Our theme this year is reminding us about the importance of Jesus’ cross and how the cross changes everything in our lives. This morning I would like for us to turn in our copies of God’s word to Colossians 2:13-15 as we take our minds to the power of Jesus’ cross and the gospel.
13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him. (Colossians 2:13–15 CSB)
The apostle Paul tells us that we were dead in our sins. This is a critical declaration that requires our consideration. Before God, we are doomed. It is over. There is no chance and there is no hope. Our sins have made us spiritually dead. Our actions have violated God’s holy standard. Unfortunately, we do not want to think in these terms. But this is God revealing an important, illuminating truth. God made a line and all of us have crossed the line. We have not done what God said. Now this condition exists whether we believe in God or not, whether we believe in sin or not. We have an interesting situation in our society in that we think that if we do not believe in something, then it will have no impact on us. If I do not believe that there are alligators in the canal means I won’t be hurt by an alligator if I swim in them. If I do not believe in the speed limit then I will not receive a speeding ticket. In the same way, we have a world that says that I do not believe in God and sin and therefore there are no consequences for how I live life. The Gospel of John addresses this idea.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16–18 ESV)
Please notice what is declared: whoever does not believe is already condemned. This is the point the apostle Paul is making here in Colossians 2. You are condemned. You are dead in your sins. It does not matter if you believe it. It does not matter what you think of God. You can refuse to believe in Jesus. But understand that you are condemned already. Your unbelief does not condemn you because you were already condemned beforehand. We are dead in our sins.
Further, we are dead in the uncircumcision of our flesh. Now what does Paul mean by this? Circumcision represented a covenantal connection with God. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant that God had made with Israel that Israel belonged to God. What did that mean for the Gentiles? Gentiles are all people who are not of Israel and this meant that everyone that was not an Israelite did not belong to God’s family or enjoy the covenantal promises of salvation. So the Gentiles are shut out from the hope and promise given to Abraham to belong as God’s family. So this is a second picture of the doom we have against us.
But there is a third thing that causes us to be dead. Look at verse 14. There is a certificate of debt with its obligations that is against us and opposes us. This certificate of debt was something like an IOU in the ancient world. God has an IOU against us. We are under obligation. What is the obligation? The obligation is obedience to our Creator. Let me illustrate this. Why are parents to expect obedience from their children? Why is obedience owed by the parent to the child? Why is discipline acceptable when a child disobeys the parent? There is an implied IOU that the child has to the parent. The parent chose to have the child, is raising the child, and caring for the child. In the same way, God made you, is caring for you, and directing you. There is an implied IOU. His laws are universal to all people because we made every person.
We have this false belief that we can do whatever we want to do. Since when? When have you ever been able to do what you want to do? As an adult can you do whatever you want? No, you still cannot. You still have laws and rules. We are always under obligation. We have obligations as humans before God. We are indebted to God. So this is our condition. Now let us look at what God did according to the apostle Paul in Colossians 2:13-15.
What God Did
When you were dead in your sins God made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. God has reversed our condition. We were dead because of what we did. God has made us alive together with Christ. This picture is well illustrated by Jesus in his parable of lost things. Jesus tells a story about a son who takes his inheritance from his father, leaves his father’s house, and wastes the inheritance on reckless living. The son finally comes to his senses after coming into such need during a famine that he desired to eat what the pigs were eating. He returns to his father and his father initiates a celebration for the return of his lost son. Listen to what the father says in Luke 15:24. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” When the older son complains about the celebration for the lost son, listen to the answer of the father to the older son in verse 32. “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” This is the picture of what God is doing for us. We walked away but God as our father has made us alive and has forgiven us. He erased the certificate of debt that was against us and opposed us. This is another visual of what God has done for us. The debt has been cancelled. The IOU has been erased. The slate has been made clean.
But please notice that this is not the end of the imagery. He has taken the certificate of debt, the IOU, and nailed it to the cross. When Jesus was crucified there was a document placed above his head. The sign read, “The King of the Jews.” But now when the apostle Paul looks at the cross he sees another sign that has been nailed to the cross. What Paul says he sees is the written code with all of our debts written on it, the debts that stand against us, nailed on that cross. Decrees were often posted in public locations. The cancelling of our debts was posted on a public place: the cross of Jesus. Our debts have been erased, nailed to the cross as forgiven. Who did this act? Who nailed our debts to the cross? Please look at your scriptures again and see that God did it. God took it away and nailed it to the cross. God is not an unwilling, angry tyrant who must be appeased or pacified. God is the one doing the act so that we can be made alive. God nailed our debts on Jesus’ cross so that the obligations that were against us and opposed us were taken away.
Notice there is one more picture of what God has done through the cross that must not be missed. Look at verse 15. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.” The cross is a public display of Jesus’ triumph over rulers and authorities on earth and in the spiritual realm. Think about the irony of this. The cross was considered a public disgrace. Jesus was publicly disgraced before all the people when he was crucified. But Paul says that what happened through the cross is that all the powers that stand against the Lord and his Anointed (cf. Psalm 2) were publicly disgraced. This is the great reversal God has accomplished in Christ. Jesus has disarmed all the powers that stand against us. This public triumph was common in ancient times. During a triumph, the Roman emperor, dressed as the ruling god Jupiter, would lead defeated captives behind him, showing them off before their execution (Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible). This is what Jesus did through the cross. Jesus publicly displays that all of our enemies and all of God’s enemies has lost. They are defeated. God has appointed his anointed and has rescued his people. The cross is an emblem of how we were dead but God made us alive. The cross is a picture of our debts being nailed to the cross so that we are no longer under the threat of wrath for our disobedience. The cross is the forgiving of our sins and the erasing of the IOU that was against us. The cross is the public display of God’s power over the rulers of this present evil age.
Accessing The Triumph
So how do we become part of this victory? How do we have our sins forgiven? How do we have our IOU erased? How are we made alive? Back up just a couple of verses in Colossians 2.
You were also circumcised in him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, when you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12 CSB)
Here is yet another picture. The picture here is that your sins are cut off by putting off the body of the flesh. Christ is putting off this body of sin. Christ is cutting off these sins that are attached to us. How does this happen? It happens through faith in the working of God. We have faith in God that he has accomplished this work through the cross. You are putting your faith in the Lord to save you from your sins. When does this happen? Paul says when you were buried with Christ in baptism. Baptism is the display of your faith in the Lord to cut off those sins through the power of the cross and raise you up to be alive in Christ. Why not access the life God is offering to you today?