Who is Jesus Christ, whose birth we have just been celebrating? What is our vision of him? Who was the baby born of a virgin, wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn?
The carol 'See Amid The Winter's Snow' answers, in part, like this, taking its cue from Colossians 1:16:
" Lo, within a manger lies,
He who built the starry skies."
He is God the Son, the Creator and Lord of all, the only Saviour. He is the reason not just for the season but for everything. He is the reason why you are here on this earth. Jesus is the 'beginning, v18, and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy'. As we learnt last year in 40 Days of Purpose - it's not about us and these verses are all about Jesus.
Yet while the census figures, the statistics from the latest British Social Attitudes Survey and the 5000+ who came to Carols by Candlelight tell us that many today still accept to some degree the importance of Jesus Christ, far fewer acknowledge his supremacy.
Last week I was in Sheffield conducting a wedding. In the middle of the city were two large illuminated messages next to each other in amongst the street decorations: One said 'Merry Christmas' and the other 'Happy Eid'. Jesus' birthday was still important in Sheffield, it was even prominent but it was not pre-eminent.
The false teachers at Colossae, like many of the false teachers of today such as the JW's and the Mormons, did not deny the importance of Jesus Christ. But they dethroned Jesus, giving him prominence but not pre-eminence. In their philosophy, Jesus Christ was but one of many emanations that proceeded from God and through which men could reach God. The Colossians heard, "Worship Jesus, but not exclusively. Jesus is just one spirit among many to be worshipped." It was this claim that Paul refuted in these verses in Colossians.
And what about us here this morning - is Jesus pre-eminent in our lives or just prominent or important? What is our vision of Jesus Christ? In Colossians 1 Paul makes it quite clear that there is a link between our maturity and effectiveness as Christians and our vision of who Jesus is. When John Stott preached here two and a half years ago on this passage I remember him saying this: "We are pigmy Christians because we have a pigmy Christ."
Our maturity, the level of our maturity, depends on the clarity of our vision of Jesus Christ. So if we want to grow into maturity in Christ, we need a vision of the authentic Jesus, not least of his unchallengeable supremacy as it is described in v15-20. Look at those verses.
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
We are told here that he is the visible image of the invisible God, so that whoever has seen him, as he said, has seen the Father. He also is the firstborn over all creation, not that he himself was created but he was the author of the creation, its Lord and its heir, for by him the universe was created and all things through him. He's also the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, so that in everything he might have the pre-eminence.
So Paul indicates that Christ has a double lordship - he's Lord of the creation, of the universe and he's also Lord of the church. Because of who he is - the image and the fullness of God - and because of what he's done - as the agent of creation and of reconciliation. When you begin to glimpse this Jesus, the head of the universe and the head of the church, our place is on our faces prostrate in worship before him.
Well let's now look at the supremacy of Christ under two headings from this passage: Jesus is supreme over creation and Jesus is supreme over the new creation. So first
1) Jesus is supreme over creation (v15-17)
"He is the image of the invisible God…" Paul begins by pointing out who Jesus is and mentions two characteristics. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." How do we know a God who cannot be seen? The claim here is that He is seen in Jesus. God becomes visible, revealed, in Jesus. As we heard in our Gospel reading, John writes "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only Son, who is at the Father's side, has made Him known." The Greek here for "image" means an exact representation, which is just how the writer to the Hebrews put it in v3 of chapter 1:
The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
In other words, He is the perfect likeness of God. Jesus is God Himself. There is nothing of God that we cannot see in Jesus (see also v19). In John 14 Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…I am in the Father and the Father is in me". We might say that someone is the spitting image of his father but God, v19, was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. Do you really want to know the character of God, to know what He is like, to know what His goals are for the world? Read the gospels. See Jesus. There you see God. Why not set yourself the goal of reading the whole of John's Gospel at the end of this year and beginning of the next. It doesn't take very long to read it right through, and we're going to be learning from John 8-13 this term and next in Home Groups.
"…the first born over all creation" Paul writes that Jesus is also the "firstborn over all creation." He does not mean that Jesus is 'first created'. The Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong when they use this text to argue that Jesus is not God but a creature, the first born of God's creation. As we heard from John 1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning."
So what does the word "firstborn" mean here? In the Old Testament it referred to the firstborn in a family who had the place of honour, the person who enjoyed a special relationship with the father and assumed the right of inheritance. Psalm 89:26&27 captures the meaning well: "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Saviour'. I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth."
"…by him all things were created" After establishing who Jesus is as awesome God, King of all, the revelation of God, Paul writes of what He does. Look first at v16&17 and look at the role of Jesus in the creation of the universe. "For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." So what is this saying? First, Jesus is the cause of all that exists. "By Him all things were created." Note "all things". Absolutely everything was created by Jesus … the smallest parts that make up each atom, the genetic codes that make up who we are, the stunning mountain ranges, the awesome universe. It's all there by Jesus. He is the cause. Not only of what we can see, but also the unseen, the spiritual: "things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible". Every spiritual being, including the angels, Satan, "whether thrones or powers or rules or authorities." You can see that the last words are aimed directly at the Colossians who were being drawn into angel worship. None of these beings has any power in comparison to Jesus. He is the one who determines whether things exist or not.
"… created for him" Jesus is also the goal of the creation. "all things were created by him and for him." So Jesus is not just the cause of the creation. He is its goal. He is the reason, the purpose for the creation. It all exists for His glory, to bring Him pleasure, to do his bidding. Jesus gives everything meaning. He gives it all a purpose. Without Jesus the universe is meaningless. In fact without Him there is no universe.
