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Jul 23, 2017

Preeminent or Just Prominent?

Passage: Colossians 1:15

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Colossians

Keywords: creation, preeminence, supremacy of christ, the church, holds all together

Summary:

There is a huge difference between making Jesus Christ prominent in your life and making Him preeminent. This passage in Colossians challenges us to live the latter daily in this world and in the church.

Detail:

Preeminent or Just Prominent?

Colossians 1:15-20

July 23, 2017

 

The difference between prominent and preeminent:

  • Among mountains?
  • In a marriage relationship?
  • In your schedule?
  • In calling people to believe in Jesus?

We’re in Colossians 1 again today.  The last couple of weeks, we’ve been dissecting Paul’s prayer for this church, both his thankful praise to God for the faith, hope and love they lived out to each other as well as the petitions for them to know, do and be the will of God through spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

            Today’s text, vss. 15-20, though not clearly written as a part of Paul’s prayer, sound an awful lot like a hymn of praise for who Jesus Christ is.  It’s as if, instead of tacking on what we often do at the end of a prayer, “…in Jesus’ name,” when Paul mentions Jesus as “the Son [God] loves” in vs. 13, he can’t stop thinking and talking about the Son of God in vss. 15-20. 

            This is the true mark of a “Christ-ian”:  everything is focused on Jesus.  Life is about Jesus.  Death is about Jesus.  Everything in between is about Jesus. 

            But it’s not just sort of a personality cult about Jesus.  He’s not our “rock star.”  He’s not someone you’re supposed to have a crush on like some movie actor or pop-star.  There are some very real, unique qualities Jesus has that are to move our relationship with the Son of God into a unique, one-of-a-kind realm of relationship.  This is what knowing Christ as He truly is did to Paul.  And he just can’t help but talk about Jesus’ unique qualities when he gets to writing about the Son of God. 

  • It’s as if he’s celebrating Father’s Day and starts writing a card extoling the virtues of his dad. Only in this case, it’s his Savior and Lord, Jesus.
  • It’s as if is Valentine’s Day and he’s enumerating the amazing qualities of his beloved. Only in this case, it’s his beloved King and Savior. 

That’s what Psalms or contemporary choruses or ancient hymns often are—a thought out, written out and sung out declaration of our amazing God.  Which is why I’ve asked that we save most of our musical worship until after the message today.  I want our declarations in song, reading or praying to be thoughtful and sincere reflections of what we really think and feel about Jesus.   

ILL:  I’m back into that phase of having little people in my life (grandchildren) with whom I can read children’s books again.  Good pre-school children’s books have very few words but really great pictures.  A young child can see or envision or imagine what their parent or grandparent is reading about. 

            That’s what Paul wants us to engage in when we’re reading these phrases so pregnant with ideas about the Son of God, Jesus.  To help us do that, he divides his theological picture book into two chapters:  How Jesus is supreme over a.) the created realm, and b.) the redeemed realm, US, His body, the church.  So let’s do a little page-turning on the Savior we’re all here to encounter today.

PAGE 1

  1. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is preeminent over the entire created realm.

Before we look at the specifics of that supremacy, let’s ask the question, “Why does it matter that we have a Savior who is supreme…the best…better than all others…foremost in every category?” 

The more important the role, the more important the credentials.

ILL:  How much do credentials matter in the following match-ups?

  • Grocery checker vs. your doctor?
  • Kid’s teacher vs. your spouse? How often is your spouse going to impact your life?  A few thousand times a day!  So how important is it that their character be one you can trust?  How important is it that they be someone you can enjoy living with?  Having conversation with?  Raising children with?
  • Favorite coach verses God?

So the more impacting the relationship personally to our lives, the more crucial the character and nature of the person we choose.

This is what Paul is saying.  To a cultural world of the Colossians steeped in Greek gods and pagan religions, Paul says, “Jesus is one-of-a-kind…and here’s the ‘kind’ he is.”  Vs. 15:

“The Son [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God….”  Stop!

