If you would take a Bible please and turn with me to Colossians chapter 1. Colossians chapter 1; page 983 if you're using one of our church Bibles. We are considering verses 15 through 20 of Colossians 1. You may remember, we've said before, there were false teachers who were worming their way into the Colossian church and Paul is writing this letter to try and help the believers there stay on course and hold the line and finish the race. Among the various errors, these false teachers were suggesting that Jesus is really one of a series of spiritual beings, emanations from the divine essence, coming to us like an ascending ladder which we can climb from one being to the next all the way into fullness - fullness being one of their buzzwords. In their minds, Christ may be special, but hardly unique. He may be vital, but He's wholly insufficient. We need Christ-plus; we need Jesus-and. That was their perspective.
Now last week we looked at the very end of the prayer of Paul just prior to our passage this morning in verses 12 through 14 where Paul lingered for a while over the saving work of Christ. So he said the Father has "qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." He has "delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Redemption, salvation, is in Christ, Paul is saying. And so the question might have arisen for the Colossians, given what the false teachers were saying about Christ - "What makes Jesus so very special? What gives this particular potency and efficacy and power to His work? Why is He so central to your thinking, Paul?" And verses 15 through 20 provide Paul's answer. He says that Jesus' work is uniquely powerful because His person is uniquely glorious. Christ is, as the apostle will put it later in verse 18, in all things preeminent. He is supreme. Than Him there is no one greater; beyond Him, there is no one to whom we all must turn. Whatever the Colossian false teachers may have been saying to the contrary, the work of Christ is sufficient because His person is unique. He's the one that we need.
And that means verses 15 through 20 are not a detour or a diversion from the main point of the letter. Instead, they are, if you like, the molten core of Paul’s message for the Colossian Christians and for us. Christ is preeminent. He is supreme. He is everything that your heart needs. Look no further for fullness than to Jesus Christ. All fullness, he will say, resides in Him. He needs no supplementing - not from our philosophy, not from our speculations, not from our rituals. Christ is all that we need. And so Paul is writing to rivet our attention on Jesus.
And as he makes that point and he speaks in exalted terms of Jesus, it shouldn’t surprise you to discover that he does it in semi-poetic form. In fact, the contemporary scholarly consensus is that verses 15 through 20 began their life as an early hymn used in the churches with which Paul was connected to celebrate and to exalt the Lord Jesus. You see, more is required sometimes than a mere didactic statement of truth. Sometimes truth is so beautiful, so glorious, so rich that it makes us sing; that it requires us to sing. Sometimes, sometimes truth is too beautiful for prose and requires praise. Beauty is one of the marks of truth, after all. Theology, when it does its true work, should make us sing, should make us adore, should make us praise. And that’s what Paul is after in verses 15 through 20 - not just to inform our understanding, but to inflame our hearts and make us worship, to make us stand in wonder and bow down in adoration before the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’ll look at the passage with me for a moment you’ll notice if this is a hymn to Christ, it is a hymn with two stanzas. Verses 15 through 17, stanza one, focus our attention on the preeminence of Christ over creation. He is the Lord of creation; preeminent over creation. And then stanza two, verses 18 through 20, Christ preeminent in salvation. So Christ preeminent over creation; Christ preeminent over salvation. The two stanzas of the hymn and the two headings for our sermon. Before we look at the passage together, let me invite you first of all to bow with me as we pray. Let us pray.
O Lord, speak, for Your servants are listening. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Colossians 1 at verse 15. This is the Word of God:
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. 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. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
Well, I understand that football season is well underway, though, from the long faces of some of you, I may be wiser not to bring it up. Look, I know nothing about football, so it's risky for me to begin talking about it because really I'm not qualified to do so - really, really not qualified to do so! If someone famous, say, Tim Tebow, were here talking about SEC football, he has the credentials and you would listen. If I were to talk about it, not so much! He has the credentials. Why does the work of Jesus have the power that it does? Why does it make the difference that it does? What's so special about the things Jesus said and did? Well, Jesus has the credentials to be Savior, and Paul wants to rivet our attention on Him because He is uniquely qualified to be first in our affection, in our devotion, as Lord and as God.
