Part 5 of 15
There was a show in the 90s called Sabrina the Teenage witch. I wasn't allowed to watch it when I was growing up since it dealt with witchcraft. Apparently, now there is an animated show, which I wouldn't allow my kids to watch. I'm keeping up the family tradition, I guess. As I was preparing for this chapter, I read the plotline of one of the episodes, and I thought it was good. In it, apparently, Sabrina wants to shrink her waistline to fit into a certain pair of paints. After trying a number of things, she discovers a shrinking spell. However, the shrinking spell backfires, and she winds up an inch tall. Remember this lesson, attempts to shrink always come with negative side effects.
This motif is not unique to Sabrina. As I looked for other examples in popular fiction, I discovered the phrase, “shrinking spell backfires” in a number of descriptions. The negative side effects of attempts at shrinking appear in magical fan fiction, children’s books, Marvel movies, a Pixar film, even video games. One of my favorite of all time is Honey I Shrunk The Kids. A wild-haired inventor makes a machine to shrink inanimate objects, but it accidentally shrinks his kids, as the title suggests. This causes all kinds of problems. If we were to trust popular fiction, we would probably recognize that an attempt to shrink something always backfires and brings about damaging side effects.
Did you know that since He arrived on earth, Jesus has suffered many attempts at shrinking, though not in the literal sense? The world is packed with people who have tried to shrink the super-sized Savior, though the attempt to shrink the Savior always backfires. We're going to take a look at a number of examples, though these are not fiction.
We’re going to look at some Christian spin-offs and some non-christian religions. Christian spin-offs are groups that claim Christ as a chief figure, but they have a very different view of who He is. Christian spin-offs include Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Unity School Of Christianity, Christian Science, and many others.
The rest of the religious groups we'll look at are essentially non-Christian, though they do have a few things to say about Jesus. We'll take a look at those first. They include Islam, Hinduism, Buddhist, and Bahá'í. As we examine each of these religious groups, we will be asking a straightforward question. This was precisely the question Jesus asked His disciples.
Jesus… asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27)
This is such a central question. What I want you to notice is how consistently all of these spin-offs and non-Christian religions answer it. Ultimately they are all attempting to shrink the Savior from His super-sized status.
If we asked someone of the Islamic faith, generally, a Muslim would say that Jesus was a prophet and miracle worker who was sent by God. They don't believe He was the Son of God, nor do they think that He was God. A traditional Muslim would deny Jesus' crucifixion. This attempt to shrink the Savior has backfired because it deters members from coming to Christ for salvation.
Generally, Buddhists are divided on the Jesus question. Some will say Jesus was an enlightened teacher; others would disagree. Officially Buddhists do not believe Jesus was God. One thing is sure. Their attempt to shrink the Savior has left Him out of their entire religious system.
The Hindus mostly agree that Jesus was an avatar of Vishnu, which would make Him a guru. However, they wouldn't agree that he's God or that He could die for sins and rise from the dead. Their attempt to shrink the Savior has kept them from understanding the origin of the Savior and the plan of His salvation.
Bahá'í World Faith teaches that there are many manifestations of God, and Jesus was just one of them. Each manifestation is greater and more revealing than the last. The latest, they claim, was the return of Jesus to earth in the form of Bahá'u'lláh, a Persian man who died in 1892. Their attempt to shrink the Savior has caused them to misunderstand Him completely.
What's interesting about each of the religions I've just mentioned is that they have an answer for Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29) Jesus is such an enormous figure in history and religious thought that there is hardly a world religion that exists that hasn't had to deal with the question. He's so big; there's one thing they can't do: completely ignore him. The only thing they can do is try to shrink Him to a small enough size that they can reject him.
Let's ask this question of some of the Christian spin-off groups. They claim to be Christians. They even use very familiar vocabulary. However, they answer Jesus' question with a slightly different shrinking attempt.
Members of the Unity School Of Christianity would say that Jesus wasn't Christ, but that He was a mere person who had the "Christ Consciousness." This is a perfected state of being that exists in every human. They believe Jesus lived multiple times, looking for salvation for himself. His sacrifice for sins, resurrection, and return are all denied by members of the Unity School Of Christianity. In their attempts to shrink him, they have twisted His message.
Those of the Christian Science faith do not identify Jesus as the Christ, but a man who displayed the "Christ idea." They claim that Jesus was not God because God can't take on flesh and blood. His suffering, sacrifice for sins, death on the cross, bodily resurrection, and return are all denied. Their try at shrinking Him leaves them without any eternal hope.
If you were to ask an average Jehovah's Witnesses, "who is Jesus?" they would indicate that Jesus is not God. JWs, as they often call themselves, believe that Jesus was the archangel, Michael, before He came to earth. Standard Kingdom Hall teaching has it that Jesus died on a stake, not a cross and that He resurrected only as a Spirit. They also believe that Jesus spiritually returned, albeit invisibly, in 1914 and is soon going to destroy non Jehovah's Witnesses. Their attempt to shrink the Savior has left them without any assurance of salvation and a very convoluted salvation message.
