Colossians 1:15


Sermon preached on February 23, 2014 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Why should we praise Jesus? Why should we love Him more than our own lives? Why should we love Him so much that no other loves are allowed to compete with our love for Him? Why should His glory be more important to us than anything else?

Those are important questions. It’s interesting that those if you don’t know the answer to those questions it can drive you away from Christianity. In a sermon on Philippians 1:12-26 John Piper stated that at least one point in their lives, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, C. S. Lewis, Eric Reece, Michael Prowse all stumbled over the fact that God is to have the supreme place in our lives—that people are to live for His glory.

Piper said that Oprah walked away from Christianity in her 20’s because of the biblical teaching that God is jealous — that He demands that He and no one else get our highest allegiance and affection. It didn’t sound loving to her. Brad Pitt turned away from his boyhood faith, he said, because God says,

“You have to say that I’m the best. . . . It seemed to be about ego.”



C. S. Lewis, before he became a Christian, complained that God’s demand to be praised sounded like

“a vain woman who wants compliments.”



Erik Reece, the author of An American Gospel, rejected Jesus because he thought only an egomaniac would demand that we love Him more than we love our parents and children. Michael Prowse, a columnist for the London Financial Times, turned away because he believed that only,

"tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation."



From a human perspective, from the perspective of human beings after the fall into sin—such sentiments seem to make some sort of sense. After all, the sinful mind is in rebellion against God so these sentiments are not uncommon.

But from the proper perspective, from seeing things as they really are—one would never think in such terms. If we saw Jesus as we should, if we understood who He was and His relationship to creation—and our relationship to Him, what we owe Him—we would be filled with love, praise and gratitude for Him and have a great desire to live for His glory.

In our text Paul is showing us that there is no one like Jesus, that He is preeminent in relation to creation. He says that Jesus is, (Colossians 1:15)

"the firstborn over all creation."

This is an incredible statement.

Jesus is the firstborn over all creation.

But what does this mean? Probably the best way to approach it is to first of all consider what it does not mean.

As ironic as it may seem, this glorious description of Christ has been misunderstood and has been used to degrade Christ, to devalue Him—to make Him out to be less than He really is.

This is because some have understood this passage to mean that Jesus was a created being. He was the firstborn—they take that to mean that there was a time when Jesus did not exist. In the 4
th century the church went through what is known as the Arian controversy. Arius said (to quote Socrates Scholasticus):

"If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was (a time) when the Son was not."



There was a time when Jesus was not. That's the important thing to remember about Arius' position. Arius believed that Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father. He taught that the Son was God the Father's first creation and that through him everything else was made. The Son was unique in that He was the only direct creation of the Father. Arius believed that the Son was the greatest created being, but that he was essential that, a created being. He was not equal to the Father. David F. Wright summarizes Arius' teaching this way:

"The Father alone was really God; the Son was essentially different from his Father. He did not possess by nature or right any of the divine qualities of immortality, sovereignty, perfect wisdom, goodness and purity. He did not exist before he was begotten by the Father. The Father produced him as a creature. Yet as the creator of the rest of creation, the Son existed 'apart from time before all things'. Nevertheless, he did not share in the being of God the Father and did not know him perfectly."



But the problem with Arius's teaching is that it conflicts with other clear teaching of Scripture. The Westminster Confession of Faith tells us that, (1:9)

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture… it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."



There are many places in the New Testament that show that Jesus is truly and fully God, equal with the Father. For instance in John 10:30 Jesus said,

"I and the Father are one."

It was clear to everyone that Jesus was claiming to be God because the Jews picked up stones to stone Him. When Jesus asked them about it they said that they knew He was claiming to be God.

When Jesus told people that He forgave their sins the Jews thought He was blaspheming because they knew that only God can forgive sins. (Mark 2:5ff) Only God can forgive sins. Jesus is telling people that their sins are forgiven. He's claiming to be God.

John 1:1–3 is a great proof of the divinity of Jesus,

"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made
that has been made."

This passage teaches that Jesus existed before creation. Before creation, in timeless eternity, Jesus, the Word, was with God, in eternal fellowship with Him. He is then declared to be God in emphatic terms. The Word was God. Then it says that everything was made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. This shows that He was not made. As John Frame writes, (The Doctrine of God, p. 690-691)

"Logically, if he literally created everything, he cannot himself be a creature, for he could not have created himself."



John 1:18 also declares Jesus' deity. It says,

"No one has ever seen God,
but God the One and Only,
who is at the Father's side,
has made him known."

In Acts 20:28, in his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, the apostle Paul wrote,

"Keep watch over yourselves
and all the flock of which
the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.
Be shepherds of the church of God,
which he bought with his own blood."

God bought the church with his own blood. In Romans 9:5 Paul told of some of the privileges of the Jews. He wrote,

"Theirs are the patriarchs,
and from them is traced
the human ancestry of Christ,
who is God over all,
forever praised! Amen."

Paul declared that the human being who was Christ was also God over all—and that He is to be worshiped.

