Who Christ Is, Colossians 1:15-20

I’ve heard that one time Albert Einstein walked into a class room full of students, set his papers down and addressed his class saying something like, “This morning I would like us to discuss a question that has plagued me all of my life. I want us to discuss how much man knows about the universe. What do you think? How much do we know? What is the total sum of our knowledge?” One young man raised his hand and said, “Dr. Einstein, I believe that man has learned 80% of all there is to know.” To which Albert Einstein did not even acknowledge the young man. The class realized that he didn’t like that answer, and so they began a downward trend, some saying 60%, some saying 50%, and they were giving their reasons why. Until finally about 30 minutes into the discussion a young lady in the back of the room raised her hand and meekly said, “Dr. Einstein I don’t think that we have even learned 20% of all there is to know.” And it was at that moment that Einstein finally smiled. One of the most brilliant men of all time recognized that in the grand scheme of things we don’t know very much.

Something that’s always puzzled me is the force we’re all familiar with that we call gravity. I recognize what gravity does, that it pulls me down to this earth. It’s why I don’t go flying into outer space when I jump off the ground. It’s why I fall down when I trip and why objects crash to the ground. I know that the moon exerts a gravitational pull strong enough to make tides in the ocean. It appears objects exert a force that attracts them to each other, and the bigger the object the stronger the pull. But what I don’t get is why. Albert Einstein theorized that gravity is really a curvature in the space-time continuum. In simpler terms I guess that means the mass of an object causes the space around it to essentially bend and curve. It’s like… picture a trampoline with a bowling ball in the center of it. The bowling ball creates a dip, a curvature in the trampoline. If you roll a marble on to the trampoline, it will spiral toward the bowling ball in the center, because the trampoline is curved toward the bigger object. Well, Einstein said that objects create a warp or curvature in space and that makes smaller objects move toward the larger objects because space is more curved toward the larger objects. Other scientists theorize that there are particles they call gravitons that cause objects to be attracted to each other. But gravitons have never actually been observed. Another theory is that when an object is accelerated by some external force it makes gravitational waves, and it’s these waves from accelerated objects that cause gravity. But these waves have never actually been detected either. Gravity is a very mysterious thing.

Another thing that’s puzzled me… In chemistry class I learned that all stuff is made up of things called atoms. You’ve seen the drawings of atoms, a densely packed group of little balls in the center that form the nucleus with other little balls orbiting around the nucleus. Well, the little balls in the center that make up the nucleus are called protons and neutrons. Neutrons have no electrical charge. Protons are positively charged particles. What’s weird is that normally if you bring 2 positively charged things close together, they repel each other. Like if you have 2 magnets and try to push the same pole of each magnet together, they will push away from each other. Well, protons are all positively charged particles that you’d think would repel each other like that. So why don’t the nucleuses of atoms fly apart? There is some incredibly strong unseen force that holds the protons together. And we can get an idea of the strength of the force when we think about what happens if someone manages to split an atom, to cut that force that’s holding the nucleus together. You get a nuclear bomb explosion, hundreds of millions of volts of energy are released. Scientists call the force that holds the protons and neutrons together “the strong nuclear force.” But they have no explanation for why it exists. It’s as mysterious as gravity.

Why is there gravity? What holds atoms together? Those are just a couple of the profound questions that we’re going to find very simple answers to this morning. Another big question we’ll find a simple answer to is, where did it all come from? That’s a question that still baffles cosmologists. The most widely accepted theory today is that a tiny ball of matter and energy billions of years ago exploded and then this seemingly impossible thing happened which they call “inflation,” where more and more matter was rapidly coming into existence. But where that little ball of matter and energy came from in the first place and what made it explode and how this thing called inflation could happen, they don’t know.

Some other profound questions we’ll find simple answers to this morning are, what’s it all for? What’s it all about? And to what end? Where’s it all headed?

We began last Sunday to look at an incredible description that the apostle Paul wrote of Jesus Christ in Colossians ch1. And from what we can glean from clues in the letter, the reason he wrote this description of Christ is because the Colossian Christians are being made to question their salvation in Christ. They’re being told that just adhering to the gospel of Christ and having a good relationship with Him is insufficient to be really okay eternally, that it’s good to have relationship with Christ, but not enough, that we also need whatever credit before God circumcision, observance of the Mosaic law and ascetic practices will get us. And we need to be concerned about having the favor of other spirit beings and the protection and help they can give us, or we’re just not going to be alright. And Paul knows that the reason they are being shaken up by these kinds of teachings, the reason that they’re thinking they need Christ plus some additional supplements, is that they have too small a view of Jesus. They don’t understand how big, how great, how powerful, how capable, how in control Jesus is, His place in the universe, His relation to God. And so Paul tries to paint them a picture here of who Jesus is.

