The Invisible Materializing (Colossians 1:15-23)

Star Trek

Perhaps others here today also spent too much time while growing up…perhaps even now…watching the original Star Trek series. Assuming you did, when someone mentions “Scotty,” what comes to mind? Do you remember him, after Captain Kirk ordered him to push their engines past their limits, saying something like, “I don’t know how much longer I can hold her together”? Perhaps, instead, his rather rotund figure as movie sequels were released?

Something else?

One of the things that stands out most to me was Scotty’s expertise with the Enterprise’s transporter.

Now, technically it only proves that he is known for operating it, but how many here have heard the phrase…

“Beam me up Scotty”?

Or maybe even said it humorously when you are in a less-than-desirable situation? 🙂

It’s a trekkie’s version of, “Stop the world, I want to get off.”

Even beyond the (fictional) skillful operation a starship transporter by an affable Chief Engineer…there is just something cool about the idea of stuff materializing out of thin air. The invisible…the immaterial…become material.

And as we continue through Colossians in this third sermon (of eleven) in the series, “Dear Least Important Church…,” we (in part) are going to see the most incredible case of that that has ever happened…even more incredible than dissembling all of a person’s atoms in point A and reassembling them in point B. No transporter. No Scottish Engineer.

Just God.

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Colossians 1:15-20

Putting sci-fi aside, let’s jump into our text for this week. We’ll do it in two parts…first looking at Colossians 1:15-20. I’d say (in both sections) to count the number of references to Jesus, but there are so many that it could take your attention off the text itself.

So many that if someone said, “Summarize what you just read in one word” your proper response would be, “Jesus.” The English Standard Version titles the entire section we are going to read today with only four words, “The Preeminence of Christ.” Since one of those four words is a definitive article (“the”) and another a preposition (“of”)…the ESV comes very close to that one word themselves…that is, it could be changed to “Preeminent Christ” or “Preeminent Jesus.”

Well, let’s hop into the first six verses of this week’s reading:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 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. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

Wow! Can you think of any way that Paul could have crammed more into 6 verses?

What’s interesting is that it may not have been Paul who originally thought up those words.

Wait! Before you assume I’m questioning the inerrancy of Scripture…what I mean is that some believe Paul included an early Christian saying into his letter to the Colossians. It would make it no less inspired…since the Holy Spirit would have led him to incorporate it. The Word Biblical Commentary explains:

The weight of NT scholarly opinion today considers that Colossians 1:15—20 is a pre-Pauline “hymn” inserted into the letter’s train of thought by the author. The preceding verses (12—14) are said to preserve the style of a confession (see above 19, 20) with its first person plurals (“we” and “us”), while the hymn itself makes no reference to the confessing community (all personal references are absent). Instead it asserts in exalted language the supremacy of Christ in creation and redemption. The immediately following words (vv 21—23) use the language of direct speech to apply themes from the hymn, especially that of reconciliation, to the Colossian community.1

The Word Biblical Commentary goes on to note that the word hymn, in this case, doesn’t mean the what we sing in between portions of our service here at the Antrim Church of Christ. Instead, stating:

The category is used broadly, similar to that of “creed,” and includes dogmatic, confessional, liturgical, polemical or doxological material (cf. Schweizer, 51, following Benoit, Christianity, 230, 231).2

So, although we won’t try to sing this section :-), we can appreciate that it may have had special meaning to the early church…and maybe appreciate its special meaning for us all the more.

And…it’s partially why I divided today’s reading into two portions.

From those half-dozen verses we just read we can easily pick up many things about the Son of God:

  • He is the image of the invisible God
  • His the firstborn of all creation
  • He created everything…EVERYTHING…
  • Nothing came before Him
  • He holds everything together
  • He is the head of the church
  • He is the firstborn from the dead
  • He is the fullness of God
  • He reconciles everything…by His blood
  • In everything he is preeminent

Notice any common words or themes?

Of course, we hear “He” (meaning “Jesus Christ”) a lot.

What else?

Everything.

Now, the original text of the ESV only used that word once (in verse 18)…but I fairly converted phrases like “all things” to “everything.”

