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Mosaic Spokane

Our Incomparable Christ, Pt. 2

Incomparable Christ, Part 2

Series: The Anatomy of a Savior; #4

July 10, 2016

COMMUNION:

Today we’re focusing on the preeminence of Jesus Christ to our faith in and experience of God.  Being a Christian is to be all about Christ Jesus. 

            When we come to church and the Lord’s Table, it is SO easy to be focusing on something else—the weather, what you have planned this afternoon, the pain in your back, the challenges of the week.  But worship is to be all about Jesus…and this IS a “worship service.”  It is actually our “service of worship” of God.  And that’s where the centrality and priority of Jesus comes in.  Nothing is to fog or obscure our worship of Jesus, even if it is something (or someone?) beautiful and good.

ILLLeonardo da Vinci once asked a friend to critique his masterpiece of the ‘Last Supper.’ As they gazed at the painting, his friend remarked, ‘The most striking thing in this painting is… the cup!  It’s amazing!’ Da Vinci immediately and spontaneously took his brush and wiped out the cup as he said, ‘Nothing in my painting shall attract more attention than the face of my Master!’ [Found online at https://bible.org/seriespage/4-preeminence-christ-colossians-115-19 on July 8, 2016.]

            So as we come to the Lord’s Table today, may noting in our lives attract our attention more than Jesus.  May our hearts and minds be focused upon the greatness of his love, his forgiveness, his grace, his mercy, his sacrifice, etc.  _______________________________-

 

Message INTRO:

It’s been another violent and tragic week in our nation.  This time it wasn’t fanatical, radical Muslims who killed dozens and rocked our sense of security.  It was people most would call average Americans—a former African-American Veteran who served this country in Afghanistan, a couple of white police officers in Baton Rouge, LA, who had served their city well for 7 years but shot Alton Sterling. 

The sniper deaths of 5 police officers in Dallas was truly tragic. 

So was the murder of about 7 people in New York City this past week—roughly 1 per day, every day of the week.

So was the murder of 13 people in Chicago since July 1st as well as the 89 people shot and wounded during the same period.

[Look at overhead graphics of murder breakdowns by age, race, etc.]

            So were the murders of almost 2 people a day in L.A. County over this past year, some 660 people.  48% of them were Latinos, 34% of them Blacks, 12% were white, 4% were Asian.

            We live in a violent country.  But we also live in a country that prides itself upon, in theory, “treating everyone equal.”  We talk about “gender equality and “workplace equality,equal protection under the law.”  We clamor for “equal justice” and “equal rights” in everything we can possibly think of. 

            We get a bit irked if not downright angry when we perceive that justice is circumvented or trampled miscarried. 

            So when we go to church and hear the Word of God and the preacher delivering it talking about the “supremacy of Christ” or of our God over other gods…or the Bible over other books… something in us just sort of winces in reaction.  We “love” equality…at least in theory!

But may I propose that our supposed “love of equality” is really killing us?  I’m not talking about equality between races or the sexes.  I’m talking about our love of supposed equality when it comes to religions and divine beings

            The God we serve never asked us to treat him like we treat all other human or divine beings.  He called upon us to treat Him differently....to worship Him as supreme…to honor His Word as THE Truth, not one truth among many.  And the farther any person or society drifts from doing that, the deeper they sink into inequality.  The deeper they are mired in the very prejudices and inequities they claim to hate.  The more we as individuals and we as a society fail to both recognize and to honor the supremacy, the incomparable nature and the preeminence in every way of the one True God, the more we will see our society crumble and collapse under the weight of its own rebellion, sin and supposed “equality.” 

            That’s one very good reason why we must study the text we are in today in Colossians 1.  But there are many more reasons that impact us at a more individual level. When we fail to understand just what the supremacy and preeminence of Christ Jesus means to our own relationship with God as well as other people, we will fail at life and at a multitude of relationships in life that matter to us.   

            Let’s start today by contemplating the supremacy of Jesus in a part of our experience we ended last week talking about:  our SALVATION. Last week we were introduced to the concept of God the Son being the very one who provided redemption and forgiveness of sins.  Look at Col. 1:13, 14—“For he [God] rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

            We gave a little thought to the darkness we’ve all been rescued from and to some “darknesses” in particular that some of us have escaped from.  Living in the darkness of sin can be a horrible, destructive experience. 

We also ended last week talking about some of the astronomical ransoms that have been paid for wealthy people around the world at various times in human history.  That is the idea behind the word “redemption”—a payment that secures the release of someone in slavery or condemned to death.  Not living in a slave culture, we tend to miss the emotional power of the idea of being redeemed from slavery

ILL:  You might want to go read some of the accounts coming out of Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Nigeria about how horrific the sex slavery is under Bokko Haram and the Islamic State in our day, here and now.

