The Preeminence of Christ

Colossians 1:15-20 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 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.


How many of you hear this passage and think, whoa, that’s a lot in six verses? Me too. I’ve felt that all week. The great London preacher, Charles Spurgeon had this quote about the passage: “The text is a great deep, we cannot explore it, but we will voyage over its surface joyously, the Holy Spirit giving us a favorable wind.”

Will you pray with me that God would indeed give us a favorable wind?

Father God, we thank you for this morning. Thank you for life, and the ability to gather here today. We thank you for your son who is the Word and head of your church. Thank you that your Word, like you, is inexhaustible. I can’t possibly squeeze out everything this passage has to say or to speak eloquently enough to capture the glory that is here. I pray that your Holy Spirit would do what it does and speak through the preacher. Convict the areas where we are not worshipping Jesus properly. Comfort those who are hurting with the glory of Jesus. Save those who are still lost in their sins. May we all have a greater understanding of who Jesus is now and forever, and the result would be greater love for him and greater love for others. Father, I truly can’t preach apart from your help. Please send your Spirit to illuminate this text, empower this sermon and embolden us as a people. Oh Lord, with so many things swirling around us in lives, in our families and in our world, may we have greater faith that you are near, you are at work and through Christ hold all things together. Please speak to us now through this weak tool. Do great things. Amen.

Well, it’s good to be with you and have the honor of preaching. For those who are visiting my name is Mike, I’m one of the elders. I’m glad you’re with us this morning. This marks the fourth and final Sunday of advent. It also marks the final Sunday of standalone and topical sermons. For those who are new this Fall, you have experienced an unusual stretch for our preaching. Our usual diet of preaching is to work through a book of the Bible and let that determine the point of each sermon. It’s called expository preaching. But for a number of reasons, it has been a long stretch, going back to October that we haven’t been in a book for our preaching. Next week, Lord willing, Pastor Dave will get back to Genesis and working through the book passage by passage.

For the last four weeks we have had a different elder preach on Jesus the Messiah from a different genre of scripture. We saw the prophets and the Psalms promise the coming of Jesus, last week we saw how those promises were fulfilled with the coming of Jesus in the gospels. But even in the gospels, even when Jesus would speak about who he was, lots of people didn’t understand. The gospels are filled with stories of people, including Jesus’ closest disciples, who didn’t fully grasp who Jesus was or what his mission was. The prophets predicted a messiah would come. When he did come as an infant born in Bethlehem, it wasn’t how many expected it to happen. Even when he predicted things like dying on a cross and rising in three days, people didn’t really grasp that.

It wasn’t until after Jesus died and rose again that some understood. Here’s how Luke describes it in chapter 24 of his gospel:

Luke 24:24-27 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

While it’s true that the Holy Spirit must work for us to truly understand the gospel, it also becomes easier to understand when you have more of the story. If you know the ending of a movie, it’s easier to understand how all of the pieces fit together in the story. We are privileged to have the entire story and be able to look back and see the pieces more clearly. That’s what the epistles help us to see. Even the man who wrote the majority of the New Testament letters, Paul, failed to grasp who the Messiah was at first. It was only through his encounter with the risen Christ that he actually saw how all of scripture pointed to Christ and the plan of salvation.

Jesus in the Epistles

Before we get to our text in Colossians, I wanted to give a few examples of how the epistles help us see Jesus more clearly in light, not only of the incarnation of Christ, but also his death and resurrection.

As I just read from Luke 24, the point of the Bible, according to Jesus, is all about Jesus. Pastor Dave explained this in his sermon that the entire Old Testament is about looking forward to Jesus. Now we get to the New Testament letters and the focus hasn’t changed. It is still all about Jesus, but now we have a greater understanding and perspective and we can look back at what Jesus accomplished in his life, death and resurrection. There are a number of ways that the letters help explain the Old Testament. I want to give just a few examples. The point isn’t to explain how the New testament writers make these connections or what they mean, but just to show that they are making the connections:

  • Romans (5:12-21) and 1 Corinthians (15:22) tell us that Jesus is the greater Adam.
  • Galatians (chapter 3) connects Abraham’s offspring to Jesus’ offspring
  • 2 Corinthians 3 explains that Jesus unlocks the Old Testament Law
  • 1 Peter says Jesus is the cornerstone that the builders rejected.
  • 1 Corinthians 10 says that the rock that the Israelites drank from was Christ.
  • Jude says Jesus was the one who saved Israel from the destroyer in Egypt.
  • The book of Hebrews is filled with connections to Jesus: the temple, the sacrificial offerings, the High Priest and the New covenant.

