HRT - Colossian 1:15-23
I had a roommate in college who made the most impressive sandwiches. While I settled for simple meat and cheese, there wasn’t much in the fridge that he left behind. I’m convinced that Paul would have liked my roommate, because when he writes this hymn to Christ, there are few accolades in his repository of praise that he leaves on the shelf. Paul uses language from a wide variety of biblical themes to communicate the preeminence of Jesus, making it nigh impossible to walk away with the inclination that Jesus is due an hour of praise each week. No, he is worth the full weight of our life and our unshifting attention. In his letter to the church in Colossae, which is experiencing pressure to compromise in their faith, Paul begins with an emphatic statement of the centrality of Christ. Let’s piece it together.
The hymn can be broken down into two stanzas proclaiming Christ’s kingship first, over creation (vv. 15-17) and second, over new creation (vv. 18-20).
While we are made in the image of God in order that we might reflect his glory on the earth, Jesus is the true image of God (v. 15). In him, the character and purposes of God are not merely reflected, but embodied in full. It’s the difference between marveling at a picture of the Grand Canyon and standing awestruck on the edge of the real thing. That “he is the firstborn over all creation” (v. 16) points to the Old Testament phrase signaling his royal status as Lord of all creation, which is backed up by the remarkable claim that all of it was created by him, through him, and for him. He is both author and king of our world.
But Paul is quick to point out that he is also Lord of a new creation that he himself is bringing into existence. He is the head of a new body - a new community that gathers around and identifies with his way of life. His resurrection life is the precursor to their’s, for “he is the firstborn from the dead” (v. 18). The same fullness of God’s glory that filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) found its true home in Christ. Where once it was in the temple that God’s people found reconciliation, today it is found in Jesus, for we now have peace with God “through [Christ’s] blood, shed on the cross” (v. 20).
What a rich hymn! So why does Paul open the firehose of descriptors for Jesus at the onset of this letter to the Colossians? To encourage them not to turn away from their Creator, King, and Redeemer. Like many of us, these first-century believers were facing immense pressure to turn their backs on Jesus and compromise in their convictions. But as we remind ourselves of the true and glorious nature of our Lord, revealed in particular by his loving sacrifice for us, our inclination to turn away fades as our love for Christ grows brighter.