09 February 2016

The Incomparable Christ: the Redeemer (Colossians 1:19-20)

The Incomparable Christ: the Redeemer
Colossians 1:19-20
Kevin Rees – February 7, 2016 - audio file posted at

Whereas God can rightly say that he wants more of us; we cannot rightly say that we need more of God.

Whereas God can rightly say that he wants more of us; more surrender, more obedience, more repentance, more humility, more devotion … we cannot rightly say that we need more of God.  We already have been given all of the entirety of God in Jesus Christ.  We can understand more, appreciate more, entrust more, embrace more; but we cannot get more of God because we already have all of Christ.  Simple addition breaks down with infinity.  “In [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19) and “in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).  To seek more of God outside of or in addition to Jesus insults God’s provision and corrupts God’s gospel.

But we often think we need something more of God.  A little more insurance.  A little more assurance.  A little bigger “slice of the pie” than our neighbor.  A little better experience.  A second helping of grace, like when Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist dares in the workhouse to take his plate back up to the copper cauldron for a second helping of gruel.  “Please, Sir, I want some more.”  Do you remember that scene?

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver, while his next neighbors nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:
"Please, sir, I want some more."
The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.
"What!" said the master at length, in a faint voice.
"Please, sir," replied Oliver, "I want some more."
The master aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle. [Defined as: a ceremonial officer in a church or college or religious institution].

But Twist’s request is, in the end, completely unlike our request, because Twist’s governor is completely unlike our Christ … and because Twist’s provision in the workhouse is completely unlike our abundant provision in the gospel.  Twist and all the boys should not have had to ask for more; and should not have been given the meager gruel in the first place.  They deserved meat and vegetables and bread and milk and love and concern and education and justice.  But they got the leavings of a greedy and cruel world that had a Christian vocabulary but not Christ himself.  But not so with us in God’s provision.  In Christ we have been “granted all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).  “All” is all!

When I say that we cannot rightly ask for more of God, I am zeroing in on—not our experience of him, which consumes nearly all the resources of the modern church and is dangerously close to a contemporary form of an ancient idolatry—but I am zeroing in on the unmeasurable bounty of that which God has already given; the superabundance of himself, his love, his grace, his mercy in the gift of his only begotten Son.  We cannot examine Christ and reach any conclusion of a deficit.  He is not only great, first, best, and most … he is “all.”  We have a Redeemer who is the “All in all.”  “All” is (again) all!

In this fourth of four sections of Colossians 1:15-20, Paul highlights Christ’s identity and ministry as the Redeemer.  Within his redemption we see many aspects of his fullness.  He possesses fullness internally.  And he fully provides in an externally application out of his internal bounty. 

Just as a quick review—Christ is preeminent in the first creation as both the Revelator (vs. 15) and the Creator (vv. 16-17) and Christ is also preeminent in the new creation as both the Leader (vs. 18) and the Redeemer (vv. 19-20).  The false teachers in Colossae who have prompted Paul’s rich hymn of the incomparable Christ have seriously tried to box Jesus up, edit him down, and lump him as one of many ways to find union with a flawed and syncretized god; a god that is a sad mix of Jewish tradition, Greek philosophy, and pagan ritual that scholars will later call Gnosticism.  In six punchy verses, Paul decimates the heresy—not by attacking the heretics directly, but—by exalting Christ to his rightful place: simultaneously fully God and fully man, the one and only Savior given to man.

I.          He Is the Divine Fullness (vs. 19)

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell

How do we connect with God?  It is a very modern-sounding question; a question that might very well be bantered back and forth at coffee shops all over the world this hour.  Its corollary statement is often nearby: “I am spiritual, but not very religious.”

Mainstream religion is on the steep decline in our country, but not the hope for nor the attempt of our neighbors to connect with God.  We need not mourn over that fact unduly, for while it is a strike at religion it is an age of opportunity.  Conversions will likely less and less happen in the church on Sundays; they will probably happen more and more in the coffee shops and around our coffee tables.  We may not have an answer to Russia’s build-up of heavy artillery in the Baltics or how to build a better mousetrap—but we have an answer for this question many are asking!   How do we connect with God?  We connect with God through Jesus Christ.

While a plethora of empty promises swirl around in our world about connecting with God—from yoga to yogis, from crystals to transcendental-meditation, from medicinal highs to adrenaline rushes—what we see in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) is the only place where those promises of divine connection come true.  This is redemption!  I know the weight of that statement; and I gladly roll it onto the shoulders of Jesus who is able to bear it.  How do we connect with God?  It is only through Jesus Christ.  Any attempt apart from Christ to connect with God brings death, not life.

Here is the reasoning: we cannot climb to where God is.  Our only hope is that God climbs down to where we are.  Nevertheless, humans have been attempting to climb up to God since antiquity.  While it is a primal attempt, there is no shortage of sophisticated people who continue to look up to find God today.  But Christ came down from heaven; down to humanity, down to obscurity, down to humiliation, down to death, down into the tomb.  We don’t find God by looking up, per se, but by looking down at the exalted Jesus who washes our feet as a servant and who walks away from his empty tomb.  We find God by going down on our knees in repentance and faith.  We find God not by our ascension but by Christ’s condescension on our behalf.

The Tower of Babel was nothing short of an organized attempt to reach the divine (Genesis 11:4).  The ancients often thought that it was easier to connect with the divine on top of tall mountains—and so they built shrines in high elevations, which the Bible calls “high places”; a lie to which even the wisest of all men, Solomon, succumbed to at the end of his prominence (1 Kings 11:7).  People, even otherwise godly people, have long thought that God might have briefly touched a certain object, or temporarily possessed a certain individual and so concluded that if that object or person were put in front of, for instance, an army then victory would be more likely (1 Samuel 4:3).  Humans have also long-concluded that an altered state of consciousness opened a door to the divine; so they would seek out hallucinogens or hypnosis or ecstatic experiences even opening themselves up as mediums to demons (1 Samuel 28:7).  Why?—to connect somehow, in some blind way, even if only partially or metaphorically with the divine.

Our only hope, then, to connect with God is for God himself to come down to us in rescue, which he did in Jesus.  But not only partially or barely or metaphorically—Christ came fully and truly as God.  “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (vs. 19).  Likewise in Colossians 2:8-10 we read of Jesus’ “fullness” again—“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” 

While Paul is most vocal about it, he is not the only one who speaks of Jesus’ deity.  God the Father also ascribes full divinity to the Son in Hebrews 1:8—“But of the Son he [God the Father from Psalm 45:6] says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”  Sonship is not inferiority in the Godhead, but relational.  The Son is just as much divine as the Father and the Spirit, but in their inner relationships the Son relates to the Father voluntary humility just as the Spirit relates to both the Father and the Son in voluntary humility.  Equal in essence; distinct in role.

