Pre-eminence of Christ
Text: Colossians 1:15-20
Well, it’s been quite a week so far. I was reflecting that this week we have had people show us that we don’t need to be afraid of living, don’t need to be afraid of dying, and don’t need to be afraid of growing old. As everyday progresses, it progresses in the Lord.
As Diogenes became an old man, one of his students said, now that you are old, why don’t you slow down and take it easy? He said if I were a runner in the stadium, would I slacken my speed when I caught sight of the goal. No, that’s when you pour it on. Abraham’s greatest test with Isaac came at the age of 120 years. Jacob’s greatest encounter with God came 20 years after his first glorious encounter with God. The fact of the matter is that there is no end to it. It is always ever new, ever fresh, ever eternal.
15Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
I am haunted by something I read in the newspaper awhile back. It was about a young secretary who on her lunch hour climbed out on the ledge of a tall building in which she worked. She said she was going to jump. All her colleagues gathered around trying to talk her in. The police and firemen came. The psychologist came. She would not talk to anybody, and would not allow anybody to talk to her until they brought a minister and asked if she would let the minister talk to her. She said yes. He sat in the window talking to this young secretary out on the ledge. He talked to her for two hours, and then she jumped. I’m glad I was not that minister. I wonder how he felt. I wonder what he said to her. What would I say to her? If somebody is standing on the ledge and says I see no reason to live; if you can give me a reason to live, I won’t jump, what would you say to a person in that situation?
There are some things worse than death, and living is one of them. About 30,000 people every year in our country make that point. I have been thrown into situations where I find myself again and again counseling with would-be suicides or the parents of children who have committed suicide. This is the second leading cause of death among teenagers today in our country. I’ve read what the psychologist, psychiatrist, and sociologist say about it. They usually come up with something like this which is pretty much the truth I think: that we are suffering from malaise of meaninglessness, that in our day people have no longer been able to define their lives because the old solid structures, the passports, the watch signs, the signposts, the things that by normal means we usually identify ourselves and define what it means to be alive have been wiped away. So there seems to be no purpose to life at all. It all is so meaningless. I was struck by what Stuart Briscoe said the other night. This young man who gave his definition of his life was “an accident suspended in space between accidents.”
In 1940 the philosopher of the absurd and despair, Camu, wrote these words in his opening of the Myth of Sisyphus, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
Yet, there is a part of me that says he is right because if life isn’t worth living, what difference does it make if 2 x 2 = 4? If life is not worth living and has no meaning to it, then what use is there in getting up and going to work? What use is there in being married and having children? If life is not worth living, if there is no meaning to it, no real defined purpose to it, then nothing else really matters. Everything else is strictly meaningless. I believe it is to that question Paul addresses himself in this letter to the Colossians.
There is one phrase that I want us to zero in on this morning. I think the whole emphasis of this passage falls on a phrase in the middle of verse 18. We’ll read verse 18: And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; (and then comes this purpose clause) in order that in all things he (that is, Christ) might have the preeminence. What Paul is saying is that everything that God has ever done, and everything that God will ever do, and everything that God is doing today in my life, as well as in the world, all comes down to this one purpose: so that in all things Jesus Christ might have first place, that he might be preeminent, that he might be supreme. That is the ultimate purpose.
I cannot define for you the immediate purpose of what may be happening in your life. If you come to me and say why has God allowed this to happen, why does God not stop this, why does God not move in here and change things, I cannot give you the immediate reason for the things that are happening, but I can give you the ultimate purpose behind it all: so that in all things in my life, as in your life, Jesus Christ might stand first, preeminent and supreme.
It is similar to the same phrase that Paul makes in Philippians, chapter 2, when describing the descent of the Lord Jesus Christ, taking upon himself the form of a man and a servant. He says that one of these days every knee is going to bow, every tongue is going to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
I love to hear Vance Havner. He used to say I never ask a man, will you confess Jesus as Lord. I always ask him when will you do it? The question is not will you do it because everybody has it to do. You can do it here and now in salvation or you can do it there in condemnation. But everybody has it to do. Every knee will bow; every tongue will confess in heaven on earth and in hell. The question is not will you someday acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. The question is when will you do it, now or then. You’ve got it to do. You can go easy or you can go hard, but you’ve got it to do.
