“The Incredible Portrait of Jesus and God’s Ultimate Goal”Dr. Gerald L. Borchert Colossians 1:15-28; Psalm 15 and Luke 10:38-42. Year C: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Before we turn to the incredibly elevated text about Jesus in Colossians, I want to call your attention to Psalm 15 which is one of the shortest texts in the Psalter. Its length, however, is no measure of its importance because this psalm deals with the crucial question of human integrity.
Positioned immediately after Psalm 14 which delineates the way of the wicked, this psalm asks worshippers to consider who is blameless and can either sojourn or take up residence in the presence of God (15:1-2). The answer in reality is that no one actually was worthy to enter the most holy place without sacrificial blood and then only the high priest would do so once a year. But in the minds of early Christians this psalm pointed forward to one who would come. Yet even for Israel this psalm was more than a reflection on the literal tent of meeting or the temple.
Further, we need to understand that blameless hardly meant perfection in the minds of those worshippers. It meant for them that a person was consistently focused on maintaining a faithful attitude toward God. Indeed, the psalmist’s emphasis was on walking (halak) with God rather than keeping the multitude of rules (halakah) required by the rabbis (15:2).
The psalm calls for a attitude of the heart that evidences integrity in the way a person lives in the world and relates to both God and others. Doing what is right, speaking the truth, refusing to gossip or harm others, honoring the faithful and keeping pledges are some of the indications that illustrated the nature of integrity in action (15:2-4).
And in a context where borrowing money would often mean paying an interest rate of 50%, a no interest loan would be viewed as an example of the gracious way God deals with frail humanity (15:5). Such a person would be viewed as a person of integrity, blameless and steadfast like the holy hill on which the temple was erected (15:1, 5).
Understood in this manner the psalm provides a magnificent background for returning this week to a study of the second half of Colossians 1, the amazing portrait of Jesus—the pinnacle of Pauline Christology —and our further understanding of Christian baptism.
If you have been baptized and have been going to church for some time, it may not cause much of a ripple in your mind or in your psyche to start reading about Christ in Colossians 1:15 ff. that he “is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation” and to continue that “in him all things were created in heaven and on earth.” I expect that for some of you a number of those ideas would represent your general assertions concerning Jesus Christ and that you would be prepared to affirm or confess them as a Christian today. Am I correct?
But suppose for a moment that you were in Colossae and hearing these words for the first time: “image of the invisible God,” “first born of all creation,” “created all things on earth—and even in heaven!” That is a pretty impressive statement. Now suppose you had never met this fellow named Paul, but only heard some vague rumors about him since he had never been in your city. What would be your impression? Was he just a little crazy?
That, friends, is the question that this letter possess for all who heard it read in their church for the first time—and perhaps even for some of us today. But listen further as this strange fellow, Paul, goes on to say that this Jesus was active in creating both all the visible and the invisible stuff, kings and rulers, in addition to the unseen principalities and powers in the universe. Then by the way he added that everything is being held together by him (Col 1:17).
What is your reaction now? Could such a phenomenon actually be possible? Could I be serious? It sounds like Paul believes that this guy has a messianic complex and thinks he is God. And if that were not enough, he considers this Christ fellow to have come back from the dead and to be the head of the whole church around our world and the one who can bring peace by reconciling everyone (1:18-20). Yes, of course, that really makes sense, doesn’t it?
We know that Augustus thought he could bring the Pax Romana to our world, but that did not mean we are all reconciled to each other. We only have an uneasy truce. Well, Friends, do you get the point? The fist, the sword, guns, bombs and even guided missiles do not bring reconciliation. Superior weapons only bring fear!
Perhaps, you get the point. This text seems so far-fetched that Paul must either have been crazy or realized that something so incredible and beyond normal belief had happened in the coming of Jesus that as a prominent Pharisaic leader he was ready for a complete change of life on the basis of meeting such a person.
But what does it all mean? Does the coming of Jesus really change anything or isn’t life just as it always has been? Well as you are thinking about these ideas, let me remind you of a brief five verse vignette at the end of Luke chapter 10 that took place before the resurrection. You can almost miss it in reading Luke but as soon as you have heard it, you will never forget it.
Jesus was visiting the home of two sisters. Martha was more than busy getting things ready for dinner while Mary was sitting listening to Jesus teaching. Becoming exasperated in the kitchen with no help from Mary, Martha complained to Jesus that Mary had left all the work to her.
To our genuine surprise Jesus commends Mary and critiques Martha because Mary recognized there was something more important taking place at that point than hospitality. Was hospitality important in Jewish life? Of course! It was part of the original hospitality covenant that desert people usually observed unless they themselves felt threatened.
Now what Luke wanted his readers to gain from this story was that there are priorities in life which Christians should recognize are part of a correct understanding of the Gospel. For Luke, the correct focus must be on who Jesus is and his call on our lives. Even busyness with doing good things can actually distract us from our true focus—and of course, complaining about others can be a recipe for enhancing self-centeredness.
