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The supremacy of the Son - Colossians 1:15-20

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 20th November 2005.

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It’s often said that familiarity breeds contempt. But perhaps more often than not there is a step in between familiarity and contempt. And that is forgetfulness. Familiarity leads to forgetfulness which leads to contempt. For example, the story is told about William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper owner who died in 1951. He revolutionised journalism and his career was the model for the film Citizen Kane. He was fabulously wealthy and over the years invested a fortune in collecting great works of art. One day he read about some valuable pieces which he decided he must have for his collection. So he sent his agent off to track them down and see about acquiring them. It was several months before the agent returned and reported to Hearst. He'd found the works Hearst wanted, but it wouldn't be possible to buy them. “Why not, Hearst asked. I want them and I can afford them.” The truth was, as the agent reported, that they were already sitting in Hearst's own warehouse - he'd purchased them years before but had forgotten all about them.

            Now when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, if truth be told, familiarity whilst perhaps not always leading to contempt, certainly does lead to forgetfulness. And that is not simply the problem the non Christian has. It’s a problem that afflicts Christians too. All too often we forget how truly wonderful our Lord Jesus Christ is. That was certainly a problem that the Colossians were facing. The Colossian church was a young church which had been started by one of Paul’s friends in Turkey. Paul himself had never been there, but he’d taken a personal interest in their spiritual welfare. And the reason was that this young church was in danger of being duped by false teaching. They were standing firm at the moment, but there was a serious possibility of being conned. And the reason was that false teachers were prowling around these young congregations of Eastern Turkey advocating a false teaching which in some way denied Jesus Christ. They were probably telling the churches that they needed some extra spiritual experience in addition to what they had in Jesus. Jesus was great but something more was needed. And on the face of it, it was very attractive. Who doesn’t want spiritual fullness? Who doesn’t want to go deeper into their faith? And the danger for this congregation was that familiarity with Jesus would breed forgetfulness and so possibly contempt. Yes they had Jesus, but they had not appreciated how wonderful he was. And they could quite easily fall for the false teachers’ lies. So what is Paul’s antidote? Well it is a letter centred on Jesus Christ. So Paul wrote to tell the Colossians that everything they needed spiritually speaking they had already in Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus, he wrote. You have been given fullness in Christ, he wrote. Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue in him, he wrote. And in our passage in particular, it is Jesus Christ who is the focus. The supreme, sovereign Lord Jesus Christ. Because when you understand how amazing and wonderful the Lord Jesus Christ truly is, then you’ll never ever be tempted to go for anything else. You’ll realise you have everything you need in Christ already. The medicine for spiritual weariness with Jesus is not to move away from him, but to see him as he truly is. Because nothing compares to knowing Jesus as the Bible reveals him.

            And that is why a series of sermons like the one we’re having in the evening services is so important. Because we need, like the Colossians, to be reminded again and again just how important and extraordinary Jesus is. For familiarity, you see, can breed forgetfulness which in turn can lead to contempt. It is possible, unless we are constantly brought up to the mark, to drift away from the Christ of the Bible. And the trouble is that when we come to a passage like this, then we are in danger of switching off because we think we know it already. We think we’ve got Jesus sussed. We’ve got him taped, tucked away in our little religious box which means he’s safe and cannot do us too much harm. Because we don’t really want him to have too much control over our lives, and we certainly don’t want to hear too many challenges from him. Our lives our comfortable with the Jesus we’ve got. But the trouble is that is not the Jesus of the NT and that is not the Jesus of Colossians 1. And the problem with having a view of Jesus which tries to tame him, is that a pigmy Jesus such as we are in danger of having only produces pigmy Christians. If your understanding of Jesus is so small that you switch off mentally and are no longer excited by the awesome Lord we read of here, then you are endangering yourself spiritually. For a pigmy Christ leads to pigmy Christianity, stunted spiritually and not growing properly. If your Jesus is not the divine Lord, not the very image of the invisible God, then you cannot know God. If your Jesus is not the sovereign Jesus who rules the universe then you can have no confidence and security in the face of the tough tests of life. And if your Jesus is not the divine sovereign Lord who died for your sin on the cross, then you can have no forgiveness. Only the real authentic Jesus can deepen and strengthen your faith as it should be. The only way to grow as a Christian is to stay rooted in Christ. And to be quite frank, anything less than the real Jesus is just not worth having. Because it’s a pathetic and pale imitation. So as we come to this extraordinary passage, I want to lay three challenges before us. For it is so easy to underestimate the Jesus of the Bible. And that has disastrous consequences as we will see. And as Paul pens these six verses he challenges us to:

1) Never Underestimate the Person Jesus Is (Vv 15, 19)

