Lord of the New Creation
Passage: Colossians 1:18-20
(Read) If you follow the news, you know that the latest tragedy to strike our nation was the shooting that took place on February 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland FL. At 2:19 pm Nicholas Cruz, a 19 year old orphan and former student at the school entered with an assault rifle. He pulled the fire alarm to lure students out in the hall, and he began shooting. In all 14 students and 3 staff members were killed.
Today, the families and friends of those 17 victims are enduring terrible grief, and I’m sure that many of the kids who ducked from bullets and saw their friends and teachers killed, will have a long process of working through grief. It was an awful tragedy.
And it’s always interesting to watch how people react to these kinds of things. There’s not much worse than a kid killing kids. Therefore, people are shocked. “How could this happen?” And they are desperate to see that it never happens again. As Christians, we ought to grieve alongside everyone else, and we should participate in the conversation about improving our society and the safety of our kids.
But these tragedies and the outrage that follows are also a reminder that worldview matters. If you believe that people are essentially good and that we are the only hope for fixing our world, then things like this are stunning and crushing. But if you believe that the heart of man is desperately wicked, you still grieve but you aren’t surprised when people do terrible things. And if you believe that our creator has a plan to fix his creation, then you have hope in the face of tragedy that goes beyond man’s ability to fix his problems.
In other words, Christ changes everything. Last Sunday, we began to study Colossians 1:15–20. This text exalts Christ like few other passages in the Bible. We saw in vv. 15–17 that Christ is the Lord of creation. He made everything in creation, and all of it exists for his glory. Therefore, the only way we can make sense of this world and of our individual lives is to see them in relation to Christ.
And this even extends to how we view terrible tragedies like kids killing kids because vv. 18–20 tell us that Christ has a plan to fix his creation. He is not just the “Lord of Creation”; he is the “Lord of the New Creation.”
We know that the emphasis of this passage is on the first creation and the creation because v. 18b mirrors the grammatical structure of v. 15. Jesus was the firstborn of creation. But creation has been cursed. Therefore, v. 18b states that he is also “the beginning, the firstborn…” And vv. 19–20 then explain how Jesus did this. Therefore, vv. 18–20 exalt Christ by telling the story of how God determined to fix creation through the work of Christ.
I’ve structured my outline around this story, rather than the grammatical outline. And so the first stage of the story of how will fix his creation is that…
Jesus became a man (vv. 19–20).
These two verses assume that there is a problem, and they tell us the first stage to the solution. The problem is that…
Sin has corrupted all creation (v. 20).
Paul clearly assumes it when he talks about the need for reconciliation and peace. Of course the rest of Scripture is very clear about why our world is so broken.
Genesis 1 says that everything God made was good and pure. But sin and decay first entered Christ’s creation when Satan and many other angels rebelled against God’s rule. And Genesis 3 tells us that Satan’s first great act of rebellion was to deceive Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s law. And when Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the entire material universe so that all people are born sinners and all creation is subject to “futility” and “bondage” (Rom 8:20–21).
It’s good for us to remember often that this world is not what God originally made it to be. Sin and rebellion are the reasons we have school shootings, cancer, hurricanes, droughts, and earthquakes.
But these things are not the end of the story. Creation is corrupted, but God has a plan to “reconcile” all creation to himself. Verse 19 tells us that this plan began with God’s purpose that…
God’s full glory would reside in the God-man (v. 19).
This verse is complex both grammatically and theologically. Because of that, just about every translation is going to look a little different. The challenge is due to the fact that “fullness” can either be the subject of the verb or the direct object.
I believe that we should understand it as the direct object because the verb “pleased” communicates purpose or intention, so it needs to have a person as its subject. And in context, God or the Father is the assumed subject. Therefore, we should translated this verse as saying, “For God was pleased to make all the fullness dwell in Him (i.e. Christ).”
But you are probably sitting there thinking, “That’s great, but what in the world does that mean?” In particular, is Paul saying that Jesus added glory that he did not previously possess? That would be a problem because it would mean that at one point Jesus was less than God.
There is a simple explanation of v. 19 in 2:9. This verse repeats the key words dwell and fullness. And it tells us specifically that what is so significant about Christ is not that he added glory he did not previously possess but that the full glory of God took “bodily” form. John 1:14 is a close parallel. It says again that God’s glory dwelt in human form. The word dwelt brings to mind a temple or tabernacle where the glory of God takes up residence. Folks, this is what God was pleased to do in the incarnation. The full glory of God tabernacle or took up residence in man who looked just like us.
We should note that Paul used the word fullness in both 1:19 and 2:9 to make an especially important point to the Colossians because the Greek word for fullness, pleroma, was very significant to the Colossian heresy. I’ll let F. F. Bruce explain because I can’t improve on what he says.
