The Supremacy of Christ
by Jack Wald | December 5th, 2004

Colossians 1:15-23

I met last week with the Village of Hope team to create a budget from the strategic planning we have been doing. It was three days of work but we created a budget that we think is honest and reflects what we believe God has in store for us.

We had an unexpected visitor at our meetings. Herman and Jetti Boonstra took in their eighth baby and brought this still unnamed baby on Monday to our meeting. By the second day she had been named Yasmine and on the second day of our meeting, she was just nine days old. I held her in my arms and rocked her, a sweet little baby.

Just a couple weeks ago, I held in my arms another baby, Lucylin Ongcoy, as her parents dedicated her to the Lord.

Babies are sweet and innocent and this is one of the reasons Christmas is so attractive to us. We picture in our minds Mary and Joseph with their newborn son, Jesus. And we see the sheep and cattle and the shepherds and eventually the wise men. Next Sunday we intend to have a manger built out in the parking lot with the children playing the roles of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men. We even intend to have a sheep. That’s something to look forward to.

So we look at baby Jesus lying in the manger with his mother and father, the shepherds and the wise men looking over their shoulders.

But who is this baby Jesus?
Gentle Jesus meek and mild,
Look upon a little child

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes

Is this who Jesus is? A sweet baby who makes no fuss, doesn’t cry like other babies do, meek and mild, a gentle Jesus?

We think we know who Jesus is, but let me tell you that Jesus is first of all a mystery.

Jesus was a mystery to his parents. Remember that Joseph had not yet consummated his marriage with Mary and yet here she was just having given birth to a baby boy. If Joseph was not the father, who then was the father? Mary denied having had sex with anyone else and talked of a visit from an angel who told her she would bear a child. If Joseph did not at first believe her story, who can blame him. But then God spoke to him in a dream and it is testimony to the faith of Joseph that he did not divorce Mary but kept her as his wife.

A visit from an angel, God speaking in dreams, a baby born to a young woman who was still a virgin. You bet Jesus was a mystery to his parents.

Jesus was a mystery to the shepherds. Over the years the shepherds had seen a lot in the sky. They had seen the movement of the constellations and shooting stars. Although they did not know they were planets, they had seen planets move together and then apart. They had seen an occasional comet streaking across the sky. They had seen some incredible things but they had never seen what they saw that night.

An angel appeared to them. This was a first. And the angel told them to go to Bethlehem to see the Savior who had just been born. To see an angel is amazing. To have the angel speak is more amazing. But then a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel. Is it any wonder the shepherds said to one another:
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They went to Bethlehem to where the stables were and in one of them they found Mary and Joseph and a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. They told everyone they met about their experience. They couldn’t contain themselves. Angels, hosts of angels and a baby in a manger. Jesus was a mystery to the shepherds.

Jesus was a mystery to his parents, to the shepherds and Jesus was a mystery to the wise men. At the time of Jesus’ birth, some astrologers were looking in the sky, trying to see what messages were being revealed in the heavens when the movement of Jupiter and Venus near the brightest star in the constellation Leo caused a bright triangle of light that indicated a king had been born in the land of Judah. A king whose birth is announced in the heavens must be very special indeed so they set out to see this king. About a year later, these kings arrived at the door of the house where Mary and Joseph were now living and entered, bringing rich gifts with them.

What do you think these wise men thought they would see when they arrived? Where is a king born? A king is born in a palace and is discovered in luxury with servants all around. Note that the wise men first went to Jerusalem to find this king. They went to Herod’s palace to ask where they might find this king. And when the religious scholars told them about the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, off they traveled.

And then they came to a small house. Joseph was a carpenter, not a king. So the wise men came into this small house, saw Mary and Joseph and a baby boy just beginning to walk. No servants, no luxury. They came, gave their presents, were overjoyed that they had been led to this house and then they left and I would imagine on the long journey home they often discussed what they had seen and tried to figure out what it all meant.

Jesus was a mystery to his parents, to the shepherds and to the wise men. Is Jesus a mystery to us?

For many Christians, there is no mystery associated with Jesus. From infancy on we have heard the telling of the Christmas story so that a warm glow is associated with the story. Jesus was born. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. The birth of Jesus was announced by angels. Jesus was born to Mary who was a virgin. It’s a wonderful story, but there is no mystery in it. We accept it as true without really thinking about it.

