Today we are starting a new series on Colossians, a letter written by Paul to the church at Colosse.
Paul started many churches on his missionary journeys, but he probably didn’t visit Colosse or personally start the church there. Instead, it was likely established during Paul’s third missionary journey as he ministered for three years in Ephesus, as Colosse was also in the province of Asia:
This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. (Acts 19:10)
In Acts 28, we see Paul under house arrest in Rome for at least two years for speaking about Jesus as being the Messiah, and during this time of house arrest he was not stepping back from his commitment to build the church and connect people to Christ.
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:30-31)
His public declaration was for the people that came to him in Rome, but it went farther than that. While in prison, Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.
So the background is that Paul was in prison and received word about some of the things that were happening in the young church of Colossae, and Paul, while not the founder of the church there, was compelled to write a letter to encourage and nudge.
Paul probably actually sent two letters together–Colossians and Philemon. We looked at Philemon a few months ago. It is a letter that Paul wrote to encourage the forgiving of Onesimus, a runaway slave, and the welcoming of him into a mutual body of Christ type of relationship. As Christ extends us grace and offers relationship, we should do the same.
Paul makes mention of Onesimus in the letter to Colossians as he is talking about Tychicus, the person who is delivering the letter:
He (Tychicus) is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. (Colossians 4:9)
Now, Colossae was an area that was changing. Several hundred years before Paul’s day, Colossae had been a leading city in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). It was located on the great east-west trade route leading from Ephesus on the Aegean Sea to the Euphrates River. But by the first century A.D., Colossae was diminished to a second-rate market town which had been surpassed long before in power and importance by the neighboring town of Laodicea.
Beyond the economics of the area, Colossae was influenced by several religious traditions. This was a long way from Jerusalem, both physically and in terms of belief system. The town was known for its fusion of religious influences (syncretism), which included Jewish, Gnostic, and pagan influences that, in the first century AD, were described as an angel-cult.
Paul is writing a letter to encourage the church there to get back on track, but he doesn't really say what the primary issue is/was. But their cultural syncretism (the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought) was foundational to the things Paul speaks to: their strict rules about food and religious festivals, their angel worship, their dependence on human wisdom and tradition, and their gnosticism. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being.
It is presumed that the church started in Colossae with a bang but soon it melded into their cultural perspective, simply adding Christianity and Jesus into the mix of many beliefs.
Right at the beginning of the letter after Paul greets them, he shares a poem–a foundational theological perspective–focused on the supremacy of Christ. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.
Paul constantly talked about the supremacy of the Son of God. And as he jumps right into his deeply-thought-out writing on how Jesus is supreme and set apart, our goal is not just to get us to remember some Jesus information but to nudge us to the highest levels of learning: analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
Let’s pause for a second to work on this a little. Here is a question that is building towards where we are going today. Think about your favorites: color, food, song, movie, restaurant, city, vacation, maybe even pastor… :)
What does it take for you to determine a favorite?
And one step beyond that, even before we hear Paul's words:
What does it take for a person to set Jesus apart as being supreme?
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:15-23)
In this discourse Paul says first that Jesus is set apart. (v15-19) He is set apart as being the image of God, the Son of God, over all creation. He is set apart in that all things were created for Him. He is set apart as the head of the church, as the beginning and end, first and last. He is set apart as being supreme and all-pleasing to God.
Paul says that there is peace through Jesus’ sacrifice. (v20) It is through Him, because of Him, by Him. As a result of Him, reconciliation in relationship and peace with God happens.
Next, he writes that the impact of Jesus is personal. It is for us. (v21-22) No longer alienated, no longer enemies. We are reconciled and now being perfected.
And Paul gives a call to continue. (v23) Keep going, keep growing. Follow the good news. Keep hope. Be a servant of Jesus.
Time to process for a moment.
What are some of the causes of a changing perspective of Jesus, either positive or negative?
Who is Jesus? seems like an easy question to answer. But the depth of who the Bible says Jesus is so much BIGGER than a short answer. Paul in Colossians summates it in just two paragraphs, but let's take a moment to go a little deeper. Understanding who He is helps us understand more of what our faith is, and just like understanding others or even yourself, it is endlessly complex. Welcome to the rest of your life walking out this faith process!
So let’s look at some scriptural foundations.
First, Jesus is Lord, exalted at the right hand of God.
David in Psalm 110 describes someone that the Lord is talking to, who is also called Lord and who is sitting at the right hand of God, given supreme power to lead and given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that all people, nations and languages should serve Him.
