One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus is the one, true God revealed to us. Colossians 1:15 says “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In other words, he is all-powerful and greater than literally everything. That is a remarkable and revolutionary belief. However, as Pastor Jeff said on Sunday, for many of us it can be easy to lose sight of this belief and why it matters.
In Roman times, most religions, including those in the Middle East and Mediterranean (except Judaism), were polytheistic- meaning that people thought there were many different, more or less equally valid, gods. They also believed these gods were not all-powerful. In fact, they also thought that their many gods were flawed, emotional, and almost human (but immortal and with powers) and that they didn't especially care a lot about saving mortals.
Ancient cultures explained daily strife and successes as the result of these gods fighting each other and toying with humanity. The focus was on pleasing the gods to get ahead in the here and now, on avoiding punishment, or on how one god might help against another. Granted, Judaism had the law and the Jews tried to keep it in order to get right with God, but they were the only exception and the ones from whom Jesus and Christianity would arise. The rest of the world held to various pagan beliefs, including those that worshiped creation (such as the elements of nature or trees) as gods.
Christianity was unique in asserting that there was only one God and that he made everything and was supreme over that creation. It is also unique because it proclaims Jesus to be that God in human form. This is very different from past pagan beliefs. Polytheistic gods were seen to be invisible and not a part of the physical world, whereas Christianity says that God chose to come down from heaven by being born as Christ Jesus here on earth so that he could die for our sins in our place as a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of everyone’s sins.
This was something new and vastly different from other beliefs before it. The idea that the historical Jesus was God in human form and that he lived in our physical world should be exciting and awesome to us. When we overlook the historical context of this truth, the idea of God being all-powerful and all-loving might seem boring, old, or underwhelming to contemporary Christians. The problem is that without having lived in biblical times the magnitude of the good news can be hard to appreciate for veteran believers.
This is why when the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel to the gentiles in his day, his claims where shocking. In Acts 17:22-27, Paul says to the people of Athens “I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” Paul was essentially telling them that there was one, all-powerful God and that Jesus was that one, true God. Furthermore, he said that it is Him we should worship, not anything he made or any other gods. Saying this went against all the cultural and religious norms of the ancient gentile world (and our world today because unless you're of Jewish descent, most of us are descended from pagan gentiles).
The truth is that Jesus is greater than anything else and Christians run into trouble when they forget that. In today's modern world, the whole West was built on the tradition of Christianity as a result of Paul's ministry to the gentiles. Therefore, here in America, the idea of a God fully in control of everything can seem obvious to Christians. But this also means that we can take that idea for granted, and cease to believe and marvel in, the true nature of Jesus as God. The Christian God and Bible can be so familiar that it doesn't have the same impact like it did before. It doesn't shake the foundations of our world view the way it did for the pagans of the New Testament.
And yet, today new converts to Christianity have had their world rocked by the wonderful nature of God. They take to heart the idea that Jesus has all the power, that he loves them, and that he's bigger than their worries.
We of little faith! We should be like the pagans of old who became Christians or like the newcomers to the faith of today. We should look at our faith with brand-new eyes and be overwhelmed at the miraculousness of it all. We should also do this because if you expect nothing from God, you'll get nothing from God.
If we think our relationship with God is boring and we don't really have faith, then God won't act. In consequence, we lower our expectations for what God is like, for how much we care, and how we treat each other. We become blasé, normal Christians who use God as a political bludgeon or as a thin security blanket when things get bad enough.
Ask yourself if you see Jesus as bigger than your biggest problem? If you're honest, the answer is probably no most of the time. I know that's the case for me. Sometimes I'm full of faith and sometimes I'm just full of myself.
But it's not about us. We work for the invisible God made visible in Jesus and we short circuit ourselves and our relationship with him and we think he works for us. All reconciliation between all creation and God happened at the cross with Jesus’ death and resurrection, not through alternative spiritual options or through our hard work. Having faith in the cross and in God is a kind of practical trust that takes time to build.
As Jeff said on Sunday, we build that faith by slowing down and by praying. And when we pray, we start by thanking Jesus for what He's done before bringing all our sins and concerns to Him, which helps to build our confidence in God. By doing this and reminding ourselves of these truths, we can maintain and grow our faith and awe in Jesus. We just have to start following him and we'll once again really see and appreciate just how all-powerful and all-loving Jesus really is.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.