“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
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.
BABY JESUS STOLEN! That’s a headline sometimes seen this time of year about a Baby Jesus figurine taken from an outdoor nativity scene. Thieves are usually reported as leaving behind the figures of Mary, Joseph, angels and barnyard animals, while stealing Jesus.
In the Colossians Christ Hymn the apostle Paul takes on the false teachers at Colossae who have stolen Jesus. While paying lip service to Jesus, they preach a ‘Jesus Plus Gospel’. They say that it’s just fine for people to believe in Jesus, but that people need more than Jesus for life and salvation. They demote Jesus to be but one of many spirit emanations bridging the gap between the divine and earth. They promote angel worship along with ascetic practices such as abstinence from certain food and drink (Colossians 2:16-23). It’s an age-old paganism with marked affinity to new age spirituality. It is a dangerous and bogus gospel they are spreading. Paul wants readers to know that the true Gospel is Jesus, nothing more, nothing less!
Fast forward 2,000 years and we see some people making
“the Gospel about so many things other than Christ. Religious concepts, ideas, doctrines, strategies, methods, techniques and formulas have eclipsed the beauty, the glory, and the reality of the Lord Jesus Himself.” (Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus Manifesto)
Jesus is still being stolen today! More and more we see Jesus becoming politically incorrect, leaving people talking about holiday magic, positive self-image, social justice, and strategies for success. Like the Colossians many people are distracted from Jesus, “not holding fast to the head” (Colossians 2:19). And, a body without a head is a tragic spectacle! “Christianity minus Christ equals religion.” (Alan Hirsch, “Christianity Today: Church Leadership Interview” 1, 05, 2009)
Paul knows that a distracted church need simply return to who Jesus is and what Jesus has done: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” The fullness promised by false teachers is only experienced in Christ. Later, Paul reminds the Colossians of the fullness they already have in Jesus: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him” (Colossians 2:9).
It is important to look across 2,000 years of church history and see that every season of renewal and revival has followed a new embrace of who Jesus is and what He has done. Theologian H. Richard Niebuhr is reported to have said: “The great Christian revolutions came not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when someone takes radically something that was always there.” Paul reminds us of what was always there: Jesus is the fullness of God in a human body so that we are complete in Him and in Him alone.
Lesslie Newbigin was a theologian and church leader who returned to his homeland England after 40 years of ministry in India. After his return Newbigin wrote frequently about his grief for what he saw having happened in the church of his homeland. Newbigin observed people as having lost “proper confidence” in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, thinking they could replace it with “draughts and pingpong” and social programs. (See Lesslie Newbigin, Unfinished Agenda) Jesus had been stolen from them! They lost “proper confidence” in the life-changing, world-changing story of Jesus!
Fortunately for us, neither Paul nor the other apostles ever let false teachers steal Jesus from them. Paul can confidently begin his letter to the Colossians reminding them that the Gospel “is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world” (Colossians 1:6). That’s a proper confidence in the Gospel. It was the confidence we see in the shepherds that first Christmas, going forth with the good news, glorifying and praising God for what He had done in Christ Jesus. (See Luke 2:20) Jesus: nothing more, nothing less!
- What are ways in which churches might get distracted from Jesus, losing Newbigin’s ‘proper confidence’ in the Gospel?
- What is something you might do this year to prevent Jesus from being stolen from your Christmas?