All of these are examples of Old Testament ideas and themes that find their answer in Jesus in the New Testament. And there are a lot more to find. As you read the epistles in your Bible reading or personal study, try to find how the NT connects to the Old Testament.

Now let’s look at Colossians, where we will find a few examples of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus as a fulfillment of something promised. Really quickly, here’s a quick background on the book to help us understand the context. Colossians was written by the apostle Paul. He wrote the book to encourage the church to strive for greater maturity in Christ. He called them to grow in knowledge and wisdom and godly conduct to fight the threats the church faced. And what was the source for godly knowledge and maturity? Looking to Jesus. That’s our passage. Paul writes something almost like a hymn or poem here. It’s like he starts talking about Jesus and he can’t help but sing. Our passage, then, is meant to inform and fuel the rest of what Paul writes. That’s my hope and prayer for us all this morning, especially in light of Christmas this week.

The main point of this passage is Jesus is first in all things, from creation to the new creation. This idea of being first can have multiple meanings, but one word that Paul uses is preeminence. This comes from verse 18. It’s the only time this word is used in the entire Bible. It means to be in the first position, with the implication of high rank and prominence — ‘to be the first, to have superior status.’ There are other words that we will look at in our passage that also describe this idea of being first or supreme above all things. I’ll point them out as we go.

There are two main sections in this passage that are broken up this way: verses 15-17 describe Jesus as first over all creation. Verses 18-20 describe Jesus as first over the new creation. These are the two main sections, but within each section are truths that describe what makes Jesus first or preeminent.

Let’s look at the first section:

Jesus is first of all creation (15-17)

15 He is the image of the invisible God,

Paul immediately takes us all the way back to the beginning. Back to the very beginning in Genesis. Genesis chapter 1 describes how God created the world including man, who was made distinct from the rest of creation:

Gen. 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Gen. 1:27    So God created man in his own image,
        in the image of God he created him;
        male and female he created them.

Paul is connecting man being made in God’s image, with Jesus. Genesis 1 tells us that humans are made in God’s image. So what is the image that we are made in? The image of Jesus. Every single person ever born was made in the image of Jesus. We all have some things about us that reflect what God is like. Jesus, however, is the image of God.

He is the image of the invisible God. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. This echoes the idea of John in his gospel:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Then later in the gospel of John, Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus explains,

John 14:9 “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Do you want to know what god is like? Look at Jesus.

Now the second part of that verse, the firstborn of all creation, could be confusing. Firstborn. Does that mean he is created? Was he created at the beginning of creation, maybe somehow before Adam and Eve? If that’s the case, we have a bigger problem with who Jesus is. If Jesus is created, even before the rest of the world, it means he is still a created being and would not be God.

This brings up one of the dangers of the Nativity Story. We risk a reduced picture of Jesus. We know about his incarnation, being born as a baby in lowly manger. But if we aren’t careful we can think that that was where Jesus enters the story, or that his earthly life was the start of Jesus. It’s as if God the Father was working in the Old Testament, and then it was time for Jesus to enter the story in the gospels. If there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist, God is no longer the God of the Bible. Jesus has always existed, will always exist and as we’ll see in a few verses, has always possessed all of the fullness of God. What happened at his birth is taking on humanity. Again, understanding who Jesus is, matters. If we have a distorted view, we run the risk of falling into heresy.

So how do we understand what Paul means by firstborn? While firstborn can mean, literally born first, the Bible uses it in other ways too. Who was the firstborn son of Abraham? Literally it was Ishmael. But who received the honor and blessing of being Abraham’s son? Isaac. The same is true for Jacob, Judah and others in scripture. Even Israel is called God’s firstborn son in Exodus 4.

David was not the eldest son of Jesse, but the eighth born. But David was the one chosen by God to be King. Psalm 89 is a Psalm about David. It describes how God anointed David and established him as king. In verse 27 we read this:

Ps 27 And I will make him the firstborn,
        the highest of the kings of the earth.

This use of firstborn is a title for a king. The highest honor. This is the kind of firstborn that Jesus is. It’s not that he was created or that he began existing when he was conceived by Mary and the Holy Spirit. He has always existed and he rules over all creation. Verse 16 then makes this even clearer:

16 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.

Jesus is the creator of all things. Verse 16 list several kinds of the things Jesus created: but they make up the total. ‘All things’ is used eight times in our passage. Which makes sense if we are talking about the greatness of Jesus and how supreme he is, we have to see his relationship to all things.

