2017 is going to be way better than 2016. The dumpster-fire of an election is over for one. Race relations in our country can only get better? Oregon football can't get much worse. And even if 2017 is more of the same on a national level—at least personally we can work hard to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser, right?
I always have some goals for a new year, but the problem is I often prefer sleep to prayer. And berry pie tastes way better than kale. I'll give it a few days until I'm looking forward to the next year and better self-control.
As the most recent election year should have made pretty clear, we are not in control. We have a hard enough time with self-control, not to mention all the bigger problems in our nation and world. What is your plan in the coming year to feel more in control of your life?
I got an email from a fitness gym here in town. The subject of the email was, "The Year of You". It read, in part:
2017 is right around the corner and you're either going to own the year OR the year is going to own you. It's 100% your choice. It's your decision. It's in your hands.
Simply by taking all of the responsibility and putting it on your shoulders - you become empowered.
You take action like you've never taken action before. You become prolific. You become consistent. And you let no obstacle stand in your way … no matter what.
YOU are in control. YOU.
This morning we are going to consider someone who really is in control.
The passage we are considering this morning is a hymn. "To hymn" simply means "to praise." There is a good chance that this passage was used in the early church's liturgy as a confession of faith. Let me show you the structure of the hymn before I give you my outline. In verse 15 we see, "HE IS … followed by "firstborn over all creation." In verse 18 we see "HE IS" and "firstborn from the dead." Can you see the parallel there? The parallel is "He is" and "Firstborn." Much more could be said about the structure of the poem, but I want you to see these two clear sections. The Son is the firstborn of creation (15-17). The Son is firstborn from the dead (18-20).
How do we know the hymn is about the Son? Well, we see in verses 13-14, that the Father has transferred his people from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the beloved Son. Then Paul gets so excited that he breaks into song. In verses 15-20, we have that hymn of praise.
The beloved Son reigns supreme over all creation
Who is this beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins? "He is the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). In Jesus Christ, the invisible has become visible. The nature and character of God were perfectly revealed in him. The Old and New Testament agree that no one has ever seen God, but in Christ we see God perfectly. John 1:18 says, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." Jesus is not "an" image of God like we were created in God's image. The Son is God.
He is the firstborn. Here "firstborn" doesn't mean that the Son was ever born or created. Rather, "firstborn" explains the Son's supremacy and his rights, his reign, and his sovereignty. King David is called the firstborn, but David was the youngest of his brothers and Israel's second king. So "firstborn" doesn't refer to the birth order or even birth at all. Saying that the Son is firstborn of all creation means he reigns over all creation.
What gives him that right to reign over all of creation? Verse 16 gives us the answer by saying, "for" or "because" and "by him all things were created." If you create something, it's yours. We aren't just talking about God generally as the creator of the universe. In Christ all things were created. The beloved, eternal, firstborn Son who is equal to God, is the agent of all creation. This gives further proof that the Son exists eternally in the past. If he is the agent of creation, he can't be a creature. Only God creates all things.
When you see the beauty of the Columbia River gorge, the powerful Multnomah Falls crashing down on the rocks below, or the far away lights of distant planets—those things don't merely proclaim the Creator generally but also proclaim the wonder of the eternal Son who existed before time began and who came down in the person of Jesus Christ. That is the God we worship. His fingerprints are all over creation.
Paul lists all that the Son is responsible for creating: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. Paul wants to make sure we know everything was created by the Son: things in heaven and earth; things seen and unseen, even unseen angelic powers.
Not only was the universe created by the Son in the past, but presently now, the entire universe is held together by the Son. We see that at the end of verse 17. Apart from his continuous sustaining activity everything would fall apart. Christ keeps the cosmos from becoming chaos. The Son's power is not a Star Wars type "force." But in a mysterious way, Jesus holds it all together. As Hebrews 1:3 says, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word." It's a terrifying thing to consider that even those who mock Christ have their lives upheld by him. Finally, we see in verse 16 that all things are created for the Son. All creation finds its ultimate purpose in Jesus Christ.
We all need to think through what it means that our lives are a stage meant to bring glory to the creator Son. Your life isn't about you. You are a part of the "all things" that are listed in the passage. Your life is meant to display the sufficiency and supremacy of Jesus Christ.
In the coming year, how will you orient your life around the Son who is in control and reigns supreme over all things? The world tells us we are masters of our own destinies, but we all know that statement is garbage. This world and our lives are pretty pathetic if we are the point. Evil and chaos reigns when we think that we are superior and that life is all about us. How will you submit your short life to this beloved Son who reigns over all creation?
Our default orientation is toward self. Even if we are Christians, we are in constant need of calibration toward Christ. Calibration towards Christ comes through the ordinary means of grace. So don't pray, read Scripture, and attend church this year to feel better about yourself as a Christian. You will not be graded in heaven based on how much time you spend in a quiet time each morning. God doesn't love you more if you attend an evening prayer meeting. However, God has instituted those disciplines as ways to orient us toward himself.
So how are you going to orient yourself to the King of creation this year? Do you have a plan? Who is going to help you? Most importantly, how will you remind yourself in the midst of your plans and goals that you are not the point of everything? How will you remind yourself that the glory of the Son in your life is the purpose?
For those of you who are feeling discouraged, take comfort that God is working out his sovereign plan in his beloved Son. Your life might feel like it is falling apart, but take comfort in knowing that it is Jesus Christ himself who holds you fast. He cares for all things in creation, and that especially includes you, the crown of his creation.
