1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
6 And again, when God brings His firstborn into the world, He says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.” 7 In speaking of the angels He says, “He makes His angels winds, His servants flames of fire.”
8 But about the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”
10 He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. 17 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation - 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary says in its introduction to the book of Colossians, “Jesus Christ is not the first and last names of Jesus, as people are commonly named today. Jesus is His human name, whose meaning relates to His mission to save us. Christ is a description of His office: He is ‘the Anointed One,’ anointed by God to be our King, Prophet, and High Priest. The combination of name and title is rare in the Gospels (occurring only five times) because Jesus was still in the process of revealing Himself as the Christ. Once this was recognised by His followers, the combination was used prolifically throughout the Book of Acts and the Epistles to express the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. Paul uses the combined form at the start of Colossians to indicate the theme of his letter, the supremacy of Jesus Christ.”
The word ‘firstborn’ in Colossians 1:15 can be a bit confusing. Jesus, in His humanity was born by natural childbirth to Mary, but as God He was never born or created, as He is the eternal God. There never has been and never will be a time when Jesus is not. Nelson’s commentary again explains the meaning of firstborn in Colossians 1 very well: “The idea of firstborn in the Hebrew culture did not require that one be the first son born. This was not the case with either Isaac or Jacob, but they were the firstborn in the sense that they were rightful heirs to the line of their fathers. Being firstborn referred more to rank and privilege than to order of birth. Since Christ is God, He is supreme in rank over all creation.”
How do we find meaning and fulfillment in this world that competes for our attention? The simple answer for Bible-believing Christians is that we need to first and foremost learn to put our faith in Jesus who is the source, sustainer and purpose for which all things exist. We may think that life is more hectic now than it’s ever been, but the truth is that every generation has faced the same challenges. The media, our careers, families, finances and anything else you’d care to add to that list – put them all together and each day we’re bombarded with decisions and choices we need to make. Some of those decisions are critical and life changing, while the vast majority are really not that important, but even so they place demands on our time and energy.
So what ties life together, and is there really purpose to it that goes beyond merely trying to make it to the end of each day in one piece?
How do we decide what deserves our focus and attention in life? How can I be sure that I really do belong to God in such a confusing world?
These questions we face today are not new. Christians in 1st century Colossae were dealing with the same issues. Paul had not personally been to the Church in Colossae, but he’d heard of their faithfulness to the Gospel through his companion and friend Epaphras. He’d heard about their faith and love, and how they were growing together. In verses 4-6 he writes, “We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints - the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.”
But Paul also was keenly aware that worldly things threatened their faith, just as it has done and continues to do for every Christian throughout the ages, including each of us here today.
And so he reminded them that in Jesus they would find all the answers they needed. He wanted to teach them that spiritual blessings are found only in Jesus, so he prays this prayer for them in verses 9-14: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
He points them to Jesus, and the reading we had earlier from Colossians 1 follows directly after this prayer. It is a meticulously structured text packed with meaning about the identity, person, and work of Jesus. Many scholars believe it was used as a hymn in the early Church.
So what does Colossians 1:15-23 teach us about the “Supremacy of Christ” as it is subtitled in the NIV translation?
1. In verse 15 Paul writes “He is the image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”
“Image” means likeness and implies a resemblance, representation and revelation of God. As the image of God, Jesus is the exact representation of God. The term “invisible God” is true not only in the sense that He cannot be seen, but it is also true in the sense that He cannot be discovered or understood unless if He chooses to do so in the first place. The Message Translation says, “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.” Jesus is the revelation of God to us.
In John 14:9 Jesus says to Philip, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And in John 10:30 He says, “I and the Father are one.”
Because of Jesus, God is not some absolute, unknowable force or being out there somewhere. He is a personal God who took the initiative in seeking us first by revealing Himself through the Jesus. John 1:14 probably says it best: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
2. Secondly, Paul reminds us that Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things. Remember, the “first born of all creation” was not the first one created – He is the creator. He was “first born” representing priority in time and supremacy in position. Verse 16 says “all things were created by Him and for Him.” The first half of verse 16 expands on this concept of ‘all things’: “Things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. All things.”
Verse 17 continues by saying that He is not only the creator, but Jesus actually holds all things together. They continue to exist in Him and through Him. Jesus is in control of all things. Everything depends on Him for existence and order. He is the reason why everything exists. He is the reason why it is what it is. You see, Jesus is not only the most influential person in human history. As the pre-existent and pre-eminent God, He is the focal point of everything - past, present and future.
