In Honor of Jesus

Colossians 1:15-20

 

It’s a special day, to be sure.  In fact, this particular weekend has always been one of my favorites of the year.

First of all, there’s the day off on Monday.  As a child, any day off school is an exciting attraction.  Add in that it came at the end of the school year, and it got even better.

As a youth minister, this was always an exciting time because the teenagers were getting out of school, meaning that they were around church more often.

This time of year also meant that it was time to recognize our graduating seniors.

We’ve already seen that this morning.  That’s always a meaningful time for a graduates and their families as they reflect on years gone by within the church.

It’s very exciting for me to see these four that have walked across this stage already this morning.  I look forward to what God has in store for them.

 

Of course, there’s another reason that this weekend is an especially meaningful one.

I mentioned that Monday was always a day off school.  Well, as I’m sure you know, that’s because it’s Memorial Day.

It’s the day when we remember and honor those who have died, either while serving our country in the military or after doing so.

As with our graduates, we have made mention of this special day already this morning.  We prayed, as we ought to, for those who have suffered that sort of sacrificial loss.

There is much regarding that sort of sacrifice that parallels the kind of attitude God tells us to have toward other people.

 

So, yes, it’s a special day.  Yes, it’s a very good day.  But it’s also a day that can be a little bit tough to navigate, if you ask me.

Why do we gather in this place today?  Well, it’s to honor our graduates, right?  Actually, that isn’t really the reason we are gathered here this morning.

Well, it’s to remember our fallen military heroes, right?  Again, I’d say that isn’t really the reason we are gathered here this morning.

As with every Sunday morning, regardless of what the calendar says, we gather to worship.  And the only one worthy of worship is God.

Specifically today, I want to talk about how worthy of worship is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Today we will jump into one of the more famous and loaded passages in the New Testament, at least in academic circles.

It’s found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and I invite you to join me there.  This, to me, is just about the most impressive scripture in the Bible.

Paul, in writing to the church in Colossae, interjects a glorious, worshipful passage exalting Jesus—painting a picture of Him as He truly is.

Tradition actually holds that this is an ancient hymn that Paul is quoting.  And if we will examine it closely today—allowing it to penetrate our minds and hearts—I think we may well have one of the most worshipful experiences of our lives.

Once again, it’s in the first chapter of Colossians.  I’ll begin our reading with verse 15.  (Read Colossians 1:15-20.)

 

Who is this Jesus we talk so much about?  Many of us know about the circumstances surrounding His birth, some of what He taught, and that He died on a cross.

But we can find that in any textbook.  We might even be able to learn that from the unchurched and perhaps even the unsaved.

Instead, what we have here is a little bit more like a eulogy.  You know how it is with a eulogy, don’t you?  It’s that point in a funeral when someone shares all the wonderful things about the person who has passed away.

 

Of course, we know that this is no funeral.  That’s mostly because the person being honored in this passage—Jesus—is no longer dead.

To be sure, He did die.  He died the sacrificial death for the sin of humanity.  But, as we will discuss from this passage, He is risen.

So, though this isn’t a eulogy, it has that same feel.  We have heard many wonderful things about our graduating seniors today.

Many in here could share stories about the courage and strength of one of our current, former, or since passed away military members.

But, for now, let’s focus on Jesus Christ and what this passage says about Him.

 

First of all, He is the image of the invisible God.  Five simple words there—image of the invisible God—provide fodder for a huge, in-depth conversation.

Jesus is the image of God.  This might cause some head-scratching on our part.  Doesn’t the Bible teach us that we were made in God’s image?  So where’s the distinction?  Well, there’s a couple ways of looking at this.

First of all, there’s a difference between being made in someone’s image and actually being the image.  Jesus is the image in which we are made.

That’s because, secondly, He is the image of the invisible God.  John claims, in the first chapter of his gospel, that no one has ever seen God.

What we see in Jesus is “the Word become flesh”, as John also puts it.  God took on skin on our behalf.

The author of Hebrews states that Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being.

To see Jesus is to see God.  To see the Son is to see the Father.  We cannot lay eyes upon the Father.  But, in Christ, we can see God.

 

Think about that for a moment.  Jesus is not merely a better version of humanity.

He’s not merely a super human.  When this passage says that He is the image of God, that’s not to say that He just looks like God or acts a lot like God.

You see, we are not allowed to create graven images, according to the OT.  We are forbidden from attempting to create an image that accurately portrays God.

That’s because we can’t do it.  Only God can provide us with an image—with an exact representation.  Jesus is just that.

 

But we must remember that Jesus is not some image that God created at some point in time.  We must believe in the pre-existent Christ.

This means that Jesus has always existed.  There was never a time when He was not.

This might cause some problems for us when we read the end of verse 15.  Paul describes Jesus as the “firstborn over all creation”.

