The late Marjoe Gortner was probably the most infamous example of someone who had been pushed forward as a child evangelist and later renounced his public profession of faith. Yet because of his experience he had some perceptive comments that he made later about what he saw and experienced. He once said, “When I was traveling, I’d see someone want to get saved in one of my meetings, and he was so open and bubbly in his desire to get the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful and very fresh, but four years later I’d return and that person might be a hard nosed and intolerant Christian because he was better than anyone else because he had Christ. That’s where the danger comes in. People want and experience. They want to feel good . . .”
That continues to be a problem. His remarks do give credit that this happened with some people and not everyone. It’s conceivable that many became faithful, humble, loving Christians as well – but there’s no drama or the self righteousness of the renegade former evangelical that feeds on the hypocrisy of the few. But the issue for everyone everywhere remains not the faithful Christians or the hypocritical ones. It always remains Jesus – who he is and what he has done. And this is why the gospel of Jesus Christ constantly and relentlessly points us away from our feelings and experiences to Jesus Christ himself. Some years ago there was a song about coming back to the heart of worship, but it never seemed to come more than halfway back, since there was still a lot of “I” and “me’ in that song. But the final word was that it is all about Jesus. It’s not about getting a buzz on the music and the atmosphere, and the words of so many of our songs are fuzzy about the fundamental truths should be crystal clear for someone abiding in Christ and growing in him and in the knowledge of his Word. So many things are backhanded references and you have to think way too hard to find anything Biblical in so many of the words of our worship songs. And so many of our worship songs seem to be more like third rate poets celebrating their feelings and finding bad metaphors and similes to express what they think their experiences are than wholehearted scriptural praise comparable to the hymns and songs of praise that have been the repertoire of the church for two thousand years.
There needs to be a new and fresh vision of Jesus Christ beyond the foggy, cloudy and gushy experience that we’ve been taking on in the past few years. We need a fresh realization of the glory of our Lord. The fog, cloudiness and almost incomprehensible expressions of our shallow and superficial experiences needs to give way to the bright and shining glory of God in the incomparable person and work of Jesus Christ. It must be that we’ve only settled for what we’re finding is that there is a great lack of realization of who Jesus Christ really is and what we have done. We seem to celebrate a sentimental familiarity with Christ rather than the stunning statements of who the man of Galilee really was and is and what he has done for us. It may seem like heavy theology, because we seem to have been accustomed to shallowness. Yet what was written for us, and what has often been in the faith and worship of the church for centuries, was intended for ordinary people, not for academics. It may be difficult for the mind to grasp – indeed the finest merely human mind cannot come to a full realization and understanding of all that the scriptures say about Jesus. What the scriptures say is there for our faith to believe and seek understanding upon that basis. This then corrects what may be a deeply faulty, inadequate and shallow inner image that we have of Jesus, as far too small, weak, and less than the Lord of glory. So next stop is the portrait of Paul of the incomparable Christ, the cosmic Christ, in terms and attributes that are far too often passed over even by Christians who have been in the faith for many years. The cosmic Christ, the Lord of all nature, superior in nature and rank to all the creation, and who is first in the universe in every way, preeminent above every being, shocks and astounds us out of the self concerned, festering morass of our feelings and experiences into an adoration and worship where we become enthralled with him and only him.
So here’s how the apostle Paul described how Jesus Christ is first in the universe in every way:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, because through him all things in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things were created through him and for him. And He is before all things, and all things are sustained through him. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might be first in all things; because in him all the fullness of god was pleased to dwell and to reconcile all things to himself, as he made peace through the blood of his cross – whether things on earth or in heaven.”
Jesus Christ is, first of all, God incarnate. Those two words, “God incarnate”, describe something that we may often forget is astounding bey0nd all our thoughts, experiences and experiences. They describe Deity robed in human flesh, the fullness of Deity dwelling bodily. They mark Jesus as so supreme above every human teacher, guru and self described savior that they deserve no comparison, because he is incomparable.
