I serve twice a month at my church in what would traditionally be called “Sunday School” (we call it “HarvestKids“). Typically, I teach 3rd grade. I love it. Children are amazing. They are so simple and trusting and full of life (and energy … especially boys)! It shows me who I am in God’s eyes when I see kids being kids. And it’s instructive to my faith to be continually required to reconstitute a Biblical message or some point of theology into terms a 10-year old can — at least at some level — relate to and internalize. Like I said, I love it.
I don’t know if you went to Sunday School as a kid, but I did. It didn’t mean as much to me at the time as I wish it had, but I was pretty much there every Sunday. One thing I remember from my own experience as a child, and which is certainly true with the kids I teach today, is that children tend to give what I call “Sunday School answers” to the questions adults ask. You could probably walk into a classroom full of kids on Sunday morning pretty much anywhere in America, ask almost any question, and a large portion of the room would blurt out without hesitation, “God!” or “Jesus!” or some other pat answer they have learned will move the conversation along.
Adult: Who created the universe?
Third grader: Jesus!
Adult: Who died on the cross to pay for your rebellion and reconcile you to God?
Third grader: Jesus!Adult: Who made the pastrami on rye I had for lunch on Tuesday?
Third grader: Jesus!
It’s predictable, occasionally really funny, and sometimes frustrating. But we tend to laugh, roll our eyes, maybe ask the question again and persist in getting a “real answer”, and go on about our days. So this might sound like a bit of overthinking at first blush, but let me ask, “How bad [or good] are their Sunday School answers really?”
What if the kids know more than than we think they do? What if “Jesus” might actually be the answer to all of life’s important questions?
Who is God? What is He like?
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God. In Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. (Colossians 1:15, 19)
Jesus is God. In a way we cannot possibly fully understand, the almighty God of Angel Armies became a man just like you or me (fully a man, not partially), but lost none of His God-ness in the process. He is therefore the only bridge between our world and God’s — way to see the transcendent, invisible God. The man Jesus is God’s perfect self-expression. “No one has ever seen God; [Jesus], the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.” (John 1:18)
If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
Where did the universe come from?
For by [Jesus] 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 He is before all things. (Colossians 1:16-17)
Jesus is the Agent of creation. The Bible says that God spoke, and the universe came into being (Psalm 33:9). Jesus, the eternal second person of the Trinity, is God’s Word (John 1:1). Like a fire is the agent of creation of heat and light, so Jesus is God’s means by which the universe is created and sustained. Mystical, mind-warping stuff, but none the less true. Don’t take the analogy too far, of course, because there was no source material for God’s “fire of creation”. God, in Christ, created all things simply from His mind and will. The Latin term is “ex nihilo,” which means “out of [absolutely] nothing.”
So, whether you’re talking about the angels in heaven or jaguars in Africa, ostrich ferns, remote galaxies, or mitochondria, it was created by God the Father through Jesus the Son as His agent (or means). If you can see it … made by Jesus. If you can’t see it — solar radiation, quark pairs, human feelings, physical hunger, or changing weather patterns … made by Jesus. All power of any kind … not just the flow of electrons in a copper wire but the flow of human, angelic and even demonic power in history … whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities … even the political official you’d be tempted to say is worthless … made by Jesus … put in power by Jesus … given their authority by Jesus.
ALL things were created by Him.
How does the universe work?
Because of Jesus.
In [Jesus] all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)
Do you remember your high school chemistry? The basic structure of an atom? There are protons (positive charge) and neutrons (no charge at all), packed together into a dense little clump (the nucleus) at the core of every particle of matter (atoms) in the universe. Then tiny little electrons (negative charge) race around the outside of the atom so fast and so small we can only talk about their probable location in a “shell”. If a football stadium were an atom, the nucleus would be the football at the center of the 50 yard line, and the electrons would be like supersonic gnats orbiting the outside of the stadium. Got the picture?
So, let me ask, why doesn’t the nucleus of the atom explode? If I got a bag, and dumped in 79 positively charged high-powered magnets and 118 wooden ball bearings, each about the same size but carrying no magnetic charge, then I’d have an extremely large representation of the nucleus of an atom of gold (atomic symbol “Au”), which has 79 protons and 118 neutrons. If I then wanted to compact this large bag of ball bearings down to the size of our proverbial football (with no space between the individual ball bearings), put it in the middle of the stadium, and commissioned 79 supersonic gnats to orbit it (not sure where I got those, but they represent the 79 electrons in the atom), then we’ve arrived at a rough, large-scale approximation of a gold atom.
But out here in macro world, I can’t even get two positively charged magnets to compress together. They resist it, pushing away from each other. In order to keep 79 positive charges packed into a dense little ball from exploding, I’d have to exert constant pressure to hold them in place. A lot of it. Physics calls this constantly-exerted pressure “strong nuclear forces“. It is one of the observed-and-labeled-but-unexplained forces (along with gravity, and a few others) which forms the very fabric of the universe and holds it together.
I submit to you that Colossians 1 does what all of chemistry and physics has never been able to do: it explains that God Himself holds the nucleus of every atom (therefore the entire fabric of all matter) together in the palm of His hand. If, even for an instant, God were to withdraw this powerful sustaining force, all matter in the universe would instantly fly apart in an explosion of released energy we couldn’t even imagine.
