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February 10, 2008
The First Place – Part 1
Series: Above All
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Colossians 1:15-18

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In the series Above All, Pastor Philip De Courcy highlights the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ as presented in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Christ is above all powers and all things. To go beyond Christ is to leave Christianity behind. In Above All, Pastor Philip reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ is creation’s only source, man’s only Savior, and God’s only Son, and He must be understood accurately.

More From This Series


This morning, we’re just going to look at part of these tremendous verses Colossians 1 verse 15. He is the image of the invisible God. The first born overall creation for by him all things were created that are in heaven and are on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones are dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him. Speaking of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Paul goes on to say, “He is before all things and then him, all things consist, and he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead and in all things he may have the preeminence.” This is a tremendous passage in God’s word we’re coming to consider this morning, and I trust that God will open our eyes and ears and hearts to its full implication. In his book the da Vinci Deception, Pastor Erwin Lutzer of Moonie Church in Chicago tells a story related to the celebrated painting Love Among the Ruins.
The thing about this painting was that it was destroyed, believe it or not, by an art firm who had been given it to restore and repair. Though they had been warned many times that it was a watercolor and that they needed to give special attention to that facet about the painting, they were careless and they used a solution that actually dissolved the paint. So this masterpiece was damaged and lost in a way to the art world. As I reflected upon that story, I was reminded that a study of history, past or present, reveals that many attempts have been made to besmudge and destroy the biblical portrait of our lovely Lord, Jesus Christ. Through the ages, men have tried to dissolve the black and white portrait of Christ in the Bible, which presents him as God’s only son and man’s only savior.
They have tried to smudge that black and white portrait into tones of indefinite gray. The world will have Jesus, the son of Mary, but not Jesus, the son of God. The world will have Jesus the teacher, but the world will not have Jesus, the eternal word. The world will have Jesus dying for his faith, but the world will not have Jesus dying for our sins. Man will have God, but not Jesus as God. Folks, history is littered with vandals who have [inaudible 00:02:59] and wantonly sought to deface the biblical portrait of the Lord, Jesus Christ as God come in the flesh, for the purpose of offering himself in death as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. The fullness and finality of that death and sacrifice being evidenced in his triumphant and bodily resurrection. As Paul writes this letter from Rome around 8061 to the Church at Colossi, the doctrine of Christ within this church was coming under assault.
This church was being troubled by a form of gnostic Judaism that taught that the Lord, Jesus Christ was only one of thousands of emanations from the great unseen God. That the Lord, Jesus Christ was only a spiritual shadow of the real God. That he was no more than a rung on the ladder to God. He was a disembodied spiritual being created by God, therefore by implication, this was a heresy that denied Christ’s incarnation and virgin birth. It was a heresy that denied his essential deity as the only begotten son of God, and it was a heresy that denied his reconciling work upon the cross for all men. So here we have in Colossians 1 verses 15 through 18, a brilliant rebuttal by the apostle Paul of such heresy. In fact, what we have in these verses is a crash course in Christology.
Christology is the study of Christ. In fact, all the commentators that I read this week are united in witnessing to the fact that this is probably the most cogent and compact passage in the New Testament regarding who the Lord, Jesus Christ is and what he came to do. That’s why we need to give it our full attention. Now, before we begin to unpack it, it’s an interesting facet of this passage to realize that we owe one of the most sublime treatments of the Lord, Jesus Christ in the New Testament to an ugly heresy that was bedeviling the Church at Colossi. So I was struck by the words of S Lewis Johnson, who was a former professor at Dallas Seminary and Pastorate Believers Chapel. He said this. “Thus in one respect, we can be thankful for the heresy because the church of Jesus Christ would be impoverished substantially if it did not possess this significant testimony to the preeminence of its redeemer.”
In fact, as I reflected on that, if you think about it, the great creeds of the Church, while we’re thinking of the Nicene Creed or the Chalcedon Creed, the great creeds of the Church were forged in the furnace of doctrinal controversy. I want to make a statement that I think you and I need to ponder. Theological controversy is a good thing because theological controversy produces theological clarity. Good comes out of the bad, and in a sense, we can be thankful for this heresy at Colossi because it produced from Paul’s heart and pen one of the great Christological treatments of Christ in the New Testament.
