All of us have images in our minds of Jesus that we keep and cherish. And, as our observance and celebration of Christmas gets closer and closer, and at a fairly rapid pace, I might add, some of those images in our minds will be switching over to a little boy in a manger, carefully guarded by loving, adoring, and amazed parents. See? What are you all thinking about right now? Probably not Thanksgiving turkey, even though that comes first in the cycle of things. Now you’re thinking of Thanksgiving turkey!
But this morning, I’d like to develop a picture of Jesus that we all need to come to grips with, but it is not necessarily a picture that will fit very well in our minds. This is a picture that must reside solely in our hearts. This one won’t fit in our minds very easily, because it doesn’t lend itself to any images that we can conjure up.
And that’s mostly because Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and as it is, our minds do not normally create images of things that are invisible. In fact, it is impossible to create an image of something that is invisible; and that is precisely why our Old Testament forebears had such a difficult time imagining God. They knew that God was invisible, and this troubled them. And it troubled them because God was like no other god. All of the other gods were represented by images. We call them idols, but pagan people could proudly point to some kind of statue or object and say, “This is my god!” Or they could point to a whole shelf full of objects and say, “These are my gods.” The poor Hebrew people had no such advantage. In fact they were forbidden to even attempt to create an image of God. Our God is invisible. We’ve got to get used to that. And yet, we read here in verse 15, that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. What does that mean? Does it mean that Jesus is also invisible? Yes, it does. Except for a short span of a few years in what we now call the first century, Jesus has always been invisible.
But let’s complicate that thought even more. In the Book of Genesis, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth. As part of that creative process, God also created the human species. And God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” And so in some mysterious way, the human creature bears the image of the invisible God. The human creature, unlike any other creature, is a representation of the invisible God. And because of that we share some of the attributes of God, such as wisdom, power, goodness and love. But we also know from the early chapters of Genesis, that we intentionally and maliciously damaged that image through rebellion and sin, and we’ve been struggling with the consequences of that rebellious nature ever since. We are now prone to both sin and righteousness, and we desperately need a remedy. That remedy comes later on in this passage.
The Apostle Paul now goes on to say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, and that can be marvelously confusing, and it has been the basis over the years of many a heresy. It seems to indicate that there once was a time when Jesus did not exist. Logically, we might assume that if Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, then he must have been the first being to have been created.
We like beginnings and endings, don’t we? We like a start and a finish. We live within the realm of time and we have become slaves to it. We can wrap our minds around beginnings and endings. We like it that things begin and that things end. But time, and beginnings and endings are merely things that God has created to help us to better order our lives. Outside of this planet, time is completely irrelevant. It has no meaning at all.
So what does it mean then, that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation? It cannot mean that there was a time when Jesus was not, nor can it mean that Jesus was the first being to be created, because Paul goes on in the next couple verses to shockingly announce that Jesus is the creator of all things in heaven and in earth, and the creator of all things visible and invisible, no matter what they are. And so then, Jesus must be the ultimate focus of all creation. And here’s where human language fails completely, but I’m going to try anyway. From the moment that Jesus called all of creation into being, things seen and unseen, to the moment that he was born in Bethlehem, to the moment that he died on the cross, to the moment that he rose from the dead, to the moment that he calls the new heaven and the new earth into being, and throughout all of eternity, Jesus is the sole focus of all things imaginable and unimaginable. Now that should be shocking. And the only conclusion that we can draw from that is that Jesus is the everliving and everlasting God. Jesus is both prior to the universe and sovereign over it, in every way imaginable and unimaginable. There is nothing that is outside of his control. Paul says, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus is the pre-existent Lord over all things, co-equal and co-eternal with both the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Now that’s heavy stuff. That’s the stuff that our finite and broken minds will struggle with until the day that we die. Paul himself struggled with this, because he had a broken and finite mind, too. But he found incredible peace in it, and so can we. He wrote these words to the church in Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I hold on to those words like no others. They give me incredible peace and hope.
But there’s a practical side to all of this heady stuff, and that begins in verse eighteen. “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” This is the Jesus who we can know, and wrap our minds around. This is the Jesus who stepped out of the heavenly realms into time and into space, to be born in Bethlehem in human flesh. This is the Jesus in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This is the Jesus who called a handful of disciples to look beyond the limitations of time and space and to imagine the glory of eternal life. This is the Jesus who established a kingdom on this earth that not even the gates of hell can prevail against, because Jesus established that kingdom with all of the authority of Almighty God. Jesus is the head and the Lord of this glorious kingdom that we call the church of Jesus Christ.
But just as wonderful, if we can imagine it, the Apostle Paul also announces that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. Throughout the Scriptures there is a smattering of resuscitations. These are people who were presumed to be dead, but who through the agency of God’s spirit and God’s servants, were raised from the dead. Elijah did this, Jesus did this, and so did the Apostle Paul. But the certain fact is that in all of these cases where a person was raised from the dead, each of them grew old, or got sick and they died again.
But when Jesus rose from the dead, he was not resuscitated, he resurrected. He did not die again. As the firstborn of the dead, Jesus is the promise of many more resurrections to come. Jesus is the promise, and the sure and certain hope, of our own eventual resurrections. We will never die. As the firstborn of the dead, Jesus not only is first in all creation, but he is first in all of the new creation that is yet to come.
Finally, Paul makes mention of the incarnation. This is the image of Jesus that we can handle. This is the Jesus who arrived on this earth just as we do. This is the Jesus whose mother gently wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger. But in that tiny baby boy, Paul tells us, all of the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This is God in the flesh; and nothing less. This is the God who called all of creation into being, wrapped up in bands of cloth. And yet, this is the God who intends to reconcile all things to himself, both in heaven and on earth. And this brings us back to the very beginning of human existence. We blew it back then. We rejected the glory that God created us to live in. We were not satisfied to remain in a loving relationship with God, and so we rebelled and chose lesser, tangible things over the ultimate glory of God. And because we are still, too often captivated by the allure of sin, we still, too often, choose lesser, tangible things over the ultimate glory of God. But God intends to redeem us from this sickness. God intends to reestablish the relationship that he intended and created for us from the very beginning. We have another chance. We can choose the glory of God instead of lesser, tangible things, and we can be redeemed, recreated and restored to the glory that God intended for us. God has made peace with us through the blood of the cross. Let us make peace with him. This is Jesus. Let us give thanks to God, who is our Lord Jesus Christ.