the cross of Christ /// 2:8-15
Excerpt :: Christ is obviously our champion when it comes to salvation. He destroyed our enemy the devil, and removed us from bondage to him. However, He is also our daily champion over sin. In Christ we can have real and present victory over any sin that destroys us. He is a well trained prize fighter, ready to attack your enemies, why on earth would you want to fight for yourself? Let Him do it. He’s better at it.
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
(Colossians 2:15 ESV)
When I was growing up, my dad was a carpenter. At least I think he was. He did a little of everything really. But I remember building things together in the garage. He taught me how to swing a hammer. How you’re supposed to hold it down here and use the weight of the hammer itself rather than your wrist. He’d let me run the Skil saw all by myself. As I grew into an adult, and probably because I’m also a cheap-o, I began building my own furniture. I’m a creative person so I actually like the challenge of creating something and seeing it completed. Or at least 90% completed – as my wife likes to remind me. As a wedding gift I purchased a nice table saw, and a jointer/planer and I began to learn how to do some mortise and tenon joints and dado cuts. Now I’m no Bob Villa, but I do enjoy wood working.
I sometimes wonder if it is in my blood because — well Jesus was a carpenter and I want to be like Jesus. I bet he was a good carpenter. You know carpenters always say, “Measure twice, cut once.” And I often measure once and cut like 4 times. How did Jesus do it? Did he have to measure twice. Did he ever mis-measure and have to scrap it. Did even have scrap. I wonder.
There is this flashback in Mel Gibson’s The Passion where Jesus is building a table and he’s looking it over, checking it’s sturdiness and strength. He jumps up on it, sits on it and wiggles a little. I have always liked that scene. There was a greek author and philosophy who wrote a novel that opens with Jesus as a carpenter and instead of building tables and such – he is building crosses. Of course there is no way of knowing what exactly Jesus the carpenter built, but I must admit I never considered that he made crosses. I often wonder what made that author think of that. I assume he uses the cross as a sort of poetic license so that he can open and close his novel with the cross.
Today our text centers on the cross of Jesus Christ. Its an interesting passage actually. Have you ever imagined that the cross could be a scene of gloating and triumph. Our passage actually says that Jesus made a show – he made sport of his enemies – openly, triumphing over them in the cross.
It interesting because it is clear form the language that Paul uses in these verses that Paul is imaging the typical victory parade of an army who won an important battle. Back in the day, when a king fought against another king in battle, one of them would win and the other would lose. The winner would normally take all the loser’s stuff, the spoil. They would take all of the gold, silver, weapons, horses, cattle, women and any man left alive that could become a slave. And then they would create this processional – or a parade – where they would fly their flag high in the air, the instruments would play, and they would parade through the town all of the plunder won in that battle. And then there would be this beautiful car where the champion of that battle would be carried on this decorated seat and behind that cart you would see the losing kings tied up and being paraded through the town so that everyone could see how the mighty have been brought low. And after that parade float goes by, you would see all of the cattle, and goats and sheep, and women and slaves as they are marched in a procession. The towns people would enjoy this public triumph and victory parade where the enemies are put to open shame and the winners rejoice and feast in their victory.
Tonight I want to imagine this parade in great detail. I want to rejoice in the plunder that we have received because of this victory. I want to introduce you to the champion who has single handedly won this battle and who drags behind his parade float the rulers and authorities – that he has put to open shame. And I want us to begin to see the cross of Christ as that parade float. Because it is in the cross that Christ triumphs over and publicly embarrasses all of his (and our) enemies.
As we read our text, pay close attention to all of the “in him”s (or the “with him”s) – because that’s your plunder. I want to read the text and then I want to move backwards through it and show that, because of the cross, we have victory in Jesus, salvation in Jesus, and a new life today – in Jesus.
Victory in the Cross of Christ
Moving backwards lets begin with verses 14-15. “…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.”
This is a very invigorating few verses. God has canceled the record of our debt by nailing it to the cross of Christ and, in doing this, he disarmed the rulers and authorities. Let me unpack that so that you can see why this is so invigorating. Notice that there are 2 barriers that separate man from God. These barriers are “standing against us” and they are “opposed to us”. First, there is the barrier of the “record of debt” and second, the “rulers and authorities”. God has canceled the first and disarmed the second.
The first barrier is the “record of debt” some translations call it “the written code”. Most commentators see this as a reference to the Jewish Law (NT Write, 109). The Law stands against us. It is in active opposition to keep us separated from God. The Law is against us. The demands of the Law are just too much. Who can keep them? It stands against us and keeps a record of all that we have done and not done. Aren’t you glad that Jesus nailed that sucker to the cross.
