11 Oct 2020


The maturing disciple confesses that Christ is preeminent

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Title: The Maturing Disciple confesses that Christ is preeminent
Scripture Text: Colossians 1:15-23

Why is Christ preeminent?

What is our status of being ‘In Christ’?

Concluding reflections

  • How would it challenge the way we think or act, when we are convicted that Christ is creator and sustainer of all creation and head of the church?
  • If ‘church’ is the assembly of believers, how can Col 1:15-20 transform our appreciation of the group of believers to which we belong today?
  • What are the major challenges for us to continue in our faith and how can the Gospel keep us steadfast?
Scripture: Colossians 1:15-23 (ESV)

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. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 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, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

A blessed Sunday to all. It’s great to have many Hermonites coming back to Sunday Services over the past 2 weeks. In each of the past 2 Sundays, we have had nearly 50 attending.

As we shared last week, we have begun to have in-person preaching on Sundays to bring back more normalcy. We pray that it will make the service even more meaningful to those who come to attend and to partake of Holy Communion together.

If you are joining us in service for the first time, as a church we are going through the book of Colossians. This year the plan is to preach through the Prison Letters. We have already covered Ephesians and Philippians.

If you would like to hear the sermons on these 2 letters, do log on to our website www.hermon.org.sg The sermon archives are there.

Our theme this year is ‘Keep Strengthening Our Roots’. And for us in Hermon, the roots we desire to strengthen is our discipling roots. We want to be better disciples of Christ Jesus.

That focus on discipleship is found in our Mission Statement.

Just to recap, Colossians is written to a church that was young in spiritual maturity. This church or the assembly of brothers and sisters in Christ, were made up of both Jews and Gentiles and they met in the home of a Gentile named Philemon.

One significant thing about this letter from Paul, was that, when it was read out by Tychicus, Tychicus companion was none other than Onesimus, the run-away slave of Philemon.

Into this mix, this young church was also facing issues of faith challenges. Challenges from tradition, other religions and the society at large. Challenges we still face today.

So Paul began this letter by stating his credibility to a church he has never met. He says I am Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (1:1).

And then Paul goes on, as we have seen in our first sermon to speak about the Gospel which is the truth about the grace of God.(1:5,6)

Paul further says, this truth, this Gospel, they have already learnt, from Epaphras, who is a faithful minister of Christ. (1:7)

Last week, Paul prayer for the Colossian believers was that they realized that they have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. (1:13)

And this son is the one in whom every believer has received redemption the forgiveness of sins. (1:14)

I pray, we see the picture, Paul is painting for his first listeners. The great focus on the Son of God – Jesus Christ. Or Jesus the Messiah.

Now in today’s passage, it seems timely in Paul’s mind that since he has been making Christ Jesus the focus, he now goes into an explanation of who this Messiah Jesus is.

Many bible commentators have shared that Colossians 1: 15 – 20 is up there with that of John’s Gospel’s first 18 verses and the first 4 verses of the Letter to the Hebrews.

These passages give us a clear and concise yet profound statements about Jesus Christ.

Since we are maturing disciples of Christ Jesus, may I encourage us all, to be familiar with these 3 passages.

From our passage this morning, may we be convinced, of the reasons for us confessing, that Christ is pre-eminent.  

Why is Christ preeminent?

Let’s go through v15 to v20 to find out the answer to the question why is Christ preeminent?

Col 1:15 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.

As we look at this passage, we remember that for the first listeners, Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified just 30 years earlier. A death that was humiliating and disgraceful in the eyes of the world.

Now Paul is referring to this same Jesus and giving very bold claims of who this Jesus is. And so, if these claims of Paul about Jesus are real, then this would be the most significant truth of their faith.

Thus Paul is very direct in his assertion of the various statements of Jesus. We see Paul beginning 4 sentences with the words ‘He is ….’ And then followed by a description and explanation of the significance.

Immediately, we will notice that Paul wants to quickly establish that Jesus is God. That the man they have heard about, that was crucified, and now believe in, is divine.

And so Paul says, Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God and in v19, that all of God’s fullness was pleased to dwell in him. Jesus did not just teach about God, Jesus is God.