So let’s come then to look at this great passage. There’s two things to be said here. We’re going to just look at one of them. Paul presents the Lord, Jesus Christ in all his preeminence as Lord of the creation, Lord of the creation, verse 15. He is the image of the invisible God. The first born over all creation for by him all things were created. Paul’s tribute and treatment of God’s dear son begins by speaking of him as the image of the invisible God and the firstborn over all creation. Paul wastes no time. He immediately locks horns with the heretics. Remember, they viewed the Lord Jesus as part of a chin of lesser spirits of descending sequential inferiority from God. The Lord, Jesus Christ is simply an emanation from God. He was a middle manager on the cosmic flow chart, and for Paul, that was patently and painfully unacceptable. For Paul, Christ was a true manifestation of God’s essence and ranked above all creation.
In Christ, the never seen God had become visible and manifest. While nature revealed God’s existence, Christ revealed God’s essence, and so Paul sets about defending the personal work of the Lord, Jesus Christ here. Let’s look at these two phrases, the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. As Paul establishes the deity and divinity, the sufficiency and the supremacy of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The image of the invisible God, the idea that God cannot be seen is one of the cornerstone concepts of the Bible. In First Timothy 1 verse 17, God is described as immortal, invisible. According to John 1 verse 18, no man has seen God at any time. That’s one of the cornerstones of the Bible. God is invisible, transcendent beyond the reach of human comprehension. That’s why no idols are to be made of God. You and I ought not to attempt to draw God or put him in some wooden or granite form because it will always fall short of the true nature of God.
Therefore by implication will minimize his majesty, and so in our mind, we will fall short of his glory, which is the very essence of sin itself. Now, if God is to be known, God must disclose himself if we are to know him, and so an answer to the question, what is God like? Paul replies, “God is like Jesus.” This is the astounding reality of the passage before us. Christ is the image of the invisible God. Jesus Christ, according to Paul, made the invisible God visible, the unknowable God knowable. Christ was a perfect projection of God in time and space in a way that truly reveals God’s core and character. The word image here is the word from which we get our word icon. It speaks of likeness and representation. In fact, this word was used in Matthew 22 verse 20 of Caesar’s portrait being stamped on a coin.
So Paul is saying that like the head of a sovereign printed on a coin, the Lord, Jesus Christ is an exact representation. This is also argued in the New Testament over in Hebrews chapter 1 verse 3. Let me read it to you, Hebrews chapter 1 and verse 3, the writer of this greater epistle defending, again, the supremacy of the Lord, Jesus Christ opens with these words. “Who being the brightness of his glory and the expressed image of his person and upholding all things by the word of his power when he himself purged our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in high. Speaking of the Lord, Jesus Christ, he is the brightness of God’s glory and the express, the exact image of God’s being in the nature.” When we speak of someone being a spitting image of someone, we know we’re not saying that they’re the identical twin.
In fact, just recently Jim and the girls and I were sitting having lunch in the Franklin Mall, in the food court. We kept being drawn to this young man that was a couple of tables down. We realized that this young man was the spitting image of a young Irish guy that we know who’s at Master’s Seminary, Pastor McLaughlin’s, son, Johnathan. So we kept looking, trying to make sure he wasn’t looking, but he kind of realized we were staring at him. We were gawking him so much so that I get up, went over to him and I said, “I’ve got to apologize. We got to tell you, you’re the spitting image of a friend of ours.”
That didn’t mean he was an exact representation, but my goodness, he was the nearest thing we have seen of Johnny McLaughlin on planet Earth besides seeing Johnny McLaughlin. That’s how we would understand the word image, but when Paul uses it here, you’ve got to understand in the context, he’s talking about a perfect representation. That Christ is the mirror image of God. In fact, one of the writers I read this week gave a great illustration of what we’re talking about. Imagine you’re sitting in a room and there’s someone in the next room. You can’t see them, but you can hear them. You don’t know what they look like. You really don’t know who they are, but the door to your room is open, and the door to their room is open. As you look at your door, there’s a mirror in the hallway and you see their reflection in the mirror. That’s what Paul is saying here.
