January 2014, Temple Square Tabernacle. It’s a late Sunday evening service in the depth of winter; to mark the close of this year’s leaders conference. Spirits are high and people ready to Worship God in thanks for a wonderful week. Outside its cold with a chill meeting whoever leaves the warmth of the building. To us, it’s a picture not dissimilar to our own experience of Sunday, or the end of Christian Conference – yet the guest speaker was extremely nervous. More Anxious that a groom standing at the front of the church, waiting for his late Bride. It wasn’t the size of the crowd (he was used to big crowds). It was not his first speaking engagement (he had travelled the world speaking at events). The man approaching the pulpit would be Dr Ravi Zacharias, one of the leading Christian Intellects of the 21st Century, his Audience would be full of people that he fundamentally disagreed with, whom he believed to be in error; he would stand in from of the leadership of the Latter-Day-Saints (LDS) or Mormons. In fact, he stood as a first of over one hundred years. No Evangelical had stood in the same spot in front of the leadership of one of the fastest growing religious movement since DL moody nearly a century before him. Imagine the situation…. You are standing before a crowd of men and women who exert influence over millions of fellow believers. An influence that you believe to be wrong and not the truth they really need to know, influence you believe is dangerous because of its proximity to the Gospel, yet a drastically difference Gospel. You have the opportunity to address them, to challenge them. How would you go about it? Would you systemically work through their theology and show them the error of their belief and the truth of yours using your historical and biblical knowledge to back it up; expounding the Greek and the Hebrew and apply knowledge of the surrounding culture, or do as Dr Zacharias did and received great scorn from some leading evangelicals for simply preaching the Pre-eminence and beauty of Christ. A very biblical thing to do because we see Paul do it here and in Acts. Where there is potential for error, or error a valid biblical approach is not to deconstruct but to paint a picture of Christ that is so full and mind blowing that people will see the errors of their way, because they will see the beauty of Truth, The truth that is Jesus.
‘I am going to make Jesus so attractive, that men will turn to him’
Paul and Timothy were writing to a baby Church in the small city of Colossae, located in the depths of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) at the foot of Mount Coolum, it was an area Paul would never visit. The Church was undoubtedly born out of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), where an unsuspecting man named Epaphras was wondering along the street and had his life turned inside-out when his ears caught the wondering Words of Paul as he preached. A life that was so transformed that when he returned to his home, he shared the same Good News to his friends, family and in his community and a Church was born. There is a lesson alone in that for us, that when we are truly transformed by the Gospel of Grace we will want others to know and in that there is the potential to change the community around us.
The exact concern of the letter cannot be known other than what Paul states (2:8) the Church or some in it are being influenced by some unknown philosophy. Yet, even without knowing the exact nature of the concern there is so much Theological and Gospel truth in this letter. The section of the text we are looking at is towards the end of the 1st Chapter, Paul has just introduced himself (1:1-2), Given thanks for the church and the work God is doing in their Life (1:3-8) and praying for them (1:9-14).
The Preeminent Christ: Supreme above all else
So Paul sets out to paint a Christ who is powerfully beautiful and beautifully powerful a picture of Christ that is so full and complete that when anything is held up against it, philosophy of religion it will simply Pale in comparison. Paul’s Christ is preeminent or ‘Above all else’ a preeminence we see revealed in four different places.
Jesus is Lord of Creation (15-17)
The first Place where Paul outlines the authority given to Jesus is creation: Jesus is Lord of creation. At the start of verse 15 we see ‘He’ (ESV) which is better translated as ‘the Son’ (NIV) or ‘Christ’ (NLT). Jesus is the Image of God, meaning that he is a reflection that shares the very reality of that which he reflects. Jesus is not simply an Image he is The Image; he is no copy; he is the exact image of the invisible God. In one sentence; Jesus is revealed as the author of creation, the one who brings order. Not only is he the Image of God, but he is the firstborn over all creation; a phrasing we need to be careful to understand so we grasp the depths of its truth and what it means for us. This short sentence has led many into error; this is not about a physical reality that at some point Christ was created, born or that he has ever know a point of origin. No, simply this is to be understood within the context of Jewish culture, that as the first born Jesus would be owed the same respect and privileges as his father: God. Jesus as the firstborn Son Inherits and is owed the very privileges and respect God is given as the Father. Jesus as the Image of God displays in Human weakness the very fullness of Gods Divine Majesty, Grace, Mercy and power. Jesus is God.
Christ as the firstborn of creation, must receive the highest honour above all else.
Why? Because as verse 16 shows us, Jesus is the creator of creation: Not an agent of creation or the hand of God, but he himself is the creator of creation along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The creator deserves the Praise and reverence of the very thing it has given life to. We were created for the benefit of ourselves so that we could know the fullness of being in the presence of God. Jesus created us so that we could enjoy him. Our sin, all sin as created beings is when we give our praise and worship to other created things, idols. Created beings worshipping created things and ignoring the very person who gives them the ability to worship. We are Christian must put God first because it is the best thing for us, and he commands it. Disciples must declare Christ as firstborn, even when it makes no sense because ultimately it is the best thing for us.
