“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
He is the image of the invisible God…
It is obvious in reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians that Christ fills his thoughts. In just the first 29 verses of chapter 1 Paul mentions “Christ” 30 times. Though under house arrest awaiting trial before Caesar Nero, he is caught up with who Christ is and what He has done.
It is difficult for today’s reader to feel the force of Paul’s words declaring a crucified Galilean “the image of the invisible God…”. These are just the kind of words that could get people crucified or thrown to wild beasts in the arena. These are dangerous words because everyone in Rome or Colossae knows who is the image of God: it’s Caesar. It’s written on their coins and inscribed on their buildings. Titles, such as the Image of God, Son of God, King of Kings, Prince of Peace, and Lord of All, are to be ascribed to Rome’s imperial savior, and not a newborn peasant baby in a manger. After all, at the time Paul writes Colossians,
“Caesar is the one worshipped as savior of the whole world, for he has brought peace and prosperity to the whole of his kingdom by the might of his arm and the blessing of the gods on his rule.” (Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, Bryan Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat)
Fragments of a calendar inscription from 9 B. C. use the word “gospel” (Greek: euangellion) for the “good news” of Caesar’s birth. This is the very word (euangellion) Luke uses in his gospel for Jesus’ birth. These calendar fragments, coming from a town near Colossae, decree the start of a new calendar system based on the birth of Caesar:
“The most divine Caesar…we should consider equal to the beginning of all things…for when everything was falling into disorder, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aspect; Caesar….the common good Fortune of all…The Beginning of life and vitality…All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year.” (Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament)
Evidence now available through archeology shows there was “an elaborate society-wide festival celebrating the birth of the Savior of the world, only that Savior was not Christ but Caesar.” (“The Gospel of the Savior’s Birth, Christmas Unwrapped: Consumerism, Christ and Culture”, Richard Horsley) Caesar was worshipped as divine and his birthday celebrated as the beginning of a new era for the entire world. Needless to say, participation in the festival of Caesar’s birth was not voluntary! But Paul, and others like him, dare to challenge the imperial propaganda!
We live in a cultural context different from that of the Colossian Christians, and yet, don’t we face pressures to downplay the Reason for the Season and to keep our love for Jesus to ourselves! These are days to joyfully celebrate and share the good news that the Babe of Bethlehem is “the image of the invisible God.” Amidst a hurting culture not knowing what to believe, we get to say that Jesus is the revelation of God’s love for us poured out through a manger and a cross. If you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus who was, and is, and ever shall be!
- What are some ways Jesus answers the question, “What is God like?”
- Paul and the Colossian Christians faced the power of an empire. What doyou face this Christmas that might chill or intimidate your witness toChrist?