July 17, 2022

The Supremacy of Christ July 17th, 2022

Passage: Acts 17:22-31

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the Apostles were beginning to find their feet and embarking on some of their early mission journeys into the then-known world, we read about an account of Paul's first visit to Athens. He went to Mars Hill – also known as Mars Rock - that stands to this day on a hillside leading up to the Parthenon. At the foot of the hillside stood the Acropolis – the marketplace that was well known and well used by the citizens of Athens. There, as he saw all the statues and altars that were dedicated to the gods and goddesses of that civilization, Paul remarked to the crowd that gathered there, "I perceive that you are a very religious people. For as I passed along I saw your statues and your altars. "You even have an altar to an unknown god."

Then he said, "I am here to tell you that the god that you worship as unknown has been revealed to us in Jesus the Christ." He went on to say that this God is the creator of all that is, the Lord of heaven and earth. Then in the prophetic tradition, of which he was a part as a good Jew, he added, "This God does not live in shrines that are made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, since he himself gives everything, life and breath and everything to us." He added, "This creator has created all of us so that we would seek after him. He has determined the habitations and the times for all the nations of the world, and has been Lord over all of them that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us. For `In him we live and move and have our being.'"

What..? If you were a Greek citizen listening to Paul’s words, you’d be shocked at his affrontery and ignorance. You might also feel offended by this Jew who dared to instruct you in the ways of religious practice. This impolite stranger was actually trying to tell you that Greeks, with all their self-congratulatory, commonly-held love of wisdom (philosophy), did not know all they thought they knew. So he accused you and your neighbours of covering up your gap in knowledge with an altar to any gods you might have missed.

Then he told you there is only one god missing in the marketplace – Jesus the Christ.

There are those who have not watched or read a single Harry Potter story or a single Star Wars movie. When they hear, "May the Force be with you," some only think, "And also with you." They don't get it. That's true with many things. There are those who have never been on a golf course, never went sailing, and never had children. Their understanding of these things is limited.

There are even those who haven't heard much about Jesus except how to curse using his name. They've never cracked open a Bible. They've never darkened the door of a church. They've never attended Sunday school. Now, put yourself into their world and you hear that this Jesus, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created ... in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell... — Colossians 1:15-16, 19

You would expect someone like Jesus to stand out. You would expect someone like this to have words of wisdom. You would expect someone in whom the fullness of God dwelt to take your breath away. What you don't expect is the Jesus of the New Testament who says ...Fortunate are those who are poor, Lucky are those who are hungry, Blessed are those who weep. If you are being persecuted, abused, beaten — rejoice. Don't hate your enemies, love them. Do good things for them. If they hit you on one cheek, turn and let them strike you on the other. If they demand your coat, give them your shirt also. — Also, you know that it is wrong to murder, but I tell you that even if you think angry thoughts about someone it is the same as murder. And you know that you should not commit adultery. But I tell you even looking at another person and having lustful fantasies, you are as guilty as the one who crawls into bed with him or her.

Can you hear these words for the first time? Remember, you don't know that these words are from Jesus. You have heard nothing about the Sermon on the Mount. Lucky are the poor. Rejoice that you are beaten. Love your enemies. You think there's nothing wrong with cursing someone under your breath? You think there's no harm in just looking? Think again, you murderer. Reconsider, you adulterer. Now, what is your reaction?

Philip Yancey in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, quotes a University professor who had her English comp class read these words from the Beatitudes from Jesus and asked them to write an essay. She expected them to have some basic biblical knowledge but soon found out they had very little. She grew up in a church with a picture of Jesus teaching these words on a small mountain overseeing a green hillside surrounded by eager pink children. She never heard these words with disgust or anger.

But her students wrote:

The stuff the churches preach is extremely strict and allows for almost no fun without thinking it is a sin or not.

The things asked in this sermon are absurd. To look at a woman is adultery. That is the most extreme, stupid, unhuman statement that I have ever heard.

There is an old saying that you shouldn't believe everything you read, and it applies in this case.

It never occurred to this professor that someone might call Jesus stupid. Yet what she heard from her students was a pure, unfiltered reaction to the words of Jesus that have not been spiritualized by the church. These words are offensive and when they were first uttered by Jesus, he didn't just puzzle the people, he infuriated them.

Friends, Paul was actually inviting the Greeks to accept the supremacy of Jesus and to abandon their reliance on the pantheon – the many Greek gods of their ancestors. He wanted them to take a new step – to fill in the gap in their knowledge of god by accepting Jesus. The gods of sun, and of war and of love the Greeks worshipped, according to Paul was really just the person of Jesus Christ.

Incredible! Unbelievable! Was Paul trying to tell the Greeks (and us), that this one god should be the one and ONLY god..? Is Jesus somehow supreme over other gods?

Tell me more…

Have you ever been inside any of the great cathedrals of Europe? Anyone who has will tell you that there’s a feeling of sacredness when you’re there. The ancient Celtic culture refers to this feeling as “thin space.”

Maybe there’s something important about having a feeling of sacredness that these spaces provide. Why is that? Why do we create "sacred space"? Further, why do we as Christians, who are not supposed to worship images out of gold or silver or stone, make images out of words – like the Apostles’ Creed that contains some of the most exalted language ever used about Jesus?

Friends, why do we need in our day and time to accept the supremacy of Jesus as Creator, Master and Counsellor? What is there about the Christian idea of lordship – of deity – of sacredness, that we need to make Jesus our own?

I suggest that we do it because we want to remember that it was God who came to us in Jesus, to be reconciled to him and to live in his love and grace and mercy forever. Because God came to us in Jesus, we believe that Jesus is God.

Here’s what Paul said to the Colossians in our reading today in the first Chapter: (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

That is what was behind Paul’s message to the Athenians in the first century.

And it still is today, because it doesn't say, because of Jesus you can know all about God. It says something very different. It says, because of Jesus you can know that God knows all about you. As Paul said to the Colossians, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created ... In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell...

Folks, these words of Jesus are not so much telling us what we should be like but what God is like. All of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, know how far short we fall from the glory of God. The chasm that separates us from God is huge and that at the last trumpet sound, when Christ the King will stand upon the earth, we all will stand on level ground before the throne of God — murderers, temper-throwers, adulterers, lusters, thieves, coveters – all of us desperate and in need of a king who is first a Saviour and has the supreme authority of a sovereign.

Jesus the Christ came to make self-absorbed, guilt-driven, dead people like us alive with the only words that make a difference, the only words that will drop us to our knees, the only words that matter when he returns — "Your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake."

That's not crazy talk. That is the very heart of Jesus' promise to return as the supreme King of kings and Lord of lords; so that we might know, believe, confess, and walk every day in the shadow of the cross and in the grace of God. AMEN

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