Today we’re beginning an eight-week series on healthy relationships. No matter who you are, and no matter what your personality type, relationships are both rewarding and challenging. They’re rewarding, because there’s nothing like a close relationship. But they are challenging because relationships are complicated. The ways that they go wrong are legion. And so we have misunderstandings, hurt feelings, unresolved tensions, estranged relationships, and all kinds of other problems in all kinds of relationships.
As I said, we’re going to spend eight weeks talking about this. The easiest thing in the world would be to begin with something very practical, because we all love practical how-to suggestions that we can take and implement. I visited the Psychology Today website this week and found just this type of advice:
- Keeping the love alive
- Starting the conversation
- How to win friends
- The most important thing about conflict
- Five steps to a great marriage
Make no mistake: you can learn lots of good things from articles like this. We’re going to get very practical in the coming weeks as we talk about some very important principles from God’s Word about relationships.
But the place to start isn’t with the how-to practical takeaways. I live in an old house. We have an old garage out back that has seen better days. It sags in the middle. The problem with that garage is that the foundation is shot. Now, I could install a new garage door. We can paint the garage all that we want. But until we deal with the foundation, that garage is going to sag. It’s the same way with our relationships. Until we have a healthy foundation for our relationships, all the practical tips will be like paint on a sagging garage.
If we are to understand relationships, we need to begin with a solid foundation. We need something more than human efforts to resolve conflict and to get along well with others. We need something that is going to provide genuine and lasting results. The danger for us is that we won’t really get to the root of the issue, and we’ll end up offering a superficial cure. It reminds me of what the prophet Jeremiah once wrote:
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
’Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.
Now, let me pause before we look at the foundation for peace that the Bible gives us. The passage we’re looking at this morning has been called one of the richest and most important passages in all the Bible about Jesus Christ. You may be thinking this morning, “I thought we were going to talk about relationships. Why are we here talking about Jesus? I don’t need theology. I need something practical.”
I think Paul would say, “Exactly. You need something practical. The most practical thing that I can give you is to understand who Jesus Christ is.” Our greatest need is not to have more practical tips or even more knowledge, as important as those are. Our greatest need is to know Jesus Christ and how that relates to all of life, including our relationships.
To Understand This World, Look to Jesus
You may asking what Jesus has to do with peace. The problem is that we look everywhere but Jesus for solutions. But Jesus is exactly where we need to look if we are going to understand this world in general, and our relationships in particular.
Let me give you some background to the passage that we read this morning. It was written by the apostle Paul to the church in Colossae. In some ways, Colossae had a similar spiritual climate to what we have. They had a number of very different religious belief systems. Many people blended religious beliefs from different systems.
We’re like that today. The Pew Forum conducted a survey last year and found that 65% of us hold contradictory religious beliefs. Alan Cooperman, a member of the Pew Forum research team, concluded: “Mixing and matching practices and beliefs is much more the norm than the exception.” Scott Thumma, a professor of sociology of religion at the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, said, “Today, the individual rarely finds all their spiritual needs in one congregation or one religion.” People who lived in Colossae would have loved what singer Sheryl Crow has said: “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed and all those that were enlightened. I wouldn’t say necessarily that I’m a strict Christian. I’m not sure I believe in heaven.”
The problem is that when surrounded by this type of belief system, it’s very easy for Christians to begin to blend different beliefs. Pretty soon we’re looking everywhere for answers, but we’re not looking to Jesus. When we do this, we begin to develop a wrong view of the world that affects how we live. An inaccurate way of seeing the world leads to an inaccurate way of living in the world.
It’s in this context that Paul writes in verses 15 to 17:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
What’s going on here? Paul is speaking to people who believe in Christ. But they also live in an environment that fears astral powers, territorial spirits, and underworld powers. They believe in Jesus, but maybe for some of them Jesus is functionally no more powerful than the angels they trust for protection. It’s like today when we believe Jesus, read horoscopes, practice feng shui, and talk about karma.
Paul says: Listen. Jesus is not one among many other gods. He is the exalted Lord. He holds supreme priority and first rank over all creation. He is actually the key to creation, because he is the one through whom everything was created. If you wonder what the stars and spirits are doing to your life, know this: he is the one who created the stars and all powers. And he is the one who is holding everything together. Creation took place through Jesus, and all of creation exists to bring him glory.
In other words, to truly live well in this world we need to understand that Jesus is the key to everything. To understand this world, look to Jesus. He is the key to all of creation. He’s not in charge of the religious part of life; he’s Lord of everything. He’s not a small part of this world; this world is just a small part of his reign over all things. Jesus is the key to all of creation.
