If you are one to doubt God’s intimate involvement in everyday occurrences, I would have to most vehemently disagree. I firmly believe that God orchestrates and maneuvers situations so that we are drawn to worship Him. This week has been a continuation of a lesson God has been specifically teaching me over the past few years, but especially the past couple of months. Let me explain.
I am a military brat, and grew up thousands of miles away from extended family. I graduated high school, and went away to college on the other side of the country from that same extended family. I got married, and stayed here. His family are all far enough away to not be “close”. Understandably, the one thing I have longed for greatly in my life is connection. Connection with family – blood or otherwise. Connection with something or someone that made me feel a part of something, something to define my identity. For a long time, I defined myself as an American, a Military Brat, a member of the marching band, a member of a youth group, a student at a college, a wife to my husband, mother to my children. All valid and valuable identities. And yet, none of them has been enough. I have always sought something more solid, more complete. I would often find myself in periods of discontentment. I would move from house to house, job to job, hobby to hobby, all trying to find what fit, because nothing ever did for very long.
Now for my moment of transparency – most recently, my struggle has been with feelings of isolation and loneliness. There are all manner of reasons for it, none of which really need to be explained in order to understand what God has been teaching me. I think, though, I understand a little bit of what the Colossians may have been hearing, and been tempted to listen to. It started to make more sense to me when Whitney took us through the history of Colossae. A city on the downturn – no longer the bustling center of commerce it once was. Its identity in question. And all of it out of their control. And along comes someone teaching them that they can have “more” if they just do this, or that, in addition to believing. Just like I can be tempted to believe that my sense of self will be better defined if I have more close connections, or if I could better understand where I fit.
What God is teaching me, though, is that my identity, my connection, have NOTHING to do with me, and EVERYTHING to do with who Jesus is! So when we decided to study Colossians, and then when the schedule fell in such a way that I would be teaching this week, I cannot doubt God’s provenance. Because I have learned much this week. This passage is probably the single-most comprehensive description of Christ we have. We are going to spend our morning looking at the seven things we learn about Christ from these verses. And then we are going to look at why it matters.
Let’s start with our seven things about Christ, all taken directly from the text. I’ll list them out, and then we will go back and visit each one a little more in depth.
- The Image of the Invisible God
- The Firstborn of All Creation
- The One By Whom All Things Were Created.
- The Head of the Body, the Church.
- The Beginning, the Firstborn From the Dead.
- The One in Whom the Fullness of God Dwells.
- The Reconciler.
Paul’s language is so rich, and evocative (just a fancy way of saying he chooses words meant to evoke, or cause a reaction or feeling in the reader). We see “all” 8 times, “everything”, “fullness”, “alienated”, “hostile”, “holy”, “blameless”, “above reproach”. This entire paragraph is not only educational for a young church who has not benefitted from in-person teaching by Paul, but is in a way a continuation of the prayer he began in the previous passage. He is overflowing with praise and admiration. I hope it was as contagious for you as it was for me. Let’s meet this Christ:
The Image of the Invisible God
Hebrews 1:3 says: “He is the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The word for image here is eikon, or icon. It means the very substance or essential embodiment of something or someone. That’s the very reason they are so prominent in Eastern European and Russian churches – they worship Icons because they believe they have the very substance of the ones they image.
When I was in high school overseas, my sister hosted an exchange student from St. Petersburg. She and my sister were pen pals for a while leading up to the visit, so Petra came with gifts for all of us. My sister must have told her I was “religious” because she brought me a small icon. I didn’t understand at the time, being a new believer, why that was so significant. It was only later that I understood that some people worship them as full embodiments of the ones whose images they bear.
In that sense, Jesus is our icon – the only one we need. He is/contains the very substance or essential embodiment of God.
The Firstborn of All Creation
If you were here for much of Michael’s series on the letters to the churches in Revelation, you would often hear him say that John was speaking in Old Testament. Well, Paul is doing the same here. Firstborn is not meant to indicate he was physically first born, or that Christ was the first created, as we will explain further in our next point, but that he is firstborn in priority, dignity, and superiority much like the firstborn son of a family would have been then. He is first in time and in rank over all creation.
The One By Whom All Things Were Created
“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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
We see the idea of Christ being the agent of creation, the one doing the creating, elsewhere, as well. John 1:3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Or Hebrews 1:2 “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Remember, the Colossians are hearing from others that they should be worshipping angels, observing feasts, etc. The words “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” – Paul is actually using the contemporary Jewish terms for various rankings of angels. He is pointing out that Christ is the one who created the angels. And not only did he create the angels, but he is the one who is holding all of creation together – keeping it all from spinning out of control (no matter how much it may feel like it is, this verse reminds us that the world around us is very much still in his control. Be reassured of that.)
