Christmas is a tough time for preachers to preach, and I’ll tell you why. There are basically only two chapters in all the New Testament that deal with the details of the Christmas Story. They’re found in Luke chapter 2 and also Matthew chapter 2. So let’s just say that you’ve been going to church for ten years—some of you for less, some of you for plenty of years more. But if you come every December and you hear four messages from those two chapters and you come to Christmas Eve Service on top of that, in the course of a decade you have heard fifty different sermons from those two chapters.
So my point is this: The odds are quite likely that you know those two chapters really well. But there are countless other passages which go into great detail to describe Jesus—and why He came and who He is and what He offers. In fact, there is one book in the New Testament, the Book of Colossians, where the opening chapter, chapter 1, answers all three of those questions. So we’re kind of camping out in this, and we’re in the midst of a series. Colossians chapter 1 is rich in sharing with us all about Jesus, and it brings us face-to-face with this baby born in Bethlehem who is the Savior of the world.
Now last week we began with “Why Jesus Came.” Colossians chapter 1 teaches that He came for four reasons: He came to qualify us, He came to claim us as an heir, He came to rescue us and also to redeem us. And here’s the great news. That’s why He came, but if you were the only person on the face of the earth, He would’ve come just for you. That’s how much He loves you. That’s how much He cares.
The next section in Colossians 1 is going to address the question of “Who Jesus Is,” because some of the people in Colossae were wrong in their assessment. So Paul reaches out to them: Who is this baby laying in a manger? Who is this bronze Galilean? Who is this man who hangs from a cross and says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”? Who is He? And that question continued down through the Church Age, and it’s one of the reasons why Paul writes this letter to the church at Colossae. He wanted his readers to know who Jesus was and who Jesus is.
So today I’m going to try to address and answer three different questions.
Who do people think that Jesus is?
Back in the 1st Century there were a lot of different people who shared a lot of different thoughts about who Jesus is. The angel Gabriel told Joseph, “Name Him Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.” The prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before, called Him, “Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” The Magi called Him, “The King of the Jews.” Those are just a few of the answers that we find at that first Christmas.
Who is Jesus? Well, at birth Herod wanted to know that answer. He was desperate to know, because he had no idea what was going on when the Magi showed up and they were looking for a new king.
Later, in adulthood, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
A certain rich young ruler called Jesus “a good teacher.”
Some of the people who heard Jesus teach would say, “He is a prophet.”
After the Pharisees spent some time with Jesus they called him Beelzebub. They called Him Satan.
And the disciples? While they were out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee they said, “Who is this man? The wind and the waves obey him.”
Who is Jesus? At Caesarea Philippi—Jesus took the disciples there. This was an area that was idol infested. There were statues of dead gods everywhere you looked. And Jesus takes them to that area and asks this question: “Who do people say that I am?” It’s the very question I just asked. Who are people in this 1st Century saying that I am? They say, “Well, John the Baptist. Some people say Jeremiah. Others say Elijah or one of the other prophets.” And then Jesus makes it very personal, and He looks at the disciples in the eyes and says, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answers without fear or speculation. He says, “You are the Christ. You are the Son of the Living God.” And he says, “Living God,” while they are surrounded by all these dead gods, all these statues.
Even at Christ’s trial there were questions surrounding His identity. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked.
After the disciples saw Him in the flesh after His resurrection, you’ll recall that the next week when Thomas sees him…Thomas falls on the ground on his knees before Jesus and says, “My Lord and my God!”
So that’s who some of the different people thought Jesus was back then. And nowadays it’s no different. You will get a different answer and response based upon who it is that you ask who Jesus is. Now the reason this is important is because our identity is important to us, and Christ’s identity is important to Him. I mean, we all are wrapped up in our identity. We don’t want that to be discounted. We want people to know who we are. We’re wrapped up in our identity. Sometimes we get our value from it too much, in fact.
You may recall a number of years ago when George Bush Sr. was running for reelection. He was trying to get votes anywhere he could, and he came up a little bit short in that election. But he went to a nursing home, and he was going around campaigning; he went up to one elderly lady and said, “Hello there. What’s your name?” She said, “My name is Mary.” He said, “Good to meet ya, Mary. Do you know who I am?” She said, “No, but if you go to the front desk they’ll be able to tell you.”
Well, our identity is very important to us, you know? We get wrapped up in it, and depending on who you talk to you would get a different reply on the identity of Christ. Now there would be a handful of people today who would say, “Oh, He never existed. I mean, it’s a fabric of people’s imagination. The Christians kind of dreamed Him up.” And yet we have more historical, more manuscript evidence as to His existence than anyone who walked the face of the earth in the past two thousand years.
