We’re back to our series on The Living and True God. We’re basing it on the Nicene Creed, which begins:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Two weeks ago Ian spoke about the Almighty God – the living God who is sovereign over all things without exception. Last week David talked about the Maker of Heaven and Earth – God who was and is the creator of the universe. Today we move on to the second main section of the Nicene Creed. The first section focuses on God the Father; the second on God the Son. It starts with these words:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ…
My title, then, is ONE LORD, JESUS CHRIST. And as you’ll see from the back of the service sheet, I’m competing strongly for the simplest sermon outline ever with my four headings: first, One; secondly Lord; thirdly, Jesus; and finally Christ.
When the Creed speaks of One Lord, Jesus Christ, it is, of course, lifting titles and names of Jesus direct from the New Testament. And each of those four words is loaded with significance. When we refer to the Lord Jesus Christ, or when we read of the Lord Jesus Christ in the pages of the Bible, we easily treat the phrase as if it’s just a name, and we can lose sight of the significance of each part of this title as it trips off the tongue.
I’m very conscious that this is an almost impossible topic to do justice to, precisely because the topic is Jesus, and anything we say is inadequate to convey his glory. However, I proceed in the knowledge that to say nothing would be a false reverence. Jesus has told us to tell the world about him.
I was encouraged by a story that the pastor Peter Lewis tells in his aptly titled book ‘The Glory of Christ’. He says:
[I] was on a holiday Sunday in a remote, rural spot in West Wales. A local chapel had organised an English service for summer visitors, and about thirty of us had gathered…
The preacher was a respected … local figure… However, as the hands of the chapel clock reached the half-hour after his sermon had begun, the anoraks began to rustle! Then, even as he announced the close of his sermon, he leaned over the old-fashioned pulpit and asked if he might end with a personal testimony. This is what he said.
‘When I was a boy of about twelve I had a great hero. My hero was a local sportsman [- a rugby international]... I so admired this man that I papered the walls of my bedroom with press-cuttings and photographs of him, and loved to talk and hear about his exploits on the field. He was my great hero.
Then when I was [thirteen], I actually got to know my hero personally! He was a keen angler and I used to go fishing with him. On these occasions I … got to know the man and not merely the image. And the nearer I got, the smaller he became.’
[And he described his disillusionment as he discovered the true character of the man whose public image had so captivated him. Then he went on:]
‘But God eventually led that downcast schoolboy to a new hero. And I have walked with my Jesus for thirty-five years now. In that time I have often disappointed him, but he has never disappointed me! I have got to know him better, and the nearer I get the bigger he becomes!’
And Peter Lewis adds:
My wife and I … went out of that quaint old chapel walking on air. It was so utterly true, Jesus was getting bigger and bigger for us all, undiminished by the years.
That’s what we need – an increasing knowledge and experience of Christ that leads us to a bigger and bigger vision of who he is. And there are few passages of Scripture that are more calculated to give us that than the one that I’d like you to turn to. It’s Colossians 1.15-20. We heard it earlier, and you’ll find it on p1182 in the pew Bibles. So, with that open in front of us, let’s think about something, at least, of what we mean when we say that we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is one Lord in two important ways. First, Jesus is one with the Father. Take a look at the beginning of Colossians 1.15. Here it is:
He is the image of the invisible God…
Let’s be quite clear who the ‘he’ is here. Look up the page to v13:
13For he [that’s God the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God…
So we’re talking about the beloved Son of God – the God who the apostle Paul describes back in 1.3 as…
… God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There’s that phrase again. So there’s no doubt that the ‘he’ who is the image of the invisible God is the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Now, Genesis 1.27 tells how God made all of mankind – men and women – in his image. But more than that is being said of Jesus. He was not made in the image of God. He is the image of God. And that’s even more clear in Colossians 1.19, where Paul says:
For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him.