            What strikes you as just a little contradictory or oxymoronic about that phrase?  “…the image of the invisible….”!

I don’t care how you finish that sentence, how do you get “an image of the invisible” anything? 

ILL: 

  • What’s this picture an image of? [Drawing of an atom.]
  • What’s this an image of? [Picture of Pres. George ]

The Greek word, “eikon,” used in this passage was used of the image of Caesar on a coin. The average person never got to actually see Caesar.  But by looking at a coin, they could see what he looked like. It was a sort of 1-dimensional vision of Caesar.  If you ran into Caesar in the market in Rome, you would probably say to yourself, “I wonder if that is Caesar?  Looks a lot like that coin I have right here.” 

            Paul is essentially saying, “Jesus IS (not “was” or “will someday become”; is present tense) the visible representation of THE invisible God.”  Just how do you get a physical image of something non-physical?  How do you draw the invisible? 

            With an atom, you observe its behavior, its physically observable properties of polarity, nuclear composition, etc. and then try to draw what you think is happening with that invisible substance as best you know. 

            With God, you look at Jesus.  God, in His wisdom, decided that putting his deity into a human body with a sinless human nature was the best way to do that.  Thus Jesus—God in human flesh, the “incarnation.”  This is why the Gospels are SO important…and the rest of the N.T. that talks about Jesus Christ.  If you get the wrong “image” of Jesus, you’re going to have the wrong image of God.  And since the god you choose to run your life is far more important and impacting than even a spouse you might choose to “help run your life” J for a few years, we really need to have the right image in our heads and hearts about Jesus. 

APP: 

  • This is why I think we ought to be reading the Gospels more than any other N.T. books.
  • This is why we ought to be always asking whenever we are reading the Bible, “What does this teach me about God?”

John 1:18 says that “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” That phrase “made him known,” means that Jesus declares, or literally “exegetes,” to the world what God the Father is really like.

In John 14:9, Jesus revealed this about Himself: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

In a parallel passage, Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…”  Someone has said that Jesus is God with skin on. That’s a pretty good word picture.

APP:  The next time someone tells you, “I wish I could see God,” ask them if they would settle for seeing THE INVISIBLE GOD lived out in the life of a human being?  Or just ask them what would satisfy them that would enable them to “see” God who is unseen/ invisible?

 

PAGE 2 (of this theological primmer):

Jesus is “…the firstborn over all creation.” (vs. 15b).  “Aha!” someone is thinking.  “Doesn’t this prove Jesus is “created”, not eternal like God?  After all, “firstborn” is still “born!”  Arius, an early church heretic when it came to the nature of Jesus, used “the firstborn of all creation” phrase (Col. 1:15) to argue that Jesus was the highest created being, but not equal with God. In Arius’ words, “There was a time when he was not.”  The modern followers of Arius, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do the same.  They hold that Jesus was Satan’s brother.  Satan rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven but Jesus went on to become the Christ.   

Actually, the phrase “firstborn” is most frequently translated as “heir or owner.” In ancient time it meant the “ranking one, or the supreme one.Jacob was not born first but he was the heir. This is strongly supported in Psalm 89:27 where we read that God appointed King David as his “firstborn,” even though he was the youngest of eight brothers. This verse concludes by saying that David will be the “most exalted of the kings of the earth.” “Firstborn” therefore is a title of honor or position, not chronological order.

 

PAGE #3—Christ’s Creative Preeminence

Paul goes on in vs. 16 to clarify Jesus’ nature even more.  16 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

The Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation 

[Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York], rev. 1970 ed.) inserts “other” before “all things” at both the beginning and end of that verse (plus twice in vs. 17 and once in vs. 20), even though it is not in any Greek manuscripts. They inserted that word there because it’s obvious that if Christ created all things visible and invisible, then He Himself is not created. As John 1:3 puts it, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

            Because the false teachers of Paul’s day (Gnostics) taught that the physical world was evil, they thought that God Himself could not have created it. They reasoned that if Christ were God, He would be in charge of only the spiritual world.

