When I lived in London, one of the things I loved to do on a Sunday was visit Speaker’s Corner. Every Sunday at Speaker’s Corner you have the right to go and proclaim whatever you want to proclaim about – could be true, could be a pack of lies, doesn’t matter – as long as you are 6 inches off the ground you have total freedom of speech and you can just let fly. So naturally enough this attracts any number of religious nutters – like me – and you can wander the length of Speakers Corner and listen to pretty much every religion under the sun.
On a sunny day the speakers will get up on their soapbox and point to the wonder of creation and say – “Look what the God Ram has done.” A few metres down – “Look what Allah has created.” A few metres down – “look what I have made.” Everyone’s looking at the same sun shining on the same blades of grass, listening to the same birds. And yet it seems there are as many gods and spiritualities and philosophies as there are people.
Why don’t we all have a clear picture of God? And why isn’t everyone’s the same? What do we make of all these religions in the world? And where does Christianity fit in?
Well I wonder how you answered our first question: “What do you picture when you think of God?”
I imagine we have as many answers to that question as we have people here this morning. That’s a very question. And if you look at verse 15 of our passage you’ll see why it’s difficult to picture God. Do you see v15. Why’s it difficult to picture God? He’s invisible.
And that’s not just a conceptual difficulty. It’s not just that He’d be a difficult Pictionary clue. In the Bible – seeing God is caught up with the idea of knowing Him. To see Him is to know Him and to be known by Him.
And the bible says we don’t know God. We just don’t. Everyone talks about God. Most people believe in God. Billions pray to God. The trouble is we don’t know God.
Spike Milligan was once asked, “Spike do you ever pray?” He said, “Yes I do pray, desperately, all the time. I just have no idea who I’m praying to.” Is that you? It’s so many people. We don’t know God.
Why? What’s the problem? It’s there in verse 21 of our passage:
21Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because ofyour evil behavior.
Here’s the problem. Naturally, human beings are alienated from God. You could say we’re “estranged” from each other – like a divorced couple, no longer on speaking terms. We’re estranged, alienated, divorced from God. And it’s our fault. We initiated the divorce, we wanted to go our own way. And now, alienated from God, the human race does not know its Maker.
And that’s why at Speaker’s Corner there are so many different preachers. That’s why in the world there are so many different gods. It’s not that God has multiple personalities. It’s not that He goes through more image changes than Madonna. It’s not that He can’t express Himself properly. It’s that we’re alienated. And because we’re alienated, it’s like the heavens are a gigantic mirror. And humanity looks up into the sky, but all we ever see is ourselves reflected back.
Clever people think of God as a giant mind. Powerful people think of God as a massive force. Groovy people think of God as a cosmic vibe. What do these opinions tell us? Well they tell us a lot about the people who offer them. But they tell us nothing about God.
I don’t know what you answered for question 1: What do you picture when you think of God? The bible says there is one right answer to that question. It’s there in verse 15:
He [it’s speaking of Christ here] is the Image of the invisible God.
You want to know what God looks like – Jesus. Jesus is THE Image of an otherwise Invisible God.
Now THAT is a revolutionary thought. It turns all our thinking on its head. We usually assume that God is obvious. Everyone knows who we’re talking about when we say “God” right? God’s obvious. It’s Jesus we don’t know about. That’s how people think. All the surveys show the same thing. The great majority of Britons today think there’s a God, but most of them aren’t too sure about Jesus. Maybe He’s the Son of God, maybe not, maybe he’s a prophet, dunno. God they know, Jesus they’re uncertain of. That’s how we naturally think.
But verse 15 flips that around. The bible says: God is unknown. He’s invisible apart from Jesus. Jesus is the known entity – He’s the Image, He’s on show. God is invisible, unknown, unreachable, alien to us unless Jesus reveals Him.
When you pictured God, if you weren’t thinking of Jesus, your picture was a stab in the dark. JESUS switches on the light.
Perhaps you’re here this morning and you believe in God. Well, alright. Let me ask you: “Which God do you believe in?” There are millions to choose from. But given the time and place in which we live, if people believe in God in our culture, they probably believe in some kind of Heavenly Big Guy. Some distant figure, high on power, low on personality. That’s what most people in our culture think of when they picture God.
But the bible says – look again. Look at Jesus. HE is what God looks like.
Perhaps you’re here this morning and you don’t believe in God. Let me ask you: “Which God don’t you believe in?” There are millions to choose from. And probably the god you don’t believe in is the Heavenly Big Guy, a distant figure, high on power, low on personality. I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t believe in that god either.
