Intro: “How shall we then live?” Who gets to say what the Bible means in terms of Christian living? How do we know that our understanding of the Bible is the right understanding of the Bible? What is our philosophy of life, as Christians? The Spirit of God through the apostle Paul was confronting these questions, because these new believers in Colossae were apparently being challenged by a competing group in their society claiming for themselves the same authority, the Word of God, for their very different philosophy. Evidently, the local synagogue was fighting back against Christianity, newly planted in Colossae. The Jewish religion had a long standing history in the community. Now along came these upstart Christians claiming the same Scriptures used by the Jews as authority for their new philosophy of life. “You can’t do that,” they said to the Christians. “You’re not keeping the laws about “food and drink, or with regard to festival or new moon or a Sabbath. You’ve got to afflict yourselves and you’ve got to take angelic majesties into account if you want to use our Scriptures to be saved. And what about mystical visions? We have them! Are you taking those into account?” So, who was right? Should these new Christians fall back on these old Jewish ways, or was the new way of Christianity they’d been taught the right philosophy? Paul wrote this letter to establish these new believes in their new way of life. His key argument was simplicity indeed: the new way is to be followed because Jesus Christ is preeminent over all things. As Christians, we are involved in this same fight over philosophies as the Colossians were facing. Today, we are not opposed by Judaism, but rather by secularism, the materialist world view. Paul’s answer to the Colossians’ opponents is valid for us in our battle today. The preeminence of Christ gives Him the right to say, “This is the way; walk ye in it!”
Proposition: Because Christ is preeminent over all things, Christ alone is all we need.
Paul’s argument is a simple one: Christ is preeminent because He is God (v.15a); Christ is preeminent because He is Creator (vv.15b-17); Christ is preeminent because He is Redeemer (vv.18-20).
(v.15a) Christ is Preeminent because He is God – “He is the image of the invisible God…” The discussion began with an assertion of the deity of Christ. Our Bibles are not shy in proclaiming that Jesus is God. Verse 19 will tell us this, as will verse 2:9, and we’ll discuss those verses more fully when we reach them, but here in the very beginning of the discussion we find an assertion that Jesus is the “Spitting image” of the invisible God of the Bible. This echoes the author of Hebrews who said in Hebrews 1:1-3: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” In other words, if you want to see God, look at His only begotten Son, Jesus. Jesus is God’s appointed way for humanity to see the invisible God.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Jesus is preeminent because He is the “telescope” through which the invisible God, who is far away, is brought near, made visible, to man.
[ILLUSTRATION] There are some things that are real, that truly exist, but cannot be seen with the naked human eye. Some years ago, NASA had some time to kill with their Hubble Space Telescope. This marvelous machine has been giving us spectacular scenes of stars, planets and galaxies for many years. Someone had the idea of aiming Hubble at a “blank” piece of space, a tiny sliver of blackness about the size of a grain of sand compared to the total span of the visible night sky. So, the aimed at nothing and cranked out the lens to see what was there. What did they discover? That small, seemingly empty piece of sky contains hundreds of previously unseen galaxies of stars. They have been there all the time, but until humanity pointed the Space Telescope at them, they were completely invisible to our vision. The right instrument made the invisible, visible.
[APPLICATION] Jesus is the “right instrument” given by God to man through which who God is may be truly discovered. Anyone who has doubts about who God is and what He is like needs to hear that Jesus is the answer to their questions. In His miracle working power we see the almighty God who is Lord of all nature. In His tears at Lazarus’ grave we see His sorrow over death’s devastation of humanity. At the cross we discover the depths of His love for undeserving people like us. By His resurrection He reveals God’s plan for a whole new heaven and earth, without sin, death and with life everlasting. Jesus is the answer to man’s deepest questions. He is preeminent, first of all, because He is God.
(vv.15b-17) Christ is Preeminent because He is Creator – The second reason given for Christ’s preeminence is that He is “the firstborn of all creation.” “Firstborn” here is not speaking of the chronology of Christ as if He were created by God the Father before anything else came to be. That idea is an ancient heresy called Arianism. “Firstborn” can carry the meaning of priority in time, but it also carries the meaning of “priority of rank,” and that is the sense in which it is being used here. Aside from the fact that Jesus is clearly portrayed in Scripture as uncreated deity, the text itself makes clear that “priority in time” is not intended, for verse 16 tells us that “by him all things were created.” ALL things without exception could not have been created by Him if He himself were a “thing” that already existed! So, the text here is telling us that Jesus has preeminence over all things because He is the uncreated creator of all things. When the text says “all things,” it goes further and specifies what the “all things” are it means. “All things… in heaven and earth.” Everything in both halves of the universe in other words. Everything in God’s heaven and man’s earth was called into being by Jesus our Lord. “All things… visible and invisible.” Things visible like flowers and trees, and things invisible but real like morality, beauty and truth. All earthly authorities and powers and heavenly spiritual dominions and authorities are next mentioned. Jesus is Lord over all powers, seen or unseen, for He is their Creator. “All things were created through him and for him,” we are told. In other words, everything that exists was called into being through Jesus our Lord and exists to fulfill God’s redemptive purpose through Him. “And he is before all things,” directing all things to their appointed ends, “and in him all things hold together,” meaning that all of creation sticks together and keeps working as it should because Jesus our Lord causes it to do so.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Jesus is Lord of creation because He is the Creator of all things.