            Spiritually, morally, relationally and eternally that level of devastation is what sin brings to every human being apart from Christ.  But “in Him”…in Jesus…we have been purchased out of that disfiguring, degrading slave-market and been granted “forgiveness of sins.”

            From the supremacy of Christ in redemption and forgiveness in this world, Paul moves to the positive side of salvation:  being saved TO a right relationship with God.

Here’s the first amazing way Jesus is supreme to ALL other religions, all supposed saviors, philosophies, psychology and so-called gods:

  1. Jesus is Preeminent in Reconciling People to the living God!

This is THE grand difference between Jesus Christ and ALL other religions and their prophets or saviors.  Jesus paid it all…for all of us…for all time. 

In other religions, YOU must do the paying, the working and the sacrificing to even hope to achieve any measure of salvation.  You can never be sure you’ve done enough but you can be sure that if you mess up, there will be a huge, perhaps eternal price to pay. 

            Jesus’ preeminence in reconciling people to God is repeated at the end of this paragraph in vs. 20—“19) For God was pleased…20) through Him [Jesus Christ] to reconcile to Himself [God the Father] all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” 

            Let’s talk about reconciliation for a moment.  The original word here is a word Paul probably invented to be used of what Jesus does.  It only occurs 3 times in the N.T., 2 in this chapter of Colossians (1:20, 22) and 1 in his letter to the Ephesians (2:16).  Look at all three of them:

  • Colossians 1:20--…through Him [Jesus Christ] to reconcile to Himself [God the Father] all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
  • Colossians 1:22-- “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation….”
  • Ephesians 2:1614 Forhe himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

Clearly, it is the death of Jesus—his physical, bodily death—that reconciles…makes peace…for every human being who longs to be right with God.  In Ephesians 2, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ death reconciles both Jews and Gentiles “to God”.  Col. 1:22 makes it clear that this reconciling is not only taking care of the enmity and conflict between us and God but it moves us into the realm of actually being holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” 

            Paul is addressing a couple of issues here at once.  First, there was this errant group of people preaching what we call Gnosticism.  Gnosticism is the belief that anything physical is evil and what really counts is only what is spiritual.  All sorts of practical problems grew out of that.  For example, sexual immorality was excused because if the physical, fleshly realm of experience is irredeemable, they taught that you could engage in sexual activity outside of the marriage bond and not have it affect your spiritual life. In other words, you could do whatever you want with your body since it was a “lost cause” anyway, but still be pure in your spirit somehow. 

            That is, frankly, totally opposite of what God says.  We are body, soul and spirit, interconnected and united in such a way that what one part of us does affects all parts of us.  God wants holiness in our hearts, our minds, our souls and our bodies.  And, says Paul, that is precisely how it was with Jesus.  In fact, his perfect life and substitutionary death, in a human body, was what reconciled us to God the Father. 

APP:  Frankly, this is why we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).  This is why there NEVER should be hostility or enmity between two brothers or sisters in the body of Christ.  Jesus paid the highest price possible for us to be reconciled to the Father against whom we have all sinned grievously and infinitely.  Why should it surprise us that it might cost us a little to live reconciled to each other? If we want to be more like Jesus Christ, then we need to embrace the reality that reconciliation costs.  Since it cost God, the innocent party, death on the cross, should we not be willing to pay whatever price necessary to live out that heart of reconciliation towards those who offend us, sin against us over and over again? Other people might not accept our work of reconciliation…just as millions don’t accept Christ’s work of reconciliation every day of life.  But we are always called to mirror the costly, sacrificial reconciliation work of Jesus towards every human being we encounter in life. 

This all brings us to another heresy that some try to draw out of this verse in Colossians 1:20, namely the notion that all people and even all demonic forces will someday be saved. That is a radical universalism that contradicts many other Scriptures (e.g., 2 Thess. 1:6-10Matt. 25:41, 46Rev. 20:10-15).

Rather, by “the blood of His cross” Christ made peace with His former enemies whom the Father had given Him (Eph. 2:11-22; John 6:37). And through His death and resurrection, Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities, triumphing over them (Col. 2:15).  So the reconciliation is not universal because it isn’t accepted universally. But it does include both the heavens and the earth in that God will one day bring a new heaven and new earth into being when the “old” is replaced.  He will restore the entire creation to the sinless glory of the intended perfect order (Rev. 21:1).

So Jesus Christ is supreme and preeminent in restoring people to God and eventually the created universe to God’s intended glory and purpose.   

So now, let’s go back to vs. 15 to see another way in which Jesus Christ is preeminent in our world.  “The Son is the image of the invisible God….” 

