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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Christ is supreme in everything!
Text:Colossians 1:15-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Kingship
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 104:1-3

Psalm 14:1,2

Hymn 79

Hymn 45

Psalm 133

Scripture reading:  John 1:1-18

Text:  Colossians 1:15-20

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Our passage this morning from Colossians addresses the question of who is number one, who is supreme in this world.  If we were to look at the world around us, we’d find very different answers to that question.  Many years ago, back in 1972, there was a song entitled, “You’re So Vain.”  Maybe you remember it.  The lyrics said it all, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”  That was back in 1972.  Things haven’t changed for the better since then.  Who’s on top?  Who is supreme?  You.  Not only is the song about you, but the whole world.  You are the center of the universe.  The world says that.  But is that what God says?

Wayne Dyer is an American motivational speaker and best-selling author.  He teaches that it’s important to see yourself as far better than you actually are.  You need to think that you’re smarter, stronger, prettier, and so on than you really are.  At his seminars, he even says this, “The best thing about Jesus was that he had a mom that believed that he was the Son of God.”  The best thing about Jesus was that his mom believed that he was something special.  So parents today need to do the same thing with their kids, treat them as if they are God’s most special gift to mankind. 

Now that is a special sort of Scripture twisting and a perversion of the Bible’s message about our Saviour.  Imagine:  the best thing about Jesus is not what he is in himself or what he has done for sinners, but what his mom thought of him.  His mom believed in him and that empowered him.  So we need moms who believe in us so that we can believe in ourselves too.  That’s wrong.  That is the gospel message not only perverted, but hijacked to serve the cause of self-supremacy. 

The world in which we live has some similarities to the world of the Colossian believers who received this letter.  Our world tells us to look inward for strength and worth.  Our world turns us into ourselves.  The messages we hear from the world are things like “Trust yourself, follow your own heart, you have the strength within.”  Sometimes those messages get spiritualized too – people explicitly talk about channeling your inner goddess and things like that.  In Colossae too, their world often told them to turn inward.  Look for mystical spiritual experiences inside yourself.  In you is where all the action is and where all the worth is, where the divine is.  The Colossians were faced with false teachers who taught them to look inside themselves.

The Apostle Paul has a different message.  His message is not about you being supreme, but about Christ being supreme.  His message is not for you to ever turn inward for strength and help, but to always turn outward to Jesus Christ.  Paul’s message is for us to have Christ alone as supreme in our lives and look to Christ alone.  This morning I preach to you God’s Word.  The theme is Christ is supreme in everything! 

We’ll consider:

  1. The proofs of his supremacy
  2. The extent of his supremacy
  3. The purpose of his supremacy

Before we dive into our passage in detail, let me say something about the form or genre of these verses.  I bring this up because a lot of you have a study Bible in front of you and if you look at the notes, likely they’ll tell you that this is a hymn or at least that many scholars think it is a hymn.  Certainly many scholars do think that it is a hymn or that Paul is taking an existing hymn and adapting it for his letter.  I just want to mention that there are arguments for and against.  We don’t need to spend any time on the details.  At the end, it doesn’t change how we understand this passage.  Whatever the case may be, we can say for sure that these words have been included in the Bible by the Holy Spirit and they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.  And yes, the language here is definitely at a different level.  That makes sense.  After all, Paul is writing about his Saviour.  He can’t help but let his language reflect his devotion to Christ.  He’s not writing as a disengaged observer, but as someone who deeply loves Jesus and it shows.

In the verses right before this passage, we find Paul’s supplications for the Colossian church.   He prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  That passage about his prayer ends by noting his thanks to the Father.  He was thankful that the Father had transferred the Colossians from one kingdom to another, from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son.  In that kingdom, we have these gospel blessings of redemption and the forgiveness of sins. 

Now in our text for this morning, Paul expands on who this beloved Son is and what’s important about him.  As you already heard, the key thing is that this beloved Son is supreme.  He rules over absolutely everything – there is no one like him, there is no one who even remotely approaches his pre-eminence. 

