Christ Is Preeminent In Everything
Topic: Church Life Passage: Colossians 1:15–1:23
The Preeminence of Christ
Grace Community Church
June 18, 2017
Christ Is Preeminent In Everything
Years ago I was sitting in Barnes and Noble working on a sermon when I couldn't help but overhear a man and a woman sitting nearby who were talking about spiritual things. Talking isn't the right word. The man was teaching and the woman the hanging on every word. Every now and then she would ask a question or interject a quick thought but it was clear that he was holding court. I couldn't hear every word but I was close enough to tell that what he was teaching was some kind of mystical spirituality. There was no way for me to get into their conversation without being rude so I prayed for them.
At some point I had to leave for a couple minutes and when I got back they were gone, but they had left the book they were reading from on the table. It was a book on Zen Buddhism and I flipped through it a little and found an article in it called The Pivot of Nothingness. Here is an excerpt:
The past has already gone, so it does not exist. The future has not yet come, so it also does not exist. So the past and the future are nothing, no-time. Then is the present all that exists? No, even though there is a present, strictly speaking the present is nothing, because in a moment it is gone. So the present also is nothing, zero, no-time, no-present, no form of the present. But that nothingness is very important.
Nothingness means total functioning, just functioning energy. When the present is no-time, it is interconnected with all the sentient beings in the peace and harmony of timelessness. But when nothingness functions, there is a pivot, and it becomes the present. That pivot is called the pivot of nothingness.
I don't pretend to understand Zen Buddhism, nor do I want to. But from what I've read I get the impression that it's mystical appeal is that it blurs the edges of reality so that there is no clear past, present, or future, and teaches that the way to mind-expanding spirituality is to embrace nothingness and pivot from there.
This passage in Colossians, and many others in the Bible, teaches us just the opposite. Rather than everything pivoting on nothing, everything pivots on the greatest Something - really the greatest Someone - in the universe. That Someone is Jesus Christ. He is above and separate from the universe, but is intimately involved with the universe. He is above time, but has ordained that our lives be lived out in time, with the past, present, and future being very real with very real and lasting consequences. The amazing truth revealed in this passage is that everything in the universe pivots on the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the pivot of everything, Jesus is preeminent in everything. Let's take a moment now and pray for God to fill our eyes and minds and hearts with the glory and preeminence of Christ as we unpack this amazing, Christ-centered poem. Pray.
One of the errors that was trying to make its way into the church was a teaching called Gnosticism. The Greek word Gnosis means "knowledge" and Gnostics thought they had a deeper knowledge of truth than anyone else. They believed that the material world was evil and therefore they denied that Jesus came into the world in a physical body since all matter is bad. The Gnostic pendulum then swung in two extremes: those who avoided any earthly pleasures because they were sinful, and those who enjoyed all earthly pleasures because their bodies were evil anyway so it didn't matter what they did with their bodies, their spirits were clean.
Paul is going to make some heavy theological claims about Jesus that will contradict this false teaching and anchor the Colossian church (and our church) in biblical truth about Jesus. These verses contain some heavy theological lifting about who Jesus is, so let's take it a little at a time.
15 He is the image of the invisible God…
Jesus is the exact and perfect image of God the Father. The Father is invisible, but Jesus has revealed to us exactly to the minutest detail what the Father is like. That's why Jesus said, "when you have seen me you have seen the Father." (John 14:9)
…the firstborn of all creation
Brandon Smith tells about a time when a pastor was teaching on this passage and asked "what does it mean for Jesus to be firstborn?" And a lady in the church spoke up and said, "Well, it means Jesus was created before any of us were." This was not a new believer, she had been a Christian for over 50 years and a co-leader in Children's Ministry. If you've ever had Jehovah Witnesses come to your door, this is what they believe. Jesus is the greatest of all Creation because he is the first created being. This could not be more wrong and, in fact, is heresy.
The word firstborn doesn't mean "the first one born". It is a word that speaks of rank. Ps. 89 says of David that God will make him the "firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." David wasn't the first king ever born, even in Israel there was King Saul before him. God is saying that He will elevate David to a place of supreme kingly prominence. A similar idea is the British term "prime minister". Theresa May is the current Prime Minister of Britain, which literally means "First Minister". It's not talking about time - she obviously isn't the first first minister, it speaks of rank. We'll see this in a few minutes when Paul says of Jesus that he is the firstborn from the dead (vs. 18). Firstborn speaks of Jesus' preeminence over all creation. And Paul goes on to say why:
16 For [because] 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
God the Father working in His Son Jesus created all things - every power and authority and dominion and ruler - including the highest ranking angels - were created through Christ and for him. He existed eternally before anything was created and it is by his power that this universe is held together. The universe is made up of atoms that are bound together with so much power that splitting an atom releases tremendous energy. A nuclear bomb unleashes devastating power and destruction by releasing tremendous amounts of energy from a small amount of matter and this happens by splitting atoms. There are scientific explanations for that binding force that holds atoms together, but the ultimate, preeminent power holding them together is Jesus Christ.
And the power holding us together is Jesus as well. If I can get a little personal for a moment, you are held together by the power of Christ. You are comprised of approximately 7 *10 to the 27th power atoms, or 7 Octillian atoms, give or take a few trillion. Jesus is the power that holds us together, in more ways than one.
All of the universe - from the smallest particle on earth, to the largest star on the outer edges of the universe, it is all held together by the power of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God, he is preeminent over all creation.
18 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 preeminent.