As the Son of God, God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, as Christians for centuries have described him, Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God. He is incomparable in that way to all human teachers. In Jesus, all that God is comes into perfect focus for all of humanity. He is the perfect, living theophany, through whom the invisible God demonstrated and expressed his character and personality. He was not nor did he posses just a “piece” of God in himself, or a partial but incomplete depiction of God that other teachers, gurus, prophets and avatars may fill out in other ways. He cannot be reduced in who he is and what he has done to someone small enough to be compared to someone else that someone might find preferable from their own background or tradition. That would reduce Jesus to an idol and elevate the others to whom one is comparing Jesus to idols, since idols are incomplete models of what people may think God to be. At best those idols, those fake images of God, may show something that may be some attribute of God, but they cannot express all that God is through a human personality and life. They always leave a lot out of the fullness of Deity and often include large elements of human sin and frailty – just look at the fallibility, follies, foibles and depravities of the old Indo-European sky god whom we know historically as Zeus, Jupiter and Dyaus.
As God incarnate, Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of all things. As Deity, the Second Person of the Trinity, his being is eternal, and as the eternal Son, he was creator with God the Father, and the universe continues to exist and be sustained through his personal agency. He is the Creator of all visible and invisible beings, all living things, even the mightiest of archangels, and all of mankind and the nations of this world; they all come from the invisible creating and sustaining agency of the one Person who is the Man of Nazareth. None among them are equal to or prior to Christ, and so they are not rivals of his in any way, and they do not deserve any comparison with him. And as the creator and sustainer of all creation, all human beings continue to live through his almighty power; we do not have life in ourselves, but only through the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead. And so there is nothing in the universe that is a mystery to him, and to the believer in Christ, the universe itself is no mystery, since he or she personally knows who is responsible for bringing it into being and keeping it in existence from moment to moment.
Next, as the Son of God, God incarnate, Jesus Christ is the owner and possessor of all that exists. This is the meaning of the phrase, “firstborn of creation.” That phrase, in its history, had little to do with being created or being physically born the first in the family. For instance, in the Old Testament, David, Jacob and Joseph were not the first ones physically born in their families, but each one received the right of the firstborn. It was what has been called the right of primogeniture, and it does not mean, as some counterfeit, cultish imitations of Biblical Christianity would have it, that the supernatural nature of Jesus was a superior created being. The right of the firstborn is not the same as being the first one born in a family. And what this means is that all things were created for him and his will is pre-eminent in the universe. All other commands and priorities are secondary and fade to nothing beside the word of Jesus Christ. He will have his will accomplished in all things, and the goal of all the universe is the Kingdom of God under God’s anointed King Jesus.
One of the stupendous things about this is the agreement that the apostle Paul has in what he has just asserted with one of the original Twelve apostles, the apostle John, who was writing almost a generation later and in another part of the Roman world. Here is what the apostle John had to say:
Dr. D. James Kennedy noted that most unbelievers and nominal Christians are unaware of the Deity of Jesus Christ, and sharing the meaning of what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God as himself being Deity, God in the flesh, was a significant part of the Evangelism Explosion presentation which he developed. It was often true in that era in which he formulated that presentation, the 1960s, that there were many people who attended church at that time who were nevertheless in the dark about what the words that the hymns and the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds really meant when they referred to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. And to be fair, many of the men in the pulpit of the church at that time may not either have realized its significance or believed in the Biblical meaning of the Deity of Christ, as this doctrine is often called in the systematic theology books. Making this a part of the gospel presentation, then, meant that he was correcting a part of the theological instruction that many may never have heard in the churches in which they grew up and which they attended, as to understanding and accepting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as Deity. And this is one of the crucial reasons for sharing this as part of the gospel; it establishes Jesus as a Savior that can save to the fullest extent possible in anywhere in this world for anyone in this world.