The New Testament also teaches us that Jesus is to be worshiped. When Jesus appeared to Thomas and showed him His wounds, Thomas said to Him, (John 20:28)

"My Lord and my God!"

He worshiped Him.

Not only that, but the fact that Thomas called Jesus, 'Lord' is significant. The New Testament title 'Lord' as applied to Jesus is equivalent to the Old Testament title of God, 'Yahweh'. (John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 450) Frame writes of the Old Testament term 'Yahweh',

"The Lord is the One who controls all things, speaks with absolute authority, and enters creation to draw creatures into covenant relation with him. The most concise, and arguably most fundamental summary of OT teaching is 'Yahweh is Lord.' But the NT, over and over again, represents Jesus as Lord in the same way that Yahweh is Lord. The most fundamental summary of NT teaching is 'Jesus Christ is Lord' (Phil. 2:11, see also Rom. 10:9, 1 Cor. 12.3)"



Of course I could quote many other passages. But it's important to note that Jesus deity is not taught in the New Testament in merely a handful of controversial verses. As John Frame writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 446)

"It is found on one way or another on nearly every page of the NT."



We see it in the names that are given to Jesus, in His titles, in His miracles, in the authority by which He taught, in how He forgave sins and accepted worship.

But I've listed enough to show that when Jesus is described as the 'Firstborn over all creation' it does not mean that He is a created being, that He was the first created being, that He had a beginning. This statement is fully compatible with Jesus being the second person of the Trinity.

So what does it teach us when it says that Jesus is the 'Firstborn of every creature'?

There are at least three things to note here.

First,

the term firstborn is often used in Scripture to denote pre-eminence, right of rule.

So when it says that Jesus is the 'firstborn over all creation' it means that in regard to creation, He is preeminent, He is worthy. It means that He has authority and the right to rule. John M. Frame writes, (The Doctrine of God, p. 690-691)

"in Scripture… [the term firstborn] focuses more on status and authority than on time of birth…"



The word 'firstborn' is used with different senses in Scripture. It doesn't always mean firstborn in the sense of someone having a beginning. For example, in Psalm 89:27 God says about David,

"I will appoint him to be my firstborn,
the most exalted of the
kings of the earth."

David wasn't the firstborn of his father, Jesse. In fact he was the youngest of his sons. But what God is saying that He is going to appoint David to be the preeminent king on the earth. Peter T. O'Brien writes, (Colossians–Philemon (WBC 44)

"The term 'firstborn' was frequently used in the LXX (130 times), mostly in genealogies and historical narratives, to indicate temporal priority and sovereignty of rank. Frequently 'firstborn' was employed to denote one who had a special place in the father's love."



Thus our text is saying that Jesus has special status that is associated with a firstborn. Herman Ridderbos tells us that Paul speaks here of, (Ridderbos, Paul, An Outline of His Theology, p. 78)

"Christ's position with respect to the whole creation."



Herman Ridderbos says that the New Testament speaks of Christ's, (Paul, An Outline of His Theology, p. 82)

"abiding, central place and all-embracing significance with respect to all that is in heaven and on earth."



The second thing to note about the use of the term 'firstborn' of Jesus is that

He is worthy of this position.

Names is Scripture sometimes reveal character. This title applied to Jesus is appropriate because He is worthy. It shows that He is glorious and absolutely worthy of it. J. B. Lightfoot says that the term firstborn means, (Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon)

"Priority to all creation. In other words it declares the absolute pre-existence of the Son."



Some people that are in high position are not worthy of that position. In Britain there are some people that are against the monarchy, in part, because some of the royals don't behave well. There have been scandals which show that certain members of the royal family are very flawed.

On the other hand, some people are worthy of the honor that is given to them. On January 13, 1982 Air Florida Flight 90 crashed in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. shortly after takeoff. Only five people survived. One of them was a stewardess who was just giving up on her fight for survival when a bystander, Lenny Skutnik, jumped into the freezing water and swam to her rescue. He was a real hero and days later President Reagan honored him during the State of the Union address and I believe he got a standing ovation. Lenny deserved that.

That's the way it is with Jesus. He is the Firstborn over all creation, He is preeminent over all creation and has rulership because He is worthy. There is no one like Him. Oprah, Brad Pitt and the others got it all wrong. Their assumption was that He wasn't worthy. But they got it totally wrong.

The third thing to note about the use of 'firstborn over all creation' is that, there is an obvious allusion to Adam here. (Ridderbos, p. 81) Adam was created in the image of God. As the first human being he was the firstborn and is referred to that way in some Jewish writings. (Ridderbos, p. 81) Adam was given dominion over God's creation. God blessed Adam and said, (Genesis 1:28)

"Be fruitful and increase in number;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish of the sea and the
birds of the air and over every living
creature that moves on the ground."

In our text Paul takes us back before Adam and shows us someone much greater than Adam.

Ridderbos says that the title 'firstborn over all creation' indicates a, (Ridderbos, p. 81)

"position of rulership, in which it is easy to discover a reminiscence of the position Adam occupied among all of creation, likewise in virtue of his creation after God's image."



