The Cross as a Clean Slate
Topic: Prophecy & The Season of Lent Scripture: Colossians 2:13–2:15
I want to tell you all something about myself, something I’m not proud of and something that comes around to haunt me more often than not... I am not a handy person. It’s something I’ve wrestled with for years. Unfortunately, Caitlin normally gets the brunt of this deficiency of mine. But it’s reared its ugly head in all sorts of places, some more embarrassing than others.
On a mission trip a few years back I was assigned to work with a group on a house that had a fairly elaborate flooring project. Now again, let me remind you… not handy. They hadn’t learned this about me yet. So, we get there, and our site leader, a guy named Fin who I would go on to become great friends with, takes one look at the place and just starts spouting off everything we’re going to need to do. He tells me I’ll be doing something with some tool I’ve never heard of. Being eager but mostly embarrassed, I responded, “sure.” Ten minutes later, Fin pulls me aside from the rest of the group and says, “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” I admitted it and he said, “good bluff.”
I kid you not, my new job for the next hour was sorting nails, screws, and purchase receipts. My next job was digging a ditch, because that’s where you put a guy like me. That was one of too many times my lack of handy-ness came up. I really believe that it comes down to the way our minds work. I’ve got a buddy who is an engineer and through merely looking at something, he can break it down, rebuild it, and make it better. I look at it and wonder what it would look like painted a different color.
When I had to repair the deck on my house in PA, I had no idea where to start. My buddy Fin, the same one who stuck me in the corner sorting screws, came by to help and started talking about measurements and dimensions. You know that blank look your pet gets when you try and talk to them? That was me talking to Fin. To me, the deck was the deck. It was made of wood, connected to the house and the ground, and needed to be fixed. I didn’t see any of the details Fin did or even know how to begin looking at it that way. Fair warning, I still can’t help you with a deck.
In the upcoming weeks, I want us to explore the “Dimensions of the Cross”. In truth, I think sometimes our understanding of the cross is like my understanding of my deck. We see the cross and we know it’s made of wood, that it’s connected to God and to us in some way, and that it’s supposed to fix us. Sometimes our knowledge of the cross stops there. And if it does, we’re missing something significant. And so, for the next six weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at the cross, it’s purpose, and the impact it has in every single one of our stories.
We’re going to start by talking about the cross through the lens of a text in the book of Colossians. Colossians is a fascinating book of Scripture and I think a lot of that comes out of why Paul wrote it in the first place. One of the primary reasons Paul wrote to this somewhat second-rate river city is because of false teachings. The people had been infiltrated by false teachers who were spreading half-truths and outright lies concerning the Christian faith. Teachings that put all the emphasis on ceremony instead of spirit. Teachings that diminished the person and work of Jesus. Teachings that elevated and praised human wisdom and tradition, over all else. So, Paul writes this letter to set them straight in a lot of ways and that includes the power and truth of the cross. We’re going to look at a brief passage in chapter two, one my personal favorite verses.
(Read Colossians 2:13-15)
Through this series, we will look at the cross from a number of different angles or dimensions. This morning we’re looking at the cross as a clean slate. And we’d be hard-pressed to find a better text to serve as our starting point for that conversation than this one in Colossians 2… Paul starts off on a cheery note: “When you were dead in your sins …” Paul cuts to the chase and calls out the problem as he sees it. Humanity as a whole is dead in sin. And this language is important. Because without it, it is entirely possible to view the cross as something less than it truly is. Paul isn’t saying: you were inconvenienced by your sins. You were bothered by your sins. You weren’t exactly yourself because of your sins. No. Paul is saying that we as a human race are dead in our sin.
This really isn’t one of the talking points that tops the charts for us. We don’t like being told we’re wrong in the way we think and act. Increasingly we don’t even like to be told there is such a thing as wrong. If we miss or ignore the terrifying and very real impact of sin, we not only fool ourselves but we threaten to set up the cross as a cure for a disease that doesn’t exist. Paul is talking about a very real, very distressing reality.
A couple years back, there was a really neat book written on Colossians that tried to frame the subjects and messages of the book into modern times and issues. When dealing with this verse of the text they say this, “There is in this text a profound sense of an oppressive force that must be defeated. This is a force of death because it strips human life of its vitality and in the face of a damning absolute.”
The power of death. An enemy force that must be defeated. A 100% certainty of damnation. That is the power that Paul speaks against. And speak against it, he does. “God made you alive in Christ.” Six words that can change everything. Six words that tell the story of Christianity. Paul makes a declaration, a huge one, but then he does the work of a teacher and pastor and explains how. He breaks this down into a few pieces:
1. God forgave us of all our sins.
2. Cancels our debts.
3. Nails them to the cross.
4. And totally disarms the powers against us.
Verses 14 and 15 make up two sentences. And in those two sentences Paul says it is the same action or agent that accomplishes those tasks. Our sins are forgiven and our debts are canceled…by nailing them to the cross. The powers that work against us are utterly disarmed…by the cross. It is the cross that accomplishes these things. Nothing else. Essentially what the cross does in our text is offer us a clean slate, a fresh start. A clean slate. Where all our past mistakes and memories hold no power over us. Where we are freed from the bonds that hold us to people, things, or places that remind us only of the things we wish we could forget. It’s what Jesus talked about when He asked Nicodemus if he wanted to be born again. Do you want a new life? A new identity? All of us have vaults in our hearts and minds that contain the darkest of memories. Those things we’ve said and done that haunt us. The cross has the power to render them null and void. Those things, our sins and debts and memories and enemies, are taken from us and placed somewhere so far that they can never reach us again. As far as the east is from the west. And that place that they are taken to, the place where they are stripped of all the power they once had, is the cross.
We’re into the season of Lent. Wednesday night we began a liturgical season that is intended to be saturated with the reality of our own mortality, the darkness of this world, and our desperate need for the intervention and love of God. But Lent isn’t meant to simply be a depressing, dismal 40-day stretch, where we only think about how terrible we are. It is a journey that points us somewhere. And even though the season itself is dark, it is only when we reach the end of it that we learn why. It is because we are walking in the shadow of the cross. A symbol and tool focused on death and depravity and humiliation. An object that truly should cast the darkest of shadows. But we know with all certainty the truth about the cross.
We know that it is not merely a symbol depicting the end of a life. It is the very means by which we are given life. By which we are freed from the sins and the doubts and the fears and the debts and the anxiety and the horrors and the darkness that permeates the world and crashes into every one of our stories. The cross eliminates all of it. The cross wipes them away. The cross gives us a clean slate, a second chance.
What are the things weighing you down? What are the decisions you’ve made, days or weeks or years ago, that still haunt you? What lies have you personalized about yourself? What sins are you holding onto, thinking that they are only yours to deal with? Those are things that get nailed to the cross with Christ. Those are the things He took with Him. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5.
Friends, I don’t want any of us to look at the cross and simply see a piece of jewelry or a decoration in our church or merely two pieces of wood. I want us as a church to look at the cross and uncover its deepest truths and its most powerful purpose. It is a thing of depth and dimension. It is a reality that has the power to change everything and shape all that we are. And that starts by giving us a clean slate, a new life, and fresh eyes to see.
Over the next several weeks we’ll explore the dimensions of the cross. But we start here because we must. Because if we can’t see the cross as a second chance and a clean slate, then I fear we may not be able to accept and personalize and participate in all the other wonderful, unimaginable, beautiful realties that God holds in store for us as we approach the empty cross on Easter. You are free, brothers and sisters. Your debts are canceled. Your sins are forgiven and removed. As far as the east is from the west. By the power of the cross.