Just Jesus ~ February 09, 2020 ~ Colossians 1:15-20
This morning, I want to start off with a question. Who is Jesus? Now, I know you make think it has an obvious answer; but unfortunately, for many people, that is not the case – especially for those here in the first century. They are just trying to wrap their heads around the idea that Jesus is God, God in the flesh. And not only was Jesus God, but as I tried my best to explain to the kids, He was also the Holy Spirit – this whole concept of the trinity. I freely admit, to this day I still struggle to wrap my head around the concept of the trinity. I believe it without question – the Bible says it’s true, it’s true – but when Jesus prays, “Father, if you take this cup from me…” is He talking to Himself? It’s confusing to me. So, there are some things within our faith we literally do have to claim to be mysteries. That’s what we call them – mysteries of the faith. Look, I don’t know how Jesus walked on water. Anybody figure that one out? I still can’t quite understand if you take a rock and you put it on a body of water it sinks; but if you take a giant cruise ship and put it on a body of water, it floats. Whatever. I know there’s some science in there somewhere, but that’s not what my degree is in. I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to me. But if I accept that He can walk on water, that He did walk on water, that He turned water into wine, there are some things I just can’t explain. One of them is the trinity. Trying to wrap my head around the trinity is tough.
It’s difficult to understand God existing in three persons. However, you and I have an advantage – 2000 years of preachers, teachers, and pastors attempting to answer that question, attempting to explain. These folks did not. It’s brand new to them; they’re hearing it for the first time. And Paul was concerned about some church members in Colossae who were promoting other theories about Jesus. They were mixing some pagan teachings with some Scriptural ideas and cobbling them together. And these false teachers had taken elements of astrology, and magic, and some of what we knew about Judaism, and they were mixing them together to create a Jesus that was merely a wise teacher, or an angelic being, separate from the Lord.
They’re struggling with trying to understand this concept too. Paul – this is one of the main points of Paul’s letter, to correct misunderstandings about Jesus.
Now, as we continue this month to look at our Congregational DNA, there is an aspect of our faith tradition which we hold dear that concerns Jesus as well. Let’s read what Paul has to say. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Paul writes, beginning in verse 15:
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. he
existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through
him, God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the
things we can see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms,
rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him
and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God
in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled
everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by
means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
So, Christ is God. I know that’s a big concept, but it is true; and I know for most of us, it is also a big, “Duh! You needed a doctorate to tell me that? Seems like a waste of money to me!” Christ is God! Water is wet! The sun is hot! And the New York Jets didn’t make the Superbowl again this year. Tell me something new, Captain Obvious!
Seems rather obvious – Christ is God; but look at what Paul said. He said, He existed before anything was created. Think about that for a moment. He existed before anything was created. There are only two options in the world – you are created, a creature, or you are the Creator. That’s it. Jesus existed before anything was created, so Jesus is the Creator. Well, who’s the Creator? God! So, Jesus is God. Now, we know this, because we’ve read the rest of the Book. We’ve also read in here that Jesus is the Holy Spirit – we’re back to this trinity thing. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. I know it’s a difficult idea. I know it’s difficult to explain. But we need to be careful. In an effort to understand this difficult concept, or to explain something beyond our understanding, we need to be careful that we don’t fall into heresy, that we don’t teach something that is incorrect. You see, between the second and third centuries of the church (that’s the 100s and the 200s), people just like you and me were in churches just like this one, and they were struggling with this idea of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Does He talk to Himself? When He went to the cross, did He commit suicide? I don’t get it! People tried to explain it themselves, and what they did by mixing astrology and Judaism and magic, they come up with this idea that it must be that God is really three Gods – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
That’s not correct. That is the heresy of Tritheism – the practice or belief that there are three separate Gods. And that’s one of the reasons that the Muslims still think of Christianity today as a polytheistic religion. They think we worship three separate Gods. Another attempt to understand this trinity teaching can also lead to the heresy of Modalism – that there are three different modes of God. That’s kind of where I was here, but this is as close as I can get to trying to explain to people a very difficult concept. Water can be liquid, solid, or gas, but it is all water. That is really right against the edge of Modalism, that there are three different modes of God – also not a correct teaching.
What the trinity teaches is that God is liquid, solid, gas at the same time, all the time. How do you illustrate that? How do you understand that, that you are liquid, ice, and steam, all at the same time? Isaiah 55 (I fall back on Isaiah 55 a lot), where He says:
“… my ways are higher than your ways, my thoughts
are higher than your thoughts.”
