Author Name:

David Farrell, Echoes International Council of Reference

Author Bio:

David Farrell is an elder in the Crescent Church, Belfast and a member of Echoes International Council of Reference. His parents were missionaries in Japan, and after completing his degree in Japan and upon return to Northern Ireland, David was employed as history teacher. He retired from teaching in 2012 as a Vice Principal of a high school on the suburbs of Belfast. He is presently engaged in a pastoral and teaching ministry within the Crescent Church. He retains his love for Japan and enjoys gardening in his free time.

This blog was originally broadcast on the BBC Radio Broadcast Service from Crescent Church.

Standing one evening with my grandson, who was three years old at the time, we were gazing into the dark night sky. Trying to be his learned grandfather, who is, after all, a retired teacher, I pointed out a bright star shining in the distance, and said, with great authority, ‘there is the North Star.’ ‘Don’t be silly, Granda – that’s not the North Star, that’s Jupiter. The North Star is over there!’ I have subsequently learned a lot from my grandchildren.

Historically, people who have navigated by the stars found the North Star essential. If they got a ‘fix’ on the North Star, they were able to orient themselves so that they knew where they were, and in what direction they were headed. They used that knowledge to steer away from dangerous rocks and shoals – and to guide their ship to its intended destination.

We live in a turbulent world today; some are facing real difficulties in their personal lives, there are many dangerous rocks and shoals, and as we look into the future, we naturally have our concerns. Is there a clear point of reference, is there one to whom we can look up to for guidance and help, an absolute truth – if you like continuing the analogy – a North Star?

What we read in Colossians chapter one, verses 15 to 18, is the single most heavily saturated piece of literature on the person of Jesus Christ. Some say Paul adapted it from a hymn, but, regardless, it is the most Christ-centred passage of the Bible. The key phrase for this whole portion of Scripture, indeed for the Book of Colossians, is found at the end at verse 18:

“…that in all things He [Jesus Christ] may have the pre-eminence.”

Is there a clear point of reference, one to whom we can look up to for guidance and help, an absolute truth – a North Star?

God became visible

So why does Jesus Christ deserve the title of being pre-eminent? Paul says in verse 15 that, “He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God”.

The invisible God…

Many have said that if God exists, why is he not visible? Why does he not appear? The Bible tells us that God is invisible, that God cannot be seen, but there is a good reason why God is invisible. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God replied, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

God is invisible, but God became visible. God became a man, and this is the message of the Bible, Christ was God made visible Jesus told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus Christ is the complete revelation of God. The writer of Hebrews says of Christ, in relation to God the Father, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”

Creator God

Paul goes on to say that Christ is pre-eminent because He is the Creator: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and on earth, … All things were created through Him and for Him.”

I enjoy gardening and in my garden at home I have tried to reflect something of my early life in Japan in the form of a Japanese garden. Before I commence a project in my garden, I spend time planning what I will create. I delve into my knowledge and imagination, draw plans and find the resources I require. Then I build it. When the garden is complete, I sit and enjoy my own garden, my own creation – for me another little part of Japan in Northern Ireland.

This is the imagery employed by Paul in verse 16.  All things have been created:

  • by Him – He is the architect of creation – this means in an ageless, timeless past, Christ planned and called it into being.
  • through Him – He is the builder, whether in heaven or earth, even in every dimension, even the visible or invisible.
  • for Him – The creation belongs to Him and is to reflect His glory.

The Apostle brings this song of praise to a climax when He exclaims, “That in all things He may have the pre-eminence” – his conclusion is that he is the creatorial God – preeminent in creation.

The Maker bows His head

But reflect on the words of the well-known hymn:

Now the daylight flees
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.

In the context of what he has just described, this position seems to be contradictory. The Maker, the Creator, who is all-powerful, above all things, the Lord of all and sustains the whole universe, bows his head. Just grasp the magnitude of this. The Creatorial God, in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was willing to die on a cross at the hands of those whom He created. The Apostle Paul explains why the Creator was willing to bow His head:  “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

The consequence of the work of the cross is overwhelming

The Bible talks about man’s problem when it states; “the wages of sin is death” and “the sting of death is sin”. These verses in Colossians summarise succinctly the consequences of the broken relationship which man has with God. The message of the Christian gospel is this: God chose to intervene and deal with the problem of sin and the chasm between God and man.

A father was driving his car with his young son sitting in the front seat. A bee entered through the open window. The young boy had a life-threatening allergy to bee stings. The boy was petrified with fright when he saw the bee; all he could do was to scream! The father instantly reached out with his hand and caught the bee, squeezing it tightly with his hand. Then the father opened his hand to throw the bee out through the open window, but the bee started to fly into the car once again. Sure enough, the boy gave in to fear and started to panic. But with a firm and reassuring voice, the father said to his son. “Son, don’t worry! It’s okay. The bee can’t hurt you. His sting is in my hand”.

And so God did the same for us in Christ through His cross, grabbing hold of sin, strangling it, and removing its sting!  The consequence of the work of the cross is overwhelming.  

We started by considering the North Star.  We asked the question – in the midst of the difficulties and issues we face in life is there a “North Star” – is there an absolute truth, a clear point of reference, is there one to whom we can look up to for help?  The Apostle Paul points us to our Creator and Saviour, Jesus Christ – He is the pre-eminent one.

One night I was standing in the middle of a field in Donegal.  It was a beautiful, clear night.  My son-in-law – the one who had taught my grandson the location of Jupiter – took me out to look at the stars. He told me that it would take up to 10 minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and to be able to see the beauty of the stars. As my eyes adjusted, the stars became clearer. However, as we were looking at the stars, I was momentarily distracted by a car. I caught the glare of its headlights and looked up again to the stars – but my eyes could no longer see them – it was as if they had gone!  But, in reality, they were still there – they are always there –  I just needed to take my eyes away from the distracting lights and look again.

Welcome to the joint blog of Echoes International and GLO. Sharing the thoughts and experiences from experts in mission across the world, we aim to examine the issues facing mission today, and challenge existing views about cross-cultural mission.
Echoes International, Christian Charity, UK