December 11, 2016 | Advent Message 1 | Colossians 1:15-17
Christ is still relevant for today. In the technologically advanced world in which we live, people often struggle to see scripture and Christ as relevant. As a child once asked, “If Jesus came back today, would He understand computers?” While the child very well may not have intended the following, his question gets to the heart of an issue – Is Christ still relevant? “Christ was great when people didn’t know very much, but we know much more now. We have invented so much. We have access to so much information. We can control so much. How could Christ be relevant to us today?”
When we are so impressed with our own achievements and scientific genius, Christ may indeed seem irrelevant. He can be easily dismissed as a fading relic of past religious piety, who has nothing to offer for the unprecedented issuer facing us today. What does Christ have to say to a world in which humans have the power to clone animals and alter the genetic makeup of plants and animals? Scientists continue their search for the “holy grail” of science, the “theory of everything,” the simple set of laws that explains every complex detail of our universe. Christ is the theological theory of everything. He is the key who unlocks the meaning and purpose of the universe. But he is not a set of physics laws; he is a person, who has shown his love for us by giving his life.
Overview of next three messages. As we consider the theme of Christ’s birth over the course of the next three weeks, we will do so by means of three messages. The first will consider Christ as the creator, the second will view Christ as the incarnate redeemer, and the final message, on Christmas Day, will consider Christ as the ultimate victor and supreme Lord over His creation. To fully appreciate his condescension into humanity by means of a humble birth and horrific death, let’s first appreciate his position as creator. Let us accomplish that by turning to one of the most magnificent hymns in all of Scripture.
Colossians 1:15–20 (ESV) 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.
“He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). To what does the word image refer? (1) It can refer to the representation of something. For instance, a student is doing a project for school and they need to find images of the grand canyon. They get on their computer, go to google, type in image, and they can see thousands of images of the Grand Canyon. That is not what this is referring to. In fact that is hardly ever what image refers to in scripture. (2) Image can as well refer to the living manifestation of God or the visible manifestation of that which is invisible. We find this meaning much more in Scripture.
Man was created in the image of God. This is what are told in Genesis. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 ESV). We possess personality and all that goes along with it such as thinking, feeling, and making decisions. These are all aspects of the image of God. But even prior to the fall, mankind did not possess God’s moral and essential attributes. We’ve never been all powerful or all knowing. We’ve never been unchangeable or infinite. We’ve always been bound to time. God is not. So while there are reflections of God’s personality and character in mankind, they are still not exact representations of God. Since the fall, we are even further from accurately representing the image in which we were created.
This understanding of image may be likened to when a child is the “spitting image” of their parent. They probably possess similar physical traits, such as height and facial features and expressions. They may have similar mannerisms, personality, and abilities. When you look at the child, you may feel like you are seeing a duplicate of the parent at a younger age. They possess a lot of similarities, but they are still distinct. This is similar to how mankind is in the image of God.
Christ is the exact imprint. Christ 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” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV). Christ possesses all of the same attributes of God, equally. He is God. The apostle John informs us of this reality when he writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 ESV). As well, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “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.”
Christ is the Firstborn (1:15, 18). In this passage Christ is referred to as the firstborn two times. The first time He is called the firstborn of all creation and the second, the firstborn from the dead. To better appreciate this title, let us first consider the word firstborn. The most obvious meaning for the word, and the most often used, is that of a firstborn child. For instance, in Luke 2, Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). This meaning implies origination and in each case, existence began at the point of birth. This is not what is meant by firstborn in this passage. Firstborn can also refer to position instead of origination. It can carry the idea of “superior to, above all, existing superior to all creation.” It is that sense in which we find our word in Colossians 1:15. This is the same sense in which it is used in Psalm 89:27, “I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.” The psalmist is referencing how David would be set up in the highest of positions. He’s not referring to birth or origination.
