Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, December 17, 2023

Message: Jesus, Preeminent Over All | Scripture: Colossians 1:15-20 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

Jesus, Preeminent Over All | Colossians 1:15-20 | Dec. 17th, 2023

Worship Songs: O Come, All You Unfaithful | Silent Night, Lonely Night | Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Full Manuscript


Church, if you are able, and if there was ever a passage that I’d ask you to stand for, it would be this one.  So, please stand as I read to you from Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV).  TWoL: 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.  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.

Paul is writing, here, to the church in Colossae while under house arrest, and he’s doing so in response to a letter that he received from a man named Epaphras.  In Epaphras’ letter, we learn that these Colossians are true in faith.  They believe in Christ.  And more than that, they display their love for Christ in their love for all the saints.

However, he outlines something that is deeply troubling about this church, namely, that it’s under attack from false teachers.  These false teachers have come in teaching the Colossians that Christ was important, perhaps very important, but not pre-eminent.  They were saying that Jesus was like one of the angelic beings of God, and that he was neither God nor man. 

And these teachings were confusing the church about the gospel, about the foundation for their gathering, and about what it meant to live as Christians.  If Christ was not the God-Man, then how could they expect themselves to live as those who follow Christ?  Furthermore, if he was not the God-Man, how effective is his saving power and ability to break the curse of sin under the law? 

So, Paul writes this letter to set the record straight—to glorify the true nature of Jesus, and he says in Colossians 1:9-10, after his introductory remarks in Colossians 1:1-8, “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [and this is where we get our proposition from this morning] as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”  In other words, what must happen for any person to present themselves before Christ in a worthy manner—in a way that pleases him and doesn’t fall into the trap of these false teachers—is that they must be filled with the true knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of God’s supreme and sufficient plan in Jesus to save sinners.

Thus, in verses 13-14, in an effort to be explicit with what that knowledge is, Paul says, “He [God the Father] 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.”  This is the truth that one must believe in order to be saved—it is the foundational, essential truth of what it means to be Christian. 

Yet the question that Paul anticipates as he writes these words is this: who is this Son, and why, as he thinks about what these false teachers are teaching—why can he [the Son] redeem us from our sins?  What authority does he have to do so?  And why must we, then, in answering these questions, present ourselves in a worthy manner before this Jesus?  And the first reason Paul gives us is …

1) Because He [Jesus] WAS Preeminent in All Creation

Now, we have to understand something about verse 15a.  It is the heading from which everything flows in verse 15b until the end of verse 20.  All of those verses from 15b-20 are an explanation of what the apostle means when he says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.”  But before we unpack verses 15b-20, we need to understand what this part of the text is saying in verse 15a.

It’s telling us two things.  The first is that God is invisible.  We see this throughout Scripture.  When Moses is interceding for the sinful nation of Israel, in Exodus 33, he asks God, in verse 18, “Please show me your glory.”  And God responds, in verse 20, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  Or in 1 Tim 1:17, we’re told that God is immortal and invisible.  Or in 1 John 4:12, the beloved apostle says in all matter of factness, “no one has ever seen God.” 

Yet Paul says a second thing here in that God is not only invisible, but that Jesus is the εἰκὼν of God—it’s where we get our word “icon,” which means the manifestation or representation—the visible image of the invisible God.  This idea of imagery is one we should know very well, in part, because Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we, ourselves, are made in the image of God.  Males and females, together, are meant to reflect the beauty, unity, AND diversity that we find within God himself.  But the problem is that our image is stained and broken.  We were created to reflect his glory, but Romans 3:23 says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

So, when Paul says that Christ is the image of the invisible God, he must mean more than simply that he is like us, especially when we consider passages like John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he [Jesus] has made him known.”  Jesus makes God known to us in a way that God was not known to us before.  This verb at the end of the verse, “made known” is where we get our word “exegesis” from—to expose, to explain, to reveal. 

We use the word “exegesis” in the context of preaching where my job is to explain and expose what a passage in Scripture means, rather than forcing a passage to fit my own meaning.  And as I am called to exegete to you what the Word of God says, Jesus is the exegesis of who and what God is.  This is, in fact, what Hebrews 1:3a tells us: he is the radiance of the glory of God; the exact imprint of his nature.  If you want to know God, all you need to do is consider the person of Jesus. 

Remember the apostle Philip, in John 14, while they’re in the upper room, Jesus is telling his disciples that he’s going away to prepare a place for them, and that they can believe in him as they believe in the Father.  And in verse 8, Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us—we will believe.”  And Jesus, in verse 9, responds, “Have you been with me for so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  In other words, Jesus is telling them that he is God, and Paul is saying the same thing here—Jesus is the visible manifestation of God.

