Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jesus, Lord of Creation

Jesus, Lord of Creation
Colossians 1:15-17
The Remedy for Spiritual Amnesia

Scripture Introduction:

Tonight we will continue in our series on Colossians. Our text this evening will be Colossians 1:15-24, if you have your Bibles feel free to turn there. Have you ever had an experience with God and then fifteen minutes later revert back to how you were before that experience? Perhaps after sitting under the preaching of the Word you get really fired up. You are resolved. You are passionate. You want to take on hell with a water pistol. Then you get a flat tire. You go home to arguing parents. You crawl into a lonely bed (which, obviously, should remain “lonely” until you are married). Your passion seems to slip out just like your morning burrito. You forget.

Paul is dealing with people very similar. Remember they are being encouraged by a group of people telling them that Jesus is not quite enough. They need a little more. If you want a more full Christianity, and if you want to be freed from the fear of these spirits that are haunting you then do these things. The Colossian church starts believing them. They forget. What does Paul do to encourage those of us afflicted with spiritual amnesia? Look with me in Colossians 1:15-24

Read Colossians 1:15-24

Sermon Introduction:

One of my favorite characters in the Old Testament is a man named Josiah. The Lord used this guy in amazing ways. National revival came through King Josiah. His relationship with God seemed to be about as vibrant as possible for those who lived before Jesus. I love Josiah. But Josiah also had spiritual amnesia. He was just like us. Only Josiah died from spiritual amnesia. You could read this story in 2 Chronicles. It’s a rather short story that tells us of the death of Josiah. A faithful man. Followed God consistently. He loved the Lord. But he hated Egyptians.

One time in particular Neco, the king of Egypt is traveling through Judah on his way to fight a guy named Carchemish. Josiah goes out to meet Neco. Meaning, he wanted to flex a little muscle and drive Neco back. We have no idea why, but we can figure that Josiah did not much care for the Egyptians. Remember that whole Moses and slavery thing? Neco gets in Josiah’s face and says, “Listen man, God sent me on this mission. You better let me go. Or God’s going to destroy you”. You would think a man of God deeply grounded in faith like Josiah would heed such a warning. Nope. Josiah suffers from spiritual amnesia. He forgets two things: who is in charge and what life is all about. Josiah apparently had “fight a dude named Neco” on his agenda that day. God was not going to mess it up. So Josiah disguises himself and trots down to the plain of Megiddo. And I love the simplicity of Scripture here. “And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, ‘Take me away for I am badly wounded.’”

Aren’t we all a little like Josiah here? We, as King Josiah, are all too often prone to forget what it’s all about and who is in charge. Josiah did it, the Colossians did it, and we do it. It seems to be our human condition; we forget. Our day planner probably does not read “fight a dude named Neco” but I wonder if our lives are not sometimes a little worse than Josiah’s in this regard. Most of Josiah’s was spent for the glory of God. Even though it ended rather stupidly and tragically, his life was not wasted. I wonder, is it possible that many of us are really close to that line between a wasted and an unwasted life? I fear that if we do not remind ourselves daily that it’s all about Jesus, that we might develop patterns of forgetting what it’s all about and who is in charge. Forgetting one day cost Josiah his life. I wonder what are we in danger of?

There is really only one remedy for spiritual amnesia. Post-It notes. Little things that we put in our lives and in front of our face that remind us of this central truth: it’s all about Jesus. Our text here in Colossians is one of those Post-It notes, we will camp out tonight on verses 15-17. A reminder of who is in charge and what life is really about. The Post-It note in Colossians 1:15-17 will remind us that it really is all about Jesus, and it will also plead with us to reflect this truth in the way that we live our lives.

Is it all about Jesus? If it is it means that we must give absolute allegiance to him and we must radically depend upon Him. But is it all about Jesus?

I. It is all about Jesus

That question is extremely important. All of these big theological truths in verses 15-20 touch our hand in verse 13, 14 and 21-23. It becomes personal. Remember what Paul has said in verse 13-14. He is encouraging the Colossians, saying how he prays for them and then he moves into this mighty working of God on their behalf. He says that God, “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.” Then Paul tells us about this beloved Son. And this is important. If verses 15-20 are not true then who really cares about 13-14 and 21-23?

