This continues directly from yesterday’s post (which you definitely need to have read first), looking at how the Colossian hymn speaks against the backdrop of our culture’s worldviews. We pick it up from verse 18:
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church
Brian Walsh’s poem continues:*
And this sovereignty takes on cultural flesh; and this coherence of all things is socially embodied in the church, against all odds, against most of the evidence. In a “show me” culture where words alone don’t cut it, the church is the flesh-and-blood, here-and-now, in time and history, with joys and sorrows, embodiment of this Christ; as a body politic, around a common meal, in radical services to the most vulnerable, in refusal of the empire, in love of this creation, the church reimagines the world in the image of the invisible God.
Why do we bother so much with the empire of the world when we get to be part of the church! God’s rescue plan for the world began with Jesus, and continues with us as we live out the gospel in community.
We get to be a part of this radical social experiment in which people from all backgrounds, nationalities, and languages live together in love and harmony – and do so in the sight of the world, as a testimony to the one who is our head, Jesus. And we accept no substitutes.
Colossians 1:18b he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead
For he has provided the solution to humanity’s greatest problem: death. The fact that we are now subject to decay, and will spend eternity separated from God. He is the firstborn, not only of God’s original creation, but also of God’s new creation made possible by his own death & resurrection. For that, there is no substitute.
Colossians 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him
Although Oprah and the New Age will tell us that we are gods – that the divine is in us all – it is Jesus in whom all the fullness of God dwells. Why settle for the serpent’s lie all over again? Accept no substitutes.
Colossians 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven
Not a human-dependent reconciliation, built on an appeal to goodwill and turned into a commodity pushed by aging rock stars singing “we are the world” and telling us to “imagine all the people” living in a god-less universe. But a blood-bought reconciliation which finds its origin and completion in God himself.
Colossians 1:20c by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Not a human-dependent peace. Not the “world peace” in a two-piece bathing suit glibly uttered by every Miss Universe candidate; not the “world peace” enforced by the world’s policeman on the radical right; nor the “world peace” of the lunar left that thinks all of the evil in humanity can be overcome just by food aid and a persuasive appeal to everyone’s better nature.
The kind of “world peace” Jesus brings is not a grab for power, but a relinquishment of power. A sacrifice. A peace achieved by submitting to a cruel death on a cross. A peace achieved by laying down his life for his enemies. For that kind of peace, there is no substitute. And we know this Jesus – why would we bother with anything else?
This is a very in-your-face passage, isn’t it? A bold declaration in the midst of a hostile world that we have the real thing; and that all the world has to offer is an inferior imitation. Out of all the images in this world that try to win our allegiance, we have the only true image; everything else is an illusion. We have Jesus: why accept any substitutes?
Yet subtly we often do. We buy the world’s lies. We live like we still worship the empire, even though we’ve found something better. Often we’re apologetic and even embarrassed about this surpassing goodness we have found. Which means we’re not all that good at telling people about it, leaving others to fill the image-void we leave.
For example, research shows that over 90% of the world’s population have heard of Coca-cola, over 50% have tasted some, but only 10% have heard about Jesus. What’s going on? Why do more people recognise the image of a carbonated beverage than recognise the image of God?
And think of the slogans they’ve used over the years to advertise Coke – Coke adds life; Enjoy Coca-cola; Coke – the real thing; always Coca-cola. All that for a fizzy brown liquid that rots your teeth. It’s a tragedy that the world can recite these when Jesus is the one who gave and continues to give life; Jesus is the one in whom we find true enjoyment forever; the one who is the author of every thing that is real; and the one who was, is and always will be. These should be our slogans!
Jesus. Accept no substitute. How does your life measure up to this test? Have you accepted any substitutes – either knowingly, or un-knowingly? Do you say with your mouth that Christ is the only source of meaning in life; but by your actions and lifestyle tell everyone that you’re chasing the same inferior gods that they are? Does this hymn ring true for you in your heart and not just in your head? Do you realise the surpassing good you have found, for:
Colossians 1:21-23 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
And it’s Paul’s role as servant of this gospel which will be the theme when we continue next week.
* Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed.