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The Surpassing Glory of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15-20)

Who is our Redeemer? He is the Son of God, the firstborn of creation and of the dead. He is the eternal God; he is the incarnate Head. Against fanatics in Colosse, he does not share this office with the angels, because he made them. Against the constant tendency to drift from first truths and lose sure footing and confidence due to the cares of this world, Jesus Christ has fullness and preeminence. Against the constant search for human culprits for our miseries, look at Jesus Christ, the Ruler of all. He brings trouble in the world to judge his enemies and chasten his church for looking for living water from empty, broken wells. If politicians and bombs threaten our very existence, we must not look to them for relief but to the exalted Son of God, who is holding all things together by his great power. These lines celebrate the glory of Jesus Christ. His glory is the most practical, the most pressing, and the most powerful truth that can ever grip your soul. It quenches fear, steadies the sufferer, inspires the faithful, emboldens the weak, subdues lust, and stares down Satan with the most worshipful humility. When we see Christ’s glory by faith, we find in him the true life, understanding, courage, peace, comfort, and joy by his Spirit of life.


Creation by the Glorious Christ (vv. 15-18a)


Image: Who Is God and Reveals Father to Us


By “image” the Holy Spirit teaches us that Jesus Christ reveals God to us. He can only do this because he is God, the “brightness of his glory and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3). He is “in the very form of God;” he is everything that God is (Phil. 2:6). “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18). “Invisible” means more than “cannot be seen.” It implies “cannot be known.” God is unknowable to us in our sin-blinded state unless by some voluntary condescension on his part to take away our blindness and make himself known to us. He does so by sending his incarnate Son (John 17:3). We do not know God by speculation or intuition but by the Son’s revealing his Father to us. He especially reveals the Father’s wisdom, compassion, mercy, grace, justice, goodness, and truth. Some in Colosse were “vainly puffed up in their fleshly mind” and diverting the simple away from Christ to angels and other ways to know God. The Spirit shows us Jesus Christ in his fullness and glory, who shows us the Father, and thus the glory and mercy and love of the triune God are revealed to us.


Firstborn of All Creation: Highest in Rank and Dignity


The parallel between “firstborn of all creation” and “firstborn from the dead” (v. 18) is a declaration of rank and dignity in both orders, creation, and redemption. The biblical background for “firstborn” is Psalm 89, where the Lord says of David, as a type of Christ: “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). The second half of the couplet explains firstborn: first in rank and dignity. David was not the first king in order of time, so temporary priority does not seem to be the main idea. Preeminence is. As the Creator of all, the Son is not created. He is eternally and only begotten of the Father (John 3:16). He is the highest and most glorious, supreme, before all, worthy of the worship and service of all creatures.


Creator: Of All, By Him, For Him


This means, of course, that the Son of God is not a creature, for he is the Creator of every creature. Here we must reject the violent Islam fanatics and the smooth-talking cultists that come to our door. They may all speak well of Jesus Christ, but each blasphemes his name by reducing him to the level of creature – perhaps the highest creature, but still a creature. And if a creature is to be worshipped, then one’s religious system is based upon idolatry, even if clothed in religious language and the profession of veneration. If creation can be worshipped, then evolutionary views of man’s ascent from lower to higher forms of existence and consciousness, even divine forms, cannot be ruled out.

This is all Satan’s rubbish to force the Son of God, to bow to him. He is still stung by our Savior’s victory over his temptations. The Image and Firstborn is God himself, the Maker of everything. All things were created by him – you, me, angels, animals, atoms, and the farthest reaches of finite space, heaven and earth. All things were created by him and for him. The created order has its purpose in Jesus Christ, and to realize its purpose, must find its reference of meaning by reverencing him its Maker. Perhaps the four specifics in verse 16 are angelic orders (Eph. 1:21). By them we are taught, first, that there is an unseen realm that has its service to give to the Lord and that some parts of it are making war against him, and therefore against his church. Second, all are under the dominion of Jesus Christ. He is before them all, before time and creation, the Creator of time and creation. He holds this world together. It will not continue to exist and be our home one second longer than he ordains. He is holding it together this moment, else it would fly apart into the nothingness from which he made it at the beginning.