Our system of dating and time revolves around His birth. And some well-meaning people will say, “Well, you know what? He was a prophet,” or “He was a good man.” But that discounts Him. It’s not a compliment. It is rather an insult to His character and also to His claims to say that He was a good man and that’s it. Talk to a Christian, though, and hopefully they would quickly respond, “He is my Lord. He is my Savior.”
Who does God say Jesus is?
Kind of important. If you haven’t already, turn to Colossians chapter 1. It’s in the back of your Bible about two-thirds of the way back in the New Testament. In Colossians chapter 1 we’re gonna walk our way through this text. It’s only verses 15 through 19, but we’re gonna find out what God’s inspired Word has to say about who Jesus is.
Verse 15, “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. 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.”
Some would say that in this section in Colossians it is the strongest Christology that you find in all the New Testament, as Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, will describe for us who Jesus is. Look back in your Bible at verse 15: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” It says He is the exact impression of the real substance: that which is so precious, so holy that no one is allowed to see.
But God allowed people to see the physical representation when He came to earth. The invisible God pressed Himself into the clay of humanity so that the second person of the Trinity could show us how to live. So Jesus is the physical revelation and representation of the invisible God. Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus said in John 14:9, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In other words, Jesus is the portrait of God. You see the personal characteristics and the distinguishing marks of God the Father in God the Son.
Bob Russell says you can look at nature and it will tell you about the existence and the power of God, but nature doesn’t reveal fully the essence and the personality of God. It’s only in Jesus that we see perfectly God’s compassion, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace, God’s patience.
Paul goes onto say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. What does that mean? Well, usually when you see the word firstborn in the Scriptures, it means “of utmost importance.” Jesus is called the firstborn of creation because He is the most important figure in all of creation. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him.” And then it goes onto say, “And the Word…” So we know exactly who he’s talking about. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Romans 9:5 says, “Christ, who is God over all.”
Still wondering? Colossians 2:9, “In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.”
Still curious? Hebrews 1:3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory.” And Son is S-O-N…capitalized. He’s not talking about the sun…S-U-N. It says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” He’s that icon. He’s that image. Jesus didn’t have His beginning at Bethlehem. That was merely His incarnation. Jesus was there in the beginning.
Colossians 1…Look in your Bible…verse 16: “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.” So Jesus is the creator, for in Him all things were created.
Now we don’t talk much about that, especially in December. We tend to see Jesus as this tiny, defenseless baby lying in a manger, but He’s the Creator of the world! He was there at creation. That’s why back in Genesis chapter 1 God the Father says, “Let us make man in our own image.” He didn’t say, “Let me make man in my own image,” because Jesus was there; the Holy Spirit was there.
And Paul says, “In Him…” In Christ, “all things were created.” That’s why when Jesus became flesh He frequently demonstrated His power over His creation. He cast out demons and they obeyed Him, because He had created the angels before they fell. He cursed a fig tree and it withered. Why? Because He made the fig tree. He walked on water and the water sustained Him. Why? Because He made the water. He said to a storm, “Peace! Be still!” and it obeyed Him, because He made the water and He made the weather and He made the wind. He touched the grain and the bread and it multiplied, because He made it. One day He rode on a donkey that had never been broken, and it went where He commanded it to go. How could a donkey that has never been ridden do something like that? Because the One who was giving the orders was the One who made the donkey. He raised the dead to life, because He is the author of life, the Lord of all creation.
Paul says, “All things have been created through Him and for Him.” Did you notice that? We have been created for Him. Now that is really significant because that goes against everything that society teaches us. We tend to think that the universe is supposed to revolve around me, around us, that the universe was created for us. But Paul says we were created for Him, and that goes against our selfish society and our selfish desires.
Our little grandson, John Ryman will be two on Christmas Eve. He has been with us this weekend at our house. And we got out some old toys of Sam’s, some old rescue heroes. We had a big tub of them. So John Ryman and Sam were playing with these toys. Sam went to reach for one of them and pull one of them out, and John Ryman looked at him and said, “My toys!” And Sam looked back and said, “No, my toys!” And so I’m trying to referee this battle between a two-year-old and an eighteen-year-old, you know? And they really were Sam’s, but now, all of a sudden, John Ryman has taken this sense of ownership over them. He’s not even two and already here’s that carnal nature and that selfish desire. Here were dozens of toys, but that one he wanted. That one!
