Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. 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.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, 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.
If you have read through the letter to the Colossians recently, and I commend it to you and encourage you to take it up, you will know that later in this letter, in chapter 3, the apostle Paul is going to call the Colossian believers to put away what is earthly in them: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry. . . anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying. He will call them to compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, long suffering, forgiveness, and love.
However. . .
Before Paul ever gets around to telling these believers what they ought to do, Paul spends time telling them who they are in light of what God has done for them.
Before Paul gives the Colossian church any commands to follow or life applications, He labors to remind them of truth.
Here in chapter 1 Paul is laboring to place before the eyes of these christians the truth about who they already are in light of who God is and what He had done for them.
In verses 9-14, Paul’s vision for maturity and remember that He prayed that they be filled with knowledge, SO AS to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
What we believe to be true is what we will live out of. Last time we saw that maturity in the Christian life is grounded upon our response to truth, namely truth about Gods work for us in the gospel.
I want to give you an illustration of how this need for truth works: Say you and I are talking, facing one another. And let us say, for the sake of illustration that you can’t turn around. But I can see what is behind you. And in the distance I see that a Tsunami is coming our way. And if we dont move now we are going to die. Now, I know that this illustration fails at many levels, but take it for these points:
- First, you would have no idea about the tsunami unless I told you. Everything seems normal in your world. This news needs to be announced.
- Second, if I was trying to change the way you live so that you are living in light of the tsunami, the best thing for me to do would be to . . . tell you about it! You need to here the truth and your response to that news, to that truth, is the changed life.
I believe that this illustrates how Paul is thinking about the life of the church. We need to be confronted with the massive truth of the gospel revealed in scripture before we ever think about life prescriptions and applications.
We are in the announcing section of Paul’s letter. The part of the letter where Paul is telling us about the tsunami. This life-changing-truth!
Paul knows that what we do has everything to do with what we believe to be true of us in light of what God done for us in the gospel. We will live out of what we believe is true.
This truth changes everything about how you think about yourself and your life and your priorities.
But why would Paul spend time telling Christians who they are? Why would he have to remind them of things they should already know?
You’ve been told about the Tsunami. Why would he have to tell us again?
As Tripp, rightly says, christians struggle with, . . . identity amnesia.
We forget who we are – in Christ. We forget the life changing message.
I am convinced that we, Christians, need continual reminding. The reason I’m convinced is because Paul wrote to the churches largely to remind them of the things they already knew. He writes to remind them of things they had already been taught.
The gospel must be repeated, rehearsed, placed before us again and again, because we forget – we struggle with amnesia – we forget that the gospel has changed everything about us and our relationship to God and each other.
The great struggle is to remember who we now are in light of the massive universe altering work that God has done in Christ.
So we are going to try to wake up, to remember, to believe what is true of us because of the gospel. We are in the “reminding” section of Paul’s letter – the place in the letter where Paul is trying to wake these believers up to reality.
Last time Paul told us that if you have faith in Christ Jesus, this is your identity:
- You are qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
- You have been delivered from the domain of darkness.
- You have been transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
- In Christ you have been redeemed.
- Your sin have been forgiven.
This is where we are to find our identity, this is where we learn who we are.
But isn’t true that we often feel disqualified?
There are times in our life when remaining sin paralyzes us with guilt and fear and shame. You’ve just spoken to your spouse with a sharp tongue, you’ve smiled to your boss’s face but you’ve told him half truths and grumbled behind his back. You’ve allowed lust to grow up and get tangled in your mind and you’ve made provision for the flesh. You have been full of anxiety over finances and children and the future. You have a history of failures that leave you feeling like an absolute useless, condemned nobody.
There are times when you may feel enslaved by our sin, that it has us by the throat. When you don’t feel delivered from the domain of darkness.
Don’t you feel sometimes that Satan and your conscience work together to accuse you and you know that you have failed?
What identity will you embrace as true today?
Will you live out of the belief that you are disqualified, enslaved, hopeless, condemned or will you live out of what the gospel says about you in Christ; that you are qualified, delivered, transferred, redeemed, forgiven?
How can you combat these powerful forces that are trying to pull us back to live out of slavery and fear? What will strengthen us to believe what we are told in verses 12-14? Rather than what the Devil and our conscience are saying?
