The Incomparable Christ: Exposition of Colossians: The Incomparable Christ – Exposition of Colossians V

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on September 29, 1996

Colossians 1:15-20

Colossians 1: 15-20
The Incomparable Christ – Part
5

Let us
pray.Our Lord, God almighty, Father,Son,
and Holy Spirit, we come to You
praising You thisday, because You
are the Creator and the Sustainer,
and through our Lord Jesus Christ, have become the Redeemer of Your people.
We confess that You are the onlytrue
God,and that we are Your people,
brought out of darkness and into Your wonderful light through faith in Jesus
Christ.Work in us through the
workings of the Holy Spirit by grace, we pray, O God, confession of our sins
before You this day. We
acknowledge that apart fromChrist
we are undone, and we acknowledge that even as believers we stumble in the way.
And yet, by the Holy Spirit, You
mortify sin in us and You vivify those graces that You have first implanted in
us in regeneration. And so we
confess our sins silently, and yet joyfully, for You have told us to come boldly
into Your presence by the name of Christ. Receive our prayers and praises this day.
Speak to us by Your word.
Meet with us here. Reveal to us
Your glory in theSacrament and in
the word of the living Scripture.
And we pray, O God, cause our hearts to be drawn to You, for we ask it all in
Jesus’ name.Amen.

Please turn with me in your Bibles
to Colossians chapter 1, and
we’ll continue our study of this great book of the Apostle Paul.
You’ll remember that we had said in our studies in weeks past, that Paul
is combating a teaching in Colossae that questions whether Christ is sufficient.It
doesn’t deny His lordship, it doesn’t deny His supremacy, it simply says, ‘you
started well with Christ, but we can take you deeper in the faith, with deeper
knowledge and deeper experience of God’s power by following after certain
teachings and rituals that had not been spoken of in the gospel of Christ first
preached inColossae.’ And, we
said, that theApostle Paul
responded to that from the very moment that he opened his word of greeting to
the Colossians.
In his very greeting, he undercuts that teaching, and then in verses3
through 8, he offers up a prayer of thanksgiving for whatGod
is doing in the lives of the Colossians, and that undercuts this idea that there
is something else other than Christ that these Colossians need for light as
believers. And then, finally in verses 9 to 14, we saw him continue to pray
specific things for these Colossians to know and experience as part of their
belief in Christ. Last week, we
said we got to the main section of Paul’s message.There,
he began to set forth who Christ is, because as far asPaul
is concerned, if we will simply learn who He is, so much of the rest of the
Christian life will fall into place.
If we will know Who it is that we love and serve, we will know that we
don’t need to go anywhere else other than Christ to find all the resources
necessary for Christian growth and grace, for deeper knowledge of God, and for
clearer experience of His power in ourLives.
Having said that, let’s look atPaul’s
words beginning in verse15:

(Colossians
1:15 -22)

Thus ends this reading of God’sHoly
word.May He add His blessing to
it.Let’s look to Him again inPrayer:


Our Lord, we do
confess that this is Your word. Our
hearts come to You this day in different conditions, some cold, some wounded,
some disinterested, some apathetic, some under conviction, some in need of
comfort, some in need of encouragement, some in need of instruction. Lord, we
could go on, but You know better than we do.
By Your Spirit, minister YourWord
to each of us in his or her own condition.
Draw us to Yourself.
Quench the spiritual thirst in each of us.
Kindle it if necessary, and we’ll give You the praise and the glory.
Open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things fromYour
Word, and cause us to glorify You in our response to Your Word, for we ask it in
Jesus’ name.Amen.

