The Triumph of Christ
September 22nd, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message from Colossians 2:13-15. Last Sunday night, we left off at the twelfth verse of the second chapter of Colossians, and this morning, we begin at the thirteenth verse and the passage is the three verses – 12, 13, 14, and 15:
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross;
And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
He begins with a very pointed word: "And you" [Colossians 2:13], and he repeats that same thing a little further on in the sixteenth verse: "and you" [Colossians 2:16]. We would say, "You, I say. You." He is not going to speak of some consummation or denouement in a farther off by and by nor is he to speak of matters that concern the unknown dwellers on Jupiter or Mars, but his address is to us: "and you, I say, you." Then he describes our past condition and then what God hath wrought in us.
Our past condition: "You, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh" [Colossians 2:13]. In the second chapter of Ephesians, he described us in the same words: "We, dead in trespasses and in sins, by nature the children of wrath" [from Ephesians 2:1, 3].
The apostle says that this whole world is one vast, immeasurable, illimitable cemetery. It is a domain of death. It is a region of darkness: "You, being dead in your sins" [Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13].
And all natural men are in the same and like condition: dead to God, dead to glory, dead to immortality, dead to faith, dead to the spiritual things of heaven. All natural men are alike and in the same condition: dead to God. We were born that way. We are a part of total depravity in all of our parts. This is a fallen world, a fallen nature, and in all of our faculties – our mind, our hearts, our feelings, our thoughts, our visions, our ambitions – there is fault and failure and lack and sin and depravity in all of our parts [Romans 3:10-18]. We belong to a fallen order. The taint of depravity has entered all of our faculties. We died in Adam [1 Corinthians 15:22]. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. And in that day, Adam died [Genesis 3:6, 22-24], and we died in him. We all are a part of that fallen world [Romans 8:18-23].
Death, physical death, is the separation between soul and body. Spiritual death is the separation between the soul and God, and all of us alike have fallen [Romans 3:23]. We belong to a region of darkness and death. We are dead to the spiritual things of God. First Corinthians 2:14: "For the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Now, the natural man may have an appreciation for ethical concepts and moral practices. He will say, "It’s good business to be honest." And an infidel preacher will have an appreciation of moral and ethical behavior in society, in individuals. I talked to a nationally-famous preacher one time to find out if I could find out if he believed anything. I succeeded. I finally determined that he actually believed in the Golden Rule – a marvelous achievement, I assure you.
A fallen man, the natural man, can be sensitive to moral and ethical values. He may be even appreciative of religious teaching. A small-town man will boast, "Did you know our chamber of commerce says we have sixteen different churches in our little city?" And he will say, "It is fine to have a church in the town," but he is dead to the spiritual things of God. That is, these revelations in the Book and in Christ have not come to him. They are not to him of eternal consequence and everlasting importance. In repentance and in faith, he is dead to Jesus as a personal and living savior.
Now, all of us were like that. We were dead to God; we were dead to Christ; we were dead to spiritual matters; we were dead to immortality and faith [Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13]. That’s how once we were: "And you, you, I say, being dead in your sins."
Now he describes what God hath done for us: "And you, who were dead in your sins, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. You who were dead, hath He quickened" [from Colossians 2:13]. And that is a mystery into which I cannot enter. It is the mystery of the life-giving, quickening power of God. I cannot understand any phase of it or any specimen of it or any phenomenon of it. It is a like mystery to me whether physical or whether spiritual.
I cannot understand the life God hath placed in a seed, in a bean, in a pod, in a bulb. I cannot understand it in a little cocoon up there on the leaf of a tree. I cannot understand it anywhere it is manifest – in a plant, in an animal, in the birth of a child. I cannot enter into it. The quickening power of the Spirit of God out of the slime, out of the muck, out of the mire, out of the dirt, out of the filth, a beautiful lily blooming on a pond; I cannot understand it.
Neither can I enter into the quickening power of God in a man’s spirit, in a man’s soul: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" [John 3:8]. I cannot explain it. I just see it in different men. Look into that man’s secret life, and, behold, he’s on his knees, and he prays. Look into that man’s most inmost heart, and he is casting himself upon the mercies of God. Look at that man in his outward life, and he’ll be seated there on the Lord’s day, listening hungry-hearted to a minister as he opens the Book and tries to break the bread of life. Why is he there and why does he listen so eagerly and intently?
Let that minister lecture on politics, lecture on the events of the day, lecture on book reviews, and in five Sundays, he’d be there by himself. Let him stand there and out of the same Book tell the same story all the years of his life, and that quickened man will be in that same pew listening as eagerly and as hungered-heartedly at the end of seventy years as the day that he first heard it when a child. I cannot understand that. I cannot explain that. All I know is it is the quickening of the Spirit of God.
