The Centrality of Christ
Good Morning! Rod asked me last Saturday to do opening for him this morning, but it wasn't until this Saturday morning that I wondered what it is exactly that I ought to talk about. When I called him he suggested that perhaps I should talk about Christian Modesty and he would be happy to talk about something else. I wasn't sure that was such a good idea so he told me just to share what I have been thinking about lately.
Recently I've been challenged by reading essays by a man named Michael Spencer. Michael is the “IMonk” - the online proprietor of a blog focusing on theology and the Christian life. Michael has a lot of strange ideas, but he has a great gift for thinking through things “aloud”, so to speak. Recently he wrote about the problem, as he sees it, of “Christless Preaching”: sermons and teaching that not only do not revolve around the person of Jesus, but don't really appear to need him at all. The problem with that, of course, is that Christianity itself must be, above all else, about Jesus. Spencer argues that we need to recapture the idea of the centrality of Christ.
I've been thinking about this idea of “Christ the Center” and this morning I'd like to talk a little bit about what it means and then discuss three areas in which I think it is important to acknowledge Christ as the center.
So what do I mean when I say “Christ the Center”. Basically I mean that Jesus is the point, that Jesus is the central truth, the final Word. Jesus is the reason everything is and it is Jesus then who has to be at the center of our reality. Another term theologians use that you may have heard is “the Preeminence of Christ”. The term preeminence means superior or notable above all others. That isn't a word we use very often, but Paul uses it when he says of Jesus in Colossians Chapter 1
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
So what is Paul saying? Jesus is the central point of God's story: everything that exists does so because of Him, through Him, and for Him. Not only that, but it is only through Him that the reconciliation of the creation with God is possible. Our very existence in a physical sense is dependent upon Christ the Center and even more so our spiritual existence is dependent upon Jesus as our reconciler and mediator.
The Bible, is of course, full of similar superlatives about Jesus. Hebrews 1 says that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power”. John 1 says that
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
So the Biblical portrait of Jesus is the one who is at center of all things. We can all, hopefully, recognize that picture of Jesus and say Amen to his preeminence and his centrality. There are three areas, however, in which I feel Christians can better recognize “Christ the Center”, and I'd like to share them with you in kind of increasing order of importance.
The first way in which I need to better make Christ the center is in worship. I have this tendency I've noticed, maybe you'll see this in yourself as well, to separate the roles of God the Father and God the Son – sometimes I see Jesus as the one to be thanked for the forgiveness of my sins but God as the one who is to be worshiped and whose eternal attributes I recognize. There is certainly some sense to that: Jesus himself taught us to pray to Our Father who is in heaven and to recognize that his name must be hallowed and that the Kingdom, Power, and Glory are all his forever!
It is indeed right that we sing the words of Revelations 4:11 to God: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. It is also right for us, however, to recognize that God has chosen to place and express his power through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus too is to be worshiped; in the next chapter in Revelations it tells us that at the end, the Saints and angels, indeed, the whole of creation, will recognize the Worthiness of Jesus as well.
9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Won't that be an awesome moment: every creature, every where, expressing praise to God and to the Lamb! We don't need to worry that we diminish God by worshiping Jesus. God, you might say, is the ultimate proud Papa. You ever run into one of those? “Look at my boy”, they say, and that's all they want to talk about. Want to get in good with a proud Papa? Praise his son! And you may have noticed the trend in the scriptures I read earlier about the preeminence of Christ: John chapter 1, Hebrews chapter 1, Colossians, Chapter 1. The writers of Scripture knew God's proud papa heart and frequently opened their letters with doxologies (words of praise) to Jesus Christ: they gave Him the preeminence. God, I imagine, hears those words with a big grin on his face! “That's my boy!” We need also to recognize Christ the Center, and when we do it will lead us to worship and praise Him for who he eternally is.
This leads me to my next area. I need to recognize that Christ is the point to all of Scripture. Does that make sense to you? Christ is the point: he is the one that the story is about to such a degree that he actually is the Story! The Bible is God's word, but Jesus is the final Word, the Logos, incarnate in a person. I tend to be one of those people who can get absorbed in the details of academic theories about Biblical exegesis. I'll gobble up a book about the use of the metaphor of “the City” throughout the Bible, or a paper on the anti-monarchical political implications of Ecclesiastes. Nothing is more exciting to me than to see a verse I didn't understand come alive when its cultural context is explained. And all this is good, don't get me wrong. Christians need to rightly understand the messages and themes in the Bible and I am a huge proponent of figuring out first and foremost what a particular text actually meant to the people of the time. And yet: Jesus is the theme that transcends all of Scripture. And all of our study doesn't help us if it doesn't lead us to the Person of Jesus.
Spencer uses a good analogy: The Bible is a recipe, but Jesus is the Cake. I'm all for knowing the details of the recipe; in fact I'd argue that reading the recipe is one of the best ways to understand the Cake. But the Cake is the important thing.