The ultimate meaning behind which every event in my life is structured—the good times, the bad times–all of it somehow dovetailing into that unique and eternal purpose of God: that Jesus Christ might stand first.
First of all, I want to talk to you about the reach or the realm or the scope of his preeminence. In what areas is Jesus Christ preeminent? Are there some boundaries that you can cross over, and beyond that Jesus Christ has no rightful place? Is there some place you can stick up a “no trespassing” sign in your life, and that’s as far as Jesus Christ can go? What is the reach of his preeminence? Paul makes it very plain; he says that in all things, he might have the preeminence. In other words, there is no boundary line. There is no point at which you can go beyond the jurisdiction of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is to be preeminent in everything—in all things.
One translation reads like this: that from every point of view Jesus Christ might have first place. I like that. For instance, let’s take this building. While we have doors instead of windows, we’ll pretend that those doors are windows. There’s a window here; there’s a window there; there’s a window there; and there’s another window there. Then there are that many other windows upstairs. If you go outside and look in this window, you will look into this auditorium. If you go to the window back there and look into that window, you will see the same auditorium but you will see it from a different point of view. If you go to this window back here and look into it, you will see the same auditorium but it will be from a different point of view. The same thing is true of all these windows. You are looking into the same room but you are looking from a different point of view.
I think Paul is saying that God is not going to be satisfied with the progress in my life until, from every point of view, every window you look through into my life, you still see the same thing—Jesus Christ preeminent. In other words, I know that when I look into your life through the window of your religion, I am going to see Jesus Christ preeminent. But what if I look into your life through the window of your home? Will I see the same thing? Christ in first place? What if I look into your life through the window of your business? Will I still see from the viewpoint of your business that Jesus Christ is first? If I look into your life through the window of your leisure time, will I still see the same thing? Jesus Christ preeminent in your life? No matter at what point I view your life, from this angle or from that angle, I still see the same thing—that blessed consistency that Jesus Christ is first place from every point of view.
Paul mentions some of these points of view in which Christ is preeminent, and we’ll go through those briefly. First of all, Paul tells us that Christ is preeminent when it comes to the matter of knowing God. He is preeminent in revelation. Notice the words in verse 15. He describes Jesus as the image of the invisible God, the essence and exact expression of God. When the Bible talks about God being invisible, it means more than just the fact that you can’t see him. It carries the idea that God is not only invisible but he is inaccessible. He is unapproachable, unknowable. When the Bible speaks of God being invisible, it means you can’t know God—period! You cannot approach him, no access to him, no knowing of him, no seeing of him; he is totally inaccessible to you. Jesus has come into the world and made the invisible God visible. He has made the unapproachable God approachable. He has made the inaccessible God accessible.
This simply means that the Lord Jesus Christ has a monopoly on revelation. I think one of the most strategic verses in the Bible is Matthew, chapter 11, verse 27, where Jesus says, “No man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” That is a very dogmatic statement. Outside of Jesus Christ, everything else is just a guess about God. The fact of the matter is that truly to worship God without knowing Jesus Christ comes close to what we would call idolatry. You may say I believe in God, the God who created the heavens and the earth but I don’t believe in Jesus. Then I have to say to you that you are worshipping a God you do not know. That is idolatry. He is preeminent in revelation.
He goes on to tell us that not only is he preeminent in revelation but he is also preeminent in creation. In verse 16 Paul writes these words:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Notice that all things were made by him and through him. God said let there be light and there was light. John said everything was made by him and there is not anything that was made that was not made by him, both visible and invisible. Paul said you look out and everything you see, he made it. You look out, and everything you don’t see, he made it. He is the power behind creation.
But notice that he is also the preserver of it. In verse 17 I love this phrase: And he is before all things, and by him all things hold together. He is the glue that holds this whole business together. Every law of the universe is nothing more than just an expression of the mind of Jesus. He holds it all together. If you were to remove Jesus from it, everything would fade into nonexistence. You ask why that is so important. I believe for this reason: where Jesus Christ is not acknowledged as Lord, and he is not preeminent, things have a tendency to come apart. The reason our world is coming apart is because Christ is not acknowledged and worshipped as Lord, as preeminent. The reason your home falls apart is because Christ in some area is not Lord, is not preeminent. The reason my life begins to fall apart is because somehow I have not made Jesus Christ the Lord of everything. I figure if the Lord Jesus Christ can hold this universe together, he can hold my puny life together.
