The Rev. Skip Dusenbury preached this chapel message on Colossians 1:15-20 and the preeminence of Christ in all things. The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Well, I’d like to have us look at the Book of Colossians briefly here this afternoon, and you remember that Colossians is one of Paul’s four prison epistles. It’s probably one of the more neglected epistles of Paul. It’s been called one of his most majestic because of the view he gives us of Jesus Christ. It’s probably a twin with Ephesians; it was written about the same time. They have a lot in common, although they’re also distinctive and unique.
If you have Jesus Christ, because of who he is and what he’s doing, you have all you need.And Paul was writing to a church that he’d never visited. He didn’t plant it himself. It was planted by a man probably converted during his three-year ministry in Ephesus. A man named Epaphras, who was from Colossi and went back and planted the church, has come to visit Paul in prison because of heresy. And we don’t know exactly, we have to infer from what Paul says, the nature of the heresy. It was kind of a witch’s brew of Jewish asceticism and Phrygian mysticism in Greek philosophy, but in any event, Paul is writing to exalt Jesus Christ. They were in effect saying Christ is not enough; you need some other things besides Christ. And his argument is, if you have Jesus Christ, because of who he is and what he’s doing, you have all you need. So that’s the context. I’m going to read beginning in verse 15 and through verse 20 for a little bit of context, but I’m going to take my theme from the end verse 18.
So with that little bit of introduction, let me pray again and we’ll read God’s Word. Father in heaven, we praise you that you are the great three-in-one. And we thank you that in your sovereign grace you have loved us and saved us through the work of your Son. We thank you for your election, for his redemption, and the regenerating and sanctifying work of your Spirit. And I thank you for each of these brothers and sisters. And we pray for your blessing upon our reflection today, not because we are worthy, but because Christ is. And we ask it in his name and for his sake. Amen.
All right, brothers and sisters, hear God’s Word as I begin reading in Colossians 1:15.
And he [he is referring here to Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might come to have first place in everything that he might be preeminent.
Let’s see. I’m reading from the American Standard. Is this ESV? Yeah, that’s really probably more consistent.
That in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Do we have any Covenant College alums here today? Any of you ever visited Covenant’s beautiful campus up on the top of Lookout Mountain outside of Chattanooga? Well, right at the entrance there on the stone is the college motto, which is taken from verse 18 here, “In all things Christ preeminent.” And what I’d like to do, just briefly, is to make four points about that motto.
I don’t know if you have a motto—I know RTS has a motto—that you have a motto for your life and for your ministry. If you don’t, let me suggest that you could do far worse—I’m not sure you could do better—than “Christ preeminent.” And I want to share four points and just make a few quick applications.
Christ’s Preeminence Is at the Heart of God’s Eternal Plan
The first is this that Christ’s preeminence is at the heart of the plan of God and has been from all eternity. The preeminence of Jesus Christ, and here Paul is talking not just about the eternal Son who’s always been preeminent and exalted in his divine nature, but he’s talking, I think, about the incarnate son who now in his glorified humanity is exalted. He was the Creator, but notice he mentions in verse 20 his making reconciliation by the blood of his cross. So he’s talking here about the incarnate son glorified in his humanity.
God’s purpose from all eternity was that his son would be glorified, not just in his divine nature but in his divine human nature.And he speaks in just a few verses of everything from creation to final redemption, that he might unite all things, reconcile all things to himself in heaven and on earth. And he says here, “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might come to have first place in everything.” That’s a hina phrase, and you know your Greek probably better than I do. You’ve studied and know more than I’ve forgotten. Maybe not. I may have forgotten more than you know it, but I remember that hina is a purpose phrase; it introduces a purpose clause. God’s purpose from all eternity was that his son would be glorified, not just in his divine nature but in his divine human nature. He would become one of us, redeem us, and be exalted.
That’s why, for instance, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1 and 2, Romans 5 see Adam as a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, Adam, not just an image bearer of God, but in his exalted place over all creation. Hebrews 8 makes that point, and I’m sorry, Psalm 8 makes that point. Hebrews 2 says that Christ’s exaltation now is a fulfillment of that. That’s why Psalm 2, a thousand years before Christ, Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 spoke of God exalting his messiah on Zion and “sit at my right hand while I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Five hundred years before Christ, five or six, Daniel saw that great vision of the Son of Man, emphasizing his humanity, coming on the clouds of heaven and receiving this eternal kingdom. From before the foundation of the world, beloved, it was the plan of the father that he would glorify himself by glorifying his son. That’s why, Jesus says in John 17, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify the son that he may glorify you.”
