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So, I’m not sure that anyone, including the author, would have envisioned that this book would have become the cultural classic that it is today. For one, it’s a biography and nobody reads biographies except me, and two, it’s like, let’s see, 810 pages including footnotes. Written in 2004, the biography of Alexander Hamilton stepped into the life of this great American leader. The author has written other books, Grant and Washington, specifically, books that are about this link. This book was taken by Lin Manuel Miranda on a vacation in 2015 while taking a break from another Broadway production that he was doing at the time, and he sat on the beach, read this biography and envisioned what he might do to bring life and pop to this great hero.
In 2015, “Hamilton” went off-Broadway, putting on display the life of Alexander Hamilton and hitting a culture at a time when this R&B rhythm combined with the theme of an immigrant who had changed American history just found quite fertile soil, and fertile soil indeed. $30 million before its Broadway opening. In 2016, set an eight-show record in New York City grossing $3.3 million in eight shows. Produced for $12.5 million, at the end of 2019, “Hamilton” had grossed a half a billion dollars causing “Wall Street Journal” to label, in 2019, an $849 ticket a bargain. Miranda was able to capture for us the life of someone whose scope, whose significance, whose size, who’s grandeur really defied the stage, and he did it in a way that captured the imagination.
This morning’s text is the apostle Paul doing for us a Hamilton-like work on the life of Jesus, taking the life of the all-time great and putting it on display for us in a way that synthesizes a life that even the gospel writer John is going to say, “Hey, if we had all the books, we could not contain all that Jesus said, all that he taught, all that he did.” And he’s not merely for us capturing the life of Jesus, but he’s capturing the eternality of Jesus. So, he’s capturing this totality of who Jesus is and he’s capturing it for us in a way that’s memorable, that sticky, that’s gripping for us.
Beginning in verse 15, Paul writes in the midst of the Colossian church that, as Hugh showed us last week, was ripe with heresy. False teaching was pervading the church, as well, the broader culture was unraveling. This is written about the time that a major trade route bypassed Colossae and went to nearby Laodicea. And in a similar fashion as Route 66 in the American culture, you have these kinds of littered diners, you know, that are just kind of the route has gone a different direction. So, you’ve got a church that’s unraveling, you’ve got a culture that’s unraveling, leading one commentator to say this is the least important city and church that Paul ever wrote to.
And in the face of this, Paul doesn’t give them 10 ways to battle discouragement, but he takes a chance to do what we need as well is just to remind them of who Jesus is. Let’s reread these reflections beginning in verse 15. “He, being Jesus, is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by him in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things and by him all things hold together. He’s the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that he might come to have first place in everything. For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Then he continues writing specifically to the church, “Once you were alienated and you were hostile in your minds expressing your evil actions, but now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death to present you holy faultless and blameless before him. If indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, this gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven and I, Paul, have become a servant of it.” Now, you don’t have to be a master of the English language to pick up on a couple of paragraphs like that, but the point, who is the main actor, who’s the principal character, who’s the subject to which Paul is speaking? We have the pronouns he/him used over and over and over again.
Paul is holding up for us Jesus. And he’s doing it in a way that’s wonderfully rich. In fact, in a way that you could preach an entire sermon on each of these phrases. What I want to do quickly this morning is summarize the 10 observations Paul makes about who Jesus is with brief commentary on each. And then I want to press the so what for us as the people of God. So, who does Paul say Jesus is? You can note these in the TCC app. You could do it in your own journal. You could write it in the margin beside if you have space in your Bible, but just to summarize our top 10 list of who Jesus is.
First, he’s the image of the invisible God. This one’s really sticky for our culture. This makes sense for us. Modern technology allows us to take an object or an experience and make it real. If you’re on social media, you see 3D images now that capture for you an experience. It’s almost like you were there, right? And this is what Paul says about Jesus, says he takes an invisible God and makes him real. Even the great saints of old could not see the glory of God. Moses had to hide, all attempts to articulate who God is fall short. And so what has God done? He has made himself known, putting his glory on display in a way that’s seeable and knowable. So, you want to know who God is? Look at Jesus. He’s the image of the invisible God. Now, clearly this language is used elsewhere to speak of humans. We’re made in the image of God. This is not what Paul says here. What does he say? He says, “Jesus is the image of God,” not in the image of God, but he is the image of God. Perfectly free from sin, he images God exactly. So, John 1:14, “The word became flesh. He dwelled among us. We’ve seen his glory, glory is the only son from the father full of grace and truth.” So, you want to know who God is? Look at Jesus.