Another profound question we find an answer to in this passage is how this uneducated Jewish peasant carpenter 2 millenniums ago could have had the impact that He has had on the world. I want to read to you something I came across from an anonymous author. It’s entitled “One Solitary Life”.

“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a real big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.

While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth, and that was His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Just about twenty long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.”

Why? How could that be? Well, we find the answer to that too in Paul’s description here of Jesus. Let’s read it. Colossians 1:15-20. I hope this will expand our view of Jesus if we have too small a view of Him. I hope this will help us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength as He deserves…

Let’s review first the first 2 descriptions that we talked some about last week. #1 in v15…

He is the image of the invisible God.

In a sense He enables us to see, to better understand, the invisible God. As Jesus told Philip when asked for a glimpse of the Father, “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” As Hebrews 1:3 puts it, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”

A little boy was drawing pictures on the floor one day as his mother was working. She said to him, “What are you drawing?” He said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” She said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” The little boy said, “They will when I get through!” There’s a profound truth in that story when it’s applied to Jesus. As a baby in a Bethlehem manger a picture began to be drawn. And when that baby got through with His life’s work men could know better than ever before what God is like. (Adapted from a sermon by Ray Stedman.)

Jesus showed us the nature of God, His love, His compassion, His patience, His goodness, His anger, His self-control, His faithfulness, His power, His plans, what He’s after. Jesus shows us God.

Secondly Paul says…

He is the firstborn of all creation

We talked about how the title “firstborn” was used in 2 ways in Bible times. It could be used to refer to the order in which one was born in relation to others, the first one to be born. Or it could be used to refer to the one who had status or preeminence over others. Because generally in ancient times the first one to be born among siblings would be exalted, privileged and honored over the others. The first to be born would be given a double share of the inheritance and would often become the manager or leader of the family. And so the title “firstborn” came to be used to refer to the one who had status and honor and supremacy over all the others, whether literally the first one to be born or not. We saw a number of examples of that usage of the title in the Bible last time. The nation of Israel (Ex 4:22) and King David (Ps 89:27) and Ephraim (Jer 31:9) and Christians (Heb 12:23) are all called the firstborn in the Bible, and it has nothing to do with the time sequence in which they were born in relation to others. It’s talking about status and position.

And Paul indicates to us here that He’s using the title in that way here for Jesus, that Jesus has preeminence over all creation, because in v16 Paul says that “by Him [Christ] all things were created…” We noticed Isaiah 44:24, “Thus says the LORD [YHVH, Jehovah]… ‘I, the LORD [Jehovah], am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone’“. Well, if God, Jehovah is the maker of all things by Himself, all alone, and Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created by Christ, then that makes Christ, God, Jehovah. He is God who emptied Himself of the prerogatives of being God, He shrunk so to speak, and humbled Himself to become a human being in all our weakness and dependency and limitations to show us in a visible tangible personal way who God is and what God wants of a human being and to die for our sins. So Jesus is not the first one created. He was not created. But He became like man the creature and then He was exalted and honored and made ruler over all creation by the Father. That’s what it means that He’s the firstborn of all creation. He is the man who has been exalted over all.

Now, v16-17 tells us that…

Christ is the origin, purpose and sustainer of all created things.

From the depths of the oceans to the peaks of the mountains, from the tinniest particle we see through the most powerful microscope to the biggest star we see light years away through the most powerful telescope, from the ugliest little bug to the most beautiful person, Christ made every bit of it.

But the Bible tells us that the universe contains much more than meets the eye, so much more than even what we can see through microscopes and telescopes. Einstein was exactly right that we know very little about the universe. But I think he would have been even more emphatic about that if he understood what the Bible tells us about the unseen non-material spirit world. The Bible tells us that there are myriads upon myriads, which means ten thousands upon ten thousands of powerful spirit beings superior to human beings called angels. Hebrews 2:9, describing incarnation of Christ, says that He became “for a little while lower than the angels,” because He became a human being and we are lower, we are inferior to angels. And then the Bible tells us there are beings called cherubim and seraphim, which I think are different from angels, because in Revelation 7:11 angels are distinguished from the four living creatures and the description of these living creatures in Revelation meets that of cherubim and seraphim from the OT books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. And the Bible tells us there are legions of demons. And among the spirit beings some are more powerful than others. There are thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities among the spirit beings. We know, for instance, that there’s Michael the archangel, meaning the chief, the highest, the ruling angel on the good side. And then on the other side there’s Satan, “the prince of the power of the air,” Ephesians 2:2 calls him. And then below them are other rulers. There are different kinds of demons. Remember the disciples asking Jesus one time “Jesus, how come we could cast out other demons but can’t cast out the one in this boy?” And Jesus said, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (Mk 9:29). There are different kinds. And some demons are more evil than others. Jesus spoke of a demon leaving a person, “passing through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” There is a whole spirit world that we know very little about.