And so as we think of the whole sweep of human history, and God’s sovereign plan before that, at the very heart of it was this idea: that Jesus Christ, his beloved Son, on the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples saw just a reflection of that glory, and the Father said, “This is my beloved son in whom my soul delights. Listen to him,” and that’s what God has been about from all eternity.
Christ’s Preeminence Is Already a Metaphysical Reality
It is a fact right now that [Christ] is exalted.Secondly, Christ’s preeminence is already a great metaphysical reality. Now, you all know “metaphysical” refers to a branch of philosophy dealing with a nature of reality and the ultimate reality. It is a fact right now that he is exalted. In the fullness of time, he came into the world, born of a woman, born under the law and took our nature. He redeemed us. And Paul refers to this briefly in 3:1, “Keep seeking the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” He says it in greater detail in Ephesians 1 when he speaks about the work of God’s power, which you’ve brought about in Christ when he raised him from the dead and has seated him in the heavily places far above—not just above—far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not just in this age but in the age to come.
Peter in his first great Christian sermon on the day of Pentecost said, this that you see and heard, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is a proof that the Jesus whom you crucified has not only been raised in the grave, but he’s been exalted to the Father’s right hand and he’s poured all this out. Let all of Israel know, therefore, that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus that you crucified. The writer to the Hebrews, he says in 8:1, the point of what we’ve been saying is we have such a high priest, one enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high. In the Book of the Revelation, it begins with that glorious vision of Jesus in the midst of the seven candlesticks, this glorious figure, and then chapter five, the lion of Judah, who is a lamb slain, he alone is worthy to open the scroll of human destiny and human history. He’s the one to whom God has given authority to execute his plan for all of human history.
I was privileged to study under Dr. Robert Reymond at Covenant Seminary years ago. Dr. Reymond is in heaven now, but I remember him saying at one point, “The reins of the universe are in the hands of a man, the nail-scarred hands of the God-man, Jesus Christ.” And so not only is the preeminence, the exaltation of Christ at the heart of God’s plan from eternity, but yet we live in a point where it’s now a reality in heaven. He is exalted. He’s preeminent, the holy angels, the church triumphant worship him, and they ascribe to him glory right now.
Now something may be a fact and not be acknowledged by people. We just celebrated Columbus Day yesterday. And I think historically, Columbus wasn’t the first one to figure out the earth was round. The Greeks apparently knew that. But in his day, he was in a minority. Lots of people thought it was flat. That didn’t change things. The majority opinion was against it. But the truth is, the earth is not flat. It was wrong. And even today, even though Christianity I think—I don’t know that Islam has overtaken us—is numerically the largest religion, but the great majority of people don’t subscribe to the Apostles’ Creed. They don’t believe that he died, rose again, ascended to the right hand of the Father. But it’s still a fact, even though it’s denied. And interestingly, once Columbus succeeded and the news of his success began to circulate, people were forced to acknowledge that great fact that before they had denied.
One Day the Whole Universe Will Recognize Christ’s Preeminence
And brothers and sisters, that’s my third point. The preeminence of Christ is at the heart of God’s plan from all eternity, it’s a great metaphysical reality now, and one day it will be a universal reality.
Jesus himself in Matthew 24, said the time would come when all the nations would see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of glory. Matthew 25:31: when he comes in the glory of the Father with his angels and sits on his glorious throne, all the nations will be gathered before. And Paul said in Philippians, as a reward for his humility and his redemptive work, the time will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.
It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when and how. Christ’s preeminence will be universally acknowledged.It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when and how. Christ’s preeminence will be universally acknowledged. That’s where all of human history is going. ISIS, Ebola and everything and everyone else not withstanding.
We Should Prioritize Christ’s Preeminence in Our Lives Now
My fourth point is that Christ’s preeminence should be our present priority. It’s not only a great metaphysical reality in heaven and glory, wherever that is. We don’t have to wait until Jesus returns and every knee bows. Right now, that should be our great priority.
Paul says in 3:17 here in Colossians: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” That’s pretty comprehensive. When you study, when you do your seminary assignments, when you do your work in the seminary office, whatever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. He should be preeminent in all that we do. He should be preeminent as our Savior and Lord. He should be preeminent in all our relationships.
And Paul is going to talk at the end of chapter three: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” Children, obey your parents and so on. He says, in our relationships, who we relate to and how I relate to them, Christ should be exalted. He should be preeminent.
Jesus is the perfect image of God in human form.In our character formation, he’ll say here in chapter three, that we’re to put off the old man and put on the new created in the image of God. Jesus is the perfect image of God in human form. And so in our pursuit of holiness, in our battle against sin, Christ is to be preeminent, and his work is the basis for which we can pursue that.
