Colossians 1:15-20

Time is moving quickly. I feel like the person in a movie who has to cut one of two wires so the bomb does not explode. Which wire to cut, the blue one or the red one? I cut the blue wire and now the timer has sped up.

I preach today and next Sunday. The last Sunday of April Chris Loose will be installed as pastor of RIC. I pack up in May and then preach a farewell sermon on June 6.

What do I preach about in the last sermons before I go? Should I try to talk about some obscure text in the Bible? Perhaps talking about what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 15:2 about the baptism of the dead. Or perhaps what Paul meant when he talked in 2 Corinthians 12:2 about being caught up to the third heaven.

In all my years at RIC I have not wasted your time preaching on obscure texts from the Bible and I certainly want my last sermons to focus on what is most important to us. So today I will talk about the supremacy of Jesus and next week about the community of followers of Jesus.

I preached this sermon in 2009 and again in 2014. This sermon has stayed in my mind. I love this sermon. When I talked with Elliot about this, he told me he has been thinking about preaching from Colossians in the fall and thought about this sermon. If you were at RIC when I preached this sermon in the past, I hope you will hear it with fresh ears.

Who is 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, who is holy, 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 is.

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 all that we see? Paul writes that if you want to see God, just take a look at Jesus. The writer of Hebrews wrote that Jesus (Hebrews 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 Jesus?

He is the creator of angels and stars and solar systems and galaxies. He is the 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 tiny delicate insects and he created elephants, giraffes, and whales. He created all the varieties of beautifully colored flowers and fish and birds. He created us. He created the laws of physics and the principles of chemistry. He created all life and all forces in the universe.

As the apostle John wrote in the beginning of his gospel (John 1:3)
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. At his birth in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and women who helped Mary give birth, the sheep and goats in the stable, were all created to bring glory to their creator who now lay in the manger.

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

In a confrontation with the Jewish rulers, Jesus told them: (John 8:58)
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

Before Abraham was born, Jesus existed. Before all the characters of the Bible came into being, 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 are caids and pashas. Over these are walis and governors. The sixteen regions of Morocco are governed by regional presidents. And over all of them 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 Jesus?
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 (Hebrews 1:3)
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 poles 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. What Jesus created out of nothing will return to nothing.

Who is 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.

Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph and then he 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 followers to himself 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 rose out of his graveclothes. 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 Jesus?
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 lives 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?”

To use the words of C. S. Lewis, all our life in this world is only the cover and title page. When we die our physical death and are raised to new life with Jesus, we will begin
Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

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 with this declaration about Jesus: (Romans 1:4)
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 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 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. 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 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? Regardless of how impressive their teaching, their death takes us back to the meaninglessness of the world of Qohelet. Any hope put in their teaching rots away with the body. Only Jesus died and broke the power of death by rising to new life.

Who is 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.

The answer to the deepest needs in mankind is found in Jesus and in no one else. It is Jesus alone and there is no other.

So let’s have a little quiz.

Who is it that will sit on the throne and rule in the new kingdom?
Who is it that created the world in which we live?
Who is it that is the radiance of God’s glory?
If we want to know what God is like, who do we look at?
Who holds the world together with his word and who will call an end to time and let this world dissolve into nothing?
Who died on the cross to purify us from our sins?
Who is it that will sit on the throne and hear all people from all time confess that he is Lord?
It is Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
Jesus alone. Jesus above all others. Jesus without equal.

How do we respond to Jesus in all his eternal glory? There are three responses: The first is to surrender to his love. Submit to him. We read in the Gospels about those who were healed and delivered from demons and then said to Jesus they wanted to follow him. That is the logical response to such greatness. Lay down your ego, acknowledge the wonder of Jesus, reset your life to be a life that is lived for Jesus. Find out what pleases Jesus and live your life that way.

You can do that right now as I speak. You can make this morning a turning point in your life. Just say, “Thank you Jesus. I want to follow you.” Start the process of discovering who Jesus is and how he wants you to live your life. Share your decision with someone this morning and begin this morning to live a new life.

A second response is to push Jesus away. Perhaps you have doubts and cannot make a commitment to Jesus. Perhaps you have been deeply hurt or betrayed by those in the church and cannot let go of the pain. Perhaps the pull of the world is too strong and you cannot step away from it.

If you are in this second category, I want to tell you that despite what you feel and think about God, God loves you and is committed to pursuing you. I sometimes sing a song by Pierce Pettis with these lyrics:
When you start to doubt if you exist, God believes in you
Confounded by the evidence, God believes in you
When your light burns so dim, when your chances seem so slim,
and you swear you don’t believe in him, God believes in you

When you rise up just to fall again, God believes in you
Deserted by your closest friends, God believes in you
When you're betrayed with a kiss  You turn your cheek to another fist 
Oh it does not have to end like this, God believes in you

Regardless of what you do or what you say, Jesus will continue to pursue you, loving you, using circumstances and people to encourage you to surrender your will. He will never force you, but he will never stop loving you and pursuing you either.

The Bible tells us God (2 Peter 3:9)
is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

You can turn your back on God but Jesus will never stop his pursuit of you because he loves you, he died for you, he wants you to be with him in his eternal kingdom.

There is a third response to the greatness of Jesus. What are you anxious about? What are you fearing? Are you worried you won’t have enough money to pay your bills next month? Are you worried because of relational problems with your spouse, parents, children, or friends? Are you worried about problems at your work or school? Are you concerned that you will meet the right person to marry? Are you concerned because you don’t know what your future holds for you?

It is not that these are unimportant issues. We are responsible to live well in this life. We are meant to work hard and practice to become skilled at what we do.

But we need to have the proper perspective. It does not really matter if you end life with plenty of money to leave to your children and friends, or if you are counting every centime or cent to make it last to the end. In either case you will die and leave all this behind and head out to begin Chapter One of your real life.

It does not really matter if there are long obituaries in the papers of the world when you die; it does matter who will greet you when you come into the Kingdom of God.

It does not really matter if you get married and have lots of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren when you die. It does matter how many people you have influenced to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and who will be with you in his kingdom.

And the reason these things do not really matter is because of who Jesus is. Jesus is the bright noonday sun in which your small flashlight of fear cannot be noticed. Jesus is the Atlantic ocean in which the worried drops of your perspiration fall. Jesus is the snow-capped mountain against which your tiny bucket of concerns is inconsequential.

Jesus is greater than any concern, worry, fear or anxiety you have. And because Jesus loves you and wants you to come by his side, you will overcome any and all obstacles the world puts up. You and Jesus are an unbeatable team.

The greatness of Jesus demands we lay down our little anxieties and trust in one who loves us and is alone capable of bringing us safely to his kingdom where we will be safe and at peace.
The power and grandeur of Jesus is beyond our comprehension and yet we find great comfort in the knowledge that this pre-existing Jesus loves us, came to live among us, died for us.

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 not trusting you with our lives and the lives of those we love.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged us: (Hebrews 12:2)
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Come to Jesus with all that afflicts you. Come to Jesus with your sin, your worries, your doubts, your anxieties. Reach out to Jesus and he will reach out to you. He will save you and bring you safely into his kingdom.

Put your focus on Jesus. Lift your eyes to Jesus. Hold on to Jesus. Trust Jesus with the things that make you anxious.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.