Colossians 1:18–20: Jesus Christ the Lord of Redemption

January 20, 2015

In my last post, we contemplated the wonders of Jesus Christ, the very One who has known and loved us, as present and active at the creation. Thinking along these lines might be like realizing that someone you have known for years as, say, “Janie’s mom” was actually quite famous in a former life. In our relationship with Jesus, I fear that our familiarity with him may have caused us to forget the truly awesome role he has played in everything good, life-giving, and creative. He is not one among many, as perhaps the Colossians believed; and he is not just a friend. Jesus has, for all time, been God and worthy of all praise, worship, and respect.

What follows in Paul’s letter is an elaboration on the role Jesus has played to affect relationships:

18He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.
19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself
all things, whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Jesus Christ is the church’s true head. The word here is “head,” not “source” or some other word to modify the concept that Jesus functions as the authority of the church. This is important to us because the unrivaled Lordship of Jesus Christ is the fixed point, the True North, of the church’s compass. Jesus has the authority to carry out his will; it is his personality and point of view with which everything else is to align.

Imagine a body without a head: first of all, that body is now dead, because the governing functions of brain and nervous system all reside within the skull. That body has lost the sensing organs for sight, hearing, taste, and smell. That body cannot communicate verbally, cannot plan, cannot experience emotion, cannot pray or commune with God. But with its head, a body can function in a coordinated fashion, allowing all senses to work in concert to accomplish the feats a headless corpse cannot. The control center of the head is essential for the rest of the body to have its being. For the church, Jesus is that control center, so add to the list infinite wisdom, goodness, and omniscience. You can see from this illustration why the church needs Jesus Christ as head of the body.

Further, Jesus is the beginning (present before anything else came to be, the “firstborn from the dead.” This interesting phrase refers to the resurrection; Jesus was the first to be raised bodily to everlasting life after physical dying. His death on the cross sent him to be counted among the dead, but on the third day, he rose from the grave as the firstborn of redeemed and reclaimed humanity. As the firstborn, he claims the rights and privileges of “oldest son,” as mentioned before.

The reality continues in this way: Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the Christ, God come in the flesh—was and is no mere human character in a play. He embodied “the fullness of God,” that is, everything divine in nature, personality, abilities, and wisdom was found to reside in Jesus. The second Person of the Trinity declined, for a time, all the perquisites of divinity in order to be a visible embodiment of God. We humans would not have been able to withstand the glory (think light and power) of the unveiled presence of God, so Jesus “put a lid on it,” so to speak, and his disciples lived to tell the tale of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. While “the lid” held God’s glory at bay, Jesus was no less God. It was the fullness of God that dwelt in him.

Because Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human, he was able to accomplish the distinct mission that only God could do to God’s satisfaction: redeem the world by virtue of the perfect, atoning sacrifice in our place. Jesus, effectively representing all of us mere mortals yet without sin, took upon himself what our sin deserved; and for the satisfaction of his holiness, out of unmatched love, and hopeful of reconciliation between alienated parties, he died and rose again.

We owe everything to Jesus. Our struggles to feel at home in a church congregation are pale compared to the glory of what our Lord has done for us and for the church universal. This means that the church—flawed and disappointing—is in as much need for the Savior as you and I are. God is still engaged in the work Christ brought to earth, the ministry of reconciliation, because the church remains at war with itself and consequently with God. The body is still uncoordinated, easily bruised, and its circulation wanting. Whether we like it or not, we sojourners are part of the Body of Christ and therefore part of what is not functioning properly. In our present (alienated) state we may be a bruised limb to which healing need be applied, but as long as the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts by faith in Jesus Christ we are still in union with Christ and a part of his Body.

As we pray for our own healing, let us pray for the healing of the church. As we pray for the church to get its act together, let us pray for ourselves, too, that we may be full participants (someday if not yet) in the church’s movement toward health and wholeness.

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