Colossians 1:15-23 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 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. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 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— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
There are few things I know of that are more iconic than Michael Jordan. I grew up with the poster in the cafeteria that said Milk, it does a body good that had Michael Jordan’s face beaming out at me. I was the generation where your friends (I even had one from Chicago!) would have shrines in their rooms to the basketball god that was Air Jordan. And I definitely remember watching him win NBA championship after NBA championship. I know I’m not alone in that because still today Michael Jordan sits on top of a personal brand that’s worth in excess of one billion dollars.
That’s why I was surprised to find what I did in ESPN’s Outside the Line’s piece that they ran for Michael’s 50th birthday. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t surprised because of Bill Cosbyesque allegations that arose. There was nothing like that. What I was surprised to find was a searching, sad, and sometimes angry man. The truth is that Michael’s soul suffers so much agitation that he even has a hard time falling asleep. Here’s the closing scene from ESPN’s piece: “The house is dark. It’s almost 1 a.m., and he opens the iPad app that controls the loft’s audio-visual system. Every night he does the same thing, and he does it now: Turn the bedroom television to the Western channel. The cowboy movies will break the darkness, break the silence, allow him to rest. It’s just like the old days, him and Pops. Jordan climbs into bed. The film on the screen is “Unforgiven.” He knows every scene, and sometime before the shootout in the saloon, he falls asleep.” I’m not sure I want to be like Mike anymore.
If you look at the bigger picture, that seems to be a rather large theme among celebrity athletes. Their souls are always on the hunt for more. I still remember the shock I had when I heard that Brett Favre was unretiring to play for the Vikings. And he did that despite his NFL torn body. Michael Phelps is no different. Anybody who watched the London Olympics remembers him promising on seemingly 90 different occasions that he was retiring from swimming. It was a done deal until now it isn’t anymore. Only one thing explains that kind of behavior. They find out they need to keep searching for more. But celebrity athletes aren’t alone. People on the search for more try all kinds of possible solutions: alcohol, workaholism, helicopter parenting, or serial romance. Nietzsche, a famous philosopher, observed this phenomenon in people when he said, “There are more idols than realities in the world.”
But Saint Augustine probably wrote the most important work about this outside the Bible. I started reading it the other day. It is widely considered one of the most important works in all of western civilization. It’s called The Confessions of Saint Augustine and is actually his autobiography. In the book, Saint Augustine captures the human story. His story like ours is one big, long mission to find something - really anything big enough and permanent enough that would satisfy his soul. He wrote the book because he had finally found what that was, or to put it more accurately it had finally found him.
That human story has a long, long arc. You trace it from Michael Jordan, to Saint Augustine, to the Colossians Christians, to the our common human parents Adam and Eve. People have always been on the search for more. That’s what Eve saw when she saw that fruit on that tree. It wasn’t just a piece of fruit for her. It was the answer to the call of her heart to find something more. Satan had lied through his teeth that through the eating of that fruit, “You can be like God.” At the moment that Eve believed that lie a vicious cycle began, she became the first of many to search for the more we need by looking for less.
I’m spending some time on this because there’s something important here for us to understand. At least, Paul thought so. Paul wants us to see how deeply Eve impacted all of us. He wants us to see why we have this terrible tug, this incessant pull. So he talks about what you might call Adam’s and Eve’s disastrous gift to our personal history. Here’s how Paul said it: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds doing evil deeds.” (v. 21) Paul doesn’t start by going after us for doing something really bad, nor does he condemn specific choices we’ve made because Paul knows something. He knows that’s not our biggest problem. He knows our biggest problem is not what we might do, but rather how we’re aligned. He knows what’s hurting us the most are not choices we’ve made, but rather our natural mindset. That’s the disastrous gift we’ve all inherited. Paul knows that our starting point is alienation from God and hostility in our thinking.
That’s where we started, but that’s not where we are. That’s where we began, but it’s not where we’ve landed. Verb tenses matter. A lot. I was married is a whole different animal than I am married. I am 20 is a whole different ballgame than I was 20. Just ask the hair on my head. And you are alienated from God and are enemies in your minds is a whole lot different than the truth Paul shares. You were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds, but aren’t anymore. The gospel has come to us. So that’s not our current condition. It’s our past one. It’s how we used to think. It’s not how we think now. We’re different. We’re new. We’re converted.