[ILLUSTRATION] Ever so often you will find an article in the newspaper about a lawsuit between creative people. Usually it is something concerning the rights to a piece of music or a particular technical idea. Who owns something created first in the mind of a gifted artist or engineer? The courts invariably seek out evidence confirming one or the other contestant as the originator of the idea. Whoever created the idea is the rightful owner of the idea.
[APPLICATION] Jesus owns all of creation because all of creation was His idea, His artwork, His to construct, direct and care for. Because this is true Christians can rest easy no matter what happens around us because “We know that for those who love God all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In other words, Jesus is preeminent over everything that is happening in heaven and earth. He has called all of space, time and history into existence for the purpose of saving you and me. He will not rest until we arrive at home in the new heaven and earth that He has purposed for His people to enjoy for eternity. Are you concerned about the things that are going on around you? Are you worried about nature going nuts? Office holders losing their senses? Wars and rumors of wars? Fret not! Jesus is preeminent over all creation and everything that is going on is working out His plan for the final redemption of His elect. This is a good time to “take a chill pill.” Jesus is Lord.
(vv.18-20) Christ is Preeminent because He is Redeemer – “And he is the head of the body, the church.” Those who know the Greek language tell us that the “and” in that sentence is emphatic and means “Christ alone” is the head of the church. Christ alone is the source of redemption and salvation. He is the head of the Church, His body on earth, meaning that the Church is in organic union with Christ. We are joined to Christ by the Spirit of Jesus living in each individual believer’s heart. We are joined with each other by that same Spirit. As the “head of the body,” Christ is the one directing all things in His Church. Jesus promised “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Furthermore we are told in that “he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” While this verse does mean that Jesus was the first example of a new way to be human, the first example of the new creation that awaits us in the future, it also tells us that he is the source of life for all who come after Him. This is because, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” In other words, it is because He is God the source of all life. Finally we are told that through Jesus, God was “pleased… to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Jesus is preeminent in redemption, then, because He is God’s plan for reconciling all things to Himself.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Jesus is redeemer so that he is the source of life and reconciliation for all who believe.
[APPLICATION] The Colossians were facing opposition from people reading the same Scriptures as they were in their worship services. These people were saying to them, “You’re doing it all wrong!” The Holy Spirit through Paul wrote to the Colossians and said, “Actually, you are doing it all right! Jesus is all you need because He is preeminent over all things.” Do you know that Jesus is preeminent? The world we live in tells us that we are sadly deceived, a poor, ignorant lot of folks who believe in a fantasy because we want to escape from the sad reality of our stunted lives. They say to us, “Throw all of that aside! Real life is out here with us!” Don’t buy into that for a moment!
Conclusion: In Jesus we have all we need. He is God; He is Creator; He is Redeemer. He is preeminent in all things. What more could you want? Let’s pray.
Intro: “Syncretism.” It’s a big word you may not be familiar with. Syncretism is “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” Syncretism occurs when well-meaning Christians adopt teachings or practices outside the Christian faith in an attempt to become more relevant to outsiders, or to satisfy a hunger within their own souls for something more. Something more of holiness. Something more of Christ-likeness. Something more of authenticity in Christ. The temptation for those who long to make progress in spirituality, (and who doesn’t want to do that?), our desire for progress can lead us to follow, unknowingly, dangerous pathways; pathways that lead us away from the Bible’s clear teaching and into mere human ways of creating a perceived righteousness. Little by little we can be lured away from the freedom Christ won for us on the cross; slowly, gradually, we can slip back into a yoke of legalistic slavery. These pathways seem right. They seem to promise increased power over the fallen nature. Greater evidence of genuine conversion. Perhaps, in our worst moments, the thought of increased prestige in our spiritual circle crosses our mind. What are these pathways? Our text deals with three of the most dangerous: legalism, mysticism and asceticism. These pathways were a danger for the Colossian believers, and they remain a danger for believers today. Let’s study them together tonight and learn that…
Proposition: Because we have the whole Christ, we should let no one take us captive to the world’s ways again.
Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus, warned his Colossians brother & sisters against three distinct dangers.