2) Never Underestimate the Power Jesus Has (Vv 16-18)   

3) Never Underestimate the Price Jesus Paid (V 20)

 

1) Never Underestimate the Person Jesus Is (Vv 15, 19)

So the first challenge that Paul gives us is never underestimate the person Jesus is. Now Paul has just been talking about Jesus in the previous verses. He is God’s Son in whom we have redemption the forgiveness of sins. And then Paul goes straight to talk about the identity of this person Jesus. Verse 15: “He is the image of the invisible God.” Now quite frankly that is an outrageous statement. You see it’s a well taught fact in the Bible that we cannot see God. He is invisible- we cannot see him and touch him. But the claim of the NT is that in Jesus God became a man and so could be seen and touched. In Jesus the invisible has been fully revealed to us. For he is the image of the invisible God. You see it’s one thing for us to read of God’s words in the OT and hear of amazing encounters with him. Quite another thing for him to come down to our grotty sinful world and take on human flesh. And when he did that in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, then we were left in absolutely no doubt what God was like.

            Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Very few of you will have met my brother. I could show you a picture of him here and you’d see that he was a blond haired fairly well built young man who is about 5 feet 11 in height. You’d also notice that he was well dressed, which explains where I get my expensive designer outfits, and in all probability was very nice. But you don’t know that and you cannot know that because you’ve never met him. But imagine if he were here tonight. Then you could meet him face to face. Then you could see his character, and what made him tick. And when Jesus humbly came into this world, then we could see God face to face. The living God took on flesh and became a man. Jesus has revealed the invisible God to us. He is the image of the invisible God. And if we are in any doubt at all as to what Paul means, then have a look at verse 19: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” There was nothing about God that is not fully revealed in Jesus Christ. So Jesus is not just a divinely inspired man, or divinely sent prophet, as Islam believes. He’s not even, as some religions think, a person who carries some sort of divine spark. No, let’s be absolutely crystal clear on this point. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is God himself in flesh. Make no mistake. And that means we must come to the conclusion that only Jesus reveals God to us fully. And that is because he claims exclusivity not just uniqueness. You see I am unique. Many of you will be nodding in profound agreement. Yes, Nathan, you will say, you really are unique. But all of us are unique. We are all different. But only Jesus is exclusive in the sense that he claims exclusively to reveal God to us because he is God. No-one else can do that. There is no other way to know God apart from in Christ. So what does Jesus say in John’s gospel? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” That is Jesus’ exclusive claim to be God. And we should never underestimate the person Jesus is. Otherwise we are denying the only way to God.

            Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this is a very hard truth to proclaim in our society today. Because everyone wants to believe in the mythical dream world where all religions are essentially the same and all lead up the mountain to heaven. We hear from Colossians that we are not to underestimate the person Jesus is, but if we are honest, that is precisely what we are tempted to do in practice. Because the temptation is either to keep our mouths shut or to water down the precious truth of the person of Jesus Christ. For example, I read this letter recently from a lady involved in a church writing in a Parish Magazine, "Dear editor, I feel very strongly with the members of the PCC who find evangelism unattractive to English people. I would never dream of imposing my beliefs on anyone else just because I feel I have found the right way for me. Surely it is up to each one of us to find their own path." Now friends, that is simply not NT Christianity. Putting it bluntly it’s a lie. She’s swallowed the false teaching that there is not one truth but many. But that fact is it is not a matter of finding the right way for me. It’s a matter of truth, absolute truth, truth which stood for all eternity past and which will stand for all eternity future. And Jesus demands that if we follow him then we do not dishonour his name by allowing ourselves to soften our stand on the person Jesus is.

            Now strangely I was challenged on this very point recently by reading an article in one of the daily newspapers last Saturday. Now as far as I know, the lady who wrote the article entitled “Who will stop the PC zealots” is not a Christian, but she might be. But just listen to what she says about the state of Britain today. “This year the rampant assault on Christianity has intensified: Crosses removed from crematoria and hospital chapels; officers from Waveney District Council in Lowestoft, an area where only 0.5% of the population claim to follow non Christian religions, explaining that funding Christmas lights does not “fit in with the councils core values of equality and diversity”; a museum curator replacing BC, ‘before Christ’, with BP, ‘before the present’; the Home Office threatening to remove funding from a Christmas service for murder victims because it was ‘too Christian’… What is really worrying is that so few are prepared to stand up and be counted on this issue…” Now I’m not necessarily advocating writing to city councils and complaining about lights. The point is this: Britain is becoming an increasingly secular society, if it’s not already. So will you have the courage to stand for the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ in this land, in our places of work, in our homes and families, on the university campus, where 80% of students think there is no such thing as absolute truth. Because that is what authentic Christian belief demands. If you genuinely and sincerely believe that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, if you genuinely and sincerely believe that he is the only way to God, then will you stand for him. Yes graciously and compassionately. But stand for him. Because there is no other way. But it’s so easy to forget when you’re swimming against the tide of secular thinking. And when you underestimate the person Jesus is, then you are denying the only way to God. So never ever underestimate the person Jesus is.       