And yet that’s what’s taking place here. Paul says you were created for Him. It’s not all about you. Colossians 1:17 reminds us He’s in charge. It says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Jesus made such incredible claims about His own identity that if they weren’t true they wouldn’t make any sense. He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” What? Another time He says, “I’ll be crucified, and then I’ll come back from the grave in three days.” Yeah, yeah, sure you will. “I and the Father are one. The words that I speak have been given to Me by the Father. All that belongs to the Father is Mine.” In John 5:18 it says His enemies were determined to kill Him because He was making Himself equal with God. I mentioned earlier that when doubting Thomas saw the wounds of Jesus he fell on his knees and he said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus didn’t correct him and say, “Hey, wait just a second. You know what? You crossed the line that time. I mean, you know, I’m not your Lord, and I’m not your God. You overstepped your bounds.” No, Jesus doesn’t say that. Instead Jesus looks at him and He says, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Jesus is God in the flesh.
Colossians 1:18, “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.” He is the head of the church. The church belongs to Him. Why? He bought it! He used His own blood to purchase us.
And now here in this verse we see that word again—firstborn. It says, “Firstborn from among the dead.” Now Jesus wasn’t the first to come back from the grave. There were several in the Old Testament, and there were several in the New Testament (like Lazarus), who were raised temporarily. But Jesus was of utmost importance because He arose permanently, never to die again.
John Stott points out and he says, “The healings that Jesus did when He brought someone back from the dead were not resurrections; they were resuscitations, because they would eventually die.”
But when a man walks out of His own grave, He has the credentials to take charge of whatever sphere He wants. Paul says, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead.” So He conquered the grave. “So that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
Now for those of you who are much more acquainted with the Greek language than I am, you may notice that, as soon as I read that verse, it stands out to you that this is a hina clause in Greek. A hina clause is a purpose clause. It is there for a purpose. The first part of the verse tells you what sets up the second part. It is a clear indication of intent. And Christ’s purpose and calling is supreme. He’s the head of the church. He is from the beginning. He is the first person to conquer the grave, so that in everything he should have supremacy. In other words, because all of those things are true about Him, because those are the facts that no one can deny, He should reign supreme in your life. I mean, it makes sense. I mean, if He’s in first place in the universe, shouldn’t He be first place in your heart? He’s in a league all His own. He’s holding all of the galaxies together.
Verse 19 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” In other words, Jesus isn’t a vice president. He’s not a junior partner. He’s not an understudy. He is God in the flesh.
Do you remember back in Philippians chapter 2 where it says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God.” “In very nature”—He is equal to God the Father. And yet it goes onto say (paraphrased), “From that position, from heaven, He humbles Himself, and He becomes obedient to death.”
Please don’t miss out on the implications of this passage, as we learn who Jesus is. It has incredible carryover for each of us today. If Jesus made me, then that means that He can remake me, too. If Jesus created me, He can recreate me in His image. If He can hold things together in our universe, then that means that He can help a single mom hold things together, too. And He can help me keep it together when my life seems like it’s falling apart. If He is superior to every kingdom and every principality, then He is probably well equipped to handle the problems that you might face this week with your boss or your coworkers. If He is the Creator and in control, then I can rest in His plan and I can trust in His will. If He is superior to demons, then there’s probably not anything more powerful that I’m gonna face this week. And if He is the first to rise from the dead, then I can be assured that I can rise with Him. If that’s who Jesus is, then that’s what He will be for you and that’s what He will be for me.
But Jesus was faced with the same choice that we are. When it comes to light, you can absorb it—like a person with a spotlight shining on them—or you can reflect it. Jesus says in John 8:12…He says, “I am the light of the world.” But what we struggle with is that we prefer the spotlight. Jesus could’ve stood in the spotlight, but instead He chose a mirror. And when I say “mirror” I don’t mean for Him to gaze at Himself and just to stare at Himself. He chose a mirror so that He could reflect God’s glory in the world.
You know, in the Christmas Story King Herod sought the spotlight. It was all about him. He wanted to absorb that light. He wanted to be sovereign. But the Wise Men chose to take a mirror and to reflect it. They wanted to reflect God’s glory, and when they found God they wanted to worship Him.
Here’s my point: Humble people let God be God. Humble people let God be God. Proud people compete for the place that only God can have. One brings blessing; the other brings destruction. God opposes the proud, and He gives grace to the humble. You can absorb the light, or you can reflect His light.
The Bible says that Jesus is the light of the world, but also, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes a little bit deeper and He says, “You are the light of the world.” In other words, it’s our responsibility to be reflections of His light, and light only serves its purpose where there is darkness. So we are to let our light shine, and the possibilities are endless when we begin to reflect who Jesus is.