But what proves this?  Let’s look at verse 15.  Paul says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  In his life and ministry, Jesus revealed the invisible God.  When people saw Jesus and the way he conducted his life, they were seeing God.  When people heard Jesus preaching and teaching, they were listening to God.  By saying that he is the image of the invisible God, Paul is saying that Jesus was and is God.  This is another way of speaking of the divinity of our Saviour.  Because he is God, he is supreme.  As God, he is worthy of our faith, our worship, our adoration, our life-encompassing devotion.

Christ is also the firstborn of all creation.  Now, that expression could easily be misunderstood.  Throughout history many false teachers have looked at those words and said, “There you have the proof that Christ was created.  He was the first thing God created.”  So in that view, Christ is not God, but rather a creature.  This was what the ancient heretic Arius taught and this is what modern-day Arians like the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to teach.  They say that Christ is not God, but only a creature like us.  He was created by God at the beginning, they say, and the proof is here in Colossians 1:15.  That view is wrong because the word “firstborn” in the Old Testament can mean more than just being the first child born in a family in a chronological sense.  In Psalm 89:27, God says that he will make David his “firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  There was a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.  This Greek translation was used by Paul and the other apostles.  In the Septuagint, the same word for “firstborn” is used in Psalm 89:27 as in our text.  When God said that David would be his firstborn, he meant that David would be exalted.  He would have the highest rank among kings.  Comparing Scripture with Scripture, Paul is saying the same thing about Christ in Colossians 1:15.  “The firstborn of all creation” means that Christ has the highest rank over all creation.  I’ll say more about that in a few minutes when we look at the extent of his supremacy.

For now, look at verse 16 and you’ll see how his role in creation proves his supremacy.  As we heard from our reading in John 1, Jesus is God and as God he was there at the beginning in Genesis 1:1.  He was involved with creation.  Paul says here in verse 16 that all things were created through him.  He had an active role in shaping and moulding everything in the universe.  It doesn’t matter what those things are or where those things are.  Anything that exists has been brought into existence through Jesus Christ.  Paul specifically mentions heaven and earth and lines that up with invisible and visible.  The invisible things are in heaven and the visible things on earth.  It doesn’t matter whether you can see them or not, Christ helped bring them into existence.  Then Paul mentions “thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities” there in verse 16.  You might be thinking that he’s referring to earthly political powers with those terms.  However, you would be wrong.  These four terms are used in the Bible and elsewhere to speak of different types of spiritual beings or angels.  That relates to some of the false teachings that were troubling the Colossian church.  Later on, in 2:18, Paul mentions the worship of angels.  Here in chapter 1, he’s already insisting that these angels are not worthy of worship.  They are not supreme.  They are creatures, and Christ is their Creator.  He is supreme over them.

In the Bible, the One who creates is the One who is supreme over what he creates.  God creates.  He brings creatures into existence.  Because they have been created by him, they ought to recognize his rights and prerogatives over them.  You see, in the biblical way of thinking, being the Creator proves that you are supreme.  Here Paul points out that the divine Son of God was intimately involved in the creation of everything – and that proves that he is supreme over everything.

What also proves his supremacy is the fact that he is like the glue that holds everything in the universe together.  Paul says in verse 17, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  These are remarkable words.  He is before all things means that not only he is ranked above everything, but he did also actually exist before the creation of the universe, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  “And in him all things hold together.”  He maintains and sustains everything he was involved with creating.  Everything has meaning in this universe because Christ is the one in whom everything is being held together.  And when it says, “all things” it really does mean “all things.”  So Paul is not just speaking about what we might call spiritual matters.  It includes absolutely everything.  For example, it’s not just in the doctrine of justification where Christ holds everything together.  It’s also in the laws of logic.  It’s not just in the doctrine of the covenant of grace where Christ holds everything together.  It’s also in mathematics.  It’s not just in our glorification where Christ holds everything together.  It’s also in science.  And we could go on and on.  Loved ones, what we have here is an essential component of our Christian worldview.  In our biblical, Christian worldview, Christ is the one who holds everything together.  Apart from Christ, there would be nothing but confusion and mess.  As one commentator (Moule) put it so well:  “He keeps the cosmos from becoming a chaos.”  This supremely proves his supremacy.  He alone has the power to do this.      