Similarly, John’s Gospel tells us the Word was God and it has become flesh. Hebrews tells us Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.

So when we see Jesus, we see God. And in Jesus the fullness of God is present.  

Here is where we must be thankful that God has appeared to us in Christ Jesus. The invisible has condescended to become visible.

And so for all believers, Christmas, which will come soon, is to be celebrated with much gratitude to God.

Christmas is our yearly reminder of this glorious truth. Emmanuel, God with us.

We would also notice that Paul mentions 2 spheres in which Christ is pre-eminent. The first one is the relationship of Christ to Creation (v15) and the second is the relationship of Christ to the church (v18).

We will use these two as our sub-headings to go through the text.

  • Creation (v15-v17)

Some, such as the Jehovah’s Witness have taken v15 – ‘that Jesus is the first born of all creation’, to mean that Jesus is a created being. Their error is because they have taken this verse out of context.

Firstly firstborn speaks about priority here and not about time. It is about status and rank. So, it’s telling us that Christ is preeminent over all of creation.

Secondly, we will see that in the next 3 verses, creation was ‘by Christ’, was ‘through Christ’, ‘for Christ’ and finally Christ is ‘before all things’.

So Jesus did not just turn up in the first century, no Jesus existed before time, before creation. And creation came about because of Him and creation is for Christ.  

Thus in summary, Christ ranks above that of creation and creation is a result of Christ.

In case we think Jesus’ domain is not all encompassing, Paul does two things.

Firstly he uses the word ‘all’ frequently. ‘All things were created’ and ‘all things hold together.’ So ‘all things’ means everything. Nothing is not affected by the work of Christ.

Secondly, to further emphasize this point, Paul gives us the extremes of various categories – in heaven and on earth. What is visible and what is invisible. Regarding power and might, the full range of thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities, they are all subjected to Christ.  

One phase that I submit captures this sense of the passage well is ‘the supremacy of Christ’. Think of the cosmic creation. Not just earth, but the galaxies, everything was created by Christ and for Christ.

And v17 tells us Christ did not create and then walk away to let creation fend for herself. No, in Christ, everything holds together. Hebrews 1:3 will echo this as well – he upholds the universe by the word of his power.’

So Paul is teaching the Colossian believers and us today, since Christ is supreme over creation, Christ is thus sufficient.  

If Christ is supreme and sufficient, then as believers, hold on to Christ tightly. Do not let our focus move away from Christ.

  • Church (v18-v20)

From the cosmic scale, Paul brings it down to the level of the church.

Col 1”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.

This same Christ who is supreme over all creation, is now said to be the head of the body, the church. The church, which we understand refers to the assembly of believers.

This would include the assembly of believers who are listening to Tychicus read Paul’s letter.

The gap that is crossed I suppose, it’s like saying the President of the whole world, is now my church leader. 

So Paul is implying to the Colossians, the Divine Creator is also the head of the church that meets in the home of Philemon. That’s how precious Christ sees all of believers.

Again the word ‘head’ and ‘firstborn’ here will signify authority and priority. And Christ being the ‘firstborn from the dead’ speaks of his resurrection.

Christ is not just from before the beginning of time, but Christ is the new beginning as well. In the resurrection of Christ, we all have found new life.

In case, we still don’t get it, Paul in no uncertain terms says in v18 ‘that in everything he might be preeminent.’

Christ is supreme in Creation and he is supreme in the Church.

And how is the church formed? How are believers called out to be an assembly?

V20 says Christ reconciles to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.

2 points for our consideration:

Firstly, the fact that everything needs to be reconciled, both on earth and in heaven, means that something has gone terribly wrong.

And if we are familiar with Genesis 3, we will know that it is sin that has caused this need for reconciliation. Because of sin, because of mankind’s disobedience, our relationship with God has been broken.

This means that we need to acknowledge that all is not right and well in the world. There is this break between the creator and the creation.

This therefore, gives us the explanation of why in this world, there are diseases, disasters, demons and death. These are all the effects of sin.  

So the very clear answer to the word’s issues is sin.

