Creation to Redemption: In Him, Through Him, and For Him – Part 1 (Col. 1:15-20)

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Scripture Introduction

Our passage for this morning comes from Colossians 1:15–20 which is rightly recognized as one of the most profound passages in the Bible regarding the person, the nature, and the work of Jesus Christ.

And because there is so much packed into these six verses, I have decided to take two weeks to cover this passage. My aim in these two sermons will be to show that there is no part of creation that was not created by Jesus Christ and that there is no part of creation that will not be redeemed by Jesus Christ.

In this week’s sermon we will focus on the first part, Christ’s role in the creation of and sustaining of all things in heaven and on earth. To accomplish this, we will cover verses 15–17 this week and will appropriately talk about Christ’s redemptive work next week, Easter Sunday, using verses 18–20.

But as we get started on this week’s sermon which is about Christ’s Lordship over all creation we should ask and answer a question.

Why was it important for Paul to establish that Jesus is the Lord over all of creation?

Well the answer is related to the specifics of the false teaching that was spreading in Colossae. If you remember, I have said a few times that the false teaching at its core had reduced Christ from his rightful position as the supreme ruler over all creation to just one supreme ruler among many others (Thielman, Theology of the NT, 377).

These false teachers were promoting the worship of angels who they said “controlled the universe and governed the fate of each person” (Thielman, Theology, 378). And so the false teaching stressed the need to appease these cosmic rulers and authorities by sticking to a stringent set of rules and regulations and by participating in various rituals. Those who were getting caught up in these practices were having their focus drawn away from Christ and his supremacy over all creation.

And so it was important, before Paul went much further in this letter, to establish Christ as the supreme creator and ruler and sustainer over all creation. A creator who is above and before and indeed the maker of all the angels and spiritual powers in the universe. And then, by establishing the supremacy of Christ over creation and the sufficiency of his death to reconcile sinners to God, Paul would have dismantled the core of this false teaching. He would be able to do away with any need, in the mind of the Colossians, to participate in the various practices and rituals that were intended to appease and satisfy these spiritual powers. The spiritual powers that the false teachers were holding up as important.

Now one thing I want to point out before moving on is that Paul never denies the existence of other spiritual powers. In fact Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” So there are indeed spiritual powers out there, spiritual powers who are more than happy to demonstrate their power for you in various ways, especially if that will distract you from Jesus Christ as the supreme ruler of the universe and the one who created all things including them.

So now that we have the stage set, let me read our passage for these next two weeks, Colossians 1:15–20. And as I do remember that this week we are focusing on the first three verses which establish Christ as the Lord over all creation. Follow along with me as I read Colossians 1:15–20.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20 ESV)

Sermon Introduction

Today it is common for people to speak of Jesus in all sorts of nice ways. Christians and non-Christians alike hold him up as the greatest teacher ever, a wonderful man of peace and love, a great example for living a good life, etc…

But what many of these same people have a more difficult time accepting and professing is that Jesus was God. You see, Jesus as a great teacher or wonderful example for living is no threat to us. But Jesus as God, requires something most people aren’t willing to do—submit to him. Jesus as God requires you to give him your total allegiance, to worship him, and to acknowledge that if you don’t you are not simply rejecting a man who lived two thousand years ago, but you are rejecting God. So most people are happy just keeping him as a great man and teacher, but not God.

The famous writer, C.S. Lewis, has a well-known quote in his book Mere Christianity about people like this. He says:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.

Lewis says:

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

And he concludes by saying:

Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Well I like C.S. Lewis a great deal, and I of course agree with what he has to say here, Jesus is indeed God, but instead of relying on Lewis, let’s use our passage for this morning to see what God has to say about this. Remember that my aim with today’s sermon will be to show that there is no part of creation that was not created in, through, and for Jesus Christ. To demonstrate that He is the Lord of Creation. And to demonstrate that because Jesus is Lord of Creation, we must worship him as God, submit to him as King, place our faith in him alone, and relinquish control to him.

Let’s begin by looking at the first part of verse 15 which reads: “He is the image of the invisible God.” Here we will learn that…

Because Jesus is the Lord of Creation, we must worship him as God. (v. 15a)

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. And you might be saying, “But wait… Jimmy it does not say that Jesus was God, it says that he is the image of the God.” Yes, that is what it says, but we need to understand what Paul meant by the word translated “image” in this verse. Because to say something is an image, or an exact representation of God, is really a difficult thing to say due to the unique nature of God.

On Friday I officiated the funeral service for a good friend of mine named Keith Cox. Keith has a grown son named K.C. and I don’t think I could count the number of times I heard at the visitation on Thursday night people say something like, “I cannot believe how much K.C. has grown up to look like his dad.” And they are right he looks just like him. And not only does he look like him, but he talks just like him and walks just like him as well. He is the spitting image of his dad. But when we say that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God it is not like saying, “that boy is the spitting image of his dad.” That is not what we mean at all. There is more to it than that. My friend’s son is a lot like his Dad, but these words about Jesus mean a lot more than that.