This next section of Colossians (verses 15-20) is designed to help us embrace who we are in Christ. It is designed to help us believe.
And the way Paul does this, is by putting Jesus before our eyes. We need to know who Jesus is. His identity and work has everything to do with yours, brothers and sisters. Paul is putting Jesus before our eyes so that we would have renewed confidence in His work, renewed thanksgiving, that we would embrace with fresh joy our true identity in our Savior.
So . . . Who is Jesus?
This section in Colossians is loaded with significants. In fact, it is so loaded that this will be the first of two sermons on this section. This morning I want us to take note a few of the highlights from verses 15-17.
This section (15-20) is a widely acknowledge as a kind of hymn or poem. Whether Paul himself wrote it or just used it here for the encouragement of God’s people we really don’t know. But is stands as a glorious, Holy-Spirit directed, description of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let’s read it:
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.
The structure of this hymn is very important. The first half describes Jesus as the Lord of the Natural heavens and the earth. He is the Creator and Lord of this Universe. The second half of this hymn describe Jesus as the Lord of a new creation, that is Lord of the church.
So let’s examine the first half of this hymn as it tells us about the excellence of our Savior.
Image of God
“He is the image of the invisible God. . .”
This language calls our minds back to the creation story. But the New Covenant writers seem to have taken this idea of “image of God” to an entirely new level.
Adam and Eve were created in God’s likeness, God’s image. But we know that they failed to reflect God’s character when they fell. They and we, by nature no longer reflect God’s likeness as we were created to – the image has been marred, broken, distorted.
But when Jesus comes – Some One greater has entered. Here we have the true image of God. So for example we read in the gospel of John (John 1:14-18),
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. . . No one has ever seen God; the only (one who is) God (some manuscripts say, “the only Son”), who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Jesus has revealed the Father.
Listen to Paul describing this truth in 2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (where?) in the face (or imaged in) of Jesus Christ.
and Hebrews 1:3
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,
The New Covenant writers saw Jesus, as Reymond summarizes, as “the invisible God made visible.” Douglas Moo says the early church recognized Jesus to be “the perfect manifestation of the invisible God.”
And so right here at the beginning of our hymn we are told that Jesus – our savior, is the invisible God made visible.
“. . . Firstborn of (over) all creation”
This phase has caused some people to stumble, thinking that this means that Jesus was created. All the way back in the 4th century Arius made this blunder.
But there is no doubt Paul intended to communicate a different idea. There is a background that sheds light on what Paul is saying.
So first of all, we need to know this: that idea of firstborn was of course used in a literal sense, simply to mean: the one who was born first from the womb. But this idea grew to take on a far richer meaning. It was used to describe the superiority associated with the one born first.
So, for example, we find Israel described as God’s firstborn. In Exodus 4:22, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son,”
God is telling pharaoh that he has enslaved God’s chosen, special, precious son. Israel is not like all the other nations – Israel is the firstborn.
Perhaps, even more compelling, is Psalm 89:27 where God speaking about David, “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
Firstborn here, cannot mean first to come out of the womb. David was not firstborn in his family, nor first to be king in Israel. No, the verse makes it plain that God is speaking of David’s Rank above all the other kings of the earth – he is the firstborn.
Add to this, that the idea of firstborn meaning “Preeminent One” is clearly what the writer of Hebrews was thinking when he was making the point that the Son is so much greater than angles. He writes;
“And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God ‘s angels worship him.”
Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”
But of the Son he says,
“ Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”
So, given what Paul is clearly doing in this section and given the OT background and book of Hebrews parallel use of the phrase, it is clear that Paul intended to communicate that Jesus is the One chosen by God to be the Preeminent One over all creation.
It is only if we do not allow the larger biblical context and Pauls immediate context to speak that we will stumble with Arius at this verse into thinking that Jesus is a created being.
Instead, we have the most exalted language being used here, intending to Raised Jesus up as the Invisible God made visible and intended to raise Jesus up as Preeminent over all the Created order!
The next phrases only re-enforce this:
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authoritiesall things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Jesus born in a feeding trough – is the One through whom all things were created. It was He who formed the heavens and the earth!
