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. —Colossians 2:13-14
In our culture Christmas is much bigger than Good Friday and Easter. And Christmas is important. But if you remove the passages in the New Testament about the birth of Christ, you lose Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 2. By contrast, if you remove the passages about the death and resurrection of Christ, you lose most of the New Testament. So, as we come to Good Friday and Easter, we come to the heart of the gospel. Let’s get ready for Communion now by taking a moment to stare at what happened at the cross on this day so long ago. Paul tells us here in Colossians 2:13-14 – what we were, what God did for us, how God did it.
What we were
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…
How does this help us understand ourselves? We know we have problems. But we think all we need is some patching up here and there. We think all we need is to get better control over ourselves. That self-understanding is shallow. The truth is, we need a miracle, because we were born dead inside, dead to God, allergic to God, with a guilty, haughty deadness. Deep inside us all is a defensiveness toward God and a taste for sin – “dead in your trespasses.” We will never understand ourselves until we go deeper than our choices, our upbringing, our culture, and see what we are.
When we feel that impulse to do what we know is wrong, when we feel that burst of fascination with sin, that’s death at work inside us. We can improve our habits. And maybe we need to. But we cannot change our deadness toward God. Only God can change that. We are told by speakers at high school graduations that we can become whatever we want to be. We are told we have amazing potential. We are told to get on the Internet, download the best information, make the right choices and create a better future. But if it’s that easy, why isn’t it working? Why isn’t everyone getting better?
“The uncircumcision of your flesh” is not a physical condition. It is biblical code language for our inner life – our egos and anxieties and selfishness and helplessness and coldness and meanness and vanity and boredom and bitterness and fantasies and out-of-control-ness and despair and unbelief – everything in us that is far from God but so much a part of us, and always has been. Jackson Browne sings a song called “Cut it away” – “Cut it away, somebody cut away this desperate heart; cut it away, before it tears my whole life apart.” That’s what we need – surgery only God can perform. So “the uncircumcision of our flesh” is the natural-born, pagan, primitive you and me we don’t even have the courage to face because we’re so afraid, so ashamed, so defeated, and we know there is nothing we can do about it. And that real us God cannot accept. Let’s all admit this humiliating truth: “You were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh.”
What God did for us
God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…
The key words are “together with him.” When God raised Jesus from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, it was more than one man’s resurrection. God was saying, “This is the new pattern for all my people. Watch what I’m doing for Jesus. He’s dead. Now watch his eyes open, look at him start to breathe again, his body is no longer wounded but vibrant, his mind is clear, his heart is glad. Look at him, sitting up on that stone slab in the tomb. Look at him stand up and stretch and smile. Look at him walk out of that tomb, never to die again. Pay attention to that man, because in him you’re seeing your future.” We were more than passive toward God; we were dead. But God made us alive – with Christ. God didn’t simply take deadened us and make our hearts alive again to himself. He did do that. But the words “together with him” are here because all that God does for us he does with Jesus as our new pattern. God has united us with Jesus on the cross, Jesus in the tomb, Jesus in the resurrection, Jesus forever in heaven.
If you have received Jesus with the empty hands of faith, God has so removed every barrier that you are now in Christ. You now belong to him so absolutely, so intimately, so inseparably, so permanently that you can look at him and say, “He is my story now. He is how my life is going to turn out.” Our salvation is not us improving ourselves. Our salvation is God doing for us something so profound we don’t even understand it. Our salvation is God gluing us by grace to Jesus forever. And Jesus would have to die all over again and not be resurrected but come to nothing for us to come to nothing. Do you need to get your act together in some ways? Sure. But the far bigger truth is, God has relocated our failures inside the triumph of Christ. The real drama of your life is not what you make of yourself. The real drama of your life is the miracle God displayed in Christ 2000 years ago. And he is giving it all to you freely, as you open up the empty hands of faith. But you don’t have to deserve it: “. . . having forgiven us all our trespasses.”
How God did it
…by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
God did not sweep our sins under the rug. He did not give us a cheap forgiveness. He gave us a forgiveness his own holy conscience feels good about, because the debt of our sin was paid, our wrong was righted, our evil was judged. Not ignored. Not trivialized. Somebody had to die for our forgiveness.
What happened at the cross? God cancelled the record of debt against us. What does that mean? It means, God kept score. God tracked our performance. Did we expect him not to? Did we expect God to turn a blind eye? Did we think of God as an unserious person? When somebody sins against us, we sure want God to notice. But can we be so self-serving that we want God to be selective in what he sees? God kept a record of every sin. He would have failed as God not to. God kept score, and he was right to do so.
His record of our lives was accurate and true. But what could be more horrible for us than that? God’s record of our debts stood against us. It peeled away all our nice appearances. God didn’t exaggerate. He tracked with the plain facts. Net result? God didn’t owe us a thing. By rights, he could have demanded our blood. But he didn’t. He gave his own.
At the cross, God surprised us. God did what he didn’t have to, he did what we didn’t expect him to. At the cross, God canceled – the Greek verb means he destroyed, he obliterated – that accurate, humiliating, damning record of our sins. That document, so to speak, in the mind of God, that bill, that invoice claiming the payment of our moral debt back to God – God himself wrote over it, “Paid in full.” He wrote those words with the blood of Jesus his Son. Or, to use Paul’s own words here, “This [record of debt and bankruptcy and failure] he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” God set it aside. In other words, God changed the subject from our sin to our Jesus. God said, “What defines you now is not the record of your sins but the record of his obedience for you. I have set you aside. I have put Jesus in your place. Who he is, what he has done, is your narrative now. This is what I did at the cross. Believe it. Let it into your heart. Let it heal your deepest regret.”
The sins in your past that don’t bother you much – Jesus died for them too. But what you need to do tonight is face into that one sin you do regret, that sin you feel bad about, that sin you find so inexcusable, so terrifying, you can barely allow yourself to think about it. In fact, you try hard not to think about it. It’s always there in the background. You keep putting other, lesser sins out in front of it, so that you don’t have to see it. Every one of us is doing that about something in our past. Every one of us carries some sin that breaks our hearts. And that is the sin Jesus died for. That is the sin God nailed to his cross. Go ahead and face it. Admit it, because God wants you to know this. If you are united together with Christ, that sin was nailed to the cross, that debt was paid, and you are free of it forever. In fact, God has not only forgiven you of that sin, he has obliterated the very record of that sin. Yes, that sin. God left it at the cross. So can you.
Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done
I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none