Preeminent as Lord over Creation
Paul, as we said a moment ago, does that in two ways in our passage. He is preeminent as Lord over creation and He is preeminent as Lord in salvation. And we’re going to think about each of those in turn. Look at verses 15 through 17 first of all. The credentials of Christ, the unique qualifications of Christ to be adored and placed first in our hearts and in our lives - Christ preeminent in creation. Look at verse 15 first of all. Paul says Christ is the “image of the invisible God.” That language captures at least two ideas.
The first idea is revelation - God is invisible. John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God,” but Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He makes Him known. He discloses Him to us. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus Christ. So John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God who is the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him, He has made Him known.” It belongs to the office of the Son, the divine Son, the second person of the blessed Trinity, to make God known. He is the revealer. This is a revelation word when spoken of Jesus, “the image of the invisible God.”
But the second thing it teaches us is more than revelation; it’s also about identification. Identification. We sometimes talk about children being the spitting image of their parents. We just saw some beautiful children during the baptisms this morning and we might say, “They look just like you. They bear the family resemblance.” When Paul says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, he’s saying that and more. He’s saying all the contours of deity, everything that makes God, God, are to be found in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3 uses very similar language. He is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.” That phrase, “exact imprint,” was used of a dye stamping an image on a coin so that everything that was on the dye appears exactly and precisely on the coin. Every detail that is in the dye is in the coin. Everything we can say of God can be said of Christ, yet in such a way that Jesus is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but the Son. He is the image of the invisible God.
And because that is who He is, verse 15, because He is God and discloses God to us, He is the firstborn of all creation. Now often when we use that word, "firstborn," our emphasis falls on "first." We think of "firstborn" as a way to communicate he's first among many others of the same kind. First chronologically in a sequence with others that will follow him - firstborn. But that's now how the New Testament is using it here of the Lord Jesus Christ. There's another sense in Scripture for that word "firstborn." Not first in chronological sequence but first in priority and in reputation, in majesty and rank and standing. Let me give you an example. Psalm 89:27, Psalm 89 verse 27, speaking about one of David's descendants whom God will raise up and cause to sit on His throne - it's actually a prophecy of the coming of Christ, the Messiah. God says, "I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." "Firstborn" there doesn't mean the very first king, but it means the first in rank, the first in preeminence; it's a type of special, exalted, lordly status. That's the sense in which Paul is using the word here. He is not the first of the creatures, but He is first in rank, reigning as Lord over all creation. The image of the invisible God and the Lord of all. That's what Paul is saying. It's not like Jesus is the first domino in a long chain of dominoes. Rather, Jesus is the hand that set every domino on its end and the finger that knocks them all down. He's not the first in a sequence; He's the Lord over the whole of creation - the great Creator Himself.
Source in Jesus
That's a point made even more explicitly if you'll look at verse 16. Verse 16, "For by Him, all things were created." Actually, the Greek says, "In Him, all things were created." Creation has its source in Jesus Christ. Creation comes from Him. You remember the first verse of John's gospel." In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that has been made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." He is the Creator-God. Now, remember, one of the obsessions of one of the false teachers had to do with supernatural beings. They had an unholy curiosity and fascination with them, the angelic and the demonic. That's probably what Paul has in mind in verse 16 when he speaks about Christ, the Creator of all things "in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities." That phrase likely indicates ranks and orders of supernatural beings. And so Paul is agreeing with those at Colossae that there is such a realm. He's insisting that we not be so arrogant as to assume ourselves the only intelligent beings in creation. No, there's a supernatural world. That may seem to you incredible, but it's certainly part of the Biblical worldview. There are angels and demons. There's a supernatural realm.
The World is Christological
But he's also very keen here to put that realm in its place. The Colossian false teachers were getting carried away with all sorts of speculations about these things. And Paul puts it firmly in their place. There was an unhealthy obsession with them in his day and there's an unhealthy obsession with the angelic in our own day too. Take five minutes, type in "Angels" in Amazon in search for books, and you'll see more than a hundred pages of volumes talking about, speculating about, obsessing over the angelic and the supernatural. It's an unhealthy obsession today too. But Paul says - look at what he says. "All things were created through Him and for Him." Whatever there is in the created world, whether it's angelic, even demonic, whether it's the atomic and the material or the supernatural and the unseen, all of it ultimately serves Him. It is for Him. Romans 11:36, "For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen." The world, the created order, and everyone and everything within it, is Christological. It is about Jesus and for Jesus; for His glory and His honor and His praise.