Not only is he the author of creation, of all that is seen and unseen, of all that is in heaven and earth; of all ‘Kings, Kingdoms, rulers and Authorities’ he is also the goal of creation! Meaning both; that all creation is able to enjoy him and Jesus is the objective of all he created. One translator says you could read it as, ‘all creation moves towards Christ’. Consider the magnitude of such a thought: Everything that exists by the sovereign will of God exists solely to glorify God even if it is unaware of it. Today you have been made to glorify God and you have a choice to do it now, are you willing to Submit and choose to do such a thing? Before the time comes when all will bow the knee to their maker.
In verse (17) Jesus reveals himself as the sustainer of creation. This verse emphasises the pre-existence of Christ; He can only sustain it if he existed before it. Jesus created from nothing all that exists and sustains all that exists today. This is incomprehensible to us yet should grant us such confidence because no matter how bad things get around us, no matter how many wars rage, economies fail, political systems collapse, genocides occur, natural disasters. No matter how much the world around us seems to be failing we are to have confidence: because the Firstborn is the creator, the goal and the sustainer of all. Notice the perfect tense of the word, not some grammatical error but a truth in itself. At this very second, Jesus is reigning through his sustaining.
Simply put, we need to see everything in comparison to Jesus and when we do: we can see the folly of worshipping something anything other than him. Everything has been created for him, by him and to glorify him, so nothing compares to him. We need to see Christ in the fullest of his majesty so that we are not captured by some weak, pathetic watered down version of Jesus or the Gospel. We must know Christ as the Firstborn, Creator, Goal and sustainer so that all others idols fade in comparison to him, and we must know him as such so that we know what the demands of following Jesus are, and what is required of us – outlined in the next few verses.
Jesus and His Church (18-20)
In the next few verses, Paul outlines Jesus and his relation to the Church as the body of Christ. Jesus is presented to us as the head of the body so if we are part of the body he is the part that directs us and sustains us. Our every movement we must get from him. Jesus is not just the head of our church; our denomination; our church planting movement – he is the head of the Church Universal that transcends all notions of time, space, politics, ethnicity, borders or nationality. This is a body beyond any comprehension, a body that fights with itself, disagrees with itself, even hates itself. Yet somehow beyond all comprehension Jesus is directly sustaining us and directing us even when we seem to be going against ourselves, now this does not mean that every decision your local church makes Jesus is behind it and for it. It means in the grand scheme of things like with creation he will work it for his purpose and in his purpose our good. Jesus is directing his church and sustaining it through all to fulfil his work of redemption. Jesus again is named as firstborn; this time not of creation but the dead. But, the same applies this is not that he was the first to be raised from the dead; simply, of all that have been raised and will be raised Jesus is the most importance. The one who without, there would be no resurrection.
“Without Christ’s Resurrection, there is no lasting Resurrection”
Here I love how the NLT puts it “He is the beginning, Supreme over all who rise from the dead, so he is First in everything.” What this means is that Christ must be first in every part of our lives, everything in our life must extend his firstness. He who is the creator and sustained, and goal of creation, he who is the creator, sustainer, redeemer and head of the church which we are part of must be the sustained and goal of our lives if we are to truly live. It sounds Impossible, it is if we are acting alone; but be thankful to God we are not. With the holy spirit working within us: interceding, sustaining and directing us. God gives us the ability to try our best in faith with his help. God is working in us to keep us to his end. If you don’t know Jesus, then this is what you are missing out on!
Let us Be Reconciled (19-23)
In verse 19 we see one of the most hopeful sentences ever written; The NLT again captures the magnitude of such a sentence: ‘God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ.’ Take one second and consider what this means for mankind. That God willingly and with a Joy that transcends any notion of our understanding choose to dwell fully in the human form of Christ. It means two things for us:
That all we can know of God and need to know is revealed fully in the life, works and works of Jesus.
Through Jesus and with divine pleasure God choose to (20) reconcile us to him through the cross whether ‘on earth or in heaven.’
That Sin no more Shall Reign,
Christ shall bring our fullest Gain,
Through the Cross he brings Redemption,
Only those whom to God say “I want it my way”
Shall never know the fullness of his Grace.
In the last few verse of our text (20-23) Paul outlines several things. The first is Gods method of reconciliation, which he outlines in two parallel clauses (2ob and 22a) reconciliation to God is granted through the blood of Christ, that is we are reconciled by the historical event of the Death of Christ on the Cross, Jesus with pleasure bears our sin on the cross. Secondly, Paul reminds the church about their previous condition as enemies of God, separated from his presence by sin; sin that touched every inch of their life and being; sin that means it is impossible for us to enter into the presence of God with the help of God. Paul words are the picture of a life absent of Christ, a life that does not know the holy spirit working in them.
The last two verses give us a picture and a choice: we can either choose to remain in sin and thus enemies of God enjoying the idols and pleasures of our lives, convincing ourselves that we will be okay and there will be time later on in life to do the Jesus thing or we can choose to put first He who created the universe; Jesus. Not a creator who steps back and lets things get on as if there is no hope, but he who creates and sustained and directs it all for his purpose. He who willingly and with pleasure died for us so that we could know the fullness of his mercy, he who calls us to put him first in all areas of our lives, he who grants more of himself in the holy spirit to help sustain us so we can be the picture of verse 22b and 23:
“in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
Paul paints such a picture of Christ, to remind the church what is at risk, put your trust in Christ the sustainer and creator of Creation and the church, or Perish. Put him first and know the fullness of Joy and life, put him second and never know him, what are you willing to do?