Teaching series from Colossians

The Who of the Gospel

Colossians 1:15-23

Teaching t21061


Paul wrote Colossians to re-focus them on what he calls “the gospel.”  We learned two weeks ago that “gospel” was a technical term for the announcement of a world-changing event coupled with a summons to entrusts oneself to this event.  The Christian gospel is the announcement that Jesus has come and won a great victory, and a summons for everyone to entrust themselves to Jesus. 

Why does Paul have to re-focus the Colossians on the gospel?  Because some pseudo-Christian teachers were saying that the gospel was merely a spiritual “starter kit”—and that they needed to graduate to other spiritual “secrets” in order to attain spiritual fullness.  Paul rejects this, and argues that their spiritual development depends on continuing to grow in their understanding and appreciation of the gospel.

To that end, he spends the first half of his letter expounding the meaning of the gospel.  He begins by addressing the “Who” of the gospel—Jesus.  Who Jesus is determines what he can provide for us.  If he is only a lower spirit-being (as some were claiming to the Colossians), or a moral teacher or prophet or model of God-consciousness, etc. (as many claim today)—then he can only give us some help toward spiritual wholeness.  But in 1:15-20, Paul recites a poem/song that asserts the absolute supremacy of Jesus.

Jesus is absolutely supreme

Read 1:15-20.  Before we evaluate this description more carefully, notice that Paul uses the word “all” seven times, and that he insists that Jesus is supreme in everything.  In Ezek. 1, Ezekiel sees a vision of angelic beings that are so glorious that he is tempted to worship them.  But then he sees that they are only the “pedestal” of the one true God who towers far above them.  Paul is saying that Jesus is not one of the “pedestals”—he is the God that towers above them.  He makes three assertions about Jesus’ cosmic supremacy:

Jesus is the unique and perfect Revelation of God (1:15a,19).  Jesus is not merely an angel/spirit-being, or a prophet, or one of many enlightened spiritual masters.  Jesus is the image of God—the perfect and definitive revelation of God (Jn.1:18).  All of the fullness of God dwells in him alone.

Jesus is the absolute Owner of the entire universe (1:15b-17).  “First-born” in 1:15b does not mean that Jesus was the first created being; it means that Jesus is the rightful heir or owner of the whole universe.  1:16,17 provide four reasons why this is so: Jesus created the universe (including all human and angelic rulers), the universe is made for him, he predates the universe, and he holds the universe together (physically and metaphysically).

Jesus is the sole Redeemer of our broken universe (1:18-20).  God’s creation is broken—humans die because of sin, and created rulers oppose God.  But Jesus has come to completely mend this universe.  He is not merely one of many ways to salvation; he is the only Savior.  On the cross, he defeated sin and death—and his physical resurrection is the beginning of the eventual healing he will bring to nature, humans and the spiritual realm.  When Paul says that Jesus “made peace through the blood of his cross,” he does not mean that all humans and angels will be ultimately saved.  He means that Jesus and his death on the cross saves every repentant person (1:18), and establishes him as the Lord to whom “every knee shall bow” (Phil.2:10,11)—including his unrepentant enemies (1:20).

This Jesus is not just “Paul’s Jesus”—the figment of Paul’s imagination or some myth he heard from others.  This is the same portrait that the Old Testament prophets describe and predict concerning the Messiah.  This is the same claim that Jesus made for himself (Jn.14:9; Jn. 17:5 & MIRACLES; Jn. 14:6 & Mk.14:62).  This is the Jesus that the earliest Christians suffered and died for (“Jesus is Lord”).  He is not some shadowy, ambiguous figure; his historical profile is as clear and sharp as any figure in ancient history.  He is not a piece of pliable historical clay that you can mold to your own preferences; he is like a firm statue that you must reject or bow to.  Your faith doesn’t make him who he is; it enables you to receive what only he can provide you.