This is invigorating because you can see this, literally, on the cross of Christ. Jesus was brought to Pilate to be crucified only because the Jews had no legal right to execute. They did not have a license to kill. They needed Rome to kill him for them. Pilate publicly declared that he saw no offense in Jesus and he washed his hands on the matter. He said to the Jews, “My hands are clean of this man’s blood, his blood is on your hands.” Pilate then had a sign made, a title (titulus) which angered the Jews, that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews” (inri). The Romans nailed that sign to the cross of Jesus, right over his head. The irony here is that Jesus is crucified under the Law. When it comes to the Jewish Law, there is none better than Jesus. He was perfect. He was king, and God made him who knew no sin to become sin in order to cancel that written code that so aggressively stands against us. That Law still stands against you. You are still a very wicked sinner and every day you are adding more and more and more debt. That is precisely why you must run to the cross. That is why you must cling to the cross of Jesus, because on that cross God has canceled all of our debt by driving a nail right through it.
The second barrier is the “rulers and authorities” who are opposed to us. In the original language the term used for “opposed to us” expresses the idea of a barrier that stands between us and God, those barriers are here named as the the “rulers and authorities” and God is said to have disarmed them, or literally stripped them. We could view the rulers as Rome and the authorities as Judaism – which were, at that time, the best government and the best religious institution the world had ever seen (NT Wright, 116). Both of these stand as a barrier or a wall between us and God.
It is often said that – just as Christ was crucified between two thiefs, there are 2 extreme views, or 2 thieves that try to steal the gospel. On the for right there is “religion” or we might call it “legalism”. Incidentally, the definition of religion is a set of rules, or a code that one follows in order to manipulate a deity. For instance, if we worship the fertility gods, we would follow that religions code so that we can then get that god to give us fertility. Or if we worshiped the ancient gods of babylon, and if we wanted a good harvest of crop, we would follow the code, sacrifice the animal etc… in order to manipulate that god for a bountiful crop. Religion does not transform one’s life, religion seeks only to change the deity. And I am quiet confident that this way of looking at God has become the habit of many American Christians.
The other extreme, or the other thief of the gospel, is “ir-religion” (we might call it – “license”). Just as Rome pursued power, wealth and pleasure, ir-religion pursues the same. America is no different than Rome – in fact we are allot like Rome – and not just America, but American Christians. We may go to church but the rest of our lives clearly exhibit a passionate pursuit after power, wealth and pleasure.
I am sure that you fell the tension between these 2 extremes. You may be tempted to follow a set of regulations in order to put God in your box or you may follow after the god’s of power, wealth and pleasure. Neither of them will save you – because God has disarmed them, he has stripped them of their weapons, stripped them of their power, stripped them of their very clothes. In the cross of Christ, God has publicly humiliated them all.
Again, let me show you why this is so invigorating. These two powers “conspired to place Jesus on the cross. These powers, angry at his challenge to their sovereignty, stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and celebrated a triumph over him. In one of his most dramatic statements of the paradox of the cross Paul declares that, on the contrary, on the cross God was stripping them naked, was holding them up to public contempt, and leading them in his own triumphal procession – in Christ. ” (NT Wright, 116)
The whole parade was a show exposing how both the powers of Rome and Judaism were “usurpers of the authority which was properly his”. Jesus is God. The Jews called him a blasphemer and Rome would destroy anything that threatened their power and control. And this is the irony of the cross, in trying to expose, shame and destroy Christ, they only exposed, shamed and destroyed themselves. We are guilty of the same exact thing. There a many things in our lives that try to usurp God’s authority. Stott says, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
Those things are threaten by the Gospel and stand as a barrier. They must be exposed. But here is the good news, God has already exposed them, he has in fact disarmed them. Even more than that he has triumphed over them. In the Cross of Christ we have victory in Jesus.
Salvation in the Cross of Christ
Next, as we continue to move backwards through the text. Let’s look at the next 2 verses (12-13). Just as a country would receive the plunder, the gifts, or the spoil of the victory, our champion gives gifts to men and one of our gifts is obviously salvation. Paul frequently describes our salvation as a transference from death into life. Here he uses baptism as a picture of our death and resurrection in Christ. We were buried with him in baptism in which we were also raised with Christ to a new life.
This is essentially what baptism is all about. When a person gets saved, when he or she hears the good news of the gospel and believes it to be true, that person is saying, “I believe that Jesus died for sin and he was resurrected from the dead, destroying sin and conquering the effects of sin or death. I want Jesus to die for my sin. So, I will die in Christ, and resurrected with Christ to a new life.” In baptism, our old lives our buried, completely under the water. The water floods all around your head and if you are left in that state you will certainly die. Then the believer is resurrected from the water, he is resurrected to a new life – with Christ.
Some of you may still need to be baptized. I want you to know – I can’t wait to have our first baptism service were we gather together as a church and celebrate what God is doing here at MISSIODEI. In the mean time, keep praying for your friends and coworkers, keep engaging them for Christ and keep inviting them to enter into community here at MISSIODEI – because God is at work – I know it. I am so eager to celebrate and hear about those victories.
