ďWHAT WAS NAILED TO THE CROSS WITH JESUS?Ē

Colossians 2.13-14

 

EXPOSITION:

1.   Next Sunday the entire western world will celebrate Easter.  The majority of westerners will celebrate Easter in a quasi secular and pagan way, by engaging in Easter egg hunts for little children and giving each other chocolate bunny rabbits.  Others will celebrate Easter by means of a sacred celebration of Jesus Christís resurrection from the dead.  Still others will mix the sacred with the secular and pagan, giving no notice to the inconsistency of their confused actions.

2.   Of course, the significance of Easterís celebration of Christís resurrection from the dead cannot be overstated.  The Son of the living God suffered the cruel death of a Roman cross in payment for sins, to fulfill Godís plan for redeeming sinners from their sins.  Then, after His death and burial, He rose up in great victory over sin, death, Hell, and the grave on the third day.

3.   But why must Jesus have died on Calvaryís cross?  For sins?  What are sins?  First John 3.4 declares that ďsin is the transgression of the law.Ē  First John 5.17, stating the matter another way, reads, ďAll unrighteousness is sin.Ē  So then, Jesus died on Calvaryís cross to take away our sins, ďand the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.Ē[1]

4.   To recapitulate, whenever someone transgresses Godís Law he commits a sin.  A sin is a transgression of Godís Law.  But who has committed these sins, and how?  A second question would be, what happens when a man commits a sin?

5.   To answer these two questions, we will briefly look at Godís Law and manís conscience:

 

1A.   First, THERE IS GODíS LAW

It is very clear in the Bible that, with respect to the issue of the Law, God has partitioned the human race into two groups of people.  We will look at those two applications of the principle of the Law, and then we will consider the purpose of the Law.  Allow me to read to you from several passages.

1B.    First, there is the Mosaic Law.

1C.   In Exodus 19.3-8, I read of the agreement, the covenant, that was established between God and the children of Israel:

3      And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

4      Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eaglesí wings, and brought you unto myself.

5      Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

6      And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

7      And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

8      And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.

 

2C.   So you see, God proposed a relationship with the people, a relationship governed by the Law that was to be given to Moses.  The people agreed, not only for themselves, but also for their posterity.  This was immediately after their Exodus from Egypt.

3C.   Forty years later, Moses rehearsed what had happened at the foot of Mount Sinai to the children and grandchildren of those who had by then perished in the wilderness.  In Deuteronomy 5.1-6, Moses addressed the nation:

1      And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.

2      The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.

3      The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.

4      The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,

5      (I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to shew you the word of the LORD: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying,

6      I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

 

4C.   About 1,400 years later, the apostle Paul correctly concluded, in his letter to the Romans, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (so, there was no mistake), what we saw for ourselves in Scripture:  ďNow we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God,Ē Romans 3.19.

2B.    But if the Law of Moses was given only to Israel, how can it be that the whole world has become guilty before God?  After all, Paul did conclude that the whole world is guilty before God.  This brings us to what I will call the natural law.

1C.   In Romans 2.11-16, Paul explains how God rightly holds Gentiles responsible for their wrongdoing, though they have not been given the Law of Moses:

11     For there is no respect of persons with God.

12     For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

13     (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

14     For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

15     Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

16     In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

 

2C.   God has written His laws into the heart of every man.  Thus, though it is less precise and objective than the Law of Moses, what I call the natural law can be seen, in this passage I have just read, to have been given to every single human being.

3C.   How do we know that this is true?  How do we know that every person has an innate sense of right and wrong that has been implanted into his being by God?  You mean, besides the fact that it is clearly stated in the Bible?  Conscience.  More on this later, but every one of us has a conscience, and the activity of our own consciences gives testimony to the fact that God has written His laws into our hearts, just as His Word plainly teaches.

3B.    So, it is clear that every human being is, in some way, under the rule of law.  The Jewish people were under the tutelage of the Mosaic Law, which was very specific and objective, written down for all to see and obey.  The law written on the hearts of Gentiles was given in a less objective way, but attested to by the conscience.  And the purpose of these two ministries of Godís law?

1C.   We know the Law is holy, because Godís Word says it is.[2]

2C.   We know the Law cannot deliver from sin, because Godís Word says it cannot.[3]

3C.   The Law can, therefore, only condemn, lay blame, assign guilt, and call for judgment.