Seems to me, that everybody on this planet has either one or another problems
with Jesus Christ. Some people
doubt His supremacy. Others doubt
His sufficiency. Those who doubt
the supremacy of Christ are normally non-Christians.
They may be atheistic.
They may be religious. They may
be members of another religion or than Christianity, but they doubt what Paul
claims here about the supremacy ofChrist.
They may honor Christ as a great moral teacher or as a prophet, but they
do not believe that He is the Lord over all as theApostle
Paul is going to argue today. Others,
perhaps within the Church, within the Christian fold, may acknowledge Christ’s
supremacy with their tongues, they may give assent to the idea that He is
supreme, but they have questions as to whether He is sufficient.
They continue to try and supplement Christ in theirChristian
experience. They start with
Christ, but they move on to other things.
Sometimes they move to their own works, and they think that they can
begin with Christ and yet if they are going to stay in fellowship with God, they
must supplement it by meriting God’s favor,
by earning His favor in their obedience.
Other times they think that there is some deeper spiritual principle.
Sometimes they actually mix Christianity with other types of belief.They
mix it with something as seemingly crazy as astrology, or something more
profound like some other form of religion, whether it may be a New Age teaching
or they mix Christ with some secular teaching which is on the market. But there are many Christians who doubt the sufficiency ofChrist.
They believe in Christ, they profess His name, and yet in their experience, and
even in their belief, they think that in order to have fullness of life, they
need to supplement what they have inChrist in something else. Paul is speaking precisely to those conditions today.
We don’t have time to do everything that Paul does in this glorious
passage, but I want to point you today to four phrases in verses 15 through
20, and I want to look at those as closely as we possibly can.Let
me mention them to you, and then we’ll look at them.
In verse 15 and all the way down to verse 17, Paul asserts that Christ
is the Lord ofcreation. If
you look at verse 18, therePaul
asserts that Christ is the head of the Church.
In verse 19, Paul asserts thatChrist
is the fullness or that the fullness dwells in him. And then in verse 20, Paul says that Christ is the
Reconciler,He is the one who
reconciles the world to God. I
want to look at those great phrases, those great assertions, those great truths
that PaulSets forth here with you
today. Before we do so, I’d like
to remind you, however, of some interesting connection in these verses.I
won’t even be able to follow up on these connections, but perhaps you in
personal Bible study, will be able to go back and look at some of these
connections this week, because they are quite magnificent.

First of all, I want you to notice this week, look at these phrases today, at
the connection between Christ’s supremacy andChrist’s
sufficiency, according to the Apostle Paul.
Christ is sufficient, Paul says,
because He is supreme. He assumes that these Colossians, unlike the non-Christians
thatI spoke of a few moments ago,
he assumes that these Colossians accept Christ’s supremacy, thatHe
is lord, that he knows that in their baptismal profession, they made a
profession that Jesus is Lord. So
he knows that they won’t deny that He is Lord, but he wonders if they’ll
understand the implication of Christ beingLord,
and Paul says the implication of Christ beingSupreme,
the implication ofChrist being
Lord, is that HeIs sufficient.
He’s sufficient for everything that you need for salvation.
You don’t need to look anywhere else, because He is supreme.
Notice that connection between the supremacy and the sufficiency of
Christ.

Secondly, notice the connection between Christ as Creator andChrist as Redeemer.
If we were to lay out this passage side by side and put verses 15, 16,
and 17 in one column, and then verses 18, 19, and 20 in another column, we would
see a beautiful parallel. In each
of those passages, we would see Paul repeat 4 phrases. In verse 15 and in verse
18, he uses the phrase “who is” to open that section. In verses 15 and 18, he speaks of Christ as the first-born.
In verse 15, he calls Christ the first-born of creation.
In verse 18, he calls him the
first-born of the dead. In verses 16 and 19, he speaks of the phrase “for in Him” inChrist,
and in verses 16 through 20, he uses the phrase “in the heavens and on the
earth.” In each of those phrases,
he parallels Christ’s lordship in creation with Christ’s lordship in redemption.
And he sees those as going
together, being inseparably connected.
Christ’s lordship in creation enables Him to be a Redeemer who can redeem
us from any force, for if He created creation, and if He is the LordOf
creation, what is there in creation that He is not capable of redeeming us from,
or of exercising dominion over? So
Paul says Christ is bothCreator
and Redeemer.