Secondly, “He’s the firstborn of all creation.” Now, that phrase is a little bit sticky for us. This is not indicating that Jesus was a created being. In fact, if we look at the third phrase, he’s going to use, it says, “All things were created by him.” This would be nonsensical if Jesus was a created being. He created all things. He is the one who made all things. Here, we’re referring to rank. He’s the first. He’s the firstborn as the firstborn child in that culture. He’s the first. He’s the most important in all of creation.
Third phrase, “All things were created by him,” and then notice how Paul double clicks on that theme. He says all in a universal sense, “Everything in heaven and on earth, everything you can see and things you can’t, even thrones or dominions,” things that seem really, really important. Everything that is both what you can see and what you can’t was created by him. So here, what does Paul do? He attributes all the activity of Genesis 1 to Christ. He says, Jesus did all of this. He’s the one. This is the way John’s going to frame this. “In the beginning, was the Word. The Word was with God. The Word was God. He was with God. In the beginning, all things were created through him and apart from him, not one thing was created that has been created.” So, everything that we see in Genesis 1, Jesus did that.
Fourth, “All things were created for him.” The idea functions like a boomerang. Everything that he creates spins back to him. Everything that he does is meant to give glory back to him. Since he made all things, all things are meant to show off how great he is. This is the language Paul’s going to use in Romans 1, “His invisible attributes, the character of God are on display just by virtue of creation in general.” Every first glance, wow, at the Grand Canyon is meant to point glory back to Jesus. Paul again in Romans 11 says it this way, “From him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” All things are created for him. Fifth, he is before all things. Jesus was not created. Jesus existed before anything was created. He was here when there was nothing and he is the foundation on which all things are built.
Six, “In him, all things hold together.” Jesus is the sustainer. He is the one who keeps all things from spinning off into chaos, not merely gravity or any other scientifically explained phenomenon, but the sustainer of the universe is a person, Jesus. The author of Hebrews drawing on these themes writes this way, “Long ago, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, different times in different ways. But in these last days, he’s spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory. The exact expression,” or some of your versions are going to say imprint there, “of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” So, right now, as we’re sitting in this room, what is happening is Jesus is the active force that is sustaining the universe.
Seventh shift, “He is the head of the church.” Look back over this list. From one to six, we get some sense of this cosmic scope of who Jesus is, but here in idea number seven, we get a really personal Jesus, one who does not stand off from his creation, but one who wants a relationship with his people. As a human body can’t function without a head, so the church can’t function without a head. Jesus is here, attributed leadership, authority, he is the senior pastor of the church, the one who rules over, inaugurates his church by saving people and grafting them into his body. Again, Petere in 1 Peter makes this point, “Shepherd God’s flock…” He’s writing to pastors here, “Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you. Not out of greed for money, but eagerly, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples of the flock.” And then here’s this phrase, “When the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” So, who’s in control of the church? It’s not people, it’s Jesus. He is the head of his church.
Idea number eight, he’s the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. He’s the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. Writing in Revelation, John says it this way in Revelation 1:4, “Grace to you and peace from him who is, was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of kings on earth.” Jesus is the one who founded his church through his victorious resurrection and he is the firstborn of many in Christ who will be raised to new life. He inaugurates a new people, a new kingdom through his resurrection and invites all those who have faith in Christ to say, “You too will experience the resurrected life that Christ offers.”
Idea number nine, “He is the dwelling of the fullness of God.” Reflect on that phrase for a moment. Fullness. Totality. He doesn’t contain a part of God. He is fully God. The fullness of God dwells in Christ. All of these divine attributes get embodied in Jesus who is 100% God and 100% man. Writing a little bit later in chapter two, Paul is going to say, “The fullness of deity dwells bodily in Christ. The fullness of deity dwells bodily in Christ.”
