MARCH 30, 2017 – WHICH CROSS DO WE CARRY?

Having made peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:20

 

One of the strange things under the sun is a “crossless” Christianity. The cross of Christendom is a “no cross,” an ecclesiastical symbol. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is a place of death!

Let each one be careful which cross he carries!

Thousands turn away from Jesus Christ because they will not meet His conditions. He watches them as they go, for He loves them, but He will make no concessions.

Admit one soul into the kingdom by compromise and that kingdom is no longer secure. Christ will be Lord, or He will be Judge. Every man must decide whether he will take Him as Lord now, or face Him as Judge then!

“If any man will…let him…follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Some will rise and go after Him, but others give no heed to His voice. So the gulf opens between man and man, between those who will and those who will not.

The Man, the kindly Stranger who walked this earth, is His own proof. He will not put Himself again on trial; He will not argue. But the morning of the judgment will confirm what men in the twilight have decided!

 

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your patience as You wait for people to repent and turn to You. I pray that this will be a day when many will respond to Your voice calling them to follow You.[1]


The Plan of Reconciliation

and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, (1:20–21)

God’s ultimate plan for the universe is to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus Christ. When His work of creation was finished, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good”  (Gen. 1:31). God’s good creation, however, was soon marred by man’s sin. The Fall resulted not only in fatal and damning tragedy for the human race, but also affected the entire creation. Sin destroyed the perfect harmony between creatures, and between all creation and the Creator. The creation was “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20) and “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:22). One evidence of that is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which indicates that the universe is losing its usable energy. If God did not intervene, the universe would eventually suffer a heat death—all available energy would be used up, and the universe would become uniformly cold and dark.

We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe. Both are under the baleful influence of Satan, who is both “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). The devastating effects of the curse and satanic influence will reach a terrifying climax in the events of the Tribulation. Some of the various bowl, trumpet, and seal judgments are demonic, others represent natural phenomena gone wild as God lets loose His wrath. At the culmination of that time of destruction and chaos, Christ returns and sets up His kingdom. During His millennial reign, the effects of the curse will begin to be reversed. The Bible gives us a glimpse of what the restored creation will be like.

There will be dramatic changes in the animal world. In Isaiah we learn that

The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain. (Isa. 11:6–9)

“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isa. 65:25)

The changes in the animal world will be paralleled by changes in the earth and the solar system:

Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and His glory will be before His elders. (Isa. 24:23)

The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the Lord binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted. (Isa. 30:26)

No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. Your sun will set no more, neither will your moon wane; for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light. (Isa. 60:19–20)

Tremendous, dramatic changes will mark the reconciliation of the world to God. Paul writes, “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21). God and the creation will be reconciled; the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. We might say that God will make friends with the universe again. The universe will be restored to a proper relationship with its Creator. Finally, after the millennial kingdom, there will indeed be a new heaven and a new earth, as both Peter and John indicate:

According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwell-s. (2 Pet. 3:13)

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. (Rev. 21:1)

The Lord will make everything new.

Paul again takes direct aim at the false philosophical dualism of the Colossian heretics. They taught that all matter was evil and spirit was good. In their scheme, God did not create the physical universe, and He certainly would not wish to be reconciled to it. Paul declares that God will indeed reconcile the material world to Himself, and further, that He will do it through His Son, Jesus Christ. Far from being a spirit emanation unconcerned with evil matter, Jesus is the agent through which God will accomplish the reconciliation of the universe. The German theologian Erich Sauer comments,

The offering on Golgotha extends its influence into universal history. The salvation of mankind is only one part of the world-embracing counsels of God.… The “heavenly things” also will be cleansed through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:23). A “cleansing” of the heavenly places is required if on no other ground than that they have been the dwelling of fallen spirits (Eph. 6:12; 2:2), and because Satan,  their chief, has for ages had access to the highest regions of the heavenly world… the other side becomes this side; eternity transfigures time and this earth, the chief scene of the redemption, becomes the Residence of the universal kingdom of God (The Triumph of the Crucified [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960], pp. 179, 180 [italics in original]).