Let me give you a real tangible example of what happens when we choose to reflect His light rather than absorb the spotlight. In the past few weeks our junior high and senior high kids involved in Student Ministry here at Southeast spent $10,000 of their own money and bought 500 Christmas gifts. Our junior and senior high kids invited all of the kids – 170 of them in the foster care system in Jefferson County (that’s not all of them, but that’s a lot of them) – to come to a big party at Southeast on Wednesday night. One hundred foster parents showed up along with 170 foster kids. These teenagers served them dinner and did crafts with them. They played games, and they did face painting with the kids. They had inflatables for them.
One of our elders was there and he met with all of the foster parents. He took prayer requests from them, and he wrapped up with a time of prayer for those parents. Toward the end of the night, each child got to walk up to the stage. And they went to where their age group was, and they got to choose some Christmas presents that our kids had purchased for them with their own money. The agency couldn’t believe that kids would spend their own money on kids that they didn’t even know.
Our Student Pastor said, “It’s pretty incredible when you think that over the course of about three hours on a Wednesday evening…that when we all set our hearts on mission, and the result is that about 170 kids who don’t usually get a normal Christmas are taken care of and they feel like Christmas is normal for a few minutes.” Do you know what one foster parent said? He says, “I look up there around the stage. I see one guy who looks like Santa Claus, and I see tons of teenagers who look like Jesus Christ.” Let me tell you something. That’s the reflection of Christ. That is what we are called to do: to reflect Him.
Can you imagine what would happen if three hours on mission turned into days on mission, and days on mission turned into weeks, and weeks become a lifestyle of mission? That’s when we’ll see our city change. We’ll see it when we reflect His light to others in the neighborhood, and we’ll see that when we reflect His light to others in the workplace. Instead of pursuing the spotlight for ourselves, instead when we reflect His light, things start to change and communities are transformed. So thank you to our teenagers for your example and for your gentle prodding.
Who do people say that Jesus is? Who does God say Jesus is?
Who do you say Jesus is?
When you stand before the God of the universe someday, that is what matters. Who is He to you? And did you live for Him?
Back when I was in Bible College, we had chapel a couple of times a week. And I wish I could tell you who the preacher was, but we had a preacher come one time in the month of December, and he said, “You know, you are faced with three different responses when it comes to Jesus. They all are found in the Christmas Story, and you have to decide.” And I thought, “Well, this is intriguing.” And he began by talking about how there was no place for Jesus in the inn…for Mary and Joseph. And he talked about the innkeeper—of how, even though he’s not mentioned in the Bible, evidently he must’ve been oblivious to the needs of Mary and Joseph. And he ignored the needs that they had, and he ignored Jesus.
He talked about that for a little while, and then he changed gears. He said, “You know what? Then there was King Herod.” He talked about how wicked of a man King Herod was and some of the terrible things he did. You know, he murdered his own sons. I mean, this guy was messed up. He was a sick man. He was power crazy. He had some mental issues. He had some health problems as well, history tells us.
But he said, “Once the Wise Men came, all of a sudden, he felt a threat. As a result of that he began exploring who Jesus was, because he was so curious.” He said, “But then there were the Wise Men and the shepherds, and when they heard the message of who Jesus was, they beat a path to where He was. And when they got there, they fell down and they worshipped and they adored Him.” He said, “You’re faced with the same three choices. Like the innkeeper, you can ignore Him. Like King Herod, you can explore Him. Or like the Wise Men and the shepherds, you can adore Him.” He said, “The choice is yours.” And I say to you today, “The choice is yours. Which will it be?” Let’s pray.
Father in heaven, You’ve given us ample evidence and substantiation of who Jesus is. And Lord, it is my prayer that people will come face to face with Your Son Jesus, a baby who came in a manger, who left heaven and humbled Himself and became obedient to death after living a perfect life, who is the firstborn to conquer death once and for all. And because of that, we can live eternally. Lord, I pray that there will be people who will accept Him today. It’s in His name that we pray. Amen.
So there it is. Who is Jesus to you? Because that is what matters. And you have to make a personal decision. No one can make it for you. You can decide. If you’ve never turned your life over to Christ, then today could be the day. There are others of you who need to say, “I want to be a part of this church family.” Today could be the day for you to commit to your membership here at Southeast. There are others of you who might just need to pray with someone, just say, “I’m having a difficult time. I’d like to pray with someone.” We have a whole team of people back there that would love to pray with you. But whatever your decision is, don’t put it off. Just don’t put it off.
Dave Stone, Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, KY
Unless otherwise noted: “Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. 2012, Southeast Christian Church of Jefferson County, Kentucky, Inc.