When we think of creation and what God has made, we tend to think of the obvious, visible and physical world. But Paul is saying that there is much more to this universe. Invisible spiritual beings like angels and demons, rulers. When everything was created by God, it was good. Obviously both in the visible and the invisible, that is no longer the case. There are evil powers, evil thrones and rulers.

But again the main thing to remember is that Jesus created all of them, and is therefore above all of them in rule. And the verse goes further when it says that all things were created for him. All of creation, in heaven and on earth is for Jesus. This entire universe was intended for Jesus’ glory.

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Before all things, means not only that Jesus existed before all things in a time sense, but ‘before’ also means having first place in all things. He is at the front of the line in importance. Thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities are significant, but Jesus is before all of them. He is before any earthly authority, praise God! He is before all heavenly or spiritual authorities. Praise God!

He is creator and before all things, but the text goes even further. Not only did he create everything in this universe, but he holds all things together.

Heb 1:3 he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Hebrews 1 helps us see how Jesus holds all things together: through his Word. This entire universe would stop existing if Jesus stopped upholding all things. For a great description of just some of the ways Jesus does this, read Psalm 104. It shows a picture of a God who is intimately and actively involved in sustaining this world. Watering plants, feeding animals, controlling weather, moving planets and making the sun rise.

We might think, “if he holds all things together, why does it look and feel like a lot of things are falling apart?” Sometimes it looks and feels like this world is held together with duct tape and some zipties. That’s what happens when we try to hold things together, just so we can get a few more miles out of something that is truly falling apart. But the reality is that sin corrupted Jesus’ creation. If it wasn’t for Jesus holding all things together, this world would truly be in utter chaos.

Kids, have you ever sung the song, He’s got the whole world in his hands? Have you ever realized how important that idea is to remember? Jesus has the whole world in his hands. The next time you are worried about something or things seem like they aren’t going the way they’re supposed to, sing that song to yourself. Take comfort in the fact that Jesus can hold together all things.

Jesus is the firstborn of all creation. He created all things, he holds all things together, all things were made for his glory and he rules over all things, including the church. Hopefully it’s clear that Jesus is not like us. He is far above us in status, authority and power. He is worthy of having first place above all things.

And yet, as we move to the second section of this text, he is actively involved in his creation as he works to bring people into his new creation. This idea of the New Creation can be seen in a passage like Second Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

The next truth about Jesus starts a transition to the second section. He is the head of the church. One way to describe the church is an assembly of all God’s people. Anyone in Christ is a new creation. then the church is the collection of all who belong to this new creation. Jesus is the head of not just the local church, but the Universal church.

This reality about Jesus being the head of the church moves us into the next part of the passage. The church is part of the New Creation, which is redemption. So we move to the second area where Jesus is in first place: in the New Creation or redemption

Jesus is first of the New Creation (18-20)

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Here again we see this word, firstborn. Except instead of being the firstborn of creation, He is also the firstborn from the dead. In Revelation chapter 1, John uses this same title for Jesus in his introduction to the book:

Rev 1:5 Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

This describes his status in his redemptive work. Jesus resurrected from the dead to prove his work on the cross was effective. Death did not claim him. The promise of new life in Christ is effective. He is first among those of the New Creation. Verse 19 begins to unpack more of this New Creation.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

Kids, adults, think about the babies you know. You might even be holding one right now. A precious, tiny little person made in the image of God. But to have all of God dwelling within them? That’s who Jesus is. Even as a baby. There are a few lines in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing that describe this well:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

You’ve probably sung that song ten, maybe a hundred times. How often do you stop and think about what the lyrics say? How often are you amazed by what they actually mean? All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. God with us. There is nothing contained in God that Jesus has ever not, possessed. From before the foundations of the world, Jesus has always been God. In his incarnation, he possessed all the fullness of God. And after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, he still possesses all the fullness of God.

In the book of Exodus, after Israel builds and erects the tabernacle, the glory of the LORD visits. And fills the tabernacle. It says that Moses was not able to enter the tent because the cloud settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled it. Ezekiel describes the glory of the LORD filling the future temple in a similar way.

Thinking about Jesus being filled with the fullness of God in this way is amazing. But it was for a purpose. It was to save a people. Look at verse 20.