But Paul explained that all the thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers on heaven and earth, of both the visible and invisible world, are under the authority of Christ because He created them.

These four classifications are used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the world of both holy and evil spirit beings. Since the Colossians gave undue prominence to angels, Paul here quickly puts everything under the rule of Christ. Jesus has no rival.

This verse also refutes the false teaching that Christ was one of many intermediaries and that angels were to be worshipped. The highest angelic princes are subject to Jesus Christ, whether they be seraphim or cherubim or whether they be demons or Satan himself. Jesus is Lord of all.

APP: 

  • The initial and ongoing creative power of Christ makes it clear that nothing we could think of could be beyond the re-creative power of Christ. If we were created “through him”, then we are no accident or afterthought.  Additionally, we were created “for him.”  That leads to the issue of our PURPOSE in life and GOAL in living—to bring glory to God himself. Revelation 4:11, in the New Living Translation, puts it this way: “…For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.”  Jesus doesn’t lack power to do anything He deems best…even though we may lack the perspective to trust Him in difficult times. 
  • Significance for our praying: asking for binding of dark forces, presence of angels,
  • Significance for our fears about evil.

 

PAGE 4—Christ’s Sustaining Power

Look at verse 17: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Jesus existed before everything else as He declared in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was born, I am.”

To “hold together” means to prevent something from falling into complete chaos. Christ is before all things, both in time and rank. He is not only the Creator of the world; He is the cohesion that keeps it all together. By Him everything came to be, and by Him everything continues to hold togetherHebrews 1:3 reminds us that He holds everything together by His powerful word. If He were to remove His sustaining power, everything would dissolve into disorder. 

ILL: In the July 2000 issue of Discover Magazine, there is an article entitled “The Glue That Holds the World Together.”  Its subtitle reads, “The most we learn about subatomic particles called gluons, the more the universe seems to be made of nothing at all.”  Let me pull a couple of paragraphs out to give you an idea of what an amazing universe of energy every single atom of anything in the universe actually is.  And who besides God could have caused this amazing order to exist from the moment of the beginning of the universe until now? 

Atoms, if you remember back to your junior high science, are made of a nucleus of protons surrounded by orbiting electrons. The author writes,  “A proton is made of three quarks… but the quarks are infinitesimal—just 2 percent or so of the proton's total mass. They're rattling around at near light speed inside the proton, but they're imprisoned in flickering clouds of other particles—other quarks, which materialize briefly and then vanish and, above all, gluons, which transmit the force that binds the quarks together. Gluons are massless and evanescent [quickly fading or disappearing], but they carry most of the proton's energy. That is why it is more accurate to say protons are made of gluons rather than quarks. Protons are little blobs of glue—but even that picture conveys something too static and substantial. All is flux and crackling energy inside a proton; it is like an unending lightning storm in a bottle, a bottle less than .1 trillionth of an inch in diameter.”

            Now I’ll skip to the closing paragraph of the article.  Imagine this hypothetical journey through the “world” of a proton.

            “As physics evolves, the image of the proton that quantum chromodynamics has given us may come to seem reassuringly concrete and solid—although solid is just what a proton is not. Flying into one—if you can imagine doing that, riding the strong force in a kind of sub-nuclear glider—would be like falling through Earth's atmosphere. The upper atmosphere of the proton is a thin cirrus of virtual quark-antiquark pairs; they form a shield for what lies below. As you fall past them, the atmosphere gets denser and denser, the clouds thicker and thicker. Your plane is struck with increasing frequency and force by flashes of color lightning—the gluons. And then, perhaps four fifths of the way through your descent, you emerge from the cloud cover. The ride is calmer now. The lightning bolts have not disappeared; they have fused to a continuous sheet, and somehow you feel at once featherlight and immune from all forces. You're near the center of the proton now, utterly trapped as you fall toward the asymptote of utter freedom, and you are finding . . . not much.

