Date: December 16, 2018
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Scripture: Colossians 1:18–1:20
C.S. Lewis, in his insightful story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, captures what is perhaps an overlooked aspect of the Christian gospel. If you’ve read the book, then you’ll surely remember that when Lucy Pevensie arrives in Narnia, she finds a land locked in perpetual winter, with no hope that spring will come. Even the citizens of Narnia understand that something is dreadfully wrong. The first person Lucy meets is a fawn named Mr. Tumnus, who tells Lucy that in Narnia it is always winter but never Christmas. “How awful,” Lucy replies – and she’s right. Cold, frozen, and with no end, no hope in sight.
Later in the story, however, as the Penvesie children journey through Narnia, something changes. They hear the distant ringing of bells, and at first, everyone hides, thinking it is the White Witch on the hunt for her enemies. But as the sound gets closer, the children see a sleigh driven by an old man with a white beard dressed in a bright red robe. It’s Father Christmas, of course, and incredibly he has returned to Narnia. “I have broken through at last!” he declares the children. “She has kept me out for a long time, but her magic weakening!” Christmas, it seems, is coming, and that means winter will end. Spring is just around the corner.
But then Father Christmas delivers the best news of all, and it’s here that we discover Lewis’ insight. Father Christmas cries out, “Aslan is on the move! A Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!” And from that point forward, everything changes in Narnia. The snow begins to melt, the ice begins to thaw, and as the blades of green grass begin to sprout anew, it becomes unmistakably clear everything will be right and good again. Why? Because the King has returned. That’s Lewis’ insight. Narnia is not as it should be, but when the King returns, he will make all things new again.
You’ll look long and hard to find a more compelling picture of what the Bible calls the hope of a New Creation. Like winter without Christmas, our world is not as it should be. Creation, Paul tells us in Romans 8, lies under the curse. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, they plunged the entire world into sin. We tend to think of sin’s curse primarily in connection with human beings - how we, by nature, are slaves to sin and spiritually dead before God. And that’s true – the curse of sin has enormous consequences for humanity. But sin’s curse is felt also in the creation itself. The creation suffers in bondage to corruption and futility. Like a mother in childbirth, our world groans for new life to come.
Again, we tend to overlook this because even as Christians, we largely view the world through a naturalistic lens. We explain everything in merely scientific terms. From hurricanes to heatwaves, from droughts to diseases – we see only cause and effect. But the Bible presses deeper and says that such horrible things are evidence that something is dreadfully wrong and needs to be made right. You see, even this world is telling us we need the gospel. We need redemption – the hope that somehow both this world and our cold hearts can be made new again.
And that hope is at the heart of our passage this morning. In order to understand the magnitude of Paul’s teaching here in vv18-20, you have to think in cosmic terms. You have to start with Genesis 3 and a world locked in sin’s tyranny, but then you have to look ahead to Revelation 22 and a city with no darkness and no tears. You see, to grasp this passage, you have to think in cosmic terms because that is the scope of Christ’s supremacy. Like Narnia’s perpetual winter, something is wrong with this world, but like Aslan’s return, the resurrection of Jesus Christ breaks in with unstoppable power. That is the essence of Paul’s teaching here – that Christ has crushed sin’s tyranny over God’s world, and therefore, as Lewis pictured for us so well, there is hope that things will be made right again.
Now, before we look at the details of this hope, I do want you to see something of the big picture in this text. Over the last two weeks, we’ve been considering Christ’s supremacy over all things, specifically his supremacy over creation in vv15-16. Christ made all things, and therefore, Christ reigns over all things. But as we enter vv18-20, you’ll notice that Paul has now shifted his focus to redemption. Notice in v20 the language of reconciliation and making peace by the blood of the cross. That’s redemptive language. But notice also the reference to all things in v20, whether on earth or in heaven. Clearly, Paul is not describing redemption exclusively in personal terms. No, he’s speaking in cosmic terms. The tyranny of sin and death has been broken with the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ, then, is the central event of history, the turning point when God begins to make all things new and right once more. In fact, that is a good way to think about Paul’s teaching in vv18-20. In Christ, all things are being made new, and through Christ, all things are being put right. Those are, of course, monumental statements, so let’s focus together on each truth in turn.