If He is described as “firstborn”, wouldn’t that mean that He had to be born or created?  For this, we have to look at two types of context.

First is the context of the passage.  It says that He is firstborn over all creation.

Pay special attention to those words, “Over all creation.”  There is a notion of authority or supremacy within that phrase.

Next, we must consider the cultural context.  In that day and age, “firstborn” didn’t merely mean that the child came first, chronologically.

It also meant that the child was the primary heir, the future head of the family, and the most important person in the household after the father.

 

Taking both of these contexts into account, we see that Paul is not inferring that Jesus one day didn’t exist, and then the next day was born.

Instead, Jesus reigns supreme over all creation.  There is nothing we see that He has not claimed as His own.  And one day He will return to make good on that.

Yes, Jesus died one day on a cross.  Yes, He was beaten and bloody and broken.  But He is on that cross no more, nor will He ever return to it.

He is—always has been and always will be—the perfect image of God, the ruling King and Master, the one with all authority on this earth.

 

Now, lest we be tempted to think that Paul implied that Jesus was created, he moves onto more weighty material in verse 16.

All things were created “in Him,” Paul writes.  Everything was created in reference to Jesus Christ.  It all had to do with Him.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something in heaven or on earth—visible or invisible.  The entire created order is wrapped up in and revolves around Him.

The same is true of those spiritual beings and forces that are active and powerful today.  It’s tough to say whether or not we are talking about evil forces here.

What we do know for sure is that Jesus claims authority and supremacy over the spiritual realm.  Even the creation of the angelic beings happened “in Him”.

Any perceived authority—Paul refers to them as “thrones, powers, and rulers,” has been created “in Him”.  Paul adds more detail at the end of verse 16.

 

All things have been created “through Him”.  When we think of something happening “through” something else, we are talking about a channel or medium.

I got to the other side of the mountain.  How?  It was by means of—or through—a tunnel.  So how did creation happen?  It was by way of Jesus.

What I’m about to say isn’t necessarily a statement found in the Bible.  It’s more a way of helping us understand this.

I see God the Father as the architect—the one who designed the created order.  I see Jesus as the carpenter—hey, what do you know?

I see Him as the one who made the design or the vision become a reality.  Paul also says that all things were created for Jesus.

Jesus is the end goal for everything and everyone.  All of this exists for His glory.

In his commentary on Colossians, Douglas Moo quotes F.F. Bruce.  “For those who have been redeemed by Christ, the universe has no ultimate terrors; they know that their Redeemer is also creator, ruler, and goal of all.”

 

Therefore, it only makes since that Jesus has been around since the beginning.  How else could He have created all things?

And how could all things have been created for someone who wasn’t even around?

That’s why Paul writes, in verse 17, that Jesus is before all things.  Moo writes, “Christ existed before creation itself.”

But there’s more to verse 17 than just that.  To me, this might be the most important statement in this entire passage.  In Christ, all things hold together.

Let’s allow that tidbit to roll around in our brains for a second.  Bear in mind, we have been talking about all of creation.

So when Paul writes, “All things,” he likely speaks of everything in the created order—from solar systems to salamanders.

 

Moo writes this.  “Without Jesus, electrons would not continue to circle nuclei, gravity would cease to work, and the planets would not stay in their orbits.”

He also says, “What holds the universe together is not an idea or a virtue, but a person:  the resurrected Christ.

We use phrases such as, “Love will keep us together.  The triumphant human spirit held that community together.  Our willpower kept things from falling apart.”

Those all sound nice, but they’re wrong.  It’s Jesus Christ that holds all things together.  He’s the reason that things run as they should.

He’s also what keeps the world from falling apart when things don’t run as they should.  He’s also what holds you and me together.  He keeps us from falling apart.

 

Christ is always working behind the scenes.  He’s always at the wheel, orchestrating circumstances, shaping attitudes, and imparting wisdom and perspective.

We cannot even fathom the infinitesimal number of ways in which Jesus is at work in the background of our lives.

So often we attribute certain things to luck, fortune, our own ingenuity, or our own diligent effort.  Rarely do we attribute things to King Jesus.

Oh, we are quick to blame when something goes wrong.  But we must pray for a keener awareness of all that He does in us, through us, and for us, day by day.

How many times has He spoken to us, only to go unheard?  How many times has He touched us, only to go unnoticed?

How many times has He provided for us, only to receive no credit?  Yes, and amen, Jesus Christ holds all things together.

 

He is certainly a creative and sustaining and maintaining Savior.  Perhaps the best example of this is with the human race.

He created the human race, and upon His death and resurrection, He began recreating the human race—a regenerated and as-it-should-be human race.

Nowhere should this be more evident than in His body, the church.  Notice what else Paul says about Jesus, found in verse 18.

He is the head of the body, the church.  Jesus is our head.  This is not in any sort of metaphorical or figurative sense.  This church belongs to and is run by Jesus.

