Bigger than We Imagine

This week we are continuing in our series, God with Us, by starting to unpack that phrase itself. If Jesus is God with us, what does that mean? Well, let’s think about the words themselves. There are two parts here: Jesus is God, and Jesus is with us. Let’s start with the idea that Jesus is God. What does that really mean? The apostle Paul had something to say to help us get our minds around it. Let’s talk about just who Jesus is and what that means for us.

Bigger than We Imagine

Over the last generation, The CBS network has proven itself to be a bit of a genius when it comes to creating really engaging reality shows that attract a fairly sizable and very dedicated viewing audience. As a result, they have a few that have been on the air for a very long time. I remember folks who would get together to have Survivor watching parties each week when I was in college, and the show is still going strong. Another of their more popular reality series that never made it to quite that level of popular impact, but which has nonetheless endured for more than a decade, is a show called Undercover Boss. 

The premise of the series is that the boss of some company goes undercover in the business in order to get a better sense of how things are really going. The goal is to seek out and find corporate blind spots that are preventing the company from reaching its fullest potential. While the working situations the various bosses find themselves in are of course designed to shock and awe and generally capture the viewers’ interest (meaning many of them probably aren’t all that reflective of day-to-day reality), it is nonetheless really engaging and often humorous to see the employees interacting with their ultimate boss in ways that are likely a great deal more honest and transparent than they would in any other situation. They make their bosses do dirty jobs and complain to them (sometimes about the boss) and share personal details with them, and they do all of this because they don’t really know who it is they’re interacting with. We know this is true because at the end of each episode is a moment of revelation when the bosses introduce themselves to their host employees without the disguise and made-up character that concealed their identity throughout the rest of the episode. And without fail the reaction on the part of the employees is one of shock and awe and no small measure of embarrassment. 

We can imagine that. I think that’s part of why the show has been so popular for so long. We can put ourselves in their shoes. You’ve probably interacted with someone before not realizing who they really were. Now, hopefully you didn’t make too much of a fool out of yourself in the process, but maybe you did. When we are engaging with another person it’s always nice to know who it really is, because who it really is will affect how we engage with them. As much as that is the case with people, though, do you know who it’s even more true about? Jesus. The trick here, though, is that if we don’t get Jesus right, there’s a whole lot more at stake than just some potential embarrassment. 

This morning finds us in the second part of our Advent season teaching series, God with Us. As I said last week, the season of Advent is about preparing ourselves for Jesus’ arrival. Which arrival? That’s a good question. We are preparing to celebrate His first arrival, but our real preparations are for His arrival in our hearts and in our world when He comes again. During Advent and Christmas we remember that He came once, yes, but also that He is coming again. And yet, as I just said, knowing exactly whose arrival for which we are preparing is critical to our preparing ourselves properly. The apostle Matthew told us that one of Jesus’ nicknames was “Immanuel,” which means God with us. If we are preparing to have God with us, what exactly does that mean? That’s what this series is all about. 

Last week, we started things off by simply seeking to better understand where the idea came from in the first place. What we learned is that it came out of an announcement of God’s judgment on King Ahaz of Judah and his people because of his stubborn refusal to place any trust in God when He was literally standing there in front of him (through the prophet Isaiah) begging for the opportunity to prove Himself. When Ahaz essentially said, “I don’t really want you here,” God responded by saying, “Oh, I’m coming anyway, and you aren’t going to like it.” Writing a generation or so after the resurrection, Matthew looked back on Jesus’ birth and helped us understand that just like before, in Jesus, God was coming whether we liked it or not. But this time, instead of coming down ready to start smiting, He was coming on a mission of mercy to start saving us from our sins. As I said then over and over again: Jesus is God with us. 

Well, if we are going to grapple with the idea that Jesus is God with us, there are two parts to that we need to understand. The second part, which we are going to tackle next week, Lord willing, is that Jesus is God with us. Don’t miss next week as we marvel at the immensity of the humility God demonstrated in coming to be with us in Jesus in spite of being God. The first part of this idea, though, is that Jesus is God with us. For all of the ways we rightly try to make Jesus very approachable for us, we dare not lose sight of the fact that He is nonetheless fully God. What does that mean? This morning we are going to explore that with the help of the apostle Paul. 

If we want to understand what it means that Jesus is fully God, there are few places better to turn in the Scriptures than the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Colossian believers. The church in Colossae was not one of the churches Paul planted himself. Instead, a man from Colossae named Epaphras heard Paul proclaim the Gospel in Ephesus during his second missionary journey, took the message back home with him, and planted a church. The church grew wonderfully under Epaphras’ leadership, but over time—as is far too often the case for churches—a bit of false teaching slipped in the door and grew to become a real threat to the health of the church. While we don’t know for sure the full extent of the problem, from a careful reading of the letter, it seems like a charismatic leader was essentially calling the people to be more spiritual and less religious. Rather than getting all hung up on a specific message, they were being led to put their faith in various talismans and rituals to protect themselves from the various spiritual powers of the world. This guy was basically trying to sell them on the idea that Jesus, while important, wasn’t that big of a deal. These other things were needed to fill in the gaps Jesus left. Paul, learning about all of this about a decade after the church was planted, and writing from Rome where Epaphras had visited to bring him a report on how things were going, was writing to say otherwise. And my does he say otherwise. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to the New Testament letter of Colossians, and let’s take a look at this together. 

