Preached on Sunday, July 17, 2022
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,Philippians 2:5-11
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
He is the image of the invisible God,Colossians 1:15-20
the firstborn over all creation.
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.
He is also 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.
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
A.W. Tozer begins his book The Knowledge of the Holy with the following words: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” A few sentences later, Tozer writes this: “Always the most revealing thing about the church is her idea of God.”
For the last few weeks we’ve been looking at stories of Jesus encountering various people. We’ve seen Jesus heal people. We’ve seen him having dinner at the table of a hated tax collector. We’ve seen him interact with outsiders.
But who is Jesus exactly? We could fill many books answering that question! And many books have been filled! But one thing Christians have confessed without question throughout the history of the church is this: that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, who came in flesh in blood. Jesus is God incarnate.
Our passages from Colossians and Philippians both say this about Jesus. Philippians talks about Jesus existing in the form of God. In Colossians it says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God and that God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. In other words, do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus.
Now, one of the interesting things about our passages from Philippians and Colossians is that most scholars consider them to be hymns to Christ from the first generation of Christians. This means these words may very well have been sung before they were said. This morning I want to look at a few things we learn about Jesus from these passages. I want us to consider the question: Who is Jesus?
“All things have been created through him and for him”
I remember as a kid looking up at the stars at night and wondering where everything came from and asking the typical questions: Is there a God? Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is there life on other planets? And probably most people have asked questions like that. You probably did too.
In our passage from Colossians (1:16), Paul writes something astonishing about Jesus that points us towards the answer to these questions (except maybe the one about aliens!): All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.
Now keep in mind that Paul writes these words about the same Jesus who we have been looking at over the last few weeks, the Jesus who taught in the synagogue and who visited Zacchaeus. Paul is saying that the Jesus in these stories is God in the flesh. And that before being born as a human being in Bethlehem, he existed from all eternity. It stretches our minds and imaginations to even conceive such a thing.
And here in Colossians, Paul says that this Jesus is the one through whom all things have come into existence. Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God the Father created all things through God the Son (that is, Jesus). And this includes you and I. We have been created through him and for him. We owe our existence to him. Jesus is why we are here.
Or we could put it this way: Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who created us so we could know and love God.
Think of all the people who wonder why they are here. Think of each person who asks what their purpose for being here is or how they got here in the first place. And for those of us who are Christians, maybe instead we ask: What purpose does God have for me? Or why is my life worth something?
Each of us was made to know God—which is to know the love of God, the eternal fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So perhaps the question is this: What does it mean live my life when knowing and loving God is the most important thing about me?
We’re born with purpose, with value, with meaning. To know God’s love and to love him in return—to love God and others in the ways Jesus shows us. That’s why we’re here and who we’re supposed to be.
“He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death”
Now, the truth is, we don’t do this. We certainly don’t do it consistently or well. The hard and unpopular truth is this: each of us is a sinner in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. We need to be made right with God.
We should be clear here. When we say every person is a sinner, we don’t mean that every person is always doing horrible things. Nor do we mean that none of us ever does good things.
What we mean is that each of us enters this world alienated from God. We have an inborn, natural tendency to do life without putting God first. Like a default setting on a computer, our default setting is to do life our way and not God’s way.
When we talk about sin, usually we think of specific sins, immoral or unethical actions that are intentional. We think of lying or stealing or cheating or acts of violence.
But the underlying, foundational sin is breaking the first commandment: Do not have other gods besides me. Citing 16th century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, one author puts it this way: “Martin Luther wrote that you cannot break the rest of the commandments without first breaking the first one. That is, if you break the commandments, you are looking at other things as your ultimate value and your god rather than God himself.”
And if the foundational sin is valuing something else more than God and Jesus is God in the flesh, then this means living life without Christ at the center of your life. In other words, you don’t have to be someone who is living sinfully in all the ways we might think are obvious.
But here’s the thing: someone could be an upstanding citizen, a good neighbor, and a loving parent and spouse—but if they are not putting Christ first, if they do not have faith in Jesus, then they are still living in sin. They still need Christ.
