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Jesus is all that we need.

We could all I’m sure name a few of the world’s great religious figures, people who have played a key role in creating the religions we know today. Siddhartha Gautama might not be a name which roles off the tongue. He was a Hindu prince in Northern India in the sixth century BC. With little to occupy his time, he began to explore his kingdom and discovered many who were poor and needy. He gave up the trappings of royal life, wandered the countryside and eventually sat down under a fig tree where he believed he was enlightened. From this point on, Siddhartha was convinced he should share his teachings. He became known as the Buddha and his followers Buddhists.
The prophet Muhammad is better known. He was not able to read or write but it is told that through encounters with an angel in a cave, he was given various words to repeat until he could remember them. Written down these words form the suras of the Qur’an. Mohammad did not believe that he was creating a new religion but reminding his followers of the message of earlier prophets. There are many references in the Qur’an to key people in the Old Testament and to Isa, that is Jesus. It was not long before tribal instincts in his followers took hold and with certain parts of the Qur’an open to a more militaristic interpretation, a new religion and order swept across much of the middle east and North Africa.
You probably have your own take on these religious figures and others. You might think of the Buddah as a dreamy mystic and the prophet Muhammad as a more determined religious leader. What then of the man at the heart of our faith: Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ? How do you see him? What thoughts come to your mind when his name is mentioned? Do you see him as another religious leader on a par with ones we have spoken of or is he distinct; different in some way. And if he is different why is that so? Is that because he is the one you know best; the one you have grown up with? Is it to do with the quality of his life, the manner of his death? Is it around his teaching or the nature of the miracles? What about the resurrection? How do we view Jesus? How do we assess him?
Our second reading this morning comes from the letter Paul wrote to Christians at Colossae. Colossae was a Roman city in what is now the western part of modern Turkey. Like many other places, it’s importance waned when the road was rebuilt further west and today it is no more than a ruin. The gospel of Jesus Christ arrived in Colossae when Paul began teaching in nearby Ephesus. He sent a faithful fellow colleague, Epaphras, along to them with the good news of Jesus, people had believed, and a church had been founded. The letter records how Epaphras had returned to Paul with good news of the Colossian church. In chapter 1 we hear that Epaphras had made known to Paul ‘their love in the Spirit’ (Colossians 1.8)
But not everything was good in the Colossian church. In chapter 2 we read: ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ.’ (verse 8) It is clear that while Paul is greatly encouraged by the growth in faith and commitment of this young satellite church at Colossae, he is concerned that they might be side tracked, drawn away from Christian faith by other teachings and philosophies. While there has been much debate as to what these might have been, we can only speculate. Certainly, Paul was concerned that they might be sufficiently attractive and appealing to entice the Colossian Christians away from the faith and gospel message they had been taught. How does he begin to tackle that issue? Does he try to defend Christianity, by arguing that it makes more sense than other faiths? Does he produce convincing reasons why the Colossians should not believe the other philosophies which they were tempted by? Certainly, Paul touches on these things, but they are not the main spring of his letter. That is to be found in todays passage and it is a theme to which he often returns in this message to the Colossians. It is all about Christ; it is about the man at the centre of our faith and how we should think of him.
So how does Paul describe Christ here?
He speaks firstly about his relationship to God: ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.’ (Colossians 1.15) This tells us plainly that if we want to understand who God is, what his nature is like, then we can look at Jesus to find that out. God is invisible, but Jesus as a human being shows us what he is like. All human beings are made in God’s image according to Genesis. (1.27) Due to sinfulness, that image is shattered in all of us except Jesus. The first born of all creation tells us that Jesus is the first born of the creator God. As the first-born son, he is the heir of God. All that is and has belongs to Jesus.
Next, we read that ‘in him all things were created’. (Colossians 1.16) Jehovah’s Witnesses, who don’t believe that Jesus was in any sense God, will say that this verse conflicts with the previous one. How can the first born of creation be the creator? The answer is that ‘first-born’ is using human terminology to describe Christ’s relationship to God. This verse tells us about how Jesus as the word of God in today’s gospel reading is the creating agent in the world. There is nothing in the created world we know, or the spirit and heavenly world we perceive, that does not have its origins in Christ, the word made flesh. In the next verse, Paul goes further to say that it is in Christ that all these held things are together or maintained. (Colossians 1.17)
Having spoken of Jesus’ relationship with God, the created world and the cosmos, Paul then speaks of how he relates to the church. He is the head of the body the church, (Colossians 1.18) which is as we might expect. But he is also described as ‘the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.’ Here is an explicit reference to the resurrection and words which link it with what has been said previously about creation. It says that the church, that is the body of faithful believers, not a flawed human institution, is created in Christ as he is rises from the dead. As Paul says elsewhere; the risen Christ is the first fruits of those who have died. (1 Corinthians 15.20,23)
The final two verses of the reading talk of the sufficiency of Christ, of how he has achieved everything for us and we could not want anything more. ‘For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell.’ (Colossians 1.19) It was Allinson’s bread which was advertised with the phrase: ‘with nowt taken out’. In Jesus, the wholeness of God dwelt and dwells. Nothing is taken out; nothing more is needed. He is entirely sufficient for us to know and love God. We do not need to go looking elsewhere as evidently the Colossian Christians did.
That is further stressed in verse twenty in which Paul speaks of the reconciliation effected by Christ and marked, as all atonement should be, in blood, his blood on the cross. The peace which Jesus seals is between God and all things. The grievous consequences of human sin are paid for in the cross and nothing is left outstanding to pay on the bill.
Like the Colossians, we all might wonder if other faiths and philosophies are better than Christianity. Are we tempted to look elsewhere to top up our faith? We live in an age where diversity is much vaunted and Christian faith as expressed in traditional churches can appear dowdy and old school. We might be tempted to argue against that; to find inadequacies in the other world religions and their leaders with which we started. Is it not better to adopt Paul’s way of thinking here? To refocus again on what is the earliest conviction of the apostles that in Jesus of Nazareth, all the fullness of God was and is pleased to dwell. He is all sufficient. We need no other.
2nd Sunday Before Lent 4th February 2018

Rev Jonathan Smith

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