Some have imagined all things to include fallen men and fallen angels, and on that basis have argued for universalism, the ultimate salvation of everyone. By so doing they overlook a fundamental rule of interpretation, the analogia Scriptura. That principle teaches that no passage of Scripture, properly interpreted, will contradict any other passage. When we let Scripture interpret Scripture, it is clear that by all things Paul means all things for whom reconciliation is possible. That fallen angels and unregenerate men will spend eternity in hell is the emphatic teaching of Scripture. Our Lord will one day say to unbelievers, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels,” and they “will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:41, 46). In Revelation 20:10–15, the apostle John writes,

The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

On the other hand, there is a sense in which even fallen angels and unredeemed men will be reconciled to God for judgment—but only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing. Their relationship to Him will change from that of enemies to that of the judged. They will be sentenced to hell, unable any longer to pollute God’s creation. They will be stripped of their power and forced to bow in submission to God. Paul writes in Colossians 2:15 that after Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities [fallen angels], He made a public display of them, having  triumphed over them.” Because of Christ’s victory, “the God of peace will-soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). And “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). God has elevated Christ to a position above all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:21–22).

Though in the sacrifice of Christ, God made provision for the world (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), all persons will not be reconciled to God in the saving sense of being redeemed. The benefits of Christ’s atonement are applied only to the elect, who alone come to saving faith in Him.

From God’s general plan to reconcile all things to Himself, Paul turns to the specific reconciliation of believers like the Colossians. That they had been reconciled was evidence enough that Christ was sufficient to reconcile men and women to God. Their reconciliation foreshadowed the ultimate reconciliation of the universe.

To impress on them Christ’s power to reconcile men to God, Paul reminds the Colossians of what they were like before their reconciliation. They were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds. Apallotrioō (alienated) means “estranged,” “cut off,” or “separated.” Before their reconciliation, the Colossians were completely estranged from God. In a similar passage, Paul writes, “You were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12–13). NonChristians are detached from God because of sin; there is no such thing as an “innocent heathen.” All unbelievers suffer separation from God unless they receive the reconciliation provided in Jesus Christ.

The Colossians had also been hostile in mind. Echthros (hostile) could also be translated “hateful.” Unbelievers are not only alienated from God by condition, but also hateful of God by attitude. They hate Him and resent His holy standards and commands because they are engaged in evil deeds. Scripture teaches that unbelievers “loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19–20). Their problem is not ignorance, but willful love of sin.

Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. (Rom. 1:21–24)

Although “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom. 1:19), they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). As Isaiah wrote to wayward Israel, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2). Sin is the root cause of man’s alienation from God. Because God cannot fellowship with sin (cf. Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:6), it is sin that needs to be dealt with before God and man can be reconciled.

The question arises as to whether man is reconciled to God, or God to man. There is a sense in which both occur. Since “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God” (Rom. 8:7), and “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), reconciliation cannot take place until man is transformed. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17–18).

There is also God’s side to reconciliation. From His holy perspective, His just wrath against sin must be appeased. Far from being the harmless, tolerant grandfather that many today imagine Him to be, God “takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nah. 1:2). “At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation” (Jer. 10:10). The one who refuses to obey the Son will find that “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Because of their sin, “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6). Man and God could never be reconciled unless God’s wrath was appeased. The provision for that took place through Christ’s sacrifice. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:9). It is “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). He bore the full fury of God’s wrath against our sins (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). After all, “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

Christ’s death on the cross reconciled us to God (Eph. 2:16), something we could never have done on our own. In Romans 5:6–10, Paul gives four reasons for that. First, lack of strength: “we were still  helpless” (v. 6). Second, lack of merit: we were “the ungodly” (v. 6). Third, lack of righteousness: “we were yet sinners” (v. 8). Finally, lack of peace with God: “we were enemies” (v. 10). It is only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ that anyone can receive reconciliation (v. 11).

The Means of Reconciliation

having made peace through the blood of His cross… He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death (1:20b, 1:22a)

Those two phrases sum up the specific means whereby Christ effected our reconciliation with God. Paul says first that Christ made peace between God and man through the blood of His cross. Blood speaks metaphorically of His atonement. It connects Christ’s death with the Old Testament sacrificial system (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18–19). It is also a term that graphically notes violent death, such as that suffered by the sacrificial animals. The countless thousands of animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant pointed ahead to the violent, blood-shedding death the final sacrificial Lamb would suffer. The writer of Hebrews informs us that “the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate (Heb. 13:11–12).