In Christ, All Things Are Being Made New
First of all, from v18 – In Christ, all things are being made new. Right away, you can hear the emphasis on new-ness when Paul says Christ is the beginning. The idea is that something new has started in this world, something new is unfolding now in history, and it begins with the Son of God. But of course, the next question comes pretty quickly, doesn’t it? Christ is the beginning, but of what exactly? The next phrase from Paul offers some insight. Notice the next phrase – “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” Paul has Christ’s resurrection in view when he speaks of Christ as the beginning. When the Lord Jesus took back up his life on the third day, something new started. Something new began to take shape. A new creation, Paul tells us, broke into this age. Christ is the beginning because the making of all things begins with his own victory over death.
You see, this is where you’ve got to keep the overarching storyline of the Bible in view as you read Paul. You’ve got to remember that death was the primary mark of sin’s curse in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve would die, the creation itself would endure corruption and decay, and death would stalk the steps of all that God had made. Throughout the Bible, when you see death rear its ugly head, then you know – sin’s curse continues. Genesis 3 has not been overcome.
But when Christ took up his life again – when his eyes blinked open and his lungs filled with breath and his heart began to beat again in that tomb – that moment signaled that death’s reign was coming to end. Finally, someone had faced death and won. Finally, a Redeemer had taken on sin’s curse and secured salvation through the power of his indestructible life. That is the overwhelming reality of Paul’s words in v18. When he says Christ is the beginning, he is telling us that the New Creation has already broken in to this world with the resurrection of Christ. Death will end because Christ is alive.
Now, even as I say that, perhaps someone is thinking, “That sounds nice, Jeff, but in case you haven’t noticed, people still die. How can the New Creation have broken in when death still seems to be winning?” That’s a great question, and I would answer it by asking you to think of the sunrise on a new day. When the first rays of the sun begin to peak over the eastern sky, you know, without any doubt, that day is coming. In fact, those first beams of light assure you, with a complete confidence, that in a matter of hours the sun will be blazing hot, and all the darkness will have fled. Once the sun begins to rise, night is over.
And yet, does the sun’s light immediately dispel every last bit of darkness, right at that moment? No, it takes time for day to come in all its fullness. But it will come. Every sunrise tells us that a new day is already here, even if its brightness it not yet fully enjoyed.
And so it is with the resurrection of Christ. Easter morning is the New Creation’s sunrise. The Resurrection is like those first rays of light peaking over the horizon, promising you that a new day is just around the corner, even if it takes some time for the fullness to come. Just as night cannot hold back the day, so also death cannot hold back the New Creation that has dawned in Christ. Or, to quote Paul here in v18, Christ is the beginning.
Even so, Paul presses this hope deeper. Not only is Christ the beginning of the New Creation, he is also the founder of a New Humanity. This is what Paul means when he says Christ is “the firstborn from among the dead.” Put simply, there are more resurrections to come. Again, it helps to think of Genesis 3, where Adam, as the head of the human race, plunged all of his descendants into sin and death. We are all subject to death because we all share in Adam’s sin.
But when Christ rose from the dead, he signaled that God was bringing about a new humanity. God was founding a new family line, as it were – a family line rooted not in the first Adam who failed, but in the second Adam – Christ – who defeated death and secured life for his descendants. This is why Paul can say in 2 Corinthians 5 that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation – the old has gone, the new has come. What is the old? Our tragic connection with Adam our father. What is the new? Our eternal life with the Resurrected Christ, a life we receive by faith in his name.
You see, incredibly, brothers and sisters, the promise of a New Creation is being fulfilled right now in the lives of God’s people. As sinners are saved and brought from death to life, their lives become a testimony that God is making all things new. As Christians put off the works of the flesh and learn to walk in the Spirit, we testify to the world that God will not leave things in darkness. God will not allow sin and death to have the final word. He is making all things new, and his people, who are being sanctified by the Spirit, are evidence that that great work has begun in Christ.
This is why the NT puts such repeated emphasis on Christians living godly lives – because we are meant to be little pictures of the New Creation to come. Or, to use Peter’s language, we are to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us. What’s the hope that is in us? The hope that God is making all things new in Christ – that darkness will not win – and that even now, in the hearts of God’s people, the New Creation has dawned and is conforming us to the image of Christ. Brothers and sisters, your daily battle against sin is so much more than simply a personal struggle against your old self. It is part of God’s grand work of making all things new in Christ. It is part of God’s way of bringing glory to his Son, the One who is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, that in everything Christ might be preeminent.