Yet Jesus’ full deity is never more concentrated than in John 1:14 and 16, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  No serious or casual student of the Bible can say that the case of Jesus’ divinity is not strongly made in light of these passages; as representative of many more.

Why is this so important to mention and emphasize?  Because if we have Jesus, which we do by faith, then we have complete and full connection with God.  We need no other mediator; no other dispensary of the divine.  Because we have Jesus—who is the glad fullness of God—we have total access to the entire Godhead leaving no room and need to get more of God elsewhere.  We have all of God freely and fully in Jesus—lacking nothing.  And conversely, there is no connection to God apart from the divine Jesus.

II.         He Is Reconciler (vs. 20)

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

But having fullness internally to himself is not the end of the story.  Jesus, who is personally full-to-overflowing of divinity, applies his fullness toward the reconciliation of all things.  In other words, Jesus applies his internal fullness externally to restore all things to their original design.

I might have a respectable collection of tools (which I don’t because I sold all my tools last month for lack of a proper storage), but having and applying are two different things.  I might have all the tools ever invented, perhaps even displaying them all in a museum-quality glass case, but if I use those tools to build something, then I am externally applying what I personally possess.  What’s more—if I use those tools to build something for the benefit of other people, then my intrinsic fullness becomes an extrinsic blessing.  Jesus has intrinsic fullness, yet he applies that fullness directly and graciously toward the reconciliation of a broken universe.  This is redemption which we both receive and model.

“Reconciliation” is a hip word now-a-days: the many forms of racial and ethnic reconciliation, the call by Congress for Secretary Kerry to reconcile his expenditure of an unexpected 1.7 billion dollars in the Iran Nuclear Deal (that looks like a ransom), the Chinese government’s attempt to reconcile their volatile markets with their artificial modification of their currency’s value, even reconciling the NFL’s number of concussions this year despite heightened attempts to enforce stricter rules and engineer safer helmets.  But it is intensely important what this 20th verse of Colossians chapter one says about reconciliation—“and through him to reconcile to himself all things.”  He owns this whole process—start to finish!

You see, we are not only talking about personal salvation—although that is certainly included here.  But Christ’s redemption goes much further than saving souls (oh, that more souls would be saved!).  Christ is the Reconciler of all things, “whether on earth or in heaven.”  There are many other kinds of and needs for Christ’s redemption.  Broken marriages need redemption.  Ruined bodies need redemption.  Uncooperative crops and fallow fields need redemption.  Mosquitos carrying zika, malaria, and dengue need redemption.  Water systems carrying cholera, typhoid, and toxic levels of lead need redemption.  Corrupt businesses need redemption.  Rogue militias need redemption.  Tyrannical governments need redemption.  Faulty educational systems need redemption.  Corporate greed needs redemption.  Lazy and entitled citizenship needs redemption.   And this the last season for American Idol(!)—the whole universe is broken.  It doesn’t matter if we are in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or Montreal, Canada—we can all see that this—what is happening every day all around us—is not going as it was originally designed.  But most of us disagree about how we can fix what has gone horribly wrong. 

But the Scriptures reveal that Christ is reconciling to himself all things.  He is fixing it; we are not.  That being said, his primary mode of reconciliation, however, starts with the individual sinner.  He redeems us, and as we gather together around our common redemption, we begin to carrying his redemption with us into the laboratory where we work to stamp out diabetes; we carry it with us into the bean fields where we labor to make the land more productive than how we found it; we carry it with us into our treatment of our spouses, our children, ourselves, our bodies.  But it is Christ who reconciles to himself all things—not man.  Once we switch to looking toward man to solve man’s problems, we have stepped into Humanism.  Christianity is far different.  We look to Christ to fix us and all things in his own timing and his own way.  Yes, he graciously including us in the process, but we do not aid his ministry of reconciliation—we only bear witness to it.

A verse in Joel has long comforted me when all other comfort had vanished—although the vocabulary is slightly different, the thrust is the same: “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).  I love how God takes ownership of the action—“I will restore”!  And it is not merely the physical crops that God promises to redeem, but also the very years that were lost.  By expansion, Christ’s redemption touches the whole broken universe—broken dreams, broken desires, broken relationships, lost energies, lost appetites, lost ambitions, all things.  How?  I don’t know how or when, but I know who!  And what I don’t know about the mysterious work of Christ, I can nevertheless see in the marvelous character of Christ.

But what I can say definitively is that wrapped into the word “reconciliation” (Gr., apokatalasso) is a restoration of harmony in all relationships (Faithlife Study Bible Notes).  The universe is currently locked in disharmony, yet we can all think of at least some times when we enjoyed happy pockets of harmony in our relationships.  In those pockets, even though we might suffer the physical deterioration of our bodies, our jobs, our budgets, and our plans, if we have relational harmony, we remain remarkably well.  But when there is disharmony—even if everything else might be marvelous—we trend toward misery regardless of the positives.  Yet Christ will restore harmony—not merely pockets, but—to all.  And for a third time this morning, “all” means all.

In our relationship with God, with other humans, with ourselves, even with the creation itself—Christ is reconciling in himself all things.  It is happening right now!  And he will finish!  Whatever the ramifications of his reconciliation might be, the engine of change is “the blood of his cross” and the goal of each change is to “make peace” in all our relationships.  This is as certain as the sun rising in the east; yet even more certain because the sun will one day dissolve, but our Redeemer lives eternally and gives eternal life to all who believe.

In conclusion, just as we started, we can’t rightly say—“Please, Sir, I want some more” of God.  God has already given us Jesus—who is the fullness of God, who fully uses his fullness to make us both full and fully harmonized in all our relationships.  God gave us Jesus; which is his way of saying that he gave us everything. 

The search is over; not that we found you, Lord, but that you found us, so that we can now share in Peter’s conclusion:  “Lord, to whom else shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) and sing in David’s chorus: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23:1 NIV).

26 January 2016

The Incomparable Christ: the Leader (Colossians 1:18)

The Incomparable Christ: the Leader
Colossians 1:18
Kevin Rees – January 24, 2016 - audio file posted at

Jesus is absolutely supreme over the new creation, just as he is over the first creation.

You can see it everywhere, if you try.  And after you see it, even if you try, you cannot “unsee” it.  In Africa it was perhaps the first thing we noticed, but it is not unique to Africa.  It is in Jakarta, in New York, in Stockholm, and if there are people in Antarctica then it is even there, too.  It is in the boardroom, in the sanctuary, in the operating room, in the warehouse, in the family room, even on the playground; everywhere there is a power balance.  And where there is a power balance, there is usually a “Big Man.”