  • Jesus was before everything.
  • Jesus created everything.
  • Jesus controls everything.
  • Jesus is the head of everything.
  • Jesus fixes everything.
  • Jesus is everything.

And, as such…

Jesus should be our everything.

Firstborn

Even going long as I do, I can’t give all six of those verses their due, and I don’t think most sitting here will have problems with most of what it says. For instance, does anyone, after the first time of reading the John chapter one question whether “by him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and earth”?

Or was anyone here surprised to hear Jesus is the head of the body of Christ…the church?

But, there is at least one thing in what we just read that has led to theological arguments. Do you know what it is?

It’s right in the first verse…

Where Jesus is called the “firstborn of all creation.”

On the surface what does Paul appear to be saying?

Well, if I said I was the firstborn of the Fahrner boys (which I am not), it would mean I was the oldest.

It definitely would, at least, mean I was a Fahrner.

On the surface, Colossians 1:15 seems to say Jesus was created…albeit first…but created.

So, I guess the Jehovah Witnesses are right and we should all apologize to the Watchtower Society.

Before we do that though :-), let’s discuss this a wee bit more.

First, this isn’t the only place Jesus is called the firstborn. For instance, Hebrews 1:6 says:

6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

And Revelation 1:5 states:

5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Which really is just a repeat of a portion of what we read in Colossians 1:18:

18 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.

Finally, very important to this discussion, is the fact that the Jewish Messiah was referred to as firstborn in Psalm 89:27:

27  And I will make him the firstborn,

the highest of the kings of the earth.

And although we’ll let some scholars explain it a bit more, that quote from Psalms pretty much explains why Paul used the word firstborn.

Well, beyond the fact that the Holy Spirit may have specifically led him to. 🙂

If you have read through the Bible, especially the Old Testament, you are familiar with how (in a normal situation) the firstborn male of a family had supremacy and authority. When someone else got the blessing of the firstborn…the supremacy and authority went with it. Do you remember Isaac’s words after he had been tricked by Jacob into giving him Esau’s blessing? Esau begged him for a blessing, and was told by his elderly father:

“Behold, I have made him [Jacob] lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” (Genesis 27:37)

Now, does the concept of firstborn make more sense?

Considering the whole “preeminence” theme of this hymn, it is correct to read “firstborn of all creation” as “in charge of all creation”…not “first created.”

And if you don’t go with that you run into a problem.

Verse 16 says “all things were created through him and for him”…and if He was created then “all things” could not have been created by Him.

(By the way, “and for him” probably means “for his honor and praise.”3)

Well, wrapping up our discussion of firstborn…

I had so many commentary quotes I wanted to share with you that either confirm what I’ve said about the meaning of “firstborn of all creation” or add to it…but we really do need to head on to the final three verses. How about just one from The Pulpit Commentary?:

What belonged to the chosen people under this title is, in the language of Ps. 89:27, concentrated on the person of the Messianic King, the elect Son of David; and firstborn became a standing designation of the Messiah. The apostle has already applied it to Christ in his relation to the Church (Rom. 8:29; see below, ver. 18), as being not the eldest simply, but one intrinsically superior to and sovereign over those whom he claims for his brethren (comp. Rom. 14:9). Here the historical birthright and actual sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ within the Church are affirmed to rest upon an original primacy over the universe itself. He is not the Church’s only, but “all creation’s Firstborn” (comp. Heb. 3:3 6, “Son over his own house”—the house of him “who built all things”). The phrase is synonymous with the “Heir of all things” of Heb. 1:2, and the “Only-begotten” of John 1:18. So far were the titles Firstborn and Only-begotten from excluding each other in Jewish thought that Israel is designated “God’s firstborn, only-begotten,” in the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon (18:4; also 2 Esdr. 6:58); and so entirely had the former become a title of sovereignty that God himself is called “Firstborn of the world” (Rabbi Bechai: see Lightfoot).4

Now do you believe that “firstborn of creation” doesn’t mean Jesus was created? 🙂

Or do I have to read some more long, dry, scholarly selections to you to beat you into theological submission?! 🙂

Colossians 1:21-23

Since I knew all of you would be compliant after that threat :-), let’s go on to Colossians 1:21-23:

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 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, 23 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.