How would Mormons answer the Jesus question? Jesus, they say, is a god— but notice the little g. Heavenly Father (Elohim) is a different god from Jesus. In their teaching, Jesus was conceived by a sexual get-together between Mary and Heavenly Father. Their spirit child was Jesus, who is the older sibling of all people. They also claim that His death does not provide complete atonement for sins. In their attempt to elevate each person and shrink the Savior, they have lost a clear line of sight for salvation.
We notice this common trend among both the Christian spin-offs and the non-Christian religions. They all seem bent on reducing Jesus from His high status. They all want to crush the Christ. They want to shrink the Savior. I don’t want to speculate on the motives, but the method is an old and tediously tried one.
A few obvious problems arise from trying to shrink the Savior. Everyone that does it will lack assurance of the Gospel. They each have twisted the clear message of God's grace. This is because if you try to shrink the Savior, the only option left is to rely on yourself for salvation. If you shrink the Savior, you can only be saved by your own behavior. That is a daunting prospect.
Regardless of these attempts, Christ remains a super-sized Savior, as one’s assurance suffers. Trying to squeeze Him down to a tiny size shrivels one’s faith. Attempts to shrink the Savior backfire on anyone who tries.
If we were to ask Paul the same question we asked of these religious groups, how do you think he would respond? We don't have to guess because he answers that question unambiguously in the first chapter of Colossians. Let's take a look.
Let's imagine that we asked Paul, "Who do you say Jesus is?" Do you think he would make an attempt to shrink the Savior? Obviously, we know the answer to that, but let's take a look at what he has to say about Jesus, none the less. Paul begins his poetic description of Christ with these words:
He is the image of the invisible God… (Col 1:15)
Some will try to shrink the Savior by claiming he’s just another person who is created in the image of God. All people are created in the image of God. (Gen. 1:27) But does that mean that Jesus was created in the Image of God as well? The answer is emphatically, No. The Genesus verse says we are created IN the image of God. Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus IS the Image of the invisible God. We are crafted after His likeness, but Jesus is the real article. Jesus is the public face of the invisible Godhead.
I had an atheist friend who would say, "Why doesn't God just show up and prove He exists?” That is exactly what He did. He took on human flesh and came to earth to show Himself to us. This is very similar to a concept in John's gospel when he says:
No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. (John 1:18)
Jesus doesn't just deliver the revelation of God. He IS the revelation. Many of the Christian spin-offs shrink Jesus to the message boy, the mail deliverer of God. That's the wrong image. God didn't just send a message. He showed up in person. To see Jesus is to see God. Jesus is God. For those religions and Christian spin-offs who claim Jesus was a mere man, this verse poses a problem. One attempt to explain away Jesus' divinity is to point to the next half of the verse, which states:
He is …the firstborn over all creation. (Col 1:15)
They may try to brush aside Jesus’ divine nature by pointing out that He is firstborn of all creation. Their claim is that to be firstborn of all creation would mean that He must be a created thing. However, the verse doesn’t say firstborn of all creation. Instead, firstborn over all creation.
The emphasis is not that He was born or created. The emphasis is His premier status. In the ancient world, the firstborn had a leadership role to fulfill. The father of a household would often delegate authority to his firstborn. The oldest son would direct the family in the father's stead.
Jesus is like a firstborn in that He is in charge over all of God-The-Father's family affairs. This is not so different from John's statement that "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands." (John 3:35) The focus of this verse is not that Jesus was created but that He stands charge over all creation. Furthermore, Jesus can't be a created being because of what Paul says next.
For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible… all things have been created through him and for him. (Col 1:16)
When I was in Sunday school, we talked about creation a lot. I often got the impression that God the Father basically did all the work, as His son sat lazily by. After eons, I thought, His son finally got up from His golden chair and came to earth. I'm quite sure that the Savior-shrinkers would be comfortable with this image. However, that's not what this verse says.
Jesus is the creator. He created everything. This is exactly why Jesus cannot be a created being. The created thing cannot be his own creator. This has a resemblance to John's words when he said, "All things were created through him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created." (John 1:3)
This is about as clear as it could be. Jesus is the creator, who worked on behalf of God the Father. Suddenly we see why the trinity is so important a doctrine. Generally speaking, Gods, as the full triune entity, created everything. Though, if you want to be specific, it was The Son who was the active party.
There are Christian spin-offs and world religions that claim new revelation came through angels. The Jehovah's Witness claims that Jesus and the archangel Michael are one and the same. There are faith groups that put a lot of interest and authority on angelic entities. In Colossae, just as today, there were those who were claiming that Jesus should really be demoted to angel status. Even though angels are amazing, shrinking Jesus to that status is dangerous. Notice how Paul demolishes that concept in this verse.
For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities… (Col 1:16)
Even the angels and their positions of power and authority were created by Jesus. The entire hierarchy of power rests beneath His control. If a so-called angel delivers a message that is contradictory to Christ's message (as was the case with both Mormonism and Islam), then we are duty-bound to believe Jesus' testimony over an angel's. You can't shrink Jesus down to an angel.