"… In him all things hold together." Thirdly he says in v17, "In him all things hold together". Jesus didn't just create the world and then leave it to its own devices. He is not the watchmaker who creates a wonderful precision instrument, winds it up and goes on holidays. Everything continues to exist, the earth spins on its axis and we get day after night, the earth spins around the sun and we get our seasons, because Jesus "holds all things together". Does that fact not bring you comfort - that "all things were created by" Jesus and that in Him "all things hold together"? Not just some things but all things. Jesus is Lord over history: he began it, he is in control of it now, he will wind it up at the End.
Now all this is very relevant for us. We live in a time when so many people wonder about the meaning of life. They don't know who they are, why they exist, what the point is to everything. And hasn't so much of that come about because we have tried to explain the world in scientific terms alone? We have left God out of our thinking with the result that we have concluded there is no ultimate meaning or purpose to life. But Paul says that life is not all about a scientific theory. It's all about a person. It's all about Jesus. He is the centre of the universe and its reason for existence. The stress on Jesus being the cause and goal of creation also reminds us that while Christian thinking has stressed Jesus' Lordship over the church, which Paul writes about next, we can so easily neglect his Lordship over creation. So we can fall into the trap of creating a dualism in which we worship Jesus in church life, but not at work, university, hospital, school, family, home, sports and so on. In a sense, like the Colossians, we are often guilty of syncretism. I.e. we often combine a faith in Jesus with a belief in human secularism because we make little attempt to claim education, medicine, business and politics for the Lordship of Jesus. The reality is we will only find meaning in all parts of life when we do all of them for Jesus (cf Colossians 3:23-24) and seek to work out in practice what it means for Jesus to be Lord of all in all areas of life. Secondly
2) Jesus is supreme over the new creation (v18-20)
"Jesus is the head of the …church". In verse 18 Paul shows how Jesus is also the head of the church. "And He [Jesus} is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." The wonderful creation has become terribly broken by sin. So Christ came to restore it. He brings new life to those who believe and trust in him. He died for the church. Together we are being built into his body, the church over which he is the head. The word "head" means headship as in having authority and control. So Jesus gave life to the church and He controls it. He is its Lord. Jesus is the head of Jesmond Parish Church and he is in control. We are to fix our eyes on him and obey his word.
"…the first born of the dead". Paul goes on to draw out some of the implications of Jesus being the head of the church. He says: "…He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead." He is the "beginning". Without Jesus the church would not have come into existence. Without Jesus this creation would just keep struggling in all its brokenness and suffering. But because of Jesus, through His death and resurrection, a new chapter has begun.
Things are not the same anymore. He is the "firstborn from the dead." Paul has already stated that Christ is the "firstborn over all creation." (v15) Now he says Jesus has the same status over the new creation. The new humanity is the community of the resurrection. It's the community of those who defeat death, that dreadful ultimate in heartache and suffering and brokenness. Jesus is the first to have defeated death forever. Jesus, by the power of God rose from the dead. He defeated death, clearing the way for all who believe. He is the first. He is also our model. As it happened for Jesus so it will happen for all of us who believe in Him. Jesus is the "firstborn of the dead" so that "in everything He might have the supremacy". Note Paul's emphasis. "In everything" Jesus is "supreme". There is absolutely nothing that is outside His control. Not even death. All evil, including Satan, everything is under His control.
"…reconcile all things". Now you would think that at this high point it's all been said. But Paul says more. Sometimes when we climb in a mountain range we think we have reached the peak, only to find that over the crest, there is still more. Look at v19&20. "For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross."
Paul is taking about an entire new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, the complete restoration of the universe by Jesus. That's what it means when he speaks of "all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven." So it is this earth, with its animals and plants, the mountains and the seas, the stars and the galaxies that will be reconciled to God and restored. All the powers and thrones will become completely subject to Him.
Jesus will do it because of who He is. "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him." As someone has put it so well: "Jesus Christ is the ultimate. There is none before him, none beyond him, nothing without Him. Other than Jesus will not do; less than Jesus will not suit; more than Jesus is not possible. More than all in him we find. Everything of God is to be found in Him." It is through this awesome person, Jesus, God's Son that God will "reconcile all things…" Someone has said: "God's purpose was never only to save a few Christians for himself and let everything else go to hell. That sort of thinking is the result of dualism and individualism creeping into our theology. It's not just about me and my soul and my relationship with God. God has a concern for all the creatures He made, and this universe He placed them in." 'All things' that have been so terribly broken by sin are going to be reconciled to God. He is going to "make peace" with everything. It will be a creation where sin is gone, where all things, and all who believe, will find their true reason for being, where we will live and work and play in true righteousness, doing it God's way, always. And all this is not just a pipe dream. It will happen "through [Jesus'] blood shed on the cross." On the cross, as Jesus hung there dying, cursed, suffering hell, God's justice was done. Our guilt was covered. In Jesus all is forgiven, and the way is opened for those who belong to Jesus to come home.
Now, of course, Paul is not saying that everyone will be saved. No! Jesus offers eternal life to all those who turn to him in repentance and faith. Who needs to turn to him this morning? To the only one who is able to 'reconcile us to God the Father (v22) and present us holy in his sight without blemish and free from accusation?' If we have put our faith in Christ then God has rescued us through his Son (v12-14) and the verses we've just been looking at (v15-20) show why Jesus was fully qualified to rescue us fully and finally. As we've seen Jesus is Creator and Lord over every power and authority (including powers like Satan, sin and the judgement of death). Since Jesus is Lord over every power he can rescue us from those powers. And the rescue is complete, fully and finally achieved. Therefore, v23, continue to trust the rescue and ignore those who say we need something extra besides Jesus.
So, do you see? It's all about Jesus. He is Supreme and sufficient. He is the cause and the purpose of everything. Have you come to faith in Jesus? Do you live for Him in all of life? Then you have found the true reason why you are here. And you know where it's all going. The best is yet to come.