Who really cares about being transferred into the Kingdom of an impotent God? Who would really care that Jesus rescued us out of darkness if it’s not certain that He can keep us? Can we really be certain of this redemption if Jesus is not in control? If it is not all about Jesus, then are we not being a little ripped off by being in his kingdom? What if its all about me and not Jesus? Then He was really mean to “rescue me”. What does it mean to have a hope in the gospel if its not enough to totally save me? What is hope if it is not our reconciliation to the supreme exalted sovereign God of the universe? Verse 15-20 matters.

If what this text is saying tonight is not true then live however you want. Seriously. Go ahead. It’s not all about Jesus, it’s about you, or maybe somebody else. So live how you want. You are no longer accountable. But if it is true then this truth will demand your absolute attention and obedience. If it really is all about Jesus and your life is lived contrary to that truth then you run a pretty significant risk.

I am not going to go in depth trying to prove to you that it is all about Jesus. The Bible really does not give a ton of evidence to that; it merely states that it is so. Our intent tonight is to open up the Scripture for you and say, “This is what God says”. God says that it is all about Jesus. Paul gives us four truths to show that it is all about Jesus. Here are four truths that we can stick on a Post-It note. They are reminders that it is all about Jesus.

Jesus is God made flesh

You will notice in verse 15 that Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God”. This is another way of saying that Jesus is God made flesh, or human. This is the same thing that the author of Hebrews says in chapter 1 and the same thing that John says in the first chapter of his gospel account. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. This tells us two things. One, God is invisible. Nobody can see God. He is not something you can touch. He is not someone that you can see. At least not normally. Until Jesus, who we will see later is Himself God, took upon Himself human flesh and became the image of God.

The term image is a somewhat difficult one. It can mean one of two things. Typically it has a tad bit of both meanings but is dominated by one or the other. When you think of an image what do you think of? Probably a picture. A Roman would have probably thought of a depiction of their Roman leader on a coin. If you take out a quarter you see an image of George Washington. This is not George Washington. I would be a fool to claim that I have George Washington in my pocket. The quarter only symbolizes Ol’ George. It merely represents our first president. I would venture to say, though, that if George where living with us today and somebody showed him a quarter, he would say, “yep, looks like me”. Not necessarily perfect, but it looks like it’s prototype. It looks like George.

The other meaning of image is the actual manifestation of something. This one is a little harder to grasp. This use of the term image means that the image actually carries with it the presence of the object it represents. In this case I could actually say, I have George Washington in my pocket. Seems a little ludicrous. This is really difficult for us to grasp because we do not think quite the way that the ancients do. As difficult as it is, though, this is the dominate meaning of icon, or image, here in this text. It is saying that Jesus not only actually represents God, he is God in flesh. He is the invisible God made visible. Paul then is declaring that Jesus is God.

Jesus is the Lord over Creation

Next it appears like Paul contradicts what he just said. “He is the firstborn of all creation”. Your NIV will make it a tad less confusing by saying, “He is the firstborn over all creation”. They probably get a little closer to the original meaning, if not the original text. This little statement has been used by false teachers for centuries. Even though the context will not allow it, many people take this verse to be teaching that Jesus is not God, but only a part of creation. He is the first one that God created. Just like a mother has a firstborn son, so God has a firstborn Son named Jesus. As the heretic Arius says, “There was a time when He was not”. (He of course being Jesus).

In their defense that is what this verse sounds like. It does sound like Jesus is the firstborn of creation. The first being that God created. And it could be translated that way. However, a rule of translation is that whenever a word can mean one or more thing, its definition is controlled by the context. The word here can mean two things. First, the original meaning is that Jesus is the “first one to be born”. The other meaning, and this one developed over time in the Jewish and Roman culture, is that of privilege and priority. Again the context dictates our meaning. If we translate it as Jesus being the first one to be born that seems to contradict everything else Paul is saying here. Paul is attempting to show Jesus as outside of, and supreme to creation. Not the first being created. Therefore, it is best for us to consider this as Paul saying that Jesus is the one who receives the inheritance, the privilege of Creation. In others words He is Lord over all creation. Paul will develop this a little more in verse 16, as will we in a few minutes.

