We continue our study of Colossians this week in chapter 1:15-23. Remember that Paul is writing to a newly birthed church in Colossae that is likely composed primarily of Gentile Christians – non-Jews who have heard the message of salvation brought to them by their fellow-countryman Epaphras. They receive the gospel from him with gladness and as a result had become members of the divine household of faith. As a result, they had a sure and certain hope of eternal life with God. In 1:3-8, Paul reports to them his prayer of thanksgiving to God for the great love the Colossians have shown to “all the saints.” This love was an overflow of the love shown to them by God through the forgiveness of their sins by the blood of Christ. We said that Christians who have known the salvation of Christ will feel such love that they cannot help themselves, their vocation, their whole lives becomes characterized by loving Christian service which flows forth without any need for reciprocation, so that the love of the Christian is an overflow, an extension of the love of Christ shown towards them, which glorifies Christ.
In 1:9-14, Paul reports to the Colossians his prayers of intercession on their behalf, that they would receive the knowledge and wisdom of God so that they might “ … walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Paul shows us, then, two ways in which Christians engage in prayer on behalf of others, and we were challenged by this text to keep our own brothers and sisters in prayer, that they might know the know the grace of God more deeply, and develop a deeper knowledge of the God who has saved them, so that they might be sanctified and prepared for the last day. Part of loving others in the church is to express a longing that the Lord will finish in them the great work He started when they were made alive in Christ (Philippians 1:6).
We also considered how the Christian develops a deeper knowledge of God, and we showed how that knowledge comes primarily to us when the Holy Spirit applies God’s Word to our hearts in preaching. Last week, I happened across a “Tweet” which spoke nicely to this. Someone, another preacher I think, said, “Do you want to hear God speak to you? Read your bible. Do you want to hear God speak to you audibly? Read the bible aloud.” We are shaped, molded, surgically repaired (sometimes painfully), and made holy when God’s word is preached and incorporated into us by the Holy Spirit. Just as God spoke the universe into existence through his Speech, he brings new life to spiritually dead people through the preached word, through speech inspired and guided by His own Holy Spirit.
This kind of speech is absolutely critical to us because Christians are people who have been transferred into a new kingdom reality. They are picked up, cleansed by the blood of Christ, and placed into a new kingdom where they need a roadmap for how to live fully into this new reality. In 1:13-14, Paul writes, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We are called to be holy people. That’s what it means to be called saints, holy ones of God. God does this for us out of his grace, and so we need his word. Beware if you think you don’t need to know God’s word, or to hear it regularly. It’s the essential bread and water of Christian life!
This week, Paul will sing about the Son who has redeemed his people, to show us his cosmic beauty and glory, and will then show us how this applies to those who are his disciples. The questions of this sermon are these: Who is the Son and what has he accomplished?
What Paul now writes is widely accepted by scholars to be a kind of hymn celebrating the preeminence of Christ above all things in the universe.
 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  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.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.Who is the Son? Who is Jesus? Jesus is God: Verse 15 makes plain to us that if you want to see God, you see him in the fullness of his Son, Jesus. When you encounter Jesus, you encounter God. Paul refers to him as “the firstborn of all creation,” a phrase which was used by a man named Arius to suggest that Jesus was a created being and not fully God. But the so-called Arian heresy is revealed to be false by simply looking at the next two verses. Those verses show that “firstborn” means “highest honor” or “highest rank.” Paul declares the truth that “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rules or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” This affirms the truth of John 1,
[1:1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.The Son was the means by which the Father created everything in the cosmos. This is the Jesus we worship. And should this be the only God we desire to worship? Is this the way you think of Jesus when you worship? Our society demands a much tamer Jesus than this, one that endorses our sin instead of one who calls us to repentance; one who supports our political projects rather an the one who demands total allegiance and obedience. The Jesus of the Bible created everything and owns everything in all places everywhere in the universe. Christians are those who acknowledge by faith that this is fundamental reality and truth. They are those who, you will remember, have been transferred out of the kingdom:
 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.The implications are huge, because if all things were created through Jesus the Son for himself, that means that we do not belong to ourselves and we were not created for own ends or purposes. Instead, we were created for something much larger, much more cosmic in nature than the little kingdoms we would naturally prefer and imagine we control. By the way, if you think you are in control of your life you should re-read verse 17
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.The very existence of the universe, which includes you and your life, is utterly dependent upon the ongoing breath of the cosmic Christ. “In him all things hold together.” Without him, all things would disintegrate and become nothing.
