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. (Colossians 1:15-20)
We’ve been answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” over the last several weeks. As we listened to Bilal speak this morning, did you notice how easily all those areas of conflict rolled off his tongue? There are so many places in our world today where extreme conflict is going on. And we could even add to the list he mentioned this morning. But then he brought it home. It’s not just over there where there are problems. There are problems here in our country, in our communities, and even in our families. We understand what it means to be in conflict, to have struggles in life, troubles in life. Jesus said we would have troubles. So when we come to places like Matthew 11 where Jesus says, “Come to me those who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” can’t we all identify with that on some level? “Come to me those who are weary.” It’s not just anybody saying that, it’s Jesus Christ saying it. So when we come to this question of who Jesus is, another question we might ask is, “Does it really matter?” Or, “How is that going to help me today?” And what we’ve found as we’ve gone through this passage in Colossians is that yes it matters! It matters because Jesus is everything.
What we’ve already seen from this passage in Colossians is that Jesus is the image of God, the exact imprint of His nature. He is also the firstborn, meaning He holds highest rank over all things. And lastly, Jesus is the Creator. Today we will add to this list from verses 17 and 18 by saying that Jesus is eternal, He is sustainer of all things, and He is master over the church. So you may think, “Wow, we are going to move really fast today to get all that in!” Yes we are! So here we go!
First of all, it is vitally important, and we have discussed this already over the last several weeks, but it is important to grasp that Jesus is eternal. When I say “eternal” I don’t simply mean He is eternal looking into the future. Because in that sense we are eternal, right? We will, as children of God, joint heirs with Christ, we will live eternally with Him going into the future. We will live forever.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)
But with Christ, He is not only eternal going forward, He is also eternal going back, back into the past. He is in that sense “before all things.”
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
This is not an easy concept for us. It is not easy to understand, because of our humanness and human experience, to grasp what it means that something, anything, anyone could have been from eternity past. We ask questions like, “When did you get that?” Or, “When were you born?” Or, “When was the earth created?” We are very time oriented in life and how we think about life. But with God time is not like it is with us.
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:4)
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7)
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:5)
This is our Savior, this is Jesus, He is not a product of time, not a created being, He did not come onto the scene as we did and as all others have, He is from eternity past. There has not been a time when He did not exist. That can make my head hurt to try and understand that. But think about the benefit that accrues to us regarding our Lord’s eternality. Nothing has passed through time that He is not aware of. Nothing has happened since forever ago outside of His presence. He has seen it all.
If someone accuses us of being naive about a topic we may say something like, “You know, I’ve been around the block a few times before.” Or, “I wasn’t born yesterday.” We say things like that to convey an idea that we are people with a long history or experience. “I’ve been around a while, so you would do well to listen to me!” That is what we are saying, as if our experience is just so vast! You know how long we have been around?
He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not. (Job 14:2)
Job compared the brevity of life to a flower, quickly springing up and soon withering away, and to a shadow that vanishes at noon or at sunset.
All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls (1 Peter 1:24)
Our stay here is so brief, we are like shadows, like grass springing up and then withering away. And you know in this Texas heat grass can wither really quickly! Whatever experiences we have had, they are nothing compared to Christ’s, and the good thing is we don’t have to rely on our limited experience because we have from God a book, the Bible, which contains the wisdom of God for us.
It is incredible that we would replace the written word of God that contains His wisdom, wisdom that transcends time, with our small brains and limited experiences. Someone asks our opinion or counsel and we go to our experience, reach back a few milliseconds of historical time and think we have some grand answer. Why not instead say, “This is what the all-wise God says and has taught me through His Word. Here is what He says!”
And of course it is not just time that makes Christ all-wise, He is the personification of wisdom and has always been.
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:24-25)
Jesus is eternal.
Jesus is also the sustainer – “in him all things hold together.”
While we have talked about Christ as Creator, we must also remember that in addition to creating, He also is the sustainer of all things. He is holding all of what we know “together.” He is keeping it all together.
What has been brought into being through Him is maintained by Him. He is not one who created and then steps aside to let His creation just go in whatever direction it wills. He is not an absent owner of creation. Hebrews 1:3 says, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” So the Son of God is the only one through whom the worlds were made, but also the one who upholds them by His mighty, enabling, sufficient, and all-powerful word. He is the sustainer of all the universe.
Now as we consider who Jesus is, we have to say, “Well, yes, this is important!” He is holding this world, including me and you, together. Does this mean that without Him, without His involvement, that the world and you and me, all that we know and see and understand would be gone, or obliterated, or something like that? Yes, I think so. Without Christ, electrons would not continue to circle nuclei, gravity would cease to work as it now does, the planets, including our earth, would fail to maintain their orbit, the systems that work here would no longer work, gases, oxygen mixtures would no longer be compatible for our continued existence. All would fall apart or blow up. If He moves away from creation, chaos would fill His place. He holds it all together.
According to 2 Peter 3:10 there will be a day when all as we know it will be changed…
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)
That sounds like a nuclear event. Perhaps the result of our Lord removing His sustaining power from creation. Perhaps this passing away of the heavens with a roar and heavenly bodies being burned up and even dissolved will be our Lord removing His hand that is holding it together today.