Jesus is the Pre-existent God

Skip down to verse 17. After Paul has expounded on what he means by Jesus being the Lord over creation he says that Jesus is “before all things”. The way that this sentence is constructed is a little difficult to pick up in the English. It means He Himself is the before all things. That does not make much sense in English so we take out that second “he”. But let me quickly try to show you the significance of this. In Exodus 3 when God calls Moses from a burning bush, Moses asks, “what is your name”. If you are going to send me to the people of Israel, who shall I say sent me? God’s answer? “Just tell them I am”. It is God’s way of saying, “I am the self-existent One”. I simply am. People then began calling God the I Am, in the Old Testament. Now fast forward a few thousand years to a carpenter in Galilee. He has been teaching some things that the religious leaders of the day disagree with. They get into a spat about whose Father is Abraham. The religious leaders accuse the carpenter of being led by a demon. He responds, “No, I am not, but you are”. He then discusses how His Father will glorify Him. You can pick up the story in verse 56, it’s the carpenter speaking, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, ‘I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him…” Now why the stone throwing? Because Jesus was asserting the same thing that Paul is here in this text. That Jesus is the I AM. The Pre-existent, self-sustaining One. There has never been a time when he was not.

Jesus is the sustainer of the universe

In High School I used to listen to a song by Westside Connection (yes, I am embarrassed to admit that) entitled Money Makes the World Go Round. As you an imagine Westside Connection does not have good theology. It is not money that makes the world go ‘round. It is Jesus. Jesus makes the world go ‘round. Why is the earth still spinning? Jesus. What keeps Venus from colliding into Mercury? Jesus. What keeps our sun from fizzling out? Jesus. What keeps me alive until the day I am destined to die? Jesus. What keeps you alive? Jesus. Jesus makes the world go ‘round.

By, Through, and For

If you are like me then these four things are pretty cool, but it does not quite feel personal enough. How does this truth invade your heart and change your life? These are all really nice things to know, but what does it mean for our life?

Look back with me at verse 16. As we do that, I want to put yourself in the shoes of the Colossians. Once we can relate to them, I think this text will come alive for us. I want you to look down really quick. Some of you have wood underneath you. Probably most of you. On that wood are cracks. Do you remember the elementary school rhyme? Step on a crack you’ll break your mother’s back. Imagine that your life is governed by this. Some of you just cost your family huge doctor bills. You have just ticked off the god of cracks. Now you have to figure out a way to appease him, and maybe talk him out of breaking poor mama’s back.

That may be tough to relate to. Perhaps this is not. You live your life in constant fear that something bigger than you is out to get you. When is my family going to run out of money and we have to eat pickles for a week? When will my parents get divorced and who will I live with? When are my friends going to die? When am I going to die? When are my parents going to die? If I do this, maybe God will provide some money. If I do this, maybe God will save my parents from splitting up. If I do this, maybe God will keep me from dying. If I do this, maybe God will spare my parents. Did I do something to create this? Can I do something to stop it? Satan seems so mean. Satan is really tempting me to sin. It seems like I cannot master this sin. It seems like Satan is more powerful than God. How do we stop Satan from causing a flood in our region? What about those starving children in Africa? What is God’s great purpose there? Our economy is sinking. Who is in charge here and what is this all about?

We’ve just been struck by spiritual amnesia. Now listen to Paul’s remedy in verse 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”.

Did you catch the scope of that? Listen to that verse as one that is scared of angelic beings. These thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities, are all more than likely a hierarchy of angels. Paul is saying, it doesn’t matter who your boogeyangel is, Jesus created it. Whether it’s a good angel or a bad angel He created it. Whether it’s a tornado or a hurricane he created it. Whether its your best friend or your worst enemy He created them. NOTHING. Catch that, nothing falls outside the realm of His Creation. It does not mean that He created them bad. In the case of the devils and the fallen angels. He did not create them bad, but he knew they would be bad. And he still created them. He still created man knowing how screwed up we would be.