Yet Paul doesn’t only want us to reflect on what other passages say about Jesus to understand what he means when he says Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  No, what Paul does is he explains how Jesus is God, saying, firstly, he is the image of the invisible God as the firstborn over all creation.  Now, I hope you know—or have studied somewhere—that firstborn doesn’t mean here that Jesus was made and created like you or like me.  The word “firstborn” has nothing to do with chronology or biology.  Rather, it has everything to do with rank and pre-eminence. 

In Exodus 4:22; 2 Samuel 7:8 and 14; Isaiah 43:6; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 1:10; Revelation 21:7, Israel is referred to as God’s firstborn son.  Now, it’s common sense that this has nothing to do with biology or chronology because, on the one hand, Israel is not one person—it’s a corporate people—people who were not all born at the same time, and on the other hand, Israel wasn’t first in birth—other nations preceded it.  No, what God means by calling them his firstborn is that they are pre-eminent to him in the world.  His most beloved. 

Or take Psalm 88:28, the king who falls in the line of David is called the firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.  He is supreme in rank.  He is supreme in significance and importance with God’s realm.  Jesus isn’t firstborn in a created sense; he is firstborn in a divine favouring and glorifying sense. 

Why is he firstborn—preeminent over all creation?  Well, Paul tells us, giving us three reasons.  The first, in verse 16a and 16b, is that he is the source of all creation: “For by him all things were created.”  This word “by” can be translated as “in,” which I prefer in this instance because what it entails is not only Christ’s involvement in creation, but that within his divine nature dwelt the full, creative energy that produced all creation. 

This isn’t speaking of his human nature; this is speaking of his divine nature.  He is the image—the representation of God because in him dwells the full power of God, and it’s by that power that everything that was unseen is made to be seen—by his hand, the potential within God becomes actual.  We wouldn’t know the power of God unless Jesus displayed it for us in the creation of everything—heavens and earth, physical and spiritual, thrones, rulers, you name it—he created it. 

Yet, he isn’t only the source of all creation, he is also the agent through whom the Father creates all things.  All things were created through him.  He mediates the plans of God—he cooperates with God, the Father, and God, the Spirit, as they work together through Jesus to do exactly what God—in all three persons—wants to get done.  We call this the doctrine of inseparable operations.  When one of the persons act, all three persons are acting, and Jesus is the one who mediates that action to us so that we might be able to bear it.  Should God, the Father, or God, the Spirit, act on their own—the weight of their glory would crush us, but because Jesus is involved—the mediating agent, there is cosmos instead of chaos.  

Then, thirdly, he isn’t just the source and the agent of creation, but he is the goal—the end—the purpose of it.  All of it is meant to glorify him.  All of it is meant to redound to the majesty of his name.  All was created for him.  Think of it this way: most of your things will have an imprint on them—usually that imprint says, “made in China.”  Well, all of creation, when we look upon it, proclaims, “made in, through, and for Jesus.”  All that power and all that mediation isn’t meant only to go outward, but as it flows out from him, it’s meant to turn our attention back to his wonder and glory.  The preeminent one over all creation—the one who images the invisible God—made himself known to us by making us and all that we see, and in it, he is to be worshiped—creation exists to proclaim his majesty. 

And just in case any of that is misunderstood by his readers, Paul adds two more statements about Christ’s pre-eminence over creation in verse 17a and 17b.  He says firstborn doesn’t mean created first, but don’t be mistaken, Jesus, in his divinity, existed absolutely before all of creation.  Of course, he can only create if he is already pre-existing.  So, he is pre-eminent in rank, but he is also pre-eminent in time because he is the Creator of time: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). 

Then, lastly, Jesus is not only the source, the agent, and the goal of creation.  He isn’t only before creation.  But he is also the one through whom all creation is upheld at all times, and this is staggering, because what this means is that as the human nature of Jesus was being put to death upon that cross, the divine nature of Jesus was, simultaneously, upholding the entire universe to keep it from falling apart. 

There are things in this life that are unexplainable by science.  Why matter is made up of space—that space exists in matter is inexplicable to scientists because what then holds it together?  Or how can something come from nothing, and how does that something not, just as quickly, return back into nothing?  The answer to these seemingly inexplicable things isn’t blind faith.  It’s Jesus. 