Jesus is fully God. He himself says in John 14.9:
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…”
That’s why over and over again the New Testament applies to Jesus texts that in the Old Testament clearly apply to God. Here’s an example. Philippians 2.11 tells how God exalted Jesus so that at his name…
… every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…
But there’s a reference there to Isaiah 45.23 where God says:
“Before me every knee will bow…”
- and in Romans 14.11 Paul applies that same Isaiah reference to God. So when we speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are gladly acknowledging that he is one with God the Father, and he shares in the glory that belongs to the Father.
Jesus is one with the Father. Secondly, ‘one Lord’ means that Jesus is the only Lord. That’s the implication of the second half of Colossians 1.15:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
As we’ll see in a moment, Jesus is himself the Creator, so what does it mean to say that he’s the firstborn? It means that he’s God the Father’s sole heir. All the Father’s rights and all his authority over all his creation are the rightful inheritance of his Son. There is one Lord, and that is Jesus Christ.
Let me just give you one application of that. We need to remember this when we next find ourselves involved in discussion on the multifaith question, and the argument runs along the lines that surely we should live and let live, and leave everyone to their own beliefs, and all paths and all religions lead to God. The key fact, like a great rock blocking the path of that line of argument, is that Jesus is one with God the Father and he is the only Lord. So you cannot bypass Jesus enroute to God. If you bypass Jesus, then you’re bypassing God as well. If you want to get to know God, you have to look at Jesus.
So that’s the first of our four words. One.
To say that Jesus is Lord is about as close as you can get to a three word summary of the gospel message. So the apostle Paul says in Romans 10.9:
… if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
And then in 1 Corinthians 12.3:
… no-one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
And he’s saying that in a world in which people believed in a vast variety of gods, and in which the Roman emperor was imposing himself as the “Lord” and requiring as near universal submission to his so-called “Lordship” as he could manage to enforce.
But the Christians would not accept that the Emperor or anyone else was Lord. Only Jesus. And they were willing to lose their jobs, their possessions, their homes, their social standing and if necessary their lives so as to remain faithful to Jesus their Lord. They knew to be true what Paul says here in Colossians 1. Let me draw your attention to two further truths from verses 16 and 17. I’ll read those.
16For by him [that’s Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Notice, first, that Jesus is Lord of all creation. In other words all that David said last week about God as the maker of heaven and earth doesn’t just apply to God the Father. It applies to the Lord Jesus as well. If you didn’t hear that, do take a few minutes to visit the JPC website and catch up with a transcript or an MP3.
Creation was an activity of God the Holy Trinity – of Father, Son and Spirit. So Paul can say of Jesus that everything was made by him. Any account of how the universe came into being or of how it is sustained that leaves out Jesus Christ is not talking about the true and living God and is fundamentally flawed. Jesus is Lord of all creation.
Notice, secondly, that Jesus is Lord over all other powers, both in heaven, and on earth. All other powers. No exceptions. There are tremendous spiritual, angelic powers, some good, some evil. They’re generally invisible to us but no less real because of our limitations. Jesus is Lord of them all. He is Lord of Colonel Gaddafi; Lord of Libyan rebels; Lord of earthquakes and tsunamis; Lord of David Cameron; Lord of super-power nations; Lord of every man and woman whether or not they’re Christian. Whatever authority or power you can think of, Jesus made them all, and he is Lord of them all.
So let’s be clear that Jesus is Lord of this nation and all its social, cultural and political life. We may be in rebellion against his rule to a greater or lesser extent. But we cannot dethrone him in this generation or in any other. By God’s grace that fact is built into our constitution.
I have a beautifully bound copy of the official edition of the Queen’s Coronation Service. It was given to me as a gift, and I value it greatly. Why? Above all because of the witness that it bears to the foundations of our national life. Here it is. When the Queen was handed the Orb, these words were said to her:
Receive this Orb, set under the Cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the Power and Empire of Christ our Redeemer.
That is no outmoded cultural flotsam washed up from the 1950s. That is an eternal truth. And when a judge says in an English court, as one did a fortnight ago, that “the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form”, he does not know what he is talking about.