I want you to notice three prepositions. Those little words that we skip over but they pack a huge punch. They dictate the meaning of nouns. In this verse it says that everything was created by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus.

Created By Jesus

This means that everything was created by the means of Jesus. It means that he is the architect. God said, let’s build a house. Jesus says, okay “here are the plans”. What does this truth mean? When the stars come out tonight I want you to pick a star out of the heavens. Look at it for a little while and ask this question. Why is that there? I do not mean, “Why does it exist”. I mean why is it there and not over there. Why is it as many miles away from the earth that it is? It is because Jesus put it there. When he formed the universe he decided that is where it should go. Africa is where it is because Jesus formed it that way. The Mississipi River flows right beside Hannibal because Jesus thought that was a good idea.

This has far more reaching significance. Why do I have big ears? Because Jesus thought that would be a good idea. I am not sure why He thought that was a good idea but He did. Why do you live where you do? Because Jesus decided to plant you here. You were created by Jesus. He thought you were a good idea. He meant to create you. You were not an accident in the mind of God. No matter what your parents intended or did not intend. God meant for you to be here.

Furthermore, when Jesus was on the earth he was living on His creation. That means that the Cross that he hung on, he planted the tree there. He made the rocks. The tree that grew the thorns that the soldiers placed on his head, he made that. He invented thorns. The spit that touched his brow, he created. The crowd that shouted crucify him, he gave them vocal chords. He knitted Judas Iscariot together in his mother’s womb. Nails, his idea. The whips that would rip the flesh off his idea, who do you think made the cows to make the leather? Where do you think the sheep came for to make sheep bones to whip his back? Who invented pain? Who created love? Jesus. The cross was there because he planted it. He is the architect.

Created Through Jesus

Jesus does not just have really good ideas. He is the agent by which they were created. He is the builder. Who hung the stars in their place? Jesus. He thought it’d be a good idea to put Jupiter where he did, so he made it and placed it there. He not only thought people would be a good idea to create, he was active in their creation. This is why his fingerprints are left all over creation. You can see his handiwork in all of creation. Oh, certainly, we’ve really messed it up. We’ve tried dusting it over. But it’s still there. You can see it in the old man and woman holding hands. Jesus is watching and saying, “yep, I invented the sensations in your hand that would make that so pleasurable and comforting that old people do it”. You can see it in the bitter cold which says, “just a reminder, I could make it colder, you are dependent on me”. The sunset. The birds. Other people. It’s there. Fingerprints of Jesus, because he built it.

Created For Jesus

Why? Why did he do all of this? Why make the moth? Why plant a tree that he would be nailed to? Why create humans that would mock him and spit on him? Why create people that would sin against him and rebel from his authority? Why even come up with a plan of redemption? Why? Why even create angels that you knew would fall? Why even create the devil? For Jesus. What are you serious? John Piper expounds on this in a beautifully poetic way:

All that came into being exists for Christ—that is, it exists to display the greatness of Christ. Nothing—nothing!—in the universe exists for its own sake. Everything from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains, from smallest particle to the biggest star, from the most boring school subject to the most fascinating science, from the ugliest cockroach to the most beautiful human, from the greatest saint to the most wicked genocidal dictator—everything that exists, exists to make the greatness of Christ more fully known—including you, and the person you have the hardest time liking.

What does this mean? What does it mean for us that Jesus is the architect, the builder, and the goal and aim of all of life? Two things.

II. Because it is all about Jesus; we must live lives of radical allegiance to Jesus

It is really not wise to rebel from your creator. Seriously. Imagine yourself sitting on the sun. That is pretty difficult to do because you would be burnt up even a few million miles away from it. Totally consumed. Ok, God invented that! Jesus built it. It has his fingerprints and his signature. I seriously would not mess with the God that created the sun.