There are many who really want to marginalize Jesus Christ. Many who say things like, “He is not important, He is irrelevant to my daily life, He means nothing to our modern world, He was simply a man, why should I care what He does or what He doesn’t do?” If we understand the Bible correctly, He is everything to this material world, for He is the one holding it together.
Paul does not say things without reason and out of context with his letters in general. This point he is making is hugely significant to the Christians in the church at Colossae. You see, they were at a place where many of them were wondering if it was time to try some new religious ways. False teachers were coming in and marginalizing Jesus. They were being tempted to find coherence by pursuing other religious options being offered to them by persuasive men. In response, Paul wants them to understand that things make sense and only hold together when Christ Jesus is at the center. If He can and does hold all things together, then that includes not only natural things, but also spiritual life, Christianity, godly wisdom, and theological truth. There is no other place worth looking than to look to Christ Jesus.
Our lives are broken on many levels. Who among us does not struggle with sin? Who among us does not feel the pain of loss and sorrow? Each of us need emotions that are more sanctified like Jesus’ emotions were. Our bodies break, our wills are sometimes weak. Sometimes don’t we live with a feeling that all things around us are falling apart? Life can feel that way. But when it does, what do we do? One thing we can do is reframe our thoughts and put Jesus in them where He belongs. He is not absent.
Where is Jesus? He is here. If He were not, our afflictions would not be called light and momentary, but would instead be devastating to the point that our whole existence would cease to be. And so we can go to the one who holds it together, we can bow before Him as creator and sustainer, we can worship Him even in our confusion and pain, and trust Him to faithfully continue His work while holding our souls in His hand.
Not only is Jesus eternal and sustainer, but He is also head of His church – “And he is the head of the body, the church.”
Christ is now spoken of in relation to the church, and Paul does this with an analogy to the body. This is not the first time in Scripture we see this analogy of the church as a body. Paul talks about this first in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. A few of those verses read…
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit…27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27)
The theme of that passage is to show that we are all part of the body of Christ, and that we all have mutual duties and gifts and places in the church that should not be overlooked nor neglected. We all have a place here, we all should be serving here, if we are not all doing that then we are severely hampering how the body should function.
A year or two later Paul writes…
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5)
Again, we have a variety of gifts that have been given to us for the building up of the church.
In these early passages about the body, Christ is not mentioned as the head of it. But in Colossians and in Ephesians we see Christ’s unique relationship to the body as the head. He is head, or we could say He is Lord over the church. He supplies its life, He exercises control, He gives it direction. His people, you and me, if you belong to Him by faith, are the limbs, the organs, all under His rule and control and authority.
I would be curious to know how we all think of this. I mean, we have talked about Jesus as creator of everything, as being eternal, and as holding everything together, and those are really big things! I mean we are talking about the whole universe, and then we get to this, that He is head over the church. Does that seem anti-climatic? It may. From ruling the universe to ruling the church. But to think this may be to fail to see the significance of the church, of the Bride of Christ for which He died. He did not die for the billions of stars, or the radiant sun, or the intricate creatures all around us. He came to die for His church. His bride is a really big deal for Him, a people for His glory. His bride is not a big deal because we are beautiful, or worthy, or just really special people in and of ourselves. But because of His work He has chosen to show His glory supremely through His church. And as the husband is head of His wife, Christ is head of His church, a people redeemed for His glory. So Christ is our head, our leader, our Lord.
We may say, “Well yes, of course He is head of the church,” but as we say that we are all too aware of many churches that are nowhere near following Him. Organizations that call themselves churches that really have no intent of following His Word. That is not secret, many are very open about that. They are churches who have lost their way, churches who do not recognize the Bible as God’s Word to be followed, but at best as suggestions to be considered.
We as a people, as church leaders or otherwise, have no right to determine what a church is to be, how it will operate, or what doctrines it will follow. It is not our church, it is His. Might we fail to understand all that He has said and how a church should function and how truths are to be handled? Though we have the infallible Word, we are still fallible humans trying to rightly understand it. I’m not talking about honest disagreements on points of Scripture, I am talking about those who would say, “I don’t care what the Bible says, this is the way we will go.” That does not honor our head, honor Christ. It is His church.
I hear pastors say things like, “If we hold to this truth or that truth it will push us to irrelevance because the culture won’t stand for it.” Or, “If I speak of this from the Bible we might lose our tax-exempt status.” Or, “If I speak of marriage as the Bible does, I may be targeted by angry people.” Well, I guess if this were our organization or if we were the head, we could do whatever, but we have no place in that, we are not in charge. We should never trifle with God’s truths as a church. In the end, He is the one we answer to, not everyone else.
Paul closes with three statements in verse 18. Three statements that we have already discussed, so I’ll just mention them here quickly – “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
”He is the beginning,” meaning He is from eternity past, He was from the beginning and is the source of all life. He is ”the firstborn from the dead,” firstborn speaking of His rank, we have talked about that at length. Of all raised from the dead His is of the highest rank. And ”in everything” He is “preeminent.” He has first place in everything.
Philippians 2:8-11 really helps us here to see His place and position…
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11)
He is the exalted one! Preeminent over all, highly exalted, and every knee will bow before Him and confess Him as Lord! Jesus is the Eternal One, the Sustainer of all things and the Head of the Church.
Is He relevant today? Does He have any bearing on this society and world? Does He have any place in my life personally? Oh yes, more than we know. He is preeminent over everything!
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. (Colossians 1:17-18)