(vv.16-17) The First Danger: Legalism – Someone was pressuring these believers to include Jewish Religious Ritual in their practice of Christianity. Apparently they were saying something like, “If you were really God’s people, you’d be eating kosher foods, you’d be keeping the New Moon festivals, you’d give up worshipping on Sunday and properly keep the Sabbath! Since you aren’t doing these things, you’re obviously still under God’s condemnation.” These outsiders were “passing judgment” on the believer over things that believers were freed from by Christ’s victory on the cross. Legalism seeks to substitute human pathways and practices for God’s righteousness. The legalist tries to create his own righteousness through rules, rituals and higher levels of self-discipline. Listen to Warren Wiersbe’s analysis of the problem the Colossians were facing: “The person who judges a believer because that believer is not living under Jewish laws is really judging Jesus Christ. He is saying that Christ did not finish the work of salvation on the cross, and that we must add something to it. He is also saying that Jesus Christ is not sufficient for all the spiritual needs of the Christian. The false teachers in Colosse were claiming a ‘deeper spiritual life’ for all who would practice the law. Outwardly, their practices seemed to be spiritual; but in actual fact, these practices accomplished nothing spiritual.” This is why Paul said, “These (Laws and rituals) are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (v.17).” What did he mean? He meant that the Jewish laws were simply foreshadowing all that believers have now received in Christ. Christ has fulfilled the law on our behalf. What more do we need to add? “Why go back into the shadows when we have the reality in Jesus Christ? This is like trying to hug a shadow when the reality is at hand!”
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Don’t fall into the trap of legalism; stand firm in the freedom Christ purchased for you in the cross.
(vv.18-19) The Second Danger: Mysticism – Here again, pressure was being exerted on the Colossians by someone outside of the church: “Let no one disqualify you…” Some were apparently saying to them, “Look here. You haven’t had a qualifying experience that’s necessary to salvation. Have you experienced the supernatural personally? Have you had this particular experience of the Spirit? Haven’t you had visions of angels? No special dreams? Well, are you really a Christian at all, then?” This is another type of legalism, just as the insistence on ritualism we saw in verses 16-17 was. The idea here is that in order to be authentic, you must pass through certain prescribed spiritual experiences of a mystical nature. “Have you spoken in tongues,” for example. Or, “Have you had visions of Jesus?” “Has God spoken to you in dreams or have you had some other special experience with the Holy Spirit?” Well, what about that? Shouldn’t a believer have these extraordinary things happen in his or her life? The Scripture is clear that some believers do experience such things, but that not everyone has or needs to have such experiences. God deals with each one differently, according to each one’s need and situation. What counsel does the text give us about those who would pressure us in these matters? First of all, we are told that the pressure to seek these things often comes from a false humility: “insisting on asceticism…” The word the ESV translates as “asceticism” is perhaps better translated, “false humility” as in the NIV. These people are always talking themselves down, (“I’m really just an insignificant worm”) and talking their experiences up (“But I’ve had this great experience of the Spirit”). Their special experience comes out over and over again. You can’t be around them for long without hearing about it. They sound humble, but in reality they think of themselves quite highly. This is why our text tells us that such a person is “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.” Note that word “sensuous.” This is a person that is run by their feelings, and insists that everyone who is really a Christian should be run by his or her feelings as well! What is the Spirit’s judgment of such people? It is that they have lost hold of Jesus, “not holding fast to the head.” True spirituality is found in Christ. He is the one who causes the whole body to grow up with a growth that is from God. Wiersbe gives us another good word here: “The spiritual body grows by nutrition, not addition.” We grow in Christ because we spend time with Jesus, not because we add mystical experiences to our spiritual resumes!
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Don’t fall into the trap of mysticism; stand firm in the freedom Christ purchased for you in the cross.
(vv.20-23) The Third Danger: Asceticism – Another danger faced by sincere Christians who want to grow up in Christ is that of “asceticism.” Asceticism is “Severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” There have been times in Church history when asceticism seemed to dominate the spiritual lives of believers. From about the fourth century onward, Christian monasticism loomed large as a sure way to holiness, prestige and heaven. The ascetic denies himself pleasures and comforts others might enjoy, and this is done in a quest to escape from the power of the flesh, our old fallen nature living within each one of us. “How can I overcome temptation,” asks the ascetic? “I’ll master self-control through self-denial.” So the ascetic says, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not [even] touch.” It all sounds very spiritual, but what does the Scripture say about it? First of all it says that this is just worldly nonsense (v.20). This is the human way to try to attain godliness. This, too, is a form of legalism. “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch,” are restrictions on Christian liberty. All things have been made clean by Christ (cf. Mark 7:19). Asceticism is the natural product of ritualism and mysticism: it gets its working method from legalism and its inspiration from mysticism! What is God’s evaluation of asceticism? Verse 23 is very plain: these things “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” This is because asceticism has the appearance of godliness, but in reality exalts man rather than God.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Don’t fall into the trap of asceticism; stand firm in the freedom Christ purchased for you in the cross.