We were all dead because of that debt – but now we have been made alive…literally Paul says that we are, “made alive together with him” because he has forgiven us all our sins. Now that is good news. He has canceled and nailed your debt to the Cross, he stripped and disarmed any enemy who would seek to stand between you and God, and he has saved you, by making you alive with Christ and forgiving all of your sin. But wait…there is still more, because the christian’s bounty or blessing is more than just being saved from hell. Christ does not triumph over our enemies – he does not make a public spectacle of them just because he has purchased our souls for heaven. Sure – that is a victory, but there is a greater victory still to be had. Still moving backwards from our text, lets now look at verses 9-11.
Sanctification in the Cross of Christ
A famous German monk said,
“In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross.” Thomas à Kempis
The cross is not just a symbol where one man gave his life so that you can have eternal life – it is also the symbol that characterizes a life that we live now. It is in the cross where the Christian finds life. Jesus often reminded his disciples that they too must take up a cross to follow him and Oswald Sanders said, “All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning.”
Because of this great victory of our champion, and because all the fullness of God dwells bodily in our champion, and because we have been buried and resurrected with him, Paul says this, “you have been filled in him.” Think about that – he is victorious over all our enemies, he has saved us and raised us to newness of live, and he has filled us with all the fullness of God. This is why i wanted to move backwards in this text because now it should be clear that we share in Christ’s power and authority over every rule and authority.
Paul then get into this stuff about circumcision, and for the sake of time let me just say this – circumcision was the right of the Jew and the gentiles were unclean, because they were uncircumcised. Paul says here that in Christ we have been filled and circumcised – not with hands but in Christ, and not just one part of our body (i.e. the foreskin) but our entire body of flesh. There is a theological word that is used to describe what is happening here. The word sanctification is the process of sanctifying or making us holy. Sanctus means holy. Sanctification means “to be made holy”. Jesus did more than save us from hell, he is making us holy.
Hey, here’s a question… Are you holy? Sometimes Christians have a “holier-than-thou” attitude, but really – are we holy. You see I think that part of what Sanders meant when he said that men more or less ignore the meaning of the cross. Because I bet that each one of you still wrestles with sin. You still struggle to be filled because there is still something there taking up space where it should not be taking up space. You are struggling to submit because of the little gods in your life that don’t want to relinquish their rule and authority in your life. You are longing for victory but you feel like you keep getting beat down. And I wonder – have you ignored the meaning of the cross.
If the cross is Jesus’ parade cart where he publicly humiliates all his enemies and puts them to open shame. And if you are crucified in Christ, and resurrected with Christ and filled with fullness of God in Christ then there is no enemy that could possible stand against you. Besides, they have all been disarmed – they have been stripped.
So why do we still struggle? What is all this wrestling about? Well, that’s an excellent question. I’ll tell you why I think we still wrestle, because we have ignored the meaning of the cross of Christ. Every single one of our enemies has already been beat to pulp by cross of Christ and yet – instead of cling to that cross – we go off and try to pick a fight with them.
It’s like those fights I remember in High School were you just kind of puff up your chest like peacock and you stair your enemy down and you just kind of go around each other in a circle of puffing and staring. Our enemies just laugh at that. Come on man, you think you can take me. You ain’t nothing with out Jesus. You come at me with out him and your gonna get it. You better go hide behind your cross because that is the only hope you got!” And some of us just keep pickin the fight. We’ll say stuff like, “Well I’ll do better this week. I’m gonna try harder. I’m gonna resolve to quite now – and I know I’m gonna win this time.” And our enemies are laughing, “ha ha ha ha — why are you even trying?!” “you are more than conquers in Christ- in him you have already won this one – why are you trying to fight yourself?”
There was a legendary bare-knuckles boxing champion named John L. Sullivan. You’ve probably seen photos of him. He’s got that irish look about him the way he holds his hands up and he had one of those big walrus looking mustaches. One he was confronted by a little guy who had too much drink. That little guy challenged the champion to a fight. “Sullivan, who once battled toe-to-toe with an opponent for 75 rounds, growled, “Listen, you, if you hit me just once—and I find out about it …” The Champ didn’t need to finish the sentence!”
That sort’ kind’a like Jesus. There is no competition. Think about that in regard to your wavering spiritual life. Should we really be loosing so many battles if we have a champ
like that in our corner. It’s time for a tag team. You need to let Him in to fight this for you.
In Christ we can have real and present victory over any sin that destroys us. He is a well trained prize fighter, ready to attack your enemies, why on earth would you want to fight for yourself? Let Him do it. He’s better at it.
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame,
by triumphing over them in him.”
(Colossians 2:15 ESV)