And then lastly, number 10, “He is the one who made peace and brought reconciliation. He is the one…” and this is the phrase that Paul’s going to use to shift to the practical exhortation to the church in these latter verses. He says, “You were once cut off, you are alienated, you are hostile doing evil deeds, and Jesus is the one who acted to bring peace. He is the one who brought right to relationship. He initiated it and he fully satisfied the wrath of God. So, the means by which you can have relationship with God, be forgiven of your sins is through Jesus.”
Now, let’s look at our list. Who is Jesus? He is the image of the invisible God. He’s the firstborn of all creation. All things were created by him. All things were created for him. He is before all things. In him, all things hold together. He’s the head of the Church. He’s the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. He’s the dwelling of the fullness of God. And he is the one who made peace and brought reconciliation. If you’re holding a physical copy of the Bible in your lap, if you look down at your translation of the scriptures, odds are these verses, 15 through 19, somewhere in there, are going to be offset for you. They’re going to be centered, they’re going to be justified different than the flow of the normal writing. That’s because your editors, your publishers of the Bible are helping capture something for you that’s equivalent to another passage would be Philippians 2:4-9 where we see this offset where something that is written becomes sticky among the people of God in such a way that it becomes somewhat of a hymn or a mantra or a prayer that is recited among the people to remind them of what is important.
Some believe that this was a pre-existing hymn that maybe Paul stepped into and pulled some phrases out in his writing to say, “Remember, you got to say this all the time, don’t forget it.” Or others suggest that Paul’s written this and it becomes somewhat sticky for the people. And it becomes sticky for the people particularly because they’re stepping into and about to step into even more the face of persecution. So, these phrases, these memorable phrases, these Hamilton-like themes that stick in their mind become the kind of things that you can say to remind yourself of truth even when you might not have these letters before you. So, let’s step into that tradition a bit this morning. I want you to, if you’ve got your TCC app, you can use it if you just took notes or if you can see the screen up here. Let’s recite these 10 together as an affirmation of who Paul says Christ is and who God has declared him to be.
So, I want you to repeat these 10 with me as we read. Who is Jesus? He is the image of the invisible God. He is the firstborn of all creation. All things were created by him. All things were created for him. He is before all things. In him, all things hold together. He is the head of the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. He is the dwelling of the fullness of God and he is the one who made peace and brought reconciliation. Now, the question is, why does this matter? Why does this list of who Jesus is matter for the church, and for you and I? Well, Paul answers the question for us in this phrase in verse 18, “So that he might come to have first place in everything.”
So, the summary conclusion of a list of who Jesus is that could be simplified to say Jesus is God. Everything, he is God. He says, “So that he might be first in everything.” Now, I want you to notice something about this statement. This is, at first glance, it is not a challenge at first, but rather it is a statement of fact. Notice it is important for us. He’s saying if these 10 things are true of Jesus, then he is preeminent, period. Not, first, if these things are true of Jesus, then he should be preeminent to you. That’s a different discussion. But what he’s doing at first glance is saying if these 10 are true, then he is first. Like nothing else, nothing else can rival that top 10 list. There is nothing else in all of creation. So, if those things are true, you don’t get a choice, like he is first. There’s no discussion about it. Last night, we’re watching our TV news or watching TV and every five seconds it seemed like there was a break-in weather bulletin, right, declaring the strong winds and potential tornadoes. The weathercaster says, “There’s a tornado on the ground.” Like, what is being said there is a statement of fact. There is a storm. Now, how you respond to that statement of fact doesn’t make it any less true, but because it is true, you should respond. Okay?
So, what you do with the preeminence of Jesus doesn’t make it any more true or less true. It just is. But because it is, there is action that is called out from us. In fact, there are options facing everyone in the room. In my mind at least, there are 3 ways that you can respond to this top 10 list there. There are three ways that you can respond to these true affirmations. Let’s break everybody in the room into three groups, so we’re going to say left side, my left, your right, left section, center section, and my right, your left, everybody in the room is going to fall into one of these 3 responses to the top 10 list, and it’s unavoidable. The left side of the room, those in this camp say, “This is definitely not true.” That top 10 list, those statements about Jesus, I’ve considered them, I’ve been exposed to those claims and I am convinced that that is definitely not true.
