Today we are going to be studying the greatness of Jesus Christ from Colossians chapter 1. The passage we are going to look at answers some of the biggest questions that we face, Life questions. Questions like:
- Where did we come from?
- What is my purpose in life?
I got into a conversation about these questions with a business co-worker at my company Panduit back a few years ago. We had some time with just the 2 of us in the car driving back from a meeting so I asked him about his faith. He shared that he wasn’t a church going type. So I asked him these big questions…where did we come from? What happens when we die? My friend was very science minded, and took a very analytical approach. Like science has the answers. But as we spoke it seemed to me that it provided some compelling reasonings, but it didn’t provide many answers. So, I shared some of my thoughts on some of these questions, in particular, how significant it was for Jesus Christ to come to earth. So I asked him, what do you make of Jesus? His reply was this. there are stars that are billons of light years away from earth. That there are supernovas and planets and stars and galaxies. And you’re going to tell me that one man from this one little planet earth means all this?
How do you answer a question like this? How do you think about Jesus and the vastness of the galaxy? Listen to the response given by John Piper’s in his book “Don’t Waste Your Life”.
Why would God have bothered to create such a microscopic speck called earth and humanity and then get involved with us? Beneath this question is a fundamental failure to see what the universe is about. It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself. And he says it for us to learn and enjoy – namely, that he is infinitely great and powerful and wise and beautiful. The disproportion between us and the universe is a parable about the disproportion between us and God. And it is an understatement.
Today I want to look at the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ from Colossians chapter 1. And as we behold his glory, the glory as of the only son of God, it will be for our joy. So lets read Colossians 1, beginning in verse 15:
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, 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
Our passage today answers some of the biggest questions that we face. Have you ever thought about these Life questions – questions like the ones I asked my Panduit friend?
Immanuel Kant in his classic “Critique of pure reason” says that there are three questions you must answer, three questions that thoughtful people must work through:
- What can I know? Meaning – what can I know that is real, that is truth
- What ought I know? Or you could say this: what ought I know to do that which is right
- What may I hope? What is my hope for the future, what is it that I should live for
What are the answers that you have for questions like these?
While I would not want to learn theology from Immanuel Kant, I do believe the questions he presented to be helpful. As thoughtful people living a life that honors God, these are questions we need an answer for. So, with our time today, I want to answer 3 “life questions” that God has answered explicitly for us in Colossians 1:
- Where did we come from?
- Why did Jesus have to die?
- What is my purpose in life?
- Where did we come from?
This question explores the origins of life, specifically, where did I come from? It speaks to how we were created and who created us. There is much debate about this question, in the scientific community, in the educational co, even among Christians – in an attempt to understand how, in fact, were we created?
Visible and invisible
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities vs. 16
Where did we come from? We were created, the entire created cosmos, was created by God through his son Jesus Christ. As John the apostle writes: “without him, nothing was made that was made”.
Our passage says that Jesus created all things in heaven and on earth, similar to the creation account of Genesis 1 which says “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. But the reference in Genesis 1:1 is believed to mean “heavens” as in, the stars of the sky, and “earth” as in planet earth. But in Colossians 1, there is even more precision, an even wider scope, as Paul says through Jesus the visible and invisible were created: that not only were the stars and the earth and all the creatures on the earth created through Jesus, but the invisible heavens were also created: the throne room, the seraphim, the angels, the devils; all created through Christ.
This precision by Paul is related to his audience, the church in Colossae. At the time of this letter being written, the Colissian church would have been heavily influenced by Greek philosophies. So talk of Jesus as a diety, would have placed him in the conversation about other mythical Greek gods like Zues. One tenets of Greek philosophies, known as dualism, said that matter is evil and the spirit is good. Such a belief would mean I should punish the physical body (matter) in order to further myself in the spirit – this is where we get a belief like asceticism, which we will see in chapter 2 is another issue faced by the Colossian church. But in addition to this problem, such a philosophy also poses an issue for creation: how did God, who is SPIRIT, who is good, create Matter, people, the planet – which are bad? He would have needed a lesser intermediary, a “spirit emanation” to send out from his holy presence to do the dirty work of creating matter…so in comes Jesus. Is Jesus this “lesser intermediary”?
Paul makes 2 powerful claims in this passage:
- Yes, it was THROUGH Jesus that God created ALL things: the earth, the stars, people…everything
But wait – so is Jesus then not fully God, is his deity tainted because he is part of matter which is evil?
- Verse 19: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
Paul here says of Jesus the “Fullness” of God was please to dwell. There is not a hint of anything lesser in the person of Christ – he is the fullness of God on display in the person of Jesus Christ.
In Colossae they would misunderstand the greatness of Christ, the preeminence of Christ as they struggled with Greek gods and Greek philosophy. Similarly in our day we misunderstand the preeminence of Christ with our modern beliefs – like the one my Panduit friend expressed: Jesus is only a mere man, a teacher, along the lines of other great moral teachers like Mohamed or Krishna. Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, and he is so exalted over creation, that of him the bible says:
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:9–11).
