Sunday, August 09, 2009

Colossians 1:15-20 - The Supremacy of Christ

Opening thought: The Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA, is a Mahayana Buddhist Temple. Its name means, “Coming to the West.” I visited it several years ago. Such places thrive on diversity and encourage us to find our own way up the mountain to God.
We live in a world of diversity. There is a mixture of nationalities, a mixture of political persuasions, a mixture of tastes. With this diversity also comes a variety of religious beliefs. There is the influx of Eastern mysticism, the rise in popularity of the occult, our children and grandchildren dabbling in witchcraft. We are certainly living in religious times. But that is not the same as living in Christian times.
We are bombarded on every front with distortions and outright denials of the Christian faith. Many have responded to this diversity by watering down the truth of the Gospel. They have chosen to become "more inclusive." They have minimized the areas of disagreement so that the emphasis can be on the things that are held in common. This may sound noble but is really a denial of the truth of Scripture and of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pray & Read: Colossians 1:15-20

Contextual Notes: Paul’s letter from Rome to the Colossian Christians is focused on making sure they know Christ is central and supreme. Today’s verses are some of the most theologically dense of the Bible, ranking with John 1 and Hebrews 1.
In the city of Colossae the church was being infiltrated by those who had a distorted faith. They focused their attention on angels and the gaining of unique and special knowledge and blessings. They spent a great deal of time trying to distinguish between the physical and the spiritual realms. They urged a blending of all religions. They focused on man's efforts. They proclaimed a very "secular" faith similar to what we are seeing in our own day.
Paul's approach to this problem is very instructive. He does not attack the heresy but emphasizes the truth. We can learn a great deal from this approach. Many in our day know that there is a lot of wrong "out there" but they don't know what the truth is. In our passage this morning Paul underlines the most important distinctive of our faith. In these verses he instructs us about the distinctiveness of Jesus. As you listen to these verses you will notice that the Jesus described by Scripture is quite different than the Jesus you usually hear talked about.

