The Cosmic Christ

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on Jun 26, 2016

Colossians 1:15-20

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If you have your Bibles with you, I’d invite you to turn to Colossians chapter 1. It’s on page 983 if you’re using a pew Bible. Colossians chapter 1. We’ll be studying verses 15 through 20 this evening. Again, if you’re a visitor, good to have you with us. We’re glad you’re here. Thankful that you’re here with us at First Presbyterian Church tonight. We’ll be studying again verses 15 through 20 of Colossians 1; page 893 in your pew Bibles. Let’s pray before we hear God’s Word!

Father, we have a hard time saying this because everything around us militates against it but we are in desperate need of having our eyes opened. We are not self-sufficient, even though we so often think we are, and now more than ever when it comes to Your Word all of it will be just empty to us if the Holy Spirit doesn’t work. We cast ourselves totally upon Him this evening as He does that wonderful ministry of making Jesus beautiful and believable to us. Would You make it happen? We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Colossians 1, beginning at verse 15. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word as the Apostle Paul records it for us:

“He,” that is Christ, “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.”

Thus ends the reading of God’s holy Word. May He add His blessing to it.

In 1893, the World Parliament of Religions came to the city of Chicago. About two decades earlier there was that horrifying fire that destroyed most of the city so the people were anxious to show off all the rebuilding that had been done. And when the great evangelist, Dwight L. Moody was told of the Parliament of Religions coming to town he was encouraged by many of his supporters to attack all the falsehoods that would be taught during their time in Chicago. But Moody took a different tack. He said this, He said, “I want to try to make Jesus Christ so attractive that men will want to turn to Him.” And to that end, he prayed. He didn’t go on the attack. He rented out every available space in the city that was not taken up by the World Parliament of Religions and by all accounts it was his most “most successful evangelistic campaign” in terms of overall turnout and in terms of the number of professions of faith. He said, “I want to make Jesus Christ so attractive that men will turn to Him.”

Paul is doing something like that here in this text before us this evening. He is writing to this group of Christians at Colossae who have had all kinds of false teaching thrown at them. And from the best we can tell, we don’t know all the details, but from the best, we can tell most of this false teaching centered on who Jesus was. This was probably a Jewish heresy, some kind of mysticism where the people were being taught that Jesus was one of a kind of a hierarchy of angels, so one that maybe was worthy of our adoration but certainly not God in the flesh. And so these verses that Paul sets out here before us this evening really set the tone for the entire epistle. Paul wants to make Jesus so attractive by telling us who He is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that these Colossians would turn from that error and love Jesus more. And as we come to the Table this evening, we want to see Jesus as attractive, and that’s what we are going to look at in these verses before us.

Three points. In verses 15 and 16, the Son as the Creator; the Son as the Creator. In verse 17, the Son has always been there. And then in verses 18 through 20, the Son is the Savior. So the Son is the Creator, the Son has always been there, and the Son is the Savior.

  1. The Son is the Creator

Notice how Paul begins. “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.” Paul begins by saying that Jesus stands in a categorically unique relationship to God. He’s the image. The Greek word there is “in exact likeness.” It’s an imprint that would have come from a seal. There’s no difference in terms of nature from the one who is the image of the one who bears the image. He’s telling us that Jesus in Himself is unique when it comes to His relationship with God. He’s not like the angels; they are created beings. He’s not like us in this very important sense. He’s fully God. He’s the one who has always been there, as we’re going to see.

The Firstborn of All Creation

And Paul goes on to say, though, He’s not just a unique relationship in terms of how He relates to God but how He relates to creation. He says He’s the “firstborn of all creation.” That language “firstborn” is huge in this epistle. If you’ve ever dealt with somebody who’s infatuated with one of the cults – Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism – they’ll go right to this verse and say, “See, Jesus was created.” That’s not at all what Paul is saying! If Paul wanted to talk about Jesus being created first, he had a perfectly serviceable, perfectly useful Greek term to use but he used this term “firstborn” instead. Why? I think he has Psalm 89 in the background of his mind, the great psalm of David’s kingdom. And in that psalm in verse 27 of Psalm 89, God says to David, “You are the firstborn of all the kings of the earth.” And what it means is that he has the uppermost spot. He’s the one that has all preeminence. It’s not talking about a created order here; it’s talking about what He deserves as being the image of the invisible God as the one who is the image of God Himself. And thus, Paul is giving glory to Jesus as the one in whom the entire universe finds its purpose.