Now the “Big Man” doesn’t have to be a big or strong or outstanding; in fact, very often he is short (like Napoleon Bonaparte) or nerdy (like Steve Jobs) or grumpy (like Winston Churchill) or psychotic (like Adolf Hitler).  And the “Big Man” doesn’t have to be a man; in fact, more and more, the power broker in the room is a woman in a pants-suit.  Heck, I’ve even seen families where the one who “rules the roost” is the snotty two-year old.  But in any society or group there is an equilibrium of power—often fragile—around which develops a system to maintain that equilibrium of power, which produces a “Big Man.”

The “Big Man” doesn’t have to be evil; he or she could be somewhat benevolent, but he or she is still to some degree dictatorial.  Whether in the capital city or in the village, the “Big Man” exudes an external confidence, crushes all dissent (real or imagined), favors his family and friends to a fault, gathers and fabricates information against his rivals yet without disclosing any true information about himself, threatens, saber-rattles, and if his reputation ever trends toward weakness he is very capable of homicide or even genocide.  No one gets ahead without his approval.  No one gets through without giving him deference.  No one gets away without his revenge.  His true currency devolves into favors given and favors owed.  Yikes.

Who holds the power?  Find that person and you will soon figure out that culture.  It certainly makes the headline news come to life when you read it through the grid of power balance.  The 2016 Presidential Election, or American Pastor Saeed Abedini released after three years in an Iranian prison the day before the Nuclear Deal began, or the case about the young woman recently murdered in Florence, or the Keystone XL Pipeline, or “Black Lives Matter,” or eminent domain in Oregon, or Russia cutting the power to Ukraine in the middle of a winter—it is usually more about the balance of power than anything else.  And where there is a power balance, there is usually a “Big Man” … or worse yet, two.  Double yikes!

Even in the church.  I have seen good churches disintegrate—not because of external persecution or catastrophe or even theological fallacy—but because of internal power grabs where the leaders actively and openly conspire against other leaders.  Territorialism doesn’t allow the best leaders to emerge; it often eliminates the best leaders first since they are the biggest threats so that those who are left are often the most conniving, most elusive, and most passive-aggressive … like the reality show “Survivor” or the bizarre world of NBA coaches.

But, thankfully, that is not what today’s text is about.  Bigmanism is exactly opposite to today’s subject.  If there were ever a candidate for the title of “Big Man” it would be Jesus.  But there is no one less like a “Big Man” than Jesus in practice.  He shatters the balance of power, not by becoming the better “Big Man,” but by rejecting the entire paradigm altogether.  He, being “big” uses his power not to force others into advancing his cause or his career but to serve and to save and to restore.  He uses his power to empower others to maximize to the glory of God.  He being “big” became “small”!

Consider the unique leadership of Jesus, who revolutionized leadership when he taught—and lived out—Mark 10:42-45.  “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I.          He Is the Head (vs. 18a)

“And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians1:18a).

Paul, with great symmetry, at this point in Colossians 1 moves into the second stanza, so to speak, of his hymn about the incomparable Christ (vv. 18-20).  The first stanza (vv. 15-17) presented Jesus as supreme—both as the Revelator and the Creator—over the entire physical realm; the first creation.  The second stanza now presents Jesus as supreme—both as the Leader and the Redeemer—over the entire spiritual realm, “the church”; what Paul elsewhere calls “the new creation.”  Jesus is not just one of many religious leaders the world has known, but the one and only, divine and human, source and destiny.  He has no rival.

Paul calls Jesus, “the head of the body, the church.”   The shift is enormous and monumental—from the cosmos to the church.  In our minds the church amounts to “small beans” and “little potatoes.”  We, or at least many in our town, often think of the church as a chore; an add-on and left-over from a by-gone age … a musty and irrelevant place that prevents us year after year from seeing the kickoff of the big game.  Frankly, we perpetuate those misconceptions by taming the church from its ferociousness and squeezing the church into our mold of preferences and comfort. 

But from Christ’s perspective, the church is not a place at all; but a people … a new people, “who were once not a people” (1 Peter 2:10a), who gather around a new idea aligned to a new order within a new creation under a new covenant.  At least equal in weight to the first creation, and arguably even more so, where Jesus created something out of nothing, Jesus creates a new creation; another universe, not of atoms and galaxies and time and space, but of sinners and rebels, the cursed and the dead.  This is the miracle of the new era—regeneration.  The church is his people-group; his family … his kingdom’s citizens.  We are “the called-out ones” (Gr., ekklesia) as the word “church” originally meant.

The church is not centralized or even organized around Rome, but around Christ.  “He is the head” (Gr., kefale)—chief, source, origin, ruler.  In some ways, we can think of “headship” in terms of a fountainhead of a river.  Whereas Adam was appointed as the representative head of the first created order—an appointment that he ruined at the first chance by sin, thus passing to all who “flowed” from him the same sin and death which he unlocked in the Garden—Jesus is the representative head of the new created order.   In this way Jesus is elsewhere called the Second Adam and the Last Man—where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. 

But Jesus is more than a better Adam; more than a perfect Man … which he certainly was.  He is the Divine-Man who not only lives, but who resurrects the dead.  Whereas Adam was made alive, Jesus is the Life.  “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

The church, then, born at Pentecost and scrubbed of all of the hierarchies of the first created order, is composed of all true believers—people who shared in Adam’s sin and death but whom Christ made alive together with himself via faith.  A church, by comparison to the church, is a local expression of this universal people-group.  A local church is where ministry happens, where spiritual gifts are given and used to reach real people with real needs.  A local church is a visible image of the invisible Christ, who ascended back to the Father; we make visible the invisible realities of Christ to the world one community at a time, which is certainly parallel to Christ’s original ministry as image of the invisible God (vs. 15); he made visible the invisible reality of God to the world.

The importance that Christ ascribes to the church far outpaces the view we have for the church.  What is really going on in those often frumpy and outdated brick buildings with stained glass and upright pianos is not what first meets the eye.  What is really going on is the new creation; we are celebrating our head, learning of him and his ways, many are becoming part of the new creation by the miracle of the new birth, and we all are supporting others or mobilizing ourselves to carry Christ’s message to those who still are as we were before Christ saved us—lost, blind, and dead.  “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23).

II.         He is Preeminent (vs. 18b)

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18b).

Jesus is head; leader … source.  And also, he is beginning; first, best, most.  He is destiny; the all in all (Colossians 3:11).  He is preeminent over the first creation; he is preeminent over the new creation marked not merely by biological life, but also supernatural life; the resurrection life.