So, what is the preacher trying to say to us today? He is trying to say that the Apostle Paul had reached a focal point in his life when he wrote Colossians. He was in prison and he realized that his life might quickly end at any time. He was not toying with ideas in a friendly theological discussion. He was deadly serious. And he wanted everyone within the sphere of his influence to know who this Jesus really was and that he had been sent by God to transform humans.
This Jesus was not some mere human ruler like the acclaimed Augustus who had subjected the Mediterranean world to his command. Jesus was none other than the one and only Son of God who was involved in all of creation—including creating the so-called divine Augustus. Moreover, this Jesus Christ was the only one who could bring lasting peace to humans through the revolutionary nature of his reconciling death on the cross (Col 1:20).
But please note very clearly, Paul insisted that to those who had been hostile and disobedient to God when they accepted the Son’s saving death and resurrection for themselves, he transformed them into those who would be able appear before the throne of the Almighty God and be received as blameless, holy and without fault (1:21-22).
Do you see how Psalm 15 leads into Colossians? But for Paul there was an important proviso to the acceptance of humans by God. That proviso was that mortals had to remain faithful and not turn away from the great hope of the Gospel—the Good News which was proclaimed to them and of which Paul himself was a minister (1:23). This proviso, thus, really means that Paul understood salvation to be a life-long process of following Jesus—not an instantaneous event in which everything was done and could never be reversed.
Do you also then understand why last week I called you to “Remember your Baptism!” Life with Christ in God does not end with the baptismal event. It is the beginning of a dynamic life with the Lord. The letter to the Colossians is, perhaps, best understood as a baptismal handbook.
Baptism does not take place without vows of commitment. We commit ourselves to follow the leading of God through all of life.
So, today I am here reminding you of the one to whom you committed yourself in your baptism and to your baptismal vows.
But I am also calling you not only to remember your baptism but to: “Remember your Savior, as you remember your Baptism!”
Remember that Christ is none other than “the image of the invisible God,” the only one in all of creation who is worthy of worship because through his saving death and powerful resurrection, he has readied you to receive the hope of appearing before God without fault.
Now this amazing message that is the basis for your baptism and indeed for your salvation, Paul clearly reminds you, is not intended to be kept secret any longer—even though only a few seem to have understood its meaning before the resurrection. This message is intended to be shared with the entire world (1:26-28).
The goal is that the people of the world might come to the knowledge of our great Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ! Nothing less than the inhabited world was God’s reason for sending his Son. God was not restricting the scope of his purpose for Jesus to a few people who would bask in the delights of salvation. Saving the world has always been God’s intention from the call of Abraham until today (Gen 12:1-3).
And by now I think you can guess who has been called to share this message with the world. Yes, the answer is that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are called to share this message with our friends and neighbors. While there may be many church edifices in our community, it does not mean that Christ Jesus is recognized as Savior by those around that site.
Indeed. our western society is quickly becoming biblically illiterate. As I indicated in chapter one of my book on Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical illiteracy, recent surveys have indicated that the people in our cities, towns and villages do not really have a living knowledge of this Jesus, even though they may recognize his name.
Our call to remember our baptism is not simply a call to join a club and pay our dues.
Our call is a life summons to tell others about our gracious Lord and to alert them to their need for a Savior.
So, as you remember your baptism, I further charge you to remember that without Christ the world has no hope.
Will you commit yourself today to give someone else hope?
God bless you as you accept your call from the Lord and reach out to touch others with this marvelous message of salvation. And may they join you in remembering their baptisms!
About the author:
Dr. Gerald L. Borchert is Senior Professor at Carson-Newman University (TN); Former Trustee, Emeritus Professor & Thesis Director at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies (FL) was a Canadian lawyer who holds an honors Ph.D. from Princeton in New Testament and did post-doctoral work in Jerusalem, Cambridge, Hamburg, Duke, Boston and San Francisco.
He has taught at many schools throughout the world and been the dean of two American theological seminaries. A translator for the New Living Translation, he has penned over 200 articles and over 30 books including commentaries on John, Revelation, Galatians and Thessalonians as well as other works on Jesus, Assurance and Warning, Worship, Evangelism, Counseling, etc., and two Guides to visiting the Bible lands. His most recent work is Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical illiteracy (Smyth & Helwys).
He is married to Doris Ann Cox, a retired seminary Professor of Christian Education and Ministry Supervision; the father of two sons: Mark, a Professor and Chair of Communications, and Tim, a Teacher of Students on Probation; two professional daughters-in-law; and four grandchildren.
Scripture and Music:
Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
The Church s One Foundation
When the Church of Jesus
Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
It Is Well with My Soul
Upon This Rock (John Ness Beck)
Rise, Shine! (Dale Wood)
Offertory (John Ness Beck)
Be Thou My Vision (Alice Parker)
It Is Well with My Soul (Tom Fettke)
Offertory (John Ness Beck)
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Of the Father s Love Begotten