4C.   In this capacity, showing that there is no hope of deliverance, no possibility of salvation, the Law points sinners to the One Who can deliver, and Who will save, the Lord Jesus Christ.[4]

 

2A.   Now, WE TURN TO MANíS CONSCIENCE

Under the Mosaic Law, ďHe that despised Mosesí law died without mercy under two or three witnesses.Ē[5]  But with Gentiles, who were not given the Mosaic Law, the conscience played a prominent role, if the many references to conscience in the New Testament are any indication.  Several thoughts pertaining to the conscience:

1B.    First, there are comparisons and conclusions.

1C.   Comparing and concluding.  That is really how a manís conscience works.[6]  An example:  Stealing is wrong.  That is the standard that has been established by God, the yard stick.  Then a fellow thinks to himself, ďI have taken something that was not mine, which is stealing.Ē  The conscience then compares what you have done with the standard.  Conclusion?  When your comparison shows that you have come up short, your conscience then reaches a conclusion, finds a verdict of guilty, saying, ďMy stealing is wrong.  I am guilty of stealing.Ē

2C.   This is how the conscience always works, by comparing and then concluding.  Sometimes the conscience compares something you have already done with a standard.  Sometimes the conscience compares what you are anticipating doing with a standard.  Whatever the case, a comparison is made and the conscience renders a verdict.  If the verdict is guilty, you feel bad.

2B.    But some would say, ďI donít feel bad when I do what the Bible says is wrong.Ē  That is because there has been a corruption of your conscience, which is very common with the unsaved.

1C.   There are two ways in which the functioning of the conscience can be corrupted so that someone who is committed to sinning can do so without being made to feel so bad by his conscience.

2C.   First Timothy 4.2 refers to ďhaving their conscience seared with a hot iron.Ē  The allusion, of course, is to sensitive nerve endings being so damaged by that which they would normally be sensitive to that they become insensitive from overexposure.  Perhaps you donít feel bad from sinning because you have sinned so much that what you used to feel guilty about, and what you should feel guilty about, you no longer feel guilty about.

3C.   Wherever you are along the path of a corrupted conscience, here is how it probably started:  You began with a standard of right and wrong.  It may be something as simple as the realization that lying is wrong.  Then you lie, and your conscience makes a comparison between the standard you should have lived up to, lying is wrong, and your actual behavior, which was telling a lie.  The corruption of your conscience comes about when you repudiate your conscienceís verdict of guilt for lying by insisting that it is not wrong to lie, or that it was not wrong to lie in that instance.  Thus, the corruption of your conscience begins, and continues over the course of your lifetime.

4C.   What is done by the person who resists his conscience and stubbornly denies the wrongness of his sin is implied in Mark 6.52, where mention is made of hardening the heart, and in James 1.26, where mention is made of deceiving your own heart.  This is quite opposite what the Holy Spirit works to do when He prepares a sinnerís heart for conversion.[7]

3B.    Let me conclude this very brief consideration of the conscience by pointing out some of the details related to the clearing of a personís conscience:

1C.   When your conscience weighs behavior against a standard of right and wrong and pronounces a verdict of guilty a person feels a measure of guilt and shame, depending on the seriousness of the sin and the tenderness of his conscience.

2C.   With respect to another person, the conscience can be cleared by asking the offended personís forgiveness and making proper restitution.  But what is to be done about your sins against God?  Restitution is impossible with God, and punishment is demanded by God.  And no matter what you say to yourself, so long as Godís books in heaven contain the record of your sins and offenses against God you will not have, you cannot have, a clear conscience.

3C.   Most people who think they have a clear conscience have no such thing.  The real explanation of the absence of any feelings of guilt for wrongdoing is the hardness of their hearts and the searing of their consciences.  But I promise you, their consciences will rise up and testify against them someday.

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   We have briefly considered two questions:  Who has committed sins, and how?  And, what happens when a man commits a sin?

2.   You have committed sins by transgressing Godís laws.  Jewish people sinned by transgressing Godís objective written Law, the Law of Moses.  Gentiles sin by violating their consciences, which testifies to having transgressed the law of God written on their hearts.  By whatever means a sinner is found guilty, the penalty is the same; death.  ďThe wages of sin is death,Ē Romans 6.23.

3.   But what happens when someone commits a sin?  There are many things that happen as a result of committing sin.  Death and condemnation is only one thing.  However, one of the things that results from sin that is oftentimes overlooked these days is a feeling of guilt produced by the conscience.