That when you look at the Lord, Jesus Christ, you’re seeing a mirror image of God, an exact representation of God, a perfect resemblance of God. Christ is the Lord of the creation. He’s God himself. In believing Christ, one trusts God. In beholding Christ, one worships God, and this is a devastating truth because the Christ that is set before us in Colossians 1 verse 15 is not the Christ of ancient gnosticism. It is not the Christ of Arianism. Arius was a forced century theologian who argued that the Lord, Jesus Christ was not God. You’ll see his descendants coming to your door with a little magazine called the Watchtower. Jehovah Witnesses are the descendants of Arius. They deny the deity of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and this passage before us reminds us that Christ is not the Christ of gnosticism. He’s not an emanation from God. He’s not the Christ of Arianism. He’s not the Christ of liberal theology, he’s not the Christ of Islam who denies that God ever came in the flesh and who denies that Jesus Christ ever died upon a cross.
Now, Paul wants us to know that he didn’t just come to bring us God’s word as a prophet. He came to bring us God’s grace as a savior. He is Jacob’s ladder bringing God to man and man to God. Lord Byron once said, “If God is not like Jesus Christ, then he ought to be like Jesus Christ.” Well, the good news is Jesus Christ is like God, because Jesus Christ is God. That’s powerful. The invisible God made visible. The unknowable made comprehensible, the invincible God made breakable. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples? “When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.” Over in John chapter 1 verse 18, we [inaudible 00:15:00] it just a few moments ago. Let me [inaudible 00:15:03] it in its totality.
It begins by saying that no man has seen God at any time. The only begotten son who is in the bosom of the father, he has declared him. The word there is the word from which we get acts of Jesus, which is the explaining and the drawing out and the revealing of a passage of scripture. So John is saying, look. No man has seen God at any time, but Jesus Christ is the expressed representation of God. He is in the bosom of the father. He has come and explained them to us and drawn out the essence and nature and character of God in living color. That’s powerful stuff. There’s another thing said here about the Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the first born of all creation.
Some have taken this to mean that Christ is the first among all of God’s creatures. That he is supreme within the creation. He has prominence, but not preeminence. That just as a flower is an expression of God and a mountain is an expression of God in that sense, so Christ is an expression of God. He has been created by God. He comes from God. He’s not God, but he’s the greatest expression of God perhaps, and some read that into this text. In fact, that’s the favored view of the cults. This is what the Jehovah Witnesses will teach. This is what the Way International will teach. This is the very verse that Arius who locked horns with Athanasius in the 4th century, regarding the deity of the Lord, Jesus Christ, which precipitated the writing of the Nicene Creed in 325 AD. This was the verse he went to.
He said, “Look. Jesus is the first born he’s created. He has a priority and a prominence within the creation, but he’s not over the creation. He’s not before the creation. He exists within the creation,” but that’s patently not what Paul is talking about here. One, because he will go on to tell us that the Lord, Jesus Christ created all things, implication being he himself wasn’t created. The text doesn’t say he created all things, but himself. It said he created all things. He has uncreated, he is uncaused. In fact, according to verse 17, he is before all things. Before anything was made or created, Christ existed, unmade, uncaused, uncreated, and this idea of the first born, although literally meaning first child, doesn’t always refer to time in that the firstborn child is the first child born. So the heretic will say, “Well, that’s exactly what Jesus, he’s the first thing created.”
If you read your Old Testament, you’ll see that the term first born came to carry the idea of rank and authority and position. In Exodus 4:22, Israel is called the first born. Israel wasn’t the first in the nation, but Israel is God’s special people among the nations. God ranks them above every other nation. David wasn’t the first son of Jesse, but in Psalm 89 verse 27, he’s described as the first born. Not the first born in time, but the first born in rank because out of the sons of Jesse, David was picked by God and anointed as king by Samuel.
So when Paul talks of the Lord, Jesus Christ here, he’s speaking about position and rank. He’s speaking about the fact that Christ is chief over all creation. Now, that wasn’t enough. Paul goes on now to elaborate on the supremacy of Jesus Christ as Lord of the creation in three ways, and let’s see if we can cover them this morning. Having established the deity and the divinity of the Lord, Jesus Christ, having underscored his supremacy in these descriptions, the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation, Paul goes on to speak about Christ’s primacy. First of all, Christ created all things. Secondly, Christ claims all things and thirdly, Christ controls all things.