If you are feeling worried and anxious about the future, take hope that the Son is in control, the Son reigns and no world leader, no natural disaster, no death, and nothing else can wrench control of all things away from the eternally beloved Son. His grasp on world events and on the details of your life are secure. You can trust this Son.
The beloved Son reigns supreme over the church
In verse 18, the hymn transitions. One theologian wrote, "Paul does not exult in some heavenly abstraction. The poem's second strophe brings the cosmic Christ down to earth, where blood flows from a body sprung up on a cross." The Son not only reigns as the firstborn of all creation but is the firstborn of the new creation. In both new creation and old, the first place belongs to him alone. We are introduced to the Son's supreme reign over the new creation by considering his reign over the church.
If you've been attending church for any length of time, perhaps you think "the church" is a bit of hobby horse. At this church, we tell you that the church should take priority over the biological family, over sports, and over your individual preferences. We invest lots of money and time in the pastoral residency program to help young pastors think more carefully about the church. "The church" isn't just an obsession for your pastors. It's Christ's obsession.
We quickly see in verse Colossians 1:18 that Christ doesn't have a living body called the church if he stays dead. As 1 Corinthians 15 says, the church is to be pitied if Jesus didn't get up from the dead that first Easter Sunday.
The church may seem like a weak and antiquated idea to you, but the Lord of all creation has chosen to indwell the church and rise from the dead so the church might rise from the ashes of the world's disdain, and, ultimately, so that the world would marvel that Jesus Christ is Lord. The world will see that Jesus has transformed a community of sinners into eternal saints. We will not just be eternal saints after we die. We are eternal saints now by virtue of the resurrection. Shouldn't that inform how we take risks as a church to bring glory to our firstborn brother from the dead?
What are some practical ways we can take risks to bring glory to God in the church this coming year? Maybe, it's by going out of our way to greet someone not in our friendship circle. Maybe it is by having a family over for dinner from the church to get to know them better. Maybe it is by meeting up with another Christian to read a Christian book together or to pray together. Bringing glory to the Son begins with small everyday decisions. When we make plans and decisions for the good of others in faith and not in fear, Christ is glorified.
Jesus inaugurated the new creation age through his resurrection so that he might be first place in all things. After Christ's resurrection he was exalted in a new way. This isn't to take away from his previous eternal glory we considered in the first point. We see that "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (Col 1:19). All the attributes and activities of God—his Spirit, Word, wisdom, and glory are perfectly displayed in Christ.
Let that sink in—all the attributes and activities of God are perfectly displayed in his Son. All God's fullness dwells in him. The more you consider that, the more incredible the work of Christ on the Cross will be to you. It was this Son, the one who had all the fullness of God dwell in him, who went obediently to his death. We see in verse 20, his blood was shed, and he became a curse when he hung on a tree. The Lord of Creation, the God of all was crucified by the people he created and was lifted up in agony and shame upon the world he had made. Why had it come to that?
It was because you are broken. You have made a mess of your life. We all have. This world is broken and cursed, and we are responsible for that. We are in desperate need of peace with one another and most of all with our maker, the Lord of Creation. He, the King of Glory, hung on the Cross because of our sin.
At, the Cross, the Son suffered in place of sinners. He took the penalty that our sin deserved. All who repent and trust that Christ's sacrifice alone reconciles them to God are forgiven and gain new creation life. Only the blood of such a man could heal such a broken heart as yours. Only the blood of the supreme Son could restore the universe back to the divinely created and determined order.
At the Cross and resurrection of the Son, the age of peace and reconciliation has erupted into the world of sin and death. The new creation world that God had planned to bring about through the work of his Son has already begun. This is no heaven on earth yet, but the battle was won at the Cross. Colossians 2:15 says, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." The sin and brokenness you see today are skirmishes and vestiges of evil, but evil and sin have already lost the battle. It's not a matter of if but just when the new creation order will be fully consummated on earth. Soon the Lord's Prayer will be a full reality, "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
God will not only reconcile repentant sinners to himself, but he will reconcile all things in heaven and earth to himself. The whole universe will be restored and made new.
Are you a part of the new creation? How would you know? Do others see the new creation at work in your life?
To be a part of the new creation begins and continues with coming to an end of yourself, to submitting to the Lordship of Christ. Be reminded this morning that reconciliation with God is your greatest need. And that is not accomplished by anything you can do but only through the work of Christ at the Cross.
Being a part of new creation also certainly means being a part of a local church that preaches the gospel and seeks to live out a biblical community together. No church does that perfectly. Pray that we would be a picture of a new creation community to the watching world.
If Christ reigns supreme over all things, we need to consider how this reality shapes our jobs and careers, our home-life, and even political realities.
Since Jesus reigns supreme over all things, we need not scramble to win approval or even be recognized for our accomplishments like the world seeks to be recognized. God's reign over all things must include the evil that happens in the world. The things that men intend for evil, God means those things for good.
How will the fact that the beloved Son reigns over all things shape your year? How will the loving King shape your personal goals and hopes for the New Year? Jesus, the beloved Son, reigns over all things. From the minutia of life's details and ordinary tasks to the rise and fall of political leaders to the climate and weather patterns—he holds all things in his sovereign hands. They are hands you can trust because the hands of the Son are forever pierced from the nails of his sacrifice. If he would go to such lengths to reconcile rebels like us to himself, he will surely reconcile all things in heaven and on earth. All wrongs will be made right. His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven to the glory of God.
Daniel Schreiner serves as an associate pastor at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, OR.