You can see how the Word Biblical Commentary was right about the language changing before the “hymn” we read in verses 15-20…and it has again with Paul directly referencing the church at Colossae (“you”). However, Paul has segued perfectly from reconciling and “making peace by the blood of his cross” in verse 20.

The Colossians were reminded that they once needed reconciliation (they were “alienated and hostile” and “doing evil deeds”)…reconciliation by the death of the preeminent one…and to stick with the “gospel that [they] heard”…as Paul, once again, reminds them (as he did in verse 6 last week) of the gospel’s world-wide effect.

The first set of verses we read today started off on a preeminence theme and wrapped up with reconciliation. These start with reconciliation and end with perseverance…in message and in behavior.

Both sections, however, are nothing without…

Jesus.

The Invisible Materializing

I titled this sermon “The Invisible Materializing,” and I haven’t even spent time talking about it…well, other than reminiscing about Start Trek. 🙂

Let’s head back once again to the first verse of our complete selection for today. Do you remember it?

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15).

Short and sweet…and we did already talk about its most difficult part…what being “firstborn of all creation” means.

But what about “the image of the invisible God.” What can we learn from that?

Ready for some rapid-fire scriptures?

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

God is invisible because He is immaterial…incorporeal. God is spirit. Next:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Timothy 1:17).

Mainly just a reiteration of God being invisible…but doesn’t it also make sense that something that is spirit would also be immortal?

15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

Ahhh…just in case people think that God’s invisibility is like a cloaked Klingon ship and we could see Him if only He turned cloaking off, Paul tells our brother Timothy that we cannot see God.

But, the good news is that someone has made Him known to us:

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18)

And how did Jesus make God known? Well, we know from Colossians 1:13, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God”…but Hebrews 1:3 (in part) goes one step further:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Jesus isn’t just in the image of God, He is the “exact imprint.”

And, that makes a ton of sense considering John 1:1 tells Jesus “was God” and Philippians 2:6 says “he was in the form of God.”

God would naturally be the “exact imprint” of God.

Which brings us to the first two verses of Hebrews:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).

God tried to reveal Himself…

Through the Israeli’s fathers…

Through their prophets…

Through their scriptures…

But ultimately there was only one way to show people exactly how He was.

Through His Son.

Blindness

So, the Invisible materialized…but sadly, with too many, even that wasn’t enough:

4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Just as he temporarily did with Adam and Eve in the Garden, “the god of this world” has fooled what I suspect is the vast majority of humans who have lived through the ages (and who are alive now), and they cannot see the good news…the glory of Christ…the image of God.

Now…I know that all this invisible God talk can be confusing. “Alan, I thought you said we couldn’t see God…but then you said God materialized in Jesus. What gives?”

What gives is that although we know Jesus is God…and I believe before His incarnation He too was invisible…”God” in these words from Paul mean the Father…and He is the one we’ll never see. For that matter, right now I don’t think we could even take seeing Jesus if He allowed His full glory to show.

But we can see what is most glorious about God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)…His character…in Jesus.

Assembly of the Firstborn

Last week I asked you if you would like to be called “saints in light.” I’ve got another offer…

How would you like to be part of the “assembly of the firstborn”?

Let’s wrap up with Hebrews 12:22-24:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

You have seen the image of God…the exact imprint of His nature. Will you be blinded by the god of this world, or will you be drawn to “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” and become part of “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”?

Because, as we’ve learned twice in today’s verses from Colossians…the “firstborn” is Jesus…and unless you are attracted to him you’ll be part of an entirely different assembly.

Nobody in their right mind would choose anything but the assembly of the firstborn, because…

“Dear least important church, Jesus is everything…and should be everything to you…”

Footnotes

1O’Brien, P. T. (2002). Vol. 44: Word Biblical Commentary : Colossians-Philemon. Word Biblical Commentary (32). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

2Ibid.

3Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2294). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

4The Pulpit Commentary: Colossians. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (8). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


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