I believe in Jesus. I believe that JESUS is the Image of the Invisible God. I don’t look to my feelings to tell me who God is, I don’t look to philosophy to tell me who God is, I don’t look to science to tell me who God is, I don’t look to art to tell me who God is, I don’t look to popular opinion to tell me who God is – I look to JESUS. Whatever I thought God was like beforehand, I see Jesus and I go “Ohhh – so that’s the real God.”
Lord Byron the poet once said, “If God isn’t like Jesus, He ought to be.”
That’s absolutely right. If it turned out that God wasn’t exactly like Jesus I would be a protest atheist. If it turned out that there was a God but not the God of Jesus, I would be an anti-theist. If it turned out there was a God but they weren’t the God of Jesus I would write against, preach against, speak against such a god with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I would protest the very idea of God if God was anything other than what we see when we look at Jesus. I have no commitment whatsoever to the idea of God. I have no love whatsoever for some heavenly big guy. I love Jesus. My heart’s been captured by Jesus. The God I love is the God of Jesus, and none other.
Last November I was on a panel of world faiths being asked questions by members of the public. I was representing Christianity and there was a representative from Mormonism, from Judaism, from Islam, from paganism and from Christian Science.
What was fascinating for me was that every member of the panel bent over backwards to say nice things about Jesus. And when you investigate the world religions, every major faith feels it has to deal with Jesus. Every world religion will try to put Jesus in some kind of place of honour because everyone agrees that Jesus lived an absolutely exceptional life.
And on this night – this Faith Forum – there was no one Figure spoken of more highly than Jesus. And yet – try to suggest that Jesus is God – and all the other religions and all the secular hands go in the air. That’s the one thing we mustn’t say, apparently. Don’t you find that odd?
Everyone loves Jesus. No-one wants Him sitting on the throne. But friends – look at Jesus. Look at His life. Look at how He came to earth, stooping to the manger. Look at how He was born into poverty, oppression, suffering. Look at how He taught. Look at how He loved. Look at how He healed – He was like a little oasis of heaven, restoring Eden wherever He went. Look at how He treated the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden. Look at how He tore down the religious hypocrites. Look at how He washed His disciples’ feet, look at how He stretched out His arms to the world, look at how He bled and died for you. Do you know what you’re looking at? The Very Image of God. In Jesus you see the true God. Not the heavenly big guy you imagined. Look again at Jesus. And rejoice!
Rejoice. Thor is not God. Chaos is not God. Chance is not God. Fate is not God. Sex, Money and Power are not God. No other God is God. Jesus is God. Isn’t that fantastic news??
Why bother with Christianity? Because in the midst of this world’s confusion over God, Christ has stepped forward to SHOW Himself. In Jesus we see the real God.
And what do we see in Jesus? Well what was your answer to that second question: When you picture Jesus, what do you think of? Have a look now.
And then let’s compare with the bible’s answer. Look from verses 15:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
What did you picture when you thought of Jesus? Did you picture this?
My goodness! He is the Creator. Verse 16 – all things created by Him AND FOR HIM. Jesus is the origin and the goal of all things. Jesus did not pop into history when He popped into Mary’s womb. He was there in the beginning with His Father and the Holy Spirit.
Verse 17: He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.
You know you cannot think too highly of Jesus. Look at verse 19: “all God’s fullness dwells in Jesus.”
It’s like the universe holds together in Him. And God the Father dwells in Him. It’s like He’s the fulcrum of all reality. Everything meets in Jesus. God on the one hand and the world on the other.
But if everything meets in Jesus there’s a problem. Do you remember verse 21? Verse 21 says this world is alienated from God. We are divorced from Him. Enemies. So if heaven and earth meet in Jesus, there’s going to be a problem. Isn’t there? But here’s how Jesus solves the problem. Verse 20 He reconciles heaven and earth.
20and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.
You know what was happening on the cross? Jesus hung between earth and heaven and He made peace. He didn’t come to earth to wage war. He came to make peace.
He descended into our war against God. And He absorbed every blow and NEVER retaliated. He was met by hatred and derision and He bowed to it. The world rejected and mocked Him, and He took it. His back was pulped by flogging and the soldiers humiliated Him and punched Him and spat on Him, and He’s silent. Eight inches of iron were driven through each wrist, and one through His feet and Jesus prays “Father, forgive them.” He’s thrust up into the air – hated by earth, facing the judgement of heaven – lifted up between the two to die the death of the rejected. And the blood that pours down is reconciling the world.
Why bother with Christianity? Because no other religion has this! In the religions of this world, the gods are either aloof and distant – they would never descend to earth, let alone to the cross. Or the gods are small and petty and they would never bleed and die for their creatures. Look at every other religion and you see – their gods are either too proud for the cross or too petty for the cross. But on the cross you see the true God. There you see a God who loves you more than His own life. A God who’d rather die for you than live without you.
