“Here am I, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word.”
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible…
I look forward each Christmas to singing the old carol, “What Child Is This?”. Set to the tune of “Greensleeves” the opening line asks in wonderment: “What Child is this, who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”. That is a very important question to ponder at Christmas amidst busy shopping, gift giving and merry making. Who is this Jesus we celebrate?
I’ve heard many answers to that question. Some people say Jesus was a shining example of selfless love and service. Some say Jesus was a matchless moral teacher. Others say He was a man who more fully realized the divinity in all of us, and died trying to tell us. Others dismiss Jesus as deluded or pretending, but say they still want to enjoy the holiday.
Who is this Child on Mary’s lap sleeping? That’s the question Paul takes up in the Christ Hymn of Colossians. Today’s line of the hymn declares Jesus “the firstborn of all creation.” What does that mean, the “firstborn”? Paul writes in a culture in which “firstborn” means the one accorded the highest rank and inheritance. We see in the Bible that “firstborn” signifies “first importance” in passages such as Exodus 4:22 and Jeremiah 31:9. Perhaps the best example of the meaning of “firstborn” is Psalm 89:27 in which the Holy Spirit foretells the coming of Messiah to reign: “I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
Paul picks up the primacy and priority of “firstborn” in Romans 8:29 with the promise that believers will be “conformed to the image of his Son [Jesus], in order that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn within a large family.” God is going about His work of making us like Jesus and conforming us to His image. But Jesus is the supreme “firstborn” of God’s children and all creation.
That Jesus is “firstborn of all creation” and not merely God’s first creature is made clear in the words that follow: “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…” In the fourth century Arius (A. D. 250-336) taught that Jesus was but the first creature God made and therefore not God. In response to the threat of Arius heresy, church leaders gathered in A. D. 325 for what is known as the First Council of Nicaea. There they answered questions from Arius and others about the Child on Mary’s lap sleeping. Ponder the following lines from the Nicene Creed and worship the Child:
“We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven…”
What Child is this on Mary’s lap sleeping? He is the eternal God who humbled Himself to come down for our salvation. He is the conqueror of the grave who promised: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18b). The Child on Mary’s lap is the firstborn over all! He is the incarnate God!
- Jesus is the “firstborn” and supreme over all. What are some practical implications of that reality for you today?