As “head” indicated—Jesus is the absolute chief and fundamental source of this new creation.  But as “the beginning” (Gr., arche)—Jesus is absolutely primary to and over the new creation; the architect and builder and raison d'ĂȘtre (reason of existence) of the church.  It is improper to talk about any other founder of the church other than Jesus.  Peter is not founder; he is not primary.  It is not Peter’s church.  Just like we cannot say that Tucker Street Church is Doug’s church or Henry’s church; they are not the true founders.  It is not Tom’s church or Mike’s church; they do not form the ultimate head … and Doug and Henry and Tom and Mike would agree with that statement wholeheartedly.  They are the instruments, and we are grateful for the role they play, but Jesus never relinquishes his title as head or beginning of the church; the chief (Gr., arche, same word) cornerstone.  Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18)—that is something that he himself took on and never delegated out to some denomination or committee.  We are graciously invited into his work; not as architects, but participants.

It was a defining moment in my young Christian life when I observed sectarianism in the church first-hand; the mindset that believes that one’s own sub-group comprises the real church relegating all other sub-groups in Christianity as second-class citizens and lesser brothers.  I had just been born again and was on a mission trip to Brazil less than six months later giving my testimony in Portuguese wherever I could and however best I could from the Spanish I had learned in high school.  (Not the same!)  But the missionary with whom I spent that first summer, and again the next summer, clearly and repeatedly taught that he was one of very few missionaries in southern Brazil; and the church he started was one of very few churches between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (each city clearing 20 million, easily).  It took me some time to connect the dots, but he was claiming that his small denomination was the only bona-fide missionary sending force in coastal Brazil.  This was patently untrue and eerily similar to the circumstance that warranted Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 1:12—“Each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’" (1 Corinthians 1:12) … emphasis on the “I.”  But “I” am not the beginning or the church nor the driving force of the church.  This is Christ’s church.  This is Christ’s pulpit.  This is Christ’s mission … 25 years ago and today.

Such was the first time I observed sectarianism in the church; but sadly, it was not the last time … not by a long shot.  That being said, I do draw the necessary line further out on what is and what is not a “church.”  I cannot and will not call non-Christian organizations “churches”—because they are fundamentally dissected from the person and work of Jesus Christ: Unitarians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, etc.  Even those groups out there that deny the deity of Christ or mystery of the Trinity I have a very hard time identifying as churches because without Jesus there simply is no church.  Nevertheless, inside confessional Christianity, I hope to follow Paul’s pattern: “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).

So, Paul links with the title of “the beginning” the title of “the firstborn from the dead” (Gr., prototokos).  As in verse 15, “the firstborn of all creation” (same word), the firstborn is not a reference at all to time, but to rank.  Jesus is not oldest; Jesus is prime.  In the first creation, Jesus was ranked highest over the universe; chief.  In the new creation, Jesus is ranked highest over all the resurrected ones—not in sequence, but in status.  There were those who were resurrected before Jesus was resurrected—Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the saints who were entombed but who rose when the earthquake shook Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death, etc.  But even still, Jesus caused each of those resurrections whereas of his own resurrection he said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). 

It is most likely that Lazarus, for instance, would have had to die again physically.  But the resurrection of Jesus yields a permanent state.  We who are hidden in Christ through faith share in his kind of resurrection (Colossians 2:12; 3:1).  It is true of us right now that we have been spiritually resurrected with the same resurrection of our pioneer.  And what is true of us spiritually will become true of us physically as well, in due time.  Our resurrected bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body.  Keep in mind that the heresy at the Colossian church insisted that physical bodies are evil; that only the spirit is good.  But it is central to Christ’s gospel that we will have not only a resurrected spirit, but a physical resurrected body to match it.

Put all of that together and what conclusion can we reach about Jesus?  There is only one appropriate conclusion: in everything he is preeminent (Gr., proteuo) (vs. 18b)—to have the first place, the highest rank, the supreme dignity.  This is the only time in the Bible this word appears, however there is one similar cross-reference—the same stem with a different prefix (filoproteuo)—which sheds light on Christ’s title as the preeminent one, and brings us to a natural stopping point. 

In a similar church in a similar place, several years after Paul was martyred, the Apostle John sent a letter mentioning a troublemaker in the church named, Diotrephes.  “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.  So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us.  And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).

Diotrephes’ negative example is a good way to conclude our consideration of Christ’s preeminence, and a good excuse to bring up again the “Big Man” Syndrome.  You see Diotrephes “likes to put himself first” (Gr., filoproteuo) in the church.  He more than likes it; he loves it.  He moves into the balance of power at the church and exerts his own personality toward his own agenda.  He makes himself primary; even against the apostolic community.  He usurps for himself centrality and gravity that is not his to assign or claim.  He makes himself a mini-monarch; a little pope … an emperor of a little kingdom; a “Big Man.” 

Yet in response John tells the faithful ones at the church—not to pick a fight, not to knock him down a few notches, but—“if I come, I will bring up what he is doing.”  John, a former Son of Thunder, who has the office and the gifts of an apostle—perhaps the only Apostle still living—will deal with this little “Big Man.”  There is only one head in the church, only one beginning, only one firstborn from the dead, and only one who holds all preeminence—Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t share that place of dignity with anyone else in the church.  He will set the balance of power right in his own way and in his own time … not by being the “Big Man” but by being the true authority in the church as servant-leader.  Not the leader of the servant class, but Jesus is the undisputed Master of the house who uses unlimited power to empower others to maximize to the glory of God.

19 January 2016

The Incomparable Christ: the Creator (Colossians 1:16-17)

The Incomparable Christ: the Creator
Colossians 1:16-17
Kevin Rees – January 17, 2016 - audio file posted at

“The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator” (Louis Pasteur).

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  That is our physical wall.  We cannot get beyond this wall; but, because God has revealed it to us, we can peer beyond this wall at the expanse of infinity.  And what do we see in this infinite expanse that preceded the heavens and the earth?  A vast chasm of nothingness?  Exactly the opposite—we see God.  And based on our passage today in Colossians 1:16-17, we can say that we see Jesus.

Whether you interpret Genesis 1 literally, as I do, or figuratively, as many other godly men and women do in the Christian sphere—there is no doubt on this point within confines of biblical orthodoxy: before everything was, God already is.  He is the Previous One.  He is the uncaused Cause.  Or as we will say it today—he is Creator.  He never became God, but by him and through him and for him and unto him everything else came into existence and remains in existence.