Even more, Jesus Christ is the only Savior. The extent of his reconciliation is too often missed in our preaching and teaching; we tend to reduce it to just providing forgiveness for our sins – and that is perfectly fine and Biblical when sharing the gospel — but it goes way beyond that. His reconciliation through the cross went far beyond cancelling the condemnation to eternal punishment for sinful people, though that is fine and Biblical and definitely a part of the presentation of the gospel to those who need to come to know Christ. Even more staggering is also the realization that Jesus Christ, in a profound and cosmic way, through the cross brought reconciliation to the universe and the genesis of a new humanity. This is a part of what the cross meant and what it continues to mean; the depth, breadth and extent of the reconciliation that Jesus brought to the universe is staggering to understand and contemplate, and this is often something that may be missing in our normal preaching and teaching from week to week. Certainly the truth that we’re about to touch upon is probably far beyond the normal understanding that many believers who attended church weekly have come to realize.
The cross meant the pacification of God to all that is evil and in this fallen universe. First, this meant a stay in the ultimate judgment of the human race and gave fallen humanity the opportunity across centuries to become reconciled to God through faith in Christ. Make no mistake about it, the biggest complaint that godly people have had over the centuries about the justice of God in this world, which is not the poor formulation that unavenged evil means God does not exist, but the often voiced complaint that God’s justice is inexplicably delayed, finds its answer in the reconciliation which Christ has provided in the cross. One of the unconditional benefits of the cross is the stay in the judgment of God until the opportunity for reconciliation has been fully come to this world.
But next, the cross meant that Jesus through his resurrection would be the ultimate, incomparable Savior provided for the human race. That is what it meant for him to be the firstborn from the dead; his resurrection was more than a temporary resuscitation from death, to die later, as Lazarus and the son of the widow in the town of Nain. Rather, he was the firstborn of a new mankind, a new and resurrected human race, made from the people of the first race descended from Adam, that would supersede the original race.
Even more, this meant that he has become the Head of the Church, the fellowship of the redeemed. There is no earthly head but only the Son of God, the Savior from heaven! Then, the term that the church is his body means that he is the source of its life and each one has a unity of life with him and each other. That’s a striking thought that too little affects how we see our Lord and how we see and how we treat each other. This statement means that the church exists because of, through and in the dominion of Christ. It knocks down and reduces to ashes the human presumption that a church is our fellowship and that we are in charge and run the church. It means that our presumption is in conflict with his authority and supremacy, and that means that we need to be careful that we please Christ rather than ourselves. But this even more is the basis of the new fellowship among those who know Christ, and the understanding that we are people of destiny in a far greater way than we often realize. This means that the most obnoxious person you know, or the person that you cringe when he or she enters a church building, nevertheless shares your life and destiny under Christ if he or she has genuinely repented and placed his or her faith in Christ. All this means that there needs to be definite re-thinking of many of us on how we think about our church involvement and how we treat others in the body of Christ.
Taking another look, then, at the portrait of Christ which has been painted in the words of the apostle Paul through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there’s that familiar face again, but greater in a way which we may have never seen before. That face is our Lord! If we linger and contemplate and gaze with the eyes of our heart, we will see him in a new way. And once we have truly seen him in this way, we can never think of him in the same way again. And even more, we can never responsibly live the same way again!
The Jesus that we see in a new way is a Lord who is worthy of all our worship and adoration! Let us never again think of our due homage to him in worship ever again as any kind of drudgery. That hero worship that we have often given to incomparably less figures in this world and our human saviors who cannot save us has a far more worthy and adequate objects, Jesus Christ himself!
And the Jesus that we see is a Lord worthy of all our obedience. Our Lord who has given all, promises all and is able to keep and will keep all of this promises. Therefore never let us give him mere lip service again, or use him as a mere figurehead for our lives!
The incomparable Christ that we see is also a Lord who is capable of helping us in all our difficulties, each and every one. He suffered himself in our world and he is able to give us a depth of sympathy and compassion beyond all that we can fully know. But he is also a Lord who is able to solve the problems and bring the comfort. Therefore let us never again go to anyone else first!
Finally, Jesus Christ the incomparable is the only Lord who can satisfy. All others will fade away and fall apart, yet he is eternal and he brings us eternal satisfaction. Let us never again act as if there is real, lasting and ultimate satisfaction that we will find anywhere else.