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.
How do we know? Because Jesus is the one through whom “all things were created” (v. 16a). John 1:3: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
He alone made all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. He rules all that, because he made all that. A biologist told God he could have made a better world than God did. God told him to prove it. The man bent down and scooped up some dirt. God said, “Get your own dirt.” Jesus rules all things, because he made all things.
And now he is the one through whom “all things hold together” (v. 17).
He is God; he is God over the world; he is God the creator of the world; he is God the sustainer of the world. He has a lot of sustaining to do today.
Your planet is spinning on its axis at 1040 miles per hour. The earth is spinning around the sun at 66,600 mph. Our solar system is moving around the Milky Way galaxy at a rate of 558,000 mph. And the Milky Way is moving through the universe at 660,000 mph. I get dizzy just being on one of those spinning rides at Six Flags. Jesus is holding our entire universe together, right now.
Jesus not only holds the universe together–he holds the Church together as well. He is “the head of the body, the church” (v. 18a).
He is the “head” in the sense of the ruler, the leader, the one in charge. He told his disciples, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). The Church belongs to him. This church belongs to him.
You are sitting on Jesus’ pews. You are the body of which he is the head. I am not your employee–I am his. So are you. We together serve a single King.
Jesus is the only God, the ruler, creator, and sustainer of the universe and the church. How do we know? Because he is “the firstborn among the dead” (v. 18b).
He was the first in human history to be resurrected. Lazarus was resuscitated but died again. Jesus will never die again. And because he lives, we will live also.
His resurrection changed human history. It proved Jesus’ divinity. It sparked the explosion which propelled the Church across the world. It was the event which marked time and eternity. It proved in history the truth of all that Paul is teaching today.
As the risen One, Jesus is our only redeemer: God chose “through him to reconcile to himself all things” (v. 20). Jesus’ death makes it possible for us to be “reconciled” with our holy God and creator. God could not be holy or his heaven perfect if he permitted my sins in his presence. The debt I owed had to be paid. This Jesus paid on the cross for me, and for you.
If he had not done this, we would still be in our sins. We cannot worship him perfectly or serve him completely. What was your last sin? It would be enough to keep you out of heaven. By God’s grace, it is not.
So we learn today that Jesus is our only God and our only King. He is the “image of the invisible God,” the God of heaven made visible on earth. He is our only King, for he rules the creation he made; he sustains the universe, leads his Church, defeats death, and redeems his people. Jesus alone does all of that, for every one of us.
Now, what’s your problem? What is your next step in worshiping this God and serving this King? What price have you been unwilling to pay? Where does he want more of your time, more of your abilities, more of your money, more of you? What service is he asking you to render? What witness to give? What sin to refuse? What forgiveness to ask or offer? Why haven’t you taken that step and paid that price?
He is the only God there is–his word and will are perfect. Does he not deserve your obedience?
He is the only King there is–as he makes, rules, and sustains the universe, so he will sustain and help you. Does he not deserve your trust?
He is the only Redeemer there is–as he rose from the grave for you, so he has made you one with your Father in heaven. Does he not deserve your best?
This is the dot before the line, a blink before eternity begins. The best way to prepare for heaven is to do now what God rewards forever. The most fulfilling and joyful way to live on earth is to do now what God rewards forever. Because whatever it costs to follow Jesus fully, he more than repays eternally.
I heard that point powerfully made last Tuesday at the Dallas Christian Leaders’ Prayer Breakfast. Dr. Ken Blanchard, famous author of The One Minute Manager and other bestsellers, was the fascinating speaker. Trying to convince us to sell out for God and lead like Jesus, he told a story he heard from John Ortberg, a marvelous pastor in California.
John grew up close to his grandparents. He and his grandmother loved to play Monopoly together. Except that his grandmother always won. She was vicious. She had everything and he had nothing, every time. After she won she’d always say, “John, some day you’ll learn to play Monopoly.” He wanted more than anything to beat her.
Then a new kid moved next door. This kid was a genius at Monopoly. John played every day with him, learning all his new friend knew. A few weeks later, his grandmother came for another visit. John challenged her to a game of Monopoly. She accepted gleefully. He beat her terribly. Got every property–left her nothing–wiped her out. When the game was done, she grinned at her grandson and said, “John, you’ve learned how to play Monopoly. Now I’m going to teach you a lesson about life: when the game is over, it all goes back in the box.”
Let us pray.