Jesus is also preeminent over the church, the head of the church. The church belongs to Jesus - no man should ever say that they are the head of a church. I once read a website that listed their pastor as the head of the church and it really bothered me. That title is reserved for Christ alone. He alone is head of the church. He is the beginning, or source, of the church, the firstborn from the dead. There's that word, firstborn, again. Jesus wasn't the first person ever resurrected from the dead. Remember Lazarus? So we see again that firstborn isn't speaking of timing, but of rank. Jesus' resurrection is infinitely more important than any other resurrection because first of all, Jesus was raised in a glorified body that would never die again (others who were raised just died again later) and most importantly because his resurrection made it possible for those of us who believe in him to be resurrected on the last day as well.
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile
to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Paul opens this poem by stating that Jesus is the image of God, now he says that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Let's think about this incredible statement for a minute.
If you have ever had a Jehovah's Witness come to your door, you probably know that they claim Jesus as their Lord and are happy to call him the Son of God. So, you might ask, what's the problem? Why aren't they considered a Christian denomination instead of a cult? The reason is that, if you peel back enough layers, you find that what they believe about Jesus is that he is the first and greatest of all creation, and then God created all the rest of creation through Jesus. He is a god, but he is not the God, Jehovah.
Paul says that in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. All that God is, Jesus is. Well, God is eternal, with no beginning and no end. So for Jesus to have all the fullness of God he would have to also be eternal with no beginning or end. Any creature that has a beginning doesn't have the fullness of God. God is all powerful, all knowing, and omnipresent - everywhere at once. Any being lacking these infinite qualities would not have the fullness of God or be His exact image. All the fullness of God dwelling in Jesus means that everything God is, Jesus is, fully. Because God is infinite, only God could be the fullness of God. Jesus is the Son of God, not a created being, but the eternal second Person of the Trinity, fully God. There is one God, in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So the Jehovah Witnesses do Jesus an infinite slight - they think they're exalting him but they're reducing God to a creature, and the gap between God and the highest creature is infinite. God is as high above His creation as the heavens are above the earth.
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…
It is because Jesus is God that he was qualified to stand the gap between a holy God and sinful man and reconcile us in loving relationship. We were once alienated from God and hostile to God, but Jesus by his death and by his blood has made peace between us and our God and reconciled us. In other words, he changed us from enemies to friends!
in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 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 closes this section by warning them of the importance of continuing in the faith, stable and steadfast, never shifting from the hope of the gospel. Some might think this is a warning that we can lose our salvation if we don't continue in the faith, but for a number of reasons that I'm not going to go into in great detail this morning, I do not believe a genuine Christian ever can lose their salvation. And yet, this is a very real warning.
We could never have assurance of our salvation if it depended on our fidelity to Christ. What if I get body slammed by some trial and in my weakness I let go or stray away from Christ? If my salvation in the end depends on my grip on Christ then I can never be assured until the last moment that I am saved.
Genuine saving faith isn't something we just decide to do. It's a work of God in our hearts turning us to Christ in faith and at that moment we are regenerated, made alive in Christ, born again. All this is by the power of God in us. Genuine faith may grow weak at points but it will not fail because perseverance is a quality of genuine faith. Listen to how Peter describes it in 1 Pet. 1:3-7
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
What Paul is warning us about is what Jesus described in the parable of the wheat and the tares. Tares look just like wheat until the end when the ear buds. Then we see they are worthless imitations of wheat. There are false professions of faith that, early on, are indistinguishable from genuine professions of faith. But they don't last. They don't love Christ more than life itself so when worldly pressures hit their faith, they discontinue walking in the faith. They shift away from Christ, they become unstable and unsteady - questioning, abandoning, sometimes even persecuting the faith they once professed. Their souls are in grave danger, but not because they once were saved and lost that salvation, but because their abandoning of the Christian faith proves their faith was never genuine.
This doesn't mean that warnings like this don't have something to say to the genuine believer. Warnings are meant to save your life, but they only work if you listen to them. A couple years ago a 28 year old Texas man ignored a sign that warned: "No swimming. Alligators." This man ignored the pleas of a marina worker and mocked the alligators as he jumped off the dock into the water. Seconds later he was attacked and killed by a large alligator. No one could say he wasn't warned, he just chose to ignore the warnings. Sadly, there will be those who ignore the warnings in the Bible and mock those who plead with them to listen, and will suffer the consequences. For the Christian, the warnings in scripture are a beautiful expression of God's love and we want to hear them and heed them.
This poem beautifully expresses the preeminence and power of Jesus Christ. If the ruler of the universe and the most powerful Being in the universe were cruel and vindictive, or even quick to write off and punish those who cross Him in any way, what a horrible place the world would be! And there'd be no place to escape! The universe would be like one big North Korea!
Otto Warmbier, the American college student who was imprisoned for stealing a propaganda poster, begged for mercy from his captors. They showed him none because they have no mercy in their hearts. Praise God that the God of the universe has mercy in His heart! Abundant mercy! Oceans of mercy! Praise God that Jesus didn't grasp his infinite power in order to inflict on us the maximum sentence for our sins, but he emptied himself of his infinite power in order to become a man - God became a man - so that he could receive the punishment that we should receive. Jesus is great - Jesus is good! Jesus is glorious - Jesus is our Savior!
No one will face eternal punishment because salvation wasn't available to them. On that day, they will know that the warning sign was there and they ignored it. But for all those who saw our sin and knew we needed to be saved and reached out in faith to Jesus Christ, we will be amazed forever and be forever grateful for our loving, merciful, God and Savior. Jesus is preeminent in everything, and praise God that he is!