Now
one last thing I’d like to point to before we get to these great phrases, notice
how often Paul repeatstwo
phrases:”all things” and “he is.”
Look with me briefly in verse 15, “He is the first-born of all creation.”
Verse 16 “for by Him all things were created.” And down further in that verse,”all things have been created by Him.”
Verse 17, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Verse 18 at the end, “that He might have first place in
everything.” In verse 19, “for
all the fullness.” And finally in
verse 20, “through Him to
reconcile all things to Himself, whether things in heaven or things on the
earth.” The Apostle Paul, you
will remember, from our past studies, has already prayed that theLord
would give these Colossians all wisdom and knowledge of theLord,
and that they would experience all the divine power, and so over and over he
repeats this phrase “all things.” Why?
To stress that all things have been subsumed under the rule, under the
dominion of Christ, so that if the Colossians need to pray for something, they
don’t need to look anywhere else but Christ, because all things are His.
He made it.
He rules over all things.
And then there’s that phrase”He
is.” Notice in verse 15, “He is
the Image of the invisible God.”
Verse 17, “He is before all things.” Verse 18, “He is the head of the body.”
What is Paul repeating that for?
Again, because he wants to stress to the Colossians that it is absolutely
vital that they understand who Christ is. For if they will understand whoHe
is, it will take them a long way down the path of spiritual growth, and it will
protect them from the false teaching which says we need Christ plus something
else, whether that is Christ plus another religion whether that is Christ plus
our own meritorious works, whether that is Christ plus fill in the blank.
If we will remember who He is, we will know that He is
supreme and all-sufficient. And
that is a message not just for the Colossians, but for us today.

And
to that end, I would like us to look at those four great phrases together in
verses 15 through20 so that we
might learn again, afresh, who Christ is, and would be. Therefore, edified in
the faith, let’s look at verses 15 through17.

I.Christ:
Lord of Creation.

First, Christ is the Lord of creation. Look at Paul’s words,
“He is the image of the invisibleGod,
the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the
heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and forHim.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
What is Paul stressing there?
He is stressing the supremacy of Christ over all of creation.

Now
he does so much in that short passage and those few phrases, that we couldn’t
possibly do it all justice today, so let me zero in on a few things that he
asserts aboutChrist in that
passage.Christ is Lord of the
creation. First of all notice,
last week we looked at the phrase “He is the image of the invisible God and the
first-born of all creation.” And we said that in that phrase,Paul
is stressing that Jesus is very God.
He is not something less thanGod.
He is not the highest of created beings, He is not simply a great man, a
good man, a good moral teacher, a philosopher, a prophet or anything else, He is
very God. He is the image of the invisibleGod.He is a visible manifestation of deity.
In Christ all the fullness of theDeity
dwells in bodily form, asPaul
will say in Colossianschapter 2
verse 9. That is so central to
Paul’s proclamation. Paul is not
proclaiming a Christ who is a good man, who is an almost perfect man, who is a
caring man, or a loving man, he is proclaiming more than that.
He’s proclaiming Christ who is both God and man:
He is divine. He is the
second Person of theTrinity, the
eternal God in the flesh:He is
God and man. He is perfectly
Divine. This is so important for
us to see. Paul sees it as
central to his message. Today
there are many people who belong to denominations ofChristian churches that do not believe that Jesus is divine.
They believe that Jesus was a
good man. They believe that He
had wise sayings. They believe
that He had things that He taught that could help us in our daily living.
But they do not believe that HeIs
divine. As far as the Apostle
Paul isConcerned, if Jesus is notDivine,
we are undone. We might as well
give it all up, pack it in and go home, because if Jesus is not divine,He cannot release us from the powers of darkness, He cannot
free us from sin,He cannot bring
us into the glorious light of God, and ‘we are still in our sins,’ the Apostle
Paul says.

Jesus is divine and I want to remind you, especially you students, one day
you’re going to be in a university classroom, and a religion professor somewhere
is going to tell you that the early Christians didn’t believe that Jesus was
God. Then they’re going tell you
that the early Christians didn’t believe that Jesus was divine.
That was something that earlyChurch
gradually made up. My friends,
these words were written less than three decades after our Lord walked this
earth, and the Apostle Paul is reflecting a truth that the whole Christian
community embraced, that Jesus Christ is very God.