So what does this mean for my reading and study of scripture? All of my reading should be asking the central question. Who is Jesus? What does this tell me about Jesus? How is this scripture pointing to Jesus as God's final Word? When we study Isaiah in Sunday School, it is important to answer questions like: Who are these characters mentioned? Where did they live, how long was their reign? How did the people of the time understand this prophecy? Does a particular saying have a particular cultural meaning or context? These are all good questions. But we should ultimately ask: how does this scripture point to Jesus? How does it reveal Him as the reason for everything?
When we do this, we find the unifying theme of Scripture. Creation? It's by Him that everything was made. The flood and the Ark: a type of Christ and a picture of Salvation. The Exodus and freedom from slavery for God's children points to Christ. Israel and the Kings point the the way to the King of Kings. Jonah is swallowed by a fish for three days and is God's agent for salvation to a gentile nation. All pointing to Christ!
Maybe an example will help explain how I suspect this works for us. Have you ever seen the movie The Sixth Sense? Ok, if not, cover your ears because I'm giving away the ending. Of course if you haven't seen it the following won't make much sense, but imagine a mystery novel where the all the secrets are revealed in the last chapter. It works about the same. Anyways - at the end of The Sixth Sense you are finally given the key to understanding everything that has happened in the movie in a new way. The main character, it turns out, has been dead the whole time. All of his conversations with his wife, and with the little boy's mother, they didn't really happen. And when you finally see this, you can go back and watch the whole movie with a fresh appreciation for the clever staging by the director: when you thought the main character was having a conversation with his wife and you thought she was ignoring him? She didn't know he was there! Aha, it all makes sense now, that's why the little boy was afraid of him and why his wife was always chilly and the door to his study always locked... It all makes sense now.
Jesus functions in the same way in relationship to the story of the Bible. He, his death and resurrection, is the Aha!, that illuminates our understanding of everything else. He is how God has chosen to reveal himself. John chapter 1 continues on in verses 17 and 18 to say
17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.
This brings me to my final point. This is perhaps the one I've been thinking about the most. For the past six months or so I've been in a Biblestudy whose focus is discipleship. We've been watching some lectures by a man named Dallas Willard and doing our own study of the Sermon on the Mount. As we study and talk together, the question we keep returning to is this: What does it mean for me to be a disciple? How do I live, what does my daily walk look like? How do I handle all of my struggles and failures?
Here, most of all, we need to let Jesus have the place of Preeminence. Jesus needs to be at the center of our lives. We all probably have read books that give advice about how to live our lives: how to keep our money and lose our weight, how to raise our kids and relate to our spouses. There's nothing wrong, of course, with reading wise advice – especially if it is from a Biblical perspective. But how often are we, how often am I, happy to acknowledge Jesus' centrality by thanking him for the salvation and forgiveness of sins he makes available, but unwilling to listen to his words for my life?
What does it mean to be a disciple? A disciple is “one who receives instruction from another; a scholar; a learner; especially, a follower”. Jesus wants us to learn to know and follow him! He says in Matt 11
28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Do we recognize Christ as the Center of our lives? Is he your master, your teacher? Are you asking yourself “what does Jesus say” as you encounter struggles in life? If we relegate Jesus purely to the role of a ritual sacrifice, one who came and was slain for my sins, we are not truly recognizing his preeminence! We're missing the point, we're not listening to the final Word!
In the Great Commission Jesus tells his followers to make disciples and to teach them to do all the things he commanded. We are the fruits of that commission and it is laid upon us yet today. This is the Christian life: that we should be in the community of his Body, learning together to do the things that Jesus said to do.
Now this is an imposing prospect. Having just gone through Matthew 5 and 6, I recognize that it is even scary in some ways. And yet Jesus says of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount that someone who hears them and does not do them is like going out and building a house unstable sand. This is life headed for a catastrophe. Hearing Jesus' words for us as our teacher and then putting them into practice, however, is like building a house on a solid rock foundation, and Jesus assures us that the foundation is such that it can securely weather the storms of life.
A previous speaker from this pulpit said that asking the question “What Would Jesus Do?” is silly. Upon further reflection, I agree. We are not Jesus, and we are not going to live His life. What is not ever silly, however, is the question: “What would Jesus have me to do?” Only if we take Jesus and his words seriously as teaching us how it is that we should live our lives, can we seriously claim to be giving Him the preeminence, as superior above all others.
I could go on about the “Christ the Center”. Jesus is also the head of his Body, the Church in a very real way which I sometimes fail to recognize. He will return and establish his preeminence in a way that will leave no doubt in anyone's mind – and the Bible tells us to live in expectant hope of that day. There are so many ways in which I can recognize in Him all the Fullness of God. I'll stop, however, and leave you with just the three I've mentioned. We have the opportunity right now to place him at the Center of our worship, the Center of our reading of the Bible, and at the Center of our lives as we follow him together. Let us recognize his preeminence, lets recognize him for who he is: Christ is the Center.