Do you see it? The entirety of the Christian life rests on the Resurrected Christ, the One who is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead. Our hope flows from the resurrection – that God is making all things new in Christ. And our hope, then, compels out into the world with holy, godly lives. When we tell the truth and love justice and protect the weak and contend for righteousness and stand against wickedness, we show the world our hope that a New Creation is coming. And then as we open our mouths to speak clearly and boldly about Christ, our lives confirm our witness. Our lives confirm our testimony and our hope.
This is how God brings glory to the Son. Or, to use Paul’s language here in v18, this is how God makes the Son preeminent in all things. He rescues sinners like us through Christ’s death and resurrection. He infuses us with hope that is rooted in the Lord Jesus. And then he unleashes us into this fallen world as little pictures of the New Creation, little testimonies that Christ is the beginning, the first from among the dead.
Brothers and sisters, what I’m trying to do here is give us a much bigger picture of what it means to live as a Christian in this world. I’m trying to enlarge our vision of why godliness matters. Christ is the beginning – God is making all things new. Death will not triumph. Darkness will not have the last word. But how will the world know this? Because Christ’s people – those who are New Creations in him – live in a way that reveals this grand, glorious hope. In Christ, all things are being made new, and our lives, should be a testimony of that hope.
Through Christ, All Things Are Being Put Right
As Paul moves into v19, he continues to expand on why Christ is the beginning. And here, Paul’s emphasis is that through Christ, all things are being put right. Now, if we had any doubt as to Paul’s view of Christ, then v19 clearly and definitively sets the record straight. Notice what he writes, v19 – “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” That is the truth that upholds everything else Paul has said. Why is Christ the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead? Because in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Why does Christ deserve preeminence in everything? Because in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. You see, there can be no mistake here – Christ is fully God. All that is true of the Father is true of the Son.
Even so, as Paul heads into v20, it is clear that he is now focused on the work of Christ. It’s a striking transition, really. V19 is definitive on the person of Christ – that he is fully God – while v20 is clear on the work of Christ – that he is the only Redeemer. Notice what Paul writes, v20 – “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” I know we’ve mentioned it a number of times today, but you’ve got to go back to Genesis 3 again. Adam’s sin in the Garden was the start of a cosmic rebellion against God. God intended for this world to be full of life and flourishing, so that his glory would be displayed in all that he has made. But because of sin, everything is at odds with that purpose. That’s what we mean when we say this world is not as it should be – both the creation and humanity are in rebellion against the goodness and glory of God.
But here in v20, Paul says that Christ is the reconciliation of that breach. Christ is the end of that cosmic rebellion. All things are now being put right because Christ shed his blood on the cross. I know that might sound new to us – to think of Christ’s death on the cross as having cosmic consequences, but that is Paul’s point here. Notice how he mentions all things, whether on earth or in heaven. You see, there’s nothing excluded. Christ is supreme in creation, since he made all things, and Christ is supreme in the new creation, since he has reconciled all things in himself. The cross, then, is the crux of redemptive history. At the cross, Christ broke sin’s power, and that includes sin’s power in this world. Satan and his demonic forces are already defeated, and their reign of terror will soon come to an end. Why? Because through Christ, God is putting all things right. Christ is the reconciliation God’s world so desperately needs.
Now, this raises a couple of questions that demand answers. Since Christ reconciled all things at the cross, does this mean all people will be saved? That’s what some people contend. They point to this verse and say, “Everyone will be saved. Universalism is right there in v20.” Is that what this means – that all people will be saved?
No, and the reason we know this is just a few verses later in v23. Look there briefly. Paul is describing the salvation Christ has won for his people, but notice how that salvation is worked out, v23 – “if indeed you continue stable and steadfast in the faith, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.” Where is salvation found? Only in the gospel. And how are you saved? By holding fast to the gospel, persevering to the end. Right here in the same chapter, we have enough biblical warrant to say definitively that universalism is wrong. The world will be put right through Christ, and therefore, to be right with God yourself, you must trust in Christ alone, for salvation is found only in him. That’s the first question we have to answer – is Christ’s salvation universal? No. It is applied to his church, to those who trust in his name by faith alone.