Secondly, there only one remedy for reconciliation. Because the problem is sin, the solution is the cross. There the sinless savior died, so that peace with God can be re-established.  

Scripture gives no other solution. To reconcile everything both in heaven and on earth, God says the only solution is the cross.

So picture this, Christ who is the head of the church, is also the only solution to bring reconciliation for believers.  

As Paul establishes the argument for the supremacy of Christ, in relation to the church, Paul also says that this same Christ is the Savior of the church.

The supremacy of Christ is further supported, by that fact that all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ Jesus. Therefore, in Christ, we receive everything that God intends for mankind to know and experience.  

Now because of this supremacy, Christ thus is then, the perfect solution for the issue of reconciliation. Only because Christ who is fully God and fully man, can He then be the perfect sinless sacrifice.

Only Christ can make full and perfect atonement for sin. Sin that has created this need for reconciliation since Genesis 3.

Again here, the supremacy of Christ gives us also the implication that Christ is thus fully sufficient. In Christ and only in Christ is reconciliation with God possible.

So it must be that Paul is asking the Colossians believers, if Christ is preeminent in Creation and in the Church, is he not sufficient? To which the obvious answer is – Christ is sufficient!

Is the truth of the gospel found in these verses convincing for us today? Is Christ preeminent for us in Creation and in the Church? I pray that God’s word will convict us so.

For when we believe in the gospel, this truth of Christ preeminence should follow. And when this truth follows, then Christ is and will always be fully sufficient.

 

What is our status of being ‘In Christ’?

In this next section, let’s explore what it means for us to confess that Christ is pre-eminent.

We firstly covered the pre-eminence of Christ in Creation. That’s cosmic in size. Next we saw the pre-eminence of Christ in the church.

  • Cross (v20)

In v20, we saw too the pre-eminence of the Cross. So Paul’s movement is Creation à Church à Cross.

We have noted that the Cross is the only solution given for reconciliation. A reconciliation that is needed because of sin.

I would like here for us to notice that from the Cosmic scale, Paul has brought it down to the assembly of believers and now he transits in v20 to v21 to making it personal.

And in doing so, Paul affirms that Jesus of Nazareth was a real human being who walked the earth and was crucified by the Roman soldiers at Calvary. There is no disputing that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross at Golgotha.

With the 2 words at the beginning of v21 ‘and you’, Scripture narrows down the focus of Christ the creator of the universe and the head of the church to the individual, each and every believer.

Now many of us know that our big bosses at work, even the Principals in our schools, they can’t possibly know each individual staff or student.  

But here in these verses, we see Christ is able to handle both the cosmic and the personal. This is our Lord and Savior whom we have put our faith in. One who cares for every sparrow, who knows too the hairs on our heads.

In Christ, each one of us is precious and from Ephesians we learnt that God has elected us before the foundation of the world.

Church, may this be a comforting truth for each one of us. May this strengthen our trust in Jesus Christ as we walk both on the mountain tops and through the dark valleys.  

  • Christian (v21-23)

May I now add the final ‘C’ : Creation à Church à Cross à Christian.

Col 1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 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, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

The pre-eminence of Christ in Creation, the Church and the Cross has a profound impact on each of our lives.

The truth of the Gospel is not an intellectual exercise but it is deeply personal and transformational.

Scripture says, the impact of Christ in the life of the believer has 3 stages.

Firstly the status of the believer’s past. What we once were (v21). Before Christ we were:

  • Alienated – sin broke mankind’s relationship with God. We were strangers, we had no relationship with God.
  • Hostile in mind – this means we were not passive but instead were actively rebellious against God’s will.
  • Doing evil deeds – not only are we rebelling mentally, there is active mutiny by doing what is totally opposite to works of righteousness.

To affirm this, we just have to observe the behaviour of children. There is no need to teach them how to snatch, to lie, to cause hurt of another or to be disobedient.

It is in our sinful nature and that comes naturally. But Scripture says, in Christ, this is your past status.  

Secondly, the status of the believer’s present.

Because Christ is supreme and sufficient, now, believers are in the state of reconciliation.