I recently heard an author by the name of Nate Wilson illustrate this very point. He asked the audience to think this through: What are these pews made out of? Well, you might reply, they are made out of wood. Well, then, replied Nate, what is the wood made out of? Well, it’s made from molecules. This went on and on. What are molecules made out of? Atoms. Atoms? Smaller bits? What are those smallest bits made out of? This went on and on until Wilson said, “You know that this chair is made out of. Nothing!” That is the doctrine of creation from Genesis 1. God spoke and the universe was created ex nihilo, a fancy Latin way of saying “out of nothing.” Our ongoing existence and the existence of everything in the universe, seen and unseen, is totally dependent upon the ongoing, sustaining, shout of the Lord of the Universe. The breath you just took, therefore, is a grace from God. God creates and sustains through speech. C.S. Lewis illustrated this beautifully in his story The Magician’s Nephew, the first of the Narnia books, in the chapter entitled, “The Fight at the Lamp-post.” In the pitch black of Nothing, the main characters of the story suddenly hear a voice begin to sing. Soon grey light appears over the horizon. As the light of the blazing sun breaks forth over the creation, a mighty Lion appears. “Its mouth was wide open in song.” The Lion sings the creation into existence. His voice instantly calls forth thousands of stars, planets, our sun, green grass, a light wind, water, trees, creatures, and on and on and on. It’s a literary painting of Genesis chapter 1, and a great image of the true Voice that creates and sustains the cosmos, including you right now. Isn’t this the God we ought to long to worship?
Now we move to our second point: Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” (v 15) because “he is before all things” (v 17). He is the author of creation, but he’s also the author of something else. He has accomplished something.
 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.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.He is the head of this body Paul refers to as “the church.” What does the church consist of? I think we get the answer from the rest of verse 18. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” Jesus was the first to be resurrected from the dead, and therefore has the claim of being Lord of both the creation and the life to come, so that “in everything he might be preeminent.” The church is comprised of those individuals who were spiritually dead and under the divine wrath of God for sin, but who by the blood of Jesus have been transferred into a new kingdom and are being fashioned into new creatures who will ultimately resemble their creator, who is Jesus. This is the same thing Paul says in his letter to the Romans at 8:29
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.So Paul has announced that the Colossians have been reconciled to God through the saving blood of Christ, and that this Christ is properly owed all allegiance because He is God and the Lord of all creation.
This is the Christ we worship. And our worship should reflect this reality. We are in the middle of Lent now, and we will be speaking more extensively about worship this coming Wednesday with our Lutheran Friends. If we are going to properly worship, we need to know whom it is we are worshipping. So these words from Paul, written to a new church, are especially important to us today because they show us the God we worship, and the universal scope of his kingdom. It is the Christ here who calls you from spiritual death to eternal life. And it is the Christ who qualified you for the kingdom at the greatest cost to Himself.
Paul then shows the Colossians, and us, how what Christ’s ministry of reconciliation does in the lives of his children.
 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,  he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,  if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.All kinds of truth here: Anyone who is in Christ was once alienated, hostile in mind, and doing evil deeds. We are creatures who sin and whose unholiness disqualifies us eternally from God’s presence. That is why the doctrine of hell exists, because it is real. But there’s good news. Those who were alienated and enemies of God “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.” In love, Christ died to preserve his children from destruction, so that they might be presented as holy and blameless, beyond any reproach by God at the Day of Judgment. That’s what it means to be reconciled to God. It means you have been saved from yourself! Have you accepted this work of Christ on your behalf and have been so saved? I have to ask the question, because as an ordained minister of word and sacrament is it my responsibility, but I’m compelled even more to ask because I love you and desire that all here know the saving power of the “blood of his cross.”
You may be saying to yourself: Yes, I think I have? But how can I be sure? One of the ways of gaining assurance of our faith is in the last few verse of this text:
 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.A saving faith is a faith that is persistent, it is “stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard [have heard, and will hear again!], which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and which I, Paul,” and I, Chris, and I, anyone who is in this congregation who is in Christ Jesus, “became a minister.”
Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe, the firstborn of creation of the firstborn of the dead, calls you in this service to trust in Him. It is this same Jesus who said, in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Receive Christ’s word today and be sustained in faith by his grace. And if you haven’t done so already, and you are hearing him call you for the first time, don’t delay! Receive him and be saved. Christ be praised for his preeminence over all creation and over his body, the church! Amen.
Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
March 27, 2011
Third Sunday in Lent
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew