fallen, hostile supernatural beings; and the last enemy, defeated but not yet destroyed, DEATH itself. Christ reigns over ALL. Even over ISIS – Christ reigns. And yes, on November 8, 2016, no matter who wins – Christ reigns!
This same Christ, this King of kings, has rescued us from slavery; this Christ has redeemed us from death; and this Christ, the head of the body, the church, has reconciled us to God, and to each other. He did it through the cross. Through the most unimaginable form of human punishment ever devised, a Roman cross, we have been delivered from the dominion of darkness and brought into the light of the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Not long ago some friends visited us at our leadership training center in the jungle in the Amazon Basin of Peru where we work with indigenous peoples. They wanted to visit a local village to see how the people lived; there was one nearby, Santa Ana, but community members are not hardworking farmers and fishermen (and women) like most of their neighbors; instead most in this community neglect their farms, ignore the needs of their children, brew homemade alcoholic beverages, including sugar cane alcohol. The will steal from neighboring villages and farms, and refuse to send their children to the community school.