Today we continue our series remixing the New Testament book of Colossians with our series Colossians Remixed. You’ll see the postcards on the table describing where we are going the next several weeks and what part of Colossians (feel free to take a postcard and give it to a friend or someone you feel might connect with what is happening here at Veritas).
Last week we started our series by looking at Colossians 1:1-14 and we looked at the recipients of the letter, the purpose that Paul had in writing the letter, and the gospel that was preached by Epaphras to the church at Colossae.
Today we are going to take a look and unpack probably one of the most amazing, poetic, radical, and truly subversive text in all of Scripture, as well as probably one of the most foundational in connection to who Jesus truly was and is. As we unpack this together we’ll see a few things: 1. How much Paul understood the culture and used words and images that connected with the context that he was writing to. 2. How much the words and the images that he was using was directly refuting the Colossian Heresy that we talked about last week. 3. How his words (especially in Verses 15-20) are all about shaping the imagination of the followers of Jesus in Colossae who were surrounded by images that pointed to other “gods” (not to different then our own culture). and 4. How much this text is about the centrality and supremacy of Jesus and his true gospel (true gospel best described in verses 21-23) over all other lords, gods, and other gospels.
So let’s took together at our text this morning and remix it together. Colossians 1:15-23 says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 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. 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
The first thing that we notice in this text is the fact that Colossians 1:15-20 is one of the earliest Christian poems ever written. Either Paul wrote this poem or at least quoted it to show the Colossian church that the center of Christianity is Jesus. That when you boil Christianity to its root, it is Jesus. Most scholars think that this came from a poem or a hymn in the early church that described what Christians believed about Jesus. And so Paul takes a page from the ancient prophets and counters the imperial imagination of the Roman Empire (we’ll see exactly what this means when we look at verse 15) with this radical and evocative poetry. In fact someone once said that Paul’s letter to the Colossians is fundamentally about shaping the imagination of the Christian community in the midst of images and imaginations which are pointing to other gods, lords and saviors.
Verse 15 probably one of the most profound Christology t all of the New Testament. “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” What Paul is saying here is that Jesus is the mirror image of the God who is there but who we normally can’t see. Now Paul here is using some very specific language that is directly confronting the imperial worship cult. The greek word for image in verse 15 is eikon. Eikon expresses two ideas. 1. Likeness- like the image on a coin or the reflection in a mirror. 2. Manifestation. with a sense that God is fully revealed in Jesus. This word eikon was used to describe a stamp which was specifically used in displaying the image of Caesar on documents and other articles. People in the Roman Empire knew that when they saw the stamp that is was from Caesar personally from the “image stamp” Jesus is the stamp of God. The exact representation, the exact likeness of God. Again Paul is making a cultural reference that the Colossian believers would understand and he was also attacking the imperial cult of worship that said that Caesar was the image of God. Paul was making it crystal clear in this text that Caesar was an imitation and wasn’t the true Lord, God, savior, and redeemer of the world, Jesus was.
As I stated last week I took the name of this series from a book entitled Colossians Remixed (good read..recommend reading it) and quoted from it last week. Let me quote from it again as it speaks to the idea that this poem attacks the imperial cult of the Roman Empire with the truth of the gospel of Jesus. The authors say, “In a world populated by images of Caesar (think eikon), who is taken to be the son of God, a world in which the emperor’s preeminence over all things is bolstered by political structures and institutions, and empire that views Rome as the head of the body politics in which an imperial peace is imposed- mostly through punishment (ie crucifixion) the poem is nothing less than treasonous. In the space of a short, well crafted three stanza-poem, Paul subverts every major claim of the empire, turning the on their heads and proclaiming Christ to be the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of all creation, including the empire.”
And to show the fact that Jesus was and is the true Lord, Savior, King, and redeemer, Paul continues with this subversive poem and gives reason why Jesus is the true Son of God and why Caesar is not. Paul says this about Jesus, “the firstborn over all creation. 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. 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 and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Paul is saying that Jesus is supreme in rank. The word first born is the greek word prototokos and means first or preeminent. Jesus is first and preeminent. Jesus, says the poem boldly and subversively, is the one through who and for whom the whole creation was made in the first place. Think of it like this. When the lavish and generous beauty of the world stops you in your tracks, and makes your catch your breath, and you stand amazed at the creation (maybe a beautiful sunset, maybe an amazing sunrise, maybe a beautiful mountain covered in fluffy white powder- my favorite, the beauty of the ocean, etc..) remember it is like that because of Jesus. He is the one who created all things, it was created for him, and he holds all of it together. And he, not the Roman Empire, not Caesar is the true head of the body, his body, his church planted here on earth to be physical representations of him. And he is first and preeminent. Why? Because he is and was the beginning and the firstborn of the dead. The first to beat the enemy of death, sin, and the grave. The one through whom the the world was made and created is the same one through whom the world has now been remade, recreated, and redeemed. Jesus the first born of all creation and the first born from the dead. And because of all of this, everything that Paul lays out in verses 15-20 in this radical, subversive poem, this means that Jesus has supremacy. Jesus is above all things. Above the rulers, powers, and principalities both in this world and the next. Above Caesar who tried to be the image of the invisible God. Above the devil and his angels. Above anyone who would set themselves up to be god. Jesus is the first and the last, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is supreme and preeminent. Jesus is and was who he said he was.
So once Paul lays out the fact that Jesus is the true son of God, the true Savior, the true Lord, the true redeemer, the preeminent one. When he is done subverting the Roman Empire and Caesar he begins to take a look at what the true gospel is and what the followers of Jesus in Colossae should believe about the gospel.
In verses 20-23 we find an amazing description related to exactly what the gospel of Jesus is truly all about. Paul brings his discussion about the preeminence of Jesus home when he writes these words about what the gospel is all about. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” God has acted to heal the world, to reconcile the world of the wickedness and corruption whig have so radically infested it. He had done so through the same one through whom it was made in the first place. The gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Paul in these verses, is all about reconciliation. Not just between God and men/women, but also between humankind, and between humankind and the creation itself. The reconciliation that was truly evident in Genesis 1 and 2 is now again available through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus we are no longer alienated from God, from each other, and from all of creation. Reconciliation was initiated by his work on the cross. This reconciliation that started and carried out through Jesus, is available for all people. And if you are a follower of Jesus today you can participate and share in this reconciliation and the work of reconciliation. You aren’t the one who started it, put it into place, or made (or makes) it happen but you can participate in it, live into it, and live it out in the world. If you aren’t following Jesus today, reconciliation is available for you as well to participate in it live into it, and then live it out in the world.
But let’s talk together about what it means in the everyday, ordinary life that we live when we say Jesus is central, supreme and preeminent. Let’s also talk about reconciliation and the gospel and just what that means to us and for our world. Let’s unpack these things together over the next several minutes.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. What are the implications of the centrality and supremacy of Jesus for you and for us as a community? How does the centrality and supremacy of Jesus play out at home, at work, etc…?
3. If the gospel is all about reconciliation, how might you live out the gospel of reconciliation this week? What reconciliation work do you need to do this week? (With God, with others, with creation).
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it?