Let me suggest that when there is no mystery for us in the birth of Jesus, that is because we have a very limited view of who Jesus is. Even when we understand that Jesus grew up, took on his responsibility to serve God, became increasingly aware what his task on earth was and went to the cross, died and on the third day rose from the dead; even when we understand all that, we can have too limited a view of who Jesus is.

Who is this baby Jesus? Perhaps the best place in the Bible to look for an answer to this question is the letter Paul wrote to the Colossians. Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written to counter some accusations being made in the church community of Colosse. They viewed the material world as evil and thought it impossible that God could take on a material, human body. Therefore, they argued, Christ could not have been Emmanuel, God in the flesh.

They did not argue that Jesus was not a baby and then a man, but they limited him to that. So listen to Paul as he told the Colossians just exactly who Jesus was.

Colossians 1:15
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

God created this beautiful world. Wouldn’t it be nice to see him? To see who it is who created? Paul writes that if you want to see God, just take a look at Jesus. The writer of Hebrews wrote that Jesus (1:3) is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. To see Jesus and to watch Jesus speak and act is to see God speak and act.

The phrase firstborn over all creation does not mean that God existed and then Jesus was created. The phrase means that Jesus existed before anything was created. In the beginning was Jesus. And if there was any confusion by what Paul meant by Jesus being the firstborn over all creation, this next phrase makes it clear.

For by him all things were created:

All things? All things

things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

Who is this baby Jesus lying in the manger?

He is creator of angels and stars and solar systems and galaxies. He is creator of all that we see in our world. He created the Himalayan Mountains, the Serengeti Plains, the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. He created all the life in this world. He created us. He created the laws of physics and principles of chemistry. He created all life and all forces in the universe.

As the apostle John wrote in the beginning of his gospel
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

All things were created by him and for him. All things were created by Jesus and the purpose of all he created was to bring him glory. All things were created for him. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, the sheep and cattle in the manger were all created to bring glory to their creator who now lay in the manger.

Who is this baby Jesus?
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In a confrontation with the Jewish rulers, Jesus told them:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Before Abraham, Jesus existed. Before all the characters of the Bible, Jesus existed. Before anything, Jesus was.

Jesus is before all things. This means in addition to preceding all things, he is ranked above all things. He is higher in authority and power than all things. Jesus is the ace of trump in a card game.

In Morocco there is a caid who is ruled by the wali who is ruled by the governor who is ruled now by regional governors and over them all is the king. When the king travels to another country, he meets with his counterpart, another king or president. But Jesus is not just another ruler. He is not just another king. He is the king of kings and lord of lords.

Who is this baby Jesus?
Jesus is before all things and he sustains all things. In him all things hold together. The tense here means that he is continuing to hold all things together.

I already quoted the first part of this verse from Hebrews 1 but listen to how he continues
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Jesus is continuing to hold all things together, sustaining all things by his powerful word. When will the world end? The world will end when Jesus releases his hold on it.

There are four fundamental forces in nature. Gravitational force, electromagnetic force, the weak nuclear force and the strongest of these is the strong nuclear force.

You know that when you take two magnets and put the two north or two south ends together, the magnets push away from each other. In an atom, there are electrons which are negatively charged and protons which are positively charged. The electrons revolve around the nucleus of the atom but the protons, all positively charged, are packed densely into the nucleus where they want to push away from each other. The strong nuclear force is what holds these protons together. If this force ceased somehow to exist, the universe would be instantly destroyed.

I use this picture to help me understand Jesus holding all things together. When Jesus releases his hold on creation, it will instantaneously cease to exist.

Who is this baby Jesus?
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.

This baby Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men and at the age of thirty he began his public ministry. He taught with authority. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cleansed the lepers, drove out demons and raised the dead. He gathered to himself followers and at the end of three years of training, turned his face toward Jerusalem and his death on a cross.

Jesus did what every man or woman before him had done. He died. This fact is what drove Qohelet, the writer of Ecclesiastes, to conclude that all is meaningless, everything is chasing after smoke, spitting into the wind. It doesn’t matter whether you are good or bad, wise or a fool, rich or poor. At the end you are defeated by an unconquerable enemy, death.

The devil thought he had won. The devil thought he had been victorious in his battle against God. In a stunning move, God had taken on bodily form but then the devil played his cards and Jesus was put to death.

It was at this point that Jesus demonstrated his absolute supremacy. He broke the chains of death. He burst forth from the grave. He defeated the devil and took his greatest weapon from him. He rose from the dead and announced that we who follow him will also rise from our physical death to eternal life.