Paul opens the letter with a marvelous statement of thanksgiving for the believers there in Colossae. Start with me here at v. 3: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.” Notice their love for the saints is because of the hope they have in heaven. Our hope in God’s promised future for us, far from making us less concerned about the present world, should make us even more concerned to replicate that coming kingdom here and now so we can get a taste of it early. “You have already heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace.” 

He goes on from here to offer up a prayer for the believers there in Colossae. Reading prayers like this is an interesting exercise as they weren’t for us. But there is much we can learn about how Paul thought and what he believed was most important when we study them. Stick with me in the text at v. 9 now: “For this reason also, since the day we heard this [about their love for the Lord], we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.” 

There’s a lot going on there, but the short version is this: Paul is praying for them to live up to their confession of faith by living lives worthy of the God in whom they have placed their trust. They are able to do this not because of anything they have done, though. It’s all God from start to finish. Verse 13: “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

Now, we just kind of read this and may respond with something like, “Yay redemption!” But keep in mind the context into which Paul was writing. This letter would have been read publicly in front of the whole church, which, no doubt, included this false teacher trying to point the people away from the supremacy of Christ. Who knows? Maybe when the reader got to this part he stood up and interrupted the meeting. “Paul talks about our being transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son. Yet who is this Son that He deserves a kingdom? Why should we give Him such devotion as this when there are other powers that can accomplish the same things for us?” And I know, most of you didn’t even think about an objection like that. The fact that you wouldn’t object to that at all is part of why you’re here this morning. But maybe you did. Or maybe you know someone who would. It’s not very common for people to hate Jesus nowadays, but maybe you know someone who just thinks He really doesn’t matter very much. Maybe their objection is something more like this: “I’m fine with Jesus and all, but why would I give so much attention to someone who is basically just doing a few things that I feel like I can manage pretty well on my own?” What would you say to them? 

Paul actually had a lot to say. In fact, by the time he finishes saying his peace about Jesus, we are left with the incredibly uncomfortable realization that perhaps we haven’t been taking Him as seriously as we should ourselves. Look at what Paul says about Jesus now in v. 15. He says that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” In other words, if you want to know what God looks like, just look at Jesus. Wait, so God looks like a Middle Eastern man in his thirties? No. Paul isn’t talking about what God physically looks like here. People with Paul’s background were pretty radically insistent that there weren’t any physical images that could represent God. Paul is talking about God’s character here. If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. 

Okay, but while that’s cool and all, it doesn’t present Jesus as anything more than a really good representative of God. That’s not what we need. Good thing Paul’s not done. Look at the next part of v. 15. Paul calls Jesus “the firstborn over all creation.” Now, this is one of those verses that gets people into trouble. It sounds like Paul is saying here that Jesus was created. That would imply rather insistently that He isn’t fully God. Maybe He lived such a good life that He ascended to a sort of God-status, but that’s about it. That kind of misunderstanding is what trips up folks like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it’s not what Paul means. The Greek word he uses here can make reference to something like a birth order, but it can also be used more generally to refer to someone’s preeminence—how important they are. The firstborn son in ancient families—and not so ancient families—was the most important child. He would lead the family in the father’s absence, and was the heir to the biggest portion of the estate. What Paul is saying here is not that Jesus was somehow created, but that Jesus is the most important person in creation. In the ordering of existence, there’s Jesus and everything else. 

Jesus’ preeminence over creation is bigger than mere prestige, though. Step forward with me into v. 16: “For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.” If you thought those first two statements elevated Jesus’ status a bit, they’ve got nothing on this one. It’s not simply that Jesus helps us to imagine what God is like. It’s not even that Jesus is the most important person in the universe. Jesus is the medium, the method, and the purpose of creation itself. The idea that Jesus was simply created before the world is laughable. Jesus created the world. Did you catch that? “For everything was created by him.” What does “everything” mean? It means everything. If there is a thing, Jesus created that thing. But wait! I thought God created the world. Now you’re on to something. 

This elevates who Jesus is to a whole other level. It’s not that Jesus is one person and God is another person. Jesus is God and we are talking about the division of duties among the persons of God. Creation may have been God the Father’s idea, but God the Son—Jesus—is the one who actually did the creating. And I know we are quickly approaching the point at which we have to wave the mystery flag because this is ultimately beyond what our minds can fathom, but the point here is that Jesus is a whole lot bigger than we think. Creation itself happened through Him, for Him, and holds together in Him. 

