The Incomparable Christ: the Redeemer
Kevin Rees – February 7, 2016 - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net
Whereas God can rightly say that he wants more of us; we cannot rightly say that we need more of God.
Whereas God can rightly say that he wants more of us; more surrender, more obedience, more repentance, more humility, more devotion … we cannot rightly say that we need more of God. We already have been given all of the entirety of God in Jesus Christ. We can understand more, appreciate more, entrust more, embrace more; but we cannot get more of God because we already have all of Christ. Simple addition breaks down with infinity. “In [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19) and “in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). To seek more of God outside of or in addition to Jesus insults God’s provision and corrupts God’s gospel.
But we often think we need something more of God. A little more insurance. A little more assurance. A little bigger “slice of the pie” than our neighbor. A little better experience. A second helping of grace, like when Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist dares in the workhouse to take his plate back up to the copper cauldron for a second helping of gruel. “Please, Sir, I want some more.” Do you remember that scene?
The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver, while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
"Please, sir, I want some more."
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.
"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."
The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle. [Defined as: a ceremonial officer in a church or college or religious institution].
But Twist’s request is, in the end, completely unlike our request, because Twist’s governor is completely unlike our Christ … and because Twist’s provision in the workhouse is completely unlike our abundant provision in the gospel. Twist and all the boys should not have had to ask for more; and should not have been given the meager gruel in the first place. They deserved meat and vegetables and bread and milk and love and concern and education and justice. But they got the leavings of a greedy and cruel world that had a Christian vocabulary but not Christ himself. But not so with us in God’s provision. In Christ we have been “granted all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). “All” is all!
When I say that we cannot rightly ask for more of God, I am zeroing in on—not our experience of him, which consumes nearly all the resources of the modern church and is dangerously close to a contemporary form of an ancient idolatry—but I am zeroing in on the unmeasurable bounty of that which God has already given; the superabundance of himself, his love, his grace, his mercy in the gift of his only begotten Son. We cannot examine Christ and reach any conclusion of a deficit. He is not only great, first, best, and most … he is “all.” We have a Redeemer who is the “All in all.” “All” is (again) all!
In this fourth of four sections of Colossians 1:15-20, Paul highlights Christ’s identity and ministry as the Redeemer. Within his redemption we see many aspects of his fullness. He possesses fullness internally. And he fully provides in an externally application out of his internal bounty.
Just as a quick review—Christ is preeminent in the first creation as both the Revelator (vs. 15) and the Creator (vv. 16-17) and Christ is also preeminent in the new creation as both the Leader (vs. 18) and the Redeemer (vv. 19-20). The false teachers in Colossae who have prompted Paul’s rich hymn of the incomparable Christ have seriously tried to box Jesus up, edit him down, and lump him as one of many ways to find union with a flawed and syncretized god; a god that is a sad mix of Jewish tradition, Greek philosophy, and pagan ritual that scholars will later call Gnosticism. In six punchy verses, Paul decimates the heresy—not by attacking the heretics directly, but—by exalting Christ to his rightful place: simultaneously fully God and fully man, the one and only Savior given to man.
I. He Is the Divine Fullness (vs. 19)
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
How do we connect with God? It is a very modern-sounding question; a question that might very well be bantered back and forth at coffee shops all over the world this hour. Its corollary statement is often nearby: “I am spiritual, but not very religious.”
Mainstream religion is on the steep decline in our country, but not the hope for nor the attempt of our neighbors to connect with God. We need not mourn over that fact unduly, for while it is a strike at religion it is an age of opportunity. Conversions will likely less and less happen in the church on Sundays; they will probably happen more and more in the coffee shops and around our coffee tables. We may not have an answer to Russia’s build-up of heavy artillery in the Baltics or how to build a better mousetrap—but we have an answer for this question many are asking! How do we connect with God? We connect with God through Jesus Christ.
While a plethora of empty promises swirl around in our world about connecting with God—from yoga to yogis, from crystals to transcendental-meditation, from medicinal highs to adrenaline rushes—what we see in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) is the only place where those promises of divine connection come true. This is redemption! I know the weight of that statement; and I gladly roll it onto the shoulders of Jesus who is able to bear it. How do we connect with God? It is only through Jesus Christ. Any attempt apart from Christ to connect with God brings death, not life.