No one but Jesus could have done this and in his defeat of death, being the first to rise from the dead, he demonstrated his supremacy.

Who is this baby Jesus?
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.

Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. If you are like me, you are thinking of exceptions and ask about the widow’s son Jesus raised from the dead and Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. But these miracles, as great as they were, only brought them back to this physical world. These three had their life prolonged a bit, but they all still died and went to the grave. What Jesus did is break the power of eternal death so that death no longer needs to be feared by his followers. When we die we do not stay in the grave but are raised to new life lived in eternity. Death for Christians is not the end but the beginning. Christians can say along with Paul,
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

Jesus did not do this for himself. This was not a battle with the devil to defeat him for the sake of a victory. Jesus defeated the power of death for we who would believe and follow him. Jesus went voluntarily to the cross, taking upon himself our sins. He willingly suffered on our behalf so that we could be at peace with God with a certain hope of eternal life lived with God.

In his death and resurrection Jesus demonstrated with authority who he was. Paul began his Epistle to the Romans, which we will begin looking at in January, with this declaration about Jesus:
Romans 1
who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

The cross of Christ was the definitive display of the supremacy of Christ. David Bryant pointed out in his new book that because of the cross: Slaves of the fall are liberated; Satan’s minions bound; Death is destroyed; Sin is demolished; Judgement is absorbed; Fear is banished and because of the cross, All who believe are conquered by grace and transferred into the Empire of the Son.

Who is this baby Jesus?
He is the Exalted Christ. In John’s gospel, Jesus declared: (John 12:32)
I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

You cannot escape the double meaning here. They laid Jesus on the cross, nailed him to the cross, and then lifted him up as the cross fell into the hole in the ground to anchor it and Jesus was lifted up from the earth. But in the greater sense, Jesus was lifted up from the earth by the Father to his proper position.

The end of the early hymn of the church Paul quoted in Philippians declares
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Who is this baby Jesus?
He is the unique Christ. He has no competitors. He has no equals. He is not one among many religious leaders. As creator, he stands above all of his creation. Only Jesus broke the power of death. Only Jesus can offer hope of eternal life.

There are not and cannot be any successors to Jesus. There have been many who have come after Jesus claiming they can offer salvation but they cannot do so because they lack the qualifications. Who among all the religious leaders in the world have died and been resurrected? What hope can a religious leader offer if he or she dies and lies rotting in a grave? Their efforts take us back to the meaninglessness of the world of Qohelet. Only Jesus died and broke the power of death by rising to new life.

Who is this baby Jesus?
Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11b)

Augustine, a 4th century Berber from North Africa, wrote (paraphrased)
The one who has Christ has everything.
The one who has everything except for Christ really has nothing.
And the one who has Christ plus everything else
does not have any more than the one who has Christ alone.

Who is this baby Jesus lying so sweetly in the manger?
He is a great mystery. Augustine wrote a sermon about the mystery of Jesus from which this poem is taken.

Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
And small in the form of a servant.

How can this be that the Creator is himself created?
How can the one who holds the universe together by his powerful word be lying as a baby in a manger?
How can God who is omnipresent, who fills the world with his presence, be contained in one little baby boy?
The ruler of the stars is held and nursed in his mother’s arms?
The all-powerful creator God is a servant to mankind?

We fall on our knees. We do not and cannot deserve this. Forgive us Lord for presuming to treat you casually, for using you for our convenience, for taking you for granted, for putting other interests before you. Forgive us for reducing you to a size we can handle.

And thank you Father that you love us, that you are a servant to us. We cannot comprehend this. We cannot begin to understand this. But we gratefully acknowledge your sacrificial love for us.

Rejoice!
Rejoice!

In between what was and what will be
He has entered history
Down the corridor of time
Across the theater of mime
I have seen the Son of Man
In the human caravan

Rejoice!
Rejoice!

Can you see the maker of thunder
Walking under cloudy skies
He who makes the eagle soar
Seeks the shade of the sycamore
See Him laugh
See Him need
Slit His side
See Him bleed

Rejoice!
Rejoice!
Rejoice!
Rejoice!

In between the now and the never
He has filled in every line
All that we will ever face
He’s redeeming by His grace
So push the bars
Free the gate
Open up
Celebrate

Rejoice!
Rejoice!
Rejoice!
Rejoice!

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Ephesians 3:16-21
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.