Wednesday 10 August
Pursuing spiritual health
With John Risbridger
I’ve been working on my “Norn Irish” a bit. I liked this one it seems right for now: “Annie Furderadoo” –she is an imaginary Norn Irish speaker in whose absence all proceedings begin, as in ‘Without Annie Furderadoo, we’ll get stuck in”! So, without annie furder a doo let’s indeed get stuck in!
Reading from Colossians 1: 15 – 23
Last week, Alison and I were at a conference in Scotland and on the opening night, we sang Robin Mark’s wonderful song,
“Jesus, all for Jesus: all I have and am and ever hope to be…
All of my ambitions, hopes and fears,
I surrender these into your hands.
For it’s only in your will that I am free;
for it’s only in your will that I am free.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
all I am and have and ever hope to be.”
I’ve always loved that song; but it struck me just how radical it is. If I’m honest, in so many ways I still want to life on my terms, of course with Jesus there to help me; to help me achieve my goals so that I can find pleasure in feeling impressed with myself and find satisfaction by getting pretty much what I want out of life. I want Jesus but on my terms.
Surely that is getting my cake and eating it: I get the life I wanted for myself. I get the comfort of faith now and the promise of eternal life. Jesus, the icing on the cake of an almost-but-not-quite-perfect life: sorted!
Except what if the stuff I want out of life is really just an echo chamber of my own social circle? What if my vision of life is actually a selling out on real life? What if starting and finishing with me just makes my world too small?
The Jesus who is there, will never be that ‘little-bit-more’ kind of Jesus. He doesn’t exist to be a nice flavour-enhancing sprinkle of sugar to bring a little more zing to my existing view of the world. He totally re-makes my view of the world. And our minds will never be renewed to think Christianly unless we let go of that ‘top up’ view of Jesus.
The Christian mind, begins with Jesus, ends with Jesus and gives supremacy to Jesus in every part of every aspect of life in between.
So to be a Christian is to be a worshipper who finds your joy in the all-sufficient Jesus; to be a servant who has your life directed by Him; and to be a re-made human being who has dethroned the great idol of self and now sees life through the lens of the supremacy of Jesus. And that is the Jesus of Colossians 1.
The supremacy of Jesus in creation (v15-16)
Less than half a mile from our church building in Southampton, there is a statue of Isaac Watts, the great hymnwriter. The surrounding park is named after him and, from the large clock tower overlooking the park, the tune of his hymn ‘O God, our help in ages past’ chimes out three times each day. It is Southampton’s way of honouring one of its most famous sons.
When it comes to honouring Jesus, a memorial statue, a park and a clock chime simply doesn’t get near it! According to Colossians, the whole of creation exists to give Him glory! Read 15-16.
His status over creation (15)
He is the image of the invisible God – that is to say He embodies all that it is to be truly human. But more than that it is to say that He is Himself the eternal image of God after which we were ourselves fashioned. But still more than that, He is the one who makes visible within creation the invisible God.
‘No one has ever seen God’, says John, but Christ came to make him known: ‘the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’.
He is also the firstborn over all creation (15), which doesn’t mean that He was first to be created, but that He is supreme over creation.
Christ stands supreme and sovereign over all creation. Why? v16 ..
This is Paul’s explanation and just notice the three little phrases he used to describe Jesus’ relationship with all of creation: It is in Him… through Him… and for Him.
His role in creation – in Him and through Him (16a)
To say that all things were created in Him is to say that nothing was created apart from him or independently of him; He is the wisdom that gives to all creation its unity, order and coherence. To say that all things have been created through him is to acknowledge him as the eternal Word of God by which the universe was brought into being.
His reward from creation – for (to) him(16b)
The whole of creation finds its goal, its significance, its wholeness in Christ and exists to bring Him glory. Now let’s pause for breath. You see, I worry that we Christians have given too much ground to those who are happy enough to keep Jesus in the church but want to keep Him out of the workplace, out of the classroom, of healthcare, out of parenting, out of the public square, to our mental health and our politics.
I’m not talking about being shoddy in our work because we spend all our time trying to convert our colleagues or even about arguing for a privileged place for Christians in what is an increasingly post-Christian society. I’m talking about the way we think; the way we experience and enjoy life; and the values that guide us in our day to day life. A calling to live our day-to-dayness in this world.
As Abraham Kuyper once famously said,
“There’s not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not exclaim, ‘Mine’!”
So when you enjoy a beautiful beach or a great sunset, make your enjoyment worship of Jesus – because it’s all made in Him, through Him and for Him! And when you recycle responsibly and pay attention to your carbon footprint, make your joyful stewardship (not politically correctness) obedience of Jesus, because the creation belongs to Him and He has called us to look after it.