Reconciliation by the Glorious Christ (vv. 18b-20)


Head of Body: Life and Authority in Him


Now we can stand in fuller wonder before the Savior who loved and gave himself for us. Who purchased our redemption? Who has broken our chains of sin and darkness? Why is his sacrifice so powerful to deliver us, so complete as to lack nothing to purchase our full forgiveness? The One who died for us is also our Maker, God’s Image, the highest Firstborn, the Father’s only Begotten, the One for whom all things were made and by whom they exist. It is no wonder that the heavenly choirs have not ceased for one second praising him since his return to heaven. As he is the Head of Creation, so he is the Head of the church. Head suggests authority and even more the center or life and the directing authority of the church. He is the beginning – the absolute life-spring of the church. It is not by men we believe on his name, or know the Father, or have the Spirit. It is by the will and activity of our Head, Jesus Christ. We are not gathered to hear his word on human authority, but on the authority of the Son of God, which is the reason that we must yield all respect and submission to his word or insult the Spirit and quench his grace. The church’s form of government, her mission in the world, her inner love and service, and her worship are all dictated from him. All the strength to accomplish them is from him. Always he is removing worldly props and casting us back upon the same strength by which he overcame the world – dependence upon the word of his Father.


Firstborn of Dead: His Resurrection Inaugurates Heavenly Age


And so that we trust the sufficiency of God’s word to overcome the world, our Savior is also the firstborn of the dead. He laid down his life in the confidence of the Scriptures. The importance of this cannot be exaggerated. “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Does his rebuke not bite sharply in our times? Do you believe the Scriptures? Do you not know that I am the firstborn of the dead? Why do you fear men? By his resurrection, he not only guarantees our resurrection, so that death cannot gain the final victory over us, but he has also opened heaven for us. Where did he go when he rose? To the right hand of the Father. Why did he ascend there? To rule heaven and earth by his power, to make God’s majestic throne a place of comfort and refuge for us, to prepare our inheritance, to get all things ready for the perfection of his body, the church, when she stands before him in all her beauty and glory. The Son of God, clothed in our flesh, is alive! He is exalted, extolled, and very high, the ruler of all things. Death has no payment left to extract from him or from us, for the debt to God’s justice is paid in full. Death as the wages of sin is paid in full. Rejoice! Rejoice in the Savior! Tell the old world and city of man as it bombs itself into oblivion that Christ Jesus is risen. Relate man’s present pain to the way Satan treats his prisoners – blindness, bloodshed, and bombs. He is such a hater of men, a liar, and a murderer. But the risen Son of God is the Savior, the Prince who grants forgiveness, the Prince of peace who subdues our hearts and establishes the reign of his peace within us, so that it can reign in our homes, churches, and nations by the power of the reigning Christ.


Preeminent: In All Things


Preeminence means first place. The Son of God will have preeminence in the new creation as its Redeemer, even as he has preeminence in the older creation by beings its Maker. The Father is not jealous of his honor, for it is his will that “all men honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). Together with the Spirit, Father and Son will be all in all – glorified for grace and mercy, glorified in redemption, the Son glorified as the first of many brethren raised from the dead and reigning with him forever. To glorify the Son in this way, it “pleased the Father that all fullness should be in his Son. This refers not to his divine essence, for the Son is God of himself, and not of another. His divine nature is not derived but self-possessed in union with his Father and the Spirit from all eternity. The fullness is unto redeeming us to be children of God – fullness of grace and truth, fullness of the Spirit, fullness of God’s word, fullness of life and righteousness, and peace – all for us, for God’s children, chosen in Christ.