“(It seems that) the heresy envisaged powers intermediate between the supreme God and the world of humanity, so that any communication between God and the world, in either direction, had to pass through the spheres in which those powers exercised control. Those who thought in this way would be careful to treat those powers with becoming respect. But the whole of this theosophical apparatus is undermined here in one simple, direct affirmation: the totality of divine essence and power is resident in Christ. He is the one, all-sufficient intermediary between God and the world of humanity, and all the attributes of God—his spirit, word, wisdom, and glory—are disclosed in him” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, pp. 73–74).
Praise God that in Jesus “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”! And notice the implication of this in 2:10. Everything we need for life and godliness is available in Christ. And so if you are trying to cope with life primarily through pills or drugs or entertainment, look to Christ first because all the glory of God is found in him. If you are weighed down by sin, don’t run to Mary or some good work to please God. Run to Christ.
He is the fullness of God. And in our text this is especially significant because it provides hope for the restoration of a broken creation. Sin and death have marred every aspect of our world, and so the first stage of God’s plan to fix all of this was to send his full glory to earth in the form of a man.
The second stage of this incredible story is that…
Jesus died and rose again.
Christ created peace through his death (v. 20b).
Verse 20 states that Jesus “made peace through the blood of his cross.” We’ve already mentioned that sin has brought many forms of chaos to universe, but the worst affect of sin is that it has made man an enemy of God and God an enemy of man.
God is holy and absolutely separate from sin, and we can hardly get out of bed in the morning without falling short of his glory. And since God is just, he cannot simply ignore our sin. He must punished it. And this is a significant problem for the new creation. Think about it. Man is God’s highest creation, and if all people ended up in hell, then the new creation would be missing the centerpiece of creation.
Therefore, for Jesus to restore creation, he had to fix the hostility between God and man that is due to sin. Therefore, he became one of us, and v. 20 says that he shed his blood as one of us on the cross. In so doing, he took on himself God’s full wrath against the sins of mankind. You could say that he stepped in the middle of deep hostility between God and man, and he absorbed all of it like a sponge that wipes up a greasy, nasty spill and leaves the floor spotless.
As a result, v. 20 say that he “made peace through the blood of his cross.” Because I am in Christ, God no longer looks at me with hostility; he looks at me as a son, and I look at him as my Father. And I will never need to question his love or my place of security in him.
Do you have that kind of peace with God? Do you know that you have been “washed in the blood of the Lamb” as the song says? Maybe you have never really considered the fact that there is hostility between God and you. You think, “Why would God be angry at me? I’m not that bad.” But the Bible says that you are that bad in comparison to God’s holiness. And since he is your creator, you will be held accountable to him.
The final appointment for every person is at the judgment of Christ where we will be help accountable for our deeds. And there is nothing you can do to earn a passing grade at that judgment. You can’t remove the hostility between God and you, so Jesus stood in the gap, and he took your punishment. And all you must do to receive the peace Jesus offers is to acknowledge your sin and believe on Christ and Christ alone for salvation. If you’ll do that today, you can leave having peace with God.
Praise Christ that he brought peace through the blood of his cross. But that’s not all.
Christ created hope through his resurrection (v. 18b).
I said in my introduction that this is the key statement in vv. 18–20, so it is very important. We just saw in v. 20 that Jesus died, but the strongest power of the curse couldn’t hold Jesus. The old hymn says it so well. “Vainly they watch his bed, vainly they seal the dead. Death cannot keep his prey. He tore the bars away. Up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes!”
Jesus is the Lord! But his resurrection was so much more than a statement of his power over death. Verse 18 says that he is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” Since the context is the new creation, we ought to understand “beginning” here as a reference to Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God (i.e., Jesus) created the heavens and the earth.” And when Jesus rose from the dead, it was a new beginning—a new start that will end with the restoration of God’s creation.
But we should also rejoice in the resurrection of Christ because of what it specifically means for us and for all who are in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection also means that he is “the firstborn (same word as v. 15) from the dead.” In other words, he is not the last to be raised from the dead. Many more will follow in his train and also rise again. And we will live alongside Jesus when he finishes his new creation. We will enjoy glorified bodies free from the effects of the curse, and we will have perfect hearts free from sin. And we will live in a perfect creation with no death or pain or suffering.
What a blessing it is to know that because Jesus rose again I will rise again. I don’t have to wonder if I’ll make it or what lies on the other side of death. I know.
And this makes all the difference in the world for how I view death. Most people spends their lives desperately running from death or trying to ignore the fact that it is coming. And when a loved one dies, they have nothing but despair. But not us. For a Christian death is a gift that frees us from the old creation and makes us members of the new creation.
Maybe you are struggling today with the fear of death as it approaches for you or for someone you love. Or maybe you are missing a Christian loved one who has passed. Take comfort in the fact that Christians don’t just die. They pass from death to life, and it is a life that makes this one in this creation look so small and insignificant. Praise the Lord that we do not sorrow as those without hope.