The second question is equally important. If Christ reconciled all things at the cross, how do we explain the wrongs and injustices we still see today? I’m sure you’ve noticed, but we’re still surrounded by brokenness in our world. Everyday, we have new evidence that the creation suffers under sin’s curse. How do we explain such things, especially in light of v20? It helps to think of the cross of Christ as both the place of God’s justice and the promise of God’s justice. Let me explain. I have done evil things in my life. I have done what the Bible calls wicked and sinful. I have lived in ways that reveal sin’s curse, both in my heart and in the world. But at the cross, Christ bore the justice of God against my wickedness. Christ satisfied God’s wrath against my evil. You see, the cross is the place of God’s justice against my wicked deeds.
At the same time, I have had evil things done to me. I have endured wickedness at the hands of other people. I have suffered, even in some small way, the effects of sin’s curse on this world. How do I handle this? How do I process such things? By looking to the cross as the promise of God’s justice. The holy God will not let those things go unanswered. He will not just sweep it under the rug. Why? Because the cross shows me God’s commitment to justice. The cross shows me that God has already begun righting every wrong in this world. In fact, that’s what the cross is, on some level. The cross is the display of God’s unfailing commitment to righteousness – he will not let sin go. You see, the cross is both the place of God’s justice and the promise of God’s justice. When I see the brokenness of this world, I look to the cross for both understanding and hope.
This is why Christians can forgive those who wrong them – because of the gospel work of Christ. This is why we can return good for evil – because of the reconciliation God has begun in Christ. This is why we can turn the other cheek and love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us – because we have this assurance that God is making things right. We, of all people, know that a great reckoning is coming, indeed it has already started on Good Friday. And therefore, we, of all people, can enter into the brokenness of this world and labor for goodness, righteousness, justice, and truth.
Last year, I met a couple who work in gospel ministry in Italy. Leandro and Natalie introduced them to me, and I got to spend some time with them over coffee. The wife works with a ministry that rescues women from human trafficking. In her updates, she refers to these women as ‘treasures,’ which is absolutely right and beautiful. During our time together, she shared just a few stories with me, but each story had a common thread – the hope of the gospel, the power of the cross to break darkness and bring hope where things seem hopeless. That’s the kind of boldness that v20 should produce in God’s people – the boldness of knowing that because of Christ, the darkness of this world will not prevail.
Listen, I want to be very clear here so that no one misunderstands me. I don’t want a perceived objection to obscure what is an important point for us to hear. Let’s be clear. The message of the cross is Christ crucified for the salvation of sinners, and the church’s mission is the proclamation of that message. At the same time, an implication of the cross is that Christians, of all people, should confront sin’s effects with boldness and hope. In fact, if we do not confront such things, we undermine our mission and message. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” After God’s presence, do you know what light is most often associated with in the Bible? Creation. Jesus is saying, “Let your light as little New Creations shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify God.”
Again, brothers and sisters, I really have one aim this morning. I’m aiming to enlarge our vision of what it means to live the Christian life. I’m afraid that far too often, we reduce the Christian life to merely its vertical dimension – all that matters is my personal relationship to God. And while that vertical dimension is massively important, it’s not the sum total of the Christian life. Loving your enemies; praying for those persecute you; practicing truthful, loving speech that is gracious and seasoned with salt; walking in wisdom before outsiders; giving a reason for the hope that is in you – these are bold ways of living out the reality of the New Creation here and now. Being a Christian is about so much more than me and Jesus. It’s about using every aspect of life to show the world that Christ is supreme. We preach the name of Christ, and we display the love of Christ, all because we believe the supremacy of Christ – that through him, God is making all things new.
The last phrase of v20 reminds us of the reason God’s people can live with hope in this world. Notice again that last phrase, and we’ll close with this – “making peace by the blood of his cross.” Since v15, Paul has been unfolding the exalted glory of the Son of God. He is the image of the invisible God; he is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead. Verse after verse, we’ve been inundated with glory, glory, glory. And yet, where does this exalted paragraph end? Not with heavenly visions of grandeur, but with the shame and gore of a bloody cross. You see, it’s the reality of the Incarnation. The One who is the image of the invisible God, v15, is the also the One who laid down his life at the cross, v20. We go into this world with hope because Christ came first into our world for us and our salvation.
The cross, then, is the place of Christ’s supremacy. The cross is where the Triune God displayed once and for all that darkness would not win, that his people would be saved, and that all things would be made new once more. May God, then, make us people of the cross. May we proclaim the cross, where Christ was crucified for the salvation of sinners, and may we be shaped by the cross, laying down our lives for the glory of God and the good of others. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Amen.