Let’s look at the first thought. He created all things. Paul makes it very clear that Christ is the sole and sufficient agent of creation, verse 16, for by him that is the one who is the image of the invisible God. The one ranked over all creation, for by him all things were created that are in Heaven, that are on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or all powers. All things were created through him. Can it be any clearer? John will put it even clearer. In John 1 verse three, if he didn’t make it, it wasn’t made, basically. Christ is the uncaused cause of all things that exist and persist. Seen, unseen, spiritual, material, Earthly, Heavenly, Christ is the architect, the builder, and the owner of all created things.
Listen to these words from Derek Tidball. “As Paul’s eye sweeps the cosmos, there is nothing which is outside of the creative power of Christ. The smallest subatomic particle, the DNA helix, the great mountain ranges of the Himalayas and the largest galaxy of stars came into existence at his command through his agency.” Paul has an intended target with this thought. It’s the heretic. The heretic who said that the Lord, Jesus Christ was an emanation of God, created. Paul says, “No, he’s the creator,” and then again, Paul has a target. The heretic who carries this idea forward that Christ is low on the totem pole of angelic spiritual beings.
Paul’s reference here to thrones and dominions, principalities and powers are taken by most commentators to be categories of angels whom Christ created and ruled over, fallen or holy. It doesn’t matter, and it’s not distinguished here in the text because he’s Lord of both groups, and if you read in Colossians chapter 2 and verse 18, you’re going to see that part of this false teaching that was affecting the health of the Body of Christ in Colossi was this idea of worshiping angels, and Christ was placed there. He was an emanation, a spiritual being. He was a good bit down the totem pole of angelic spirits.
Paul says, “One, we’re not called to worship angels. We’re called to worship God, and you’re certainly not called to worship Christ as an angel because he created all dominions and powers and principalities.” Paul in these verses shows the impossibility of that in the light of divine authority and the agency of the Lord, Jesus Christ within creation. Christ is creator of all. Christ is not just something, he is everything, for everything finds its origin, being, and ultimate end in him. Folks, that reminds us this morning in our worship, in our taking the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ upon our lips, in witnessing of him to others, that we need to estimate his greatness against the backdrop of the vastness of creation.
The thing that strikes me in this passage is that Paul cannot abide belittling thoughts of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He cannot abide belittling thoughts of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He just wastes no time, both feet in. He is the expressed image of the invisible God. He is the first born of all creation. He created it all. He challenges the Colossians to understand the greatness and the supremacy of their Lord and savior. In fact, talking about the vastness of creation, let me read this to you. In August of 1989, the unmanned spacecraft Voyager 2 sailed 2.8 billion miles to the edge of our solar system and herald over the polar ice cap of Neptune in a scientific feat that was called the cosmic equivalent of sinking a 2,260 mile putt. It transmitted to scientists in California astonishing photographs of a strange and stormy world. Voyager 2’s images showed a planet covered by a thick haze of helium and hydrogen with 101,500 mile per hour winds pushing frozen clouds of methane across its surface.
In its Southern hemisphere, scientists saw a tremendous storm system, a continuous counter cyclone as big as the earth in diameter. Traveling at 60,000 miles per hour, it took Voyager 2 12 years just to get to the outer rim of our solar system. Long after it stopped sending signals to the Earth, it was still traveling through space. It is estimated that in the year 40,176, it will likely pass within 1.7 light years of the star Ross 248, and in the year 296,036, will perhaps come within 4.3 light years of the star Sirius. Say, pastor, that’s kind of just mind boggling. Exactly. Exactly. Now, one writer says this. “If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation.” I mean, why the wider galaxy? I mean, you and I aren’t going to live there anytime soon, are we? It’s not as if we can mine it, use it.
What are these planets all about? They are just an extravagant gesture of the greatness of my savior and our Lord, and he’s worthy this morning of every ounce of our praise and worship and every minute of our lives and every dollar he has given us. He’s the creator of all things. Secondly, he claims all things. He not only created all things, he claims all things. Look at verse 16. At the end, all things were created through him and look at that little phrase, and for him. Man, you do want to miss that little preposition. For him. When it comes to creation, Christ is jointly its beginning and its end. He is its instrumental cause and he is its final cause. All things sprang into life at his pleasure and for his pleasure. You and I need to grasp that. It is Christ who gives this world its meaning.