[ILLUSTRATION] I don’t wish to be inflammatory at the expense of other Christians, but could any illustration of this principle be more apparent than the trouble of rampant pedophilia being discovered in certain Christian denominations in our day? Mere self-denial has no power to overcome the strength of our fallen nature! We must have the strength that comes from our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence.
So, why are these three dangers still a peril for believers in our day? Though the Scriptures have warned believers of these dangers since Paul penned the book of Colossians, even today believers continue to be taken captive by these traps.
[APPLICATION] Believers give in to the pressures of legalism, mysticism and asceticism because they do not realize that in Christ they have enough. Perhaps we want to be more than Christ has made us. Maybe we dream of becoming “Super Christian,” distinguishing ourselves in some way, setting ourselves apart from the run of the mill lot we see around us in our churches. The use of these practices does indeed exalt the self! Another cause of falling into these traps might just be the opposite: far from wanting to exalt ourselves, maybe we fall into these snares because we are disappointed with ourselves. We don’t seem to measure up, so we look for ways to improve ourselves. These legalisms appeal to us as human ways to try to find God and draw closer to Him. This is a good hearted aspiration, gone terribly wrong! But by far the greatest pressure comes from neither of these two sources. It is just plain old fashioned peer pressure. Those around us, those in our group who seem influential tell us that this is what we’re supposed to do, and like sheep we follow their wishes. Our leaders say, “Do this!” and we say, “Okay!” Only a clear understanding of the total sufficiency we have in Christ will keep us from falling into this trap. When Jesus becomes bigger than ourselves in our vision, we will stop believing we can contribute anything to the righteousness and power He has already provided for us. We must be people who are constantly searching the Scriptures for Christ, for He lives on every page. Many today constantly search the Scriptures in a vain effort to find themselves! “I have to become like David, the giant killer! I must dare to be a Daniel!” Such people are completely missing the point of those men’s lives! Their stories aren’t about who they were; they are about who God is. They are about what God did for David; what God did through Daniel. The story of Scripture is of God’s sufficiency, supplying for man’s poverty. A believer need never surrender to legalism, or mysticism or asceticism because we already have enough in Christ. We are complete in Him. His righteousness is our righteousness. His Spirit lives within our hearts. Believer, are you tempted to supply what God has already provided? The notion must be killed that we can contribute anything to our own salvation, for until that is grasped we will fall back on our own self-help methods, the human way of thinking that is valueless in our fight with the flesh. Because many are ignorant of this principle they live lives of despair and resignation. Having tried and failed time after time to overcome the flesh, they finally settle into a life of plodding home to glory, neither very good nor very bad Christians. They sort of “slump” into heaven’s gate. What a tragedy! As believers we have died with Christ to the old way of powerless living and been raised with Him to a whole new status. All is ours in Christ. Are we claiming it, or do we still believe that we must contribute something to our salvation from the flesh’s power? “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” dear one. “It is not in trying but in trusting.” Are you counting on His power or yours for godly living?
Conclusion: Syncretism, throwing together God’s gift and man’s practices will never provide a sound pathway to authentic Christianity. “Let no one tell you otherwise: legalism is bondage!” Some old preacher years ago said it best: “There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us, and that is the power of the indwelling Christ.”
 Guy Appere, “El Misterio de Cristo,” page 91.
 Warren Wiersbe, “The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament Vol. II, page 129.
 Guy Appere, “El Misterio de Cristo.”
 Vaughan, C. (1981). Colossians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 208). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Intro: Does it ever seem to you that you are under relentless attack by a fallen world? Filth on your TV screen; violence in the headlines; temptation from the most innocent and unexpected sources. Do you find that you have an enemy on the inside straining to cooperate with these forces? Urges come into your heart that you know are for things improper for God’s holy people. Desires arise for things you know will tear you down rather than building you up, spiritually. And what about those unwanted thoughts that come to mind? Ideas pop into our heads that simply can’t be from God. Doubts about our salvation. Wicked imaginations we’d blush for others to know had crossed our minds. Where do these come from? The believer is always under attack from relentless, wicked enemies. What provision has been given for overcoming the flesh in the believer’s life? What provision has been made for the forgiveness of sin in the believer’s life? What provision has been given for the defeat of Satan and his demons in the believer’s life? Tonight we’ll discover that a full and sufficient provision has been supplied so that we as believers may triumph over our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil.
Proposition: We have every needed resource in Christ to triumph over our enemies, so see to it that no one takes you captive to do sin’s bidding.
(vv.6-10) Review – Our Christian life continues on the same basis by which it began: The secret to Godly living is accessing God’s grace (His powerful working on our behalf) through the door of faith (trusting and obeying Christ by following Him in His word). Because our enemy is always trying to take us captive to do his will, we need to be constantly on guard against his schemes. We need nothing more than we have received in Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity dwells bodily, since we have been filled in Him. The Holy Spirit writes through Paul in this section of the letter to assure us that because we are in Christ, we have every resource we need for life and godliness.
(v.11-12) Resource against the power of the flesh – One enemy that constantly attacks the believer is called in Scripture, “the flesh.” What is being referred to in this way is our old sin nature, inherited from Adam. This enemy works through creating in our hearts desires for things that are improper for us as believers. “Selfishness” is a key word to keep in mind. The flesh simply wants what it wants for its own satisfaction. Following the desires of the flesh will inevitably lead the believer back into captivity by Satan because when we willfully sin, we give Satan “ground” in our lives from which to take us captive to do his will (cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Satan cannot cause us to fall again into condemnation (cf. Romans 8:1) but he can use the unwary believer as a tool for his own purposes, damaging our testimony and effectiveness for Christ. The power of the flesh is broken by virtue of our being “in Christ.” Verses 11 & 12 now assure us that the old nature’s authority over the believer has been broken because in Christ we are raised to newness of life. This occurs when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell the believer (cf. Romans 8:2). The Moody Bible Commentary mentions two benefits coming from our union with Christ in this regard: “First, genuine circumcision – that is, of the heart. It is not literal (not performed by hands), but spiritual, being performed by the Holy Spirit…. Second, being buried with and raised up with Christ is a way of saying we have passed from old life to new life (Rm. 6:1-4).” The point is that when we are in Christ and Christ’s Spirit lives in us, we have a whole new power available to us with which to counteract the flesh’s temptations. We have been made new in Christ and can now count on the power of the indwelling Spirit to help us in our struggle against the old nature’s power. As verse 6 of this chapter instructs us, we enter into the realization of this truth by KNOWING THE FACT of our being indwelled and WALKING BY FAITH into its enjoyment.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Our resource for overcoming the flesh is the Spirit’s presence in our heart.
[ILLUSTRATION] Have you ever tried to pick something up that was much heavier than you realized? You want to pick it up! You may even need to pick it up! But wanting to pick it up and needing to pick it up doesn’t give you the power to pick it up. We want to escape from the flesh’s power. We need to escape from the flesh’s temptations. But in our own strength, we simply do not have the power to do so. If we’re going to beat temptation; if we’re going to fulfill our calling to live a Christ-like life, we’re going to have to know how to access the Spirit’s power.
[APPLICATION] Every Christian trying to defeat the power of sin through their own strength needs to learn that God has already provided everything we need for this struggle in Christ. When the Spirit of Jesus comes to live in us at our conversion the fullness of deity in Christ is given to us so that we may triumph over our enemy, the flesh and the devil. Why do so many Christians struggle unsuccessfully against the flesh? Perhaps because they do not realize the power they’ve been given at their conversion, or perhaps they simply do not know the secret for tapping into that power. The Colossians seemed to be ignorant of the great power they had received in Christ, so in these verses the Holy Spirit sought to strengthen them by speaking to their minds. In verses 6-12 He taught them, and us, the truth of God’s provision for victory over the flesh: Christ’s Spirit living in the believer provides all the strength necessary for a Christ-like life. Though this lesson has been ours since Paul penned the book, even today many believers live defeated lives because they have never learned this truth. Ignorance of the Scriptures causes not a few to live in spiritual depression. The other hindrance faced by many is a failure to realize how to access this power through faith. It is no coincidence that this discussion begins in verse 6 with a reminder to continue to live by grace through faith after coming to Christ. “Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” How did we receive Him? We learned the FACTS about His saving work for us and we put our FAITH in Him. In just this same way victory over the flesh is given when we learn the facts about His Spirit living in us and begin to live a life of trust in Christ for victory over the flesh. Often believers trudge through years of discouragement and defeat because they live under the impression that victory over the flesh is solely a question of their own strength, discipline and will power. They fall into the grip of legalistic systems, rituals and ascetic practices in a vain attempt to overcome the enemy within. What a blessed relief when our eyes are finally opened to the facts: God has already given us all we need in Christ to win the battle. We need only access this power by trusting Him to be our champion. Have you learned the secret of trusting Christ for daily victory over sin?
(vv.13-15) Resource against the power of the devil – In verse 13 a new challenge is added to the one faced in verses 11 and 12. In those verses the enemy was “the uncircumcision of your flesh,” the old sinful nature. Now, added to this is another power which must be dealt with, “your trespasses,” the sins we have committed, are committing and will commit in the future. These sins form “the record of debt” that stands against us and gave to our enemy the devil (“rulers and authorities”) the right to accuse us as sinners before God and before our own consciences. This “record of debt” must somehow be dealt with if we are to be freed from Satan’s authority over us, and this God has done through Christ’s death on the cross. “God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.” God himself canceled Satan’s legal right to accuse us and left the powers of evil “disarmed” and “put them to open shame.” How did He do this? “This [record of debt] he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” When the Romans crucified a man, they nailed a list of his crimes to the cross above the victim’s head for all the world to see as justification for their right to put him to death. “This death,” they said, “is in payment for these crimes.” At Calvary, God Himself nailed the full record of our debt to Him for our sins to the cross of Jesus, saying, “This death is in payment for these sins.” Satan’s power to accuse us is now forever canceled. Oh, he still barks out his accusations! But there is no need for us now to take them seriously, for we are “triumphing over them in” Jesus’ victory at the cross.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Our resource for overcoming the devil is Jesus’ death for us on the cross.
[ILLUSTRATION] Ignorance is not bliss! Ignorance among mankind is one of the greatest plagues known. Because some men are ignorant of the threat to life and health caused by impure water sources, thousands, if not millions die premature deaths each year in the majority world. Because some children in war torn lands are ignorant of the presence of land mines, they are maimed for life, simply for playing in the wrong field. Most tellingly, ignorance of the true Christ traps millions in their sins right here in our own nation. Ignorance of the facts can be fatal in these cases. Even as believers, ignorance of the facts concerning God’s grace to us can cause much needless confusion, doubt and uncertainty in hearts that are soundly saved.
[APPLICATION] Our enemy the devil delights to keep us in ignorance so that he may easily take us captive to do his will. Just as ignorance of Christ’s power living inside us gives the flesh power to defeat us, so ignorance of Christ’s victory for us over our sins gives Satan power to entrap us under guilt, shame, insecurity and fear. The Holy Spirit through Paul sought to teach the Colossians, and us, the great liberation from Satan’s power won for us by Christ on Calvary. Having dealt with the power of our old nature in verses 11-12, here He sought to free us from the power of sins committed in the past, the present and yes, even the future. Satan’s great weapon over a believer is the power of accusation. If he has his way, he’ll never let us forget a single one of our sins, for as long as we believe in our continuing guilt, we will grant him ground in our lives to have his way with us. That is why the first lesson of the cross we should learn from our Savior is that His death on our behalf cancelled “the debt that stood against us.” On Calvary Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities” by cancelling the ground of accusation against you and me due to our sins. Because of our union with Christ, all of our sins, past, present and future, have been dealt with and are no longer grounds for condemnation before God. Armed with this fact and faith in Jesus, we can now triumph over our arch-enemy’s temptations and accusations. We no longer need to live in guilt, shame, insecurity and fear because Christ has triumphed over our enemies on Calvary. Has this fact gripped your soul?
Conclusion: Warren Wiersbe tells us, “Satan cannot harm the believer who will not harm himself. It is when we cease to watch and pray (as Peter did) that Satan can use his weapons to harm us.” Have you settled on this fact: Christ has canceled all your sins on the cross? Claim that fact by faith next time the accuser of the saints tempts you to fear, shame, guilt or insecurity. Who will you trust? Satan or Christ? Satan only lies; Christ never does. In Christ believers have every resource we need to crush the power of the flesh and defeat the power of the devil. Grasp these resources by faith, and refuse to be taken captive again by “high sounding religious nonsense” used by our adversaries to trick us into cooperation with their schemes.
Intro: Do thoughts of what might happen in the future concern you? Do you wonder where all the chaos we witness in our day will end? Are you uneasy because you fear you may outlive the funds you’ve set aside for retirement? Honestly, it is probably true that almost everyone sometimes feels an uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring. If so, then the text we have before us is for you! Isaiah was writing to a generation of people deeply preoccupied with what tomorrow would bring. The storm clouds seemed to be gathering over Israel. So much had already occurred; according to the prophets so much had yet to occur; the believing remnant in Judea trembled with fear. Into this uncertainty, God through Isaiah spoke a reassuring word to His people. Chapter 34 revealed to them that God would judge the nations and after that in Chapter 35 He assured them that He would open a Royal Road to Heaven for them. Though they could not understand with clarity the truths concerning Messiah’s two advents, in the three verses we have before us tonight, God let them in on the ultimate outcome: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.” When Jesus comes again a Royal Road to Heaven will be finally opened for all who trust Him. Who will walk on that road? How will they walk on it? Where does it lead? Let’s learn together what God has in store for all who trust in Christ the Savior.
Proposition: Everlasting joy awaits all who take the Royal Road to Heaven.
(v.8) The Royal Road: A Way of Holiness – In His first advent, Jesus prepared for us a Royal Road to Heaven. It is a Royal Road because it was built entirely at the expense of our King. His finished work on Calvary completed all that is necessary to take anyone who trusts in Him all the way home to heaven and even as we speak numberless pilgrims are traveling on that road toward their promised destination. The name of this road is called, “The Way of Holiness.” Why is it called that? It is called that because:
[DOCTRINAL POINT] This highway is only for those who have been made holy.