We are told that it was He who created everything – even what is invisible. Paul uses the language of thrones and dominions and authorities – and surely this could be applied to earthy kings and presidents and rulers, but more likely Paul is taking about the same thing he was taking about in Ephesians when he used this language – and explained that he meant the cosmic powers who are over this present darkness, that is the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Jesus created – even the spiritual forces that are now working against Him and us. He is Lord over all creation. Spiritual beings exist and are at work against the church . . . But our Lord is Lord even, over these creatures – His power brought them into existence and we are told in verse 17 – He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. If the eternal Son did not hold this present universe together, it would not exist.
This present reality exists – it is held together – by the powerful hand of God the Son. The powers and rulers and authorities and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places exist only because Jesus has determined to keep them in existence today. There is no authority in heaven or on earth – no devil, no man, nothing in all creation that is not under the authority and power of our Lord Jesus – born in a stable.
And notice this phrase at the end of verse 16 – all things were created FOR HIM. Everything in heaven and earth, was created for God the Son – He is the beginning and the end. Why does all this exist? For Him. For his glory and honor.
GOOD to PERFECT
I want to take just a moment to reflect on something – we have just finished the first half of this hymn, dedicated to describing the preeminence of Jesus as Lord over the Natural Creation.
It was by the Son that this universe was created very good. It was He who planted a garden on a particular planet, that we call earth, and formed image bearers and placed them in that garden to tend and keep it. All this was created by Him and for Him – and He said it was very good.
But there is something remarkable to me – I do not want to step beyond what scripture reveals, but is it not implied by the entire sweep of scripture that the first creation, though very good, was not perfect in the sense that it was corruptible.
The ones created to be image bearers failed to be that perfect reflection of God. It took the second Adam – that is the Preeminent One, the true Image of the Invisible God, to subdue the creation as the first Adam was commissioned to do and failed.
And as we will see Next time He is the head of the New Creation. His life and work of redemption has secured peace with God in the New Creation.
Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded.
And, though the first creation was very good and was designed for Him (and indeed, He has had a perfect plan from the beginning to bring it to perfection). It is not until the second Adam and His new creation that we find perfect peace with God that will never be lost.
I say all this to encourage you in this present evil age. The Son has not lost control of His creation – He is lord of it. Even now he is sustaining every creature in heaven and on earth – He is sovereign over all His creation. We know that nothing can happen or harm us without His approval.
The One who has qualified us and delivered us and transferred us and redeemed us and forgiven us is the One sustaining our heart beats and causing the Sun to rise. Do you think the One with the power and authority to sustain the universe has the power and authority to qualify you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light? Do you think that He who created all things for His own glory and purpose has the ability to deliver you from the domain of darkness? God the Son is able. You have been transferred into His kingdom. In Christ you have been redeemed. Your sins have been forgiven.
Your Savior is no weakling. Look around you, everything you see is a testimony of his greatness. How do we know that our qualification will last, how do we know that our release from the kingdom of darkness and transfer to the kingdom of light is a certain reality? How do we know that, even with our record and continued struggle with sin, that we are forgiven? Because the One who secured those things is the Lord of the universe.
See Luke 5:17-26!
17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.
18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”-he said to the man who was paralyzed-“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
Jesus has authority over physical bodies as a testimony that He has authority to forgive sins.
Jesus didn’t come to do miracles for miracles sake . . .
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”
Paul encouraged the Colossian believers with the truth that they have been delivered from the domain of darkness. Now he has shown them that this is sure and enduring because God has accomplished it through the Son, who is Lord of the universe.
Andrew “Andy” Murray was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father, pastor Loren Murray, served Fellowship Bible Church in Chester, NH. At six years of age Andy trusted in Jesus Christ and was baptized. He was brought up “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” At the age of 12 his father was in a fatal car accident. Reflecting on the loss of his dad Andy writes; “I see now the wise and loving hand of Christ in my life, as He used this event to, shape, mold and press me toward Himself. It was this event that sparked in me an earnest desire to know God from His Word. By His grace, this desire has continued to grow.” Andy met his wife, Elizabeth, at Philadelphia Biblical University (now Cairn University). They have four wonderful boys.