Good evening everyone! Please grab your Bibles and turn back to Colossians 1 and as you do, I’m going to pray.
Lord Jesus, we have some incredible verses before us tonight. Please, by your Spirit, would you help us to understand what they show us about you. And in so doing Lord, please would deepen our love for you. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
So, folks here we go! We’ve got six verses tonight. Six of some of the most remarkable verses in the New Testament, if not all of Scripture, and just a quarter of an hour to do them justice. It felt like an impossible task in preparation – but let’s see how we get on!
And I want to begin with a quote from C. S. Lewis, who once said:
"A man can't be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it."
[C. S. Lewis, (1964). “Reflections on the Psalms”, p.15, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
And that sentiment is quite possibly what was going through Paul’s mind as he wrote these verses. The specifics of what false teaching was affecting the young church in Colossae are much debated, but what is clear is that, initially at least, Paul elects to combat it not through argument but by proclaiming wonderful truths about the greatness of Jesus Christ.
And I can’t help but wonder how relevant this is for us today. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels as if we’re defending the gospel left, right and centre. Attacks from without, attacks from within. Church, we must not forget to enjoy and delight in him whose gospel we defend! And we do that by taking time to feed on his truthful word.
Colossians 1:15-20 is a fantastic place to turn if t you have forgotten to enjoy and delight in your saviour! It’s also a great place to turn to if you’re just beginning to get your head around who this Jesus character actually is.
So, the first of my two main headings is this,
1. Grasp the Wonder of Who Jesus Is
Paul’s introduction to his letter is over. He’s greeted this young church in Colossae, he’s expressed gratitude for their fruitfulness and prayed that it would increase. And so you expect him next to go on and tell the believers just what it is they need to do to be more fruitful. And he kind of does, but, not in the way we’d expect. Because he gets down to business not by saying “do this, do that” but by painting this wonderfully profound picture of who Jesus is.
And actually, that makes so much sense, doesn’t it? Because it’s only as we truly understand who Jesus is and what he’s done, that we can be equipped and motivated to live for him in response. We’ll never be fully committed to someone we barely even know!
So, Paul’s wonderful picture of Jesus in these verses, paints him as – the greatest in creation and the greatest in the church. If we can grasp these two things and live our lives in constant wonder of the Lord Jesus, the greatest of all time, then we will be equipped with the best motivation and perspective for our lives.
a. THE GREATEST IN CREATION (vv.15-17)
So, take a look with me at how Paul paints this picture. Firstly, of Jesus as the greatest in creation in vv.15-17:
"He is the image of the invisible God,"
Let’s take it step by step. What we see here is that
i. Jesus reveals God
People often ask don’t they, ‘How can we know God?’ or ‘How can I believe in someone or something that I can’t see?’ Well here’s the answer: Jesus reveals God to us. The real flesh and blood Jesus who walked on this earth 2,000 years ago, was the Son of God become man: the visible image of the invisible God.
Now Paul isn’t thinking about Jesus’ physical appearance as a middle eastern man – but rather Jesus’ character and nature as a reflection of God’s image.
So, if you want to know what God is like, take a good long look at Jesus. The temptation so often is to come up with our own ideas from our own heads about who God is – but we don’t need to do that. He’s given us his word… this book is all about Jesus from beginning to end. Sometimes Jesus is more obvious in it than in other times. But this is where we need to start, and return to time and again, in order to delight in him.
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation."
Now admittedly this is a bit of a tricky phrase, “the firstborn of all creation”, and at first glance it looks like Paul is suggesting that Jesus is a created being. This was the mistake of some in the early church and led to huge controversy and debate in the 4th Century. But if Paul meant that (that Jesus was created) how could he go on to write "For by him all things were created" in v.16?
No, as our first reading from John 1 reminded us earlier,
"In the beginning [Jesus the] Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
So, Jesus was not created.
Instead, we need to understand this phrase metaphorically. Paul is saying that just as the firstborn in a family is around before any siblings, just as the firstborn in a ancient culture had a certain status and privilege (and was his father’s heir) – so too is Jesus! He is first, before anyone else. He is heir of all things. In other words:
ii. Jesus is supreme
…over everything. He is first in time, in rank, in inheritance, in absolutely everything! No-one is greater than him. It is a phenomenal statement. And next Paul tells us why. Jesus is supreme because
iii. Jesus is Creator
"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."
All things. There’s a huge stress on that phrase in these verses. It appears six times. All things. This is totally all-encompassing. Things visible to the naked eye. So everything from the goldfinches in my garden to the Himalayan mountain range in Asia!. And things invisible – such as electrons, DNA, photosynthesis!
all things were created through him and for him. Jesus is not only the agent of Creation, he is the very purpose of it. Everything is for and under him.
Why is this important? Well Paul, wants us to marvel at Jesus’ supremacy so that we realise that he is completely powerful and in control of everything – if he’s got this foundational big stuff, there’s no need for us to sweat our more temporal concerns.
