The Supremacy of Christ

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 3, 2016

Colossians 1:15-23 Jesus is Better: The Supremacy of Christ

Who is this?
It was a calm summer night. The kind of night that was perfect for moonlight fishing. But the band of disciples were not fishing on this night. They were tired and weary from a long day of ministry and crowd control. Jesus had been teaching and healing non-stop and now he lay exhausted in the back of the boat, catching up on sleep that was hard to find. So, no, the disciples were not fishing, all they wanted was to get to the other side of the lake and—hopefully--find a break from the crowds.

But then, suddenly and without warning, a storm fell on the lake. It was the sort of squall the Sea of Galilee was famous for, and one the experienced fishermen had encountered dozens of time before; only this one was far worse than any they had seen. Soon the little boats were being swamped and they were in grave danger. Veteran seamen were panicky and scared.
And Jesus? Jesus was still sleeping soundly. Desperate, the disciples woke him and said: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?!?” Very calmly, Jesus got up and spoke two words to the storm: (si-ō-pa, pephímōsa “Quiet! Be Still!), and the waters immediately calmed.

Awestruck, the disciples fell to their knees in the tiny boats whispered to one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

Or, again, Jesus was teaching in a crowded house when some men came carrying a paralyzed friend on a mat. Unable to get through the crowds, they took their friend to the roof, where they tore a hole in the tile and lowered their friend at Jesus’ feet. Jesus proceeded to both heal his body and forgive his sins. The Pharisees watched this and began to mutter to one another, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21).

Stories like these spread throughout the land. As Jesus’ fame grew, news of him eventually came to the palace of King Herod. Some were saying John had been raised from the dead. Others said it was Elijah. Still others said that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. Puzzled, Herod asked, “John the Baptist I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” (Luke 9:9).

When he rode humbly but majestically into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, the crowds shouted as though a king was processing into town. And the scripture says: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’” (Matthew 21:10).

Who is this? That question is asked again and again in the story of Jesus. When He was on trial for his life, the issue basically came down to His identity. The High Priests and Pilate both wanted to know: “Just who, exactly, are you?” (cf. Matt. 26:63 and John 18:33) Jesus even asked His closest followers: “Who do you say I am?” (Matt 16:15)

Who is this? Who is Jesus? It is fundamental to understanding the Bible, and it is crucial to understanding your life. Who, exactly, is Jesus?

In our text for today, the Apostle Paul gives one of the deepest and richest answers to that question. By using the words of an ancient hymn, Paul gives a profoundly cosmic description of Jesus Christ. One that helps us to see Him as more than a kindly Jewish rabbi, but as supreme Lord of the universe.

High Christology
Let’s listen to Paul’s words. Colossians 1:15-20:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Last week we started a summer series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. I am calling the series Jesus is Better because the burden of Paul in this letter seems to be to show us that Jesus is not just one equally good option on a menu of life choices, but that Jesus stands alone as the only King and Savior available to us.

Theologians have a word-- “Christology”—to describe our understanding of who Jesus is. And it is safe to say that Paul has a very high Christology. He has a very high view of Jesus. And nowhere does it come across better than in this passage. Paul wants us to know that Jesus has created all things, that all things cohere in Christ, and that in Christ all things are being reconciled to God. In fact, that word “all”, shows up at least seven times in this passage. Christ is all. He is above all. He is in all. He is all.

The point of this passage, quite simply, is that Jesus is first. Jesus is best. Jesus is supreme. Jesus is pre-eminent.

As we work our way through this Christ-hymn, we will find three ways that Jesus is first.

Creator and Sustainer
So, number one: Jesus is first over creation. Jesus created all things. Verses 15-17:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

There is a lot here. Every phrase in these verses is a rich vein of theology. I’ll try to mine a little bit from each.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God.” Do you want to know what God is like? Get to know Jesus. “No One has ever seen God, but the Only Begotten, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1:18, footnote reading) The way to get to know God is through Jesus. Everything that God is, that is what Jesus is. Everything Jesus is, that’s what God is.

So if you read about Jesus being merciful and compassionate toward the woman caught in adultery; that has to be a part of your picture of God. When you read about Jesus being angry in the face of hypocrisy and legalism; that has to be a part of your picture of God as well. When you read about Jesus welcoming little children, or confronting demons, or telling us that anger toward our brother is just as bad as murder; that has to be part of your picture of God too. Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

Or, again, He is “the firstborn over all creation.” Now, we need to be careful here. When this says that Jesus is the “firstborn” of creation, we might get the impression that Jesus is a created being. Maybe that Jesus was the first thing created by God. We might get the idea that He comes before the rest of creation, occupies an important place, but, still, a created being.

That’s the error of Arianism, which Jenna talked about last week. The Nicene Creed was written to counter the idea that Jesus was a demigod. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe this today. They are modern day Arianists, and it’s one of the things that separates them from orthodox Christianity.