"The closer you look, the more you find the proton is dissolving into lots of particles, each of which is carrying very, very little energy," says Wilczek. "And the elements of reality that triggered the whole thing, the quarks, are these tiny little things in the middle of the cloud. In fact, if you follow the evolution to infinitely short distances, the triggering charge goes to zero. If you really study the equations [mathematics], it gets almost mystical."  [Found on 7.21.2017 at http://discovermagazine.com/2000/jul/featgluons]

            Which brings me to an obvious observation:  If the very atoms themselves are still an electrical-magnetic-physical mystery to the brightest minds in the world, how in God’s name are we supposed to believe that atoms of every element ever discovered or created ALL adhere to those same “laws”?  How are we to believe that those atoms combine according to very strict but complex laws of chemistry into molecules…and that those molecules somehow formed actually very complex (yet called “simple”) amino acids… that in turn combined in just the right order and environment to result in a single living cell (itself a universe of complexity).  And that those cells figured out how to multiply and evolve into plants, animals and every type of cell necessary for another universe of complexity in what we call the human body???  Are you feeling very small and very amazing yet? J

            But Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote these words some 2000 years ago“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

 

From this vantage point of Jesus as totally preeminent OVER the entire natural and spiritual universe we will ever know, God turns our attention to ONE VERY SPECIAL REALM of His amazing creation:  THE CHURCH!    

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Are you kidding??!!”  Maybe you don’t find ‘the church’ all that special.  Maybe it’s been more weird than wonderful for you.  You’re entitled to your opinion and past experiences. 

Maybe it would help if you don’t think a specific local church or church experience.  For now, don’t think “Mosaic Church” or “New Community Church.”  Think “Bride of Christ” CHURCH.  Think “Church Universal”—all believers in Jesus from the very first ones in Jerusalem at Pentecost to the very last ones yet to be saved before this old, imperfect heaven and earth melt with fervent heat and cease to be and God creates the glorious new heavens and new earth (2 Pt. 3:12; Rev. 21:1). 

 

Colossians 1:18-20 says,

18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 

Paul uses a personal pronoun here that is very emphatic. It literally means, “He Himself is the head.” Only Jesus qualifies to be the head of the church. The word “head” means that Jesus is the authority, or source of the church.

We can relate to that. The head gives the body the ability to even function, if you haven’t noticed. Separate the head from the body as they did often in the French Revolution and ISIS still does today, and everything else about the body ceases to live. 

Many churches and denominations seem to forget this. If Jesus Christ is not supreme in a church, then there is no church. That was part of the trouble at Colosse. They had lost connection to Christ and as a result they were experimenting with all sorts of false doctrine and sinful behavior.

Martin Luther saw this when he wrote,

“If anyone stands firm and right on this point, that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, who died and rose again for us, all the other articles of the Christian faith will fall in place for him and firmly sustain him.

“So very true is Paul’s saying that Christ is the Chief Treasure, the Basis, the Foundation, and the Sum Total of all things, in whom and under whom all are gathered together. In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

“On the other hand, I have noted that all errors, heresies, idolatries, offenses, abuses, and ungodliness in the church have originally arisen because this article or part of the Christian faith concerning Jesus Christ has been despised or lost.

Clearly and rightly considered, all heresies militate against the precious article of Jesus Christ. [Cited in “Timeless Insights,” Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, May, 1986, p. 32.]

Jesus must be the head of every local church and every true Christian.  It’s not the Pope or any pastor, it’s not some elders nor deacons. Jesus Christ is supreme over His church wherever it is.  And when we make some other human being the focus of “church”, it is the beginning of the end for that church or denomination.