When we say that He is the Son of God, we don’t mean He’s less than God, we mean
he bears a special filial relationship to God. He is very God just like
your sons and daughters are no less human than you. This Son of God is no less
God than the heavenly Father. He
is in eternal relationship with Him.He
is very God, and that is at the very core of His ability to redeem us from sin.
I want to tell you that in the early Church, it was three centuries
before a heresy arose withinChristian
circles that denied that Jesus was divine.
In fact, the early Church was so
convinced that Jesus was divine, that the only heresy about the person of Christ
which flourished within the ChristianChurch
for the first three centuries was the denial that He was human.

The
first heresy about Jesus Christ was a denial that He was human.
No Christian would have questioned whether He was divine.
The question was how could someone who is so clearly divine, truly be
human? That’s how convinced the
earlyChristians were.Why?
Because Christ himself had taught and claimed to be divine, and He had
demonstrated that claim in His resurrection and in His ascension.
And His Apostles, to a man, all joined in the profession that Jesus is
very God and the Apostle Paul sets that forth before us again.

He
is the Lord of creation.Why? He
made creation. He’s the creator.
Now Paul goes on and says a few other things in these few verses.
Notice that he says that ‘He is the creator of all things.’
And he uses that word “all
things” to stress that there was nothing that Jesus didn’t create.
Do you remember that some of these people who were teaching in Colosse
would believe that there is a very sharp divide between matter and the spiritual
world? They would have thought
that the spiritual world was of higher value than the material world.
They would think that the
material world was insignificant or less spiritual or less valuable in the sight
of God. In fact, some would
actually teach that what is was positively bad, that the matter, the material
world was bad. And they might
have been tempted to think, ‘well, Jesus may have been the creator of the world
that we can see, the material world, but surely He wasn’t the creator of the
invisible world. Paul says He’s
the creator of all things, and what does he say, “visible and invisible.”
And just to make himself clear, he goes on and he throws this in, “of the
heavens and of the earth, whether rulers or thrones or dominions or
authorities.” What is Paul
doing? He’s piling up words to tell you, ‘look, you’re not going to find
something in creation that He didn’t create.
He’s the Lord over creation.
This is the One who our LordJesus
Christ, who is the Lord over creation.’ And Paul doesn’t stop there, he says,
‘look, He’s not only the One who created creation, but creation was created for
Him.’ Creation finds its reason
for being in glorifying Him. Look
at the glorious phrase there in Colossians chapter 1 verse 16, at the very end
of the passage: “all things have been created by Him and for Him.”
He not only created it all, but they were created for Him, for His
pleasure, for His glory. Their
goal of being is to bringHim
glory. Now the Apostle Paul says,
because of that, He has a primacy over all creation. All things are upheld by Him. All things are held together
by Him.
The philosophers look for their principle of coherence.The
scientist, the chemist, the physicist, they look for the mystery of binding
energy or binding force, and the ApostlePaul
is saying, ‘He’s beyond all that, He
is the thing in which the whole universe coheres. He holds it all together. He created it all.
There is nothing in this universe that is outside of HisControl.
You can see these false teachers come in to theColossians
saying, ‘you been saved from your sins by Christ, but now you need to be saved
and freed from these demonic forces in the spiritual world.’ The Apostle Paul
says, ‘nonsense! Christ is the Lord of all. If you are in Christ, you have been saved from those forces
of darkness. You have everything
you need to exercise dominion in Christ.’