One commentator explained it like this:

The very nature and character of God have been perfectly revealed in him; in him the invisible has become visible. (O’Brien, Colossians-Philemon, 43)

And these are very important words: the very nature and character of God have been perfectly revealed in him. Let’s just consider for a minute the nature and character of God. God is all-powerful, he is all-knowing, he is eternal. And I could go on naming attribute after attribute that are attributes we associate solely with God and no other person. And yet, Paul says here that all of these parts of God’s nature are also parts of Christ’s nature. And that is why Jesus was able to say to his disciples in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Friends, the point is you can’t have the nature and attributes and characteristics of God perfectly represented in you without being God. If someone is all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal, perfect in every way, they can be none other than God. And so to say that Jesus is the image of the invisible God is making a huge statement about him. This does not mean, as in the case of my friend and his son, that Jesus is a lot like God. What Paul was saying here is that Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God. He walked on this earth AS God before human eyes. And so later when Paul says in verse 16, that all things in heaven and on earth were created in, through, and for Jesus Christ, we can let our minds be taken back to Genesis 1:1 which says, “In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth.”

When Paul says here that Jesus is the image of God, that means he is an exact replica, a perfect copy, an exact reproduction. And, as we have already established, it is impossible to possess the exact attributes of God without being God. And so, friends, let me say it simply, Jesus was and is God. And to solidify this: look down at verse 19, which reads, “For in him [in Jesus], all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” To say that the divine fullness of God dwells in Jesus is to say that Jesus is God.

And that is the foundation of all I will say today. It is an important foundation. But let’s move on to the second part of verse 15 which tells us that Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” teaching us that…

Because Jesus is the Lord of Creation, we must submit to him as King. (v. 15b, 17a)

And again, you might ask, “Jimmy, if Jesus is in the image of God, and has all the attributes of God, and one of those attributes is eternal existence, how can Paul say that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation? How can Jesus have been born?”

Again, to answer that question, we have to look closely at the word “firstborn.” What Paul has in mind here is that Jesus has all the rights, privileges, status, rank, and position of the “firstborn” heir in a kingdom. This same phrase was used by God of King David in Psalm 89: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Well, David as we know, was not even the firstborn of his brothers (he was the youngest), nor was he the first king ever born on earth. What was intended here is that the Davidic King would be the heir of God.

Back when I was in school at Auburn, Lara called me one night crying. It was hard to understand what she was saying, but I could make out that someone had died so I was of course concerned. I thought it must have been someone really close because how upset she was. Well when I finally got Lara to calm down enough and to say the name “Diana” clearly, I responded, “Oh No that is so sad… Ummm who is Diana?” Well, when I realized that the person who had died, and over whom Lara was so distraught, was Princess Diana, all I could do was roll my eyes. It is not that I didn’t care that she had died in a tragic way, that was sad for sure, it was just that Lara has actually known people who have died that have not upset her this much.

But I bring up this story, because we all understand how the royal line works. It is always the firstborn son who takes the throne. And it is Diana’s firstborn son, Prince William, who will one day take the throne. Now the fact that there is no King of England right now is another point of confusion for me, but you get the point, the monarchies are passed always through the firstborn son.

And so the term firstborn is a title or statement about Jesus’ status in relation to the universe. It has nothing to do with him being the first thing born in all creation. And when Paul says in the first part of verse 17 that “Jesus is before all things,” he does mean that Jesus existed prior to all creation. And that as part of the Triune God, he is eternal. But he does not mean that he was created or born. Yes he existed before all other things were created, but the point here is that he is above and over all creation, not in birth order, but in terms of authority and rank. He is the ruler of all creation.

And in verse 16 we are given the reason for this. We see that this is because Jesus is the creator of all things. And so because Jesus is the creator of all things, and…

Because Jesus is the Lord of Creation, we must trust him as a sufficient savior. (v. 16)

Verse 16 reads, “For [or because] IN 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.”

Again this is a very telling statement about Jesus. As I said earlier to say that Jesus created everything in heaven and on earth makes very clear that Jesus is God in the flesh. This is exactly the point the Apostle John was making in chapter 1 of his gospel:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1–3 ESV)

And Paul says the same thing here. But he also wants to draw out some specific things that are relevant to the situation in Colossae.

First of all, notice that this verse says, that all things were created by (or more accurately “in”) Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. I am going to touch on these statements more next week, but I must at least say a thing or two now about these important words. These words in, through, and for, make clear that Jesus was not a part of creation, but that he is the source of creation, and the means of creation, and the purpose or the goal of creation.