One of the Christian spin-off groups claims that God the Father created Jesus, and then Jesus created everything else. Though, the shrinking act does not work because of what Paul says next:
He is before all things… (Col 1:17)
This is a profound statement and leaves no room for Jesus to be a created being. He existed before every created thing is true, but Paul seems to have a double meaning in mind with this phrase. He is not only preexistent but preeminent. He stands in front of (before) all things, in a similar way a general stands before his soldiers to lead them into battle. That's not all. In addition, the created things are still dependent upon him. Paul continues:
…and by him all things hold together. (Col 1:17)
The Universe is flying apart at an alarming rate. There is a mysterious energy in the cosmos that researchers have not yet come to understand. They can see it in the mathematics but can’t see it in their telescopes. There is some power that holds back the universal expansion from going faster than it does. Is that force Christ’s active intervention? I don’t know. I’m truly not sure how Paul means this phrase.
All the commentators in the world, regardless of their confidence level, couldn't explain in any exacting measure how Christ does this. In what way does Jesus, as part of the trinity, hold all things together? It's one of those divine mysteries, but one that fills me with awe. Regardless of what it means, it's one of the greatest statements to show how BIG the Savior really is. If you could successfully shrink him, apparently, all things would fall apart. Be careful with that shrinking machine. Notice what Paul says next:
He is also 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. (Col 1:18)
I love the phrase Paul uses here. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He was the resurrection pioneer. He engineered the process that we all will someday experience. Not only is He the trailblazer, the first to resurrect, but he’s also the head of His Spiritual body, which is the church.
Most of the Christian spin-offs attempt to shrink Jesus in order to install a different head of the church. Whether it's Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddie, or a council of so-called prophets, the attempt is clear. Jesus will not be a shrunken head. He heads the church even now.
Paul develops this idea in one of his letters to his friends in Corinth when he said, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27) Each believer has a role to play. You may be a hand, a foot, an eye, or an ear, but you are part of the body of Christ, which is the church. Under Christ’s preeminent leadership, we all operate.
Virtually all of the twisted religions and Christian spin-offs agree on this one thing: Jesus is not God. They hold to this with their entire constitution. With clever-sounding words, they shrink Him to something less. It may be by changing the uppercase G or denying His divinity outright. Let's see what Paul has to say about that. He continues:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, (Col 1:19)
Paul is going to strengthen this statement even more in the next chapter of his letter when he repeats the concept. There he says:
For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ. (Col 2:9)
This is why we say that Jesus is fully God and fully a man. Most of the twisted religions deny this. This denial seems to descend from the ancient gnostic idea that flesh is bad, and Spirit is good. Therefore they can't exist harmoniously. It seems to me that most of the twisted religions resist the idea that God could fully dwell in human flesh because they think of flesh as a kind of opposite to the nature of God.
It would be impossible for something to be both completely water and completely fire because one nullifies the other. However, I don't see any reason that has to be the case with Jesus' human and divine nature. A blueberry can be fully blue and fully sweet. That's because it's color doesn't nullify its flavor. They are both aspects that can coexist in the same fruit. To use a blueberry to explain the hypostatic union may seem trite, but I only bring it up to explain that a thing can have multiple natures that do not nullify each other.
What a surprise it is, for some, to find that the nature of God is not mutually exclusive with human flesh. Why should it be, though, since He created flesh? Isn't it possible that from all eternity past, He knew He would someday inhabit a human body? Why couldn't He design and create it in such a way as to be inhabitable by the fullness of His deity? After all, He created bodies to be united with human spirits. Why couldn't He design the body so that it can be the embodiment of His own divinity?
Because He is fully human, we were able to relate to him. Because He is fully God, He is fully able to save. This is what Paul ends this poetic passage on:
…and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:20)
I've spent a number of hours with Mormon missionaries on various occasions. One of the things they told me was, "Jesus paid a price that was too big for us to pay, but now we owe Him a smaller debt." The Mormons are not alone in doubting the fullness of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Of the Christian spin-offs that agree that Christ died, none see Jesus' death as quite enough to cover sins. Christ's inadequate payment leaves us digging in our pockets for loose change, according to them. They all add behavioral obedience to the equation to fill the gaps left in Jesus' ransom.
Notice Paul’s powerful words, though. He says that He reconciles, “Everything… whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Col. 1:20) It’s not a partial reconciliation. His blood covers it all.
After explaining all this, only a few verses later, Paul says that we need to do something about all this:
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. (Col. 1:23 NLT)
His instructions are simple, but apparently, they are not easy. The sheer number of twisted religions and Christian spin-offs reminds us how easy it must be to wander from the truth. Our instructions continue to stand. Stand continuously in the truth of who Jesus is.
Don’t try to shrink the Savior. You need a super-sized Christ. For the Gospel to be good news, Jesus must be exactly who He claimed to be. If Jesus' status is reduced, His ability is reduced. If Jesus' ability is reduced, then He is a weakened Savior, or possibly no Savior at all. We need to have a high view of Jesus to keep hold of that assurance. We need to keep hold of our assurance in order to grow in Him. To remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, we must view Christ for who He really is. Don’t shrink the Savior. It always backfires.