Reconciled: Peace by the Blood of His Cross


And from his fullness we receive reconciliation. He has made peace by the blood of his cross. What fullness is contained in these brief words! He had to be fully God to make peace with God for man. He had to be fully man to make atonement for man to remove the curse from our nature and reconcile our rebellious hearts to a peaceful state of believing, loving submission. God was estranged from man in justice offended; man was estranged from God by an angry, rebellious, guilty heart. Jesus Christ had to have all fullness of both natures in order to make peace between the two. The emphasis here is upon the peace he makes with God for sinners “by the blood of his cross.” His blood reconciles because his blood is fully precious, fully sufficient, and fully efficacious to remove our guilt and satisfy a holy God. His blood reconciles all things, even the unfallen angels, for they do not stand or stay in their place by any virtue in them, even being unfallen, but are now secured in their sinless state by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. This entire cursed, broken, and dying created order, in heaven as well as on earth, is made at peace with God in hope of full and final redemption by the cleansing, atoning blood of Jesus Christ. No creature’s blood can accomplish such a feat. It is only the blood of the God-man, Jesus Christ.


Our Life in the Glorious Christ


These lines are foundational for our faith and life in this world. They are pointedly relevant for our lives today. Since in Christ alone is fullness, there is peace nowhere else but in his sacrifice. Why do men fight and make war? Because of the warring lusts of their hearts. Surrounded by war, Christians must proclaim the Prince of Peace, trust the One in whom is all fullness, and refuse to endorse false peace from ungodly men. Since Jesus Christ is the Creator, no one can topple him. His purposes will be realized. You are secure, child of God, in your mighty Maker and Mediator. Trust him. Hold fast to him. Only Jesus Christ is the Reconciler of God to sinners, and therefore he is the only Reconciler of men to one another. Have we boasted in his blood this week, his cross? There are many millions of Christians, and when a serious one gets the microphone, you see the devil baring his fangs – he hates the cross, the blood of Jesus Christ, Christians who boasts in our Savior’s cross and uphold the Scriptures. Speak of him at work, to your neighbors, and to yourself daily. There is no salvation for this earth and its nations except by submission to its Maker and being washed in his blood.

The supremacy of Jesus Christ guarantees that he is sufficient for us. We must learn to rest in his strength, be guided by his wisdom, consecrate our lives to him, parent for him and unto him and by him, and make him preeminent in our homes, not as a formal principle but as the living, personal, passionate center and strength and praise of all we do. And he will hold us together as we seek to honor him better, for he holds all things together. He sees the whole story. He knows your last line here and your first line there, when you see him face to face. He knows your true happiness is when you give him the preeminence that is his by right as the Son of God and Creator, and by law as your Redeemer and Sacrifice. Give him the preeminence by walking in his Spirit and having his lowly mind. Give him preeminence each Lord’s Day in worship, each day of the week in your work, in your marriage, in your pursuit of a spouse. Make him first. Ask what pleases him, then search the Scriptures. Honor his preached word. Submit to one another. And keep the unity of his Spirit in the bond of peace.

Many take these lines to be a hymn of praise to Christ, and they surely lead us to worship him. If you have never worshipped Jesus Christ, or confessed in faith, “My Lord and God,” do so now. Bow to him. Every knee will. In him, behold the Father’s love. Only love explains the Father’s willingness to give his Son to do so much for us. You may be an unloved soul, but look upon Jesus Christ, and know that God loves you. Jesus Christ is the living image of the Father’s love. Worshipping and rejoicing in love, devote yourself to serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Be intentional about serving him. If you are a seasoned Christian, explain to others how to serve him – how to think first about him each day, not last, how to resist sin in the power of his Spirit. Explain to others how better to share his love and grace with others. Explain to your brothers and sisters the way to live confidently as a child of God and to expect the Father to bless you. Remember, the Father has given us his Son. How much more will he give us everything else (Rom. 8:32)? And, finally, draw back from the false prophets of our day who see a bleak future before us. This is not the Father’s plan. His plan is to exalt his Son. His plan is to build the mountain of his Son’s kingdom, as Daniel prophesied. His plan, when Rome is burning, is to build his lowly, humble, confessing church, for she is built upon the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Expect Jesus Christ to be exalted, for he is now raised and reigning. It will be done by the sword coming out of his mouth, his word. Speak it and be a bold confessor and joyful disciple of Jesus Christ. He will prevail.

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