To Understand Jesus, Look at the Cross
But then Paul goes on. Jesus is not just the key to all of creation. Paul tells us specifically what it is about Jesus that we need to understand if we are to live in this world. Take a look at verses 18 and 19 with me:
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…
In this passage, it’s like Paul is tripping over superlatives trying to describe how great Jesus is. Well, how do you beat Jesus being the key to all creation, the one for whom all things exist?
Easy, Paul says. Would you believe that he’s actually present and active today? “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead.” Jesus didn’t just create this world, Paul is saying. Jesus became a man. God in all of his fullness took on human flesh. The essence, power, and glory of God inhabited human flesh.
And as both God and man, Jesus died. But he also rose from the dead, conquering sin and death. Death is the one appointment that none of us can miss. Woody Allen put it this way:
The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. Death is absolutely stupefying in its terror, and it renders anyone’s accomplishment meaningless.
But death doesn’t have the final word. Jesus has triumphed over death, and has established his power over a fallen and rebellious world.
And he’s head of a new community of people called the church. The church, Paul says, is vitalized by his presence and power. It’s the instrument through which Christ is present and carries on his work in the church.
What Paul is saying is that Jesus did not just create everything we see. Jesus actually entered creation. He conquered death and sin, and he’s established his continuing presence on earth through the church. The creator of the world and the one who holds everything together has entered human history, and he continues his presence in churches just like this one. He’s the key to all of creation, and he’s also the key to the new creation, including the church.
To understand this world, Paul is saying, look to Jesus. And if you are going to understand Jesus, look to the cross.
To Understand the Cross, Look to its Purpose: To Bring Genuine Peace
Read verses 19-20 with me:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
Here’s why we’re beginning here. You can read and think about peace all day and night, but you will never get to genuine peace until you get to the cross. The cross brings peace between God and sinners, as we see in the next couple of verses:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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– if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)
But it also brings cosmic reconciliation. The cross is where God sets in motion the process of putting things back together all that is wrong with this world. The cross is the basis of genuine peace – peace between sinners and God, peace in our relationships, and ultimately cosmic peace.
Who is the key to true and lasting peace? Jesus. Peace was such a priority to God that he sent his Son to restore peace in a broken and conflicted world. He did not send an angel, mighty as they are. He did not raise up a mighty army to suppress conflict, enforce justice, and impose unity on the nations. Nor did he did send a delegation of gifted men to teach us how to find peace.
Peace is such a high priority to God that he did not send any secondary lieutenants to bring us this treasure. Instead, he sent his only Son, the most exalted and powerful ambassador who has ever walked the face of the earth.
And consider the cost. The Son of God had to leave the glory of heaven, descend into a fallen and corrupt world, take on the form of a helpless baby, walk countless miles over deserts and dusty roads, submit to mocking, beating and torture, and shed his own life’s blood on the cross.
Consider the uniqueness of this peace. The world offers many formulas for peace. Americans spend millions of hours and billions of dollars every year in bookstores, at seminars, in counselors’ offices, or in courtrooms, searching for ways to resolve conflict and regain some measure of peace. Most of this effort is utterly wasted, because real peace is found only at the cross. Verse 20 teaches that it was at the cross that Jesus shed his blood to pay for our sins, purchase our peace, and reconcile us to God. This gift can be found nowhere else in the world.
It is wise and helpful to learn and practice the peacemaking principles and skills that we’re going to be studying. But those principles and skills will produce only superficial results if they are not inspired and guided by what Jesus did for us at Calvary. Genuine, lasting peace is found only at the cross!
As one commentator says:
The vision is vast. The claim is mind-blowing. It says much for the faith of these first Christians that they should see in Christ’s death and resurrection quite literally the key to resolving the disharmonies of nature and the inhumanities of humankind, that the character of God’s creation and God’s concern for the universe in its fullest expression could be so caught and encapsulated for them in the cross of Christ. In some ways still more striking is the implied vision of the church as the focus and means toward this cosmic reconciliation — the community in which that reconciliation has already taken place (or begun to take place) and whose responsibility it is to live out as well as to proclaim its secret. (James Dunn)
We’re going to spend a lot of time looking at this in the coming weeks. But we need to start here. To understand the world, look to Jesus. And to understand Jesus, look to the cross. To understand the cross, look to its purpose: to bring genuine peace.
Thank you for drawing our attention to Jesus. I pray that every person here would understand that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation; creator and sustainer of all things; the head of the body, the church; the firstborn from among the dead; and the one through whom God is reconciling to himself all things.
So help us to know who Jesus is. And may it make all the difference in all of our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.