In fact, some translate this word for as toward. Toward, which makes the rendering of this text even more captivating. It would read like this. All things were created by him and toward him. Isn’t that beautiful? Bishop Lightfoot said, “As all creation passed out from him, so does it all converge again toward him.” Now, here’s the point. Everything exists in reference to Christ. When you think about that, that’s the point of the text. It was all made by him, through him, for him, toward him. Everything exists in relation and reference to Christ. That’s why folks, as Paul tells us in Philippians chapter 2, “Someday every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord, because it was all for him.” That’s why God will judge us for misspent lives. He gave us life. He gave us breath to glorify him and magnify his son.
Some of us willingly acknowledge that others will be forced someday to own that reality, but the point is all creation tilts towards Christ. All of history is moving towards Christ and folks, if that’s what God is all about, that’s what I want to be all about. In fact, the implication is this. If everything exists in reference to Christ, then everyone should live completely for him. Amen. Every inch of this universe, every person on this planet belongs to Christ. Our clothes, our cars, our food, our home, our children, our jobs, it all belongs to him. It’s all for him. All for him. He owns every blade of grass on the Earth, every speck of cosmic dust in space. What did Paul say in Acts chapter 17:20? “In him, we move and live.” We need to grasp that. He is the reason we’re alive, and if he is the reason we’re alive, then for the believer especially, Christ ought to be the meaning to all that we do.
There’s no other lifestyle for us. Anything else is absolutely irrational. Go back with me for moment to Romans chapter 12. Romans chapter 12. Look at how Romans 11 finishes. Romans 11 finishes with words something like Colossians 1 15 through 17. “For of him and through him and to him are all things in whom be glory forever, amen.” Okay? Just ignore the chapter transition. Sometimes that just gets in the way. Now, Paul has just stated that all things exist and persist by Christ for Christ. Therefore, he says, “By the mercies of God, ought we not to present our bodies a living sacrifice wholly acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service?” You know what the word reasonable there means? Logical. I’ll put it in words you and I will understand. Paul says to the Romans, “Guys, this is a no brainer. This is a no brainer. All things are to him, and for him. That includes us. Therefore, in the light of his mercies, physical, material, spiritual, eternal, let us give our lives to Jesus Christ.” He says, “There’s just no other way to live for the Christian.”
Maybe that’s a good place to finish this morning. Just is no other way to live this morning. Pastor Theodore Monod used to illustrate the necessity and the reasonableness of giving oneself to the will of God like this. Imagine a man’s passing out of a meeting and he sees a person in front of him drop a piece of paper. He goes up, picks up the piece of paper, and finds that it’s a $100 dollar bill. Then he starts to reason with himself, and his first line of thought is this. “I’ll give the person who dropped that $10 dollars and keep $90 dollars for myself. Then conscience kicks in and the man has a second line of thought and he says, “You know what? No, let’s change that. You know what I’ll do? I’ll give him $90 dollars and I’ll keep $10 dollars. That seems more reasonable,” but his conscience won’t sleep.
It is now aroused and angry, and so finally the man sighs and says to himself, “You know what? I know what I’m going to do. I will do this great and glorious thing. I’m going to consecrate that $100 to the man who lost it.” Now, if you could have heard that conversation in the man’s head, what would you have thought of his line of reasoning? Folks, that’s not a grand and glorious thing to do, to give that money back to the man who owns it in the first place. It’s a mere matter of honesty to give the man what he owns.
It’s the same with us. Why do we play this conversation in our heads? You know what? Where we try and reason why we should give the Lord, Jesus Christ this and surrender our relationships up to him and surrender our pocketbooks to him and give more time to him in the service of his kingdom. Why do we have this conversation in our mind? My friend, it’s a mere matter of honesty. It’s just logical. It’s a thing you do. It’s not good, it’s not grand, it’s just right. He who gives us life and on top of that gives us the gift of eternal life, does he not own us? He owns us twice. We’re his by breath and we’re his by blood, and surrendering our hearts, and our homes, our marriages, and our children, our jobs, and our future to him, it’s a no brainer. It’s a no brainer. It’s just logical. It’s right. It’s not a great or grand thing. It’s just the right thing to do, for all things were created by him and for him.