So why does Paul bring up this difficult history? Because it still impacts us. Now we’re people who have vestiges - or leftovers - of that old way of thinking. Believers are sort of like recovering atheists - people who sincerely believe in Jesus, but are still learning to see our lives in light of everything that Jesus has accomplished for us. Michael Jordan is a Christian who showed us this in his Basketball Hall of Fame speech. In a speech that was at times odd, at times angry, and at times completely heartwarming, he shared a huge part of what makes him tick. When he described what basketball meant to him, he called it his “refuge” and the “place where I’ve gone when I needed to find comfort and peace.” Do you hear what that sounds like? It sounds exactly like a Psalm. It sounds exactly how a believer feels about the Lord. Michael was still struggling with his old starting point and mindset, he was seeking the more he needed in something less.
That’s why Paul takes the time to absolutely bowl us over with Christ’s profile. This section of Colossians has some of the most poetic, magnificent, unearthly, incredible, jaw dropping statements about Jesus that you’ll find anywhere in the Bible. Think of it as an avalanche of truth meant to overwhelm our souls or a God-given tsunami to sweep truth into our deepest recesses. Think of it as a biblical earthshaking to move us to a firmer foundation. It’s truth so huge, so deep, so wide, so powerful, and so compelling that our souls can only stop and believe that it now has everything it will ever need. Just take this in: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And 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, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (v. 15-18)
I’m honestly not quite sure how to talk about the profile that’s here. How do you talk about a being so high, so mighty, so powerful, so merciful, and so loving that he transcends even words? And then how do you appreciate everything it means that this invisible, all encompassing being can be seen, touched, and heard in the person of Christ? How do you stare across the span of the Grand Canyon, look down from a Pike’s Peak, stare off over the Atlantic and capture that with language? How much less do you capture the Maker of all that? How do you picture power that makes the President of these United States a pawn in his sovereign plan and makes world history its oyster? How much less do you talk about a power that exceeds angelic powers so great that we can barely fathom them and then makes them do his bidding? How do you deal mentally with a being that began the final gutting of death’s power with his resurrection so that he can crown us with eternal life? What do you do with that kind of hugeness? That kind of power? That kind of incredible and mind-bending majesty?
I’ll tell you what you do. You stop your wondering. You stop your search for more. You stop trying to find fulfillment, refuge, and comfort in anything else. You make the person with this profile your God. Or if we want to talk the way that Paul talks to the Colossians, you believe that this being has made himself your God. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (v. 19-20) None of us will understand this verse unless we give the full weight of the preceding verses to this Scripture. It’s that being who reconciled to himself all things. That being. That being who is God in visible form. That being who filled the Atlantic, raised up Pike’s Peak, and who puts world rulers on their throne. That being who makes demons turn tale and death purr like a kitty. This is the weight. This is value of the being who bled and died on a cross. This is the profile, the identity of this reconciling person: in him is the fullness of God.
How do you calculate the value of that kind of sacrifice? How many sins do you think it covers? How perfectly does it reconcile? That’s what God wants us to be thinking about. God wants us to understand that you’re his and he’s yours. Completely, totally, perfectly, and sovereignly yours. You know how badly Paul wants you to know that? Paul wants you to know you’re reconciled so badly that he coined a word for it. Think about that. Paul made up a word just to show you how reconciled you are. You can’t find this word anywhere else in what’s preserved of ancient Greek (and we have lots of it!). This word didn’t ever exist until Paul made it up to speak this truth. Paul made up a word to tell you that literally the great Everything of this universe is now yours. That’s the word that Paul uses when he says, “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.” (v. 22)
Do you see what that now means? It means that the one thing that has the height, the depth, the power, and the magnitude to satisfy the human heart is now reconciled to do that. It means that the vicious cycle that Eve was the first to perpetuate has now effectively ended. It means that the hunt for something big enough, solid enough, and important enough to set our souls on is ours to have and to enjoy and to experience now and in eternity in Jesus Christ. How can we be sure of this? Because we’ve been fit out for it. We are holy in his sight. Without blemish. Free from accusation. We’ve been fit out for the one thing that will satisfy our souls in every aching way: God himself.
You know what I found out from that ESPN article on Michael Jordan? I found out that I don't have to want to be like Mike. I am like Mike. We’re both Adam and Eve’s kids. We’re both people who have a limitless capacity to long and search for something more. And that’s just what we do, until the gospel comes and tells us that we’ve been found and reconciled to the Infinite One. We’re his. And he’s ours. Bowled over by Christ’s profile we can rest from searching because we’ve been found by the one thing that truly fills. Or - if you like metaphors - we just found out that we don’t have to win another NBA championship. In fact, we found out that it’s safe to go ahead, untie those basketball sneakers, and put them on the shelf. Because we just found out that we own the whole game. Or if you want to hear it in plain language listen to how Saint Augustine said it, “O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Amen.