And to make sure that we don’t misunderstand him, Paul goes on to say there in verse 16, everything was made by Him “in heaven and on earth, visible, invisible.” Everything’s been made by this one who’s the image of God, the firstborn of all creation. It’s sweeping language. And why does he use this very precise language then of thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities? Why is he saying that? Again, according to some of the teaching, these Colossians were receiving, they would have thought that those were worthy of adoration. And Paul says, “No, they’re different than Jesus. They’re not even on the same level.” Why? Because He created them! Paul’s a Jewish rabbi, friends. He tells us he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, the strictest sect. He put people to death for writing things like this because he attributes to Jesus what every single Jewish rabbi, Jewish believer would have attributed to the God of Israel. He says it all belongs to Jesus too. All things, visible or invisible, made by Him. It’s almost the exact same language he says in doxology in Romans 11:36 when he says, “from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever and ever.” And he’s writing that of God and we can say he writes it also of Jesus right here. Everything made by Him and therefore at the outset he’s saying to the Colossians, he’s saying to us, “You don’t have to go anywhere else. Jesus is sufficient. You don’t have to look for other religious teachings, you don’t have to look for other spiritualities, you don’t have to look for other philosophies, you don’t have to look for other worldviews, you don’t need to go anywhere else but Him because everything was made by Him.” If you want to know what God is like Paul tells us in a nutshell, “God, if we can put it this way, is Christlike.” That’s what he’s saying to us in these opening verses.

Only Two Options

And so when you think about this, when you come to verses like this and Paul gives you this sweeping vision of Jesus, here’s one implication of that. You cannot be indifferent to deity, to true deity. You cannot be indifferent to Jesus! He never intended for us to sit on the fence about Him. He always intended for us to decide for Him, then and there when we hear the Gospel. We can’t be indifferent to the one who made us, can we? We can’t be indifferent to the one who does all things well, as we’re going to see, who upholds everything. We can’t be indifferent to the one who governs everything because He made everything. We have to go to Him or forsake Him. Those are the only two options. If you’re on the fence tonight, come down. I hope Jesus becomes so attractive to you that you want to come down, but He never leaves you where you are and He never intended to. There are no neutral encounters with Jesus.

  1. The Son Has Always Been There

In the second place, Paul tells us the Son has always existed. Look at verse 17. “He is before all things and in him, all things hold together.” And just in case, again, notice how Paul does this. He keeps saying, “He is this; He is this.” And just to make sure we didn’t miss it, he tells us He is before all these things too. Not only did He make them, He’s always been there! Again, think about this. Only God is eternal in the Jewish worldview and Paul says exactly right, and that eternal God exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “And I’m talking to you about the Son right now,” Paul says. He is before all things. This is the doctrine that theologians call the doctrine of Christ’s pre-existence. He’s always been there. There was a heresy in the 4th century called Arianism. The first time we had the serious denial of the deity of Christ. And Arias, he was wise, he was a good marketer in this sense – he put all his theology to hymns. And one of the hymns we have recovered, part of the lines of the hymns that he wrote to deny the deity of Christ said, “There was a time when the Son was not.” And that’s what you’d sing. And Arianism swept across the ancient world and people were singing, “There was a time when He was not.” And if Paul had heard that hymn, I think he would have run out of church plugging his ears. He would say, “No, there’s never been a time when He wasn’t. There’s never been a time when Jesus has not existed as the Son of God, as the second person of the Trinity.” Paul says, “I don’t want you just to go back in time. I want you to go back before time. Stretch your minds,” Paul says. “Go back as far as you can and Jesus, Jesus, the Son of God has always been there with His Father.”

Jesus Sustains All Things

And just to make that clear, he says, “He’s before all things and in him all things hold together.” Not only is He the Creator, He’s the sustainer. As one commentator put it so well, he said, “In Jesus, He keeps the cosmos from being chaos.” Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about the fact that the reason molecules work right now, the reason why your heart beats and that we’re able to take breaths together, that there are the molecules in the chairs and the pews that you sit on, that everything around you that’s being sustained moment by moment is being sustained by Jesus! By the one we call out to. By the one, we sing hymns too. By the one that we pray to. By the one that we speak about, that we want others to love. He’s upholding everything! He’s doing that, actively, right now! The one who held a carpenter’s hammer, upheld the very molecules in that hammer when He used it. That ought to make us worship! We could stop right there, take the rest of the day off – that’s it! We could stop right there when we start thinking about the fact that the Man, the God-Man who walked the earth, who got on boats, who hugged little children, who cleansed the temple, who was patient with wayward disciples, upheld them! Made their hearts beat while they were rebelling against Him! Controlled the weather that was happening when He was on the cross! Him! This one! That’s what Paul’s setting for before us here.