And make no mistake, Paul reminds, it only happened because Christ Jesus died for you at the Cross.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pivotal moment in salvation’s history. Without the cross there is no reconciliation.

In bible-speak, we see this process of justification. We have been declared righteous before God through the blood of Christ.

Thirdly, the status of the believer’s future.

Paul instructs in v22 – in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

We will stand before Christ, when He comes again. At Christ 2nd coming, He will come as judge and we will all have to stand before the King of Kings.

There before the judgement seat we will be presented holy, blameless and above reproach.

That church is our glorification.

But Judgement Day is in the unknown future. What we know now is that, the redemption from our past and the glorification of our future are God’s gracious gift to us. 

The question is what is expected of us while we are still on earth? What is our response in our present state?

V23 gives us the answer – continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and of which I Paul became a minister.

Till the Lord takes us home, we are to continue in the faith.

To continue in the faith, means we are to be stable. Meaning we are to build a solid foundation. This is where in Hermon we speak about growing deep roots into God’s Word.

To continue in the faith, means we are to be steadfast. In the midst of challenges, we are to resist and stay the course. In the face of threats, we are to press on instead of taking the path of less resistance.

To continue in the faith is to not shift from the gospel. It’s not to be distracted by new ideas or fads. To think that there is another more attractive gospel or that the gospel received is not sufficient.

Having laid out his arguments for the pre-eminence of Christ and the status it confers on Christians, Paul ends by reminding the Colossian believers, this is nothing new.

Why? Firstly this is the gospel which you have received from Epaphras. Have confidence in it, it is sufficient.

Secondly, this same gospel is being proclaimed in all creation under heaven. It’s a consistent message, it has a consistent content. And again it’s sufficient.

Finally, this is the same gospel which I am a minister of. Emphasizing again that Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will God. With such credibility, it behoves that we listen with obedience and not shift from it.  

What wonderful news the gospel of Jesus Christ brings.

The Gospel is sufficient to bring us out of our past and into a redeemed relationship with Christ.

The Gospel is sufficient to present us acceptable to Christ when He comes again.

In the light of this glorious gospel, let it be our responsibility to continue in the faith, fully dependent on the sovereign grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Conclusion

Let me conclude here.

The maturing disciple is to understand what it means to be in Christ. It means the maturing disciple is to confess that Christ is the pre-eminent one.

And this truth of Christ being pre-eminent, we now understand has direct implications on our status before God for our past, present and future.  

Through these verses, we have also seen that Paul paints for us this wonderful picture of Christ who rules the universe and yet is also our personal Saviour. 

We see too that Paul moves through 4Cs – Creation à Church à Cross à Christian.

Since Christ is shown to be supreme and sufficient for Creation, the Church and the Cross, this means that He is also supreme and sufficient for the Christian.

Church, this is a truth we must learn to work out in our daily lives.

Because of who Christ is and what He has done on the Cross, we realize that we are no longer what we once were. We are now gloriously reconciled with Christ.  

Thus our proper response is to continue in the faith.  

I submit, based on this flow of Creation to Christian, when we get the first 3 parts right, the rest will follow.

Scripture has given us today, the principles of what it means to continue in the faith. And I pray that as we journey through the subsequent chapters of Colossians, we will take heed to the many practical applications highlighted.  

Let’s pray – Almighty God and our loving Heavenly Father, you have shown us the majesty of your son Jesus Christ. Thank you for revealing Him to us. We thank you too that in meekness, Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

If there be anyone who has listened to your word this morning and have yet to put their faith in Jesus Christ, we ask that your grace will touch their lives. That they too will experience what it means to be reconciled.

For all of us who have already placed our trust in Jesus, give us the strength to continue in the faith. Empower us to be stable and steadfast and not to shift from the hope of the gospel which we have received.

In the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

 

 

Concluding reflections

How would it challenge the way we think or act, when we really understand that Christ is creator and sustainer of all creation?

If ‘church’ is the assembly of believers, how can Col 1:15-20 transform our appreciation of the group of believers to which we belong today?

What are the major challenges for us to continue in our faith and how can the Gospel keep us steadfast?   

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