Sometimes, when we come across the teaching in the Scriptures, we just need to trust and take it on faith that it’s true – and this is one of those times. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same, at the same time. They do have different tasks. The Father is the ultimate source, or cause of the universe, divine revelation, salvation, and Jesus’ human works here on earth. That’s all the Father. The Son, Jesus, is the agent through whom the Father works (while He was here). And then when Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit then became the agent through which God works. But they are all God, all the time. And since that is true, that Christ is God, water, steam, ice all at the same time, we know that when Jesus speaks, God is speaking, and the Holy Spirit is speaking. When God speaks, Jesus is speaking, the Holy Spirit is speaking. When the Holy Spirit speaks, Jesus is speaking, God is speaking. When one of them opens their mouth, they are all talking at the same time.
Why is that important to point out? Jesus and the red words. I don’t know about you, but I have a Bible that has Jesus’ words in red. I like that. It’s nice to be able to open up your Bible and see right away when Jesus is talking. His words are in red. Unfortunately, however, there are those within the Christian church who try to use that to bolster a non-Biblical argument. They have an issue with which they’re passionate about (whatever it is, fill in the blank), and they’ll say, “Well, Jesus never said anything like that!” because you can’t find their issue in the red words. But that’s not true. Jesus did speak about their issue. When God spoke about their issue in the Old Testament, Jesus’ mouth was moving too! When God spoke about their issue in the epistles, the letters, Jesus’ mouth was speaking too! Any time God’s voice is heard in this Book, all three of them are speaking at the same time. We can’t just say, “Oh, Jesus only spoke in the red words,” because that’s not accurate.
And one of the things that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit say in verse 18 is very clear: Christ is the head of the church, which is his body. So, we’ve got the head, we’ve got the body. It seems pretty straightforward. In the spirit of looking at Congregationalism, here’s where I go. If Jesus is the head of the church, how is it, then, 1600 years after this we have a church with Christ at the head (which is fine), followed by a Pope, and then some Cardinals, and then some Archbishops, and then some bishops, and then some priests, and finally the body? What’s all this stuff in the middle? After King Henry VIII took his church and created his own thing in the church of England, he changed it; but it didn’t improve all that much. All of a sudden, we have Christ at the head, then the King or the Queen, and then the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then bishops, and then archdeacons, and then deacons and priests, and then the body. Not much has changed; there’s a lot of layers here. When the Protestant Reformation took hold, there was a man by the name of John Knox who was a great leader in the Protestant movement, the Scottish movement. They modified this with Presbyterianism. They had Christ at the head, then they had a general synod, then they had the presbytery, then they had elders and pastors, and then the body. It’s getting a little closer.
But Congregationalists, as I said last week, we are a Bible-believing people. Sola Scriptura! Scripture alone! and verse 18 is pretty clear – Christ is the head of the church, and I don’t know about you, but generally it’s not a good idea for a head to be separated from the body. That usually spells bad news. We should not separate the head from the body. Why should any other people be elevated to a place of special authority? The church doesn’t need two heads! Just Jesus.
Now, obviously, we need some organization. Every organization needs some structure, or there would be chaos. You can’t have hundreds of people all doing their own thing. Jesus even had a little structure, right? He had His inner circle of three – Peter, James, and John – and then He had His nine other apostles. The Bible talks about four offices of leadership – pastor, teacher, elder, deacon – and they recognize in Hebrews 13:17, that we are supposed to:
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their
work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them
reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for
So, there is some semblance of structure; but there’s a difference. In Congregationalism, the leaders are set apart, not above the membership. And whatever office of leadership or level of authority is given to a church leader, it was granted to them by the Congregation, and can be taken away by vote of the Congregation.
In the late 1980s, when I was searching for a church to join, as a former Roman Catholic, the Congregational idea of the power in the pews really appealed to me. That isn’t’ the case in many other church traditions – you don’t get to choose your leadership; you don’t get to vote. The Congregation’s job is to pray, pay, and obey. That’s it. Not so in Congregationalism. That’s what attracted me to it, and that’s why I ended up sitting in the First Christian Church of Kittery Point, Maine for seven years. Congregational Church structure looks like this: Christ is the head. That’s it. Pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, church council, whatever we want to call them – they are set apart, not above. To serve. And they serve with whatever level of authority the church grants them at the pleasure of the congregation. When the Holy Spirit speaks through the congregation and says, “You’re done, you’re outta here!” off they go. I hate to ip my hand, but it’s true. Anybody wants to send me packing, all it takes is a congregational meeting and a majority vote, and I’ve got to start packing up my office.
I thought that was a great concept when I was looking for a church – not so much now, but I did think so. No, I still believe it. That Christ is the head of the church is a foundational congregational understanding. For us, it’s Just Jesus.