There is nothing in creation, no authority in the entire universe that is not under Jesus Christ's lordship, control and dominion. Abraham Kuyper was Prime Minister of the Netherlands at the start of the 20th century – he was also a theologian and journalist. He said this:
"There is not one square inch, in all of creation, over which Christ does not declare, 'mine.'"
Next, we see that…
iv. Jesus is eternal
"And he is before all things,"
More evidence from Paul here that Jesus existed before Creation.
"And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
In, other words, lastly…
v. Jesus is the Sustainer
Not only did he make all things, but the universe would collapse without his power holding it together! As one commentator puts it:
"What holds the universe together is not an idea or a virtue, but a person: the resurrected Christ. Without him, electrons would not continue to circle nuclei, gravity would cease to work, the planets would not stay in the orbits."
[Douglas J Moo “The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon” p.126 Apollos, 2008]
Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t teach me that in GCSE physics!
The sad reality though, is that as soon as you allow Christ to drift from the centre of everything in your thinking, then the world becomes a much more confusing and harder place to make sense of.
Whatever aspect of creation we can think of, Jesus is the sufficient explanation.
Why is that important? Because if Jesus’ power and wisdom is sufficient to sustain the entire universe how could he possibly be insufficient for my little old life? How could he possibly be insufficient for our corporate life at JPC? He’s not! Friends, we don’t need anyone else instead of Jesus. We don’t need anything else as well as Jesus. He is totally sufficient.
And so Paul would have our eyes turned to Jesus – the greatest in all creation. The Lord Jesus who is revealing God, who is totally supreme, who is Creator of everything, who is eternal and who is sustaining, upholding and governing all things.
But, says Paul, he’s also…
b. THE GREATEST IN THE CHURCH (vv.18-20)
…and in vv.18-20 he lays out three reasons why that’s the case.
i. The head and founder of the church
"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 pre-eminent."
Do you see that when Jesus is called the ‘head’, ‘beginning’ and ‘firstborn’ here, the reference is to the resurrection from the dead? Do you see that? Most obviously this refers to Jesus being the first human to experience resurrection, but surely Paul is packing more in here. He’s also saying that Jesus is the founder of a new resurrection community. He is the founder of a new creation, a new created order that comes from the spiritually dead – i.e. you and me before we were saved! He is the head of this new community, the church, and there is no greater authority in it than him.
Secondly, he’s also
ii. The source of all God’s fullness in the church
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,"
It’s yet another incredible statement! All the fullness of God is found in Jesus. We need nothing more from God, nothing more than what he has already given us in Jesus and that’s himself. No-one can give more than that, can they?
And this is why Christians use the language of relationship when we talk about our faith. Because, at the end of the day, the head and founder of the church, the source of all God’s fullness is also…
iii. The reconciler
"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."
You see for there to be a need for new community, means there must be something wrong with the old one.
A huge relational fracture has occurred between God and his creation. The whole created order has been thrown into disarray and knows no peace.
It's why there is futility and decay in nature. It’s why there is evil and aggression and prejudice and hatred amongst man.
But these verses show us that God takes the initiative and makes reconciliation with him possible for us through the blood of Jesus on the cross. And believing and trusting and accepting that sacrifice on our behalf is sufficient for us to be reconciled with God! Jesus is the greatest in the church!
These are extraordinary things to look at briefly, but I do hope you can feel something of the wonder of them. Can I encourage you to make it a priority this week to return to them, re-read and meditate on them? Plead with God that he would make them more than just words on a page for you.
But for now, and by way of a conclusion, can I make one observation in response. If Jesus is the greatest ever, in creation, in the church, of all time, then:
2. Trust Him – He's All You Need
Paul’s purpose in these breath-taking verses is immensely practical. He wants his readers to grasp the wonder of Jesus’ greatness, so that we won’t be tempted to either chase after other things to replace him, or think that we need other things in addition to him.
Simply to grasp the wonder of who Jesus is and trust him completely in response… “that’s enough” Paul says.
We know from chapter 2 that Paul felt his initial readers might be vulnerable to those with plausible arguments – philosophies, traditions, things of the world. That might cause them to think, “I’m not sure we need Jesus – some other spiritual power or authority might be better.” Or “We do need Jesus – but we also need circumcision or Old Testament ritual or whatever it might be.”
I think we can still think along similar lines today can’t we? We know we’re saved by grace not works, but somehow we end up living by works, justifying ourselves before God by the amount of time we have spent reading our Bibles, praying or doing Christian things. Or vice versa, condemning ourselves by our failures in those areas.
Or we may hear plausible arguments from other Christians who suggest that, as well as Jesus, we just need a second blessing or in order to move to the next stage of Christian discipleship we just need the experience of putting our hands in the air or speaking in tongues. Others may tell us there some secret knowledge they know that we’ve missed out on. Or that an ascetic lifestyle is the only way to truly serve. Or that we need to pray to Mary. No!
Is the work of salvation finished? Yes! Do we need something extra? No!
You have Jesus, says Paul, so you have the fullness of God! Trust him, he’s all you need.