Shaken, but Safe in Him (1:17)
I've never been in an earthquake, and I hope I never am. I've seen quite a few tornadoes in my life. Having grown up in Oklahoma and Texas, I actually grew somewhat accustomed to hearing the warning sirens and seeking shelter in the appropriate place. But I have no idea what it is like to have the ground beneath your feet shake and split open. That is one sensation from which I've been spared.
But the Colossian Christians knew what it was like. Ancient Colossae was located in the Lycus Valley, about one hundred miles inland from Ephesus. This was an area that was the center of repeated earthquakes (it was not unlike living in California). We know that a major, devastating earthquake hit this area sometime in a.d. 60 or 61. Much of the city was destroyed and numerous lives were lost.
Most scholars believe Paul wrote this letter during his Roman imprisonment in around 60 a.d. Therefore, either just before or very soon after they received this letter, the entire city of Colossae and its inhabitants were seriously shaken!
Knowing this makes Paul's statement in v. 17 all the more significant. Of Jesus Christ he write, "And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (v. 17). Some translations render this, "in him all things cohere" or "in him all things subsist." The point being, whatever coherence or unity the universe displays, it is due to the continual exertion of divine power from the Son of God. The risen Christ sustains and upholds all things.
Jesus Christ is the sustaining and supportive power by which all that he has conceived and constructed should stay in being. He didn’t create, only to skip town. From the moment of its inception until now and for so long as he so wills Jesus sustains all things, guides all things, and is in process of providentially bringing all things to their proper consummation in and for him.
Jesus is the cohesive power that keeps all things intact. If I may say it reverently, he’s the “divine glue” that holds it all in place. This world is a cosmos rather than a chaos because of the continuous exertion of divine power from the risen Christ!
The things that are don’t exist by virtue of some power intrinsic to themselves. Cars and chairs and baseballs and butter and quarks and quasars and, yes, everything, exists and is sustained in their present form by virtue of the incessant energy emanating from Jesus! If at any moment, for any reason, he should loosen his providential and preserving grip on any thing, it would disintegrate. It would vaporize and vanish into a vacuum of nothingness.
Every heartbeat, every flutter of an eyelid, every rustle of every blade of grass, every breath you breathe is sustained by the Son of God. Truly did Paul say in Acts 17:28 that “in him we move and live and have our being.”
We can wake up each day confident that we will not freeze to death because in the sun that we so easily take for granted hundreds of billion billion billion billion (that’s 10 with 38 zeros) fusion reactions take place every second. More than 400,000,000 tons of hydrogen are being converted into helium every second in the heart of the sun. And this is only one sun among billions of trillions of others, all of which are a constant inferno of chemical and nuclear reactions, all of which are the product of the power and sustaining energy of Jesus who sits enthroned at the right hand of God.
If that earthquake hit Colossae soon after their reception of Paul's letter, I suspect they would have encouraged one another with the reminder that in Jesus, their Lord and Savior, all things still cohere, all things are upheld. If there is a shaking, it is because the Lord has willed it. No matter how widespread the destruction, no matter how disconcerting the loss, Jesus has not lost his grip on this world or their lives.
The "shaking" may also be spiritual or political or economic in nature, but "in him all things (still) hold together." The world may appear to be swept up and away in moral chaos, but in him all things still hold together. One crisis may crash in upon another, like the incessant waves of the ocean pummeling the shoreline, but in him all things still hold together.
One more thing. Don't think of Jesus as merely bearing up the world as if he were Atlas, holding aloft the globe on somewhat sunken shoulders, laboring intensely lest he crater under its incredible weight. No! The Lord Jesus is bearing the universe toward a consummation; he is moving and managing and orchestrating all that he sustains so that on that final day his glory will be radiantly seen and his purpose will have been perfectly attained (cf. Heb. 1:3).
So, I pray that you and I will do what I trust the Colossians did as they labored to put their lives back together following that incredible shaking: confidently rest and trust in the one who holds all things together and continues, unabated and undeterred, in the pursuit of his purpose, for our spiritual good and his everlasting glory.
Upheld and sustained in him,