Dr. John Dickson

Australian speaker, author and historian, and public advocate for the Christian Faith

Talk 2. Jesus and the New Humanity: Studies in Colossians

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INTRODUCTION - THE  SONG IN COLOSSIANS

If the fullness of God is in Christ, all who have Him are full to overflowing.

Having ‘greeted’ the Colossians, given ‘thanks’ for them, ‘prayed’, and ‘reassured’ them, Paul breaks into a song of praise to Christ’s lordship in creation/redemption (Col 1:15)

Col 1:15-20 is a poem, a song, in fact, the “theme song” of the letter, a hymn to Christ as God.

“The sum total of their guilt or error was no more than the following. They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally [in alternate groups] a hymn to Christ as to a god” (Trajan, Letters 10.96).

From the beginning, Christians worshipped Jesus not just as a man, but as the incarnate Lord of creation

1) SONG OF CREATION - Jesus in pre-history (Col 1:15-18a)

1.1    First title: Image of invisible God (Col 1:15)

Jesus mirrors his Father in the role of Creator

1.2    Second title: Firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15)

‘firstborn’ was a title for ‘leader’ in the ancient world

Psalm 89:20-27 uses the word ‘firstborn’ to describe David

1.3    Unpacking the titles (Col 1:16)

This verse declares Jesus to be both the agent and purpose of creation

Colossians had added a speculative adoration of angelic beings to Christianity but here they are reminded that everything is relegated to Christ

1.4    A Theory of Everything (Col 1:17)

The Lord is “before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

New atheists speak of the ‘Christian God’ as just another competitor in the endless roll call of gods through history. These gods are all supernatural creatures within creation But the biblical God is outside of creation and outside of time. Otherwise, he could not be the source of space-time.

“Beliefs regarding fairies are beliefs about a certain kind of object that may or may not exist within the world, and such beliefs have much the same sort of intentional shape and rational content as beliefs regarding one’s neighbors over the hill or whether there are such things as black swans. Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and of the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all. Fairies and gods, if they exist, occupy something of the same conceptual space as organic cells, photons, and the force of gravity, and so the sciences might perhaps have something to say about them, if a proper medium for investigating them could be found.

… But all the classical theological arguments regarding the order of the world assume just the opposite: that God’s creative power can be seen in the rational coherence of nature as a perfect whole; that the universe was not simply the factitious product of a supreme intellect but the unfolding of an omnipresent divine wisdom or logos … According to the classical arguments, universal rational order—not just this or that particular instance of complexity—is what speaks of the divine mind …  (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Yale University Press, 2013, 33-38)

The existence of God provides a powerful explanation of why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe has the character of rational order instead of chaos, and why the universe has produced minds like ours that are able to ponder these matters.  Fairies, on the other hand, explain nothing.

1.5    Who is the master of the Colossian church? (Col 1:18a)

The master is neither a local deity nor some angelic being of Colossian folklore but the one through whom and for whom all creation exists: HE is the head of church

The idea of adding to Jesus (as the Colossians were tempted to do) is utterly absurd

2) SONG OF REDEMPTION - Jesus in history (Col 1:18b-20)

2.1    First title: the ‘Beginning’

Here Jesus is being named the originator of a new beginning; a new act of creation that we call ‘salvation’

2.2    Second title: ‘firstborn’ from among the dead

refers to Jesus’ resurrection: an event which demonstrates God’s ability/intention to redeem/recreate

In both creation and new creation Jesus is supreme

2.3    Unpacking these titles (Col 1:19 and 20)

The word fullness/fill and theme song occurs again here: whether in Creation or Redemption, God’s fullness is found nowhere else than in Jesus.

In the history of Jesus, God took on our frail form: subjecting himself to all the environmental/social decay we experience.

The incarnation, wonderful to Christians, is blasphemous to Muslims

But Jesus came to earth in human form not merely to identify with us (as a consoling friend), he came to represent us before the judgement seat and, as our representative, die the death we deserve

In his death on the cross, the one in whom God dwelt fully accepted the judgment we deserve, so we could be reconciled to God (Col 1:20)

The purpose of the divine incarnation was a divine amnesty

God is in business forgiving & forgetting

Whether in Creation or in Redemption, Christ has the fullness, and all who have him are full to overflowing. Jesus is our theme song.

3) SONG COMMENTARY - stressing staying put in Christ (Col 1:21-23)

3.1    Trusting the received Gospel

No matter what our former ‘evil behaviour’, if we trust Christ we are ‘holy’, ‘without blemish’, ‘free from accusation’ but only if we continue in this dependence. (Col 1:21-23)

It is not about trying harder nor doing more, but trusting the gospel they had already received.

3.2    Preparation for the central content of the letter in the next chapters

false teachers have appeared in the Lycus River Valley (Col 2:8 )

Paul wants the Colossians to come back to their wedding vows (as it were) i.e. to recall Christ’s pledge to them and their pledge to him

3.3    Parallels between ancient Colossians and modern Christians

3.3.1 Mysticism - looking for fresh experiences of worship

3.3.2 Traditionalism - good as it does point to Christ but it can be a substitute for knowing Christ

3.3.3 Moralism - need to do more good, or good deeds become a substitute for evangelism/worship

3.3.4 Intellectualism - can inspire zeal for novelty of thought instead of faithfulness in worship

3.3.4 Apathy - not so much ‘adding’ to Jesus, as ‘subtracting’ from his glory

CONCLUSION

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth
    will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace

If the fullness of God is in Christ, all who have Him are full to overflowing.