Now, those of you that are in that camp, this left side of the room, you could rationalize that for all sorts of…you could say it’s a hoax. It’s a myth. It’s a crutch for weak-minded people, need something to believe in, so they invented Jesus and his deity to give them something to give hope in the face of persecution. You could do what Richard Dawkins does here in this quote, “We don’t positively know that there are no gods, just as we can’t prove there are no fairies, or pixies, or elves, or hobgoblins, or leprechauns, or pink unicorns. But failure to disprove something is not a good reason to believe it.” So, he says, “This is all just fairytale, equivalent to pink unicorns. You invented something and we’re convinced, I’m convinced that this is not true.” So, what’s the challenge for you? What would I say to you?
I am so glad that you are here this morning. If this is you, I think it’s a wild set of circumstances that would have someone that says, “This is not true at all.” Be in the room at a church that believes all of those things are absolutely true. We are thrilled that you are here. You need to know that there are people in the room this morning who are praying that God’s spirit would convince you otherwise. There are people who’ve been praying for you. There are people who’ve been seeking opportunity to share about who Jesus is. There are people who through tears have interceded on your behalf that God would convince you of the reality of who Jesus is. If you’re here and you’re in this left group, I want you to feel at home. I pray that God would use his word and the genuine worship of the people around you to convince you to give Jesus a hearing one more time. But you’re not the only group in the room.
The middle section in the room says, “This might be true. This might be true, I just don’t know.” What’s the challenge to you if you find yourself in that group? First, I would suggest, be intellectually honest and investigate the claims of Jesus. There are solid people throughout history who have staked their lives, in fact, their very deaths on that top 10 list. Before you write this off or just throw it up as an act of, I don’t know, would you read the gospels for yourself? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Would you read through the stories of Jesus? Would you ask one of us after the service, “Hey, is there another book that I can read that can help me understand who Jesus is?” Would you do the thing of intellectual integrity and say, “Let me investigate this?” Maybe, if you’re in this group, you buy the culturally sloppy argument that this might be true for some people, but it doesn’t have to be for everyone.
Paul in 1 Colossians, the paragraph we just read, does not leave that door open. It sounds nice and appealing, but it’s not an option. Jesus, as he’s presented here in 1 Colossians, cannot be one God among many rivals. Either he is what Paul just claimed he was or he is not God. Those are the only two options that you have. If these things are true, if he is the one who did those things, then he is God and his existence as God rules out rivals. If he’s not God, then ultimately for you, no big deal. But if he is God, really big deal. So, don’t buy the lie that some people can believe it and some people can’t, rather embrace intellectual pursuit and consider Jesus that you might come to know him as the one true and living God.
And then there’s a third group, the group in the room on my right side who says, “This is true.” If you find yourself in that camp, you read the top 10 list that I just gave, you end it and you say, “Amen,” I believe that to be true about who Jesus is. Then what’s the so what for you? So that he might come to have first place in everything. So that he might be preeminent because he is preeminent. This is one of the places where the CSB, the rendering here, that he might come to have first place in everything, I think flattens and makes more colloquial, an idea that perhaps the language of preeminence really jars us, compels us with this language. Jesus as preeminent. I think it surely means first but maybe one step further that’s helpful for me in the idea of preeminence. I think it’s first in a way that displaces rivals. I think the language here is of first in such a way that any competition for that standing really gets rendered obsolete, just doesn’t matter because of his greatness.
Some of you know that I enjoy going to the gym every once in a while and exercising. I like taking some classes with some other groups, some other groups of athletes. Compared to the bros at my gym, I’m not preeminent. I want to finish and not die. No one’s coming to the gym to watch me work out. The preeminence of legitimate athletes displaces paltry substitutes for athletes like me. I don’t even fit this grit because there’s something so altogether other that it displaces anything that would compete with it. Said another way, if that is true of Jesus, he can’t be passively first. He can’t be one among a group. He can’t be on the buffet line of choices that you make for your day. If you’re striving to live an integrated life, then your stated beliefs should shape your actions. If he is first, then I really ought to live like he is first.
I go to my annual physical the first of the year and I found out I need to lose 30 pounds because my blood plus pressure and cholesterol are dangerously high. I know that my health matters, but then, 1/7, I’m not doing anything. Well, what would we say? You’re a fool. You know something to be true, but it’s not integrating into your life. You’re missing it. Your beliefs aren’t shaping your practices. So, friends, I ask you to consider if you affirm Jesus’s preeminence in all things, does your life look like that? Like, could an eavesdropper on the shop window of your life say, “Well, it’s a really clear, Jesus is preeminent to that person?” It’s what it should be for those of us who affirm this is who Jesus is.