             

2) Never Underestimate the Power Jesus Has (Vv 16-18)   

But there’s a second challenge from this letter and that is never underestimate the power Jesus has. So how do we see Jesus’ power? Well Paul tells us that his power is seen in two ways:

 

a) He’s Lord over the Creation- First he’s Lord over the creation. And that is seen first in the fact that Jesus made creation. Verse 15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Now immediately we are confronted with a difficult phrase. He is the firstborn over creation. Ah ha, someone says. There it is in black and white. Jesus was created. And that is precisely what people like the JW’s say. Jesus is great, but he’s not quite as great as you make him out to be. But that would be to miss the point of what Paul says. Let's read on because the context makes it clear what Paul is saying. “For by him, literally in him, all things were created, things in heaven or on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” Now if we say Jesus is created then either Paul is contradicting himself or he's saying something else. Because he says, “by him all things were created”. Jesus is the creator, not the created. We read in verse 16b, all things were created though him, literally, and for him. Jesus is the agent of creation and the goal of creation. So the very universe exists for Jesus Christ. It’s there to glorify him. Listen to these words of Stephen Hawking. He wrote the best selling but little read book “A Brief History of Time.” And at the end of the book, he wrote these words: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? If we find the answer to that, we would know the mind of God.” But the answer is in Colossians chapter 1. It’s all through Jesus and it’s all for Jesus. Staggering isn’t it?

And look at the scope of that creation- its worth noticing how many times the word 'all' comes in this tiny paragraph- everything, be it in heaven or on earth, be it seen or unseen, be a power or authority or ruler or throne. There is absolutely nothing outside the scope of his Lordship. He is the creator of all. Jesus was there at the beginning of time co-operating with the Father in the bringing about of creation. So what does firstborn over creation mean? It’s talking about Jesus' status over creation. You see a firstborn child is the one who comes first. He’s the one who inherits everything, or at least he did in ancient times. So if I were living hundreds of years ago, I would receive all the inheritance from my family as the firstborn son. The house, the land, the cat, everything. That’s my status. And when Paul says that Jesus is the firstborn over all creation, he’s saying that Jesus has the supreme authority and lordship over the creation. He’s not commenting on his birth. He’s commenting on his status. So Jesus made the creation and he’s the goal of it!

But there’s even more in verse 17. For Jesus also sustains the creation. “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Moment by moment Jesus sustains the universe. Without him the whole thing would disintegrate. Just think about the huge size of the universe that we live in. Consider this: On the 20th August 1977, Voyager II, the inter planetary probe launched to observe and transmit to earth data about the outer planetary system, set off from earth traveling at 90,000 miles an hour, faster than a speeding bullet. On the 28th August 1989, that’s over ten years later, it reached Neptune, some 2,700 million miles from earth. Voyager II then left the solar system. It will not come within one light year of any star for another 958,000 years, give or take ten years. In our galaxy there are 100,000 million stars like our sun. Our galaxy is one of at least 100,000 million galaxies. But the fact is, if Jesus Christ stopped sustaining the universe for one nanosecond, the whole thing would descend into chaos. Or consider something much smaller, like a bat. Bats have an amazing ability to find their way in the dark because of radars operated through their ears. They are beautifully delicate creatures. But who is it that allows every individual bat in the world to function. Jesus! And then multiply that by billions and billions to encompass everything in the universe. It is a breath-taking picture of Jesus. In status, above creation, in the past, the agent of creation, in the future the goal of creation, in the present, the sustainer of creation. Is this the Jesus you know and love?

b) He’s Lord over the New Creation- But he’s not just Lord over creation. He’s also Lord over the new creation too! Verse 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." God's new creation is his people, and eventually he will redeem creation itself. But as God's new creation, his new people, we have Jesus as our head. He is the one who watches over us, who sustains the church, just as he does creation. So the head is not the Archbishop of Canterbury, its not the Queen and its not the Pope. The head is Jesus. He's the one to whom we must give answer. And why is that? Because Jesus was raised from the dead. In fact he's the firstborn from among the dead. In other words he's kicked off the new creation. He's the one to have broken down the barrier of death and sin and so allowed the new start to be made. He heads the new age, the firstborn from among the dead. He's the beginning, as Paul says. It means that his people too will be raised from the dead, and his resurrection is the guarantee of that happening. And as a result of all of this, he has supremacy. Christ is pre-eminent. Absolute supremacy belongs to him, in everything. No-one even gets close, and no-one will ever topple him from that position. Jesus' supremacy is established for ever, because he has defeated death. Jesus is supreme over the new creation as well as original creation.