The reference to Christ’s blood again stresses the link between His violent death and the violent deaths of the animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant. Unlike many of them, however, Jesus did not bleed to death (cf. John 19:34). No man took His life. He was not a helpless victim, but willingly offered up His life to God.

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father. (John 10:17–18)

Jesus chose the moment of His death: “When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).

There is nothing mystical, however, about the blood of Christ. It saves us only in the sense that His death was the sacrificial death of the final Lamb. It was that death that reconciled us to God (Rom. 5:10).

Proper biblical teaching on the blood of Christ simply is that His physical blood has no magical or mystical saving power. It is not some supernaturally preserved form of the actual blood of Christ that literally washes believers of their sin. The blood of Christ is applied to the believer in a symbolic sense, by faith, in the same way that we “see” Christ by faith, and we are seated with Him in the heavenlies—not in a physical sense.

How could the red and white corpuscles be literally applied to believers in salvation? To our physical bodies? Could it be otherwise with literal blood? Where is that literal, tangible blood kept? How much of it is applied, and why is it not used up? To one degree or another, we must acknowledge that there is symbolism in what Scripture says about the blood. Otherwise we will wind up with an obviously unbiblical doctrine like transubstantiation to explain how literal blood can be applied to all believers for salvation. (I have recently heard that some believe the blood of Jesus is kept in a bottle in heaven to be literally used in some way to apply to the soul!)

A strictly physical interpretation of what Scripture says about the blood of Christ cannot adequately deal with such passages as John 6:53–54: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

It would be equally hard to explain how physical blood is meant in Matthew 23:30–35 (“We would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets”); 27:24–25 (“His blood be on us, and on our children”); Acts 5:28 (“[you] intend to bring this man’s blood upon us”); 18:6 (“Your blood be upon your own heads”); 20:26, 28 (“I am pure from the blood of all men”); and 1 Corinthians 10:16 (“The cup of blessing… is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”).

The literal blood of Christ ran into the dirt and dust, and nothing in Scripture hints that it now exists in any tangible or visible form. Communion wine does not change into blood. There is no way the actual blood of Christ could be applied to all of us. We must acknowledge at some point that the sprinkling with blood under the New Covenant is symbolic.

“Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). I affirm that truth and have never denied it. But the “shedding of blood” in Scripture is an expression that means much more than just bleeding. It refers to violent sacrificial death. If just bleeding could buy salvation, why did not Jesus simply bleed without dying? Of course, He had to die to be the perfect sacrifice, and without His death our redemption could not have been purchased by His blood.

The meaning of Scripture in this matter is not all that difficult to understand. Romans 5:9–10 clarifies the point; those two verses side by side show that to be “justified by His blood” (v. 9) is the same as being “reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (v. 10). The critical element in salvation is the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf. The shedding of His blood was the visible manifestation of His life being poured out in sacrifice, and Scripture consistently uses the term “shedding of blood” as a metonym for atoning death. (A metonym is a figure of speech in which the part is used to represent or designate the whole.)

Bloodshed was God’s design for all Old Testament sacrifices. They were bled to death rather than clubbed or burnt. God designed that sacrificial death was to occur with blood loss as a vivid manifestation of life being poured out (“the life of the flesh is in the blood”). Nevertheless, those who were too poor to bring animals for sacrifices were allowed to bring one-tenth of an ephah (About two quarts) of fine flour instead (Lev. 5:11). Their sins were covered just as surely as the sins of those who could afford to offer a lamb, goat, turtledove, or pigeon (Lev. 5:6–7). Christ’s blood was precious—but as precious as it was, only when it was poured out in death could the penalty of sin be paid.

Thus, if Christ had bled without dying, salvation would not have been purchased. In that sense, it is not His blood but His death that saves us. And when Scripture talks about the shedding of blood, the point is not mere bleeding, but dying by violence as a sacrifice. That is not heresy, and nothing in Protestant church history would support the notion that it is. The only major group to insist that the application of the blood is literal is the Roman Catholic Church.