The people of ancient times, the people in ancient Colossae, knew that there are many powerful spirit beings in the universe that can very much intervene in the affairs of this world and affect the circumstances of our lives and they feared them and sought the favor of some and protection from others. And the Colossians are being made to think they may need to also be concerned about some of these others beings.

Many today, not so much in our modern secular scientific country, but in other parts of the world, are also very aware of the reality of demons and other spirit beings and they fear them. They’re convinced that demons and other unseen beings are doing things in their lives. And they may be right. Missionaries will tell you that one of their greatest experiences is to tell primitive people that fear other spirit beings that Jesus is superior to all of them, that He created them, that the spirits are under His authority. They are all subject to Him. It means that Christ can protect you from them and provide you with everything that all of them together can provide you and more. And so if you have Christ you don’t need to be worried about any other spirit being.

So Paul says, “He made it all in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible,” and you notice at the end of v16, it is all “for Him.” There’s the simple answer to the meaning of life that everybody searching for. What’s it all about? Why are you on this earth? It’s all about Christ and you’re here for Christ. For His glory and good pleasure is the purpose for which everything and every being exists.

He is the origin. He is the purpose. And notice the last half of v17, “and in Him all things hold together.” He is the sustainer of the universe. Why is there gravity? Why do the planets stay in orbit? Why don’t the atoms fly apart? Why is there a strong nuclear force holding the protons and neutrons together? The simple answer is Jesus Christ. He is behind the laws of physics. He keeps the universe a cosmos instead of a chaos. He maintains the delicate balance necessary for life’s existence. We can’t comprehend the power and knowledge and wisdom and what all goes into that. So what need, what problem could you possibly have that Jesus would be unable to take care of?

Paul then speaks of Jesus in relation to the church, in relation to His people in v18.

He is the head of the body, the church.

So Jesus in relation to His people is like a head is to a body. And that is a loaded statement. That means many things, many things that Paul elaborates on elsewhere in his letters. And it seems to have been Paul’s favorite metaphor, at least the one He uses more than any other, to illustrate what it is to have a right relationship with Christ.

It means that Christ does for His people what you do for you body. He keeps His people safe and nourishes and cherishes like you do your body (Eph 5:23,29).

It means also that Christ’s status and position and what Christ has is shared by His people, like it is with your head and body. You know, if your head is alive and well, your body is alive and well. If your head is married to a person, your body also married to that same person. If your head has U.S. citizenship, if a picture of your head is on your passport, the customs people at the airport are not going to say “Well, I can see your head has U.S. citizenship. But not your body. Only your head can come in.” Your head’s employment position, that’s also your body’s employment position. The amount of money that your head has, that’s how much your body has too. Like that, Christ’s status, His relationship with the Father, His inheritance, we share all of that with Him as members of His body. We are fellow heirs with Christ.

That Christ and His people are like a head and a body also means Christ and His people share a like mind, a like heart, a like spirit. Like in my body it’s my way of thinking and character that flows through and animates every member of my body. I’m not going to shake your hand and pat your back with one hand and punch you with the other hand. If one loves you the other will too. They’ll have the same attitude toward you. If you are a Christian, you are like Jesus in your thinking and your character. Not perfectly, not absolutely. But like Paul says at the end of II Corinthians 3 it’s kind of like we’re looking in a mirror at the glory of Jesus. But not absolutely; we’re always being transformed more completely into His image.

That Christ is the head of the church also means Christ’s people are obedient to Him like the members of your body are obedient to your head. When my head sends the signal down to the arms to go up, they go up. When my head says “Go down,” they go down. “Windmills,” they do windmills. And so it is with Christ and His people. Again not perfectly. We all still fall short. But the general practice of our life is obedience. We’re not going on willfully sinning, if we are truly Christians, members of His body.

And Christ has His people treating each other like members of  a body, loving each other, helping each other, taking care of each other.

And Christ has His people each using their own individual talents and abilities to contribute to good and the growth of the body. Like in your body your fingers have their function and your feet, another function, and your arms and legs, other functions, and your organs, other functions, and they all do the part they can for the good of the body. Christ has the members of His body each individually contributing in ways they can to the building up of the body (Eph 4:16).

There’s much in this image of Christ as the head of the body, the church.

Then here in our text in the rest of v18 Paul speaks of Christ in relation to death. My version says…

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.