Now, that being said, I am not implying that all other structures are heretical. I am not. I have nothing personally against the Pope; he appears to be a very nice guy. I just don’t think he’s necessary, biblically, and I’m a Bible guy. I certainly don’t think I have to listen to his dictates and do what he says. No, I do what Jesus says, because for me, it’s Just Jesus.
Now, if my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters want to go with His Holiness, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, which are all his official titles, fine! I’m okay with that! They can do what they choose. If my brothers and sister in England, or the Episcopal church want Queen Elizabeth II as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, that’s her official title, Bob’s your uncle! I’m okay with that too! Go for it!
But that’s not for me. I’m a Congregationalist, and I’m good with Christ as the head, and then the body. That’s the Congregational Way.
This Book is all we need, folks. It’s all we need to run a church. It’s all we need to know how to live our lives. It’s all we need. You see, in my former faith, additionally, as a Roman Catholic, you had the Bible and you had an 842 page catechism of the Catholic church, written by men, to help guide you and teach you and lead you on your faith journey. In the Church of England, you had the Bible, and then you had a 1,001-page book of Common Prayer, also written by men, to guide you and help you and lead you on your faith journey. Congregationalism is kind of like a throwback to basics. A back to basics sort of thing. Let’s just read the Bible and follow what that says! Isn’t that hard enough as it is? I know it is for me. I don’t need a thousand other pages of things to try to do right.
And here in Colossae, this is what Paul was concerned with. Some people were mixing elements of paganism and astrology and magic with some Christian teaching, and leading people away from the truth. I think of it like this. Maybe I can do that – I just thought of another kiddie sermon. What if you took some blue paint, and you said, “blue is the truth!” Then you pour in some yellow, and you pour in some green, and you pour in some brown, and you mix it all together. Is it still blue? No! Is it still the truth? No, because blue is the truth. You can’t mix all kinds of stuff in with this. This is truth, on its own, stands alone. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone.
Along those same lines, I just don’t think the Bible needs to be mixed with anything. I don’t think that it needs any help. Similarly, do we need that much help? Really? Think of it this way. Have you ever worked at a job that was top heavy, meaning the ratio of management positions to employees was way out of kilter? There were just far too many bosses? Anybody else worked at a job like that? Far too many bosses! When that happens, people tend to have a need to justify their existence, their position. I’m a boss, and I have to do something to justify why I’m a boss.
Let me tell you a story, because I worked a job like that – it was called the Post Office. I was Postmaster of a little town in Salisbury, Massachusetts. And it was a tiny little Post Office, not that much bigger than our lobby, maybe, and I ran a pretty tight ship. I was a good postal employee. One day, this inspector comes in and his job is to go around to all the Post Offices and make sure they’re following all the rules – that it’s clean, that it’s tidy, that everything is current. I was feeling pretty good; I’m going to do well. I welcome him, introduce, then I go back behind the counter and I continue on with my work. He walks around with a clipboard. You ever have somebody near you with a clipboard, and they start writing stuff down? What is that? What did he write? I felt confident; I’m going to be okay.
A couple weeks later I get a report, and I was written up. Can you believe it, Mee-Maw? He wrote me up! You know what he wrote me up for? I used tape to hang my posters on the wall. How do you hang posters on the wall? They didn’t give me any frames! They didn’t give me anything to put them in! I kept on throwing them at the wall, but they fell down all the time. I had to use tape! I even took time to roll the tape around my finger and put it on the back so you couldn’t see the tape! He was too quick for me. He noticed the little bump. I got written up for taping my posters to the wall. I had all the right posters up, but I taped them to the wall. And I thought to myself, “You know what that is? That guy needs to write something down, because if he doesn’t report me on something, eventually, they’re going to say, ‘Well, what’s your job for? You don’t do anything! You don’t send in any reports!’” So, they’re looking for stuff that you might be doing wrong, and extra stuff that you need to do.
You know what else is not in the Bible anywhere? Not eating meat during lent. I don’t know where that came from – it ain’t in there. You know what else isn’t in there? Holy Water! You know what Holy Water is? Tap water! And then a priest, a guy with a collar comes by and says, “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” Boom, now it’s Holy Water! You know how to make Holy Water? You boil the hell out of it!
Holy Water’s not in here either. I feel like there’s too many bosses, too many layers between the head and the body. Congregationalism does not believe God’s people need layer after layer of Cardinals and Bishops and Archbishops and Archdeacons and Synods, or a 1,000-page book that’s telling them what to do and what to say. Just Jesus. Congregationalists are more like, “Do you have a Bible? Read it! Do what it says! Don’t do what it says not to do!” There you go, I got a doctorate to figure that out. Read it, do what it says, don’t do what it says not to do. Simple! You’ve got to love Congregationalism. I know I do!