He should be preeminent in our affections and our devotion. We should love our wives, our children, brothers, and sisters, but Jesus should have that preeminent love.
He should be preeminent in our thoughts. Paul says 2 Corinthians 10, “We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” He says here in [Colossians] 2:3—wisdom is a key word. Apparently, wisdom is one of the key words that the heretical teachers were using. And Paul uses some of their key words to show how Christ provides what their false teaching never could. He says in 2:3, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Brothers and sisters, in your studies, I hope you’ll be diligent and seek to learn all that you can. And not just from these great teachers on the wall or these great teachers sitting here beside you, but other teachers, unbelieving, secular teachers. But in your study, be diligent, but seek to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. He warns the Colossians in 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”
As our personal sufficiency, as your personal sufficiency in all that you do, Paul uses an interesting expression in 3:4, when “Christ who is our life is revealed.” He’s looking forward to that time when every knee will bow. But he says, “Christ who is our life.” “I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in me, bears much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He goes on to say in 2:6–7, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so walk [or so live] in him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in him, establishes your faith just as we were instructed.”
Jesus Christ Should Be Preeminent in Ministry
So Christ should be preeminent as our sufficiency in our personal life, in our ministry. My time is just about done. And so let me just note in our ministry that Jesus Christ should be preeminent in our teaching, our preaching, our worship, our counseling, our evangelism. Paul says here in 1:28, “We proclaim him, that is Jesus Christ, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose I labor, striving according to his power, which mightily works in me.” Christ is the one who gives him the power to preach and do all he does, and Christ is the great goal, the one who he preaches, the one who he seeks to bring people to and help them mature into.
So in our personal lives and in our ministry, “Christ preeminent,” I would suggest is a fitting motto and goal. And there is a lot more I’d like to say, but time prevents me. In my own congregation, I’m not quite as faithful, but because of my dear friend, Dr. Sherwin, I’m going to wrap it up here.
Brothers and sisters, among other things, this is a truth upon which you and I ought to meditate much more frequently than we do. It’s a source of great comfort. It should be a source of great comfort and encouragement in the ministry. In 25 years—and I was in the ministry in various ways before I was ordained in the pastoral ministry—I have found shepherding sheep to be a nasty business. It’s rewarding, but at times it’s frustrating. It’s discouraging. It’s disappointing.
But this truth shows us, among other things, the dignity and the glory of the humblest Christian—that believer that you find so frustrating, who seems to take two steps forward and one step backwards—redeemed, loved by the incarnate Creator, by the blood of his cross. It shows the dignity and the majesty of the church for all of her failures. It shows the glory of the gospel. Brothers and sisters, this is a cosmic gospel. Notice what Paul says here in verse 20. He’s speaking, he says, through him, Christ, to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross through him, I say, things on earth or things in heaven. Our gospel is a cosmic gospel. God’s going to save the whole universe.
Now, men made in his image are at the forefront of that same work. But one day there’s going to be a new heavens and a new earth delivered from sin and all of its terrible results. And the foundation, he says, is the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s a glorious gospel we never need to apologize for, and to be an ambassador, to be a minister of Jesus Christ, no matter how large or how small your church may be or how despised—David was telling us about the view of the majority of people there in Romania where he ministers toward Protestants and so on—you represent the exalted Son of God and never have any reason—certainly it should humble us—but it should give us a sense of dignity and peace.
And when we struggle with our sins and find difficulties and so on—I’ll leave you to unpack the rest—but my point is this great truth that Jesus is now exalted at the right hand of God and that that’s where history is going. We’re going to win. Should be a great encouragement to us, and I commend it to you.
As a new Christian, I was converted through the ministry of the Navigators, and I remember a quote in a Bible study. It’s been about 45 years ago. I don’t know if there was an attribution, if there was, I’ve forgotten it. But it said, “In all Christians, Christ is present. In some Christians, he is prominent. But in only a few is he preeminent.”
Now, we may disagree about how true that is, but I think we’d all agree that it ought to be true of every Christian. And if ever there was a Christian in whose life and ministry Christ was preeminent, it was Paul, the author of these words by divine inspiration. Paul, the self-righteous, proud, Jesus-hating Pharisee, persecutor transformed into a man who could say, “To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In the book of James, James uses that argument encouraging us to pray. He says, Elijah was a man of like nature as us. And yet he prayed and God shut up the heavens, and then three and half years later, he opened them again,
We could use the same argument. Paul, brothers and sisters, gifted man that he was, had a like nature as you. And yet God could make of him, with all the animosity he had at the beginning, a man who passionately loved Christ and whose life could be summed up in that great motto: “Christ preeminent in all things.” God did it for Paul, may he do it for us as well, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.