Sermons

October 6, 2019

Delivered by the Victory of Christ

Steven Lee (North Campus) | Colossians 2:13-15

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.Colossians 2:13–15

Introduction

Imagine if you could remember every day of your life, what you ate, what you wore, and what you did? Would you welcome that super power? You could automatically replay the video of every single day of your life in your head. Would you want that? Would it be a blessing or a curse?  

There’s no need to imagine for Jill Price (53). She is able to recite details from every day of her life from the time she was 14 years old. She has a condition they call hyperthymesia, or a highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). Hyperthymesia is a condition that allows an individual to remember an inordinate amount of information and detail from their own lives, nonstop, uncontrollable, and automatic. But having this perfect memory has a dark side. Jill Price recounts that every bad decision, every insult, and every excruciating embarrassment has eaten up her life, leading to a level of paralysis.[1] 

What a terrible condition to remember every feeling of anger, anxiety, and fear. You would remember every sin, every failure, and every disappointment, every word spoken in anger, every lustful thought, and every failure to live according to God’s standards. It is surely a curse to be able to recall all of our memories, especially those we’d rather leave behind in the past.

But this morning in Colossians, Paul reminds us that such a record exists. Not in our heads, but rather in the heavens. God sees all, knows all, and forgets nothing. And this is really bad news for us all who have done things, said things, and thought things that we’d much rather forget.

But the solution is not a poor memory, brainwashing, or positive thinking. Instead the solution for falling short of God’s perfect standard, our sin, our failure, and our indifference to Christ, is not to look within, but to look to the power of the cross of Christ.

Our passage, Colossians 2:13–15, follows the apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians to not be taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, rather than according to Christ” (2:8). Some were advancing the idea that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Paul addresses this in 2:11–12 by teaching that circumcision points to an inner spiritual reality of a changed heart, just like baptism. The physical act itself contributes nothing to salvation. Now he turns to help the Colossians understand what Christ has accomplished through the cross.

Paul’s concern is for the Colossians to not be led astray: Don’t be deceived. Don’t add anything to Jesus’ work on the cross. If you rightly understand what Christ has accomplished at Calvary, you’ll see how foolish and ridiculous it would be to try and add to it. It’s a little like having a perfectly cooked steak, prime grade meat, perfectly seasoned, perfectly grilled to medium rare, slathered in butter, perfectly rested—and you squeeze ketchup on it. You don’t add high fructose corn syrup to sublime perfection.

Main Point: All you need is the cross of Christ, because at the cross Jesus rescues believers, satisfies the Father, and conquers demonic powers. Don’t try to add or supplement what Jesus called “finished!” 

My aim is to help us to see more clearly who we are and what Christ has done in light of his cross, and to worship afresh in light of the victory of Christ.

We get to see the benefits of the work of Christ on the cross along three dimensions:

  1. The power of the cross toward believers (v. 13)
  2. The power of the cross toward the Father (v. 14)
  3. The power of the cross toward demonic powers (v. 15)

1. The Power of the Cross Toward Believers (v. 13)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.

Paul reminds the Colossians of their original state: dead in your trespasses. Earlier in Colossians he has reminded them that they lived “in the domain of darkness” (1:13), that they needed reconciliation (1:20), that they were “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (1:21). Paul is making clear that everyone enters into the world as enemies of God because of our sin. Everything is cursed and broken. Like The Pilgrim’s Progress, we all live in the City of Destruction.

The mention of “uncircumcision,” as Paul dealt with this earlier, is a metaphor for Christ’s death. In Colossians 2:11 we read that this circumcision was done “without hands … by the circumcision of Christ,” namely his death. So physical circumcision is cutting off a piece of flesh, this spiritual circumcision is the sacrifice of Christ’s body to death.

Ephesians says …

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.—Ephesians 2:1–3

Those verses are offensive in our day and age. How dare you speak as though all people are evil, bad, and under God’s wrath? And yet this is one essential truth that many are unwilling to receive. 

Our world has changed significantly. Evangelism—in the days of Billy Graham—were mainly about tapping into people’s innate guilt and telling them how they can receive God’s love and acceptance. Today, the biggest challenge in evangelism is not convincing people that God loves them, but that they are under God’s wrath, estranged from him, and are dead, sinful, and slaves of Satan and of their own sinful nature—and that they can’t do a single thing about it. You cannot fix yourself.

The good news of the gospel is summed up in verse 13: We “who were dead in [our] trespasses and the uncircumcision of [our] flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” This is the power of the cross for believers—God makes us alive by forgiving us of our sins.

Cleansing from sin is a deep human longing. The Kumbh Mela, which just took place in January 2019 is a 49-day Hindu festival during which about 120 million people gathered to bath at the intersection of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. It is the largest gathering of human beings on earth and takes place on a 12- year cycle. To wrap our minds around this, it would be like one third of the population of the United States going to bathe in the Mississippi River. The BBC News interviewed a farmer who said, “We believe that bathing here will destroy our sins." Another said, “The waters here have regenerative properties. Bathing here can cure your ailments. It also removes obstacles from your way.”[2] The sad reality is that not only are their sins not destroyed or washed away, but in the process they likely contract disease like dysentery, cholera, hepatitis, and diarrhea from the filthy river water. 