  1. Jesus Christ is the foremost, perfect and preeminent vision of God we will ever have in this life.

That word “image” comes from the Greek word “eikon” which means “a faithful representation of…”   God who is spirit (John 4:24) is not visible to the human eye (1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27).  But Jesus made the invisible God visible.  His life, his actions, his words—they all faithfully and visibly presented the invisible God.

            This truth of Christ as God is laid out by other biblical authors this way:

  • The Apostle John expressed it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.... No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:1, 14, 18).
  • Jesus said to Philip who was questioning what God was like, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say,‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).
  • The author of Hebrews 1:3says of Christ, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

So what?  What should we DO with this knowledge that a man named Jesus, who walked the earth 2,000 years ago, was God in human flesh, perfectly representing to us who God is…unlike any description of God we could have gotten in any other way. 

APP:  What is the proper response to seeing God as He is? 

  • Worship & Adoration: for anyone but God, that would be idolatry.  But Jesus accepted the worship of people as both Lord and God.  To the doubting Thomas in John 20, Jesus said, 27 “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Revelation 14:6--Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

From the worship of the Magi in Mt. 2:11 to worship of Mary and the women in the Garden when they encountered the resurrected Jesus  in Mt. 28:9 and the worship the disciples offered him in Mt. 28:17, worship is the right response to Jesus who is the preeminent manifestation of God this world will ever see. 

  • Contemplation and Imitation: Anyone who wants to know, to love and to serve God must make the contemplation of Jesus Christ central to their spiritual experience.  This is why we should always be reading something of the Gospels.  This is why we should always be asking God to show us Jesus in the Scriptures we are reading.  (That’s not the same as “seeing Jesus in every passage of Scripture.”)  The more we “see” Jesus with the eyes of our spirit, the more we will become like Christ in the thoughts, attitudes and actions of life. 

The next phrase Paul trots out about Jesus is also in vs. 15“The Son is…the firstborn over all creation.”  Three verses later, in vs. 18, Jesus is called “…the firstborn from among the dead.”  So Paul is trying to communicate something through this term “firstborn.”    

So let’s ask, “What exactly can “firstborn” mean?”  Here are the options.

  • Firstborn can mean first in birth order or first created. For instance, Luke in Luke 2:7 says that Jesus was Mary “gave birth to her firstborn, a son.”  So that term can mean “first in chronological order.” 
  • Firstborn can mean first in position or rank, in priority and favor.
    1. An example of that would be how God uses that word to speak of Israel in Exodus 4:22-- “Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son.’” Israel certainly wasn’t the first nation God ever created.  But they were a specially favored nation, chosen by God to display His glory to the world.
    2. In Psalm 89:27, God says of the Davidic King, the Messiah, “I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Clearly, “firstborn” here referred to being first in rank, not first in time. The firstborn was preeminent over his brothers and sisters. Thus Jesus is supreme over not only all the kings who have ever reigned, but also over all creation, because He created it.

It is here that I must bring in a little church history.  Don’t go to sleep on me just because I said the word “history.”  History can teach us a lot and save us a lot of painful learning…IF we will learn from it.

            In the 4th century A.D., there was a church leader and teacher named Arius.  When he read this passage, he decided that it must mean that Jesus was not God himself but a creation of God, someone created “first” and therefore not God.  He stitched this together with other fragments of Scripture that could, if taken simply by themselves, lead one to believe that Jesus was not fully God.  (For example, when the Gospels talk about Jesus getting “tired” (Jn. 4:6) or “not knowing the day or hour” of His own return (Mt. 24:36).) 

            The problem with that belief is that it makes a created being the object of worship, something God says is idolatry.  God does not share worship with other beings because he knows that if we worship anything less than him, that false worship will eventually destroy us.

 It’s not that God is some egocentric maniac.  He knows that when we “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator…” it does not lead to good things (Romans 1:25).  Arius was headed down that road, and the 4th century church called several councils to address that errant belief. 

            Rather than accepting what this passage in Colossians and others teach about Jesus being THE Creator rather than someone created, Arius held to his belief that Christ was created because he chose to interpret “firstborn” in the created sense rather than the priority and position or rank sense.  It is a belief that finds its modern day expression in two well known groups in America—Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  [Not trying to offend anyone.]

            But look at what verses 16-17 of Colossians 1 say:

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

So in the immediate context, Paul means that Jesus Christ has absolute priority over all creation because He existed before it. He states this plainly at the beginning of verse 17: “He is before all things.” This means priority in time. The present tense is similar to when Jesus told the Jews (John 8:58), “Before Abraham was born, I am.” The Jews got the message, as seen by the fact that they picked up stones to stone Him.

