In the 21st century, we talk a lot about the countless varieties of cultures, languages, customs, and beliefs of the worldwide human community. And we celebrate that variety, rightly so. But variety isn’t a new idea (as we saw only a few weeks ago in the Empowered series*). Paul’s first-century context was full of variety, and just like today people had to navigate through various and often conflicting sources of truth. And just like today, the practice of “syncretism” was commonplace — creating a mixture of beliefs and practices to suit one’s personal needs: Jesus is good for the forgiveness of your sins, but not for informing policy. For that, you’ve got to enthrone the right leader. Right?
In this anthem to Christ, Paul subverts the worldly powers of the day by emphasizing the primacy of Christ. Jesus, he says, is:
- The “firstborn” over creation
- “Before” all things
- The “head” of the body (the Church)
- The “beginning” and “firstborn” of the resurrection to eternal life.
But why? “So that he might have the supremacy” (v. 13).
Of course, good human leadership matters. We’re called to steward God’s world responsibly. But besides Jesus, no idea is supreme. No policy is supreme. No leader is supreme. Because when we dethrone Jesus, we enthrone something else. But nothing and no one else is worthy. Nothing and no one else laid down their life for yours. Nothing and no one else reconciled the world to God and leads all people in reconciliation with each other. Nothing and no one else has ultimately set us free. In John’s vision in Revelation, the living creatures in heaven proclaim that Jesus is worthy “because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
In our world, where you can customize everything from your Subway sandwich to your sources of global information, a claim that anything is “supreme” over all creation is audacious and counter-cultural. Paul knew it. And we know it. But the truth of the gospel is compelling: Jesus is enough. Life starts there. And all the details that are important for living with health and responsibility are subservient to the one who:
- Shows us God’s nature
- Holds all creation together
- Gives the blueprint for peace and reconciliation.
- When the future looks dire, whom do you instinctively trust first for help?
- When the future looks grim, is there any good reason not to turn to Christ in prayer before we do or say anything else?
- When the future looks bright, to whom do we give the credit?
- When the future looks hopeful, where do we tend to invest our ongoing hope?
- Resistance to the idea of someone being “supreme” is based in mistrust that such a person might abuse their power. But Jesus is no ordinary person. What has Jesus done to assure us that in his power, we are set free?