The Most Important Story
What is one of your favorite hymns? Amazing Grace? How Great Thou Art? One of mine would be Blessed Assurance:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of his Spirit, washed in His blood
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long…
Perfect submission, perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love
…watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.
This is my story, this is my song…
I think one of the wonders about this song is that it can seem so visual. It grasps at the wonders and glories of heaven that are accessible to us because of Christ and yet the words were written by Fanny Crosby who lost her sight at just six weeks of age. The story is told that tune composer Phoebe Palmer Knapp (1839-1908) played a melody to Fanny Crosby and asked, “What does the melody say to you?” Crosby replied that the tune said, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” and proceeded to recite the entire first stanza of the now-famous hymn.
Fanny Crosby wrote a number of songs. Perhaps she could not see physically, but there was not much wrong with her vision spiritually. She often summed up the meaning of our faith in her words. She took the time to tell us again about the most important story ever told. This ability to share this message has been a time-honored gift and a good part of the reason why we sing our hymns. We sing because these hymns contain a truth beyond what our eyes may see and may just connect us to a life beyond what we are able to grasp on our own.
In our reading for today, Colossians 1:15-20 is regarded as an ancient poem or hymn used within the church. Some scholars have thought that the words were used within the practice of baptism. They would be spoken or perhaps sang. This verses also speak of an understanding beyond what people may normally know and visions beyond sight. These words express what people have encountered and they speak about the deeper meaning of the Christian faith.
Around the 4th century as the church began to grow and develop two questions about our faith arose. One was the question about the trinity. People struggled to understand the relationship between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (don’t we do this today. How do we understand who God is?) If God is each, is God three, or how can God be one if there is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Intertwined in this discussion was the question about the incarnation. If Jesus was essentially God and yet human, how does the divine nature coincide with the human nature? Is Jesus God, or was he man? Around 300 AD a man named Arius argued widely that Jesus was a created being, and as such the Son was not equal but subordinate to the Father. He even taught a little theological song to carry his idea. It must have been catchy because a lot of people were singing, “There was a time when he (Christ) was not.” Arius was eventually decried as a heretic and pushed out the church. So intense was this argument, that his opponents eventually came to relish his death. A gruesome story was told of how he suddenly died, and it might be more fiction than truth. Arguments are made that he was probably poisoned.
I bring this up because it is of interest that Colossians tends to reflect something of this early argument and struggle that that was going to be coming. Who is Jesus? What is his nature? Is Jesus God, or man? Is Jesus equal to God or someone less in stature? These questions seemed to have existed from the beginning because in Colossae people were dealing with these thoughts. There were beliefs in pantheons of lesser gods or beliefs in emanations from a divine source. Maybe God was in many parts greater and lesser. Was Jesus unique or different or just one of many?
The early Christian hymn in Colossians lifts Jesus up beyond the nonsense of human conjecture, and religious imagination. Let’s look at some of the points this early Christian hymn makes. First, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. The Greek word for image is essentially icon. The word denotes more than just a similarity to what is represented, like a picture. Rather it is saying the Jesus was the exact impression or likeness of God. This same idea is found in Hebrews 1:3 where Jesus is called “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” It is like the icon on your phone or tablet. The icon is more than a representation of the application or program; it essentially is the program. In Jesus we are truly able to see, understand, and access the very nature of God. Before, God was always a bit inaccessible and a mystery, but in Jesus’ life and actions we are able to truly understand what God is like, and what God would want for us. Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Jesus is also the first born of creation and the first born of the dead. Six times in scripture the Lord Jesus is declared to be the first-born of God (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Hebrews 1:6; 12:23; Revelation 1:5) Here the idea of being the first born is not about chronology, as in when we may point to our son or daughter and say he or she is our first born and the oldest. Rather this term is indicating a position of eminence and standing. To be cited as the first born is to define the greater position of honor. In the scriptures it was the first born that received the Father’s blessing and the greater portion of the inheritance. To call Jesus the first born is to indicate position and not age. Our text makes this point clear. As the first born of creation all things were created through him. Verse 17 says, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
As the first born of the dead, all people are saved through him, and Jesus is the head of the church. This brings us to the image of the church as being the body of Christ. Paul spoke a lot about this idea in 1 Corinthians 12 as well as other places. We are but individual members, each exercising the gifts and abilities God has given for the good of all, and Christ is the one who leads and guides the church. In all of life and death Christ is preeminent and rules overall.
This is who Jesus is. Verse 19 says, “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,..” Once again it is worth pointing out the some of the Colossians may have wanted to argue the Jesus was a product of a divine nature. The cousin of a lesser god, one emanation of the divine as compared to many. Colossians tells us no, but rather in Jesus the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. There is no downgrade from the real truth of God. There is no partial understanding, no splitting off from the whole. God is fully present and fully accessible in and through Jesus.
Now I hope you may have come to understand that it would be a long sermon to call up all the passages in the Bible that mirror these ideas concerning the nature of Christ. This hymn is rich in summing up what the early church understood and experienced about who Jesus is. This passage may be considered a core passage that is speaking about what is central to our understanding of the Christian faith.
Of all the songs and stories told this one is the only one that will give you life. For in this Jesus who died for our sakes, we may have reconciliation with God, and be presented holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. (vs 22) It should be of interest to us and of importance that our scriptures also share a warning about this knowledge. This one who is the author of all, above all, and in whom the fullness of God dwells, will be the salvation of all, provided (in vs 23) “you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard…”
Our goal is to truly live as we believe, and in so doing achieve spiritual maturity in Christ. Become more like the person of Christ and grow in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. The most important story ever told needs to become our story and we need to become a part of it. Your faith is not what you make of it, but your faith is what God will make of you.
Who is Jesus? We have been talking about this. Jesus is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. Jesus is the beginning of all that was created and the life of all that will one day die. Jesus is the fulness of God, and the single story that God the Father has given to a broken humanity, and you may have life in his name.
Now how do we live with this knowledge? The Apostle Paul was called to give up his standing and even his life for the sake of sharing this message with others. He laid down his wealth, prestige, and even honor to endure beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, and an itinerant life. Now this is not to say that we should live like Paul but it is to say that Jesus should be a compelling reason for how we live. The truth of Christ should a primary understanding in what you want to become. Are you moving to place of maturity within your faith?
This is not a sad burdensome question, but rather it should be a joyous proposition of life. If Colossians is remembering a song that was sung, do you think it was a sad and overly serious song? No! I believe it would have been a joyous rendition that caused everyone to want to sing. It would have been a proclamation of assurance that defined the moment. As Fanny Crosby put it, Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.
Therefore, when you sing, sing joyfully. When you speak, proclaim fully the love of God within your words. When you serve, do so as if it were Jesus himself that you are helping. Give without expecting something in return, remembering that it is God who will give you all things. When you look to the future, remember that the future is held in God’s hands. And when you suffer hardship or loss, know that it is Christ in all power that has the power to transform your suffering and loss into hope and glory. Consider what does it mean that the Apostle Paul identified his suffering as sharing in the suffering of Christ; as completing in some way the work Jesus began. Through his struggles Jesus was being made known to all. To Paul this was glory.
Finding that assurance, and proclamation in our life today about the Lordship of Jesus is important for the church today. We too must see beyond what our eyes perceive and sing a song of truth beyond what our minds may know. This is the truth of faith that gives us life, even today. Amen.