(Read Colossians 1:15-20 and Luke 23:33-43)
There are those atheists and religious nay-sayers that say to we who believe, “You are not created in the image of God. It is God who is created in your image.” They claim that humanity made God up. To declare such a statement suggests that these people have never had an experience of the divine or the sacred. Or that they lack religious education and understanding. They tend to want proof of God’s existence like a scientist might prove the sun exists. All a scientist has to do is point to the bright light coming from the sun or tell the person to close their eyes and feel the sun’s warmth to prove it exists. But if you or I point to a bird or a mountain or a baby or if we ask the person to close their eyes and dwell in the present moment feeling life itself coursing through their veins, they still may not be convinced that God exists. You need spiritual eyes to see the spiritual world, and some people do not have or do not use their spiritual eyes.
I love people, and I believe in our goodness and potential, but if I came up with the concept of who God is based on who we are, God would be very limited indeed. Instead of making bold proclamations such as, “God is steadfast and faithful,” I would have to bashfully say, “God can be faithful, but God can also be fickle and unpredictable.” Instead of gratefully announcing to all, “God is one who accepts, forgives and redeems,” I would have to shamefully say, “God forgives sometimes, but at other times, God is judgmental and holds grudges.” Instead of affectionately declaring, “God is my companion and closest friend,” I would have to disappointedly say, “God can be really nice and comforting, but then God can get caught up in his own affairs and just sort of disappear for awhile.” If we really created God after our own imperfect image, we would have a very different understanding of who God is and what God is like.
The truth is, as Christians, we know who God is and what God is like primarily through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Son of God because “he points beyond himself to God- [revealing] God’s character and passion.” As Colossians says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1: 15, 19).
It is true that we can learn about God’s nature through the changing of seasons, the flow of a river, the honorable qualities in human beings, the unfolding of events in the world, but nothing accurately reveals God to us as does his beloved Son.
Today, I’d like to suggest three characteristics that we know about the Almighty, the Holy of Holies, the Creator of heaven and earth, because of Jesus Christ, (although Jesus reveals much more than three characteristics). First, Jesus reveals that God is faithful and steadfast. Second, Jesus reveals that God is one who accepts, forgives and redeems. And third, Jesus reveals that God is personal and intimate in relationship with us.
First, God is faithful and steadfast. Or in other words, God is consistent, devoted and trustworthy. Jesus himself was faithful to God. Throughout his life, he always believed in Abba, his Father, and he always sought to be in accordance with God’s will. Jesus was also faithful to his disciples. He never abandoned them, not when they were in the boat afraid they were going to drowned, not even on his last night when they betrayed and denied him. And Jesus was also faithful in his ministry of healing and teaching. He never denied anyone who came to him for help. It didn’t matter if you were a sinner or a centurion, if you were an ancestor of Israel or an adulterer. If you were in need, Jesus helped you.
The same is true today. God doesn’t disappear on us. God doesn’t change the rules on us. It’s not as if one day God loves us and the next day God abandons us. Our God loves us all the time and is always here for us no matter what. This fact should give you great comfort. Especially when you are doubting yourself, know that God does not doubt you and that God will not leave you.
We know this because of Christ Jesus.
Second, God is one who accepts us, forgives us, and redeems us. I love the stories in the Bible of Jesus being merciful, accepting and compassionate to those most people would judge and reject, such as the Samaritan woman at the well who has had several husbands or the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery. All the drunkards, thieves, lepers and various other kinds of sinners found in Jesus someone who believed in their innate goodness. Even though their speech and behavior were not always respectable, even though they acted immorally and made mistakes, Jesus knew it was because they were weak and broken that they made poor choices. He understood them and wanted to help them live a redeemed life.
While Jesus was being crucified, a thief on a tree next to him, whose cohort was mocking him, said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus didn’t scold the thief because he had been a bad person. He didn’t tell him he was unworthy of being remembered. What Jesus said to his request was, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Our God is the God of second chances. Think about your own life recently. Do you feel guilty or ashamed about something you have said or done, or something you should have said or done but have not? God still loves you. God isn’t giving up on you. God wants you to come clean, to confess, repent and be changed. In fact, God is reaching out to you to help you, to empower you so that you might be transformed, so that you might be made new.
And we know this because of Jesus Christ. As it is written: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
Third, and last for today, God is a personal God, your Father, your Mother, your Friend. God is not out there, far off in the clouds, in space, who checks in with us on occasion. God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and became one of us, a human being, so that God could understand us, and we would have a shared common existence. God remains here with us now and is in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our God listens to our cries and carries us through this awesome, but daunting experience that we call life.
And we know this because of Jesus.
Perhaps you are going through a difficult time these days. Listen to this popular 20th century poem, which in a heart-felt way describes just who our God is.
One night I had a dream--
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord
and across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints,
one belonged to me and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you would walk with me all the way,
but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints.
"I don't understand why in times when I needed you most,
you should leave me."
The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."
There would be no devotional poem of this sort without Jesus. Nor would there be all the beautiful hymns that express how faithful God is, how forgiving God is, and what a good friend God is without Jesus.
“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.”
Or “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me. In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me. When I’ve done the best I can, and my friends misunderstand, though who knowest all about me, stand by me.”
Or “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.”
There is no end to the hymns that proclaim God’s faithfulness, forgiveness and friendship. But since we can’t be here all day, let us conclude this sermon by proclaiming together just how good and loving God is by singing in one voice the great classic, In the Garden.