In contrast, Jesus washes our sins away by forgiving our trespasses by his blood that was shed at the cross.

  • For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—2 Corinthians 5:21
  • Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”—Isaiah 1:18
  • The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.—1 John 1:7

And this truth—that God alone is the one who saves—can either cause our pride to bristle, or it sparks in us relief and thanksgiving. There is no going halfway: “Thanks Jesus for saving me, and I’ll take it from here.” We either receive this good news of what Christ has accomplished in the cross toward believers, or we try, like the false teachers in Colossae, to add to and supplement and undermine the person and work of Christ. Can we sing the lyrics of the song “Rock of Ages” with thanksgiving?

  • Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy law's commands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone.
  • Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.

This is the glorious working of Christ on the cross toward believers. But how? How did Jesus make us alive? By forgiving us of our sins. How did he do that? And that’s where we look at the power of the cross toward the Father in verse 14.

2. The Power of the Cross Toward the Father (v. 14)

By canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Jesus canceled the record of our debt. This is literally the “written code with its regulations” This “record of debt” is likely an IOU, a handwritten note that says, “I will obey God’s will and commands by nature of being his creation.—Signed, Mankind.” And yet we fail to obey him as we ought. And that record of debt “stands against us,” which means it opposed us. It is a document that condemns us as guilty, and it’s all the evidence that is needed. It is a record of our disobedience and rightful condemnation. Some have likened it to a long list of all of our sins. Whichever it is, the point is that it stands against us.

This debt hangs around our neck like a heavy burden. And we can’t pay it back. Each and every day we go further into debt before God because we fail to keep his commands as we ought, and we continue to sin against him incurring a greater debt. We continue to trespass against God’s commands and laws.

But Jesus nails it to the cross. Here we see how Jesus brings about this glorious and wondrous exchange. Jesus suffers in our place, satisfies the wrath of God. Here we see the heart of the faith—many speak of substitution or propitiation. Jesus atones for sinners through his death on the cross, provides the full payment to cancel our debt and obligation. Jesus takes upon himself the penalty we rightly deserve because of our disobedience. And we get Jesus’ righteousness.

Notice with me that this passage speaks about this record of debt being nailed to the cross. But if you’ll recall, in John 19:19 (see also Mark 15:26), an inscription was nailed to the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And in John’s account it records that it was inscribed in Aramaic, Latin, and in Greek, and the chief priests wanted it changed, but Pilate answers, “What I have written I have written” (John 19:21–22). What was nailed to the cross was an inscription that led to Jesus’ crucifixion—supposedly of blasphemy—when in fact it is an accurate statement and becomes the means by which Jesus rescues sinners.

God has made forgiveness of sins available to all because he himself—as God—takes on the punishment of sin, exchanging himself for us so that in his dying, we live, and in our living, he dies. Jesus perfectly represents his people, as a merciful and faithful high priest (Hebrews 2). Therefore, it reminds Paul’s readers that going back to Judaism is useless for a richer, deeper, or fuller experience of God. 

It’s like the stone table in Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Susan and Lucy ask Aslan what it all means: 

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

… like Horatio Spafford’s hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” that says,

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

So we see the power of the cross toward believers, toward God in satisfying his wrath, canceling or obliterating our record of debt, and now triumphing over the demonic realm

3. The Power of the Cross Toward Demonic Powers (v. 15)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he actually obtains victory over Satan and his demons. What they thought was a decisive victory becomes their moment of decisive defeat. There is a great irony here in that the rulers and authorities of Rome (Herod and Pilate) and Israel (the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees) are the ones who crucified Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the one who was put to open shame: stripped naked, public contempt, mocked, scorned, beaten, crown of thorns, and triumph. Yet the mystery of the gospel is that the death of the Son of God turns death on its head so that it death itself is destroyed at the cross. 

The picture presented to us of open shame is that of a victory parade in which prisoners and those conquered would be led behind the general in chains as part of the triumphal procession. The meaning is that of “public disgrace,” like in Matthew 1:19, where Joseph didn’t want to expose Mary to public disgrace. But the point is being driven home such that Christ has conquered Satan’s power and has done so clearly and publicly, which is why it would be so terrible to submit oneself to these supposedly higher spiritual powers when they have been openly shamed by Christ.

 Here we see that Jesus came to save sinners, and that saving of sinners is how he disarmed and destroys the power of sin, death, and Satan himself. The cross is deeply paradoxical so that when Jesus is hanging, beaten, bloodied, shamed, and dying on the cross—seemingly Satan’s victory march—is actually the staging ground for the decisive victory of Christ.

Jesus removes our guilt at the cross by washing us clean, forgiving our sins, and canceling our record of debt that stands against us. Before Christ’s cleansing and canceling work, Satan could come to someone and incite guilt, shame, and condemnation because of our sin. Our conscience, the law, and Satan’s accusations speak the same word: Condemned. But in Christ, our guilt is removed, which is Satan’s main weapon against us. If God does not condemn me, why would I listen to Satan’s lies?