So apart from Jesus, nothing would exist, and Paul is using this verse as a bridge. He starts with before creation, moves to creation, puts this bridge here, and then He’s going to move to redemption in the last section. But if Jesus upholds everything, and He does, Paul tells us that, what does that do for daily life? What does that do for worry? What does that do for depression? What does that do for tragedy, for loss? It makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? Nothing, nothing will happen to you on Monday morning apart from what Jesus allows and oversees and upholds. Nothing. Every time we take another breath, He’s there, He’s upholding that. Anything that happens to you or to me – and let me say this, as a preacher you get nervous saying these kinds of things. You wonder what’s coming this week because God’s going to make you live out what you preach and what we hear. But everything that comes, it’s all from Him. Jesus is never caught off guard, friends. He’s never wringing His hands. He’s never going, “What’s Plan B? Now that Plan A’s been thwarted, what do I do next?” He never does that. He’s always there upholding, governing, sustaining. Or as the psalmist put it, “He never slumbers nor sleeps,” so you and I can sleep peacefully tonight because He is always on duty. He never goes to sleep. He’s always there. That’s what Paul is saying.

The Son Is Head of the Church

So then he connects us in verses 18 to 20 to redemption. Look there at verse 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. 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.” So Paul says this. He’s always been there, He’s upholding everything, and He’s come down for us. He’s come down to redeem us. He’s the head of the body, the church. Head, authority. Because He’s God, because He’s God in the flesh, He alone is the head of the church. Not a pope, not a pastor – Jesus! That is good news if you’ve been hurt by people in authority positions. Has that happened to you? Isn’t that such a risk today? Isn’t that why there’s such a violent revolt against any kind of authority because people have been so wounded by those who hold positions of authority. Paul says, “Here’s really good news. The one who’s always been there, the one who’s King of love, He’s the one who runs His church.” I love how our Book of Church Order opens – “Jesus Christ alone is King and Head of the Church.” That’s it. Jesus is the one who runs the church. By His Word, through His Spirit, that’s how the church gets run. With all of her mess, with all of the failings of her people and her pastors, the King is still in charge. He’s still ruling His church.

We’ve just come back from the General Assembly and in the midst of debates and stuff that looks, you know, the parts of these discussions are things that you record in case you need to fall asleep, you know. You’re looking at this stuff and listening to it and thinking, “Does any of this matter?” And all of the debate back and forth, it can seem petty, but what Paul tells us here is that God, through Jesus, is working in His church. This is His design for the world – bringing together people from every tribe, nation, and tongue into this body that He governs and loves and loves. As we’ll see at the end here, love’s enough to send His Son to die for. Loves His church. Why should you join a local church? Because God loves it! What more reason do we need? Because God is building His church to assault the gates of hell and unbelief and all the things that make this world horrible and sin-cursed, He’s working right here tonight, with all your baggage, all your mess, all your junk. God’s still at work because Christ is the head of His church and this is a King who never loses a battle. Never. This is the King we serve. There’s nobody else like Him. That’s what Paul wants us to see.

And He’s worthy of all our honor because Paul says there, verse 18, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” There’s that word again, “firstborn from the dead.” He’s the beginning. The beginning of what? Well, He’s the Creator but He’s the beginning of a new humanity. How? Because He’s the firstborn from the dead, the one who has the highest place of resurrection because He was the first one resurrected. And here’s where Paul, we’ve got to go with him here, we’re going to go a little deep with Paul here because, for Paul, the resurrection of Jesus and our eventual resurrection are not two separate events. They are not two separate events in Paul’s thinking. They are two episodes of the same event.

What does that mean? Friend, when you get dressed on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, Paul is saying that when Christ rose from the dead everything that was sad, everything that was awful, all the curse began. It was rolling like this avalanche downhill and when Jesus rose from the dead everything began to be reversed so that when our resurrection happens, when we are raised from the dead, whenever that is, that’s the completion of what Christ, the firstborn from the dead, already began. Basically, God says, “To be continued…” at the empty tomb. And He says then He’s firstborn from the dead; resurrection life. His resurrection is what changes everything. Think about this. It’s not just the neat miracle God did so that we would be able to have some way to tell an unbeliever, “No, actually this is all true.” And if you’re not a believer here tonight, welcome. You may be struggling with this. You may say, “I don’t believe in miracles.” And understand how the Bible looks at miracles. The Bible doesn’t say, “I’m going to do this neat thing so that you have more evidence.” It is there. It happens in space-time reality. But there’s a deeper, theological purpose for the resurrection and that deeper, theological purpose is so that we might see who Jesus is – the one who brings life. The one who, from eternity, has always existed, who comes down and lives as one of us and brings in eternity.