Jesus can save us

Because Jesus is who he is, he can save us.  Maybe (like me once) you want Jesus to be ambiguous because you are offended that he wants to save you.  But that’s what the real Jesus came to do, because that’s what we need.  That’s why the tone changes abruptly in 1:21.  The language in 1:15-20 is wide-angle, even cosmic in its scope.  Jesus is so big and supreme that we are less than gnats compared to him.  But suddenly, beginning in 1:21, the language changes to up-close-and personal.  This Jesus who is supreme over the whole universe is also the One who loves me and came to save me.  I like to read this with “I” and “me” (read 1:21,22a).  Paul speaks of two different aspects of this salvation:

Reconciliation with God:  Reconciliation is one of the most beautiful words in the New Testament.  It is not merely the cessation of hostilities (cease-fire); it is the re-establishment of a love relationship between two estranged persons by resolving the root causes of their conflict.  When my wife and I were alienated in the early years of our marriage, it wasn’t enough to merely not scream, slam doors, etc.  We needed outside help to resolve the root issues and really recover loving trust and intimacy.

Because of our sin and rebellion, we are at enmity with God—and because our sin offends the holy God, he is at enmity with us (2 FACES TURNED AWAY FROM EACH OTHER).  But such is God’s love that he took the initiative by coming in the Person of Jesus to pay the penalty of our sin, even while we were still at enmity with him (Rom.5:8).  Through Jesus’ death, God is now ready and willing to embrace us in a love relationship (GOD’S FACE TOWARD; OTHER FACE AWAY).  The moment we end our rebellion by bowing to Jesus and receiving his forgiveness, we become permanently reconciled to God (BOTH FACES TOWARD ONE ANOTHER).

What about you?  Can you read 1:21,22a with “I” and “me?”  Have you been reconciled to God—or are you still a fugitive?  Are you ready to turn around and face him and admit that you have been a rebel—and then receive the gift of forgiveness that he died to purchase for you?  Do you insist that you’re too good to admit this?  Then your pride will keep you alienated from God.  Do you insist on cleaning yourself up before you return to him?  Then your pride will keep you alienated from God.  Come as you are, come as an unworthy person to Jesus—and be reconciled to God.

Transformation of our lives:  Read 1:22.  He reconciles you to God so that he can present you “holy and blameless and beyond reproach.”  This is a synonym for spiritual maturity (1:28 as a parallel in immediate context), spiritual healing, if you will.  He wants to not only forgive you of sin’s penalty; he wants to heal you from sin’s corrupting and damaging power.  He wants to renovate (3:10) your life from the inside out so that you become more and more like the person God created you to be—someone who loves God and his ways, and who loves people the way he loves you.

The moment you receive reconciliation, he begins this transformation.  No person (no matter how evil) and no circumstance (no matter how adverse) can stop him from transforming you because Jesus is far more powerful than they are.  The only condition is that you stay focused on the gospel (1:23).  As you stay focused on Jesus and his love for you, his Spirit gradually transforms your life (2Cor.3:18).  But if you stray from this focus (even to other good and “spiritual” things – EXAMPLES), though you remain reconciled to God, the transformation process will be interrupted.  That’s what Paul was concerned about with the Colossians, and that’s what I’m concerned about with many of us.

How do we stay focused on the gospel?  There are many ways to do this—and we will learn them as we study Colossians.  But one simple way is to learn and sing songs about Jesus (read 3:16).

That’s what 1:15-20 is—the rhythmic cadence is not prose, but poem/song.  Maybe Paul composed this song while imprisoned—seemingly completely under the control of unjust Nero.  Undoubtedly he sang it often.  It helped to remind him that Jesus was sovereign over Caesar, that his imprisonment was permitted by Jesus because it advanced his purposes, and that Jesus was with him to deliver him at the proper time and sustain him in the meantime.  As he focused on the gospel in this way, God’s Spirit imparted hope and peace and joy in his soul, and empowered him to give God’s love to others (his guards; his visitors; his colleagues; the Colossians; etc.).  This is why he passed this song on to them!
This is why spiritual songs are so important to me.  The lyrics help my mind to recall the gospel’s content, and the melody somehow moves my heart to appreciate who Jesus is and what he did for me.  I can speak to God through song when it is difficult to pray to him in my own words (MOST MORNINGS).  When I begin my day this way, the truth of the gospel recurs to my conscious mind like a bad commercial jingle—only it helps me to stay focused on the gospel!
Do you have your own “arsenal” of spiritual songs?  Do you use them?  Would you like to learn one?  (“You Are Lord”)