Were we there in the beginning?  No.  Were any humans there in the beginning?  No.  Did we have any scientific equipment set up to collect information in the beginning?  No.  Can the beginning ever be repeated so that we can measure it the second time around?  No.  That is why our origin is always a matter of faith more than it is a matter of physics.  Physics still matters, of course, (and any faith system that says otherwise is unwise) but physics requires matter and the means to measure and observe matter in order to calculate and postulate laws of matter.  Physics, too, had a beginning.  But all of that doesn’t corner us into some forced agnosticism where we have to throw our hands up in the air and say, “It cannot be known.”  Exactly the opposite—it can be known.  How?  Because, even though we were not there, someone was there—Jesus.  He has given us his own personal, firsthand account.

Two significant verbs in the Genesis account help frame God’s act of creation—he created (Hb., bara’, causing to exist something out of nothing) and he made (Hb., ‘asah, shaping or sculpting).  A summary of God’s creative activity can be: he created/formed everything and then he made/fashioned what he had created/formed.  He created matter itself and then sculpted and appointed the matter he created into various patterns and for various purposes.  What Paul does, rather intentionally I believe, is to take that two-fold outline of God’s creative activity and apply it to Jesus in Colossians 1:16-17.  He is the Creator (vs. 16) and he is the Sustainer (vs. 17).

I.          He Is the Creator (vs. 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” (Colossians 1:16).

While all three Persons of the Godhead were present and active in the creation, Paul draws attention to the Son’s role in creation exclusively.  This is, as we learned last week, because there was a swell of false teaching in and around Colossae that squeezed Jesus into their already existing belief system that combined angel worship, human philosophy, and ritualistic traditions.  They mangled Christ into some guardian angel, who was superhuman but not supernatural; a created being that was neither totally divine nor totally human.  Paul speaks into that heresy with a strong injection of doctrine about the person and work of Jesus Christ.  We need that same injection of Christology into our pluralism, too.

Jesus is both 100% God and simultaneously 100% human—and as such, he is preeminent over all creation.  In fact, he is the Creator!  Paul reminds his readers of these facts—“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.” 

Paul uses precise language—perhaps the most precise that ever existed—on the subject of Jesus’ identity!  John, too, and the writer to the Hebrews both speak the same truth (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2), but they use more evocative and poetic language that is consistent with the more Eastern-style of their respective writing.  Paul comes at Christology with the precision of a Greek-mind, not to show-off, but because his audience has elevated Greek philosophy to a horrible height.  He “speaks their language.”

Notice the prepositions, for they carry this passage: “by,” “through,” and “for.”  The Greek philosophers, who held too much of the ear of the Colossian church, would often talk about their belief in the Primary Cause, the Instrumental Cause, and the Final Cause of all subsequent causes and effects in the visible and invisible world.  They believed that there must be a Cause that caused everything else.  But they identified this uncaused Cause as Logos—divine Reason in the universe—an impersonal brain, so to speak, that structured the universe.  The ancient Hebrew philosophers had a similar belief and postulated that Wisdom itself took on personal attributes (cf Proverbs 12).  But it was the New Testament Christians—the apostles—who argued and demonstrated that Jesus Christ himself was the true Logos of God; the genuine, personal incarnation of the Wisdom of God who walked the earth as a human man … quite distinct from Greek and Hebrew philosophy.  But Paul upstages them on their own turf.  Jesus is not an angel.  He is not a created being who fits as a cog in their wheel of self-made, human-centered religion.  Jesus is preeminent, exclusively deserving of all worship and devotion as the Creator.

By using “by” (Gr., en) Paul indicates that Jesus is the Primary Cause of all subsequent causes (“Colossians 1:16,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary).  “He planned it all” (Warren Wiersbe, “Colossians 1:16,” The New Testament BE Series).  By using “through” (Gr., dia) Paul shows that Jesus is the Instrumental Cause of all creation (BKC).  “He produced it all” (WW).  By using “for” (Gr., eis) Paul teaches that Jesus is the Final Cause of all (BKC).  “He did it all for his own pleasure” (WW).  Beginning, middle, and end—everything that is created was created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus.  Even science, even philosophy, even pleasure, even pain, even angels, even atoms—everything is by, though, and for him.  “All” means all—even the spiritual dimensions that we cannot perceive humanly.

Just think of the vastness of the universe—the galaxies, the supernovas, the comets, the planets, the black holes, the asteroids, quasars, and nebulae.  The size itself is enough to drive us to our knees, but not enough to compel or deserve our worship.  We do not worship the created; but the Creator.

Just think of the equally vast microscopic universe—the cells, the mitochondria, the nucleus, the chromosomes, the ribosomes, the endoplasmic reticulum, the DNA strands with their ultra-complex genetic codes.  The efficiency and interactivity is enough to drive us to our knees, but not enough to compel or deserve our worship.  Jesus is the Creator.  He formed everything out of nothing, and then fashioned everything he formed with order, beauty, and purpose.

II.         He is the Sustainer (vs. 17)

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

But it is not merely once upon a time that Jesus created everything.  He remains actively involved in his creation even now … and now … and now.  He is Creator (vs. 16), but he is also Sustainer (vs. 17).

Paul continues the thought of verse 16 into verse 17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  He bookends the creation—before and behind.  He is the foundation underneath.  He is above.  He is within the creation holding everything together.  Paul is clearly saying that everything is under Jesus’ governance and power; he literally upholds and binds together the entire creation.

While there was divine force required to create something out of nothing, there is also divine force keep that which was created spinning and behaving according to design.  Whereas God stopped his creative activity on the seventh day, and thus “rested”; he was not tired.  He simply ceased from one kind of divine work.  His work of sustaining the universe continues every day, even while we was “resting.”  Jesus referenced it in John 5:17, and his audience clearly interpreted what he said to be a divine claim: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”   Sustaining is his work—even at the atomic level.

I often think back to my physics class in high school and wish I had paid more attention.  If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have had to ask Google: “What holds an atom together?”  Now, I remember neutrons and protons and electrons and how each element in nature (and even a few that exist only in the laboratory) have protons and electrons, a certain mass, and a set of physical properties.  But still I ask, “What holds an atom together?”  I mean what keeps those electrons in orbit, in formation, in sequence? 

I read some more but it didn’t help me to answer my question—“What holds an atom together?”  Apparently there are particles inside an atom that are much smaller than neutrons and protons and electrons; so small that gravity doesn’t affect them.  But still, “What holds an atom together?”  There is electromagnetism, but electromagnetism alone would cause the atom to fly apart, not hold together.  Positive charges repel other positive charges, so then I continue to ask: “What holds an atom together?” 