Just think for a moment about all that the head, the brain, does for the body.  I’m no neurologist but just think about the 5 senses that we have in order to perceive, interact, live and function in this world.  ALL of them depend on the brain/head. 

  • Eyesight: the image projected on the back of your retina is upside down from what you are seeing right now.  So our brains have to “interpret” the image so we don’t feel like we’re seeing the world upside down.  In fact, if you put on glasses that flip that image to “right side up” on your retina, after a while (days) your brain will flip that image so you can function properly (provided you survive the intense nausea in the interim).  (Lends a new sense to “throwing UP.” J)
  • Hearing: taking differences in vibrations from sound waves and turn them into hearing.
  • Smell: Lose that and most of us lose our appetite.
  • Taste: Lose that and most of us will stop eating and die.
  • Touch: Doesn’t it amaze you that in a properly functioning body, ever neuron is somehow connected to the brain in such a way that a mere gnat on your skin will register and your brain will order your hand and arm to brush it off? And it only takes as little as .008 of a second and as long as 2 seconds, depending on the type of nerve cell fiber (A or C) and the diameter of the fiber and how myelinated it is (insulated like an electric wire).

Interestingly, when God confronted the Serpent in the Garden in Genesis 3:15 and prophesied that the “seed” of the woman would “crush your head” but that Satan would “strike his heal,” I think God could have been thinking about the coming Church too.  If you mortally wound the head, the whole body will eventually become powerless and die. That is what is happening to Satan. But if you seriously wound an extremity…or even remove it…the head/brain doesn’t suffer and it can teach the rest of the body to compensate for the loss or a hand or foot or limb. 

            The really good news is that the Head of the Church, Jesus, will never suffer a debilitating wound.  Furthermore, all the resources of God in Christ are now and forever will be at work restoring what sin has damaged.  This is why it is just as important for every one of us to be in intimate, daily, moment-by-moment connection with Christ.  The better we are connected the better God can restore, rebuild, rejuvenate and revive us.  Truly, Christ is our life and all that we need for life and godliness are found in Him. 

APP: But this has implications also for every one of us, “the body, the church.”  Unless you are taking your direction from Christ, you are in some way limiting Christ’s presence in the world today.  Unless you and I are connected to others in the church, we’re not going to be able to fulfill our divine purpose and role.  Too many of Jesus’ body parts have chosen to live separated from the rest of the body…and we’re all paying for it.  Sure, it may feel like it’s a lot less painful but the head/brain wants us to feel pain when something is wrong or damaged.  To cut ourselves off from the interpreter of pain, the Head, is the wrong way to respond to hurt. 

            Furthermore, 1st Corinthians 12-14 tells us that we’ve all been given different roles/gifts in the body of Christ.  When one part is suffering and not able to do its work, we all suffer.  And we all need to compensate until that person heals and is able to assume their God-given gifting.  But if as individuals we are truly in touch with Jesus, our Head, then we will be getting messages from Him to “go over there and help that person,” or “step up and minister to others in this or that way.”  When we are idle in the body of Christ, something has gone wrong with the synapse connection between us and Jesus.  And the church suffers to some degree.

APP:  Adult Ed tracks we’ll be offering starting this fall. 

 

Let’s finish this up.  Paul goes on to say that Jesus is the “beginning,” which means that He is the source. The word actually has two meanings, “to rule” and “to begin.” He is the “firstborn from among the dead,” signifying that as the supreme one, His resurrection is the guarantee that we too will rise again. Of all mankind that will rise in the resurrection, Jesus is not only the first but the preeminent one.  Others rose from the dead temporarily but died again (Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, etc.).  Jesus was the first and the greatest to be resurrected with an indestructible, immortal body.  And He will be THE most resplendent throughout all eternity. 

The result of Christ’s being “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,” says Paul, is “that in everything he might be preeminent.”  Not just “prominent” but PREEMINENT!  When Jesus Christ is preeminent, life is as it should be.  When he is not, we are on our way to an inferior life and eventually hell unless we change direction. 