Where did we come from?
Where did we come from? We were created by God through his son Jesus Christ. And Christ as creator is preeminent over all creation – and therefore he is worthy of our worship, worthy of our praise. At the name of Jesus every knee should bow. As preeminent, he is also one that we are submitted to, as subjects are submitted to a king, Jesus is not just worthy of praise, but unlike another teacher or sage, we are accountable to this king. This is not one of those college electives – just pick one that sounds interesting to you- this is a core requirement…every knee, over all people, over all creation, Christ is preeminent.
- Why did Jesus have to die?
Why did Jesus have to die? This was a righteous man, who, if anyone deserved a good life, a happy life, it was him. But instead, he is wrongfully accused and put to death. Why? If God is God and this is the son of God, how can something like this happen? As a Christian, wrestling with life questions, this one is so important to consider. Is Jesus an example? And his sacrificial death is an example of giving yourself away that you should emulate? Or is there more to it than that?
Look at Verse 20:
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (vs. 20)
in Paul’s description of the preeminence of Christ, there is another step that he must take to give us the full picture of the greatness of Christ: the cross. Jesus is not only the “firstborn of all creation”; preeminent over all creation, be he is also “the firstborn from the dead”; conquering death, and preeminent over redemption.
This phrase “making peace” by the cross, is not to say jesus signed some kind of peace treaty with the devil. At the cross Christ “reconciled to himself all things” - meaning that he was “making peace” as in “subduing and enemy”. This is like two forces met on the field of battle and the enemy was completely defeated and now the victor reigned, restoring the peace by eliminating the threat of the enemy. There was a conquest completed by Christ at the cross.
Paul develops this idea of Christ conquest even more in Colossians chapter 2, saying
having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Notice the language Paul uses here: he disarmed the rulers and authorities…triumphing over them…these words associated with a military battle, a battle that was fought and won by Christ. But that there was this struggle infers that there was land taken that had to be won back…There was once a claim against us in our sin: justice had a legal claim against us that demanded our guilt before God.
Justification is a term we often use to describe salvation – it describes our legal standing before God as not guilty because of the work of Christ. Our standing as justified and forgiven is the other side of the verdict – but before this verdict there was a record of debt against us. The devil would use this guilt, this judgement, to accuse and condemn us. Those legal demands that kept us bound in condemnation, that the accuser of the brethren had against us are now canceled. We who were captive have been set free.
Come the fount
The classic hymn “Come thou fount” describes this: He to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood. Do you see this danger that you are in? do you see that you are in need of a rescuer? Of a savior? I put myself in harms way, but he rescued me from danger.
In the cross we see God drawing near to us in a powerful way. Why did Jesus have to die? In our falleness and brokenness we were separated from God. The relationship that God desired with us was impossible. So in love he sent his son jesus. So you could experience that relationship restored, reconciled.
I witnessed this first hand in my own life. I grew up with a church background, in a good home, but Jesus was more like a historical figure, like one of those bible heros. But there was a change. Knowing Jesus become personal, a friend that is closer than a brother.
This is WHY jesus had to come to earth and why jesus had to die on the cross. Because God wanted this relatihoship with you and me. It was because he wanted this intimacy, to be near to us, he wanted a relationship with us.
- What is my purpose in life?
What is my purpose in life? We have talked about how we were created, how we got here, but we have not answered the question WHY are we here. Immanuel Kant asked the question “What may I hope?” What is my hope for the future, what is it that I should live for. So this purpose in life is not simply so large category that everyone generically fits into, but it is a calling, something that I pursue, a grand purpose that deserves my highest efforts.
Through Him and For Him
Our passage addresses the issue of “what is my purpose in life” in verse 16.
all things were created through him and for him.
Paul says that not only was everything created through him, but it’s all for him! Everything exists to bring glory to Christ, to make the greatness of Christ more fully known.
This was an unprecedented statement by Paul. When Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, around 65AD, nothing like this had ever been written, no teaching in the Jewish law, no old testament prophecy about the promised messiah had ever reached these heights. Obrien commenting on this passage states
“Paul’s teaching about Christ as the goal of all creation finds no parallel in Jewish wisdom literature”.
That all of this, all of creation, all of mankind, all of history – it’s all FOR JESUS CHRIST. We were not just made through him, we were made for him.
Remember the scope of this passage – this is telling us that Jesus is preeminent in all things. Not just religious things. Not just earthly things. All things! All things past, present, future. All things are through him and for him, heading towards him, as their end being for him.
Ps 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God”…the purposes of the stars in the sky, just like our purpose as the people of God, is to bring glory to Christ.
When we divert from that path, that all creation is going, we suffer. We suffer lack and sin and hardship of soul. We are out of joint. This is exactly what happened in the garden – Adam broke from this purpose in his sin, and he as well as all of mankind, suffered. When we are loving him, when our lives are for him, then when Jesus is preeminent in our lives, we experience joy.