But here is where groups like the Mormons and the J.W.s err.  The Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation [Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York], rev. 1970 ed.) insertsother” before “all things” at both the beginning and end of that verse (plus twice in vs. 17 and once in vs. 20), even though it is not in any Greek manuscripts. They inserted that word there because it’s obvious that if Christ created all things visible and invisible, then He Himself cannot be created. Here’s how they make it read:

15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 ) because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. 17  Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist….”  That’s imposing your errant theology on a text rather than letting a text speak for itself and determine your theology. 

John 1:3 reinforces the orthodox interpretation of Colossians 1 when it says, All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” If Jesus was created, then he is part of the “all things” that came into being and can’t be the uncreated God. That clearly cannot be the case from these very scriptures.

Also, the fact that Christ created all the invisible powers also shows that the Colossian heretics who advocated angel worship (Col. 2:18) were in error. They should worship the Creator of angels, not the angels He created (see also Heb. 1:6—“And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’.”)

Not only did Jesus create all that exists, He also sustains it (Col. 1:17): “In Him all things hold together.” This is similar to Hebrews 1:3, which asserts that Jesus “upholds all things by the word of His power.” It means that if Jesus decided to “let go,” the entire universe would disintegrate!

            How sad that in our day, the very sciences that were put there by our creator have become the means by which so many lose their faith in God.  Rather than seeing the amazing complexity, vastness, beauty and power of God, so many see nothing but physical laws and chemical interactions.  But they have NO explanation for why those laws are there or why atoms and molecules should have the amazing properties and interactions they do.

APP:  So what does the truth that our Lord and Savior Jesus both created and sustains everything in existence, both visible and invisible, have to do with us?  How is that meant to change the way we live? 

CREATOR

  • Surely the one who makes something knows what is best for it.

ILL:  Some years ago a South American company purchased a fine printing press from a firm in the United States. After it had been shipped and completely assembled, the workmen could not get it to operate properly. The most knowledgeable personnel tried to remedy the difficulty and bring it into proper adjustment, but to no avail.

Finally the company wired a message to the manufacturer, asking that the company send a representative immediately to fix it. Sensing the urgency of the request, the U.S. firm chose the person who had designed the press. When he arrived on the scene, the South American officials were skeptical—the young man was obviously wet behind the ears.

After some discussion, they sent this cable to the manufacturer: ‘Your man is too young; send a more experienced person.’ The reply came back:‘He made the machine. He can fix it!’ [R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 33.]

  • What needs “fixing” in your life? Recreating? Ready to ask the Lord Jesus Christ who made you and the entire universe you will ever see to take charge of you?
  • You ready for a fresh, new work of the Creator IN you?
  • Ready to worship the Creator rather than the creation? How could we do that in fresh ways that lead us to live in Him?

SUSTAINER

  • What sustaining work is needed in you right now? What are you in danger of doubting God will see you through? 
  • What should you be thanking God for sustaining, holding together in your universe of experience? How should praise for his constant, often unnoticed sustaining grace in your life be more a part of our experience? 

 

Lastly, this passage tells us one more way our Lord is preeminent and supreme.  Vs. 18—“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

  1. Jesus Christ is preeminent over the CHURCH.

            Here we have that term “firstborn” again.  Only this time, it is coupled with a separate statement of “the beginning” or being first in time.  If firstborn always meant “first in time/chronology,” then it would be a very redundant phrase.  But Paul is pointing out that not only was he the first in time of those given an imperishable resurrected body; he is also the most important, the priority of all who will experience resurrection (which the Bible says will be everyone who has ever lived, both friends and enemies of God, reconciled and rebellious—Rev. 20:11-15).

            Then there is this little bit about Jesus being “the head of the body, the church.”  We don’t make Jesus head of His church;  He already IS!  But I wonder how much of what we claim is “the church” really is?  I’m not talking about who’s in and who’s out.  I’m talking about WHAT we’re doing and not doing.  I’m thinking about who we’re focused on whenever we’re seeking to BE the church in this world. How much of what we are doing is really coming from Jesus, our head, and how much is just spasmodic jerks of independent actions disconnected from the head?

ILL:  My leg muscle involuntary twitches vs. running well.

I’m no medical doctor.  But I’ve seen enough comatose patients in the hospital, enough people on life support who are nonetheless “brain-dead” to know that, if you separate the head from the rest of the body, NONE of the body works… at all!  Every organ, every muscle and every limb is only as good as its connection to the head.  Break that connection and nothing works.

APP:

  • How we doing on a personal level staying in touch with Christ, our head? What are we doing regularly, daily, hourly to do that?
  • How about us as a spiritual family? How do you know your leaders are following Christ’s leadership?  What are we seeking to cultivate together that will enable us to follow our Lord’s leadership together…in this city…in our neighborhood …with the people God has blessed us with? 

It’s not just about spending more time together (although that might help our connectivity a lot as friends).  It’s about spending our time together submitting to Jesus’ preeminence and giving Him the supremacy in everything we’re doing as His church. 

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