APP:  This is where the debate about Jesus as “Savior OR Lord” comes into play.  Certainly not one of us always reverences Christ as Lord in our lives.  Every time we sin is proof of that.  But neither can there be this sort of bifurcation, this separating of Jesus the Savior from Jesus the Lord

If you put your faith in Jesus as Savior BUT are willfully rejecting him as Lord, then I’d say you are deeply deluded about your salvation and in grave danger of an eternity of rejecting Christ as Lord.  If we don’t want Jesus ruling over our life in a broken, sinful world, why on earth do we think we will be happy having Him rule over us in an eternity of His presence?

In heaven and eternity Jesus WILL have the preeminence over all those creatures, angelic and human, who have surrendered to His preeminence willfully and joyfully.  He will have it in a relationship of love and grace.  

But He will also have the preeminence over Satan and all his demons and all those who have willfully rejected the knowledge of God given them. He will have it, according to Philippians 2:10-11, due to his power and position as Judge and Lord, not as their chosen Savior and King.  Their evil will be confined to a place called Hell and their rebellion will be limited in its destructive influence to Hell.  Evil will not be destroyed or eliminated; it will be confined and limited. 

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

Some have taken this verse to mean that eventually every human and every demon that has ever existed will be brought into right and reconciled relationship to God.  If this was the only verse in the Bible to speak to that, I might agree.  But it isn’t.  And that isn’t what the rest of the Bible teaches.  (e.g., 2 Thess. 1:6-10; Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:10-15). 

The Bible does not teach an inevitable universalism, as much as we might prefer such an idea at the present.  While we may find the truth about hell and eternal separation from God troublesome or offensive to our current sensibilities, we will not feel that way in the presence of God.  When that day comes, we will embrace it wholeheartedly as even Christ himself does and we will feel about it as God himself feels and has always felt. 

            Until then, it is our high calling and supreme duty to bring this ministry of reconciliation to everyone with whom we come in contact.  2 Corinthians 5:18 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation….” 

ILL:  This week again I was involved in several conversations with different people about the devaluing of human life in our culture.  Starting with the taking of children’s lives in the womb to the murder of adults in our streets and parks, we have become a culture that devalues life from start to finish.

            One of those incidents was seeing the ultrasound of the foot of a little 1st-trimester child in its mother’s womb.  It was perfectly formed at just 12 weeks.  And I was saddened again that so many little children never see the light of day in our world today. 

            But as I was bemoaning that fact, the Spirit of God whispered to me, “And where is your compassion for those who are fully formed, teenagers and adults, young and old, who you let pass you daily without declaring my heart of reconciliation towards them?”  It is so easy to see and even feel the failure of others.  Yet my failure to take up this God-given ministry or reconciliation every opportunity I get is probably even more grievous to the heart of God.  Their blood, too, cries up from the ground around me for justice. We are our “brother’s keeper.”  

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

APP

  • As we come to that time in our service where we remember the blood of Jesus’ cross that reconciled us to God, may I invite us to let the Spirit of God also refresh His call upon our lives to be more vocal, more active, more passionate and bold ambassadors of Christ in this world of sinners just like us? May today we allow the Spirit of God to see the faces of people we pass every day through the eyes of Jesus dying on the cross for them just as much as us.
  • Have you put your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord? If not, may I implore you to do so today? Why spend another moment of life at odds with God?  By simply opening your life to Jesus, all that can change.  [Invitation to receive Jesus.]
  • Maybe you just need to find refuge in the supremacy of Christ today? What crisis or problem or challenge are you facing that seems overwhelming right now?  Will you entrust it to Jesus who IS supreme over everything in this creation?  Will you entrust yourself or someone else to Him today and every day knowing that He has triumphed over the very forces of death and hell itself? 

Let’s let the blood of Jesus “make peace” for us with God in whatever way is needed today.

COMMUNION