The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psalm 110:1-2)
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
In the New Testament, in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus asks the Pharisees what they think of that scripture. Who is this Lord?
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)
And when Jesus is being questioned by the High Priest as to who He is, he asked, is He the Christ?
But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62)
In Romans, the author connects all the dots for us, that Jesus was promised through the prophets, that he descended from David according to flesh but was declared to be the Son of God:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)
Second, Jesus is the Son of Man.
The Old Testament prophet Daniel had a bizarre dream where he was taken to the heavens and prophesied about the Son of Man, coming to sit by the Ancient of Days, another name for God or Yahweh, and again was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all people, nations and languages should serve Him.
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
We see this human being raised up to sit next to the Ancient of Days, Yahweh; called the Son of Man, the Son of Humanity.
In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man 80 times.
In the Book of Acts, one of the disciples, Stephen, is being questioned for his beliefs in Jesus. And he gives this huge speech about who Jesus is, how we can all worship Jesus and all be a part of the temple. After he gives this speech, he angers the leaders questioning him, and they stone him. And as he is being stoned he has a similar vision to Daniel’s.
But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)
Third, Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ.
The Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah, a rescuer, a King to lead them from oppression. The Messiah was described in the Old Testament, before Jesus, in Isaiah 53 as being rejected by men:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
Jesus in Luke 4 spoke in the synagogue, quoting verses that the hearers knew were about the hoped-for Messiah:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
This is lived out in Jesus over and over again in the Gospels:
And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:14-17)
And again in 1 Peter:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:4)
Peter said it in the gospels too, in answer to Jesus’ question:
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16)
Fourth, Jesus is Yahweh, “I Am.”
In the Old Testament, when God met with Moses through a burning bush, Moses asked for His name.
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)
Yahweh is the Old Testament name used for the “I Am.”
Jumping back to the New Testament, in the book of John, we see over and over again Jesus giving these “I Am” statements, connecting himself to the Hebrew name of God, “I Am.” Jesus says: I am the bread of life. (John 6:35) I am the light of the world. (John 8:12) I am the gate for the sheep. (John 10:7) I am the good shepherd. (John 10:11) I am the resurrection. (John 11:25) I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) I am the true vine. (John 15:1)
Fifth, Jesus is the Son of God.
Over and over again, we hear Jesus referring to God as His Father. And twice, in the Gospels, there were two accounts of the Heavens opening up with a voice saying, “This is my son.” Once was when Jesus was baptized:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
The other was later, on a mountain with Peter, James, and John:
And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
Sixth, Jesus is the high priest.
The priest of the Old Testament connects people to God and represents God to the people, making the impure pure and atoning for sin so the people can come into the Temple and connect with God. We see Jesus living out His ministry forgiving people of their sins and restoring people who were impure so they could enter the temple, just as the priests were supposed to do. With his death and resurrection, He became the high priest, dying as a sacrifice for humanity so we can be made pure and forgiven and in relationship with God.
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:22-28)
Finally, Jesus is the anointed, the restorer, the liberator.
As Jesus started His ministry, He read from the prophet Isaiah of the Old Testament, describing who He was and what He was sent to do.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)
What if Jesus is these things? What if Jesus is set apart? What if Jesus is the connection to God? What if?
Paul is writing this letter to give a nudge to the people of the church of Colosse. They were in a culture that was definitely full of theists. But the culture was one of theist addition–That’s a good one, let's add that! That’s a good one too, let's add that! Paul continues to nudge throughout the letter and addresses some more specific things, and we will walk into that in the weeks to come.
But here the foundation to his letter is placed before the readers and before us: Jesus is set apart.
All right, our final two questions go back to our goal in this series and our goal as Corner Church–process, not just remember.
What are some things that build your desire to know Jesus better?
What are some things that distract you from desiring to know Jesus better?
Take It Deeper Questions:
- Read Colossians 1:15-23.
- Who is your favorite movie superhero? Why?
- What has felt more powerful than Jesus at times in your life?
- What is the impact of having faith and hope that Jesus is even more powerful than those things?
- How is faith grown? What infringes on faith?
- How are you challenged, focused, confused and/or encouraged by Paul’s declaration of Jesus’ supremacy?
- What do you need to keep processing in order to foster faith?
Bible Reading Plan:
- 1 Chronicles 16
- 1 Chronicles 17
- 1 Chronicles 18
- 1 Chronicles 19
- 1 Chronicles 20