Written by Pastor Ed
Colossians: Christ Is Enough
August 31, 2014
Col. 1: 15-20
Col. 2:20 – 3:4
Many years ago, actually in 1969 when I was on an MDS assignment on the Gulf Coast, I learned a song from some other university students. The song was called “Plastic Jesus.” I’m not going to sing it this morning, but it begins:
“I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I have my plastic Jesus, riding on the dashboard of my car.
Through my trials and tribulations, and my travels through the nations, with my plastic Jesus I’ll go far.”
I was reminded of this song the other day as I was reading a book by a friend of mine, Mark Van Steenwyk, entitled The UNkingdom of God. In the book he refers to this song, and the many ways we have added layers to Jesus and made him into a plastic figure of what he truly is.
And, in fact, buy a variety of Jesus Action Figures on Amazon.com. You can still get a dashboard Jesus which is promoted as bringing calm to your commute, or you can get the Deluxe Miracle Jesus action figure, that “feed the 5,000 and turns water into wine.” If you turn the jug one way it’s blue on top, obviously water, and if you turn it over it’s purple on top, obviously wine!
And so Jesus becomes just another action hero along with Spiderman, Batman, and all the rest of the hero pantheon, anyone of whom will be able to save us from whatever evil forces threaten us. We have bought into the myth that threatened the church at Colossae, to which Paul addresses his letter that is our focus today.
The city of Colossae is first mentioned in literature in 481 BC. It was located on a major trade route from east to west across Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, a route still followed by road and rail lines. It was a close neighbour to Laodicea and Hieropolis, both of which Paul mentions in his letter and instructs them to also read it to the church at Laodicea. Since these churches were close together, it is probable that they were experiencing many of the same issues.
The city itself was abandoned in the 8th century, sometime during the 700’s, probably because it was destroyed by earthquakes which happened frequently in that region. It has never been excavated, so we know little of its layout or circumstances.
The church at Colossae was not founded by Paul himself, but by Epaphras who had come to faith perhaps at Ephesus, but was from Colossae and had obviously returned home to begin a church, probably made up mostly or even entirely of Gentiles. So Paul had never been to Colossae, but certainly knew of the church and had connections there. Epaphras was with Paul at the time of this letter, as was Onesimus, the run-away slave whom Paul mentions and whom we will meet later in the letter to Philemon.
Since the church at Colossae was a Gentile church and because of the connections with people from there, Paul felt some concern for the church at Colossae and wrote to encourage them in their faith. Having received reports, he knew that they were experiencing some of the same difficulties as other early congregations, and felt compelled to write.
However, among the usual issues of conflict, reverting to the old immoral ways of life in the Roman empire, and personality clashes, there seems to have been a particular issue that Paul attributes to their immaturity in the Christian faith. It also has to do with the religious culture in which they lived. You see, it was not that they had been converted to followers of Christ from having no religion. There were lots of religions floating around, and people worshipped many different gods. These were religious people. But now they had become Christians, followers of Jesus.
But the easiest thing for them to do, and what some people seemed to be trying to persuade them to do, was to simply add Jesus on as another deity, what we call syncretism. It’s kind of like hedging your bets, something the children of Israel were often tempted to do. So it seems, in this case there were those who were encouraging the people of Colossae to simply add Jesus onto their other religious practices, as kind of an insurance policy; if one didn’t work, maybe another one would.
What all those other practices were, we don’t know for sure, but they evidently involved visions, observing certain “new moons and festivals” and other dietary and religious observances; all of this related to what Paul calls “the elemental spirits of the universe.”
To all this Paul says, “Christ is sufficient” and to make his point he recites what many scholars believe is one of the oldest creeds, or statements of faith concerning Jesus.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in[h] him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in[i] him all things hold together. 18 He 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and 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.” (Col. 1:15-20)
He, that is Jesus, is all you need. Once you have found Jesus, you don’t need to look any further or add anything on to make sure. And if you want to know what God is like, then all you have to do is look at Jesus, for “in him the whole fullness of deity rests bodily.” (2:9) Apart from perhaps Hebrews, the letter to the Colossians has the highest Christology, view of Christ, of any of the rest of the New Testament. While maintaining a clear view that Jesus came as a human and lived among us, it elevates Jesus to an exalted place and gives us multiple images of who Christ is and what Christ did.
Jesus reconciled us to God and to each other. Jesus is “Christ in you” (1:27) and you have come to fullness in him. Jesus in his death “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them.” (2:15) Because of that, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17) When you become a Christian, you can get rid of all those other religious ideas and practices, because Christ is all you need. As one would say in logic, “Christ is both necessary and sufficient.”
So what about us? Clearly we don’t add other religions on to our Christianity, do we? We’re not so blatant as to think that a plastic Jesus on our dashboard will keep us from danger on the highway, are we? We believe that Jesus is what the church has always claimed for him, God incarnate, don’t we?
Well, yes…and no. Certainly we aren’t as blatant as 1st century Christians might have been, but I sometimes wonder if we truly believe that Jesus in sufficient. How much are we willing to rely on the God embodied in Jesus and how much do we hedge our bets with what society tells us we need to do or how to act. In the book I mentioned earlier, Mark, a Mennonite pastor in Minneapolis, challenges the church and Christians in general to examine how much we have bought into the myths of our society that tell us that the only way to be safe is through the use of force, that financial security is the loftiest goal one can have, and that people who are not like us are threatening in some way and thus often presumed inferior.
What does it mean for us, in 21st century Canada, to proclaim that Jesus is sufficient? It’s a question that Christians have wrestled with through the centuries. I recall growing up hearing sermons about the evils of life insurance, or sometimes any insurance, because it showed a lack of trust in God. But then we developed our own mutual aid societies which have developed into full-blown insurance companies, in fact if not in name, and even the Old Order Amish who still spurn commercial insurance have developed their own mutual aid societies to cover the kinds of huge losses we sometimes face today.
I’m not sure I have many answers to the question, and I’m not sure there are blanket answers that we can apply across the board, but the letter to the Colossians calls us to examine our lives and ask ourselves what those “plastic Jesus’s” are that we carry with us either literally or figuratively as add-ons, just in case Jesus doesn’t come through for us the way we think he should.
Paul challenges the Colossians and Laodiceans to become mature in their faith, to give up their old ways, and to but their trust fully in the one who is above all things, the head of the church, the full embodiment of God. His challenge rings down through the ages to us and calls us to examine ourselves and ask what it means to proclaim this same Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
As the old hymn states, “many things about the future, I can’t seem to understand, but I know who holds the future, and I know who holds my hand.” If Christ is, indeed, sufficient, then walking with him should relieve us of many of our fears about the future and not only the future, but about today as well. Then we can truly “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,… and be thankful.” (3:15)