[ILLUSTRATION] Those of us of the male persuasion are often challenged when it comes to taking advice. We wander around in circles because we’re too proud to ask for directions. We wonder what to do with the leftover parts after putting together the swing set without consulting the instructions. We “bow up” for days after discovering that our significant other’s advice on how to put up that Christmas tree probably would have kept it from falling over in the middle of the night, if we had followed it. Challenged, we are! Getting us to take advice is a “tough sell.” In just that same way…
[APPLICATION] Holiness is increasingly a “tough sell” to many Christians in our generation. The idea seems old fashioned and outdated. There are not a few people who call themselves Christian but seem unembarrassed to walk openly in ways that only a few years ago would have been hidden from sight in shame. I recall receiving a phone call many years ago now, from a single mom who wanted me to talk to her teen-aged daughter about her failure to clean up her room while mom went away for a weekend with her boyfriend. I didn’t seem to occur to mom that cohabiting without benefit of marriage wasn’t the kind of thing believers do! A few years later I talked to her daughter who was surprised to learn that as Christians sleeping with your boyfriend wasn’t appropriate behavior. Wonder where she got that idea? The idea that Christians live in ways that set us apart for God’s glory seems strange to many modern ears. This is nothing other than a failure of the gospel in our time. It isn’t that the gospel isn’t the same as always – it’s that some people who call themselves Christian haven’t actually understood and received the truth of the gospel. To walk in the Way of Holiness we must be cleansed from sin. We must demonstrate the life change that inevitably accompanies that cleansing. We must be open to receive the wisdom of God in place of our native foolishness. The Bible has not changed; its message is very clear: “Without holiness no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).” Holiness is a free gift completely accomplished by Jesus in His first advent, but you must have it to walk on the Royal Road to Heaven when Jesus comes again.
(v.9) The Royal Road: Restricted to the Redeemed - Nothing vile or dangerous can walk on this road. Its use is restricted to the redeemed – to those bought back by Christ’s precious blood. When we are bought back our enemies can no longer harm us. They may roar like lions, but they can’t ultimately touch us. They may raven like wild beasts, but we are permanently beyond their reach. The redeemed “in Christ” are kept by Christ. Jesus Himself spoke of this in John 10:27–29 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” What greater promise of security could we wish for than this? If Jesus is for us, and God the Father is for us, what enemy could possibly tear us away from God?
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Those redeemed by the blood of the lamb are secure on the Royal Road to Heaven.
[ILLUSTRATION] The story is told of Groucho Marx, who was Jewish and married to a Gentile lady, being invited by a friend to bring his family to an anti-Semitic country club. When they arrived Groucho was told that since they were Jewish his daughter would not be allowed to go into the pool. Groucho pointed out that since his daughter was only half Jewish she should at least be allowed to go in up to her knees. What Groucho and his family needed that day was more than a quick wit. They needed someone strong enough and with authority enough to overrule their anti-Semitic enemies.
[APPLICATION] Those who have received the free gift of Holiness because of Christ’s finished work on Calvary have someone strong enough and with authority enough to keep them secure on the Royal Road to Heaven. When we have been redeemed by God’s grace through faith, nothing vile or dangerous can keep us from arriving safely home. Some struggle to understand this. Why? We know we are not perfect. How then we wonder, could God accept us? The answer is that He can accept us in our imperfection because we have been redeemed by His perfect Son, Jesus. All our sins and weaknesses have been imputed to Him; all His holiness and strength has been accounted to us. We are imperfect, but we have been bought back by God perfect Son, Jesus. This is grace. Having truly entered into grace through faith we travel the Royal Road securely, convinced that Jesus spoke the truth in John 6:39–40 when He said, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Our security on the Road does not depend on our perfection, but on Christ’s!
(v.10) The Royal Road: Ends in Triumph - The ransomed will follow the Royal Road into Zion, the final dwelling place of God and Man. We will enter it with singing – happy hearts. Everlasting joy will capture our minds. Gladness and joy will become our everlasting possession. Sorrow and sighing will be forever banished. This is what we are made for! C. S. Lewis noted that, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” All of God’s work in Creation, Redemption and Restoration aims at this one end: gathering an uncountable number of men and women into His presence so that we can glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. That’s all He is after. And it’s all because in His first advent, Jesus prepared the Royal Road to Heaven for you and me to walk on.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] As the ransomed of God, we are heading to triumph.
[ILLUSTRATION] “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” was a song often sung by marchers during the days of the Civil Rights Movement. Based on an older gospel song about Paul and Silas singing in the Philippian jail, the song urged the marchers to focus their attention not on the dangers and afflictions surrounding them on their march, but rather on the triumph that would be theirs when their struggle was successful. I think our friend Isaiah would have liked that song a lot! Surely “keep your eyes on the prize” is what he was telling his people, and surely it is what Jesus is saying to us today.
