A sermon by Harry Goodhew
May I ask you a question? What reliable and truly trustworthy knowledge of God do you or I possess?
I ask, because the world has never been short of ideas about God. It is no different today. From the belief that there is no God to the thought that God is everything and everything is God, the range of possibilities is immense. Vast numbers of people hold beliefs about God associated with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Animism to name but a few.
With such a variety on display reason says they cannot all be equally true in every part. So what are we to say and what are we to believe?
In the light of such an array of possibilities some give up and say “It’s all too hard”. But the vast and universal expression of a conviction that life has more to it than what we immediately perceive, says something we cannot easily dismiss.
If God indeed exists then it is, without question, life’s most important issue to know about him and to know truly about him. In his letter to the church at Colossae St. Paul wrote about Jesus describing him as “the image of the invisible God”. Over many years scholars have studied to understand just what Paul meant by calling Jesus “the image of the invisible God”. It turns out to be a complex but wonderfully rich expression that deals with this question of having reliable knowledge of God.
There are certain strands of thoughts from the Bible that come together to give meaning to being “the image of the invisible God”. The first is the simple recognition that God is invisible. That is, he is, in Himself, beyond our comprehension and understanding. He belongs to another league, a totally different order or category of existence. He is infinite and eternal. We are limited and finite, simply one of his creations. Though endowed with wonderful gifts of intellect we are like ants seeking to understand the farthest galaxies when it comes to thinking about God.
Associated with this is the fact that unless God chooses to reveal himself to us in a way that we can grasp he will always remain virtually unknown to us. We may see his handiwork in and around us, and we may make guesses or draw inferences about him, but such thoughts will always be limited and uncertain.
Recalling the story in Genesis of humanity being made in “the image of God” we see that the man Jesus, now risen and ascended to the Father, “has taken the place of world sovereignty marked out for humanity from the beginning” God putting “everything under his feet” as it says in Psalm 8.
Based on Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8 some Jewish thinkers at the time of Jesus thought of “‘Wisdom’ or the Mosaic Law as quasi-divine pre-existent entities, not thereby compromising monotheism (their belief that God was One) but expressing, in a figure of speech, certain aspects of God’s character”. Paul “applies these themes to Jesus”, actually stating in a few verses later and again in the next chapter that “all the divine fullness dwells in him”. He represents the “exalted Jesus as the Father’s agent in creation.”
It was because of expressions like this, and many others in the Bible that early Christian thinkers developed the doctrine of the Trinity to cope adequately with all that is said about God and Jesus. God is a single simple essence, but in which there exist three persons” – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now, does all I have said sound complex and confusing? Well, let me not make the complexity of a complex reality more complex than needed. That’s a mouthful isn’t it? But remember we are thinking about God.
But, where are we? By definition, God, in himself, is beyond the limits of our mental capacities. If he teaches us about himself it is our task to receive and hold what he teaches us even if we cannot provide any earthly models capable of providing adequate representations of the Divine reality. This is particularly so when we talk of God as a trinity – three separate centres of life participating in one common essence. There are some models that have been suggested to represent this. One such is water. It has three forms; It has a gaseous form – water vapour; a liquid form – water; and a solid form – ice. But it is no real comparison to the revealed nature of God and we need to take what God gives us. We hold the deity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while not dividing the unity that they are as the one God as expressed in the words “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”
That’s where the statement of Jesus being the image of the invisible God comes in when we wish to engage with God..
It is as simple as this – if we want to know what God is like, if we want to engage with him and know his mind and will, we are to look at Jesus.
The whole story of the Bible is a revelation of the character and purpose of God as far as our bit of creation is concerned. But to see God as it were, close up and personal, we are to look at Jesus. To answer the question, “Where may I find the true and living God?” the simple answer is: “in Jesus”
The vast range of religious beliefs that have been, or are present now, amongst the human family, provide evidence of the God-shaped blank in the human heart. The search for God is universal. But where the true and reliable knowledge of God is to be found is in Jesus the “image of the invisible God”.
The word translated ‘image’ in Paul’s statement was, in its diminutive form, used for a portrait. To quote: “There is a papyrus letter from a soldier lad called Apion to his father Epimachus. Near the end he writes: “I send you a little portrait (that’s the diminutive form of Paul’s word ‘image’) of myself painted by Euctemon.” It is the nearest equivalent in ancient Greek to our word photograph”
So to put it plainly, Jesus is the photograph that God has given us of himself. Jesus himself said to one of disciples “whoever has seen me has seen the Father”, and again, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”.
What are the outlines of the truth about God that we hear from Jesus “the image of the invisible God”, and can thus rely upon and wholehearted trust?
The foremost is that God exists; that he is sovereign over all things and that we human beings are responsible to him. He has never surrendered his sovereignty. He suffers our rebellion and disobedience for a period but will one day call us all before his throne of judgment.
From Jesus we learn that God loves us and the creation which he brought into being and sustains by his powerful word. The presence of Jesus in our midst is the movement of God towards us to deliver us and save us. He comes in a form we can understand – like one of us. He does what no other person has ever done. He works the works of God in our midst that we might see him and believe. He speaks the words of God calling us to himself saying: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”.
In Jesus we see that God is faithful to his words of promise. All that was promised to the people of the Old Covenant has been honoured in the person of Jesus. He has taken the sin of the world into himself and dealt with it once and for all. In his death and resurrection he has exhausted the power of evil and triumphed over it. In the triumph of his resurrection he has ascended to the seat of all authority to be Head over all things for the church which is his body. When he comes again in power and glory Eden will be restored in a new heaven and earth and God will be all in all.
From Jesus the “image of the invisible God”, and from those whom he, as God manifest in the flesh, appointed to announce his kingdom, we learn that he grants his Spirit to those who come to him. That Spirit is the One who imparts a new heart: a heart of flesh that replaces a heart of stone; a heart on which the law of God is written to ensure that we walk in it. He works in the children of God to enable them to will and to do the good pleasure of the Father. The fruit of his presence in them are the desirable goods of “love, joy, peace, patience” and many others.
That same Spirit imparts not only life to the members of Christ’s body but inspires gifts and capacities within them to equip them to act for the glory of God and the good of others.
It is the Father’s purpose to have Jesus as the firstborn of a great company of men and women who will be conformed to the image of him who is himself “the image of the invisible God”. They are those who God has predestined, called, justified and will finally glorify.
Jesus is our teacher about God by word and deed. His words are to be trusted and retold so that others may have reliable knowledge of God.
Jesus brings us true and reliable knowledge of God. He is the “image of the invisible God”. He is, as we have seen, the portrait of the living God. Other writers in the Bible say the same thing. John opens his Gospel with the words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it …
He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.