Before all Things
And look how Paul sums up in verse 17. "He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." He is before all things. He is the pre-existent Lord. There was an ancient heretic by the name of Arius who argued that Jesus was not God; He was merely a man, the first creature, Arius said. He had a genius for catchphrases. His little ditty was, "There was when He was not," speaking of Jesus. "There was a time when Jesus didn't exist. He's merely a creature." That's what Arius was teaching. But Paul insists here, doesn't he, there never was when He was not. He is before all things. "Before Abraham was," Jesus says, "I am." He is the self-existent God who met Moses on the mountain and declared, "I AM WHO I AM." He is the Creator-God prior to and independent of all His creatures.
And He is the one “in whom,” Paul says, “all things hold together.” They cohere in Christ. He is not only before creation and over creation and the source of creation; He is the sustainer of creation. Why is there something and not nothing? Why do you live and move and have your being? Why does your heart still pump blood around your body? Because Christ holds all things, sustains all things, upholding the universe by the Word of His power. As the Nicene Creed puts it so very beautifully, summing up in many ways the teaching of these verses, speaking of Jesus, He is “God of God, Light of light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things came to be.” That’s why wind and waves obey Him, demons flee at His word. Why, with a touch, He can banish sickness or call a three-day-dead Lazarus from the tomb alive again. What do you do with a Jesus like that? Not tame, not containable, not easily dismissed but vast and glorious, omnipotent. The Creator-God - what do you do with a Christ like that? You don’t marginalize Him. You do not presume upon Him. You must bow down before Him in adoration and you must rise up to spend your life in His service. Christ is preeminent in creation.
Preeminent as Lord in Salvation
Then look at verses 18 through 20, the second stanza of Paul’s great Christ-hymn. Christ preeminent in salvation. He began back in verse 15 of stanza one by telling us that “Christ is the image of the invisible God.” That’s a statement of His relationship to God. Now in verse 18 he says that “He is the head of the body, the church.” That’s a statement of His relationship to His people. The Christ who is the Lord of creation stands even more intimately connected to the Church, to His people. Still a relationship of authority and lordship, “He is the head of the body, the church,” but it’s an organic connection. Isn’t it? We are one in Him. He’s the head; we are the members of His body. And it’s therefore profoundly intimate. The church is His body. He is our head and we are one with Him and in Him with one another.
Source of the Church
And just as Jesus is the source and the origin of creation, so here He is the source and the origin of the church. Look at verse 18 again. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” Something new has begun in Jesus Christ, Paul is saying. We saw Paul use the word “firstborn” back in verse 15 where it means first in rank and in preeminence over creation. Here is means first in rank and preeminence over those to whom God gives new life, resurrection life. It doesn’t mean first in the sequence of those who’ve been raised; there were others who were raised from the grave. You think of Lazarus for example. But it does mean that Christ, by His resurrection, has a position of unique preeminence and Lordship and authority. Something entirely new, unique and significant has broken into the middle of this broken world in the resurrection of Christ - a new beginning, a new creation has occurred when Christ broke the bonds of death and stepped alive from the tomb on the third day.
Reconciliation through Resurrection
Now, why does Jesus' resurrection have this particular significance that others who were raised from death like Lazarus, for example, never can? It is because Jesus isn't like Lazarus. As Paul puts it in verse 19 - look at verse 19 - "In Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything because everything that is God is Jesus. Because nothing of God is absent from Christ, His resurrection, unlike any others, begins a new world. In fact, through Him, verse 20, God was "reconciling all things to Himself." The creation that was subjected to the curse when sin intruded on to our world, that same creation one day will be made new. "He came to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." It was God in the man, Christ Jesus, who was nailed to the tree. It was deity united to humanity laid in the tomb. It was the infinite, eternal, unchangeable Creator made flesh who rose firstborn from among the dead. And because it was, nothing can be the same again. Creation will one day be swept up into new creation. Sin will be banished. Death will die. All by the blood of the cross, Paul says.
