Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1338
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus February 18, 2018 Psalm 147:1-20
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.) Colossians 1:15-20
"The Fullness of God"
Who is This God?
In the last 8 months or so I have been transferring all my notes and highlights from one study Bible to another one. This is something I have done through about four Bibles thus far and it takes a very long time. But it also gives me the opportunity to review lots and lots of passages and see once again the interaction between texts all though the Bible. For about a month I’ve been working my way through Ezekiel and I kept having to get my dark green pencil out to mark one phrase over and over, “and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Twenty three times this phrase comes up and it is primarily describing the things God has done that will show Israel who this God is. God is revealed through His actions and sometimes, in Ezekiel, through His response to what Israel has or has not done.
I want us to consider our knowledge and understanding of the question, who is this God? If we think in terms of what to call the knowledge of God, what word might we use? Concept of God? Image, idea, metaphor, most if not all of these words are inadequate to consider. Actually it takes a lot of concepts, images, ideas, metaphors, and lots of words. And yet, we still cannot capture God. We cannot put God in our box of ideas and notes. There is a book titled Your God is Too Small that noted many various ways we think about who God is and one thing the title itself implies is that no one idea or concept or metaphor is enough. God is bigger than our thoughts and images. Psalm 139.6 speaks of the knowledge of God is too wonderful for us. Isaiah 55.8-9 we read that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways not our ways, and His thoughts are way beyond us. We call this God the transcendent God. This is God above the fray. This is the holy, majestic, glorious, revered, feared, and almighty God.
This is the God too vast to fathom and yet there is another side to this God, what we call the immanence of God. This too is a difficult concept for us to grasp precisely because the transcendent God came into the world as the immanent God in the Person of Jesus Christ. God is too intimate to imagine and certainly yet too intimate to ignore. I’ve changed terms on you, immanence to intimate. And I will us vastness for transcendent. God is vast beyond compare and yet intimate beyond our dreams. One of the phrases the apostle Paul uses is in 1 Corinthians 2.16, “’For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” On the one hand the Lord’s thoughts are way beyond our comprehension but on the other hand we have the mind of Christ. Vast and yet an intimacy that brings those thoughts closer together.
There are some dangers in how we might think about God. The God we understand as vast beyond measure is too easily dismissed and can become depersonalized or abstract, and when that happens God is likely to become irrelevant to us. This is what has happened, in large part, to our society. But on the other side of that the God personalized can lose something of the awe and reverence, the majesty and grandeur as well as the threat and judgment and fear. And so we will then take God for granted or worse think that we have some measure of control with God – which we do not. Even the intimate God we know in Jesus Christ is both within our comprehension and outside our comprehension. By that I mean that Jesus Christ makes God more knowable and yet not completely knowable. The old mystics used to say that we cannot fully know God with our mind but we can fully love God with our heart. I think that loving God fully with our heart is a kind of knowing but it goes beyond our mental capacities. I think of it this way, knowing God by loving God gives us a sense of who God is that moves way beyond our ability to describe it. Maybe we should hear that once more...knowing God by loving God gives us a sense of who God is that moves way beyond our ability to describe it. We just know.
The Vastness of God
Let’s look at the two aspects of God, first the vastness. This includes all those great terms of glory, might, reverence, fear, awe. Power, majesty, transcendent, and so forth. Check out 1 Chronicles 29.11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. This is a big God!
The text I chose for us to consider is Psalm 147, read earlier. It begins with praise because this one of the proper responses to the vastness of God, praise the Lord! Why? Verse 1, a song of praise is fitting. Then the Psalm goes about telling us multiple examples of why God is awesome and vast beyond measure.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.
We notice the end of verse five, His understanding is beyond measure. How can we measure a God who has named the stars? We think when we look through our telescopes that we have done something great in naming a new found star. Already done!
Verse after verse after verse proclaims what God has done and does. (Emphasizing “He”)
8 He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Then verse 12 cannot contain the praise, praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Why?
