You’ll remember how the Greeks came to that last Passover in Jerusalem and found Philip and said, “We want to see Jesus.” In those last few days the disciples had with Jesus, Philip said, “Show us the father” and Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
That’s what we all want – to see Jesus – not just a vague silhouette behind a drape, but the details of his face, up close and personal.
Have you ever thought about the lack of physical descriptions of the characters in the Bible? There will be the occasional hint thrown in now and then:
Ehud the judge was left-handed.
Eglon, the king of Moab was very fat.
King Saul was a head taller than anyone else.
King David was “ruddy and handsome.”
But of Jesus, there is no physical description given, except for a note in Isaiah 53, written eight centuries before Jesus was born that said of this suffering servant: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2)
Depending on which movie about Jesus you watch, Jesus might be depicted as tall and handsome or plain and simple, have an engaging smile or an other-worldly gaze into the distance.
The fact is, we don’t know. And any description is speculative. And if scripture is any indication, his physical description is of no concern to the writers – it is his spiritual attributes that are so powerful and riveting. And of those there is no lack and seemingly no limit.
Of all the descriptions in the Bible, it is Paul’s letter to the Colossians that gives us the most exalted and glorious picture anywhere: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 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. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Col 1:15-18)
There are those who would minimize Jesus, reduce him to a good man or even a great teacher. They will suggest that he never had any pretension about being the son of God or to be anything special for that matter. Others suggest that he was delusional when he made those grandiose claims to be the Messiah.
The problem with that is that you cannot read the NT without seeing and hearing the unabashed claim of scripture that Jesus was God become flesh. And here in Colossians 1, we hear Paul describe Jesus in the most exalted of terms:
He is the image of the invisible God
In those last hours before Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus is still trying to help his disciples grasp who he is, and Philip makes the statement, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus responds back, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Even being with Jesus day in and day out for three years, his disciples still struggled with understanding that Jesus was more than meets the eye. To stand face to face with Jesus and grasp that you were looking into the eyes of God himself was still more than they could fathom.
And yet, that was the declaration of Jesus himself, and the contention of all of scripture, that Jesus was indeed God become flesh.
For centuries, God had sent his prophets to tell the people about himself, to describe him, to explain him, to speak for him – all, it would seem, for naught. Finally, God perfectly revealed himself by sending his Son. In Jesus, we are looking into the very face of God himself.
He is the firstborn over all creation
You need to understand that the term “firstborn” does not describe numerical birth order, it proclaims pre-eminence. Jesus, as the “firstborn over all creation” is preeminent over all creation. All things are under his feet. He himself was not created, but he is over all creation.
Paul goes further:
By him all things were created;
all things were created by him and for him.
The book of Genesis tells the story of creation by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And he created light and heavenly bodies and the earth and vegetation and animal life, and then, on the sixth day God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
Jesus was not there only as an observer, he was the Creator. The Hebrews writer affirms this: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb 1:1-3)
When Jesus turned water into wine, everybody marveled. If only they knew that he was the one who had created the water in the first place. When Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, people were amazed. If only they knew that Jesus was the one who gave life in the first place. The things that Jesus did on earth were but a reflection, a continuation of what began when he first spoke the words, “Let there be light…”
He is before all things; in him all things hold together
The Hebrews writer said that Jesus “sustains all things by his powerful word.” Paul writes that “in him all things hold together.” This dispels the idea of some that after God created the world, he wound it up and sent it off to fend for itself. The Greeks pictured the gods as being aloof and detached from creation. But not the Bible. It is the affirmation of all of scripture that God not only created the world, but remains intimately involved in his world.
There is nothing in this world that has been set on auto-pilot. When Paul spoke to the philosophers in Athens, he said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25)
While the world seems to be trying systematically to excise and eliminate God from the world, the apostle John reminds us that, not only did God become flesh and dwell among us, but that he continues to be with us. Jesus told his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:18-20)
Jesus does not work in this world in a hands off, from a distance way, but personally and intimately in our lives. He knows our needs, he cares for our struggles, he works in our lives.
He is the head of the body, the church
If you have a disembodied view of your relationship with Jesus, this should challenge you to your very core. And what I mean by that is that more and more people are adopting this idea that we can be followers of Jesus without being a part of the church, a member of his body.
Our modern American culture has convinced us that we are independent, self-sustaining, in need of nothing. And that individualism has bled over into our relationship with Christ. Many think of the church as peripheral and unimportant. If I want to be a member of a church, I’ll find one that meets my needs, but I’ll offer nothing in return. I’ll come when I want, take what I need, and move on if I lose interest. But the church is irrelevant to my relationship with Jesus. That idea is absolutely foreign to scripture.
Christ died for the church. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Eph. 5:23, 25-27)
You cannot have a relationship with Christ without being in a relationship with his church. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul says a Christian outside of the church is like a disembodied ear or hand or foot hoping around claiming to be completely healthy and independent of the body. The idea is absurd.
It is equally absurd to think of the church without a head: as a human organization that governs itself and sets its own course and votes on its own beliefs independently of Jesus. Jesus is the head of the church; his word is our creed. We acknowledge his sovereignty and lordship in the church and in our lives.
And then finally:
He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead.
If there were a monument outside the city walls of Jerusalem with the plaque: “Here lies the body of Jesus, a first century prophet, whom some believed to be the Messiah,” all of this would be for nothing. If the story ended with the death and burial of Jesus, then (as Paul writes) we would be, of all people, most to be pitied.
But there is no plaque, the tomb was empty on the third day, and Jesus rose from the dead. And because of that, Paul writes in Romans 6: “we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
It’s important to remember that our confidence is not just that Christ was raised from the dead, but also that he promises that we will be raised with him. “He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead.” “Firstborn”, here, means prototype – he was the first of many. Because Jesus rose from the dead, you and I will also be raised one day.
And then Paul gets to the heart of it all: all of this is “so that he might have the supremacy.” Supremacy is an interesting term. It is not just a superlative – it is the very pinnacle. There is nothing more that can be said – it is the highest, best, and most important. Anything in comparison pales before it. Paul’s picture of Jesus anticipates the actual glory of Christ that John will reveal in his Revelation. There John describes the appearance of Jesus: I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev 1:12-18)
Paul does not paint his beautiful picture of Jesus to hang on a museum wall for us to stand back and admire from afar, but to help us comprehend the chasm which he had to cross to come to be with us and become like us – and the price he paid to redeem us.
You cannot understand the incarnation until you understand the glory and supremacy of Christ.
You cannot understand your redemption until you understand the enormity, the depth and the hideousness of your sin.
And so, having shown us the glory of Christ, Paul shows the enormity of the price he paid for our redemption: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Col. 1:19-22)
It is upon this glorious and supreme Jesus that our hope is based. It is in his incarnation and redemption that our salvation is secured.
All that is left is for Paul to say, “what does that mean for you?” and he does that in verse 23: “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
Don’t forget that Paul is writing to Christians who are surrounded by a godless and hostile society, where they are being enticed and seduced by every kind of temptation just to walk away from their faith and have it all. And is sounds a lot like the society in which we live. And so Paul’s appeal to the Colossians is just as relevant for us today: “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”