Jesus is NOT a created being. He is NOT a pseudoGod. Saying that He is first over creation is not the same as saying that He was the first thing created. In fact, the very next phrase says that all things were created by Him. So how can He be a part of creation if He’s the one doing the creating?

Actually, the reference to the “firstborn” has less to do with temporal order, and more to do with rights. This is about inheritance law. Primogeniture. The first born has the right of succession. The right of ownership passes to the firstborn son. So what Paul is saying here is that Jesus has the right of inheritance over all of creation. It all belongs to Him. He has primacy. In that sense, He is first.

So, we read: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” All things were created by Him.

Paul gives four categories: heaven, earth, visible, and invisible. But we can break that down to two basic groups:

On the one hand, Jesus created everything on earth, everything that is visible. Everything you can see or touch or bump your toe against was created by Him. Everything on earth. Everything tangible and real. It’s all His. He made it all. That means everything. Everything in the world is His.

So we can get rid of categories like sacred and secular. We can stop saying: “This is a good thing, but this is a bad thing.” In the sense of creation, it all comes from His hand. So alcohol or wine? He made it. We can abuse it. We can use it for bad things. But there is nothing inherently bad about it. The same thing goes for sex. That’s God’s idea. His invention. We have certainly done bad things with it, and twisted it and used it in ways beyond God’s design—but that does not make it inherently bad.
Jesus made everything on earth. Everything visible.

But, also, He made everything in heaven, everything invisible. There is a recognition here that there is more to the world than we can see. There are forces in the world—things like gravity and thermodynamics and so on—that Christ created and which hold the world together. More than that, there are spiritual realities, angels and demons and the like, that are very real and part of the world He created.

Now, I am not somebody who looks for an angel or demon under every rock or behind every tree. I’m not somebody who says, when I narrowly avoid an accident: “Boy, the angels must have been looking out for me.” No, probably just my brakes worked. And I don’t see something demonic in everything that goes against me.

But that doesn’t mean there is no such thing. The Bible is clear that there is a spiritual realm beyond what we can see, and it is at work in the world. In fact, that next phrase: “whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” is a way Paul has of referring to the spiritual opposition to the gospel. It’s a phrase he uses in Ephesians when he talks about the need to put on the full armor of God (Eph 6:12). Later in Colossians he’s going to talk about the “powers and authorities” that Jesus’ triumphed over at the cross (2:15). So we do have spiritual opponents and our true struggle is against them.

But—and don’t miss this—what Paul wants us to know is that Christ is over them. That, in fact, Christ created them.

Now, there is mystery in that. Why would Christ create those who would oppose Him? That’s a question for another day. But what Paul wants us to see is that Christ is greater. They exist. But Christ is in control of them. We do not need to be frightened by them—and we certainly shouldn’t worship them.

And then, verse 17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Not only is Christ the creator of all there is, He is also the sustainer and maintainer of our world. It’s not like God is a toymaker who created the world, wound it up, and then walked away to let it tick down. That’s the view of deism. But it’s not Biblical.

God continues to be involved in His creation. He continues to hold it together. There is a sense in which everything there is is held together by Christ. If Christ would step away, then our world would fall apart.

So, Jesus is First Over Creation. It’s all in Him and through Him and for Him. Pay attention to the prepositions. They give us a sense of just how thorough this is. Just how complete Christ’s pre-eminence and supremacy are.

What does this mean for us? It means we can’t live any way we want to. It means Jesus Christ is not just a wise sage or moral exemplar or gifted teacher. He is Lord. Of all creation. And as Lord of Creation he is Lord over everything—things seen and unseen, things above and below, including angels and demons, moon and stars, powers and principalities, presidents and dictators, pastors and elders. It all must bow to Him.

Firstborn From the Dead
Now, second way that Jesus is first. Jesus is first over the church. Jesus is the head of the body, the Lord of the new creation. Verse 18:

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Paul is writing to a local church—the fellowship of believers in Colossae. He could just as well be writing to Hope Church in Spencer, IA. And he wants us to know that this Jesus whom He is writing about –the one in whom and through whom and for whom all things have been made—is the head of the new creation, the church.

“Body” is a metaphor Paul likes to use for the church. In 1 Corinthians 12 he uses the image of a human body to argue that no part of the church is more important than another. Everyone has gifts, and every gift is valuable. They eyes need the feet, and the ears need the hands, etc. But there is one exception in that metaphor: the head. The head is the most important part of the body, the most important part of the church. It is the head that acts as the control and command center for the body. And Christ is the head.

Christian author Frank Viola writes:

The great need today in the body of Christ is to reinstate the headship of Christ. Tragically, all sorts of things have replaced Christ’s headship. Church boards, committee meetings, church leaders, church programs, man-made rules and regulations, and so on, have often supplanted the headship of Jesus Christ.

