James C. Denison
This morning we’re going to try perhaps the strangest experiment you’ve seen attempted in this Sanctuary. You may not feel up to this. But those of you who do: while sitting in your pew, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this, draw the number “6” in the air with your right hand. Could you do it? Neither could I. I have no idea why.
The older I get, the less I understand.
Last Monday, computer engineers announced the invention of a chip which will do a trillion calculations in a second. It took me 10 seconds just to write out one trillion and count all the zeroes it requires.
Cosmologists measure space in “light years,” the distance light travels in a single year. That’s 5,865,696,000,000 miles. Here’s my question: how do they know? When I turn on a flashlight, I haven’t the first clue how to measure the speed of the light it produces. Do you?
The cosmos bewilders me. But it’s no challenge for its Creator.
In the first century, Caesar was Lord. His power was absolute. His armies seemed omnipotent and omnipresent. To worship and serve a Galilean carpenter before the ruler of the world was subversive and foolish. A person could lose his job or his life that way.
To worship and serve that carpenter at a sacrifice seems equally foolish today. You and I have gone as far with Jesus as we can go at our present level of sacrifice. So it is with every area of your life. Your portfolio or annuity is all it can be without further investment. Your marriage is all it can be without further commitment of time and energy and passion. You have gone as far at work or school as you can unless you make further sacrifice of time and energy. William Barclay was right: we progress in life in proportion to the fare we are prepared to pay.
Why pay a higher fare to follow Jesus? Why take the next step, whatever it costs? Let’s ask Paul.
Make Jesus your only God
Our text comprises one of the most exhaustively studied paragraphs in all the New Testament. One commentary in my library (O’Brien, Word) devotes 71 pages to it. This is a single sentence in the Greek, probably one of the earliest hymns in Christian worship. It begins with this phrase as the title of all that follows: Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15a). These six words capture the very essence of the Christian faith. This truth claim changed the world. This is the heart of our hope today. Why?
The Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). The Lord told Moses, “No one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
You cannot look at the sun for more than a second or two without significant damage to your eyes; I read this week that you’d have to get as far away as Neptune or Pluto before you could stare at it for as long as you like.
So it is with the holy God of the universe. Sinners cannot be close enough to him to see his face, or they must perish.
But Jesus is his “image” (icon in the Greek), the exact representation or “mirror image” of God.
Many European cathedrals include ceilings which are exquisite works of art, but they are too tall to be viewed comfortably. So pitched mirrors are placed on the floor; by looking down, we can look up. By looking at Jesus on earth we can see God in heaven.
However, in Greek the word also shares in the nature of that which it reflects. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”
None of this is politically correct speech today. We’re supposed to be sincere in our beliefs and tolerant of all others. Saying that Jesus is God, the only final revelation of God, the only way to God, is viewed as intolerant in the extreme.
When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6), he violated our cultural insistence on inclusion and pluralism.
When Peter announced, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), he committed the same transgression.
But here it is: “Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Buddha or Confucius or Mohammad never made such claims. But when the High Priest said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say” (Matthew 26:63-64). Upon such testimony he was sentenced to die for blasphemy (v. 65). The Roman administrator Pliny the Younger recorded in AD 112 that Christians “sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a God.” Paul agrees. And that’s just our first phrase.
Make Jesus your only King
Jesus is the only God–our text makes that fact clear. So what? Why does this claim matter? Because this God is also the only King. He wants to be your only King today. Paul proves it six ways. First, Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation” (v. 15b).
Paul does not mean that Jesus was “firstborn” in the sense that he was born in time. I was the firstborn of my family, born on May 20, 1958. By contrast, Jesus has no birth date: “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus could say, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
Paul means that Jesus rules creation, as the firstborn rules the family. The firstborn male was the leading heir of the Father. He had the greatest responsibility in the family. Under the Father, he is the ruler of all that is.