Now if we skip ahead to verses 18 and 19 for a moment, we find two other proofs of his supremacy:  his resurrection and his incarnation.   “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”  His resurrection proves his supremacy.  After the shame of the cross and the humiliation of the grave, Christ was risen.  After three days, he rose victorious over sin and death.  His heel had been bruised, but with his resurrection he placed his foot on the neck of his defeated enemy.  Since Jesus is the first one to rise from the dead by his own power, he is called the “firstborn from the dead.”  Yes, there were others who rose before him, but their resurrections were different.  Think of Lazarus.  Lazarus didn’t bring himself to life – Jesus did that for him.  Moreover, Lazarus eventually died again.  He’s not around anymore.  So what happened with Lazarus is better described as resuscitation than a resurrection.  It was a temporary thing, not permanent like what happened with Jesus.  The resurrection of Jesus was and is unique and that’s why he can be called “the firstborn from the dead.”  This indeed proves his supremacy, because nobody else has done this or ever will.  We will rise from the dead, but not from our own power.  It will only happen through the power of our Saviour and his Holy Spirit.  

The final proof of his supremacy has to do with the incarnation.  This is in verse 19.  “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…”  That’s another way of saying what we read from John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And remember:  the Word was God.  God miraculously became flesh and dwelt among us.  That’s what John was saying and that’s what Paul is saying here in verse 19.  The incarnation also witnesses to the divinity of Christ.  He is God.  If he is God, he is indeed supreme over all things. 

So, to review, Paul mentions these four things as proofs of Christ’s supremacy:  his role in creating everything in the universe, his essential role in maintaining everything in the universe, his victorious resurrection, and his incarnation.  All these things prove that Christ is above all, pre-eminent over absolutely everything.  But more than just being proofs, these things lead our hearts in a certain direction.  Remember, Paul doesn’t write this in a dispassionate way.  He’s emotionally invested in this, he’s full of eager praise for this Saviour.  The Holy Spirit wants to lead us to the same place.  He wants you to hear of Christ’s work in creation and exalt him.  He wants you to hear of his work in maintaining all things, acknowledge it, believe it, and adore him for it.  His resurrection too has a huge bearing on your life and death and the hope you have – praise Christ for it!  The fact that the Son of God came into this world with our human flesh to live and die for us, that’s an amazing act of love designed to draw our hearts upward in love and praise for him.

Now let’s look at the extent of his supremacy.  We’ve already seen that this is universal, it extends absolutely everywhere.  There is no corner of the universe where Christ is not pre-eminently supreme.  Not everyone acknowledges that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  One of the key words in this passage is “all.”  Did you notice how many times Paul used that word?  It’s in every single verse of our text.  Now you might look at verse 18 and say that it’s not there.  But you do find the word “everything” and in Greek that’s the same word that gets translated as “all” everywhere else in this passage.  “All” is in every verse and that highlights the wide-reach of Christ’s supremacy.

First and foremost, he is supreme over creation, over the universe.  Christ is King over all creatures.  And he rules over all creatures in every corner.  We sometimes think of Abraham Kuyper as a sort of villain in our church history.  We often think of him in connection with the doctrine of the covenant.  His covenant theology was imposed on the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and that led to the Liberation of 1944.  But Kuyper also had many things correct.  There were many good things that Kuyper said and taught.  One of them is his famous saying, “There is not a square inch of creation of which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not say, ‘Mine!’”  Christ is king of all creation.  Kuyper got that straight from the Scriptures, from passages such as we have here from Colossians.        

Since he is supreme over all creation, he is also supreme over you.  He is your Creator – remember the Creator has a right to what he created.  He bought you too, which he means he is your Lord, he has all the rights and prerogatives over you.  Moreover, he has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be your King, set over you with power and authority.  Brother, sister, do you recognize him as your supreme Ruler?  You’re called to.  When you do acknowledge him as supreme, there’s supreme comfort in that.  There’s comfort in that, because he promises to rule his people with love and for their good.  He is supreme over believers with a supreme love.  One of the most beautiful lines in the Belgic Confession is found in article 26 about Christ’s intercession.  We confess that “There is no creature in heaven or on earth who loves us more than Jesus Christ.”  That’s a supreme love from our supreme Saviour.  Our lives are in his hand and that’s a good and comforting thing.      

