Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)
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.
Dear Friends in Christ,
As best as I can remember, it started back when our daughter, Kim, was in her 1st or 2nd year of high school and she, who loves the Christmas season more than just about anyone I know, decided she’d had enough of fake Christmas trees. Though I always thought the 7-foot artificial tree that we purchased the first year we were here in Salem was more than adequate and quite beautiful when decorated for the holiday season, she felt we needed more. She felt we needed the real thing. So that year we began what I had a feeling was going to become a family tradition, one of those special things that father and daughter could do together each year. She and I went to a Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect tree. Once we found it, we hauled it home, set it up, and then decorated it. And I must say, it really was splendidly beautiful – that is, until we discovered a nest of hundreds of baby spiders in it which I promptly sprayed with insecticide, which in turn pretty well overshadowed the nice fresh scent of pine that a live Christmas tree is supposed to bring to a home.
Amazingly, that did not deter Kim, even though she absolutely hates spiders. So for the next few years off we went in search of another perfect Christmas tree. And we had other less than pleasant experiences with them, like the one that had such a large base on it that it wouldn’t fit in our tree stand so I had to take off all the bark and several inches more, thus rendering it incapable of taking in water and causing it to attain a very brittle state by the time Christmas finally arrived. And then there was the first tree that we put up in our brand new home that toppled over in the middle of the night, spilling water onto our new carpet and forcing us out of our bed to re-decorate it at 2:00 o’clock in the morning.
When Kim moved out of the house, Marilyn and I moved away from having a live Christmas tree in our home, but we still try to make the 9 foot artificial one we have into the perfect tree, as I’m sure all of you do as well with yours. But you know what? Even if it doesn’t attain that status of perfection, that’s ok because there is always another perfect Christmas tree that we can fall back on and that is God’s perfect tree. Did you know that God has a perfect Christmas tree? Now if we limit our understanding of a Christmas tree to that which we put in a stand and decorate with lights and ornaments, we’re going to miss God’s tree. But if we expand our understanding of the Christmas tree to be a place where you put your most precious gift and that you decorate with your greatest acts of love and kindness, then oh does God ever have the perfect tree for you.
Care to guess what that tree might be? It’s not that difficult. God’s perfect Christmas tree is the cross. Did you know that the New Testament often refers to the cross as a tree? In Acts 5:30, for example, Peter says to the members of the Jewish Council: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” Elsewhere, in Gal. 3:13 the Apostle Paul writes: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” The cross, then, is God’s Christmas tree for the cross serves as a powerful reminder to us of why Jesus was born some 2000 years ago. He was born so that he might die, that just as his mother Mary lovingly and tenderly placed him upon the wood of the manger that first Christmas night, so also 33 years later his enemies would harshly and cruelly place him upon the wood of the cross – all so that he could suffer and die as the supreme sacrifice and payment for the sins of all mankind. So my question for you this morning is, have you made room in your heart for God’s perfect tree this Christmas season? Have you made room in your home for God’s perfect tree?
As we ponder those questions today, let’s spend some time taking a look at God’s perfect Christmas tree in the light of our text. We first of all look at the top of God’s tree. As we do so, I’m going to conduct an informal poll right now to see what all of you place on the top of your Christmas trees. How many of you put a bow on the top of your tree? How about an angel? And lastly, how about a star? I would have to say that the star is probably the most common tree topper of all time. And I would submit to you this morning that that’s exactly what God placed on his tree, a star that is identified for us in Rev. 22:16 where Jesus says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am…the bright Morning Star.”
So Jesus is the brightest and most glorious that heaven had to offer, the One who outshines all others. And that’s kind of how we use the term “star” today, isn’t it? We often times use it to refer to a person who has attained a certain stand-out status in their chosen profession or career. For example, Steph Curry and LeBron James are recognized as stars in the world of basketball. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has definitely achieved star status on the football field, especially in light of his 6 Super Bowl Championships. My favorite tennis player, Roger Federer, is often times referred to as the GOAT in the world of tennis. That’s an acronym for Greatest of All Time. And of course Hollywood boasts a vast array of stars that are paid millions and millions of dollars to play the lead roles in movies that Americans will hopefully flock to the theaters to see.
Well, according to our text Jesus had attained star status in heaven. Using other translations of the Bible, here are some of the terms that are used to describe him in Col. 1. He’s called “supreme over all creation,” “the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth,” the one who “holds all creation together.” It goes on to say that he is “the head of the church…the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything.”