The Head of the Body, the Church
One commentator I read notes the implied emphasis on the word “he” in this phrase:
“And he is the head of the body, the church.” Not the angels, not the feasts, not false teachers. Christ. The metaphor of head and body, which Paul uses in other letters as well, conveys not only Christ’s leadership of the church, but also his role in providing sustenance for it.
The Beginning, the Firstborn From the Dead
Now, if you are like me, you may have wondered a bit about this one – the firstborn from the dead. Because we clearly see that Lazarus was resurrected from the dead before Christ was, and this “firstborn” does actually mean physically born first. How does that work? Well, the difference is, Christ was the first one to be raised from the dead in an immortal body, not to experience death again. Lazarus was raised, but still suffered death again.
And, Jesus’ resurrection was more than just him rising from the dead in a glorified body, it was actual confirmation that his death was enough for all who would believe. Romans 1:4 says he was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead,”.
The One in Whom the Fullness of God Dwells
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,”
There’s that “all” again, paired with fullness. See the emotion? The awe? Fullness alone indicates “completeness.” Doesn’t that mean it’s lacking nothing? So how can there be a partial fullness that Paul needs to modify with “all”? There can’t! The word translated as fullness is used in Ephesians 3:19 of God’s being. In Galatians 4:4 it is used to describe time. In John 1:16 it describes grace in Christ. We are meant to understand his complete deity here. Not that Jesus was a human being gifted with supernatural powers by God, but that he himself is fully and completely GOD, while at the same time fully and completely human. If he wasn’t fully human, he could not be what we find in our last point.
Do you remember Whitney describing the timeline of Scripture? That everything in the Bible either points forward to the Cross, or back to the Cross? Christ’s work on the cross is the fulcrum on which all of history and time balances. At that moment, EVERYTHING CHANGED! If he had not been fully human, he would not have been able to live perfectly the human life that we cannot, and he would not have been able to die the death that we should. He would not have been able to fully substitute for us on the cross. But praise Him! He was, and he did. And because of that, if we believe and repent, we have been reconciled to God. He has made peace between us and God by the blood of his cross.
Remember in our study of Titus, we said in one of the lessons that the order of the words is important. Notice here, we are reconciled TO God, not God is reconciled to us. God is not the transgressor here, we are. Look at verse 21.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,”
Alienated. Hostile in mind. Doing evil deeds. Wow. This is a stark contrast between us and Christ. And rightly so. But because of Christ’s work, Paul describes the Christians in Colossae, and by extension you if you are a Christian, as “you who once were alienated,” as in no longer. Because “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,”.
Alienated changed to holy. Hostile in mind changed to blameless.
evil deeds changed to above reproach.
Christ does not bring God down to our level to meet us, he brings us up to His level, for his glory.
So what does that look like for us today? Well first, if you are here and you do not understand yourself to be a believer, a follower of Christ, let me ask you a question. Why not? After all that we have learned about who Christ is, do you not see his inherent worthiness of your faith? One of the commentaries I read said it this way,
“Here is the awe-inspiring mystery of the God-man, Jesus Christ – he who threw out the stars with his hands also had nails driven through those hands to reconcile us who were once alienated, hostile, and evil.”
The very same hands that shaped Adam and Eve from dust and bones, held him to the cross, and have made it possible for you to be returned to fellowship with the God of the universe! If this seems new to you, or if you want to explore it further, please talk to us. We so desire to share this good news more with you.
To those of you who are my sisters in Christ, all of this is meant to be a source of awe, encouragement, and strength. It is a truth on which you, and I, need to camp EVERY day. Last week, Ashley said, “Here is all you need right here; we don’t improve upon it, we don’t move on from it. We hold fast to it.” Paul, when he says “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard,” he is saying it in the indicative form, assuming that they will continue, not doubting it.
Later he is going to challenge them on the issue of the angels and the feasts. After spending all this time and detail on who Christ is, it is almost as if he is asking, “Why would you desire anything less than Christ?” So, in my temptation to discontentment and comparison, I have been reminded this week – why would or should I desire ANYTHING else but Christ?! Nothing is more worthy of my desire, my hope, or my pursuit than Christ.
There is a song that has resonated in my head and my heart the past couple of weeks while I have been ruminating on this passage. The words are below. Let this be our closing prayer. Spend some time considering what it would look like for you to desire Christ more than whatever else may be edging its way into your heart, and pray for each other that you would be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worth of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
All I Have Is Christ
By Jordan Kauflin
I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse you still
But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life
Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose
And let my song forever be
My only boast is You
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life