So this allusion to Adam points to the firstborn's right of rulership.

We also see this in other references in the New Testament. For example, in Colossians 1:18 Jesus is called the

"firstborn from the dead".

In Romans 8:29 Paul is called the

"firstborn among many brothers."

These are titles that refer to Christ's position and glory now and at the end of time. They are the result of His glorious work. Philippians 2:6–11 speaks of this. It says of Jesus,

"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became
obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the
highest place and gave him the name
that is above every name,
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."

On the last Day—the Firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of many brothers—He will be absolutely preeminent. Christ died and rose again. His work was central as we saw in Philippians 2. Now He is the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of many brothers. On the basis of His work He has inaugurated the new age—the new creation, a new humanity. We all understand that—Christ is preeminent because of His death and resurrection. Herman Ridderbos says these Adamic categories, Image, Firstborn point to Christ's significance in eschatology—the coming eternal age. (Paul, An Outline of His Theology. p. 82)

But here in Colossians 1:15, by calling Christ the firstborn over all creation—Paul gives us a glimpse into Christ's pre-existence and His preeminence with respect to the creation. Ribberbos writes, (Outline, p. 85)

"The ultimate objective of God's redemptive work brings us back to the Beginning. What was lost in the first Adam is regained in the second in a much more glorious way. For the second Adam is the Son of God. And the glory that Adam as Image of God and Firstborn of every creature was permitted to possess was only a reflection of Christ's being in the form of God. Thus Christ's exaltation as the second Adam refers back to the beginning of all things, makes him known as the one who from the very outset, in a much more glorious sense than the first Adam, was the Image of God and the Firstborn of every creature… The new creation that has broken through with Christ's resurrection takes the place of the first creation which Adam was representative. It is, however, much more glorious than the first as the second man, both in virtue of his origin and of his destiny, was superior to the first."



In other words, the One that saves us, who will make the new heavens and the new earth—is so much superior to Adam, not only by His work on the cross—but in virtue of who He is from the beginning.

Who is Jesus? He is only the preeminent One because He died and rose again—the One who will be preeminent when He comes in glory. He is truly the Omega, the glorious Last, the One everyone will bow down to and exalt in the future—but He is also the Alpha, the First. As Jesus said in Revelation 1:8,

"I am the Alpha and the Omega,'
says the Lord God,
'who is, and who was,
and who is to come, the Almighty."

Or as He said in to the apostle John when John saw Him and fell as His feet as though dead. We read, (Revelation 1:17)

"Then he placed his right hand
on me and said:
'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'"

As God created all things, Jesus was the Firstborn, the Omega, the First—the Preeminent One over all creation.

What does this mean for us?

First of all, if you're not a Christian,

you should believe in Jesus.

I began this sermon by talking about how people rejected Christ because from their viewpoint, He was not worthy of all praise and devotion.

But if you consider who Jesus is, absolutely preeminent over creation—it puts things in the proper perspective. We should understand is that position is right, proper. He has this title because it describes Him perfectly. He should be worshiped by all creation. He should be praised. He should receive honor. Everything in all creation should be glorifying Him and serving Him. He is the preeminent One.

As we saw in Philippians 2—in the future every knee is going to bow to Him and confess that He is Lord. Everyone will see that there is no one like Him—in love, in truth, in mercy, in forgiveness, in truth, in righteousness and justice. Once you see Him as He is—you will know that. Everyone will and every knee will bow.

You should see that now because in a very real sense, even before the fall into sin—He was the preeminent One, the One who was worthy.

Who Jesus is gives us the real reason for coming to Him in faith. Donald Macleod writes, (Shared Life, p. 92)

"the real reason for becoming a Christian is surely Jesus himself. Whatever we feel or don't feel, need or don't need, he is Lord, and that's why we bow the knee. Suppose we are managing just fine, leading ordinary, decent lives, holding down good jobs, going with a steady boyfriend and guilty of no particular evil habits, we should still be Christians. Why? Because he's there! Because he's God! We worship—we fall at his feet—not simply because of what we feel but quite simply because of who and what he is."



Everyone here needs to believe in Him and have faith in Him. Without Him we will be lost and miss doing the best thing ever—giving preeminence to Him in your life.

This is our second application. For everyone, because Jesus is the firstborn, the preeminent One

this means that you should live for Jesus.

Jesus is the Firstborn over all creation. In virtue of that position He deserves all honor and glory.

The ancient Egyptians used to worship the sun in the sky. They got it wrong. The sun is not preeminent.

What do you worship? If it's not Jesus, whether it's money, power, pleasure, your own ego—it's not what should be worshiped.

Jesus is the firstborn over all creation. All owe allegiance to Him. Everything good we have comes from Him.

This coming week a lot of towns are going to welcome Olympic athletes home. They're going to be giving proper honor to those that have represented their country so well. They're honoring those who have done a little.

But what about Jesus. He is truly the worthy One. Are you honoring Jesus with your life, with everything you do? You should be. Start doing it. Do it well.