And when we speak into the public square, let it not be driven by fear that our rights are diminishing – that way we’re just another pressure group, heaven help us – but by confidence that the values and ethics of the Kingdom are the best pathway to human flourishing. Therefore we speak in the public square not for our advantage but the flourishing of all because Jesus is the King of that Kingdom who made us an in whose wisdom we hold together.
And when we’re at work and the thought crosses our minds that this is only to pay the bills so that we can do the really important stuff of church and mission, banish that thought! We are working in the world that belongs to Jesus; and we are working for Jesus the true Master and will be rewarded by Him. Ephesians 6 – Paul calls slaves to do everything for Jesus. it wasn’t a great life but Paul says, you can do that for Jesus, and He will reward you for it.
Jesus is supreme in all creation: it is made in Him and through Him and for Him. So let’s stretch our minds to embrace a vision of Jesus that moves out beyond the walls of the church into day to day life; let’s stretch out minds to embrace a vision of mission which integrates concern to address peoples’ spiritual poverty with a passion to work for human flourishing in all its dimensions. And for us pastors let’s embrace a vision of ministry that equips our people to live for the pleasure and glory of Christ, not only in His church but also in his world 24:7.
The real Jesus is so much bigger than we think!
v17-18a are kind of transitional I think. They remind us of Jesus’ supremacy over creation and creation’s dependence on him (17) – this doesn’t mean that now we know about the Higgs Boson particle (physics) there’s no room left for Jesus. What it means is that He knew about the Higgs Boson before Peter Higgs was even born, because it was His idea! It is in Him and in His wisdom that creation hangs together.
But the focus then begins to turn towards the church – v18a the community of salvation; the beginning of the New Creation and in the new creation too, Jesus is supreme.
The supremacy of Jesus in the new creation (18b-20)
The structure of these verses mirrors closely that of the first section.
His status over the New Creation (18b)
As in the first section, there are two, linked titles for Christ. He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead. Why do we need a new creation? Isn’t the existing one pretty good? The word ‘dead’ is the clue. The creation that was made in, through and for Christ, and to thrive under the rule of human beings commissioned as His image bearers to be His representatives, has been led into death by the very ones who were commissioned to bring about its flourishing.
But there is hope, because through His death and resurrection, Jesus has broken through death and into life. He is the beginning not only in the sense that He is the first to enter the New Creation, but also that He is its founder! Similarly, he is the firstborn from the dead not only in the sense that he was the first to rise but that he is supreme over the New Creation, of which his resurrection is the beginning.
Jesus is the great restorer – not only of humanity but of the whole of creation! The forgiveness of our sins is crucial but let us not stop there. We are forgive FOR something. The Christ-oriented order built into creation itself, shattered by human sin, is now in Jesus being re-established so that in everything Jesus might have the supremacy again (18).
His role in the New Creation (19-20)
As in the first section, this is clearly an explanation of the status of Christ in the New Creation and it is structured around the same set of phrases used in v16 (in, through, to/for).
First there is an astonishing claim about Christ: namely that God in all His fullness was pleased to dwell in Him(19).
In other words when Jesus walked the earth, He was God coming into His broken world to bring salvation. And at what a cost – for Christ makes peace through His blood, shed on the cross (20b).
God in all His fullness hangs on a cross, suffocating in appalling agony: that is the shocking reality at the heart of these verses. He came not to destroy this world, alienated through human sin and rebellion, but to restore it by taking its alienation onto Himself, as He carried our sins to the cross, and bore their penalty as if they were His own.
And see the scope of this: He has not only reconciled us to Himself but in doing so He has reconciled the whole creation to Himself, so that He will say in Revelation 21:5 “See I am making all things news.”
Let’s not diminish the work of Jesus by making it all about us. It is wonderful that He reconciles us to Himself but let’s not cut down the gospel by seeing it only through the lens of sorting out our own individual sin problem; that is wonderful, but the gospel is even bigger than that! The gospel is total transformation: the reconciliation of all things through the cross.
His reward from the New Creation
The NIV assumes that all things are reconciled to God in Christ – and that is true – but I think it’s more likely (following the commentator Doug Moo) that what Paul means here is that it is all reconciled specifically to Christ – that is to say that, just as the purpose of creation itself was to bring Christ glory, so the New Creation is for His glory too!
So that in everything Jesus has the supremacy.
So often we tell our testimonies as if it is all about us. Let us think for the story of salvation existing for the glory of Jesus. Let me tell you about Sue a friend of mine whose mum was in the sex industry. She left the kids at home leaving the gas on. There was a big explosion and Sue was very bitter. She heard the we were doing a homeless breakfast. She turned up and offered to cook and told us she was a white witch. Within a couple of months she had become a Christian. The final words of her testimony were, “Mum I forgive you.”