Key Truth: Paul wrote Colossians 1:15-20 to teach the Colossian Christians that Jesus Christ is supreme over creation, over the church, and over death.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the supremacy of Jesus Christ. 
Sermon Points:
  1. The Supremacy of Christ over Creation (Col 1:15-16)
  2. The Supremacy of Christ over Church (Col 1:17-18a)
  3. The Supremacy of Christ over Death (Col 1:18b-20)
Exposition: Note well,
a. “He is the image of the invisible God” – he is the express image of his person, Heb_1:3. He is so the image of God as the son is the image of his father, who has a natural likeness to him; so that he who has seen him has seen the Father, and his glory was the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, John_1:14; l14:9
b. “the firstborn” -- it may be understood of Christ, as the King, Lord, and Governor of all creatures; being God's firstborn, he is heir of all things, the right of government belongs to him; he is higher than the kings of the earth, or the angels in heaven, the highest rank of creatures, being the Creator and upholder of all, as the following words show; so the Jews make the word "firstborn" to be synonymoum with the word "king", and explain it by גדול ושר, "a great one", and "a prince" (h); see Psa_89:27.[1] Not that he is himself a creature; for it is prōtotokos pasēs ktiseōs - born or begotten before all the creation, or before any creature was made, which is the scripture-way of representing eternity, and by which the eternity of God is represented to us: I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was; when there was no depth, before the mountains were settled, while as yet he had not made the earth, Prov_8:23-26. It signifies his dominion over all things, as the first-born in a family is heir and lord of all, so he is the heir of all things, Heb_1:2.[2]
c. It is true that the word “first-born” - πρωτότοκος - properly means the first-born child of a father or mother, Matt_1:25; Luke_2:7; or the first-born of animals. But two things are also to be remarked in regard to the use of the word: It does not necessarily imply that anyone is born afterward in the family, for it would be used of the first-born, though an only child; and, in the context it is used to denote one who is chief, or who is highly distinguished and pre-eminent. Thus, it is employed in Rom_8:29, “That he might be the first-born among many brethren.” So, in Col_1:18, it is said that he was “the first-born from the dead;” not that he was literally the first that was raised from the dead, which was not the fact, but that he might be pre-eminent among those that are raised; compare Exod_4:22. The meaning, then, is, that Christ sustains the most exalted rank in the universe; he is pre-eminent above all others; he is at the head of all things. The expression does not mean that he was “begotten before all creatures,” as it is often explained, but refers to the simple fact that he sustains the highest rank over the creation. He is the Son of God. He is the heir of all things. He is exalted as the Son of God above all.[3]
d. As the Jews term Jehovah בכורו של עולם becoro shel olam, the first-born of all the world, or of all the creation, to signify his having created or produced all things; (see Wolfius in loc.) so Christ is here termed, and the words which follow in the 16th and 17th verses are the proof of this. The phraseology is Jewish; and as they apply it to the supreme Being merely to denote his eternal pre-existence, and to point him out as the cause of all things; it is most evident that St. Paul uses it in the same way,[4]
e. “For by him all things were created”: Four things are here said:
i. That Jesus Christ is the Creator of the universe; of all things visible and invisible; of all things that had a beginning, whether they exist in time or in eternity.
ii. That whatsoever was created was created For himself; that he was the sole end of his own work.
iii. That he was prior to all creation, to all beings, whether in the visible or invisible world.
iv. That he is the preserver and governor of all things; for by him all things consist.
v. Now, allowing St. Paul to have understood the terms which he used, he must have considered Jesus Christ as being truly and properly God.[5]
  1. APPLICATION: As prototokos over all creation, Christ is the uncreated Creator. He is prior in time to all creation and He is the supreme Lord over all creation. Christ is prior to and exercises priority over the entire cosmos. He reigns over all creation with the highest possible status and sovereignty because He is its Creator ex nihilo. If Christ creates then Christ is God because only God creates ex nihilo. This of course is the Achilles heel of evolution. Evolution needs matter in order for its theory to work. It has no answer for the question, but what caused matter to exist? His work as Creator is extremely strong evidence for His deity. And since creation is a visible manifestation of the Creator's person and work, then Christ's work of creation is a profound demonstration that He is also the perfect revealer of what God who cannot be seen is like.[6]
a. He was before all things. He had a being before the world was made, before the beginning of time, and therefore from all eternity. Wisdom was with the Father, and possessed by him in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old, Prov 8:22. And in the beginning the Word was with God and was God, John 1:1. He not only had a being before he was born of the virgin, but he had a being before all time.[7] The errant Mormon doctrine springs from the misunderstanding that the Father sired the Son.
b. John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
c. John 8:58: "...before Abraham was born, I am."
d. Exod 3:15:"God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM;' and He said, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' Not I was; not I will be, but I am, the eternal God. He is before all things.
e. APPLICATION: He is to have first place in our lives in every area. If Jesus Christ is your Lord, that is what Lord means. Does he have first place in your thinking? Does he have first place in your worship? Does he have first place in your business? Does he have first place in the way you work for your employer? Does he have first place in your leisure time? In what you do on your vacation? In what you watch on TV, internet? In your Friday and Saturday nights? In what you and your friends do together? In your use of your time? Does he have first place in your relationships with others? Does Christ hold first place in your love for your spouse? In your care and love for your children? In your honoring of your parents? How about in what you spend your money on? Does he have first place there? Does Christ have first place in your ambitions and dreams? Are your dreams submitted to the Lord Jesus? If not, why not? It is time today to correct that. You can do that during the invitation time.
a. This is the best news. Christ has defeated death in his resurrection. Don't let anyone tell you that we should embrace death. Death is our enemy.  
b. There is a thematic connection using prototokos in v. 15, 18.Cky Carrigan: “Whereas the former occurrence had to do with Christ's Lordship over creation this occurrence has to do with His Lordship over re-creation. . . . There is a thematic connection between the two occurrences of prototokos in their two different contexts. Lightfoot sees here a "parallelism between Christ's relations to the Universe and to the Church." And Moule expresses these two themes as "creation" in 15b and "re-creation" in 18c. He calls this "a striking instance of how 'cosmology' and 'soteriology' are interlaced."
c. “Within this phrase lies a very strong affirmation of the humanity of Christ that has gone virtually unnoticed. This affirmation is found strategically placed among some of the strongest affirmations of His deity. If Christ is the firstborn from the dead, then He arose. And if He arose, then He died. And if He died, then He is mortal. And if He is mortal, then He is man. God does not die, God alone is immortal, that is, He alone is essentially unable to die.
d. Colossians 1:15-20 makes a very strong claim, therefore, for the immortality and mortality of Christ, which is no more or less a mystery than the simultaneous co-existence of the deity and humanity of Christ. . . The totality of God's attributes and powers abide permanently in the Second Adam who is the exact likeness of both God and Ideal-man.”[8]
e. Jesus the Reconciler: On the basis of the evidence, Jesus is the peacemaking agent of reconciliation between God and fallen creation, and between God and fallen man, on the basis of His substitutionary death on the cross. He is the perfect mediator between God and man because He is both God and man. And He is the perfect mediator between God and creation because He is both Creator of creation (16-17b) and an inhabitant of creation who takes His flesh from Mary, a daughter of creation (15a, 18c, 19).[9]
f. There are not many choices of paths to heaven. There is only one way. We are not all going up the same mountain. Jesus said, "I am THE way, the truth, and the life, NO ONE comes to the Father except through me."
g. APPLICATION: John 8:14, "...for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." There is only one way to Heaven, through the uncreated Creator, the exactness of deity, Christ Jesus. Have you submitted your life to him? He is our only hope.


[1] John Gill, Col 1:15.
[2]Matthew Henry, Col 1:12-29. The word, with only the change of the accent, prōtotokos, signifies actively the first begetter or producer of all things, and so it well agrees with the following clause. Vid. Isidor. Peleus. epist. 30 lib. 3.
[3] Barnes’ Notes, Col 1:15.
[4] Adam Clarke, Col 1:15.
[5] Adam Clarke, Col 1:16-17.
[7] Matthew Henry, Col 1:12-29.