I continued reading for half the morning and learned about two other kinds of force that seem to exist on the sub-atomic level—the strong force and the weak force (sounds like something from Stars Wars).  The strong force is strong enough to hold the protons together in the neutron.  The weak force is weak enough to allow the electrons to remain a certain distance away from the neutron.  In tandem, these incredible forces push and pull each and every atom in just the right way to give it amazing strength—forming a bond that is possibly the strongest bond in the universe.  This atomic bond, if it does break, releases a nuclear explosion.

Although I am more confused than ever with the physics, I can say that a broad answer is forming to my question—“What holds an atom together?”  Jesus!  Jesus personally holds an atom together—every atom, every electron, every proton, and every neutron.  Look in the most powerful telescope, he is there.  Look in the most powerful microscope, he is there at work, too, holding all things together.

In the news last week, headlines and physics joined forces—North Korea claimed to have tested, for the fourth time since 2006, a hydrogen bomb.  The experts disbelieve Pyongyang’s claim because seismologists around North Korea say that the blast that they detected last week was nowhere close to a thermonuclear detonation a hydrogen fusion bomb would have caused. 

Since I was already on a physics kick and already in way over my head, I dove back down and learned that there are two types of nuclear reactions.  The first, and less powerful, nuclear reaction is fission.  It breaks the weak force that holds in place the electrons of an atom—big atoms like Uranium or Plutonium with over 230 electrons each.  The result is a chain reaction that registers in the ten-thousands of kilotons.  The second, and more powerful, nuclear reaction is fusion; also known as thermonuclear.  It doesn’t break the weak force that holds in place an electron of a big, heavy atom, it collides and fuses two small atoms thus breaking the strong force that holds together the protons in an atom’s neutron—namely a hydrogen atom.  The result is a chain reaction that registers in the ten-thousands of megatons (that’s 1000 times more than a kiloton)!

This illustrates—by showing its opposite—the power it takes to hold a single atom together; the power that is here attributed to Jesus.  But expanded from just one atom, Jesus holds together all the atoms, in the entire universe, all the time.  Jesus is infinitely supreme over all of creation because he is the Creator and the Sustainer.

Back to the text: what Colossae was trying to do, what Pyongyang is trying to do, what we may be trying to do is to access the so-called “secret” knowledge and “hidden” power without dependence upon and worship of and relationship to Jesus as the preeminent one by faith.  Jesus is not a pawn in our little game.  He is not by-passable!  His name is not a catch-phrase that we drop here and there in certain company and then not in other certain company so that we might gain some personal advantage.

By extension, what is it to Jesus, who holds supreme authority and preeminent power as creator and sustainer of the entire universe for us to pray for 10 new, young families with children to make Tucker Street Church their home?  Is his power limited to save souls, to break addictions, to heal marriages, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to set the captives free?  Should we not pray big prayers because we figure that we are in a small place?  Nonsense!  This is Jesus—the Creator-Sustainer—the one in whose name we are praying, who taught us that everything we ask in faith will be answered in wisdom and power! 

It is by this Jesus, and through this Jesus, and for this Jesus that we ask: “Teach us to pray.”  It is by Jesus’ invitation that we come to him for guidance, wisdom, and courage.  It is through Jesus’ power that we preach the word in season and out of season.  It is for Jesus’ glory that we fan out into the community, into the region, into the world under the banner of his great name; making disciples of all the nations, baptizing, and teaching them. 

Why should we hold back?  This isn’t like holding back from taking the last donut on the tray; there is no shortage of power or willingness in Jesus to answer big prayers.  He is our infinitely powerful God.

Should we be “polite” when we ask for the children in this community who are being neglected to come under the protection of Jesus Christ?  Is there a shortage in his power that we must half-ration our  prayers for the Jesus’ protection to cover the wives in our neighborhood who are being slapped around by weak-willed brutes at home, who show up at the E.R. with suspicious bruises and inconsistent explanations?  Should we maintain strict etiquette when we ask for the fortification of marriages on the verge of collapse, for desperate people on the verge of suicide, for young people on the verge of gang violence?  A thousand times, “No!”

Should we not try to participate in Dyersburg’s upcoming Mission Blitz this spring merely because we don’t have the time or the energy?  Should we not try for a summer outreach this July that looks like but improves upon a Vacation Bible School merely because we don’t have the numbers?  Should we not try for a family mission trip to the Dominican Republic this coming Fall Break, the first week in October, because it won’t logically grow Tucker Street Church but instead further deplete Tucker Street Church’s resources on a group of people who will never benefit us in any way?  A thousand times, “No!”

Spiritual wisdom may say yes, no, or wait to some of these prayers … but not power!  Jesus’ power is infinite, so I figure we should pray big and adjust small if need be.  But let’s pray big.  Will we have to reassess along the way?  Of course, but not because Christ is limited.  We are limited.  He is infinite.  If we are leaning into him by faith we are moving in the right direction.  He is the Creator and Sustainer!  And we know him by name: Jesus.

12 January 2016

The Incomparable Christ: the Revelator (Colossians 1:15)

The Incomparable Christ: the Revelator
Colossians 1:15
Kevin Rees – January 10, 2016 - audio file posted at

“Whatever a man depends upon, whatever rules his mind, whatever governs his affections, whatever is the chief object of his delight is his god” –C.H. Spurgeon

A man in late-19th century England visited two churches on [a particular Sunday], one pastored by a famous minister of high culture, the other Metropolitan Tabernacle, pastored by Spurgeon.  After visiting the first, the man responded, “What a preacher!”  When he left Spurgeon’s tabernacle, his assessment was, “What a Savior!”  (Source unknown).

When I read this testimony from 19th century England, it touches a nerve because any pastor (myself included) would relish being regarded as a remarkable preacher.   But compliments can take us to a dangerous place.  Not because of the compliments themselves are dangerous, but rather my treatment of them.  “What a preacher!” can for a brief time eclipse, like my thumb can briefly eclipse the sun, the infinitely more valuable, enduring, important, and satisfying delight—“What a Savior!” 

The church has only one sentence to contribute to the narrative of history—may the Lord have mercy on us lest we forget—“What a Savior!”  Or as Paul wrote it so well: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).  Shame on us if we eclipse Christ, even with the things that we are convinced he calls us to do.  “What a Savior!”  Ever.  Only.  Always.