Here is the reasoning: we cannot climb to where God is. Our only hope is that God climbs down to where we are. Nevertheless, humans have been attempting to climb up to God since antiquity. While it is a primal attempt, there is no shortage of sophisticated people who continue to look up to find God today. But Christ came down from heaven; down to humanity, down to obscurity, down to humiliation, down to death, down into the tomb. We don’t find God by looking up, per se, but by looking down at the exalted Jesus who washes our feet as a servant and who walks away from his empty tomb. We find God by going down on our knees in repentance and faith. We find God not by our ascension but by Christ’s condescension on our behalf.
The Tower of Babel was nothing short of an organized attempt to reach the divine (Genesis 11:4). The ancients often thought that it was easier to connect with the divine on top of tall mountains—and so they built shrines in high elevations, which the Bible calls “high places”; a lie to which even the wisest of all men, Solomon, succumbed to at the end of his prominence (1 Kings 11:7). People, even otherwise godly people, have long thought that God might have briefly touched a certain object, or temporarily possessed a certain individual and so concluded that if that object or person were put in front of, for instance, an army then victory would be more likely (1 Samuel 4:3). Humans have also long-concluded that an altered state of consciousness opened a door to the divine; so they would seek out hallucinogens or hypnosis or ecstatic experiences even opening themselves up as mediums to demons (1 Samuel 28:7). Why?—to connect somehow, in some blind way, even if only partially or metaphorically with the divine.
Our only hope, then, to connect with God is for God himself to come down to us in rescue, which he did in Jesus. But not only partially or barely or metaphorically—Christ came fully and truly as God. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (vs. 19). Likewise in Colossians 2:8-10 we read of Jesus’ “fullness” again—“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”
While Paul is most vocal about it, he is not the only one who speaks of Jesus’ deity. God the Father also ascribes full divinity to the Son in Hebrews 1:8—“But of the Son he [God the Father from Psalm 45:6] says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’” Sonship is not inferiority in the Godhead, but relational. The Son is just as much divine as the Father and the Spirit, but in their inner relationships the Son relates to the Father voluntary humility just as the Spirit relates to both the Father and the Son in voluntary humility. Equal in essence; distinct in role.
Yet Jesus’ full deity is never more concentrated than in John 1:14 and 16, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” No serious or casual student of the Bible can say that the case of Jesus’ divinity is not strongly made in light of these passages; as representative of many more.
Why is this so important to mention and emphasize? Because if we have Jesus, which we do by faith, then we have complete and full connection with God. We need no other mediator; no other dispensary of the divine. Because we have Jesus—who is the glad fullness of God—we have total access to the entire Godhead leaving no room and need to get more of God elsewhere. We have all of God freely and fully in Jesus—lacking nothing. And conversely, there is no connection to God apart from the divine Jesus.
II. He Is Reconciler (vs. 20)
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
But having fullness internally to himself is not the end of the story. Jesus, who is personally full-to-overflowing of divinity, applies his fullness toward the reconciliation of all things. In other words, Jesus applies his internal fullness externally to restore all things to their original design.
I might have a respectable collection of tools (which I don’t because I sold all my tools last month for lack of a proper storage), but having and applying are two different things. I might have all the tools ever invented, perhaps even displaying them all in a museum-quality glass case, but if I use those tools to build something, then I am externally applying what I personally possess. What’s more—if I use those tools to build something for the benefit of other people, then my intrinsic fullness becomes an extrinsic blessing. Jesus has intrinsic fullness, yet he applies that fullness directly and graciously toward the reconciliation of a broken universe. This is redemption which we both receive and model.