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

In the Old Testament, the priests would present various offerings to God. One of the offerings was a peace offering. It would be a spotless lamb or a goat and burning it on the altar. And the pleasing aroma would bring peace between Israel and God. It was needed because man’s sin deserves God’s wrath. The first man Adam rebelled and put all humanity at war with God. The peace offerings had to be regularly offered. Now, Jesus, possessing the fullness of God comes forward as an unblemished, righteous offering. He lived a righteous life and became the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Through his blood he brought peace between God and his people. This is the kind of reconciliation we need more than anything else in the entire world.

The text says that Jesus reconciles all things. It’s easy to understand how Jesus reconciles sinners to himself who repent and believe in the gospel, but what about those who don’t? Is this text saying that he will ultimately save all people? How does that fit with reconciling all things? While this isn’t the main focus of this passage, it’s important to point out what Paul is not saying in this verse. He is not saying all people will ultimately be reconciled in the same way. The Bible is clear that all who do not repent and put their faith in Jesus will be punished and vanquished in Hell. What the ‘reconciling all things’ is pointing to is that all of creation, will be restored and made new. This world will not fall away, but will be part of the New creation where God’s people will dwell with Jesus as the head.

Application

As we look at application, this feels like a lot of ground to cover, a lot of ways we could dive deeper into who Jesus is. The danger is we sometimes jump too quickly to thinking we should do something. There aren’t any commands in this passage, so the first thing to do, the main way I would encourage you to do in response to this sermon is believe these things.

  • Look to Jesus, the one who bled for our sake. Find ways to keep him first above all other things that vie for our attention. Confess the ways that you have taken your eyes off of Jesus. But make, and keep Jesus first. That’s his rightful place in this world.
  • Find one of the points in this sermon and start to think through the significance of it. Have your mind blow away by the reality that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Remember in hard and uncertain times that Jesus holds all things together.

We can also look at Colossians as a whole and find ways that we can apply this passage.

  • Remember your original state. Look at verse 21 of Colossians.
  • Be Holy. The response to knowing the gospel and keeping Jesus first in all things is to live a life that honors him. Chapter 3 of Colossians describes this kind of life. Paul commands us to put off certain things, and then put on others. Read this chapter as the natural response to seeing the glory of Jesus.
  • Colossians 3:16. Sing songs about who Jesus is. Learn the songs we sing on Sundays. Get them stuck in your head, so that during the week you have truth stuck in your head.

I want to give one more idea for application. So far we’ve seen Jesus role in creation and redemption. It’s Christmas time so we tend to focus on Jesus life on earth. When you think of Jesus, maybe you picture the suffering servant, born in humility and weakness. Who suffered during his life up to his death on the cross. But I want to give another view of Jesus too. The Bible gives us a further picture of Jesus. Just as he didn’t start existing at his birth, he didn’t stop existing after his ascension. He still holds all things together. He still is working out reconciliation. And he isn’t a formless, invisible being. In the book of Revelation, John describes the glorified Christ in this way:

Rev. 1:12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

Grace, this is who we long to see. This is the picture of the glorified Jesus. He continues as the God-man, complete with a glorified body. All the fullness of God dwelling in his human body. The image of the invisible God. Not only is this the picture of the Jesus we long to see someday, but it’s also the hope we have that our bodies will be made like his.

For all who have been reconciled to God through the cross, our bodies will be glorified and perfect. Use this promise to build hope. Fight to trust the promise that you will see this glorified Christ and use it to face the battles of living in this world that is waiting for his return.

Conclusion

I doubt there was anyone who came this morning who hasn’t heard that Jesus is great. Even if you don’t believe it, you’ve probably gathered that Jesus is a big deal somehow. But if we fail to understand what exactly that means, it can sound hollow or vague. Simply saying Jesus is number 1 fails to capture it all. So Paul uses different words to describe his greatness: Firstborn, before, head, beginning, preeminence. Jesus is preeminent over creation, he made all things, all things were made for his glory and he holds all things together. It shows his power, authority and wisdom. But it doesn’t stop there.

From our point in history, we celebrate the story of Jesus coming to usher in the New creation. We are able to see the significance of his birth. We get the full story of the gospel and what the cross means. He came as a man, possessing all the fullness of God, in order to reconcile people to God. He did it through his blood of the cross. He shed blood to end the war. We are no longer rebels, but can have peace with God.

He came, he lived, he conquered death and sin on the cross. We can rejoice and give thanks. Now we wait, working out our salvation with fear and trembling for his return when we will see all things reconciled to himself. Would you pray with me and ask Jesus to help drive these things deep in our hearts?