4.   More on the effect of sin on the conscience after brother Isenberger comes to lead us in a song before this morningís sermon.

 

INTRODUCTION:

1.   In Genesis 2.15-17, God established a standard for Adam to adhere to.  Let me read that passage to you:

15     And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

16     And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17     But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

 

2.   Did Adam adhere to that standard?  We know that he did not.  He ate the forbidden fruit, thereby sinning against God.  Then what did he and Eve do?  According to Genesis 3.7, ďthey sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.Ē  What does this action suggest? 

3.   It suggests the activity of conscience.  I think they felt guilty because they compared what they had done to Godís standard, and their conscience pronounced them guilty.  Sewing fig leaves to make aprons was prompted, I believe, by their feelings of guilt and shame.

4.   What they needed, however, was a real remedy for their sin and forgiveness, not some makeshift remedy in an attempt to salve their guilty consciences.  Their actions might have made them feel somewhat better than they had felt naked and uncovered, but when confronted by the LORD it became quite obvious that their measures to assuage, or to ease, their feelings guilt were insufficient.

5.   I would like to fast forward from the Garden of Eden to the 21st century.  Rather than consider Adam and Eve, I would like for us to consider the case of a woman I will call Marilyn.  Though not the most wicked person who has ever lived, Marilyn has felt very guilty about some of the sinful things that she has done.  Though she is quite nice and reputable, for the most part, there are some secrets.

6.   Because she felt guilty about past deeds, Marilyn started going to church.  She felt much better about herself because of church.  She even began to learn some things from Godís Word that startled her.  One thing she learned was about the Law.

7.   Though she was not Jewish, Marilyn realized from the Bible that God had written His laws in her heart, and that it was her God-given conscience that had made her feel bad for sinning.  But going to church seemed to make her feel less bad.  Besides, she was not sinning as much as she had been since going to church.

8.   Then, one day at church, the pastor turned to James 2.10, which reads, ďFor whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.Ē  Marilyn was then startled to realize that, although she had not committed some sins, she was just as guilty in the eyes of God as if she had.

9.   She saw in Godís Word that, because of the sins she had committed, because even committing but a single sin makes a sinner guilty of breaking the whole of Godís law, she was as guilty as the most wicked of sinners.

10. Upon reflection she began to understand that she had successfully corrupted her conscience by going to church and convincing herself that by going to church she need not feel so guilty.  But the truth of Godís Word showed her that she had really only hardened her heart and perhaps seared her conscience a bit. 

11. From the Bible, Marilyn came to see that what she needed was much more than a different version of religion.  She had tried to do essentially what Adam and Eve did in the Garden, cover up the evidence of her sinfulness by going to church, as they had covered themselves with fig leaves.  But when confronted by the truth of Godís Word her pretense simply did not hold up.

12. Marilyn needs much more than the good feelings that come from attending church and being around friendly and loving people.  Marilyn needs her sins forgiven.  But she needs her sins purged so that she has no more conscience of sins.[8]  Thankfully, it is just that kind of salvation from sins that Jesus provides.

13. My text for this morning is found in Colossians 2.13-14.  When you find that passage, please stand as read along silently while I read aloud:

13     And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

14     Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross

 

14. In verse 14, the apostle Paul makes use of two types of allusions:  Likening the verdict of the sinnerís conscience to a legal document that contains the charges leveled against a criminal, Paul shows those charges to be dealt with in two ways.  The first way is by blotting out the ink written on the document, so it is no longer valid (and easy thing to with such documents in Paulís day).  The second way, the allusion that I want to fix your attention to with Easter approaching, has to do with Jesus nailing that document to His cross.

15. Wednesday night I will bring a message from Godís Word that deals with the cross of Jesus Christ, explaining why the Bible is best understood to teach that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday and not a Friday.

16. But for now, keep in mind a practice in the Roman empire during Paulís day.  It was common that a criminal who was crucified would have the charges leveled against him written on a piece of paper that was then nailed to his cross, showing that by his crucifixion his crimes were being properly punished as Roman law demanded.[9]

17. This is what our imaginary Marilyn needs to realize.  Perhaps this is what you need to realize.  Your conscience will never be good so long as you are unconverted.  Your conscience will always be evil, will never be pure and undefiled until your sins are forgiven, until the Lord Jesus Christ takes that accusation written by your own conscience, showing you guilty of violating Godís laws, sinning in various ways against the holy God, and nails it to His cross.