And this verse also says that Jesus created ALL THINGS. And Paul gives us some further clarification to what he means by all things. He is not just talking about the things we can see here on this earth. He is also talking about the things in heaven and the things which are invisible. And it is almost certain that what Paul is getting at here is the false teaching that was setting up angels and other spiritual powers as objects of worship. The words, “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” probably represent an order of angels (good and evil) that the false teaching was encouraging the Colossians to submit to.

And so, by establishing Christ as the creator of all things, including all the angels and spiritual powers in creation, Paul is making clear that it is Christ who is to be worshipped. All these angels who are being incorrectly worshipped, were created in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ, just like the rest of creation. And because they are part of creation, they are not worthy of our worship.

Paul often corrects people in his letters who worship the things that were created instead of the creator. And that is exactly what is going on here.

And so, there is no need for the Colossians to participate in these rituals and systems meant to appease the spiritual forces who were supposedly governing their fate. The only one they owed their allegiance to was Jesus Christ, who created and rules over all things, including all the angels and spiritual powers.

The bottom line of this heresy was that it was an attack on the deity of Christ. In this teaching, Jesus was only one of many objects of worship. And if this is the case, the deity of Christ is not only being questioned, but the sufficiency of Christ to provide for our salvation is being questioned as well. In other words, Jesus is not God, and Jesus alone is not your savior. You have to do all these other things as well.

Now, we don’t really find ourselves today being tempted to worship angels. But we are tempted today to try to make other things necessary for salvation. And so in a way, if we are not careful, we also question the sufficiency of Christ for our salvation. Friends, it is not Christ’s death on the cross plus the good works I do that earn my salvation. It is not faith in Christ plus my impeccable church attendance that saves me. It is not Christ plus sticking to a Bible reading plan that saves me. It is Christ Alone! To say anything else is necessary for salvation other than Faith in Christ Alone is to bring into question the sufficiency of Christ. And though, we don’t normally say these things with our mouths, often times in practice this is what we seem to believe. We want to prove how good we are and how deserving we are of salvation.

And we don’t worship Mother Earth. We don’t concern ourselves with the stars or the alignment of the planets to dictate our fate. Don’t even mess with that stuff. Remember there are real spiritual powers out there who would love to prove their power to you. As Christians, we trust in the sufficiency of Christ.

And let’s remember who Christ is. He was God in the flesh. He is the creator of all things. All things were created in him, through him, and for him. And more than just being the creator of all things, we see in second part of verse 17 that Jesus is also the sustainer of all things. And so we learn here that…

Because Jesus is the Lord of Creation, we must relinquish control to him. (v. 17b)

In him (notice those words “in him” again), in Jesus all things hold together.

If Jesus Christ were to remove his attention from the universe for a split second it would all spiral out of control into a chaotic mess. Jesus was not only the source of creation, the means of creation, and the purpose of creation. He is also the sustainer of the things he has created. The things that Christ has brought into existence are also sustained and maintained by him.

Friends, though it sometimes seems that we live in a world that is out of control, this is not the case. Jesus is in control of creation. He was the Lord of creation when he brought it into existence, and he remains the Lord over all creation today. But so many times, we act as if he is not in control. We act as if we alone are responsible for caring for ourselves and providing for ourselves (that is the American Spirit we are told). We pretend that it is our government and political leaders who will keep the world in order and things under control. And that is why we often view political figures and presidential candidates as our saviors. But brothers and sisters, we would be better off relinquishing the control of our lives and relinquishing control of this world (both being things that were created in him, through him, and for him), we would be better off trusting in Christ for the care of those things. Since the beginning of creation, and down through today, Christ has been, and continues to be, the sustainer of everything he created… including you and me. And we often needlessly worry about things that Christ has under his control.

In the heat of the moment, though, this is hard to believe. It was probably very hard for the family of my friend who passed away last week to believe this. It is difficult to learn and accept these truths when our hearts are breaking. That is why it is so important to learn them before tragedy strikes. To be grounded in them before you hit a moment in your life where you really need to know them. At the funeral home is not the appropriate place for me to be telling you that God is in control. In the midst of a tragedy is not a good time to teach theology. We need to learn these truths about God before the world around us starts to crumble.

And what a burden we could remove from ourselves if we would learn to believe these things not only in our minds, but also with all of our hearts. Sin has corrupted this world, and continues to do so. But this world is not out of control. It is moving to a beautiful conclusion according to the plan established by the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, before time began. That plan is being sustained and maintained and we do not have to worry ourselves with it.

Instead we must worry ourselves with the business of the gospel. We must busy ourselves with sharing this good news with those around us who do not have this hope that we have. A hope that one day the world he created and is now sustaining, will be recreated and redeemed. Redeemed from the destructive powers of sin. Recreated into the new heavens and the new earth. Relish that truth in your heart, and go share it with others who so desperately need to hear it.

Jesus is the Lord of Creation. He is the Lord of Redemption. And he remains in control.