Christ died not only as a sacrifice, but also as our substitute. He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death. In Romans 8:3, Paul tells us that God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” He took the place of sinners, dying a substitutionary death that paid the full penalty for the sin of all who believe. This death satisfied God’s wrath. Once again Paul hammers away at the false teaching of the Colossian heretics that Christ was a mere spirit being. On the contrary, Paul insists, He died as a man for men. Were that not true, there could be no reconciliation for any person.

The Aim of Reconciliation

in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (1:22b)

God’s ultimate goal in reconciliation is to present His elect holy and pure before Him. Paul expressed a similar desire for the Corinthians: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). Jude tells us that we will one day “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). Such purification is necessary if sinners are to stand in the presence of a holy God.

Holy (hagios) means to be separated from sin and set apart to God. It has to do with the believer’s relationship with Him. As a result of a faith union with Jesus Christ, God sees Christians as holy as His Son. God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Blameless (amōmos) means without blemish. It was used in the Septuagint to speak of sacrificial animals (Num. 6:14). It is used in the New Testament to refer to Christ as the spotless Lamb of God (Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19). In reference to ourselves, reconciliation gives us a blameless character.

Beyond reproach (anegklētos) goes beyond blameless. It means not only that we are without blemish, but also that no one can bring a charge against us (cf. Rom. 8:33). Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), cannot make a charge stick against those whom Christ has reconciled.

Christ’s reconciliation makes believers holy, blameless, and beyond reproach before Him. God sees us now as we will be in heaven when we are glorified. He views us clothed with the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. The process of spiritual growth involves becoming in practice what we are in reality before God. We “have put on the new self” and that new self “is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col. 3:10). The Christian life involves “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord [which covers us before God, and] being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).[2]


20 Lest a person be tempted to forget, however, this verse reminds that “the Lord of glory” (1 Co 2:8) was subjected to tremendous agony on the cross (2 Co 13:4). Christ’s ministry of reconciliation was costly indeed. Why should God’s Son have first place in all things (v. 18)? It is not only because of his resurrection (v. 18) or incarnation (v. 19), but it is also because of his crucifixion (v. 20). It would be difficult to exaggerate the centrality of the cross in Paul’s theology (cf. Ro 3:23–25; 5:8–9; 14:7–9; 1 Co 1:18–25; 2:1–2; 15:3–4; 2 Co 5:14–15, 21; Gal 2:20–21; 5:11; 6:12; Eph 2:13–16; Php 2:6–8; 1 Th 4:14; 5:9–10). The cross will feature again in this letter in 1:22 and 2:11–15. For Paul, the cross graphically and persuasively demonstrates the depth of God’s love; the humble, radical obedience of Christ to the Father on behalf of humanity; and the seriousness of sin and the fallen human condition.

It pleased God, the “hymn” contends, to reconcile (i.e., to restore or restitute) all things to himself through Christ (cf. 1:22; Eph 2:16). That there existed a need for restitution between the Creator and the created presupposes a schism and a resulting chasm between the two. Paul believed that this division was due (in large part) to human rebellion against God and the good (see esp. 2:13–14, as well as 1:13, 21; 3:7; cf. Ro 3:23; 6:23; Eph 2:1, 5). The divine solution to the human predicament, Paul propounded, was to turn an instrument of execution (i.e., a Roman cross) into an implement of peace. Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6; Eph 2:14), has effected peace between God and humanity through his bloody (i.e., sacrificial) death on the cross. As 1 Timothy 2:5–6 puts it, Christ Jesus, the One who “gave himself as a ransom for all people” (cf. Mk 10:45), is the “mediator between God and human beings” (TNIV). Where spiritual disconnect and disquiet exist, he comes to bring peace and reign in peace (3:15; cf. Ro 5:1; Eph 2:13–17).

Despite claims to the contrary, the scope of God’s reconciling work in Christ is universal. Be that as it may, reconciliation with God through Christ is not a foregone conclusion. The proclamation and reception of the gospel are the means through which people are reunited with God (cf. 1:5, 23). Those who embrace God’s grace through Christ in the word of the gospel are reconciled to God; those who choose not to do so remain estranged from God and stand outside the realm of his salvific rule (see 1:13, 21; 4:5).[3]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 55–63). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 293–294). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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