13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
14 He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.
15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules.
Praise the Lord!
What I want us to see is that this is the vast God beyond our comprehension and so the Psalmists and the writers of the Bible give us hundreds of examples of what God has done, is doing, and will do. The Bible gives us metaphor after metaphor, none of which are adequate alone, but all of them give us an inkling of a hint to this vast God.
The Intimacy of God
I’ve chosen Colossians 1.15-20 to start our look into the intimacy of God. This is because Jesus Christ is our fullest expression and manifestation of who God is...look at the way Paul speaks of Jesus,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him 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 for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Two phrases in particular are of interest to this intimacy. He is the image of the invisible God and in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. He is the image, that may be something like our being made in the image of God, that is, Jesus was a human being. Jesus reflected in His person the same image of God in which we were created. But Jesus was much much more than that, for he was without sin, unlike us, not plagued with the inheritance of original sin and total depravity. So the second phrase, in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, made it possible, somehow, for the vast God to come in the intimate Son. Wow, that is too wonderful for us! The best we have been able to understand in this is something like the way the church has wrestled with the understanding of Jesus as both fully God and fully human.
We also must mention under this intimacy issue the text from Philippians 2.5-11,
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We actually see both the intimacy of Jesus who emptied Himself in the likeness of men and the vastness that He was exalted to in the name that is above every name. I think that points once again to the understanding that we don’t have full or complete knowledge even of the one who came to be more known. Even still, this God who is intimate among us is as vast as we can imagine, or not imagine. This intimate God is the One who makes our lives possible and who makes our love possible and who makes our faith possible, because Jesus is the One who showed us life, love, and faith. Yes, God told us all these things in His majesty and Jesus told and demonstrated it even further for us in His life.
The Fullness of God
What makes God’s fullness full? It is both the vastness and the intimate. It is the above all and the down to earth. It is the transcendent and the immanence. It is that which is beyond us and like us, or us like God. For clarity now, when I say fullness I mean both these understandings of God, vast and intimate. In His fullness He is full of steadfast love. This is clearly stated in both Testaments. In His fullness He is Holy. In His fullness He is filled with personality, that is, all kinds of attributes from kindness to anger. In His fullness He shows mercy, but He also convicts sin. He is offensive to many and yet ready to receive all. He is a shepherd in Psalm 23 and John 10. We could go on and on with all that the Bible has to say in this. This is why the Bible is the revelation of who God is, for it seeks to open something of the fullness of God to us and yet we are unable to comprehend fully because of our limited finite being.
But hey, this is a start! Now, I want to challenge us with one more text that may be quite intimidating. It is a prayer that I encourage everyone to use for themselves and for others from Ephesians 3:14-19,
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Two very powerful images here: to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and to be filled with the fullness of God! You see, the love of Jesus, the love of God goes way beyond our ability to know fully and yet it is the most intimate expression of God toward us. But that last phrase, to be filled with the fullness of God. Look back to Colossians and we see that same expression used with Jesus. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Now, of us that may mean a lot of things, one in particular is that the fullness of God what dwells within us is the One we have not yet mentioned, the Holy Spirit. Paul says that in Ephesians 3.16, through His Spirit. It is in the Holy Spirit that we are capable of knowing and understanding something of both the vastness and the intimacy of God, both of which surpass knowledge, but that is exactly what it means to be filled with the fullness of God.
How to get all this in our heads is impossible. What we do is pursue it both in our minds and in our hearts and let God open us to His fullness as He wills and as we are ready to receive. It reminds me of the old joke about the air traffic controller who directed two planes for landing, “flight 222 come east to west on runway 1, flight 444 come west to east on runway 1”. Of course both pilots radioed in, “you’re going to crash us!” She responded, “Ya’ll be careful now, ya hear!” Perhaps that is our best route to knowing and understanding this God, our God, “Ya’ll be careful now, ya hear!”