Why can’t “firstborn of all creation” mean that Christ was the first creature created? (1) If Paul was teaching that Christ was a created being, he was agreeing with the heresy he was writing to refute. (2) If Christ is the Creator of all things, it is impossible that He was created. Colossians 1:16 tells us that all things were created by Him. As well, the apostle John writes “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). (3) Firstborn cannot mean first to be born in time. It is clear that Jesus was born well after the birth of millions of other people. Firstborn is a reference to position, not time.
Christ is as well referred to as the beginning and firstborn from the dead (1:18). His resurrection from the dead allowed for men, who identified with Him, to both be raised from the dead spiritually and physically. Consider the phrase “firstborn from the dead” in light of the discussion about “firstborn of all creation.” It seems a bit more clear here that firstborn must mean something besides first to be born or created. That would not make sense here. It would make sense for firstborn to mean preeminent or first in rank. Therefore, Christ is the preeminent one in all who will be raised from the dead.
Christ is the Fullness of Deity (1:19). “In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” A similar statement is made by Paul in Colossians 2:9, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Paul was writing to a culture in which deities shared powers and no one deity was all powerful. Stating that Christ was the fullness of all Deity would have been counter cultural, alarming, and quite powerful. Christ is not just one of many gods. He is the only true and all powerful God.
Following the establishment of Christ as the preeminent deity over all creation, Paul goes on further to explain why this is the case. He does so by citing three specific ways in which Christ is related to creation. All was created by Him, through Him, and for Him. Richard Melick offers a helpful illustration in light of these three phrases.
Paul’s argument in these verses may be illustrated by an artist who produces a sculpture. Originally the idea and details of the sculpture come from the mind of the artist. He builds the proportions, the perspectives, the figures, and the emphases desired from the statue. Then, the sculpture is constructed by the artist as he and he alone can “see” it. Finally, those who admire the finished work think of the artist who imagined, planned, and accomplished the work of beauty. As long as the sculpture stands, people remember and appreciate the artist. In the same way, Jesus is the central point of all of creation, and he rules over it.
The artist first imagines and designs the sculpture in his mind. The sculpture is probably quite vivid in his imagination. He may even draft a few drawings of what it may look like. The sculpture has not yet been formed. It’s just in his mind. This point of the artists process is likened to the phrase, “for by him all things were created” (Col 1:16). The word by in this verse could be translated as in. “It should be understood as in his mind or in his sphere of influence and responsibility. Practically, it means that Jesus conceived of creation and its complexities. Creation was his idea.” 
The extent of this creation. Just in case the statement about all things being created by Christ wasn’t clear, Paul goes on to add a few more phrases: (1) the invisible heavens (2) the visible earth and (3) thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. Christ not only created everything we can see and touch, but everything that is invisible to us. Christ not only created everything present on and within the earth, but as well all that the heavens contain. This includes “thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities.
While many believe that these forces speak of any type of angelic being, most conclude that these thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities at least include evil forces if not speak solely of evil forces. Consider that point in light of the fact that “all things were created for Him.” Even the angelic beings, that Christ knew would rebel, were created to bring Him glory. Christ’s power, holiness, righteousness, and holy wrath will be visibly displayed through his interaction with the fallen angelic beings.
Not only does the artist craft the sculpture in his mind or sketch it out on a page, he takes the next step and begins to build the sculpture. In the same way, Christ, who was the creative genius behind all creation, as well expressed that creativity in the actual creation of all that is. “All things were created through Him” (Col 3:16). Christ was the agent through which all creation came into being. This is what John tell us. “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3 NAU). As well, the author of Hebrews writes, “And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb 1:10 ESV).
The artist has imagined and sketched his sculpture. He has done the tedious and hard work of crafting the sculpture itself. It now rests in its fixed spot. Now, all who see it marvel at its creation and beauty. They applaud the artists for his delicate and remarkable work. And so it is with Christ, “for all things were created . . . for him” (Col 1:16). We are intended to step back, gaze in wonder at the creative genius, and praise Christ for his remarkable work. The purpose for creation was for Christ to be praised. The specific goal of creation, the end view, was the glorification of Jesus Christ. All creation, visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly, exists to display his glory and he will, one day, be ultimately glorified in his creation. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36 ESV).