When I or the church or the Christian sub-culture starts drifting away from this central message of Jesus’ word and work, alarms should go off.  It should cause outrage, then repentance, and then purity.   A cloudy view of Christ is the prelude to any and every heresy, private and public.  C.H. Spurgeon rightly said, “Whatever a man depends upon, whatever rules his mind, whatever governs his affections, whatever is the chief object of his delight is his god.”  Everyone on the planet bows down in worship to someone, or something, or some dominating thought.  It is the church’s only job to persistently proclaim “Him” in this smorgasbord of idols; even the idols we ourselves make.  If Christ is not the one on whom we rely, if he does not rule our mind, if he does not steer our emotions, if he is not the chief object of our delight—then something lesser has usurped his place and we have wandered within the borders of idolatry.

That was the case with the city of Colossae.  That may equally be the case with our fair city because the threat of idolatry always persists.  Paul wastes no time, but takes an interesting line in addressing the Colossian idolatry.  He doesn’t humiliate the error; he lifts up the Savior.  “What a Savior!”  Let anything other than Jesus fail, fall, and flee the incomparable Christ.

For the next four weeks, I’d like to take a slow look at one of the most comprehensive, most compact, and most compelling paragraphs on the person and the work of Jesus Christ in all the Scriptures—Colossians 1:15-20.  It is just six verses long, but it is jam-packed with Jesus!  Some scholars believe it to be an early hymn fashioned with two stanzas—the first stanza (vv. 15-17) focuses on Jesus’ preeminence over the first creation, the second stanza (vv. 18-20) focuses on Jesus’ preeminence over the new creation.  But, whether it was an early hymn or just a few passionate sentences of doxology, all who read it agree that there is but one subject: Jesus. 

Then in Colossae, just like today in America, I am sure there were political campaigns in the news and military offensives on the horizon.  Then, just like today, there were local celebrities throwing lavish parties while the needy lined up for the leavings.  Then, just like today, there were religious teachers who simultaneously had an opinion on everything and yet communicated nothing of value.  Then, just like today, there was within reach a knowable Savior.  But only those who have the eyes of faith can see him; only those with the ears of faith can hear his voice.  Jesus is on the scene, then and now, genuinely accessible and relatable by faith. 

Paul doesn’t attempt to solve directly the chronic illnesses of society—wrongful imprisonment of political adversaries (he writes this letter from a Roman prison), brutal warfare against non-compliant people, gender discrimination, slavery, forced labor, manipulated economy, opulent elitism, open idolatry, even the deification of man and man’s achievements.  But what Paul does is far more impactful than social activism; he proclaims “Him” (vs. 28)—the incomparable Christ.  The ripples of that singular message will eventually topple the other societal injustices. 

But what does stir Paul into action is when that singular message of Christ is twisted, perverted, mangled, and merged with human philosophy.  Spiritual pluralism was growing in the Roman world.  It will soon take the label “gnosticism”—the system of the secret knowledge.  The letter written to the Colossians is in the early stages of its popularity; but the heresy itself is not new to the 1st century.  It is age-old just as it is cutting edge and modern.  Satan has no new ideas; only old ideas in new packaging. 

Spiritual pluralism, then or now, doesn’t unilaterally throw out the Christian message but denies its exclusivity.  Pluralists do not reject Christ entirely, but insist that Christ is merely one part of a larger system that achieves union with “god.”  The particulars might morph, but the central thrust of pluralism remains constant: it tries to take the “best parts” of all the religious and philosophic options to make a synthesized solution to man’s problems.  Or my summary: it attempts to create god in man’s image.

In ancient Colossae, the dominant belief was that physical realm was evil whereas the spiritual realm was good.  Therefore, in order to achieve union with the spiritual realm, one must follow a system of dos and don’ts, an amalgam of human tradition and philosophical gymnastics.  The long-and-short of it unraveled into this: Christ was a created spirit-being (an “aeon”), not physically human but only the appearance of humanity, who emanated from the spiritual realm like something of an angel.  Jesus was good and nice, and maybe even great, but he was not most, not best, and not truly divine, not truly human, and certainly not preeminent over all.  But Paul proclaims Christ as incomparably supreme.

I.          He Is the Image of the Invisible God (vs. 15a)

Having prayed to God for the saints at Colossae (verse 9) for true knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, God through Paul supplies the answer.  Not merely the facts about Jesus but he himself is our knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (1 Corinthians 1:30).

As I mentioned already, this short section of Colossians might in fact be an early church hymn or creed.  It is “memorize-able,” even “sing-able.”  It is beautifully poetic.  It has parallelism and symmetry.  And it ties into archetypical anchor-bolts from the Old Testament.  In this hymn are two equal parts—Jesus reigns preeminently over the first creation as Revelator and Creator (vv. 15-17), and Jesus reigns preeminently over the new creation as Leader and Redeemer (vv. 18-20).  He is over but not part of the creation itself just as he is over but not part of the new creation itself.  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Today is about the first half of the first stanza—Jesus is the revelator (vs. 15).  Within his supreme role as revelator, he is both the image of the invisible God (vs. 15a) and the firstborn of all creation (vs. 15b).  And already we find that Christ is indeed incomparable—he has no comparison, no rival, and no equal.

Please notice, straight away, that this is all built upon the present tense verb—“he is” (1:15, 17, 18 [x2]).  Not “he was.”  Not “he will be later.”  Not “he might be.”  Not “it could be argued under some circumstances that he is like.”  But right now and continuously so, “he is.”  This is the equivalent to the divine name given to Moses at the burning bush, “I am who I am”—the self-existent, eternal one.  He depends on no one else for his being—he exists outside of time and is sovereign over time.  Only God is self-existent and eternal; Jesus is self-existent and eternal, therefore Jesus is God—the “I am who I am.”

But Jesus’ divinity is not something that he clutched, as though he had to protect it or it might slip away.  Instead of clinging to his divinity, he used it, applied it, and did what only God can do—he became man.  His “job,” so to speak, became to reveal God to us and to represent us to God. 

This is truly beautiful, so let’s take it slow.  God is invisible.  He is not hidden or distant, as many people conclude; he is essentially unseeable by human eyes.  Jesus says, “God is spirit” (John 4:24).  This is not a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is also divine and distinct; but Jesus is saying that God’s very essence exists beyond human sight.  Similarly, the Apostle John says, “No one has ever seen God; [but Jesus,] the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (1:18).  Jesus has explained the Father to us.  He has exegeted him.  He has represented him.  He has made him knowable in the human realm.

How?  Well, Paul supplies the answer—“he is the image of the invisible God” (vs. 15a).  Jesus is the image of God.  With a necessary degree of separation, man was created in the image of God (although now tarnished by sin) without claiming or aspiring to claim divinity.  Man is created to relate to God and represent God’s preeminence over creation to the creation by being in the creation.  But Jesus is the actual image of God; eternal and uncreated.  Motivated by our failure and forfeiture of “imaging” God in and to the created order, God himself picks up the task we ruined and neglected.  Whereas Adam was a shadowy reflection of the God whose image he was bore, but Jesus is the genuine article.  Jesus truly makes the invisible Godhead visible and accessible and knowable and relatable in the physical realm. 