So Jesus was the star of heaven – the brightest, the greatest, the most glorious. And it was this star that God the Father chose to hang on his perfect Christmas tree, the cross. But there’s more. Not only was Jesus the brightest star heaven had to offer, he was also the very best. If your family is anything like ours, then over the years you’ve accumulated lots of Christmas ornaments that you can place on your tree. And so every year when we get out our decorations, Marilyn will usually go through them and pull out the best of them because some of them are not in the greatest of shape anymore.
Well, when the time came for God to decorate his tree, he placed on that tree not just something good, not just something admirable, but the absolute and very best heaven had to offer. Listen to what our text tells us about Jesus: “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” Another translation says: “God was pleased to have all of himself live in Christ.” You know what that means? It means that all the love of God was in Christ. All the mercy of God was in Christ. All the kindness, the goodness, the wisdom, the authority, the power, the grace of God was in Christ. Heb. 1:3 puts it this way: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
No wonder the winds would stop when Jesus told them to, because that was God speaking. No wonder diseases would scurry when Jesus touched the blind, the lame, the deaf, the leper, because that was the touch of God. No wonder the water would hold him up when the feet of Jesus stepped on it, because those were the feet of the One who created the water. And most importantly, no wonder the sun stopped shining and the earth shook and the rocks split open on the day that Jesus hung on the cross, for that was God on the cross and that was nature’s reaction to its Creator being crucified.
But you know what, my friends? As incredible as it was that God in the person of Jesus would hang on a cross like that, if that cross, that tree, held only the body of Jesus we would still be lost. Let me repeat that for you. If the cross had held only the body of Jesus, we would still be lost. We would have no hope of salvation whatsoever. Now before you accuse me of preaching false doctrine, please hear me out. We are not saved because Jesus was placed on a cross for there were plenty of others back then who experienced the same fate. Rather we are saved because our sins were placed on Jesus while he hung on the cross. And he is the only one in human history who was big enough, great enough, sufficient enough to bear those sins and pay for them. Like Isaiah 53:6 puts it: “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Do you understand the significance of that verse, my friends? Please listen very carefully to what I’m about to say because it is extremely and eternally important. When Jesus hung on the cross, he in essence placed himself in the courtroom of heaven. And sweeping his hand across humanity, he said to his Father, “I want you to treat me as they deserve to be treated.” He pointed at the murderer and said, “Treat me like you would treat that murderer.” He pointed at the child molester and said, “Give me what the child molester deserves.” He pointed at the drug peddler and the porn queen and said, “However heaven would give justice to them, you give it to me.” He looked at the liar, the rapist, the adulterer, the alcoholic, the wife abuser and he said, “Punish me as they deserve to be punished.”
And that’s what happened at the cross. God the Father punished Jesus, his own Son, his perfect Son, his sinless and spotless Son, for every sin, every infraction, every act of disobedience, every act of rebellion that you and I and everyone else had ever committed or ever would commit. But please understand, my friends, as wondrous as that is, that’s just half the story. Yes, he took our place, but he did it so that we could now take his. For not only did he say to his Father that day, “Treat me like you would have treated them,” he also said, “Now treat them like you would have treated me. Wrap them in glory. Cover them in splendor. Shower them with love. And when you see them, Father, don’t look at their sins, for they are now on me. Instead, look at my righteousness which I have placed upon them.”
As I was thinking about all this it dawned on me that it’s not really what you know that’s going to get you into heaven someday, but who you know. Very similar to what has happened to me a number of times over the years. As many of you know, my wife works for Dr. Nolen, who is a foot doctor. She’s been with him for almost 28 years now. And many of those years he and his wife have hosted Christmas parties for their staff. One of the most memorable ones for me any way took place at the Hidden Lake Winery outside of Aviston where we dined on filet mignon and pork tenderloins that were out of this world, along with appetizers, desserts, and everything in between. And why was I able to enjoy all that? Because of something in and of myself? Because of something I’d done? No, but because I knew the right person, namely, my wife. And since spouses were invited, knowing the right person gained me access to this evening of feasting, fun, and festivity.
So what about you, my friends? Do you know the right person? Do you know the One and only One through whom you can gain access to God’s eternal heavenly banquet? I guarantee he wants to know you and he wants you to know him, in a personal and intimate way. And he wants to make this Christmas a perfect Christmas by giving you the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation that he earned for you when he who was heaven’s brightest and best was placed on God’s perfect Christmas tree. Amen.