            Now we need to pause to consider why this truth is so important for our Christian lives. And the reason is this: Only this sovereign all powerful Jesus can give us the security we need. Because if your Jesus is a rather weak and pathetic figure who will be blown over by the first puff of wind then you will fall. And unless you see Jesus as the Bible presents him as the awesome sovereign King over the entire universes, then you’ll be tempted by other things. That was the problem for the Colossians. They believed that they were at the whim of demonic forces and that they needed to placate those demonic forces through religious deeds and experiences. But Paul says that Jesus is Lord over them too. He’ll tell us in chapter two that he has defeated them through the cross. Some of us may well feel we are at the whim of unseen evil forces. But Jesus is Lord. He has the power to rescue you and bring you through. Or what about death? Death is for many the ultimate thing to be afraid of. But Paul says Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead. He has defeated death and is able to bring you and me through it. Or consider the church, not the human organisation of the Church of England, but the gathering of God’s people here today. Are you sometimes tempted to think how pathetic it all seems? We are very small in this city of Hull. It seems so weak and useless. The tide of secular thinking and non Christian antagonism seems so strong. Is there any hope? Of course there is. Look at who is our boss! Look at whose at the top? It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven of earth, the one who holds the entire universe together in the palm of his hands. Do you not think he as our captain can bring us safely home? Do you not think that he will protect and keep his people to the end? Do you not think that he has the power to defeat everything that is thrown against his church? What did Jesus himself say? The gates of hell itself will not prevail against the church of Christ. No, whatever you and I face this coming week or this coming year, whether it be uncertainty, a broken heart, unemployment, exams, bereavement, illness, conflict, or even death itself. Whatever it is, Jesus is sufficient for those trials. And if you don’t believe in a powerful Lord Jesus such as is seen in Colossians then you will fall. Because only a sovereign Lord Jesus can give us security. And the challenge is to trust him. So never ever underestimate the power Jesus has.

 

3) Never Underestimate the Price Jesus Paid (V 20)

But there is one last challenge that we must briefly consider. And that is this. Never underestimate the price Jesus paid. You see it is one staggering fact that Jesus is God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God. It is a breathtaking comfort to know that Jesus is the great creator and sustainer of the old and new creation. But to know why he came is perhaps the greatest joy of all. Verse 19: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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 came for cosmic reconciliation. He came to reconcile all things to God. The fact is that the universe is out of kilter with its creator. And that includes you and me. We are rebels in God’s world. But there is remarkably forgiveness. But it came at great price. Jesus offered us peace with God through his blood shed on the cross. And that peace restores not only our relationship with God if we accept that precious gift of God, but the entire universe. It doesn’t mean that everyone and everything will willingly submit to Jesus. But it does mean that Jesus has done everything necessary to restore order to the cosmos. Everyone will bow before Jesus whether they like it or not. The war is over. And the wonderful news is that we can be in right relationship with God again.

            And surely one of the marks of the mature Christian is that he or she is growing more and more in love of his Saviour and ponders more and more deeply that precious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. An old pastor once said: “Dead is the soul that has ceased to be amazed at the love of God shown in the cross of Christ.” I wonder if you have grown weary of the cross. Have you lost that first joy at being forgiven, that wonder of discovering you were a forgiven child of God. Well come again to the foot of the cross this evening and ponder the precious sacrifice of Christ which allows each one here to be reconciled to God. And if you have never come to the cross for forgiveness, then why not come tonight. For there is no other way to be saved. Never ever underestimate the price Jesus paid.

            As we finish I want to tell you about Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts was a hymn writer who lived through the turbulent reign of Queen Anne at the beginning of the 18th century. She was a Queen who had a reputation for persecuting men and women who believed the gospel and who preached it. On the 1st August 1714 an Act known as the Schism Act was due to be brought in which would effectively mean the renewed persecution upon the believing church. But on that very day, Queen Anne died, and Christians rejoiced in God’s sovereign providence, because the law would never be passed. And as a result of that divine deliverance, Isaac Watts wrote this hymn: “Our God our help in ages past, our help for years to come; our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home. Beneath the shadow of thy throne, thy saints have dwelt secure; sufficient is thine arm alone and our defence is sure.” And that is the God who is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And what Watts knew was that whilst earthly monarchs come and go, there is one who will never fail us. Is this Jesus your king? Well if so, never underestimate the person Jesus is. Never underestimate the power Jesus has. And never underestimate the price Jesus paid.   

 

          

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