So what is our response to be to this unshakeable fact that Jesus is Lord? Fear him. Because of who this Lord is – no brutal tyrant but Christ our Redeemer, as the Coronation Service says – then that will be a fear of loving reverence. Fear him. And fear no-one else. Remember that obedience to Jesus takes precedence over all other demands for obedience.
He is one. He is Lord.
When we talk about the Lord, we’re talking about Jesus. That’s obvious, but we mustn’t overlook the significance of that name, which is the name given to the Word made flesh – Jesus of Nazareth, the child born to the Virgin Mary who grew to be the man who gathered disciples, taught them, went to the cross, and rose from the dead.
The Lord Jesus is a man as well as being God. In Jesus God became a human being. We can relate to him as men and women to our fellow man – though he’s without sin. The nearer we get to him, the bigger and bigger he becomes.
It’s a point that’s implicit in what the apostle Paul is saying about Jesus here in Colossians 1, in three ways. First, there’s the use of this name Jesus – the human name of the Son of God. Secondly, there’s the reference to the very human blood of Jesus there in verse 20:
… and through him [Jesus] to reconcile to himself [God the Father] all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Thirdly, Paul speaks explicitly of the death of Jesus – his supreme act of identification with fallen mankind – even as he glories in the resurrection. That’s in the second part of verse 18:
… he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have supremacy.
Jesus died. He was among the dead. He has become human.
So we can get to know him as a man. That means that we should be continually soaking up the Gospel accounts of what he’s like, and what he said and did on earth. Get to know him better.
But Jesus isn’t just a once-living now-dead man like Richard Clayton about whom we’ve heard so much during our 150th Anniversary. If you haven’t, pick up one of the booklets that tells the story, and get to know Richard Clayton. You won’t be able to know him in a living way of course. And that’s where Jesus is so different. He’s not a dead man, like dear Richard Clayton. Jesus has risen. He’s alive. We can encounter him directly by his Spirit through his Word. He promises to be with those who trust him. So talk to him, knowing that he’s with you. Soak up the Gospels. And pour out your prayers. Jesus is one of us – utterly human as well as utterly God.
One. Lord. Jesus.
Christ is just the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. Messiah means ‘anointed one’. It refers to the one chosen and anointed by God to rule over his people – God’s King over God’s people. So it could apply, for instance, to King David, a thousand years before the coming of Jesus. But supremely it applies to the promised King who would come and reign with total divine authority, with complete righteousness and justice, and without end.
And Jesus is the Christ. Earlier in Colossians 1 Paul uses that title for Jesus, but not here in 15-20. The same idea is here, though, in verse 18. Paul just uses a different image.
And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church…
If you think of the church as a body, Jesus is the head. He rules the body with divine authority. If you think of the church as God’s people, Jesus is the King. The Christ. He rules God’s people with divine authority.
So when we speak of Jesus as Christ, we’re saying that he’s the God-anointed King of God’s people for all eternity – the head of his body, the church.
We’re also saying that Jesus is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament prophecies pointing to the Messiah. The risen Jesus himself made that clear on the road to Emmaus to those doubting disciples. This is Luke 24.25-27:
25[Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ have to suffer many things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
One of the things that David insists that all of us on the staff read (though whether we all follow his lead in this is another matter into which I will not go) is an essay by J. C. Ryle, the nineteenth Century Bishop of Liverpool, entitled “The Fallibility of Ministers”. Yes, I have read it. And in it essentially he warns against the danger of idolising any Christian minister. Every one of them is fallible and flawed however great. The nearer you get, the smaller they become.
Now, of course, Ryle himself is fallible so he might be wrong about that! Except that he’s just teaching what the Bible is clear about. No such minister is the King of God’s people or the head of the church. That is Jesus, and Jesus alone. Jesus, and no-one else, is the Christ – the fulfiller of messianic prophecy; and the King of kings and Lord of lords.
So study the Old Testament as well as the New to discover a rich and many-sided portrait of Jesus. And don’t idolise any under-shepherd. But serve the Good Shepherd – the One Lord Jesus Christ.