Ahmed grew up in Iran from a poor background. He resolved to be a builder to get himself out of poverty. By his late 20s he had done it but then he started drinking and smoking opium. His marriage was on the rocks. He thought, “I have to do something about this opium” so he joined a Narcotics Anonymous group and the leader of that group was a Christian. Ahmed said, “Who is the higher power that can help me.” His leader said, “The only person who can save you is Jesus.” He went home with a copy of the Jesus video and very soon, he and his wife were followers of Jesus. They had to leave the country because their lives were under threat. He is utterly transformed by Jesus.
A friend who was in prison who came to know Jesus and became a minister himself. This is what Jesus can do. This is the Jesus of new creation. This our Jesus. This is the Jesus who is sovereign and works to bring restoration.
To have our minds renewed is to dethrone ourselves so that we are no longer at the centre of the world and to see a big Jesus – the real Jesus – as supreme in everything. So our joy is not focused on ourselves and what we can accomplish. The whole of our worldview becomes Jesus centred.
Supreme in the world; supreme in the church. Supreme in creation; supreme in salvation; worshipped as creator; worshipped as Saviour. This is our Jesus! I hope you are worshipping Him now!
The supremacy of Jesus and us!
Living the future (21-23)
Being reconciled to Jesus causes us to live the future. Nearly 27 years ago in a rather unremarkable house in Bedford I asked Alison to marry me and happily, she agreed! Immediately our lives began to change, even though it was nearly 20 months before we were able to get married.
Our spare time was spent preparing for the wedding, any spare money was saved so that we would be able to set up a home, we began to be viewed more as a couple within our families and circle of friends and, most important of all, we had to learn about each other’s aspirations, preferences and way of doing things as we prepared to share life together.
The marriage was still to come, but everything about our lives in the present was shaped by that future reality. According to Paul that’s how the Christian life works. That is what the renewed mind is all about. The complete reconciliation of all things in Christ is still to come, but everything in our lives now is to be shaped by that future reality.
Read 21-22a. So the reconciliation to Christ which will embrace the whole of creation when He returns, has already happened for Christian believers. We are therefore called now, in the middle of time, to live the Christ-centred-life that is the destiny of the whole creation.
Let me share a little model that I’ve found helpful for this.
Long ago Francis Schaeffar spoke about four ‘alienations’ which the gospel addresses. Spiritual alienation – we are reconciled to God through the cross; Social alienation – we are reconciled to each other through the cross (Ephesians 2); Emotional alientation – we are reconciled to our true selves through the cross (Romans 8); Ecological alienation – we are reconciled to creation through the cross (here in Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1:10).
You can put those four around four faces of a cube as a kind of summary of all that God has done, but you can then look at them through a missional face: the mission of God’s people (local and global) addresses spiritual poverty, emotional poverty, social poverty, material poverty. All of it we are sent into the world to live for Jesus. This is the future of the universe and we are called to fore-shadow that destiny.”
But you can also look at it through the discipleship face – where discipleship is a journey into deeper spirituality, deeper wholeness, deeper community and a more just stewardship of creation’s resources and potentiality. The journey in and the journey on, they fit together.
It’s incredibly simple, but I would love to see us reimagining our approach to the life and mission of our churches right where God has placed us around this kind of ‘big gospel’ vision. Because the church is not called to be a slowly vanishing relic of the past but a bold, ‘living out loud’ prototype of the future that leads creation – in its wholeness – into its future of unity in Christ, joyfully anticipating that days when we are presented blameless in His sight in the New Creation.
So as I finish, let me ask you to turn your eyes upon Jesus and look full into His wonderful face. Not the diminished Jesus but the real Jesus.
The Jesus who made you, who fashioned and formed you for Himself
The Jesus who died that you might live and calls you to Himself
The Jesus who claims every square inch of our existence as His own and calls us to share in His mission and ministry of reconciliation.
He is supreme in creation; supreme in new creation; supreme in all things. Is He supreme in your life? Is He supreme in your worship or is it just whether you like the songs? Is He supreme in the life of your church, or is merely a battleground for everyone trying to get their own way?
Is He supreme in your ambitions, or are you a practical atheist when it comes to career, wealth and material aspiration? Is He supreme in your marriage, supreme in your singleness, supreme in your relationships, supreme in your family?
Supreme in your work, Supreme in your leisure, Supreme in your shopping habits, Supreme in your politics? Is He supreme in your thinking and supreme in your heart?
This morning I want to call and invite you – whether for the first time or as a renewal and recommitment of your life – to leave behind a worldview which puts you first and central, and embrace a new life centred on this magnificent Jesus.