I am not the head of this church.  And, should I at any point begin acting as though this is my own little world to command, I fully expect to be smacked promptly.

This body—we who follow in His footsteps—should regularly celebrate His death and resurrection.  We should imitate those things.

We should be “crucified with Christ,” as Paul encouraged the Galatians.  We should deny ourselves and take up our crosses.

And we should enjoy the blessings of resurrection as well, seeing how Jesus, day by day, makes us into that new creation promised in the scriptures.

 

That’s why we also see, in verse 18, that Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead.

He is risen!  He is alive!  He claims supremacy, even over sin and death and Hell.

Resurrection is available to us only because Jesus Christ experienced it first.  It was His resurrection that established Him as ruler over all.

It was His resurrection that enables us to proclaim, “Where, o death, is thy victory?  Where is thy sting?”  What a magnificent, glorious Savior and Lord we serve!

And do you know what?  There’s still more!  Take a look at verse 19 once again.

 

God, in His fullness, was pleased to dwell in Jesus.  Yes, in Jesus Christ, we find the fullness of God.  Now let’s think about what we have already learned.

We learned that He is the exact representation of God.  We learned that He created all things and holds supremacy over them.

We learned that He has always been around, that He holds everything together, and that He was the trailblazer on the path of resurrection from the dead.

Now we learn that, within Jesus, we find all the fullness of God.  I love that song, Mary, Did You Know.  I especially love one line in particular.

“When you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.”  I also love this line.  “The sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I Am.”

 

Make no mistake about it.  This is no “half-God, half-man”.  Jesus is fully man, and He is also fully God.  That’s why He said this famous statement, in John, chapter 10.

“No one takes my life from me.  I must lay it down.”  Never take pity on the crucified Christ, as though He was helpless and defenseless on the cross.

He laid down His life for us.  He did it willingly.  They couldn’t kill Him.  He had to surrender His spirit, as He said while on the cross.

And why?  It’s because He is fully God!  When you cry out to Jesus to save you, to help you, or to comfort you, you are not crying to some mere human.

You are not calling out to some flesh-and-blood mortal, who once walked this earth but now does so no more.  You are calling out to God in the flesh!

You are calling out to God the Son!  Yes, in Jesus Christ, all the fullness of God lives and breathes and moves and works.

 

Finally, we move on to verse 20.  Here we see God’s ultimate plan for Jesus Christ.

Yes, it involves the cross, as you might have expected.  Paul even specifically mentions Christ’s blood, shed on the cross.

But the scope of God’s plan is much bigger.  Look what happens, because of what transpired on that cross.

God the Father, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, reconciled all things to Himself.  Now we have to be careful here.

Some folks like to take this passage and produce a case for universal salvation—that ultimately everybody will be saved because of what Jesus did.

This ignores a good bit of strong NT teaching on the concept of Hell.  Instead, notice again the specific wording—“all things”.

 

Christ didn’t die merely to reconcile humans to God.  He came to bring full scale reconciliation, across the board.

He came to make peace—or that Jewish notion of “shalom”—a universal experience throughout all of creation.  Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Romans.

All creation is groaning, longing for the return of Christ, when He will make all things new.  Yes, humanity has been broken by sin.

But so has all of creation.  Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, the ground was cursed to produce thorns and thistles.  The entire created order is out of whack.

 

And Jesus’ death on the cross brings about that sweeping reconciliation.  It reconciles us to God, making us into the people we were meant to be—making us into a people who are in Christ’s image.

It reconciles the rest of creation to God.  Earth will one day be the “new earth”, made new just as people who have surrendered to Jesus become a new creation.

Jesus’ death on the cross even reconciles us to the earth.  Don’t forget.  We are fully connected to the earth.

The scripture says that God created Adam from the dust of the earth.  The beauty of Christ’s work is that, in Him, we get to be a part of it.

 

We get to be a part of that reconciling work by standing up to injustice, by proclaiming freedom to those enslaved by sin and oppressive human systems, and by sacrificing ourselves and our desires for the greater good, just as Jesus did.

Beyond that, if you don’t think we have a call to care for this earth we live on, you aren’t paying much attention to the first chapter of the Bible.

We are the stewards of the earth.  And this entire process of reconciliation has already started, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But it has not been completed yet.  We await for His return, to bring all this about.

And, in the meantime, we get to the work.  And we follow the words of that song, “So we watch and we pray and we wait for the day you will come and make all things new.”

 

So I ask you today, “Have you met this Jesus that we just read about?”  If your Jesus only has a small bearing on your life—if He only has impact on you at certain moments during the week or during certain circumstances—then you have a little, little Jesus.  You certainly don’t have the Jesus Paul wrote about to the Colossians.

Is it time for you to recognize the magnificence and splendor of Jesus Christ?  Is it time for you to come to Him?  Is it time for you to surrender? (Pray.)