“Reconciliation” is a hip word now-a-days: the many forms of racial and ethnic reconciliation, the call by Congress for Secretary Kerry to reconcile his expenditure of an unexpected 1.7 billion dollars in the Iran Nuclear Deal (that looks like a ransom), the Chinese government’s attempt to reconcile their volatile markets with their artificial modification of their currency’s value, even reconciling the NFL’s number of concussions this year despite heightened attempts to enforce stricter rules and engineer safer helmets. But it is intensely important what this 20th verse of Colossians chapter one says about reconciliation—“and through him to reconcile to himself all things.” He owns this whole process—start to finish!
You see, we are not only talking about personal salvation—although that is certainly included here. But Christ’s redemption goes much further than saving souls (oh, that more souls would be saved!). Christ is the Reconciler of all things, “whether on earth or in heaven.” There are many other kinds of and needs for Christ’s redemption. Broken marriages need redemption. Ruined bodies need redemption. Uncooperative crops and fallow fields need redemption. Mosquitos carrying zika, malaria, and dengue need redemption. Water systems carrying cholera, typhoid, and toxic levels of lead need redemption. Corrupt businesses need redemption. Rogue militias need redemption. Tyrannical governments need redemption. Faulty educational systems need redemption. Corporate greed needs redemption. Lazy and entitled citizenship needs redemption. And this the last season for American Idol(!)—the whole universe is broken. It doesn’t matter if we are in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Montreal, Canada—we can all see that this—what is happening every day all around us—is not going as it was originally designed. But most of us disagree about how we can fix what has gone horribly wrong.
But the Scriptures reveal that Christ is reconciling to himself all things. He is fixing it; we are not. That being said, his primary mode of reconciliation, however, starts with the individual sinner. He redeems us, and as we gather together around our common redemption, we begin to carrying his redemption with us into the laboratory where we work to stamp out diabetes; we carry it with us into the bean fields where we labor to make the land more productive than how we found it; we carry it with us into our treatment of our spouses, our children, ourselves, our bodies. But it is Christ who reconciles to himself all things—not man. Once we switch to looking toward man to solve man’s problems, we have stepped into Humanism. Christianity is far different. We look to Christ to fix us and all things in his own timing and his own way. Yes, he graciously including us in the process, but we do not aid his ministry of reconciliation—we only bear witness to it.
A verse in Joel has long comforted me when all other comfort had vanished—although the vocabulary is slightly different, the thrust is the same: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). I love how God takes ownership of the action—“I will restore”! And it is not merely the physical crops that God promises to redeem, but also the very years that were lost. By expansion, Christ’s redemption touches the whole broken universe—broken dreams, broken desires, broken relationships, lost energies, lost appetites, lost ambitions, all things. How? I don’t know how or when, but I know who! And what I don’t know about the mysterious work of Christ, I can nevertheless see in the marvelous character of Christ.
But what I can say definitively is that wrapped into the word “reconciliation” (Gr., apokatalasso) is a restoration of harmony in all relationships (Faithlife Study Bible Notes). The universe is currently locked in disharmony, yet we can all think of at least some times when we enjoyed happy pockets of harmony in our relationships. In those pockets, even though we might suffer the physical deterioration of our bodies, our jobs, our budgets, and our plans, if we have relational harmony, we remain remarkably well. But when there is disharmony—even if everything else might be marvelous—we trend toward misery regardless of the positives. Yet Christ will restore harmony—not merely pockets, but—to all. And for a third time this morning, “all” means all.
In our relationship with God, with other humans, with ourselves, even with the creation itself—Christ is reconciling in himself all things. It is happening right now! And he will finish! Whatever the ramifications of his reconciliation might be, the engine of change is “the blood of his cross” and the goal of each change is to “make peace” in all our relationships. This is as certain as the sun rising in the east; yet even more certain because the sun will one day dissolve, but our Redeemer lives eternally and gives eternal life to all who believe.
In conclusion, just as we started, we can’t rightly say—“Please, Sir, I want some more” of God. God has already given us Jesus—who is the fullness of God, who fully uses his fullness to make us both full and fully harmonized in all our relationships. God gave us Jesus; which is his way of saying that he gave us everything.
The search is over; not that we found you, Lord, but that you found us, so that we can now share in Peter’s conclusion: “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) and sing in David’s chorus: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23:1 NIV).