Yet, what is true of these inexplicable things in the cosmos is also true of you, here.  The very fact that you and I are sitting or standing in this room is because Jesus upholds it in his pre-eminence—keeping together that which God has ordained in his invisible wisdom—Jesus makes visible and possible for us.  Is he, then, not worthy of having us present ourselves to him in such a way that pleases him?  Are we not to esteem him preeminent in our lives, if that is who and what he is within the Godhead itself? 

The only reason why we are here is because of Jesus.  The only reason why we live, breathe, and have our being is because of Jesus.  Thus, I think it is the least that we can do to present ourselves in a manner worthy of who he is in his preeminent divinity.  Yet we aren’t only to present ourselves to him because of his pre-eminence in all creation, we’re also meant to present ourselves in a worthy manner because he is preeminent in all redemption. 

2) Because He IS Preeminent in All Redemption

Notice with me that verses 17 to 18a are a progression.  17a says that Jesus is preeminent before all things, and then 17b tells us that in his creation of all things, he remains preeminent by upholding all things.  He doesn’t merely create then leave us to be.  His pre-eminence was before time, it was in past time, upholding the cosmos, and now in verse 18a, Paul tells us that his pre-eminence is in the present time: “He is the head of the body, the church.”

What does this mean?  Well, so often in Scripture, you hear the church described as the body.  1 Cor 5, 12, Eph 4, Col 3, and more—they all emphasize that we were brought into one body, but this text wants to make it very clear to us that as we are brought into one body, there is one head of the universal church.  I heard one preacher say it this way once, “Any body without a head is dead.  Anything with more than one head is a monster.  Jesus is the one true head of the church.” 

What does that mean?  It means he is the beginning of the church.  He is the inaugurator of a new creation—a people redefined and set apart as those who were once outside brought inside as citizens of his eternal kingdom. 

And what does that mean?  It means that he is the firstborn—the preeminent, the supreme in rank from the dead.  That doesn’t mean he was the first one ever brought back from death to life.  He, himself, had brought three people back from the dead.  But he is the only one who has been brought back from death to life on this earth never to die again having been raised in glory.  Why?  Because he has defeated death.  1 Cor 15:55-58 says, “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  For the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”   The law has been fulfilled, the effects of sin have been cancelled, so the purpose and power of death for all who follow Christ has been defeated in the death of Christ. 

Jesus is the head of the church, the beginning of the new creation, supreme over death, and in this he is pre-eminent not only over creation but over redemption, as well.  He is no longer simply, if we might say simply, pre-eminent before time and in past time through his divinity, but Paul makes sure to say that he has become pre-eminent, now, in his humanity in a way that he was not before—a great high priest, says Hebrews 4:14-16, who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, being tempted in every respect as we are tempted, but yet who is without sin.

And why is he pre-eminent as the head of the church?  It is because he is the God-Man.  He is the source of life in the Church.  In him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  Colossians 2:9 puts it this way: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”  He is the image of the invisible God not only by bringing creation out from himself so that we could see the power of God and glorify him, but he is the physical image and dwelling place of the invisible God—the incarnate Son—forever God and Man intertwined.

Where Israel once had a temporary tabernacle, and then a temple, which was ultimately destroyed, the new temple, the true house of the Lord is now incorruptible.  Where Solomon, in 1 Kings 8:27, confessed that, though his temple was glorious in the earth, nothing could truly contain the glory of God—not even the heavens could contain him.  Yet our passage reads: in him, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  God could only inhabit Solomon’s temple so much and for so long, but in Jesus, God dwells in fullness forever.

And this is significantly good news for us because now, when we go to him, we find the fullness of our sufficiency.  He is able to sympathize with and intercede for us in every way because he has taken on our humanity and has experienced our vulnerabilities.  His ability to help us in our weakness is supremely sufficient because he knows exactly how much grace we need, and he, himself, is able to dispense it.  He is the God-Man.  In him, we find a perfect advocate and friend—an unfading source for life. 

And not only is he the source of the Church’s life, but he is also the agent of its life—mediating and cooperating with the Father who sends his Son, and the Spirit who guides the Son to bring reconciliation for what was broken between us and him.  It is by the blood of his cross that peace comes to those who were once in despair and doubt, lost in darkness, condemned in sin.  Here’s the thing, church, I cannot preach to you about the supremacy of Jesus without mentioning the empty wickedness of our sin. 

What makes Jesus pre-eminent is that in his coming, and in his possessing the fullness of God within him, he chose to die on our behalf.  God was slain upon a cross.  God was crucified for our sin.  God bore the wrath of our disobedience.  And you may notice that my sermon this morning lacks illustration because one cannot rightly illustrate something so infinitely magnificent and terrible at the same time.  God was murdered for us so that, according to Ephesians 2:14-16, the enmity—the dividing wall of hostility that stood between us and him might be abolished forever. 