What we are learning from our passage is this: Greater glory to Christ means greater joy for us. Greater glory to Christ means greater joy for us.
This is true relationally – as we know Christ more fully, as we know him more intimately, we have more joy. Paul, in Philipians 3, describing the desire he has for his new life in Christ, it is “that I may know him”. The psalmist says “in your presence is fullness of joy”. As I draw near to you Jesus, is fullness of joy. The greater his glory in our eyes, the greater our joy in knowing him.
This is also true vocationally – as we spend ourselves to bring Christ glory, as we set our purpose on his glory, we receive greater joy. We were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared for us, (Eph 2:10). Romans tells us we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), and this is “our spiritual worship”. The greater the Jesus is glorified through my life, the greater my joy.
But we must understand how counter-intitive this is. How counter cultural this is. To come from the context we live, this statement Greater glory to Christ brings greater joy to us. You could even say, is a paradox. Because in fact WE want to be made much of. Greater glory to ME brings greater joy to ME. This is what we want. We live and breath this, and not just in our culture, but in the fallness and brokenness we have in Adam. I want to show you 2 examples of this that I think will help us see the temptation we face to this ME orientation.
The first is from a parable that Jesus tells in Luke 20.
∎ Luke 20
In the parable, a Vineyard owner builds a vineyard, lets it out to tenants. Then, after many years have passed, the owner sends his servant to collect from the fruits of the vineyard. But the tenants beat the master’s servant and send him away empty handed. This happens again, so the owner sends his son. His only son. Do you remember this parable? What do the tenants do when they see the son?
“when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ (Lk 20:14).
They don’t just send him home empty handed, they kill him. This is a picture of the life we see lived out all around us: rejecting the knowledge of God, rejecting the son of God – so we can have all the stuff. So, we can enjoy all the fruits of the vineyard without any regard for the owner of the vineyard or for the son, for whom this vineyard was created!
Greater glory to ME brings greater joy to ME. The greater stuff that I have, the more money I have, the greater comforts/entertainment I have – the greater my joy. So all my energy is spent on me and my stuff.
A second story of this ME orientation we face is from a theatrical play called “Waiting for Godot”. The philosophy behind the play is known as existentialism – and it teaches that because we exist, we have the independent freedom to determine our “essence”, to find our own purpose, our own destiny. And to infringe on our right to find our own purpose, from any source external to us, is to infringe on that individualism. Sound familiar? Think “the American dream”. This is the blueprint for the rugged American individualism we experience everyday.
In the play, two men are waiting along a road, standing under a tree, waiting for “Godot” aka God, who never shows up. And they end up sitting under the tree, missing out on all the grand purposes their life may have held, if they hadn’t wasted their life waiting for God. The premise here is that I am this free agent, inherently born with all this capability of achievement that is now lost because of a capricious God that doesn’t even show up. I rewrite the script with me in the center of the story, all MY time being wasted on a God that at best is capricious, at worst, doesn’t exist at all. In this paradigm I am fulfilled, I get joy, when I achieve, when I am actively working in my area of fruitfulness and giftedness, preferable apart from God because he just makes things more complicated. If I could just go do my thing, everything would be great. If I could just build my own future, then I would be happy.
This play, this mindset, this philosophy - This is the lie we are tempted with 24/7. We are back to the same mindset as we saw in the parable of the vineyard. Greater glory to ME brings greater joy to ME. The more I achieve, the more my plans succeed, the more popular I am, the more my name is great – the greater my joy. So all my energy is spent on my plans and my glory.
This is NOT what we are learning from Colosians 1. Greater glory to Christ brings greater joy to us. In that purpose is fullness of joy.
∎ Isaiah 26:8
Isaiah 26:8 says it this way:
Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.
To put this in the terms we have been using today:
Your name, Jesus, and your glory, are the joy of our hearts.
Why am I here? This is why! Your name and renoun!
This verse, Isaiah 26:8 has been such a powerful inspiration to me. When I read this short passage, my heart just rejoices. This verse first really impacted me when I read it in John Piper’s book Don’t waste your life. It spoke to me in my own pursuit of God, in my own search to understand my purpose for life – this is why I am here: your name and renoun! That is where all my heart and soul and mind and strength is poured into. Your glory, your name. It’s the desire of my heart. Its the joy of my life.
To see the glory of Christ on display in Colossians 1 is for our joy – to behold his glory in all of creation, in the stars in the sky, in the beauty of the people he has put in our lives, in the way he has given himself to save us at the cross, in the way he reconciles us to the father, its truly, overwhelming to behold the glory of Christ, the matchless worth of jesus, the name that is above every name. To see him in all his glory is for our joy.
What is my purpose in life?
What is my purpose in life? That we could bring glory to Christ. This is the grand purpose for all of creation. And this is His specific purpose for you and me.
Consider your life…what are you living for? God’s design for us is that we would spend ourselves on this grand purpose and receive the joy that God has for us.