His supremacy also extends to the church and we can see that in verse 18.  Paul says that “he is the head of the body, the church.”  Paul uses that same image of the church as the body of Christ elsewhere in his writings.  In 1 Corinthians 12, he lays out how the church is the one body with many members.  Here he develops that image further and he says that this body has a head.  We’re to be thinking in terms of a human body, that’s the image being used.  Every human body has a head, and like a human body, the church has a head too.  With a human body, the head is what controls everything.  The head is the place of authority.  So it is with the church and Christ.  Christ is supreme over his church, over the body.  He alone has the right and authority to direct the affairs of the church.  That means that his Word stands central for the church.  We believe in Sola Scriptura – the Bible alone has the authority for what we believe and how we conduct ourselves, and that’s true also in the church.  Because he is the head of the body, the Word of Christ stands supreme over us.  We honour that Word and strive to follow it in all things.

That tells us something crucial about the nature of the church.  The church is not a human organization.  The church is not something that people invented.  The church is the body of Christ.  The church is a gift of Christ, a creation of Christ.  Because these things are true, Christ stands supreme over us as a congregation. 

We simply can’t accept the view that any human being on earth is the head of the church in any sense.  The Pope proudly claims to be the vicar of Christ, the head of Christ’s church on earth.  We reject that claim on the basis of Colossians 1:18.  Our Queen claims to be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.  Now we must respect her as our Queen.  Scripture teaches us this.  However, as much as we respect her as our monarch, we cannot respect her arrogant claim to be Supreme Governor of the Church of England.  Where there is a church in England, the only supreme governor is Jesus Christ.  In North American Christianity and elsewhere, we find other churches where senior pastors are essentially local popes.  No one is allowed to challenge the senior pastor and anyone who does will eventually be shown the door.  No, loved ones, the only supreme head of the church in heaven and on earth is Jesus Christ and anyone who claims otherwise is undermining him and attacking his honour.        

Recognizing his supremacy over us as a church will always be a blessing for us.   When we recognize the supremacy of Christ and his Word in the church, then we are protected against human tyranny and the abuse of ecclesiastical power.  Whenever human beings are granted the powers that belong to Christ and his Word alone, there will be a temptation to abuse those powers.  When human beings seek to take the place of Christ, eventually people begin to serve themselves and their interests rather than God.  The focus of the church ends up being worldly rather than heavenly.  Loved ones, this is why it is so crucially important that we listen to Scripture and honour Christ alone as the head of his church.  He is supreme over everything, and that must include us as a congregation. 

That brings us to the purpose of his supremacy.  If he is indeed supreme over all things, then all things must submit to him and recognize his supremacy.  And of course, when we speak about all things, we also mean all people.  All people are bound to bow the knee to Christ.  In this age, not all do.  We can put it this way: people might choose to ignore or reject Christ’s supremacy, but they are not allowed to.  There will be consequences for dishonouring the King.  As part of our calling to witness to the nations, we should not be shy about reminding people of that.  We need to know that for ourselves and we also need to tell unbelievers that.  There are consequences to ignoring or rejecting the supremacy of Christ over all things.  These consequences are serious and eternal.

But there is another purpose and it’s often neglected.  We find it in verse 20, “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.”  That tells us that an important part of the work of Christ was reconciliation.  Reconciliation means bringing together two parties that have been alienated or set at odds with one another.  Christ brings reconciliation – he makes peace between God and what has been alienated from him.  He does this through the blood of the cross.  He brings reconciliation through the sacrifice he made on Golgotha.  This is the sacrifice that satisfies the justice of God, turns away his wrath, and returns his favour.  It’s propitiation for us.  He can bring about this reconciliation, he can be our mediator, because the fullness of God dwelt in him.  Because he was true man, he could suffer and die on the cross.  Because he was true God, he could endure the wrath of God and deliver others from it.     