And how sufficient is this agent’s ministry of reconciliation?  It is so sufficient that it not only reconciles us sinners to God, but it reconciles all things—all of creation that was created by him—all of creation that has been tainted by our sin.  His reconciling work is absolutely sufficient.  In fact, throughout the Bible, the blood of Christ is mentioned, and the cross of Christ is mentioned, but in no place are both the blood and the cross mentioned together so explicitly as they are here.  And Paul wants to tell us, so sufficient is our Lord’s reconciliation that he makes peace for all things—in all the universe—through the blood of his cross. 

This is the supreme effect of Christ’s atonement.  This is what the cross is worth.  So often we attribute the cross merely and only to its saving effect upon our lives, but the cross is more than that—for God, through Christ, did not only create man and woman.  He created all things—his power—his stamp of approval—the evidence of his glory is in more than just us, and so we must know that while the cross saves us, it is not, ultimately, about us. 

Christ is pre-eminent because his cross is about far more than us—his cross is about God.  It’s about vindicating, sustaining, and proclaiming the glory of God, which our sin was trying to hide.  The cross visibly destroys Christ in order to restore the image of the invisible God. 

3) Because He WILL BE Preeminent in All Restoration

And here’s the application in this (this is our third point): since the cross is not ultimately about you, then it stands to reason that it doesn’t matter to the rest of the universe if you present yourself to Jesus in a worthy manner or not.  The blood’s already been poured out.  Peace has already been made.  Whether you repent of your sin and believe in Christ as Lord in order to secure your place with him in heaven, or if you refuse to repent and believe, and you wind up in hell forever—tormented by your rebellion—history is already secured. 

Yet, if you haven’t noticed we haven’t established the final reason why Christ is pre-eminent as the head of church.  Right?  There seems to be a parallel structure in Colossians 1:15-20.  Verse 16 possesses an “in him,” a “through him,” and a “for him.”  But in verses 19 and 20, we only get an “in him,” and a “through him.”  Where is the “for him”?  What is the purpose of his pre-eminence over the church? 

Look with me in your Bibles at the verses that directly follow our passage in verses 21-23: 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, [and get this] 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 …

In other words, although the cross is not, ultimately, about you, and although it does not matter to the universe whether or not you repent and believe, it matters to Jesus.  You matter to Jesus.  Let me say it this way: he is pre-eminent over the church because in him, the fullness of God dwells bodily as the God-Man.  He is pre-eminent over the church because through him, he is reconciling to himself all things.  And He is pre-eminent over the church because for him, he is making himself a people fit for his kingdom. 

The cross may not, ultimately, be about you when we consider the universe, but the purpose of Christ’s pre-eminence in the church, and his reconciling work on this earth, is to make you holy, as he is holy, so that he might be able to give you what you need—so that he might be able to give you himself.  See, it’s still about him—it’s about his glory, but the greatest display of his glory is that he pours out upon sinners, like you and like me, the immeasurable riches of his love and grace in order that you might be satisfied. 

He wants to be sufficient for you.  He wants to restore you to be what you were made to be, that is, to be like him—to return you to imaging the God who made you.  But he cannot do that unless he is pre-eminent to you—unless you cling to the hope of the gospel that you heard—unless, as he’s making you holy by giving you the cross, you, yourself, are striving for holiness by looking to the cross.  He can’t satisfy you if you refuse to present yourself in a worthy manner before him.  And the only worthy manner that he can accept is if you offer all of yourself to him like the preeminent one over all creation and redemption offered himself for you.  He means to have all of you or none of you because his glory will not settle for second best. 

As we come into this Christmas season—as we observe this second last Sunday of Advent, Jesus, through Paul, means to ask you what is pre-eminent in your life?  What excites your heart?  Is it the gifts you’ll receive, the family or friends you’ll spend time with, the job you’ll receive a holiday bonus from, the peace and quiet you’ll get from your nagging co-workers?  Or is it Christ? 

Is Christ supreme in your life?  Have you and do you present yourself joyfully and humbly to him in a manner worthy of his glory?  I pray, this season, that you will do just that because in so doing, he means to become pre-eminently sufficient for you, just as he is preeminently sufficient in creation, in the cross, and in the coming restoration.  Don’t waste your Christmas this year.  Place your hope in him, and he, alone, will lead you in the way everlasting. 

Comments are closed.