One theologian put it so well. One of the most profound things I think I’ve ever read. He said this. He said, “Eternity is breaking in on both sides of us.” What did he mean by that? He means when you look back, back as far as we can go, there’s eternity, there’s Jesus. That’s breaking in on us when He becomes Man. And because of His resurrection, the eternity that He has guaranteed for us is coming and breaking in right now. You can’t stop this King’s conquest. It’s wonderful. Resurrection is coming. As J. R. R. Tolkien put it, “Resurrection is coming in the sense that all the sad things will become untrue.” That’s what Jesus brings – eternity on both sides of us.

God Dwells Among Men

Why does God do it this way? Why does He send the one who’s always been there to come down from heaven to earth? Because, Paul says, “that in all things he might be preeminent.” Why is it okay for us to worship Jesus? Why is that never blasphemous? Because God has exalted Him. God has said, “Pay attention to Him. Listen to Him. Worship Him. Make Him preeminent in your thinking.” Isn’t that wonderful? God takes the spotlight through the Holy Spirit and shines it on Jesus and then says, “This is who I want you to pay attention to.” And the ultimate reason there is verse 19. Why did He do all this? Why can we believe all this? “For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” I mean, that is astonishing. I don’t even know what to say to that. Everything God is, Christ is. That’s what He brought to earth. And that language of dwelling, you see, there’s that promise of the old covenant. If you read through the book of Exodus God keeps saying things like, “I will be their God and they shall be my people and I will make my dwelling among them.” Revelation 21, when everything gets complete when we are past resurrection and all the sad things are untrue and we come to the end, what is the first thing God says? “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.”

And that’s not just at the end of all things; that starts in Jesus. John put it this way in his gospel, John 1:14, “The Word became flesh.” And the Greek there reads, “and tabernacled among us.” All that the tabernacle represented for the people of Israel of old, God’s presence amidst them, the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, so that everywhere they went when they were fearful they knew He was there, they knew He was with them. And God said, “I never meant to stop at a tent. I’m going to dwell among My people personally in Jesus and forever in My church with the exalted, resurrected God-Man.” Everything that God is, Christ is. It’s dwelling in Him. That’s what came to earth. That’s why Christmas is not a sentimental holiday. And I love Christmas; celebrate it, enjoy it. But when we think about the incarnation of Jesus in June, we can step back and say, “This really is the single most remarkable thing that has ever happened in our history.” God became one of us. He’s not created. He’s not a creature. It’s the fullness. Everything that God is, Christ is, and it walks among us! He kisses children! He hugs wayward people! He washes feet! He loves prostitutes and tax collectors and really broken people and it’s God right there doing it! God took hands! He got His fingernails dirty! He’s one of us in that sense. He’s fully God and fully Man.

  1. The Son is the Savior

And what does all this lead to? “And through him, to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” You see, when Jesus died on the cross the effects are not just that we get saved. That happens; that’s what Paul is spotlighting here. But you can’t contain the cross just to our salvation in terms of individuals. Paul says everything is touched by the work of Jesus. The cosmos is touched by the work of Jesus. The cosmos is going to be reset, restored, made better because of the blood of the cross. That’s how we are reconciled to God. You see, that’s where it comes down to this evening. Do you know you need to be reconciled to God? That might be the most offensive part of the Gospel, right? If you’re not a Christian and you hear, “You’re so bad that it took the death of the Son of God to save you but you’re so loved because the Son of God now dwells in you by His Spirit and has promised to never leave you,” it’s paradoxical, right? But it’s true. And if that offends you tonight, let me encourage you to keep listening and also to understand this – you’ve got to get the bad news first. You’ve got to understand that you and I apart from Christ are not reconciled to this God. And all the things I’ve just said are not true for people who have not come to Him.