Christ is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17). Let me once again reference our artists and his sculpture. Once the artist is done with his artistic expression, he leaves it alone. It may rest inside a home, free from the damaging effect of weather. Maybe instead it rest in some public park where it is slowly effected and defiled by nature, all sorts of creatures, and the wear of time. The artist, or a caretaker, may attempt to clean it, but it will inevitably deteriorate. The artist will die, the caretaker will not be replaced. Something that evidenced the beauty and creativity of the artist will be lost or destroyed.
This is not the case with Christ and His creation. “In Him all things hold together.” The idea behind held together is that of continued existence. Christ not only created everything there is, visible or invisible; he as well continues to be the power behind its’ ongoing existence. It’s true that God gave mankind the responsibility to care for His creation. As believers, we should be at the forefront in care for this earth – both its’ physical care and spiritual care. But what great encouragement comes in knowing that the sustained existence of our world is not on the shoulders of humanity. Instead, Christ is the source and power behind his creation continuing. Note the use of the perfect tense in this verse. The Greek perfect describes an action that was brought to completion and whose effects are felt in the present (present in the time frame of the speaker, not the reader). Christ was the agent of creation and as well continues to hold his creation together.
He will also be the source and power behind a new heaven and a new earth. Because of the fall, Christ’s creation has been dying and decaying. We must care for it, but it is in a downward spiral. It’s ongoing existence is due to the general grace of God. The day will come when Christ will return. He will gloriously recreate. A new heaven and a new earth will be sculpted. Sin will have been ultimately dealt with, and His new creation will be free from the corruption and decay of sin and death.
Christ offers an example of reconciliation. As we consider the character of God in the person of Christ, we see an emphasis on reconciliation. Paul writes at the end of our passage, “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20 ESV). Christ sacrificed much to reconcile people to himself who didn’t want to be reconciled to Him. When relationships in our life are cracked or broken, we often quickly justify giving up on them. As we reflect the character of God we will work hard and sacrifice to reconcile relationships. As well, we will sacrifice and work hard to reconcile others back to God.
In a world where chaos and randomness seem to reign, remember Christ created all and continues to rule and sustain all creation. Sometimes when we look at our cultural landscape, we see corruption in politics, immorality in entertainment, brokenness in homes, etc. At times we think there is no hope. We think Satan and sin has won. Let us not forget that Christ is still the sovereign over His creation and is still sustaining and directing His creation. A glorious day will come when His creation will bow to His authority and all will be reconciled to Him.
 David E Garland, The NIV Application Commentary: Colossians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 105–6.
 This error continues in modern circles such as the Jehovah’s Witness. Colossians 1:15-17 (New World Translation) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all other things and by means of him all other things were made to exist.
 Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 218.
 Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 217.
 For . . . eivj preposition accusative . . . eivj into, in; (1) spatially, denoting motion toward a place, after verbs of going, sending, moving to, toward, into (MT 9.7) . . . (5) logically; (a) to indicate purpose in order to, with a view to, for the purpose of (MT 26.28); (b) to indicate reason for, because of, in view of (MT 12.41); eivj tou/to for this reason, therefore (MK 1.38); (c) to denote the purpose of a divine appointment (HE 1.14) or a human appointment in the Lord’s will (AC 13.2); (d) to denote a specific goal, the direction of an action to an intended end to, unto, for, with a view to (MT 3.11) . . .
 Hold Together . . . sune,sthken verb indicative perfect active 3rd person singular . . . from a basic meaning put together; (1) transitively; (a) active, as making known one’s approval commend, recommend (RO 16.1); passive be recommended (2C 12.11); (b) as making known by action demonstrate, show, bring out (RO 3.5); (2) intransitively (present middle and perfect active); (a) stand together, stand with or by (LU 9.32); (b) exist, have existence, continue (CO 1.17; 2P 3.5)