Nailed to the Cross

In his letter to the church in Colossae, Saint Paul offers us a clear and concise exhortation. It is a call to all those who find themselves as members of the household of the faithful. This exhortation was as applicable to the saints of God 2000 years ago as it is to you today. He says, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” He calls for you to walk in your Lord Jesus Christ, to be rooted and built up in Him. That is a great image, is it not? Rooted and built up; to walk in the Lord is to be grounded in something firm, something unmovable and trustworthy. It is more than just being built on a solid foundation, it is having roots which go down into it and cling to it. To be rooted is to withstand the attacks of storm and erosion that will most certainly come. Because of this rootedness, because it is so grounded in Christ, it can then be built up. It grows. It triumphs over the elements. Rooted and built up in your Lord, this is what you are called to be. This is a description of the Christian life.

But what prevents this? What are the challenges, the issues that stand in the way of such discipleship? Paul goes on in the text to say, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” So, perhaps we can speak of cultural challenges to being a disciple. Our grandparents would speak of a time when Sunday mornings were sacred, set apart from the rigor of a work week as a time for family and the renewal of faith. The gathering of the people of God was crucial and there was no substitute for it. Sure, you had a few radio broadcasts or TV evangelists, but they were the exception to the rule. The rhythm of life seemed to be made for the ease of being rooted in our Lord. There was a built-in protection from the philosophy and empty deceit of human tradition. But this has long since stopped been the norm. There is no encouragement to go to Church and be part of a Christian fellowship. Your personal quest is all that is important. So, it is not as easy to walk in the Lord.

Of course, the reality is if I were to ask a member of the church why they have not been coming, or even ask a former member why they stopped all together, the answer would have nothing to do with a cultural shift in our age. They would not speak about the captivating philosophies of human traditions. No, they would speak of very real, tangible things. There are those who simply work hard throughout the week and Sunday is the one day they get to sleep in. While they know they ought to go to church, sometimes a lazy morning feels more crucial to their wellbeing. For others, the Church is a community they do not really value anymore, or at least not this particular one. Perhaps they did not feel they belonged, like their voice was not being heard or their contributions were not appreciated. After all, there are ample communities out there which will more acutely meet ones needs, so why spend too much time at a church?

To be sure, the Church is increasingly becoming a strange reality. We gather in this place, built by hands very few of us remember. They were people who knew nothing about the internet or the many technological advancements we take for granted. We sit in rows where our focus is directed, not to a screen or a stage, but to a large, wooden cross. In fact, I want you to look at that cross and imagine what happened there. Consider what was behind the hands of the artisans who made the beautiful image we see before us, the thousands of years of refining for this central image of the Church. Imagine the cross as it was in its original form, as an image of oppression and terror, a bloody and gruesome icon of public execution.

If you can create such an image in your imagination, I want you to go one step further and look at what you find nailed to that cross. No doubt all the representations you have seen of the crucifixion of our Lord will come into view. The cross is no longer clean and simple as we have it in our sanctuary. Upon it you see your Lord, you see the cost of your salvation. When you look at what is nailed on the cross you see innocence, you see the righteousness of God, you see love, care, and compassion. You also see Him being unjustly broken and bleeding. But instead of looking away, I challenge you to look even deeper. Look to see the reason for His death. Look to see why He is crushed and cursed on the cross. For Jesus dies, not for Himself, not for His own sin, but for yours. When you look into the cross you are called to see your failure, your shame, and your sin. When you pull it out of the darkness and expose it to the light, this is how ugly and brutal it is. The wages of sin is death and here you see its toll.

Paul declares how on this cross our Lord, “…canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” The cross is the disarming of the rulers and authorities who would leave you in despair and condemn you in your sin. All those who would seek to destroy you by the debt you have incurred, the cross of Christ silences. Nailed to the cross is everything which would hinder anyone, anyone from entering eternal life.

But how does a sacrificial death, even the death of the Son of God all those years ago upon the cross, effect you today? What ties you and I and the fellowship of believers to the promises made by what was nailed to the cross? Paul’s answer is simple: Baptism. Baptism is the assurance that what happened, happened for you. He says, “You were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” By baptism you yourself are nailed to the cross of Christ. You join Him in the death He dies for your sins. Therefore, the rulers and authorities have no claim over you. They can point their fingers and declare you guilty, declare you to be sinners who must pay the debt you have incurred, but you have already died for it, for you are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection.

If we strip it down, if we remove all the trappings of ritual which accompany a typical baptism, to be baptized is a simple thing. It is to be washed with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is so simple, in fact, many disregard it. They will speak of it as some outward symbol of your desire to belong to Christ, a testimony of your faith. But this is not how Paul speaks of it. He likens it to circumcision, an act that marked one as a member of God’s chosen ones. It was a mark received, by the way, at eight days old. This was not exactly a great testimony of one’s ability to do much of anything. No, baptism is all gift, all reception, and all Gospel. Baptism roots you not in yourself, not in your understanding, or your cleverness, or your identity, but solely in Christ. In fact, we might say baptism gives you the very ability to see just what is nailed to the cross. It allows you to see the hope, the joy, and the victory it is to be rooted and built-up in Christ.

The community of the faithful, the church we gather in, with its failures and inconsistencies and beautiful cross on the wall, is a fellowship where things are put to death. Sin, guilt, despair, and all the anger and regret of your life are nailed to that cross. It is amongst one another where we are rooted and built-up. For it is here, at this time, in this place you are reminded of just who you are. You are the baptized, and the record of debt that has stood against you with its legal demands has been set aside. Paul calls for you to be a part of this community, for it is here we learn to walk in our Lord.