Now the really surprising part of what Paul says here is in the words “all things, whether on earth or on heaven.”  Christ’s work on the cross is for the reconciliation of all things, Paul says.  Let me first tell you what this does not mean.  This does not mean that all people are reconciled to God through the blood of the cross.  This does not mean that all people will be saved and hell will be empty.  This does not mean that everyone is going to heaven.  Scripture is clear enough elsewhere that Christ’s sacrifice only works for the salvation of the elect.  Christ died for the salvation of those who have been graciously chosen by God before the foundation of the world.  He died for the sheep.  So we can’t suddenly go a different direction when trying to understand these words here.

What these words do mean is that Christ’s work on the cross has a universal impact.  It has an impact, not only on human beings, but also on creation.  We often forget this part of Christ’s work.  When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they didn’t just ruin everything for themselves.  Because of their sin, death, disease and all other kinds of corruption came into the world.  The whole created order was affected by sin.  Paul speaks about this in more detail in Romans 8.  He writes there that because of sin, the whole creation is in bondage to corruption.  The whole creation is groaning, waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  It has been subjected to futility.  All of that speaks of sin.  Christ died on the cross to deal with this too. This whole universe which has been impacted by sin is going to be reconciled to God.  This created order will again be in perfect communion and fellowship with God, a state of glorification that is not affected at all by sin.  Sin and its effects will be completely gone and then, as Revelation 21 says, the dwelling place of God will be with man.  His dwelling place will be with us in a reconciled created realm.  This all happens because of the blood of the cross.

Being supreme over all things, Christ cares for creation.  The purpose of his supremacy includes reconciling a world under the curse to its Creator.  Our Saviour cares about birds and the animals.  He cares about the trees, the lakes, and the rivers.  He has a heart for this world in which we live.  Now remember that this is the Saviour to whom we’re united through faith.  As his church, we are his body, organically connected to him.  His Spirit is in us.  So won’t we be striving to reflect him in these ways too?  Even more so, I think, when we keep in mind that this world has been entrusted to our care by God.  We are stewards or managers of creation.  He wants us to love it and take care of it.  Certainly we can make use of it as well, but we’re called to do so in a responsible way, a way that gives thought to the future.           

Loved ones, this whole text orients us outward to our Saviour.  It does that so that we would see that he is pre-eminent, he is supreme over all in every way.  Seeing that, the Holy Spirit wants to lead us to praise for him, submission to him, and living in him for his glory.  It would be difficult to imagine a more counter-cultural message for today.  Certainly it went against the grain of the Colossian culture in the days of Paul.  And it does so today too.  The world puts other things first as supreme.  Christians recognize Christ as supreme in everything – this glorifies him and it pleases the one who made peace for us by the blood of the cross.  AMEN.

Prayer:

O Christ, our Lord and Saviour,

We bring praise to your name again, for you are the first born over all creation.  Through you all things were made in heaven and on earth and in you all things hold together.  We could not so much as breathe without you.  We could not do our daily work without you.  Every last thing in our lives depends on you.  And we worship you as the first-born from the dead.  We exalt you because of your victory over sin, Satan, and death.  We rejoice because you also became one of us, taking on our flesh to pay the debt we owed on the cross.  In all these things, we see the evidence that you are supreme and you are supremely worthy of our praise, our submission, and our lives.  We acknowledge that you reign over our lives, every single aspect belongs to you, every square inch is yours.  With your Holy Spirit, please help us to be more consistent in recognizing your reign in our lives.  Please help us too to speak of your reign with others, to tell them of the two ways to live.  We also confess that you rule our church.  You are the head of the body and we are your members.  We submit to you, Lord.  We ask here too for your help so that our submission and obedience would become more consistent.  In our passage we also saw your great care for this universe, for all creation.  And we ask for your help in reflecting your care in how we look at creation and in how we manage it as stewards.  You are a great Saviour, a mighty King, a glorious Lord.  Lord Jesus, you alone are supreme, and you alone are worthy of our eternal love and devotion.    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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