Well, we are about to enter into yet another presidential election campaign – I can hardly wait. We will be hearing President Obama say that if he just has another four years, he will be able to come through on his promises of change. We will be hearing the Republican candidates point out how the last four years have produced change, but not the kind of change most of us hope for or need. In one of his songs, Loudon Wainwright III makes the statement, “Politicians, wrestlers, they’re all the same to me.” That seems to capture the sentiment of many in our country today. LSU funded a project to determine the level of confidence Americans have in the government. In the report that summarized the results of their efforts, they cited an independent study that indicated 75% of Americans surveyed in the late 50’s through the mid 60’s stated they trusted the government most of the time or nearly always. In 2000, that number was less than 50%.
Where we once placed our trust in the leaders of our government to look out for our needs, we now have distrust and cynicism. The confidence we once had in our government has been eroded by its failure to deliver the fundamentals – a strong economy, national security, social services to meet the needs of our citizens and assurance of justice for all. The failure to deliver is amplified by the public failures of individual leaders. Scandalous behavior, even criminal behavior, has been the subject of news reports far too often in the last few years.
Unfortunately, this declining level of trust is not confined to the government. In a study performed by the United Methodist Church, 400 church leaders were surveyed and the results indicated that a “general lack of trust within the Church was a pervasive and recurring theme in the majority of interviews.” A “lack of accountability was…cited as a root cause of distrust—when people are not accountable for their actions and behaviors, they cannot be trusted.” Specifically mentioned was the lack of trust between “the pew and the leadership.”
Even at the personal level, I am sure we can all relate a story or experience where a trust was violated and, as a result, our desire to trust others in the future is diminished.
It would seem that we are being forced into a mode of self-sufficiency, but, it doesn’t take long to realize that isn’t possible. We are dependent in a variety of ways – materially, emotionally and spiritually. So, if we can’t really be self-sufficient and if we can’t trust the government, the church or others, what are we to do? Where is a source of sufficiency that we can rely on?
The sermons over the next few weeks will attempt to provide an answer. Today, we will be laying the foundation for the upcoming weeks with the proposition that we can rely on the sufficiency of Jesus. What do I mean by “sufficiency”? The word sufficiency means “all that is needed in ample supply.” The word supply means, “what is needed to meet a particular need, solve a particular problem, or overcome a particular lack.” To have a sufficient supply, there must be a source that possesses or produces what is needed.
If you are like me, you want to know something about a person or organization before you place your confidence in them, before you trust them to take on some essential task or provide some essential item. When someone comes to my door, calls me on the phone or sends me an advertisement for a service or product, I won’t consider them unless and until I can learn something about them. It is important to know not only if they can come through on their promises, it is also important to know that they have a track record of doing what they promise.
When I was a kid, Bill Cosby was becoming very popular for his stand up comedy routines. One of those routines that stuck with me was his account of what went on between Noah and God when God told Noah to build the ark. Here is how Cosby imagined the initial contact between God and Noah.
You see Noah was in his rec. room sawing away, he was making a few things for the home there. He was a good carpenter:
Whoompa, whoompa, whoompa, whoompa
Whoompa, whoompa, whoompa
Who is that?
It's the Lord, Noah
...Am I on Candid Camera?
Okay, I agree this isn’t quite the way the story went in Genesis. There is, however a story in the New Testament related to Jesus and the disciples that is similar. Jesus, after feeding 5000 people with a few fish and some loaves of bread, sends the disciples on ahead of him. They get in a boat and set sail. Late in the evening, the boat is far from land, the wind comes up and the waves are crashing against the boat. Here comes Jesus – “Hey guys, here I am.” Their response was “Right!” They thought he was a ghost. It wasn’t until he got to the boat and told them, “Don’t worry, it’s me,” that they calmed down.