Here is the one thing I want to point out. The last phrase in verse 16: all things were created by him and for him. That’s a little preposition that carries the idea of motion towards an object. I think you could honestly translate it like this: all things were created through him, and all things are moving in his direction. The goal of all history is Jesus Christ. I don’t know if this is a good way to put it, but it is sort of like a boomerang. All creation came from him, and all creation is returning to him. That’s what gives life its meaning. That’s what gives the world its purpose. Everything that God has created, every bit of it, is moving towards him. One of these days it is going to be revealed in his presence. Everything comes from him, and everything is moving towards him. He is preeminent in creation.
He is also preeminent in re-creation because he is the head of the church. We’ll leave it there. I want to move on to the second part of this passage.
What right does Jesus have to claim preeminence? By what right does Jesus demand that I submit myself to him? I am going to honest with you. I’ve had a problem with that at times.
Not too long ago my wife and I were having dinner with a pastor and his friend. I was in his church for a meeting. This pastor was going through some frustrations, some self doubts. He said when I look at you, I can see so obviously that here is a person who has just submitted himself to the Lord and surrendered himself to the Lord. I wish I could do that.
I said I don’t see it that way. I’ll tell you how I feel. I feel like God has dragged me kicking and screaming every step of the way. I submit to him because I can go easy or I can go hard. I’ve tried hard. I would be lying though if I did not say I’ve had a problem with that. You mean I ought to make every other thing in my life subservient to this one thing, that he be Lord and that he be pleased with my life, that he be glorified? Am I supposed to turn my back on my tragedies, on my sickness, on my misfortune, and say it is all right as long as he can be glorified?
What right does Jesus have to say to me, I want you to submit everything in your life so that I can be glorified and be honored? When the Lord Jesus was here on earth, he never hesitated to ask that of people. Remember in John 21 they had that little talk after breakfast, and Jesus said to Peter, do you love me. Peter said yes, yes, yes. He said right now when you are young you go where you want to go, wear what you want to wear. But when you are old, other people will drag you, and take you, and dress you. This he spake signifying by what death he should die. Then he said to Peter, follow me.
I have written in the top of my Bible over that verse in John 21: That is a bad selling point! That is poor psychology. You would think if Jesus was trying to convince Peter to follow him, he would have told Peter if you follow me, here’s what I’m going to let you do. I am going to let you be the Pentecostal preacher. Three thousand people will be saved the first time you ever preach. I am going to give you power to heal the sick and raise the dead. You will write a part of the New Testament, and there will be one big church that will say you are the first pope. I am going to make you famous—give you all this glory. Jesus didn’t mention a bit of that. He simply said, Peter, if you follow me, it is going to cost you your life—follow me!
That’s not the way to gather a crowd. It seemed though that every time a crowd did gather around Jesus, he said something to drive them away. Most of us preachers, when we get a crowd, do everything we can to hold them here. Jesus would always say discouraging, harsh things. To the rich young ruler who asked what he must do, Jesus said to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Well, I think we ought to work up to that. First of all, get him in the church and get his name on the line. Later on, we can bring up this other stuff. No, this is it from the outset. Right now, you sell everything you have and follow me. The man went away, and Jesus loved him. We know that Jesus loved everyone but it doesn’t always say that. I have a feeling Jesus wanted to reach out with all his heart and grab that young man and save him. But Jesus would not lower the standard. He would not compromise. If you are not willing to die, don’t follow me. If you do not love me more than father, mother, sister, brother, husband, or wife, you are not worthy. He didn’t say you won’t make a good one; he said you won’t make one at all. Where did Jesus get the audacity to make such demands? I’ve had a problem with this at times.
I have to tell you about a friend of mine on the phone six months after his son had put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He said he could see many things God had done through this. Relatives had been saved that probably would never have been saved. Then he broke down and said that’s not enough. Am I going to criticize that father for feeling that way? We lie to ourselves if we say we never have those thoughts.
