March 9th, 2016

The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All” 

cross28“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross.

“And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.”

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:19-24)

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcisd with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:8-15)

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul spoke of the cross reconciling Jews and Gentiles, in a new humanity. In this letter to the Colossians, he speaks about the cross reconciling to God all things, whether on earth or in heaven. Since it seems that human sin has disrupted the relationship between God and all creation, creating fractures and alienation, reconciling all things means that the whole universe can be restored to its original wholeness and peace with God. Because in Christ dwells all the fullness of God, there are no limits to the atoning power of the blood of his cross. Christ’s crucifixion brings about personal, ethnic, and cosmic reconciliation. It is the one act which brings all of creation into restored peace and harmony with its Creator.

The cross represents a great cosmic drama in which God fights against and triumphs over the powers of evil in the world. The conflict is played out in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Anyone who had seen Jesus die would consider the cross a tragedy. Yet, the early Christians claimed that the cross was a triumphant victory. Though hostile forces in the world seek to keep us captive, Christ triumphed over them, and like a victorious king bringing his disgraced foes into the city, he defeated, disarmed, and humiliated them.

Paul urges the Colossians to trust in Christ alone and his supreme achievement on the cross. Because only in him dwells the whole fullness of deity in bodily form, he alone can bring about the fullness of every person, Paul uses the Jewish language of circumcision and the Christian language of baptism to describe the incorporation of believers into Christ. As eight day old Jewish boys were incorporated into the covenant of Israel through the rite of circumcision, Christians experience a more radical spiritual circumcision as their initiation into the new covenant. This circumcision of Christ is the cutting off of the sinful nature dominated by selfish attachments and alienation from God, a spiritual circumcision accomplished through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The rite of the new covenant in Christian baptism. The one who is dead in sin and in an uncircumcised state is buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and rises with Christ through faith in God’s power. In the believer’s new life with Christ, sin is completely forgive and the record of sin’s debt to God is nailed to the cross and cancelled.

The political and religious powers of the times combined with the supernatural powers of evil to insure Christ’s tragic and humiliating death on the cross. Yet by submitting to these powers, the crucified Messiah triumphed  over them. By the power of God, the cross became the chariot on which the victor rode in triumphant procession, to the humiliation of the defeated enemies. Henceforth all human suffering could be united with that of Christ and become the means to victorious life. Because Paul was so united with the death and resurrection of Christ, he could claim that his own sufferings were united with the Redeemer’s afflictions and continue the effects of his death in the world. Indeed, our own pains and defeats, when joined with the cross of Christ, are vicarious offerings directed toward the ongoing redemption of Christ’s body, the church.

Reflection

Have you ever found reason to rejoice in your suffering as it became a benefit for the life of others?

Prayer

Conquering Lord, though your cross seems to be a tragic defeat, it is in truth the sign of triumphant victory. Banish my fears and conquer my oppressors through your cross and help me to trust in its supreme achievement.

Amen

 

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