Sometimes, even when the evidence is right in front of us, we fail to recognize the truth. Many of us have heard the stories about Jesus many times, but are we confident that he can deliver on his promises? The more we know about the source, the greater our confidence in the sufficiency of the supply. The more we understand about Jesus, the greater our confidence in him to be sufficient to meet the needs of life. To set the stage for the next few weeks, today we are going to try to understand who Jesus is…really!
Today, there are a wide range of theories and beliefs about who Jesus is. Even an atheist rarely denies the historical Jesus. There is adequate evidence for them to believe he lived and died. Sadly, these theories of a merely historical Jesus, once held only by non-believers, have crept into the church under the disguise of a more intellectual Christianity. These theories deny the divinity – the God nature – of Jesus and characterize him “as a political revolutionary, a messianic schemer, a Galilean charismatic holy man, a wandering peasant, or a countercultural crusader.” With this historical perspective of Jesus, his uniqueness is diminished or even eliminated. If he was only a human, historical figure, how can we have any confidence in his ability to be a sufficient source of supply to meet our needs today?
This argument that Jesus was just a good man or charismatic leader, but not God in human form is not a new one. The apostle Paul had to deal with this issue in his time too. There were teachers in the first century who were proposing that belief in Jesus was not required or even sufficient for salvation. These teachers were promoting philosophies associated with cults of the time. In response to this problem, Paul wrote a letter to the Colossian church and we will be looking at a part of that letter this morning to help us understand who Jesus is…really.
However, before we do, let’s look at one of the claims Jesus made about who he is. In the Gospel of John, Jesus made this statement to the apostle Thomas: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here Jesus makes several claims. First, He says there is only one way to God – through Him. Second, He says that God is the author of all life and that meaning in life is found through coming to Him. Third, Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God. Finally, Jesus claims that we can personally know God and the nature of His truth. Was Jesus who He claimed to be?
Let’s look at a letter that the apostle Paul wrote nearly 2000 years ago to a small Christian community in the city of Colosse which was located in what is now modern day Turkey. This letter still speaks with relevance to us today. In the introduction to the analysis of this letter, the NIV Application Commentary says, “It gives witness ‘to the finality, adequacy and all-sufficiency of the cosmic Christ – by whom and for whom all things were made, in whom they cohere, and with whom in God the life of the Christian and of the Church is hidden.’ That truth will never go out of date.”
The Colossian church faced a situation similar to ours today. There were those in the community who loudly and repeatedly challenged and trivialized the sufficiency of Christ and the hope the Colossian Christians placed in Him. In our culture today, criticism from the intellectual, scientific and entertainment communities is a regular event. The result has been that it is increasingly difficult to attract non-believers and many Christians have become increasingly uncertain in their faith.
To combat this attitude in his day, Paul expressed his faith in who Jesus is in dramatic, poetic language. He begins in the 15th verse of the 1st chapter saying, “He is the image of the invisible God…” The word that is translated as image is the Greek word eikon. This word carries with it the idea of a representation. An image represents the subject and, if it is perfect enough, it can become an actual physical expression of that subject. In verse 19, we see that Jesus is the perfect image of God. There Paul tells us, “For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ…” F. F. Bruce says, “all attributes and activities of God – his spirit, work, wisdom and glory – are disclosed in him.” In his commentary on this letter, Calvin said that in Christ God shows us “his righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, in short, his entire self.” In Christ, we see who God is – Creator and Redeemer; what God is like – a God of love, mercy and grace; and what God does – sends his Son to rescue people from the wilderness of sin and, through his death on a cross, restores the relationship between creation and the Creator.
Paul then adds to the description, “…the firstborn over all creation.” Firstborn in this case implies status, not chronology. This title distinguishes Jesus as being superior to all created things. He outranks all things in creation and, as such, all of creation is subordinate to Him. The concept of the superiority of Jesus is further developed by Paul, saying – “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” In the ancient world, heaven was not seen as some distant place that had no connection to human life here on earth. Instead, they believed that invisible, heavenly forces influenced earthly things – for both good and evil. Where their influence was good, they were the agents of God. Where their influence was evil, they were agents of Satan. The visible powers are the human authorities or systems of authority. Paul tells us that Jesus has power and authority over all of them, regardless of form they come in. This universal authority assures us, as believers, of the sufficiency of Christ.