II. Christ:
Head of the Church

Secondly, in verse 18, we see
this phrase, “Christ is the head of the Church.” He is not only supreme over creation, Paul says, He’s
supreme in the Church. He is the
head of the body in theChurch.
He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that He Himself
will come to have first place in everything.
Notice what Paul stresses here. Christ is the head of theChurch,
He is the authority. He is the
only head. He is the only Lord of
theChurch.
My friends, that is the charter of freedom for you as a Christian, that
you know that no human being can make up for you rules or teaching in the sphere
of your Christian faith which have not been ordained by your Lord.
You are free to be who yourLord
intends you to be, and no man, however spiritual, may add to the commands of theLord
for what you are to be. That is
your charter of freedom. So many
people feel like they’re bound, and they’re groaning under the load of having to
obey the Bible. Oh, that’s so
untrue, my friends. The Bible
frees you from the foolish and capricious commands of men, for who has the
authority to tell another man’s servant how to serve.
Who has the authority to tellChrist’s
servants, yea, his brothers and sisters, how they are to live and serve?
The answer is, no one.
He is the Lord over the Church, and when anyone claims to be the head of
the Church, other thanChrist,
they are committing blasphemy against Christ.
Whether that person be a leader of a great church and denomination, or
whether that person be a person in a local church setting who is claiming to add
commandments for the behaving of the Christian life, thatChrist
himself has not inaugurated and initiated.
We are set free from the
commandments of men, because Christ is the Lord inHis
Church. He is also the head of
HisChurch in the sense that he is
the source of all spiritual life in the body.
Paul says He is the source,
He’s the head, He’s the
fountainhead of all spiritual life in the body. If you have life today as a believer, it’s because you are
united to Christ by faith. If you
have life today, it is evidence that the work of the head of the body of Christ
is at work in you.

Paul goes on, not only to say that He is the head, that He is the authority,
that He’s the source of the life of His people, and he goes on in verse 18 to
say that “He is the first-born of the dead.” This points to the resurrection
ofChrist, and he says that His
resurrection is the ground of our hope. He’s the first-born of the dead.
Because He’s raised from the dead, we
have hope of resurrection. It is
precisely because of the truth, because of the reality of Christ’s resurrection,
that we expect, that we hope, in the fullest sense of that word, as a Christian,
that we hope for our resurrection. And
the Apostle Paul says elsewhere, that “if Christ be not raised from the dead, we
are of all people most miserable.” We might as well eat and drink, for tomorrow
we die. But Christ is raised,
and Paul says that He is the first-born of the dead, and because He is
the head of the Church, and because He is the first-born of the dead, because
He’s preceded us in resurrection,Paul
says He has primacy in the Church.
He has supremacy.


III. Christ:
the Fullness


In those passages,
verses 15 through 17, and in verse 18,Paul sets forth the supremacy of Christ.
He knows that these Colossians believe in the supremacy ofChrist,
at least in theory, but they haven’t understood its implications, and he turns
to the implications of it in verses 19 and 20.
So what, Christ is Lord?
So what? Here’s
Paul’s answer to that question: verse 19, for “it was the Father’s good
pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. It was the Father’s good
pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”
Paul is arguing that becauseChrist
is supreme, in creation and in redemption, therefore, He is sufficient,His
person is sufficient.The person
of Christ is sufficient for our redemption, and he uses this glorious, this
mysterious phrase, “it was theFather’s
good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”
Now, how do we interpret that? That’s
a hard passage to interpret. Let
me just say a couple of things.

First of all,”the fullness” is a
word that the false teachers in Colossae liked to use.
They liked to talk about this fullness that believers could attain if
they would go through the mystic rituals.
Isn’t it interesting that theApostle
Paul fires back by saying, ‘no, Christ is the fullness. You don’t look somewhere else other than Christ for the
fullness. You look in Christ for
the fullness.’

Second interesting thing.
If you were to turn over with me to Colossians chapter 2 verse9, you would see the ApostlePaul say, “For in Him all theFullness
of Deity dwells in bodily form.” There, the word “fullness” is stressing that in Christ is a
fullness of divinity. He is fully
divine. Now that may well be what
Paul is driving at here in verse 19, but let me suggest something slightly
different. Because in verse 19 it
says, “it was the Father’s good
pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him,” and because it says it was theFather’s
good pleasure, or theFather’s
will for this fullness to dwell in Him,I’m
not sure that Paul is talking about the deity of Christ. Paul’s already asserted that. There’s no question that Paul is teaching the deity of
Christ here, but Christ is divine not because the Father wills it, but because
in His essence He is divine.
The Father doesn’t will the Son to be divine. The Son is divine.
So what is it that the Father is willing, what is His good pleasure?
What kind of fullness is this that it’s the Father’s will forChrist
to have? I suspect that Paul is
talking about the honor and the glory and the reward which is due to Christ
alone because He has fulfilled all the responsibilities of His office as our
Savior, as our Mediator, the Mediator of the Covenant ofGrace. Paul is speaking of that fullness which God has been pleased
to give to His Son, because He is pleased beyond measure with the perfection of
our Savior’s obedience and sacrifice. That fullness is all found inHim. That
fullness belongs to Him alone. In
the words of Philippians 2, He is
given “that name which is above every name” because He humbled Himself and
because He took on the form of a servant, and because He died the death on the
cross. And because He was raised again,
He was exalted to that name above every name.
This is speaking of God’sCovenantal
reward of His Son who is our Mediator. becauseHe
has fulfilled everything He told the Father He would do on our behalf.
And that is so important, theApostle
Paul says, for this reason: We
are told that in Him we are more than conquerors.
We are hyper-conquerors.
We are hyper-exalted. As He is hyper-exalted to the fullness of the Father
because of the Father’s pleasure in His obedience, we are exalted with Him.
And the Apostle Paul is saying,‘You
want the fullness?’ You’ve got
the fullness in Christ. Don’t
look somewhere else. If you are
in Christ, you will reign with Him in glory. You will be hyper-exalted. You will be hyper-conquerors. For in Him, all the fullness dwells by the Father’s
pleasure. There’s nothing of
glory and honor and blessing which is to be found outside of Christ.