There is a whole spectrum of imaging in Scripture—the earthly tabernacle was a copy/image of the real heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 10:1).  Caesar’s head was imprinted/imaged on coins as a portrait (Matthew 22:20), but also as a symbol of the extent of his reign—wherever his face was imaged was where his law was in operation.  But Jesus as the Image of God is more than a copy and more than a portrait or a symbol.  Jesus as the Image of God is deeper than physical; it is also moral, and actual, and essential.  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s very nature (Hebrews 1:3).  And if that were not enough, Jesus said it plainly to his disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Jesus, while remaining distinct from the Father within the Trinitarian relationship (still beyond our finite minds to comprehend), perfectly and directly and entirely reveals the otherwise unseeable Godhead to the human realm!  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

We now, in the church, are specifically called to bear the image—not only of God, in general—but of Christ, in particular.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”  Jesus imaged the Father to the world; he made the invisible visible … the mysterious knowable … the distant accessible … the confusing approachable.  We are to do likewise, yet within our finite limitations; Christ commissions and the Spirit empowers us to image him in the way he imaged the Father.  The church makes the invisible realities of God and his gospel visible in the human realm. 

What a privilege!  What a challenge!  And what a shame if we forfeit this calling!  If, instead of using our lives and our bodies and even our deaths to proclaim “Him” (Colossians 1:28), we make a little trinket and confer upon it the privilege of revealing to the human realm the realities of God, then we have lost.  The Bible calls this exchange idolatry.   “You shall not make for yourselves a carved image” (Gr. eikon, Hb. tselem) (Exodus 20:4).  This is why God takes idolatry so seriously!  He has given us the highest privilege in the universe—the visibly image him to the created order—and instead of accepting this privilege we make a golden calf, or a silver statue, or a stone animal, or a wooden totem, and say: “Behold, there is your god.”  We have committed two evils—we have rejected our true calling and exchanged it for a perverted substitute—as Paul puts it in Romans 1:23—“[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

II.         He is the Firstborn of All Creation (vs. 15b)

The second aspect of Christ’s revelatory nature is now described, “[he is] the firstborn of all creation” (vs. 15b).  Enemies of the gospel were attempting to corner Jesus into a subsistent and subservient role—not truly divine, not truly human.  They were saying that Christ was himself created, like an angel, who partially helps adherents to the “secret knowledge” as they inch along toward union with “god.”  Gag.  Paul’s whole point in this paragraph is to assert Christ’s divinity and his Christ’s sufficiency to reconcile us to full union with God the Father. 

To our eyes, at first glance, “firstborn” seems to suggest that the gnostics were right; that Jesus was created.  This is admittedly one of those “hard sayings” in the Bible.  But not after we dig a little deeper.  The “firstborn” is actually another way to say that Jesus is divine.  It is a strong, strong title! 

Paul borrows heavily on language from two pivotal Old Testament passages—Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 89:27—particularly one word in both of those passages—“the beginning,” or “the first” (Hb., r’eshith).  It is an important word: the first word of the Bible and a primary word in identifying the Messiah.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—what form ten words in English are only five words in Hebrew: beginning, God, create, heavens, earth.  But let’s just lift out the first word: “beginning” (Hb., r’eshith) which becomes in our passage “firstborn” (Gr., prototokos).  It means “beginning, first, chief, head.”  Before the beginning there was Jesus.  At the beginning there was Jesus.  Over and under the beginning—and around and through and for and unto—there was Jesus.  Yet it was not Jesus’ beginning.  Jesus does not have a beginning.  He is not born.  There is never a time or a place when God is not “there” in all of his fullness.  Jesus is at and over and throughout the creation, but he himself is not created—contra to what the false teachers say.

Leap from Genesis 1:1 to Psalm 89:27—“And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  “Firstborn” is the same word as Genesis 1:1—r’eshith—“beginning, first, chief, head.”  In this psalm it is referring ultimately to King Jesus Messiah, but also immediately it refers to David’s son, Solomon, who will be the chief and heir to the throne of David.  Solomon, however, is not the chronologically first son born to David—he is fourth (2 Samuel 5:14).  Similarly, David was not the chronologically first son born to Jesse—he was seventh.  Just like Jacob was not the chronologically first son born to Isaac—he was second born, even if it was only by a few minutes.  Just like Judah, just like Shem, just like Seth—in each of those scenarios, irrespective of birth order, a younger son is named as the chief, the head, the representative and actual head of the group. 

Jesus is the firstborn in the sense of rank, not time … in the sense of status, not linear history.  In that way he is the Second Adam and the Last Man but still the Firstborn.  Jesus is the chief of all creation … not just one household or one nation.  He is first in importance; top, most, best, head over the entire universe.  He is the chief of our entire human race; our representative and actual head—preeminent, supreme, and incomparable.

Why is this important?  If Jesus were just a human, then he would be dismissable.  If Jesus were just a spirit, then he would be avoidable.  If Jesus were just a teacher, then he would be ignorable.  But since Jesus is eternal; since he is divine and since he is intimately involved in this created universe as a human, then we cannot dismiss him, or avoid him, or ignore him.  He not oldest; he is best, first, chief, and head.

We might like the idea of Jesus, but only if he is tamed; if he is pocket-sized … if he is a second lieutenant—significant but not all-important.  We prefer him like a genie in the bottle at our disposal, or perhaps like a Clarence-type of guardian angel who looks out for us.  But Jesus is nothing like that!  He is not only the divine revelator of the invisible God to us as image; he is also the divine representative of us to God as firstborn.  He reigns preeminently as the absolute first—the top—over the universe having preceded its creation.  To be both image and firstborn he has to both divine and human simultaneously. 

That is Paul’s precise point—Jesus is the God-Man who is over all creation but not part of creation and yet not distant from creation.  He is, therefore, not the virtual equivalent of Buddha, or Mohammed, or Krishna, or Confucius.  The world’s religions are not saying basically the same thing at all.  Jesus alone is infinitely above and absolutely first.  There is no comparison to Jesus.  To fail to see this is to fail to see God.  And without Jesus it is categorically impossible to know, to see, to relate to the Father.

Preachers will come and go, but the good ones—the ones worth their salt—will gladly, quickly, joyfully, passionately surrender any compliment that they ever have or ever might receive about their preaching for the privilege of pointing the world’s eyes upon Jesus.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!