There is a reason why Jesus has the right to be Lord. Actually, there are two that Paul gives us. First of all, he has a right because of who he is. In verse 19 he says, for it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell. Why is it so that Jesus should have the preeminence? Because it pleased the Father that in him would all fullness dwell. You glance across the page to the second chapter, verse 9, it is spoken another way: for in him dwelleth (permanently, settled down) all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you are filled with it too in union with him. Jesus has a right to demand supremacy in my life because he is God, because of his Deity, because of who he is, for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
Words are almost impossible to explain, but what Paul is trying to say is that Jesus Christ is the sum of all sums. In other words, if you take all the wisdom there is in the world and pile it over here, all the grace there is and pile it over here, all the love there is and pile it over here, all the mercy there is and pile it over there, you have the sum of all mercy, the sum of all love, the sum of all grace, and the sum of all wisdom—and the sum of all those sums is summed up in Jesus Christ. There is nothing good or godly outside Jesus. Anything outside Jesus does not qualify for being good or godly. Everything that is good and godly is in Jesus Christ; therefore, I am complete in him.
I will never forget one night after the service a woman came up to me and thrust a book at me, and said, I want you to read this. I said what is it? She said it is The Book of Mormon. I pushed it back and told her I read it in school. She pushed it back and told me again to read it. There are some good things in it. I pushed it back and said there is some good bread in the garbage can, but I don’t eat out of the garbage can! She said that is the trouble with you Baptists. You are too narrow-minded. I said one day when Jesus said to the disciples, will you also go away. The disciples said, to whom shall we go? I get the feeling if they had an option, they might have gone to somebody else. But they said, where is there to go? You have the words of life. Listen, if everything is that good and godly—all the wisdom, all the knowledge is treasured up in Jesus, why do I need to step outside Jesus? He deserves the preeminence in my life, because of his Deity, because of who he is—the Creator. He has made us for himself.
Finally, he deserves the preeminence not only because of who he is but because of what he has done for us, not only because of his Deity but because of his death. This is his right to be preeminent. In verse 20 Paul says, (continuing the thought of the reason for his preeminence):
20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
. . . that in all things he might have the preeminence. Why?—because he is God in the flesh, and because he died for us. It is a rightful claim that Jesus makes on our lives. He is not asking for anything he has not bought and paid for. He is not asking me to give as a free gift my life to him. It is something he has already paid for, something that is due him, something that is owed him. I’m not doing God a favor when I trust him as Savior.
I cringe a little at these methods of evangelism when you approach somebody with talents or gifts and say, you would be such an asset to the Kingdom of God. You ought to come and give your life to Christ because there is so much you could do. There is something about that that always kind of strikes me wrong, like I’m doing God a big old favor.
Jeannette Clift George said in giving our testimony we talk about all the great times we had out there in the world, and our sin, and then say, I became a Christian. You get the idea that if I were not a preacher today, I probably could have been President of the United States. I had offers from Hollywood. I could have been a millionaire but I gave it all up to become a preacher. I tell you if God hadn’t called me to preach, I would probably have starved to death. I think sometimes the only reason he called me to preach is so he can get me to go to church once in awhile. I’m not doing God a favor when I give him my life. I am simply presenting to him that which he has already purchased with his blood.
My New Testament professor in seminary told a little incident in his life to illustrate this very point. He said, “When I was a little boy growing up in Tennessee, my dad gave me an Exacto set (a set of knives) and a big piece of balsa wood. I took those knives and carved out of that piece of balsa wood a little boat. I put a mast on it, fixed up a sail, and painted it red, white and blue. There was a little stream that ran through our town. I took my little boat that I had made and put it into the water. As the current carried it down, I ran alongside the bank watching it. I forgot to take into account that there was a point at which that little stream divided, and one went this way, and one went that way. When we got to that point, my little boat went this way. By the time I was able to get back and cross over, my boat was gone. I could not find it.” About two weeks later he was with his mother in one of these flea markets. He saw on a table a familiar sight. It was a little sailboat painted red, white and blue. It was his; he would know it anywhere. He went to man in charge and said, “That boat is mine. I lost it in the creek a couple weeks ago.” The man told him, “Anyone could come in and say that. All I know is that somebody brought the boat in here and sold it. If you want it, you’ll have to pay for it.” The boy argued with him and told him he made it. He went home, got what money he had, came back, gave that man the money, and he gave him his boat. He said he would never forget as he walked out of the store, he said to the boat, “Now you are mine twice. I made you, and then I bought you.”
That’s what Jesus Christ says to every one of us. You are mine twice. I made you, and I bought you.” From every point of view in my life, Jesus must have the preeminence, the supremacy.