That’s the God I love. That’s the God who’s won my heart. But listen, if it turns out I’m wrong. If it turns out I’ve backed the wrong horse. Imagine if Thor was the real God after all. Well that’s alright. I don’t want to be with Thor forever anyway. Send me to hell with Jesus. Because with Jesus, hell will be heaven for me.
But, Good News. Jesus is the Image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, the Creator, Goal, Sustainer and Reconciler of the universe. He does sit on the throne. Rejoice!
What about question 3:
When God pictures you, what does He think of? Have a look at your answer.
Well here’s what the other religions of the world say. Your status with God is, for them, a bit like a dimmer switch. It’s on a sliding scale, sometimes it’s brighter, sometimes it’s murkier.
On a good day, you’re doing well with God. On a bad day you’re doing worse.
But the real God – the God who JESUS reveals is very different. It’s either ‘on’ or ‘off’ with Him. Look at verse 21. Here’s the off position:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.
Three descriptions: alienated, enemies, evil. That’s the off position. And if you’re not FOR Jesus then that’s the position you’re in. I know that’s a shocking truth to deal with, but think about it. It makes total sense. When the whole universe is FOR JESUS and you are not FOR JESUS, you are living against the grain of all reality. You are anti-life. You are living in spiritual death. So when you’re not FOR Jesus that’s your status: you’re left in anti-life: divorced from God, alienated.
But, v22 – here’s what can happen in a second when you turn to Jesus. Here’s the on position:
22But now God has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
If you are for Jesus look at the three descriptions of you now: Holy IN GOD’S SIGHT, without blemish, free from accusation.
This is not dimmer switch religion is it? It’s not – some weeks I’m brighter, some weeks I’m gloomier. Every other religion has ME trying to reconcile myself to God. So I go on pilgrimages, I eat special foods, wear special clothes, perform special services, follow special laws and somehow maybe I’ll do enough to reconcile MYSELF to God. And some days I’m better, some days I’m worse. Dimmer switch religion.
But verse 22 talks about something very different. Verse 22 says God HAS reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death. That means that God has done everything YOU NEED TO DO to be reconciled. And He did it by sending Jesus to die for you. But, do you get that? Through the cross – your reconciliation to God HAS HAPPENED. As His blood poured down the cross, v20 told us, Jesus MADE PEACE. It’s done.
So if I’m connected to Jesus there’s NOTHING I need to do, to get me to God. I am ALREADY reconciled. No more dimmer switch religion. I’ve come to Jesus, the switch has been flicked on and suddenly I’m “holy, without blemish and free from accusation.” That’s how God pictures me.
Christians here, did you write that in answer to question three. When God pictures you, what does He see? I wonder if many Christians here answered in terms of dimmer switch religion. Maybe you think God’s verdict is like your school reports: “Could do better.” But no, look again to verse 22 – if you’re in Jesus, here is God’s verdict: “holy, without blemish and free from accusation.” And if you wrote a different answer to that then it’s your word against God’s. Who are you going to believe?
Which is why Paul commands us to “continue in our faith, (v23) established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” You know what verse 23 means. It means returning to verse 22 again and again. And determining not to be moved from this gospel faith. Every day I say “I don’t care what my feelings tell me, God’s word says I’m holy, without blemish and free from accusation.” That’s what it means to be established and firm in gospel faith. The Christian is someone who reminds themselves daily: “My performance is not my status, Jesus is My Status!”
That was a word to Christians. But as I close, let me address you if you’re not a Christian, or not sure you’re a Christian.
Perhaps you’ve got big questions you want to sort through and you need a chance to explore further. There’s a Christianity Explored course running here from July 14th – come and ask your questions and get this sorted out.
But for some of you, God has been speaking to you for a while. And maybe He’s been speaking to you during this service. And you’re starting to see that God is completely Jesus-shaped. And maybe you’re attracted to that. And you’re starting to see that Jesus is completely God-sized. And you’re being drawn to Him. Well this morning is the time to make the switch – to become a Christian. You see this morning, you can go from verse 21 to verse 22. You can go from someone ‘alienated from God’ to someone ‘reconciled to God.’ Simply by turning to Jesus. So I’m just going to lead us in a little prayer where you can respond to Jesus.
It’ll just say “Jesus, I recognize that YOU are Lord. I’m sorry for living for myself. Thank you for making peace on the cross. Forgive me and lead me from now on. Amen.”
Jesus, I recognize that YOU are Lord. I’m sorry for living for myself. Thank you for making peace on the cross. Forgive me and lead me from now on. Amen.