And at the end of verse 18, Paul tells us why He did all that He did, why God took flesh and dwelt among us, why, in the union of two natures and one person forever our salvation was secured in the Lord Jesus Christ. He did it all, verse 18, “that in everything He might have preeminence,” He might have first place, first place over creation, over the universe; first place as head over the Church. First place in your heart!
Now how do you put Christ first in your life, in your heart, in your priorities? How do you bow appropriately before the preeminent Lord and acknowledge His preeminence for yourself? Well the Colossians, remember, were saying, “We can give you fullness,” remember that, “fullness if you perform our rituals, if you invoke angels, if you give yourself to strict aestheticism and self-denial. That’s the path to fullness.” But in verse 18, Paul says, “No, no, the pleroma, the fullness, all fullness dwells, was pleased to dwell in only one place - only in Jesus Christ. So if you want fullness, you must go to Him.”
Christ Preeminent in our Lives
So how do you make Christ preeminent who is the preeminent Lord? How do you bow before Him and have Him first in your life, who is King of kings and Lord of lords? You go to Him for fullness instead of any of the counterfeits that the world offers. You recognize that Jesus can never be a mere accessory in your life, a line on your resume while you pursue real fullness by building your portfolio and accumulating more and more wealth. You refuse to see Jesus as a tool for social acceptance, a way to signal to your tribe while you belong while you pursue fullness on the party scene, perhaps. We need to stop using Jesus when He’s convenient and ignoring Him where He’s not, and instead we must come as the choir were singing to us earlier, to recognize that “everyone who thirsts may come to the waters and drink of Him.” He is the fountain of living waters and you go to Him and drink and drink and drink until you’re filled. That’s how you make Christ preeminent. You don’t go to the broken cisterns of the world where there is no water, there is no satisfaction. Empty promises - that’s all you’ll find out in the world. But in Christ, there is fullness, and when you come to Him and drink you will never thirst again. You recognize that He is the only safe harbor, so when you come to Him you can rest.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Come to Jesus and rest. And when you rest on Christ, you put Him first. You don’t look for rest where no rest can be found. Not in your work. Not in your relationships. Not in your behavior modification. Not in doing better and trying harder. But in Christ, you find rest for your weary soul. And when you rest on Him, you make much of Him and you show Him to be preeminent.
Let me ask you if Jesus is first. Is Jesus first? Is He first in your bank balance, in your bank account, in your budgeting? Is He first in your time, in the way you use your days? Is He first in your family? Is He first in your friendships? Is He first in the way that you speak, in what you allow your eyes to linger upon? Is He first in your heart, first in your priorities? Is He preeminent in your life? He is the preeminent Lord, worthy to be adored before whom we all must bow. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him Lord to the glory of God the Father one day. The question is not whether you will have Christ as preeminent. The question is whether you will have Him preeminent in your heart here in joy, or will He be preeminent in horror and shame when to your surprise and dismay you find yourself face to face with a Christ you rejected and denied in life at last? Christ will be first. He is Lord of creation, Lord of salvation. He is everything your heart needs. Is He first in your life? May God help us that it may be so. Let us pray together.
Lord Jesus, we bow before You and we acknowledge and confess to You that saying the words is easier than living the life, that confessing You Lord and submitting to Your Lordship are not the same. And we have become practiced at the words while using them as cover for a life that does not acknowledge Your reign or preeminence in our hearts. So here before You now we repent, we confess, and we ask You please to have mercy. We want to bend our knees to You and to pledge allegiance to King Jesus. We would topple the idol of self from our hearts and set apart Christ as Lord there, preeminent in creation, preeminent in salvation. Lord Jesus, You are all our hearts need. Forgive us for going to the empty promises of the world, looking in broken cisterns where there is no water instead of coming to You, the fountain of living water, to drink; of looking for rest everywhere else but the safe harbor that You alone can be to us and finding rest in You. Forgive us for making much of self and sin instead of clinging to You, thereby making much of You for the world to see. Today we would run back to You, or run to You for the first time, that we may indeed at last find rest for our souls. Would You hear us? For we ask this in Your name, amen.
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