Sinclair Ferguson, in his book By Grace Alone, identifies four “fiery darts” of Satan:

  1. God is against you – “He is not really for you. How can you believe he is for you when you see the things that are happening in your life?”
  2.  You are guilty – “I have accusations I will bring against you because of your sins,” Satan argues. “What can you say in defense?” Nothing.
  3.  Judgment is coming – “You can say that you are forgiven, but there is a payback day coming—a condemnation day,” Satan insinuates. “How will you defend yourself then?”
  4.  You won’t last – “Given your track record, what hope is there that you will persevere to the end?” Satan asks.

In each of these accusations, we can see how they are undone by what Christ has accomplished. God is for us because he gave his Son to rescue us. We are no longer guilty because Jesus forgives our sins. Judgment is indeed coming, and it is Satan who will have no defense while we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. And we will persevere because Christ will keep us.

Therefore, the cross of Christ obtains our forgiveness of sins, satisfies the justice demanded by the Father, and disarms and triumphs over Satan and the demonic realm. His work at Calvary is glorious. 

Application

So how should we live in light of this? In light of our Side by Side and “Counseling One Another” seminar emphasis this Fall, we can be freed from guilt and shame. Feelings of guilt and shame—like we don’t measure up, that we’re failures or frauds, that everyone else has it together except us—keeps us from community. “My life is too messy to come to God.”

Yet the gospel levels us all. I know the very worst thing about each and every single one of you. We are sinners against God, and we are so wicked, estranged, and corrupt that it took Jesus’ blood to rescue us from our sin. And the greatest thing about us is that Jesus washes us clean, takes away our shame and guilt, cancels our record of debt, and calls us beloved children who possess the righteousness of Christ.

Too often we think we’ll clean ourselves up just enough to be respectable before we expose ourselves to others. Before we join the church, join a small group, or share about our struggles. We’ll fix ourselves up before we go get counseling. We don’t want others to really know just how screwed up we are—like hiring a housecleaner service and “pre-cleaning” before they get there. And yet the nature of the gospel is that we’re all needy and broken people. Jesus doesn’t need our “pre-cleaning.” 

For those who do not know Christ, the call for you this morning is not to clean yourself up first. You cannot go fix yourself up. You can’t clean things up inside before letting Jesus in. You’ll never get clean enough. You’ll never fix yourself up enough. The way to come before Jesus is to recognize that you can’t fix yourself or clean yourself, and that you desperately need Jesus. Only Jesus can rescue you from the sentence of eternal death and condemnation that you have earned with your failure to live according to God’s perfect standard. Jesus comes to those who have gotten to the end of themselves and surrender their pride, their works, their performance, and their boasting to receive a free gift that they cannot earn.

We don’t have to fear and don’t have to fret because in the words of Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Answer: Not Satan. Not angels or demons. Not the condemning voice inside my head. Not the memories that flash back of my failures. Not indwelling sin. Not others who might condemn me. Not culture, not the world, not family, not friends, no one can be against us. Why? God is gloriously for us! As Romans 8:32 reminds us afresh …

[God] did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?—Romans 8:32 

_________

[1] https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-05-07-cant-forget-price_N.htm

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46860409

Sermon Discussion Questions

Scripture: Colossians 3:13–15

Main Point:
All you need is the cross of Christ, because at the cross Jesus rescues believers, satisfies the Father, and conquers demonic powers. Don’t try to add or supplement what Jesus called “finished!” 

Outline

  1. The power of the cross toward believers (v. 13)
  2. The power of the cross toward the Father (v. 14)
  3. The power of the cross toward demonic powers (v. 15)

Opening Question

  • What would it be like to have hyperthymesia, where we could remember all the events of our life with great detail all the time? 

Discussion Questions

  • What is the context of our passage (Colossians 2:8)? Why might Paul feel the need to describe the power and work of Christ in such great detail in verses 13–15?
  • What does it mean to be “dead in your trespasses?” What are some other verses that come to mind or elaborate on that idea?
  • How did God make us alive together with him? What are some implications of that new life both in Colossians and in other places in the Bible?
  • What is the significance of our “record of debt” being nailed to the cross?
  • How did Jesus disarm the rulers and authorities?

Application Questions

  • In light of Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing of our sins, how should we deal with guilt and shame?
  • In light of Jesus’ canceling our record of debt, how should that transform our prayer life, interactions with others, and attempts at evangelism?
  • In light of Jesus’ victory over Satan, how should we think of and respond to Satan’s accusations, temptations, or lies?

Prayer Focus

Praise God for the sufficiency of the cross of Jesus Christ. Confess any sins of trying to earn or merit right standing with God, any sins of undermining the work of Christ, or any sins of indifference toward Christ. Spend time thanking God for his saving and cleansing work on the cross, for his satisfaction of God’s righteous requirements, and for his victory over Satan and the demonic realm. Ask God for help in seeking the things that are above (3:1), putting to death remaining sinful desires (3:5), and bearing good spiritual fruit that comes from knowing Christ (3:12–17). 

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