IV.
Christ:
the Reconciler


And then finally,
the ApostlePaul, in verse 20
stresses this: Christ is the
Reconciler, the only Reconciler. Not
only does he stress the supremacy of Christ in creation, not only does he stress
the supremacy in the Church, not only does he stress the sufficiency of Christ’s
person, he stresses the sufficiency ofChrist’s work. He
is the Reconciler. Through Him,
God reconciled all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of Hiscross,”through
Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
As Christ is the creator,Paul
says, He is also theReconciler.
As sin destroyed the relationship
between creatures and the Creator, between man and God, so Christ restores that
fellowship and relationship between man and God, and He does it through the
death of His cross.

Now
my friends, this is a stratagem of Paul’s teaching, and it’s a stratagem of God,
and it’s a stratagem of Christian theology. We can never leave out theCross,
because the cross tells us that we were already at enmity withGod, and the cross tells us that God provided a way back into
fellowship with Him, and there is no way back into fellowship with God apart
from that cross. There is no way
to get to Him. There is a
theology which has floated around in the Church for the last 100 years or so,
which says that men really aren’t sinners, and God isn’t really a just God who
is going to punish sin. He’s really just an amiable grandfather in the sky who’s
going to bless everyone in the end, and so we need to put away all this stuff
about sin and forgiveness and atonement and get on with it, and teach good moral
teaching from the pulpit. But as far as the Apostle Paul, that is not true.
Paul says that God has been reconciled to the world through the death of
Christ on the cross. One
theologian, many years ago, described this liberal theology which has no cross
of Christ this way,He said, “a
God without wrath,” in this theology, “a God without wrath, brought men without
sin into a kingdom without righteousness through the ministrations of aChrist without a cross.”

That is not Christianity. This is
Christianity. Christianity says
that we have been estranged from God, and that we deserved to be judged, but
through the atoning death of Christ, the wrath of God was quitted for all His
people. And as we embrace Christ
by faith, as we repent of our sins, as we turn to Him, we find in Him the
blessing of all the benefits of reconciliation with God.
Have you embraced Christ?
Have you realized if you are apart from Christ, that you are at enmity with God? Have you realized that there is no way that you can be
indifferent to God? You’re either
for Him or against him. You’re
either His or you’re not. If you
are in Christ, have you recognized how sufficient He is?
There’s no need to go anyplace else, Paul says.
He is the Creator. He is
the Redeemer. He’s the
Reconciler. He’s the fullness.
It’s all here in Christ.
The Christian life, my friend, is a process of learning that truth, applied with
all of Christ’s word in his word, deeper and more consistently.
We begin with Christ. We
end with Christ. He is the Alpha.
He is the Omega.
Let’s pray.

Our
heavenly Father, we commit ourselves to You this day.
We ask that You would show us the truth of who Your Son is,
and as we see Him in all His glory, we would embrace Him willingly, freely.
If there are those who have come not knowing who He is, reveal Yourself
to them through Him by the Word and by the Spirit.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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