And so the first stage of the story in how Jesus is bringing about the new creation is that Jesus became a man. The second stage is that Jesus died and rose again. The third stage is that…
Jesus is Lord of the new creation.
Of course the new creation is far from complete at this point. We still live in a broken world. But Christ has taken the first step toward the new creation by creating the church. Notice in v. 18a that…
Jesus is Lord of the church (v. 18a).
It’s very interesting that at the center of the transition in this text from the first creation to the second creation, God notes the place of the church. We live in the old creation, and we very much feel the effects of sin. Jesus told his disciples that they would be hated by the world and that we would always be in the minority.
The world out there is very dark, but the church is the first stage in the new creation. It consists of people who have received Jesus’ resurrection life. We are new creatures in Christ. Therefore, while the world out there is very dark, life inside the church ought to be a small foretaste of the glory of the new creation as we worship our Lord together, as we love each other like Christ, and as we serve each other in his name.
Of course we are all still sinners, so we will never do these things perfectly, but what a gift it is that we can experience a foretaste of the new creation when we gather with God’s people.
But the emphasis of this statement is not on what the church gives us but on what it gives to Christ. God says that Jesus is “the head of the body, the church.” The fact that Jesus is the head of the body first means that he is the one who gives the body life.
Again the false teachers were saying that mystical knowledge and angelic powers give life to the church. And today we also have all sorts of alternate energy sources we look to. Many churches are filled with psycho-babble to help people feel better. Or they try to create worship with lights and amplifiers. Or when Christians struggle, they just look within themselves to their own will power to get through.
But Paul tells us very clearly that Christ is the head, and if we really want to experience a foretaste of glory, we will only find it in the resurrection life of Jesus. We must be a Christ-centered, gospel-empowered people. Is that how you live? Do you live each day in conscious dependence on Christ through Bible study, prayer, and church involvement? Or is your Christian experience more of a side-car to your own selfish, temporal ambitions? Christ is our head, and we must live in conscious, daily dependence on him.
And the fact that Jesus is the head of the body also means that he is the authority over the church. Just like your head directs the rest of your body, so Christ must direct every step, every action the church takes. This is because Life Point does not ultimately exist for my good or your good. In the ultimate sense, we are not here to serve you, and you shouldn’t be here to serve you. No, as v. 16 says, we are here “for Him.” Folks that means that rain or shine, come what may, our ultimate goal as a church must be to glorify Christ by obeying his will.
And it’s easy for us to sit here and “amen” that, but I don’t think this thought drives how we think about the church nearly enough. When most people evaluate what church to join, they only think about what is going to serve me. Where will I feel comfortable and what is going to meet my needs?
And the same goes for life in the church. Far too many people only think about what’s in it for me. And when they leave a service or a time of ministry, the only question is how did that make me feel. They are not dominated by question, “Did we exalt our head who is Christ?” We need to see very clearly that ultimately this all isn’t here for you, and you shouldn’t ultimately be here for you. Christ is our head, and as the end of v. 18 states, Christ must “have the preeminence.”
And so Jesus is Lord of the church, the first stage of his new creation. Second…
Jesus will be Lord of a restored cosmic kingdom (v. 20).
Verse 20 says that God’s purpose is “to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him (i.e., Christ), whether things on earth or things in heaven.” God is clear that his purpose extends far beyond the redemption of people. His purpose is to fix all of creation including both angelic powers and the material universe by establishing a perfect kingdom.
Now, we do need to be clear that God is not teaching universalism. He is not saying that all people will be reconciled to God in the sense that they will all be saved. Nor will Satan and the demons be brought back into good standing with God. The Bible is clear that the demons and lost humanity will spend eternity suffering in hell.
For unsaved and for the demons, reconciliation means pacification or submission. For example, when we took out Al-Qaida targets and ultimately Osama bin Laden in response to the attacks on 9/11, these were major act of reconciliation. They were steps toward peace by destroying an enemy. And that’s what Jesus intends to do with his enemies. Someday, he will make his enemies, both angelic and human, a “footstool,” and they will no longer resist his authority.
And he will reverse the effects of the curse (Isa 11:6–10). This passage is talking about the Millennial Kingdom that Christ will establish on earth. Most of creation will return to its original good state. And then Christ will finally lock Satan in the lake of fire, and he will establish the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21:4).
And so when we see tragedy like school shootings or when tragedy strikes closer to home through broken relationships, financial pressure, sickness, and death, we should grieve. But we must also turn our eyes toward Christ, and remember that something better is coming. He is going to fix his creation, and that is where our hope lies. God is going to reconcile all things to himself through Christ. What a wonderful day that will be.
And when all of this is done and we see the full purpose of God, we will fall on our faces before our Lord and we will worship him. As v. 18 says, he will have the “preeminence.” All glory be to Christ.