Christ the Living Picture of God

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Colossians 1:15, 19
Colossians 2:9

If he once was, God is no longer a distant, mysterious, hidden deity. His character and person are displayed openly in the life of Jesus.

Who is Jesus Christ? There is a question that’s been puzzling and challenging people for almost 2,000 years. The bare facts of his life are generally known; his obscure birth to working class Jewish parents; a brief career as a traveling preacher and wonder worker; his arrest, trial and execution as a subversive trouble maker by a Roman military government. But these things don’t even begin to answer the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” Beyond the simple details of his life, beneath the surface of the events, there is much more to say, and in one of the most profound passages in the whole New Testament, Paul, the apostle, says it:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in 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. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Colossians 1:15-19, nrsv

In Colossians 1, Paul has been speaking to Christian believers about their wonderful new status. They have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought under the rule of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. Christians have been redeemed from death and their sins have been forgiven. Now Paul passes naturally from a description of the redemption in which Christians are privileged to share to a description of the Redeemer who has accomplished it. He’s just been talking about what it means to be a Christian, now he speaks of who Christ is, and what he says leaves no doubt whatsoever about Christ’s uniqueness and superiority to all other beings, whether physical or spiritual.

THE PICTURE OF GOD

It’s going to take some time and careful attention to unpack all the truth loaded into this tremendous paragraph. In this message I want to make a start by looking at just the first statement made concerning Jesus Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God.“ This suggests another question, “What does God look like?” That’s not easy to say. In fact, it’s really impossible. According to the Bible, God is a Spirit. We often try to picture him as if he were a physical being like us, with a body and visible features. Whenever we do, we usually think of someone very great and very old with a long beard and flowing robes, someone who looks rather like Old Father Time. But we know that God doesn’t really look like that. The truth is: he can’t be seen at all. Being spirit, God is by definition invisible to us, as the Bible makes very clear, “No one has ever seen God,” wrote the apostle John (John 1:18). Not only has no one ever seen God, no one ever could, at least no physical creature like we are now. “It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light whom no one has ever seen or can see“ (1 Tim. 6:16). God as he exists in himself in the purity of his own being is invisible, and even if he were not, his holiness wraps him in the dazzling glory of a light which no human eye can penetrate.

But there is one who has seen God. No one “has seen the Father except the one who is from God. He has seen the Father” (John 1:46). That is Jesus himself speaking, and he is referring, of course, to himself. “It is God the only Son who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known” adds the apostle (John 1:18). So the Bible makes it clear that although no human can see or know God on their own, Jesus comes from God, Jesus is God, and Jesus has made God known.

That is part of Paul’s meaning when he says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. But he’s also saying more than that. He’s saying that Jesus doesn’t merely make God known by telling us about who God is and what he’s like, Jesus shows us God. Jesus himself is a picture, a living picture, of God. Sometimes in a family there’s an especially strong resemblance between father and son. I’m frequently told that I am a lot like my dad. People who knew him will often come up to me and say, “You look and sound just like your father.” But in Jesus’ case there’s more than mere resemblance. He is the very image of God; an exact replica, so to speak. The writer to the Hebrews makes this point in the opening verses of his letter. Christ “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3). So Jesus is more than just a suggestion of what God is like, a hint or a reminder of some of the divine features. He is a precise likeness, a perfect portrait, an identical copy, a full representation, complete in every detail. In Jesus Christ, we see everything that God is, all that he is like. When we look at Jesus, we are actually seeing God, the one true God of heaven and earth.

THE EMBODIMENT OF GOD

But there’s even more to it than that. The reason that Christ is the perfect living picture of the invisible God is because he is God, God in human form. Christ does not simply represent God. He embodies God. “For in him,” Paul writes, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (v. 19). And again, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Many people are perfectly willing to acknowledge that Jesus shows us what God is like. After all, they say, he was a great prophet, a wonderful religious teacher, and maybe even more than that. Perhaps he was some sort of spirit-being who came to show God to us. Many of the Colossians believed something like that, the non-Christian ones. Their world view was one which included a great number of spiritual powers, angels and other heavenly beings of whom Jesus was one – perhaps even the greatest – but certainly not the only divine being.

Many today have a similar view of him. Jesus gives us a sort of picture of God, they say, which is all right as far as it goes, but of course, there’s much more of God than what can be seen in Christ. He is only one expression of the divine. He offers one idea, an idea reflecting a particular cultural and historical perspective. But there are many others, according to religious pluralists, who maintain that no single manifestation can give us the full revelation of God. We also need pictures of the deity from other traditions, other religions, other sources. If there is a God, he (or she, or it) will only be discovered through many different teachers from many different places and times. Some go so far as to say that we’re all gods and the way to find the divine is simply to look inward.

The Bible disagrees, and it makes its point insistently. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Jesus Christ – and nowhere else, only in him. Moreover, there is nothing else of God outside of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t offer a partial revelation, an incomplete picture of God. Nor is he one of many images of God that have been given. Christ is unique. The complete totality of everything God is came to earth in the life of Jesus Christ. Christ is not a man who possesses a special but limited measure of God’s Spirit. Everything that God is appears and is displayed openly in him.

But now let’s reflect for just a moment on the difference this truth makes. If Jesus is all the fullness of God come to earth in human form, does that really matter to you and to me? It most certainly does! For one thing, it means that God is no longer hidden. God is now in the open. He’s not some vague deity, unknown and unknowable, dwelling somewhere up in the sky beyond the clouds and stars. No, God is here. He has come to earth and made himself known perfectly through the personality of Jesus Christ, his one and only Son. That means that God isn’t remote and distant or spooky and frightening, nor is he merely the object of agnostic speculation. Not if you know Jesus.

For another thing, it means that God is, in a sense, no longer invisible. Now he has a face, and the face is Christ’s. Writer Philip Yancey says it in a wonderful way in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew:

Books of theology tend to define God by what he is not: God is immortal, invisible, infinite. But what is God like, positively? For the Christian, Jesus answers such all-important questions. The apostle Paul boldly called Jesus “the image of the invisible God.” Jesus was God’s exact replica: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

God is, in a word, Christlike. Jesus presents a God with skin on whom we can take or leave, love or ignore. In this visible, scaled-down model we can discern God’s features more clearly.

I must admit that Jesus has revised in flesh many of my harsh and unpalatable notions about God. Why am I a Christian? I sometimes ask myself, and to be perfectly honest the reasons reduce to two: (1) the lack of good alternatives, and (2) Jesus. Brilliant, untamed, tender, creative, slippery, irreducible, paradoxically humble – Jesus stands up to scrutiny. He is who I want my God to be.

Finally, if Jesus is God, then we are no longer alone. Paul says that the whole fullness of God dwells in Christ bodily. I confess that’s an incredible thought; I can’t begin to get to the bottom of it. I can’t imagine how the infinite God, the God who is so great that the whole universe cannot contain him, could pour all of his being into the body of one man. More than that, of one little baby. Only God is big enough to become that small. Think of it! But this means that God himself has become one of us. Yes, he’s still a Spirit, still infinite and almighty and eternal. God still dwells in unapproachable light, and he’s still a consuming fire. But he’s also one of us!

In Jesus Christ, Almighty God himself has come to live with us. God knows what it’s like to walk around inside human skin. He knows what it’s like to be hungry, tired, angry, frustrated, lonely, grieving, even afraid of dying. So when you’re feeling those things, you can know that he’s with you.

This is the kind of God I want too. I want my God to be like Jesus. This is the kind of God we need. This is the kind of God we have.