The Colossians would have understood this concept better than we. As Will Metzger explains:

In the ancient Middle East there existed…sovereign [kings] of the land. These rulers held absolute sway over their subjects. It was a [kings choice whether or not] to initiate a treaty with his subjects. This was no [two-way] agreement negotiated between two equal parties; rather, it was a sovereignly imposed law. He bound his subjects to himself, in effect owning them. In return, not because he was in any way obligated to but purely out of his self-determined will, he pledged himself to protect, defend and show mercy to his subjects. If they kept covenant with their [sovereign] king, all was well—they would experience blessing from his mercy. If they broke covenant, they would be liable to his righteous indignation, his terrible curse. God is our [sovereign] king.

Just as those in the ancient Middle East were accountable to their sovereign king, so are we accountable to the sovereign Lord of the universe. We owe our absolute allegiance to him. Yet, how often do we forget this and live lives contrary to this truth. We forget who is in charge and continue living lives that are marked by allegiance to self rather than to our Lord. We forget that it’s all about Jesus, and not about me. Regardless of our failure this is our standard. This is what we should strive towards, absolute allegiance to Jesus.

What does that mean? What does that look like? Simply this, does Jesus have it all? The way I talk…what I say, what I don’t say. The music I listen to. The music I don’t listen to. My career. My marriage. The television I watch or don’t watch. What I do when I hang out with friends…or what I don’t do. Are all of these lived in radical obedience and dependence on the gospel of Jesus Christ?

If you are anything like me then the answer is no. We struggle from spiritual amnesia. We forget who is in charge and what it is all about, and our lives begin to reflect absolute allegiance to something else. We slip and we fall. That is why we must consider the other side of the coin as well:

III. Because it is all about Jesus; we must live lives of radical dependence on Jesus

This is what Paul wants them to really catch. We ought to strive to have absolute allegiance to Jesus, that is without question. But Paul knows something about the human condition. We mess up. And what do we do whenever we mess up? The Colossians were living lives of fear. They knew that they were not perfect enough to appease all of these angelic beings—much less God Himself. Their relationship with God began looking like their relationship to all these angelic beings; afraid to mess up, and when you do, you must quickly and passionately attempt to make self-atonement for your screw up.

Remember this section is not divorced from verses 13-14 or 21-23. This King Jesus is our Reconciler and our Redemption. He has done it. That is why Paul is so astounded that the Colossians seem to be making room for this heresy that denies the sufficiency of Christ. They are suffering form spiritual amnesia. They are forgetting that Jesus’ work is fully sufficient to atone for their screw ups. When we fail in our absolute allegiance, the gospel message is that Jesus Christ took our punishment for that and gives in its place his absolute allegiance to the Father. He gives to us what He demands. That is the gospel. We must not move from this. Notice what Paul says in verse 23, after giving us all the good news and the promises he says this, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…”

So I ask,

Are you disobediently fearful? Do you trust the gospel and the power of Christ enough to live like its real? If this really is true, isn’t Jesus also in control over our evangelism? Doesn’t this mean that the gospel really is the power of God to save? If He can hang the star can’t he change the heart of a gospel hardened sinner? Ought we not to live and believe and act as if that is true? Do we pray like that is true? Do we plead with God to save souls? Do we preach the gospel like its real? Do we take the gospel to the nations or do we try to doctor it up and be patient until someone is “ready to accept it”?

Is your heart crippled by doubts and fears? What will tomorrow bring? Why did this happen? What if it happens again? How can I know that I’m going to live tomorrow? Living a life of trying to preserve comfort, safety, and your life on earth will be wasted. It wasn’t meant for you to save it…it’s meant for Jesus to save it, redeem it, and have it.

In the midst of our difficulties and sufferings…In the middle of our struggle with spiritual amnesia I encourage you with Jesus the Lord of Creation. If Jesus has the power to hang a star he help me in need! And if Jesus decides not to help me in need…not only does he have that right, but I am sure He has a reason. Therefore, brothers and sisters I encourage you live lives of radical obedience and absolute allegiance to Jesus Christ, and tonight when the stars come out, look up. And remember why that star is there. And remind yourself that the One that hung that star is your Redeemer and your King.

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