Now, the last question for us just quickly is what does this produce? If I say, yeah, this is true, and yes, I’m going to strive by the power of God to bring about the changes in my life that would demonstrate that he is preeminent, what’s going to happen? Well, I think if Paul had some video imagery, the last paragraph of this introduction to 1 Colossians would look a little bit like this. If you missed it and you need to see it again, it would look a little bit like this. What is the hope-filled reflection of what preeminence produces? He’s reconciled you by his physical body through his death to present you. You’re not these things. You’re the kid with the head in the snow. So, what does preeminence present? He’s going to present you holy faultless and blameless before him if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in faith and you’re not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. He’s the dad grabbing you by your jacket.
He’s presenting you before the kingdom. We don’t have a culture of this. So, maybe the best place to go would be our study of Joseph here recently. You remember Joseph’s thrown in prison? He’s down there. He’s got a little bit of a reputation as a dream interpreter. And so, the ruler has some dreams and what happens? Joseph gets presented before the ruler. He said, “Hey, I’ve heard you can interpret some dreams. Do it. I’ve got some dreams. Prove it.” And this is what Paul says Christ does for his people. Those who know him as preeminent and demonstrate his preeminent by first-place life of Christ, he presents you before God the Father, holy blameless and above reproach.
Things that we can’t get to on our own, we get credit for because of the one who is presenting us. He says, “What is mine is theirs. I am Holy. I am blameless. I am above for approach. Look at my boy, look at my daughter. They get that.” Ephesians 1, “Those who are in faith, he chose us before the foundation of the world so that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Is that work that we’re doing on our own? No. It’s work that Christ is doing for us. “So that he might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing so that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Friends, if Jesus is God, then whether you are in the left section, the center section, or the right section, this is definitely not true, this might be true, this is true, you will give an account before God one day. “He is first, and you will answer for what you have done to and in response to his preeminence. On that day, the thing you are going to want more than anything else is to be able to stand before a holy God, holy, blameless, and above reproach.” You, regardless of which category you’re in, have zero hope of getting there on your own. So, what is your hope? It is in a one who has made himself to take your place so that you might be forgiven and declared holy.
Friends, if you are in one of those first two categories this morning, might I implore you, those I know, those that I don’t know, consider the claims of Christ, repent of your sin and trust in him before it’s too late. There are people who love you and are praying for you that today would be the day that you said yes to Jesus. And if you are here this morning and you’ve said intellectual ascent to those claims, I am praying that you would be the kind of people that would say my intellectual ascent gets matched by my life pursuit. Let’s pray to that end this morning.
God, we pause and we bow in this space because there’s a whole bunch of us in the room that believe those things to be true of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God, that he’s first, that he’s done all that is necessary to make a way for our salvation possible. That he is the fullness of deity dwelling bodily, that he’s the head of the church, that he made all things and that all things return glory back to him. That he’s the first of those who have been raised from the dead, the firstborn of what is to come from all of us who are in Christ. That he’s the exact imprint of the nature of God, helping us to see who you are perfectly. We believe that he brought peace and made a way for our reconciliation. And as such, we say with our lips best we know how, we are convinced that he is first.
We pray over our brothers and sisters in the room this morning that may not be able to make that claim that they can’t say, “Hey, I believe that.” we pray that your spirit would work to soften hearts, that your spirit would work to open eyes, that this morning something would click and the truth of who Jesus is would be made clear. And then we pray for all the rest of us. God, would you make us fully integrated people that the things that we say with our lips and we sing the songs and we read scripture, we say that you’re first, God, would you cause us to have lives that just displace rivals like nothing else is as significant as who Jesus is?
And the future hope that we have that when we faceplant, you’re picking us up. You’re presenting us before the father, holy, blameless and above reproach like we can stake our lives on that. That’s coming for us. Regardless of what a mess we’ve made of this week, would that hope really propel us to not give up, to not lose heart, but to persevere, to press on until that great day when you come back and you fix all of this and you perfect us and you bring us around your throne and we can declare perfectly holy, holy, holy, are you with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation? Until that day, would your spirit have good effect in us, change us because of Christ’s work? Amen.