18. I close with three brief statements:

 

1A.   First, YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF GODíS LAW

1B.    Perhaps you have violated many of Godís laws, or maybe you are a person who has violated comparatively few of Godís laws.  It doesnít matter, with respect to the issue at hand.  Guilt is not related to the number of offenses, only the fact of offenses.  And there are no degrees of guilt with God.  You are either completely guilty or you are innocent.  And you are not innocent.

2B.    Remember the shocking lesson Marilyn learned:  ďFor whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.Ē  Thus, you are guilty of breaking all of Godís law.

 

2A.   Next, YOUR OWN CONSCIENCE ACCUSES YOU

1B.    In varying degrees, every sinner has spent his or her life squelching the voice of conscience, hardening the heart against conscience, searing the conscience itself.  That means, you have spent your life squelching the voice of your conscience, hardening your heart against your conscience, and searing your conscience itself.

2B.    I do not need to prove this to you, since you have your own memories that remind you of these actions that you have taken in the past.  Remember when you did something that felt really guilty?  But later, after searing your conscience, or hardening your heart, you were able to do it again, not feeling quite so guilty the next time.  Sure you remember.

3B.    You may have reached the point where you can now commit many sins without hearing much from your conscience, without feeling much guilt for what you do.  But that does not mean you have no conscience.  Neither does it mean that your conscience is not producing documentation that shows the charges to be leveled against you come judgment day.  The facts are not at all altered because you donít feel guilty for what you have done.

4B.    Here is fact, Romans 2.14-16:

14     For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

15     Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

16     In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

 

5B.    Here is another fact, Revelation 20.12:  ďAnd I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.Ē  Some Puritans were of the opinion that the books mentioned in this verse are actually the consciences of each of the unsaved who will stand before God at the judgment of the great day.  But whether or not these books are menís consciences is of little importance beside the fact that you will be judged according to your works, whether you feel particularly guilty about them now or not.

 

3A.   Finally, ONLY JESUS CAN SAVE YOU

1B.    Cover yourself with fig leaves in an attempt to hide the evidence of your sins all you want.  It will do you no good.  Pretend the wrong you have done is not wrong all you want.  It will do you no good.  Justify yourself and excuse yourself in as many imaginative ways as your conniving heart can contrive.  It will not matter.

2B.    You see, your conscience was given to you to help you, not to help God.  It is good for you to feel bad about the bad things you have done.  But should you foolishly succeed in squelching the voice of your conscience, in searing your conscience, in hardening your heart, it will have no effect on Godís disposition toward your sins.  God will judge you for sinning, not for how you feel about sinning.

3B.    A person who sins against his own conscience, who refuses to pay heed to his own conscience, is like a guy who shoots himself in the foot.  You only cripple yourself.  You only hurt yourself.  It has no effect whatsoever on Godís response to your sinning.  Thus, whether you feel bad about your sins or not, you still need the forgiveness of sins that only Jesus provides.  You still need for Jesus to nail the handwriting of ordinances that is against you to His cross.

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   The fact of the matter is that Jesus does not save everyone.  Most people are not going to go to heaven.  Jesus will actually judge most people, and will only save a few.

2.   In Matthew 7.14, Jesus said, ďBecause strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.Ē  ď. . . few there be that find it.Ē  Are you one of those few?  I hope you are.

3.   If you would like to talk to me about my Lord Jesus, about the forgiveness of sins, about the narrow way that leads to life, it would be my honor to speak with you.

4.   Perhaps you are a sinner who has succeeded in squelching the voice of your conscience.  You are honest enough to admit that you have hardened your heart and seared your conscience. 

5.   If you would like to talk to me about those things the Spirit of God does to pierce the hardened heart, to open the more tender heart, so that you might someday want to be saved from your sins, I would like to talk to you, too.

6.   Keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ not only saves sinners from their sins, but He also remedies their guilty consciences so that they feel free from guilt as well as actually being free from guilt.

 



[1] 1 John 1.7

[2] Romans 7.12

[3] Romans 8.3

[4] Galatians 3.24 refers to the Mosaic Law, with the law written in menís hearts giving a much weaker course of instruction.

[5] Hebrews 10.28

[6] William Ames, Conscience With The Power And Cases Thereof, (University of Franeker, Friesland, 1639), page 4.

[7] Acts 2.37; 16.14

[8] Hebrews 10.2

[9] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1836.

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