Summary: Christ is all we need. Through his death on the cross, Christ shamed all the powers of this world and offered us forgiveness and new life! Will we accept this amazing gift?
In my relatively limited years as a student of theology and a pastor, I have learned a lot. Some things I learned in the classroom, some things I learned on the job, and some insights have just sort of emerged as I study different parts of the Bible in different contexts and from different perspectives. Over the years, though, one of things I’ve learned is most difficult to explain and teach is this idea of salvation as a free gift of God. What I believe and what I understand the Bible to say is that salvation through Jesus Christ is a gift without price. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve God’s salvation. But, of course, if we are to receive salvation through Jesus Christ, we have to accept that gift, which means that technically we ARE doing something; namely, making a decision. And then once we are saved, our lives are transformed by Christ and we *should* be living in a new way, which again means we are doing something; in this case, living differently. So you can see, as you sort of follow my train of thought, how difficult it is to explain that God offers us this free gift; a gift without price, a gift of which we are not deserving, a gift, in fact, which there is nothing we can do to deserve it.
Well, this morning, as we continue our journey through the epistle to the Colossians, we come to this incredibly dense passage that you heard a few moments ago. There’s a lot going on here, but the underlying message the writer is relaying centers around this gift of salvation. The writer has given us probably one of the most complete descriptions of what Christ accomplished on the cross, and what his sacrifice means for all humanity in all times and places. Here is this man, who is also fully God. He is over every ruler and authority. Once, we were no people, we were dead. But we have been buried with him through baptism, and thus raised to new life through faith in the power of God. When we were dead because of the things we had done wrong, God made us alive with Christ. He destroyed the record of debt we owed, and everything working against us. “He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.” And at the same time, he disarmed the rulers and authorities and exposed them to public disgrace. Sure, it may have all happened at a certain time in a specific place, but what the writer wants the Colossians and all people to know is that this sacrifice is for us, too. All the authorities and rulers that might try to take over your life are included in the ones shamed by the triumph of God in the cross of Jesus. It’s already done. We don’t have to do anything!
This is our gift! This is our salvation! We don’t have to do anything, all we need is to be plugged in to Christ, the author of our salvation! I think we have so much trouble comprehending this message and this idea because we are so independent-minded and individualistic. We live in this “dog eat dog” world where nobody does anything for anybody unless they will benefit the most. We are taught that rewards have to be earned, and that debts have to be repaid. Society tells us that if we receive a gift, we must give one in return. And, of course, there’s that ever present economic principle, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” And our lives are structured by these principles, these powers, just as life in the ancient middle East was structured by Roman and other pagan powers.
It’s really no wonder it’s hard for us to fully comprehend what Jesus did when he died on the cross; how he somehow saved us in that moment. Here is something that happened thousands of years ago, long before we—or even our grandparents—existed. It happened when a group of people living in the context of a society that doesn’t even exist anymore nailed a man to the cross. They thought they were shaming that man and all he stood for, but because of who he was, something entirely different happened. They were shamed, the rotten powers that would put to death an innocent man. But not just those powers, somehow, mysteriously, Christ’s work extends backwards and forwards to all time. All evil powers are brought to shame in light of the cross, and because of that, those of us in all times and all places are freed from those powers and forgiven of the sin that came when we lived under such worldly power. The sin died with Christ on the cross, and with Christ, we are raised to new life. This is God’s gift to us, because God loves us so much.