Jesus is not only superior to all things, Paul also tells us that “…in him all things hold together.” If you grab a handful of dry sand and try to form it into a ball, you won’t be successful. You need something to bind the particles of sand together so it will hold the form you mold it into. Jesus is the binding agent that keeps all of creation in the form God molded it into. H. C. G. Moule said it this way, “He keeps the cosmos from becoming chaos.” However, Jesus is more than the means by which the shape of creation is maintained. The NIV Application Commentary says, “…he is its rationale, its rhyme and reason.” It then goes on to say, “The universe is not self-sufficient, nor are individuals, no matter how much they may deceive themselves into thinking they are. Even those who do not acknowledge Christ’s reign and those who actively oppose him are entirely dependent on him.”
Supremacy without action and purpose is of little value. In what Paul tells us next, we see how the supremacy of Christ is put into action in the ultimate purposes of God.
In verse 18, Paul tells us, “…he is the head of the body, the church…” This is a very powerful statement. First of all, it puts the church into perspective. The body cannot live without the head. You can sever any other limb and survive. You cannot sever the head from the body and survive. The church owes both its origin and life to Christ. In addition, the head provides direction to the body. The head does not exist to take direction from the body; the body exists to take direction from the head. The NIV Application commentary says, “The church does not exist to meet the needs of its members or to insure its institutional survival, but to fulfill the redemptive purposes of Christ, its head.”
Jesus is not just some historical figure that was born, lived and then died and that we merely read about. We are able to meet him today because, as Paul tells us, “…he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead…” Through his resurrection, he is alive today. By his resurrection, Jesus is serial number 1, the starting point, for the source of new life for others who will follow. John recorded Jesus saying, “Because I live, you also will live.”
Paul sums this section up by telling us even the resurrection points to the supremacy of Jesus. “...he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” While it is true that Jesus has the right to be Lord of all, sin has created a disconnect between what should be and what is. However, by defeating sin and death through the resurrection, he becomes Lord in actuality. The resurrection demonstrates that there is no power that can oppose him. Neither life nor death can stand in the way of his purpose and goal.
So, who is Jesus…really? He is the visible, physical, perfect expression of God. He not only has the power to create, he has the power to restore all things to the way God had planned for them to be. He has demonstrated both his power and his love by his blood, death on the cross and resurrection. He has a place of supremacy over the entire universe and this provides us with the assurance that he is a sufficient source of supply for all our needs. If Jesus can sustain the entire universe, he can surely sustain individual believers. It is critical, however, that we understand that this doesn’t mean we won’t have any hardships, problems or unfulfilled material needs. More importantly, it doesn’t mean that when we hit the rough spots in life that it is an indication of alienation from God or some God-ordained punishment for something we have done. While Jesus has the power, authority and resources to fulfill every want and need in our lives, there may be times when this won’t happen. What Jesus did promise is to be with us, understand our pains and struggles and give us the peace of God during difficult times. Paul fully understood this. Paul had what he characterized as a “thorn in the flesh” that he asked the Lord to remove three times. The Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Sometimes, we can serve God better through our weakness and affliction than we can in our perfection. When we carry our “thorn in the flesh”, our message to someone else who is experiencing the same issue is more credible. When we attempt to reach the lost and hurting when we have perfection in our lives, it is not only difficult to relate it is difficult to be believed. He also promised that, when we accept him as Lord and Savior of our lives, we will spend eternity with Him in heaven where there will be no more suffering, pain or needs. This is who Jesus really is and this Jesus is sufficient to meet our ultimate, eternal needs.
In darkness and in light, in trouble and in joy, help us trust your love, to serve your purpose and to praise your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
- Scripture passages from the NIV
- Various quotes from The NIV Application Commentary