Whenever there is a decision before us regarding the Lord’s work or the Lord’s people, the salient question should not be, “What do we think should be done?” or “What can we agree upon as spiritual leaders?” Rather it should be, “What does the Lord want in this situation?”

With respect to the church, when two people make a decision independent of the head, it constitutes conspiracy.

Christ alone has the right to rule His church—not any human or committee. It is His body, not ours. We all belong to Him. He has purchased us with a costly price, and thus He alone possesses full rights over us. (from Jesus Now, found at http://pastors.com/5-ways-jesus-head-church/)

And Jesus is head of the church, Paul says, by virtue of being “the beginning and the firstborn of the dead.” When Jesus died and then rose again, He set into motion a new creation. Those who believe in Him will now not perish, but are guaranteed eternal life. His resurrection is the template for the future resurrection of those who are His.

In that sense, Jesus is the first of those raised from the dead (“the beginning”) as well as the owner of death (“the firstborn”). Humanity’s greatest enemy is now “owned” by Him. As 1 Corinthians 15:55 says: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

And all of this, Paul says, means that “in everything he might have the supremacy.” That’s where I get the title for today’s sermon. Other translations read: “so that he might come to have first place in everything.” (NRSV) That’s where I get the big idea. Jesus is first. Jesus is best. Jesus is supreme.

What does this mean for us personally? It means that because he is first, we don’t have to be. It means that if you know He is seated on the throne, then your problems are over. You know that He is in control.

The problem, of course, is that we have a tendency to put ourselves where only Jesus belongs. We have an inflated sense of our own significance. John Calvin once said: “But there is no one who does not cherish within himself some opinion of his own pre-eminence.” Or, as Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter once said about her father: “He wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

But this is teaching us that we don’t have to be the smartest or coolest or most relevant. We don’t have to work to earn our salvation. We don’t have to waste our time putting our hopes in anything or anyone outside of Jesus Christ—career or beauty or wealth or status or religious duty. Isn’t that freeing?

And what it means for the church is that our job is to hold forth Christ; that is what the world needs. The world does not need another celebrity pastor, bigger buildings, or hip worship leaders. The world needs Jesus, and in so far as we are holding forth Christ, our leader, our head, our Lord, our Savior, our sanctifier…we are living into our identity as the church. We are not led by agendas, or ideologies, or style. We are not led by our own power and influence. We are led by Jesus Christ who is Lord of the Church, forever and always. He is supreme. He is first.

Reconcile to Himself All Things
Third, Jesus is first over the mission. Jesus is on a mission to reconcile all things to Himself. Jesus is bringing peace. Verses 19-20:

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

In these last two verses of the hymn, we have some truly remarkable contrasts: reconciliation, which presupposes estrangement; peace, which suggests previous enmity; and this glorious image of God’s good pleasure, set against the horrific image of a bloody cross.

The cross always reminds us that we were in enmity with God. Because of sin, we stand under the just judgment of God. “For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law’” (Galatians 3:10), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Our story is that we have a proclivity to seek life and wholeness outside of God. We so easily bow down to the idols of performance, status, wealth, and beauty…ideologies, causes, and other people, looking for life and love and meaning in all the wrong places. We scorn the One who made us and who can give us true and abundant life.

And the bad news is that our sin is so deep and so pervasive, it is completely natural to us. We don’t even have to think about it. An old reformed adage that rings true says that “we are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners.” We are born with it. We were—all of us—alienated from God, following the ruler of the power of the air. We had absolutely no claim to friendship or communion with God. The cross is a terrible reminder of that reality.

Plus, this is a universal condition. Because of the fallen nature of the world, all of creation is estranged from God. Every person on the planet.

But the mission here of Jesus is to reconcile “all things” to himself. At the cross Jesus Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He saved us. And we who were dead in our trespasses are now alive in Christ. In His death He freed us from sin. In His resurrection and ascension Je obtained for us the life-giving Holy Spirit who unites us to God and each other.

And He is continuing to reconcile to Himself all of creation. Again, things on earth and on heaven. All things. And this is the only hope our world has. There is no way back to fellowship with God apart from the cross. Which means, of course, that there is no way back to fellowship with God apart from the suffering of Jesus Christ who is God.

But did you hear it in the text? This was not a drag to God. This was not something he was reluctant to do. Jesus didn’t go to the cross grudgingly. He was pleased to do this. It was His good pleasure to work this salvation.

What does this mean for us? It means that we are invited to be a part of the mission. That we are invited to enter into what Christ is doing as He reconciles all things to Himself. That we get to be a part of sharing the story of Christ’s supremacy; of His cross and resurrection.

Jesus is first. That’s the message the world needs to hear. We need to live with Him first in our lives, and we need to declare to the world, in word and deed, the unsurpassed beauty and majesty and greatness of Jesus Christ our Lord.