[APPLICATION] The Royal Road ends in triumph. We need to remind ourselves often of this certainty. It is too easy for us to become discouraged when we lose sight of our final destination. The glories of the new heaven and the new earth should be often set before the eyes of God’s struggling pilgrims. We are given these things for our encouragement. In that day, we will sing with happy hearts. In that day we will know everlasting joy. In that day our possessions will be gladness and joy. In that day sorrow and sighing will be forever banned. We have a glorious future on the Royal Road. Are you looking forward to your arrival?
“The future is your friend when Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior,” said Warren Wiersbe. All who are walking the Royal Road can say, “Amen!” Oh, yes!
Intro: Do you ever get sick of who you are? Do you ever wish that you could be changed into someone else? Someone with whiter teeth? Someone with more hair? Someone with less girth? More seriously, someone with a cleaner conscience? Someone with a brighter past? Is there anyone who lives without regrets? If you, like me, are one of those people, listen up! God has a glorious solution for our problem and the two advents of Jesus hold the key.
Proposition: Christ’s First Advent dealt with sin; Christ’s Second Advent will establish righteousness.
(v.1-3a) Christ’s First Advent – Jesus’ first advent is here described in a particular and peculiar way.
For these reasons Jesus was perfectly suited to fulfill His ministry in His first advent. What was that ministry and how did it differ from His ministry in His Second Advent? Hebrews 9:28 tells us: “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Jesus’ First Advent dealt with sin; Jesus’ Second Advent will deal with righteousness.
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Jesus’ First Advent prepared the way for His Second Advent by settling the issue of our sins.
[ILLUSTRATION] A number of years ago I needed surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in my finger. The whole thing would be handled as an outpatient procedure, but before the surgery could be done I had to go the hospital so that Brooke Moran could clear me for surgery. Before you can have surgery as an outpatient, you have to have a number of issues resolved to the doctor’s satisfaction. Brook had to run tests to check my heart; my blood chemistry; my general physical condition. I think she had to talk to me to see if I was in my right mind as well! Unless these issues are resolved, the surgeon won’t touch you. In just this same way, God wanted to resolve the problem of unrighteousness and fallen-ness in man and the world He made for man, but He couldn’t touch it until the problem of sin had been resolved.
[APPLICATION] In Jesus First Advent the issue of sin has been finally and forever dealt with. God now has the freedom to restore righteousness in man and the creation. He has begun the process that will finally and forever establish righteousness in His creation. Whenever anyone puts their faith in Jesus, God declares that one to be perfectly righteous with the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ, His Son. All of creation now awaits the final salvation of the last soul redeemed by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on Calvary. Who will it be? When will it happen that the last one will be gathered in and the next movement of God’s plan will begin? We are not told. But this we know with certainty: as long as it is still “today” the opportunity for salvation is offered to anyone willing to receive it. Are you ready? Have you put your faith in the Lamb? What about your friends and loved ones? Are they ready for Christ’s next appearing? Maybe you’ve put your faith in Christ but have things in your life you wouldn’t want to confess if Jesus came tonight? We simply do not know when He might appear. But we do know that when He appears at His Second Advent He will appear to establish righteousness once and for all.
(vv.3b-10) Christ’s Second Advent – Isn’t it interesting how the things we are told about the Second Advent begin right in the middle of verse three without warning! This is exactly what Jesus patterned in the synagogue in Nazareth when reading from the prophecy about Him in Isaiah (cf. Luke 4:18-19 with Isaiah 61:1-2). Notice how He stopped His reading just at the point of judgment, for judgment will come at His Second Advent. What are the characteristics of His Second Advent?
[DOCTRINAL POINT] Jesus’ Second Advent will finish God’s plan to “save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
[ILLUSTRATION] Everyone loves good news! Do you remember the pictures of VJ day at the end of the Second World War? Remember Alfred Eisenstaedt famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square? The story goes that the sailor had been running down the street kissing every woman he met. As I recall Eisenstaedt chased the guy down the street to be in the right place at the right time to snap the shot of this fellow laying a sloppy one on some nurse who just happened to be passing by. Why wasn’t this man arrested? Who should be able to do that and get away with it? Far from being arrested, they made a postage stamp out of that photo! Why? Because it was a picture of joy, sheer joy that the horror was over and that the rest of our lives had begun. When Jesus comes again at His Second Advent, the horror will finally be over and the rest of our lives will begin.
[APPLICATION] Who needs to hear this? I think all of us who are getting tired of life on planet earth need to hear it! Sin has terribly damaged a world that ought to be lovely with the loveliness of God. Lives are damaged every day; families are broken; tragedies occur because sin has spoiled our world. We need to remind ourselves often that this condition will not last stand. In His First Advent Jesus prepared all that was necessary for His Second Advent to accomplish its mission. One day our world will be put right again. Encourage yourself with this truth! When everything seems darkest; when it appear that the sky is certainly falling; when it looks for all the world as if death and sin and Satan will have the last word, don’t forget! Jesus is coming again! When He comes He’s going to put everything right.
 Oswalt in “The NIV Application Commentary – Isaiah.”