The word “beginning” here in the Greek text is arche. And it could mean “beginning” or it could have more the sense of “ruler,” as in Michael the arche-angel, meaning the chief, the highest, the ruling angel. Arche is a word that just denotes primacy, firstness, topness, and can mean first in either order, time, place or rank. It’s just context that tells you what the sense of it is. I think Paul means here first in rank, ruler. Because he seems to explain it as “the firstborn.” “He is the arche, the firstborn from the dead.” I think it’s most reasonable to understand Paul to be using the title “firstborn” consistently with how he used it back in v15, the supreme one, the preeminent one, the highest one. Jesus actually wasn’t even the first one to be raised from the dead, was He? He resurrected people from the dead Himself before His own resurrection. But He is the supreme preeminent ruler from the dead. He outranks even death in other words. Not even death can stand in His way.

It’s very much like Jesus’ statement in Revelation 1:18, “I am the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” In the ancient world Hades was the name given to the Greek mythical figure who ruled over the world of the dead. And it became common terminology to speak of the realm of the dead as Hades, the place of departed spirits. And the mythological idea that many pictured in their mind was there were these great big iron gates and when you died you went through the gates into Hades and those big iron gates then closed and locked behind you and once you went in you never came out again. Death was final. But Paul is saying not so with Jesus. He has the keys to the gates. He has the power and authority to go in and out Himself and let in and out whoever He wants to.

The end of v18 summarizes, “so that He Himself will come to have first place [supremacy] in everything.” There’s nothing, not even death, that is not subject to Christ.

The next description, v19..

It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.

I learned something about this word “fullness” that may shed some light on what Paul was saying with this. It’s the word pleroma. In greek or pagan thought they believed in a spiritual realm and a natural physical realm. You could call it maybe the upstairs and the down stairs of the universe. In the upstairs spiritual realm they believed in all kinds of deities, many different gods. And at least from what we can see in some second century writings and it was likely this way in the first century as well, when they referred to the entire upstairs spiritual world including all those deities they called it the pleroma. All the spirit beings, all that is up there in the spiritual realm they called the pleroma. So I hear Paul saying to these folks at Colossae that all the pleroma, all divinity, all godness is in Jesus. Jesus is not lacking anything that some other spirit being has. Paul will make that very clear in 2:9, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form…” In Jesus you find all the God, all the power, all of the authority, all the knowledge, all the wisdom, all the help, all the protection, all the everything you could ever have in someone. And so if you have the favor of Jesus then there is nothing else in all the universe that you need.

And then let’s notice this one final description, v20…

“and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”

This is where it’s all headed. This is the culmination that God is working toward. God is going to reconcile all things to Himself. And He’s going to do it through Christ. And His bloody torturous death on a cross is what has made this reconciliation possible. What does that mean that God is going to reconcile all things to Himself, that He’s going to bring back into peaceful relationship with Himself all things?

Some people say this means everybody is going to be saved. But if you’re familiar with the Bible much at all you know it can’t mean everybody will be saved. We know Jesus and Paul taught there is a real hell and the devil and his angels are going there (Matt 25:41), and most people, Jesus said, are on the wide road that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13-14). So Paul is not saying that everybody will be saved.

I’m not sure I totally understand what all that means. But I think it’s the same thing Peter was talking about in Acts 3:21 where he said, “Christ, heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” “The restoration of all things,” I think that’s like, “the reconciliation of all things.” There are these visions in the prophets, in the book of Isaiah especially, of a new heavens and new earth where everything thing is going to be very good and perfect and peaceful and harmonious like it was in the beginning. There are these visions of a future time when the lions will lie down with the lambs. The wolf and the lamb will graze together. The lion will eat straw like an ox. Dust will be the serpent’s food. Kids will play by the holes of cobras and put their hands in the dens of vipers and it will be fine. There will be no more killing, no more hurting, no more death. And God will wipe away every tear. There will no longer be heard the voice of weeping or crying. (Is 11:6-10; 25:6-9; 65:17-24).

You read at the end of the Bible, the last couple chapters, that that’s where we’re headed. After the devil and His angels and all those whose names are not found written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire, into the outer darkness. Then there’s a new heavens and a new earth, and the holy city of God is united with this new universe. And God lives with people again like He did with Adam and Eve in the beginning. He wipes away every tear. And there is no longer any death or mourning or crying or pain. There are no murderers or immoral or liars, no evil doers. The tree of life is there. And it says there is no longer any curse. You remember the curses after the first sin? Thorns and thistles and a life of trying labor and pain in child bearing. But there will no longer be any curse. I think that’s what Paul is referring to when He says that God is going to reconcile all things to Himself through Christ, having made peace through the blood of His cross. God is going to bring back what was lost in the beginning.

Let’s stand and praise our God and the Lord Jesus Christ who has made us, who sustains us, who is what it’s all about, who has provided for our salvation from our sin, and who is bringing us to such a wonderful culmination and eternity far beyond what we deserve.

– James Williams

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