Because being right with God is not about what we do. It’s not about our good works or living the best we can. That’s not what makes us right with God. If that were so, then how would we ever know that we are right with God? Would we simply hope that we’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad?
Think about it this way. Remember what we’ve already said. Scripture teaches us that all things have been created through Christ. He is the reason we’re here. Because of him, we have life and breath.
The most grievous sin, therefore, is to reject Christ and to ignore him—to not acknowledge him as Lord and Savior. To reject Christ is to reject the very source of life. It is to reject the way in which we were created.
And this is why the Son came into the world. To reveal God and his will for us. To proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom through him. And to address the problem of human sin, to remove the barrier between ourselves and the God who made us.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who willingly died so we could be reconciled to God.
Consider again what it says in our responsive reading from Philippians: when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
Why did Jesus subject himself to this? Why did he willingly go to the cross? Was it necessary or not?
In Colossians 1:20 it says that through Jesus God has reconciled everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
By our sin, we earn death. By our sin, we deserve eternal separation from God. This is what the Bible calls hell. Another very challenging and unpopular idea today. But it is not one we can ignore.
This is why we need Jesus. This is how serious the issue of sin actually is. We often minimize this because it’s not a popular message. By itself it’s certainly not a feel-good message. Most people don’t like having to face up to their sinfulness. But for those who are brought to the point of acknowledging their sin and their need for Christ, and putting their faith in him, his sacrificial death is life and peace.
In Romans 5:8 it says this: God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When our eyes are opened to see what happened on the cross as an act of love, we can be reconciled to God. We can begin to live according to God’s purposes for us.
That’s why it says in 1 Peter 3:18: For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God.
The cross is the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Because of it we have been set free from being slaves to sin. Because of it our sin no longer counts against us. Not when we confess Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior. And as wonderful as this is, it’s also important to understand that Jesus’ death on the cross is not the end of the story.
“For this reason God highly exalted him”
After describing Jesus’ death on the cross, our passage in Philippians says that God highly exalted him. This is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection (and even his ascension to the right hand of the Father).
In other words, death is not the end. Not for Jesus. On the third day, as Christians have confessed for 2,000 years, the tomb was empty. Jesus was alive. More alive than ever. He was resurrected.
And because Jesus was crucified and then raised from the dead, death has been defeated. But not only for Jesus. For us too.
Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one who was raised so we could enjoy eternal life with God.
In Romans 6:5 it says this: For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.
To put it another way: in faith, we are united to Christ. What happens to him happens to those united to him in faith. He died on the cross. We are called to die to ourselves and to sin. Jesus was raised to new life. Therefore we receive newness of life now and will also be raised to eternity at Jesus’ glorious return.
In other words, we have hope. Hope that death has been undone. Death is called the last enemy and by his cross and resurrection Jesus has defeated this last enemy. Therefore, death is but a moment in the life of a Christian.
It means that even in this life we are called to begin living the life we were made to live. And that we do so only in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And it means that there will come a day—called the last day in Scripture—when Christ will return and finish what he began by ushering in the fullness of God’s kingdom. We will dwell with God and God with us. Forever and ever. Amen.
Imagine if this truth reaches ever more deeply into our hearts and lives how that will affect not only what we do day by day but how we do it. We can live in freedom and love and grace and peace.
So who is Jesus? Again, we could talk for hours about that question.
In his book The Pursuing God, Joshua Ryan Butler puts it this way: “Jesus is like a host who invites us to sit down at his table, share a meal together, and get to know him deeply. He is more than a heroic example of a better way to live; he is the presence of life breaking into our darkness and death. He does not give us a map to go out and find the Creator; he is the presence of the Creator come to us.”
Who is Jesus? And this is not a trivial question. It is the most important question we can ever ask. To paraphrase A.W. Tozer, what comes into our minds when we think about Jesus is the most important thing about us.
Who is Jesus? What is your answer?
May God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit open our hearts, minds, and lives to the reality of who Jesus the divine, incarnate Son of God, truly is.