But there’s still more, and this next part is really important for us. Look at v. 18 now: “He is also the head of the body, the church.” I like to tell people who are learning what it means to be a Baptist that there are two things that make a Baptist church a Baptist church. Outside of these two points, you are in the wild, wild west when it comes to what you can expect. Baptist churches are marked by our fanatical commitment to the importance of every single follower of Jesus experiencing a baptism by total immersion in water when they become a follower of Jesus. The other key distinction is the autonomy of the local church. We don’t believe there is any organization that can tell an individual Baptist church what to do. There is no governing body that can take away its charter or kick it out of its building or otherwise affect its operation in any ultimately meaningful way. But the church does have a boss—and it isn’t the pastor. Jesus is the boss of the church. We are His body. We exist because He exists. If He didn’t exist, we wouldn’t either. Churches that cut themselves off from Him gradually wither and die just like a body part removed from the body can’t live by itself. There are implications here beyond that as well. A body can’t go where the head doesn’t direct. Or, at least, if it does, that’s a sign of a serious problem with the body. If we are not doing what He commands, we don’t actually have a reason for our existence. 

And we connect ourselves to Him so tightly like this because in Him we have hope of a life beyond this one. Think about the power death holds over so many. How many people have you known who did what they did with death in mind—whether avoiding it or embracing it? In Jesus, we have hope that death isn’t the end. Why? Because “he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” Jesus isn’t just the beginning of creation, He is our hope and guarantee that creation will continue beyond this life. There is an eternal life on the other side of this one. It is not yet time for that life to kick fully into gear, but Jesus has already shown us a glimpse of what it will look like. The gift of eternal life—something only God can give—we can see put on display for us in Jesus. 

There’s one last thing here. Because this is who Jesus is, look at what Paul says in v. 20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” The fullness of God dwells in Jesus. When you engage with Jesus, you are engaging with all the fullness of the God who created the world and everything in it. You are talking with the God who is perfect in righteousness and unapproachable in holiness. You are face to face with the God whose glory is so great that to look on it for even the blink of an eye would be so overwhelming as to erase your very existence from memory. This is the God of unlimited power and might and wisdom and intelligence. Take Him as your friend. Take Him as your confidante. Take Him as your closest companion. But don’t take Him lightly. That’s the one thing you cannot do. Jesus is far too big and important for that. 

If this idea makes you more than a little bit uncomfortable, it should. You and I are not worthy to be in His presence. To even let our mind drift in His direction is several bridges beyond where we should dare to go. A God this big has every right to refuse to put up with our rebelliousness and rejection. 

And yet. 

Why did He come? What did Paul say? All of God’s fullness dwells in Him and through Him to what end? To judge? To condemn? No, to reconcile. The world was separated from Him by sin, but instead of bringing judgment, God in Christ came bringing reconciliation. Only a God that big could handle a task that great. Well, so Jesus is. Jesus is bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine, and that means a whole lot of different things. But there is one I want you to hold in your minds and hearts right now above everything else: Jesus is big enough to save us. That’s why it matters that He is fully who He is—that we accept and embrace Him for fully who He is. Jesus is big enough to save us. The little child laying in a manger in a smelly stable on a cool night with strange visitors coming to call at strange hours was the Lord of all creation. He came to save His people—which, with Paul’s help, we understand are all the people—from their sins. From our sins. Jesus is big enough to save us. 

This is, in fact, exactly where Paul lands this whole thing. “Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds as expressed in your evil actions.” Are you with him? There was a time when you were far from God. This wasn’t because He did anything wrong. It was because you did things that were evil. You thought things that were evil. You said things that were evil. We were consumed by sin. “But now…” Can you hear the hope in those two words? There was once only brokenness and darkness and sin, but now. “But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death.” Jesus died to reconcile you to God. He died to pay the price for your sins. Yours, mine, and the sins of the whole world to boot. But He didn’t die only to reconcile us to God, but also “to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him.” He gave Himself to make you not only saved, but holy like Him. Holy like God. Yet He could only do this if He Himself had such power. Well, He did. Jesus is big enough to save us. Jesus is big enough to save you. 

As we continue together into this season of Advent, into this season of preparing ourselves for the arrival of Jesus into our hearts and into our world, let us make certain we know exactly who it is we are preparing to receive. Giving Him a portion of our attention while we focus most of our efforts and energy on things that matter most to us simply won’t do. You wouldn’t consider such a thing for a VIP of your choosing. The bigger and more significant is the person you are preparing to see, the more thorough and complete your preparations will be. Jesus is the most significant person there is. He is God. God with us. He is a God big enough to ignore us, yet He chooses to love us. He chooses to reconcile us. He chooses to save us. Jesus is big enough to save us. This Advent season, my invitation is for you to make sure that He has saved you. Jesus is big enough to save you. Prepare to receive Him so that He can. 

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