We are coming into Easter week and so I want to ask a couple of questions.
- Why did Jesus die on the Cross?
- Why did Jesus rise again?
They are important questions. Often, we ask them when we are talking about why you should believe in Jesus. They are good questions for people completely new to Christianity to ask. They are at the heart of the Christian message. When you answer them, you have answered the question “Why should I become a Christian?”
However, they are also vital questions for those of us who have already become Christians to ask.
Why are they important?
The Challenge of Sin
We want to follow Jesus but there are things we struggle with -temptation, habits, addictions. Is it possible to live a good life that pleases God? Remember that we often are tempted to respond to sin in one of three ways.
- Legalism – I try to follow a set of strict rules and hope that this will be enough for God
- Licence – I give up and just do my best
- Magic – I look to some kind of formula -the right pastor, prayer, church, event will sort things out for me.
Today, we are going to look at the last one in a bit more detail because the other challenge we face is:
The Challenge of false Teaching
Paul warns us “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high sounding nonsense.” (Colossians 2:8). Those are very blunt words. Paul knew that people would come into the church and try to deceive young Christians and lead them away from the Gospel.
We see that happening today. Many of you will have experienced this -maybe before you became a Christian or maybe since. Sadly, there are people around who want to manipulate and control people. They want to use them. They are often out to get money but sometimes it is simply about a sense of power. They like to know that others need them and that people will follow them.
One example that is very real to us is what we sometimes call “The Prosperity Gospel.” It teaches that if we go to the right pastors and churches and get them to pray the right prayers then we will experience prosperity. We will get to live in big houses, drive fast cars, have lots of money, jewellery and possessions and never get sick. Often, they expect you to give them money as a tithe and when they bless it, they say that this means all of your investments are blessed.
Now an important part of this false Gospel is how it treats things like the spirit world. We know that angels and demons exist. The Bible tells us about them. Jesus cast out demons with a simple command. He gave his disciples the authority to do the same. Don’t make the mistake of being so secular that you think these things don’t exist.
However, what false teachers will do is that they will manipulate people to be afraid of spirits. They will claim that they can see the spirits in your life. Often, they will claim that you are under some kind of oppression or curse because of something your ancestors did. They will tell you two things.
First of all, they will say that only they can set you free. They’ll tell you that you need to say special prayers and you need to exercise enough faith.
Secondly, they’ll tell you that they can train you to do the same as well -as long as you follow their methods. Well, if that sounds a bit like pyramid selling or having a kind of fast food franchise it isn’t surprising -the methods are quite similar.
I am raising this example because I know it is one that some of you have faced and you have questions about it. Is it true that I as a Christian could be possessed or oppressed by demons and do I need someone to say special prayers for me? Actually, we’ve talked about this off and on as we’ve worked through teaching series but the verses we are looking at tonight help us to focus in on the question.
You see, Paul tells us that the way to keep on going in Christ and to fight sin and to stay safe from false teaching is very simple. We are to make sure that our roots are in Christ and the Gospel (Colossians 2:6-7). That’s why in verses 11-16 Paul takes us back to what Christ has done for us.
I want you to notice things that have happened to us and then see how Christ achieved this with two things he did on the Cross.
What has happened to us? (v11-12)
We received spiritual circumcision.
The Jews received physical circumcision to mark them out as belonging to God’s covenant. It reminded them that they were his people. It told them that God’s promises were for them and they could trust him. We have a spiritual circumcision – our old sinful life has been cut away. This tells us that we belong to God and have the promise of eternal life.
We were buried with Christ
This is another image showing how we have left our old life behind. When Jesus died on the Cross, he died on our behalf. Again, this means that our old life that was under Satan’s rule is gone. Notice the connection with baptism here. Baptism doesn’t magically change you but it is the public declaration of what God has done for you.
We are now raised to new life in Christ
You have a new identity in Jesus. Really these are three ways of driving the point home. We used to be God’s enemies, slaves to sin, captives of the devil, spiritually dead. Now we are alive in Christ, reconciled to God and set free from the Devil.
The next couple of verses re-enforce this.
How has Christ Achieved this? (v13-15)
He forgave us (v13b-14)
These are wonderful words:
He cancelled the record of charges – the first metaphor is of a charge sheet being written out, maybe on a tablet that has been covered with wax. The charges are then erased/smeared out. The charge sheet is blank.
He took it away by nailing it the cross -the other image he uses is of nailing the charges to the Cross. This is what the Romans did at executions. The criminal’s crimes were written out and then nailed above their head so everyone could see why they were being punished. Jesus’s simply said “King of the Jews.” He had no crimes so Pilate was in effect saying “He is dying as your representative for all the crimes you have committed against Rome.” Paul says “It goes deeper, he was representing you and me.”
He disarmed and defeated the spiritual rulers (v15)
Here, Paul is talking about Satan and his demons. The Cross is the place where Christ wins the victory defeating Satan. Notice the imagery of public shame. This is ironic because the Cross was the place where Jesus was publicly put to shame but in fact it is Satan who is shamed.
How is the victory won? Well it is won by the forgiveness that we have. It was won when Jesus bore our penalty. You see, Satan’s main weapon against you and me is that he wants to accuse and to shame us. He wants to remind us of our sin. That’s how we exercises control. That’s how he manipulates. We see it so often, people messed up fragmented lives are like that because they carry guilt and shame for past sin.
But if Jesus has taken your place, if he tells you that you are forgiven then what can Satan accuse you of? You are declared innocent. In fact, you have this new identity in Christ, the “old person” that stood accused has been buried with Christ. In his place stands a new person, made alive in Christ and clothed in His righteousness.
What does this mean for us?
First of all, it means that if you are a believer, you are in Christ. You are completely forgiven. This means Satan has no hold or claim on you. Now, let’s put it bluntly, if Satan has no power over you then how much more can we say that lesser demons and evil spirits have no control over you either. They are a defeated enemy. You belong to Christ and you have his Holy Spirit living in you. You don’t need another human being, a pastor or a priest to do anything for you. You don’t need a special ritual. Why would you need a special human ritual when everything you need was accomplished on the Cross?
Secondly, if you haven’t put your trust in Jesus yet and you are asking “How can I find forgiveness for sin? How can I be safe from evil attack?” Well, the answer is simple. Jesus’s death on the Cross means that this can be true for you too. Will you put your trust in him today?
The power of the Gospel is this. If we are in Christ. If we have put our trust in him then we are forgiven from sin, free from Satan and safe in Christ. Is that where you are?