I’m no physicist, and I’m sure others could tackle this and many other topics much more thoroughly and knowledgeably than I can. But the main point would be the same… God stands behind the universe, and science has not and will not explain Him away. I’m certainly not saying science is non-valuable. Nor am I saying we can just ignore science, continue in ignorance, and assume that everything we can’t explain must be Jesus. Nor am I saying that we use God to fill in the (ever-shrinking) gaps left by our (ever-expanding) understanding of the universe. What I am saying is that science works because of Jesus. His eternal, unchanging consistency is what creates the laws that we study, identify, and label as “science”. We can observe and categorize forces in the atom precisely because God is unchanging and unfickle and utterly consistent in how he designed, build, and sustains atoms. Not to mention the fact that our creative urges and desire to study atoms in the first place also comes from our being made in the Image of God — but let’s leave that for another day.
Why am I here?
[Jesus is] the firstborn of all creation…. All things were created … for Him. (Colossians 1:15-16)
If Jesus is the answer to our physical universe questions, then He is certainly the answer to our metaphysical universe questions. I don’t know about you, but I love that the Bible makes it unambiguously clear that we were put on this earth and given our lives FOR Jesus. All those solar rays and funky ferns we mentioned above. They too were made for Jesus. Strong nuclear forces in the atom … made for Jesus. Distant galaxies … made for Jesus. Beautiful sunrises … made for Jesus. My heart and will and hands and eyes, used to love and serve, to study (atoms and galaxies) and behold (ferns and sunrises). Everything was made by God through His Son and for His Son. He created the universe and gave us life arbitrarily — no external pressure compelled Him or need drove Him — for His own good pleasure. We exist for Him.
And that really should change the way we live, shouldn’t it? Are you working for your bills or your comfort or your family’s comfort, or are you working for Jesus? All the “why’s” behind your job are about Him, not you. Do we really live that way? Is our money for Him or for ourselves? When we earn it, do we earn it for him? When we spend it? What about your friendships? Your possessions? Your hobbies? Your thoughts? Your feelings? Your secrets?
The reality is that, in a vacuum, it is right and good to earn money or buy toys or go on vacations or pick up a hobby or invest in a relationship. God created all these things, and much more, for our enjoyment, and for His glory (which means for the display of His greatness — so, ultimately, for Him). But that presumes that we are actively walking with God in making the choices of life. If we have the ears to hear, then He will say to one to earn a dollar and to the other to live without that same dollar … He instructs one to take the promotion and the other to walk away … to the one to buy and to the other to sell. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and God our Father desires and delights to personally direct each of us as to what time it is for us at any given moment. But that requires more than just a few minutes in Scripture a few times a week. It even requires more than “including Him” in our decisions. It requires treating God as the absolute monarch of our hearts and lives, to discipline ourselves to listen to His voice even in the face of the frenetic clamor of 21st century North American life, and to do what He says.
If we learn to walk that way, in a posture of listening, then the purposes of our individual lives will become far more clear, and we will find out how God meant our lives to be…
How do I find real life?
[Jesus] is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent… Through Him [God was pleased] to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross of Christ. (Colossians 1:18-20)
First, God created us for community. To know God is to be in fellowship with His people, a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9), the members of one body (Romans 12:4-5), indeed one just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). So, whatever you’re doing in life, you don’t have to do it alone. Seek out those who will point you to God and help you live in wisdom and grace. And we look to Jesus as the perfect Leader of that community. Real life (that for which you were designed and redeemed by God) is found a) together and b) under the kingship of Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus came to earth, lived the life we were supposed to live, died the death we deserved to die, and was raised from the dead in victory and glory to show us what our lives are going to be like someday. As “the firstborn from the dead,” He is both our qualification for eternal life and the prototype of what it will be like. So, if you want to see what life is supposed to be like, look to Jesus.
Third, real life is about reconciliation — both with God and with others. God’s wrath toward sin is turned away by the cross of Christ, and He rushes to embrace rather than condemn us. God reconciles us to Himself, and in so doing, He reconciles us to one another. So, the blood of the cross means peace, both with God and with people. That is real life.
Run to Jesus.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven. (Colossians 1:21-23)
If Jesus is not your King, then you have declared yourself to be God, and are by definition an alien and stranger in God’s kingdom. You are either a child of God or an enemy of God. There is no middle ground.
But you do not have to be God’s enemy. You don’t have to be trapped by your evil deeds. It is now possible for ordinary people like you and me to live in the presence and under the authority of the God of the universe! Those who have submitted to God’s rightful kingship, He has now reconciled to Himself in the death of Jesus, in order that we might live the life of Jesus — holy, blameless, and above reproach before Him. In all its amazing glory, this life is available to all people everywhere, but so few appropriate it for themselves. Instead, people love darkness more than light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). But if you want it — life in all its fullness; peace; freedom; eternal life under God’s loving rule and authority — it’s already been bought and paid for, for you. But you must lay down your supposed godhood, run to Jesus and ask for it. Not with empty words, but with your heart and life.
Back to Sunday School
Obviously, when a ten year old blurts out “Jesus!” to half the questions asked in Sunday School, they are not likely doing so out of a recent critical exposition of Colossians 1. More likely, they think their answer will win them the teacher’s favor and get them out of the spotlight. But there’s a reason we adult Christ-followers talk so much about Jesus that our kids think it’s the answer to everything. And I would argue that there’s a definite sense in which He really is.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Jesus, in Revelation 22:13)
For all the promises of God find their “yes” in Jesus. That is why it is through Him that we proclaim, “So we agree!”, so that we bring God glory for all that He’s done in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:20, author’s translation)
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