But let me ask you this on the heels of that. Based on what you’ve heard from this text, why would you not come to Him? What possible reason could there be to reject a God like this? Every other god is aloof. They don’t come down. Other gods don’t work. They don’t “grow in wisdom and stature,” Luke 2:52. They don’t become babies that need to be held and swaddled. They certainly don’t die on a cross. Only Jesus does that. And notice how Paul says it. “He makes peace by the blood of his cross.” Where you and I were enemies, now we are at peace with God. There’s nothing but welcome, nothing but joy from the Father towards those who run to Him in faith in Jesus. He says, “I love you. We’re at peace. I have no case against you. Nothing against you anymore.” And all that happens to us now, all the blessings of salvation that we enjoy as Christians, are going to spill out into the cosmos. No more death, no more dying, no more sickness. “Come, Lord Jesus.” That’s what we want to say, isn’t it?

What do we do with all this? Let me say a couple of things as we close. As we hear Paul here this evening, we have to see Jesus’ sufficiency. And let me put it in a question form. “What is bigger than Jesus for you right now?” Whatever is big for you, whether it’s work, pleasure, money, a tragic illness, things that you have nothing to do with or things that you’re choosing self-consciously over Jesus, what’s bigger? What is crowding out your vision of the one Paul sets before us this evening? Whatever is big to you is what’s going to be your sufficiency. It’s what you’re going to rely on; it’s what you’re going to hope in. And the sad lesson that we have to learn why worship becomes boring, why we don’t fill with joy when we read about Jesus and all the fingers are pointing at me when we say this, the reason why my relationship with Jesus goes stale is because something else has become bigger. It’s like an eclipse. Something else blocks out the Son so I can’t see Him. Whatever’s bigger, realize this – nothing’s bigger than Jesus. Nothing’s more sufficient. Everything that pretends it is will show itself to be false the minute you try to lean on it. It’s like sitting in a chair where the legs are all cracked and you won’t know it until the moment that you sit on it and everything falls apart. That’s what happens when you hope in anything besides the sufficient Jesus.

The Sufficiency of Jesus

And so what Paul is saying is, His supremacy is our only hope for our deficiency. His supremacy is our only hope for our deficiency. Whatever you lack, whatever I lack, He fulfills. Do we need obedience before the Father to be justified and perfect in His sight so that we have no sin counted against us but a perfect record to enter heaven? You bet we do. How do we get it? Not by what we do. Not by trying to save ourselves. By trusting in the sufficient Jesus. Is He sufficient for all of our thinking, all of our living, for anything you’ll encounter for the rest of your life? Paul is telling us again and again, “Yes!” Nothing else needs to be bigger because nothing else is bigger. No one can eclipse the Son of righteousness. Isn’t that wonderful?

And then the last thing. Maybe you feel that enmity with God. Maybe you wonder, you’re a Christian and you wonder, “Does God have peace with me because I don’t feel it. I don’t know if He has peace with me.” Maybe you feel like Roy Riegels. New Year’s Day, 1929, the Rose Bowl, Cal was playing Georgia Tech. Roy Riegels, California defender recovered a Georgia Tech fumble – I think he was a linebacker – and then proceeded to turn around and run sixty-five yards the wrong way. He was tackled by one of his own defenders. Georgia Tech got the ball back and won the game when Cal could have run it had he run the right direction. For the rest of his life, he’d introduce himself, and people would remember his nickname. They’d say, “I remember you! You’re Wrong Way Riegels!” That’s what they’d say to him. “You’re Wrong Way Riegels.”

And maybe it’s your sin and your shame and you’re afraid of everybody finding out that you’re just another “Wrong Way Riegels,” that you’ve got all this junk, this stuff that you don’t know what to do with and you feel like, “That’s how my shame is.” It might not be as public but you’re reminded of it all the time and you wonder, “Is there peace for someone like me?” Paul will tell you there’s peace at the blood of the cross and that peace is unbreakable and it never changes and no matter where you are tonight we have to realize, he’s going to go on and tell us this, he’s going to say, “The one, Jesus that I’ve been talking about, was publically” – here it is – “shamed and put to open shame the enemies of the cross.” Isn’t that wonderful? He says, “The one who was shamed, put to shame all that brings shame! Your shame. My shame. Taken at the cross. Put away forever. Peace with God always.” He’s at peace with you, dear Christian. He is at peace with you and He wants to show you how peaceful He is when you come here to this Table in a few moments. So think about that as we prepare for the Lord’s Supper. Think about the fact that the one who made bread, not just physically made it but molecule made it, the one who sets the feast for you this evening is the one giving you breath and a heartbeat to take it and here’s how He comes to you. He says, “My arms are open, My salvation is sure, peace is available and it’s all true because of who I am – the Creator, the one who’s always been there, and the Savior.”

Let’s pray together!

Father, thank You so much for Your Word. Write its truth on our hearts. Bless us as we come to Your Table. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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