3. Thirdly, Paul teaches that Jesus is the head of the Church.
Verse 18: “He is the head of the body, the Church.” Whenever the Church loses focus of Jesus, it’s in trouble. Those of you who have been following the news in recent weeks will know that worldwide the Anglican Church is on the brink of being split down the middle as they grapple with the sensitive issue of how to define Christian marriage as the world becomes more and more tolerant of same sex marriages. In our own Church, the UPCSA, charges of heresy have been brought against one of our ministers by his own colleagues over this very issue. This is a serious challenge we face in our denomination today, and what makes it harder is when people within the Church no longer look to Jesus as the head, but rather they bring their own agendas, tainted by their own reinterpretation of Scripture to the table. When the Church relegates Jesus from His role as head of the Church, it is in serious trouble. There is a solution to this issue facing the Church today, but it will only be found in Jesus.
Jesus, as the head of the Church is the one who gives us direction and unity. In John 17 He prayed for the Church, and He remains actively involved in accomplishing His purpose in and for the Church just as He has been actively involved in creation.
The second part of verse 18 says, “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” Jesus is not just the first, but the source. He was first to rise, never to die again. “First” implies that others will follow. This is the promise of the resurrection, and in this context, the word first is not merely first in line or first chronologically. It speaks of Jesus’ sovereignty over all things.
The supremacy of Jesus is such an important part of Christian doctrine.
When we proclaim the supremacy of Christ, we proclaim that Jesus is God. A dictionary definition of supreme as “highest in rank or authority” or “highest in degree or quality.” In essence, there is nothing or no-one who supersedes the supremacy of Jesus. The supreme of something is its ultimate. Jesus is the ultimate in power, glory, authority and importance. Jesus’ supremacy over all is a key teaching in the books of Hebrews and Colossians. A major theme in Hebrews is explaining the work of Jesus in the context of the Old Testament, something the readers of Hebrews would have understood easily. The writer of Hebrews takes all the teachings of the Old Testament and pulls them together under one supreme heading: Jesus Christ.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testaments. Another main theme of Hebrews is that Jesus does not simply represent a new way of doing things. Rather, He is supreme. He is the actual fulfillment of the old way of doing things and is therefore greater than those old ways and traditions. Hebrews 6:8 says, “The ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” In essence, Jesus is greater than the Old Testament system. He both encompasses and supersedes the old way of doing things.
Hebrews explains that Jesus is supreme over all. Chapter 1:3 again: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.”
Paul goes on in Colossians 2:9 to say, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Essentially, Jesus is God.
As I mentioned earlier, the NIV translation subtitles our Colossians reading today “The Supremacy of Christ.”
Paul highlights many areas in which Jesus has authority: Over creation, the Church, death, and finally “in everything.”
I began by asking how we are to make sense of life and all the things we face each day. The answer is simple – look to Jesus, the One who holds all things together.
This doctrine is essential if we are ever to make sense of life. Jesus is not simply a man greater than the rest but is truly above all creation, as only God can be. This truth is essential for our salvation. God is infinite and, therefore, our sin against Him is an infinite offence. In order to atone for this offense, the sacrifice must be infinite. Jesus, as God, is infinite and therefore, He is an acceptable sacrifice.
Not only that, but the fact that Jesus is supreme means that we can no longer say He is only one of many ways to God. He is not just a good moral teacher whom we may choose to follow. Rather, He is God, and He is over all. Jesus’ supremacy also makes it evident that we cannot atone for our own sins. As Hebrews 10:4 says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
Jesus both fulfilled and replaced that system.
The supremacy of Jesus teaches us that He is not simply a spiritual being above the rest. Paul tells us that through Him all things visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth were created. Hebrews 1:4 says He is superior to the angels. He created the angels and is above them. We are explicitly told He is greater than they are, so He is the only one worthy of worship.
When we understand the supremacy of Jesus, we have a more accurate view of Him. In the words of Stuart Townend’s song of praise, “In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song.”
When we recognise and acknowledge the supremacy of Jesus, we are more able to understand the depth of His love, which in turn means we are more able to receive and respond to His love. Most Biblical scholars believe that Colossians was written in part to combat heresies rising in Colossae. Most modern theologians would agree that the greatest challenges facing the Christian faith today are exactly the same. The world bombards us with mixed messages, and truth has become relevant rather than absolute.
In order to deal with these issues Paul pointed to the supremacy of Jesus, and so must we.
The supremacy of Jesus is the only thing that enables us to make any sense of life. It is only Jesus who gives meaning to our very existence. Jesus Christ is not one of many options when it comes to understanding the meaning of life. He is the only option. It is Jesus, or nothing.
In a world that constantly competes for our attention, we need to recognise Jesus as the focal point and centre of all things. Everything must be evaluated and judged through the reality Him. He needs to be pre-eminent in our lives. His power and grace is all we need to fulfill our purpose in life.
Until such time as we learn to see all things in and through Jesus, there will always be an emptiness in our lives that the world will never be able to satisfy.
I close with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Church: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)