I had a fellow here in our city whose wife belongs to this church through whose importunity I went to see to beg him to come here to church. And he was very frank with me, and he said, "Well, I’ll tell you why I’m not going to your church." He said, "I don’t like to hear you preach."
I thanked him for his honesty. I appreciated his frankness. And then, being the son of a woman and somewhat curious, I said, "Why?"
Well, he said, "I will tell you why." He said, "I’ve been down there with my wife lots of times, and I’ve never been there yet that you weren’t preaching the Bible all the time, all the time – every time."
"Well," I said, "what would you like for me to preach?"
He said, "Well, I would like to go and hear discussions of current events and things that are happening today and the world situation, but I don’t want to go and all the time hear somebody talk about the Bible."
Well, I could not explain to that man; he wouldn’t understand [1 Corinthians 2:14]. I couldn’t make a clod of earth sprout and grow. God has to do something with a man. That’s the reason I say to our people and to my own heart again and again and again, we are dependent upon God. We are shut up to God in the work that we do [1 Corinthians 3:6-7]. You may ingeniously contrive, you may have the finest methods, you may know the latest pedagogical principles, you may be eloquent and very versatile and facile in mind and understanding, and you may be able in delivery, but unless God does something to a man’s soul, he’ll never respond, and he’ll never be saved.
We are shut up to prayer, to intercession to God. God must speak to the bulb, or the seed, or the cocoon, or the little life before it grows, and God must do something to a man’s heart before he can be a Christian, before he responds. God must open his soul. Paul calls that "the quickening of the Spirit" [Titus 3:5] – sensitive, listening. A man can hear and hear and hear and hear, and then he hears. A man can look and look and look and look, and then one day he sees. It must come to him. Paul calls it the quickening of the Spirit: "You that were dead hath God quickened with Christ" [from Colossians 2:13].
Then the second thing God hath done for us: "Having forgiven you all trespasses" [Colossians 2:13]. That is as surely and as truly and a lone prerogative work of God as quickening is: the forgiveness of our sins. Those Pharisees had their theology right when they looked at Jesus in the second chapter of Mark when He said, when Jesus said, to the palsied man: "Thy sins be forgiven thee. Rise, take up thy bed and walk" [Mark 2:5, 10-11]. Their theology was right when the Pharisees said, "This Man speaketh blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God?" [from Mark 2:7]. Where they were wrong in their judgment was it was God in the flesh in their midst who was forgiving sins. That’s why He said: "That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power to forgive sins" – He e said to the sick of the palsy, "I say to thee, ‘Arise, take up thy bed, and walk’" [Mark 2:10-11].
No one can forgive sins but God. It is the prerogative of God. When a man in a clerical uniform garb says absolvo te, that’s a man speaking. But when God says absolvo te, "I forgive thee," that man is forgiven. It is as much a miracle, I say – the forgiveness of our sins – as is the quickening of our dead souls into life and immortality.
I do not think in any or all literature there is as dramatic and as dramatically true, as spiritually true, a scene as Shakespeare [William Shakespeare, 1564-1616] describes in Macbeth . She has encouraged him, the Lord Macbeth, the nobleman, to slay his own king who is a guest in his own castle. And when Macbeth returns, the blood that followed the dagger has turned his hand red. And she says to him, "Go, wash thy hand! A little clean water will clear us of this deed." He goes to the fountain to wash the blood from his hand, and as he goes and looks at his hand, he says, "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, rather, this my hand will the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." What can wash blood from a man’s hand or cleanse the stain out of his soul? In that same scene, Lady Macbeth, at night, walks in her sleep, and a drop of that blood has fallen on her dainty, white hand. And looking at it, she says, "Out, out, out! Hideous spot, out!" Then cries pitifully saying, "Will all the perfumes of Arabia sweeten this little hand?" [Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2; by William Shakespeare, 1611]
Who can forgive sins but God? "You, who were dead, hath He quickened" – made alive – "and hath forgiven all your trespasses" [from Colossians 2:13] piled up as every life adds one to the other with every passing day, up and up, a great alp of them – all of your trespasses, far as the east is from the west [Psalm 103:12], in the depths of the sea [Micah 7:19], blotted out like a thick cloud [Colossians 2:14] – all of your trespasses. And that is the work of God in our souls, the forgiveness of our sins.
The blood of Christ demands the eternal salvation of every soul washed in His blood. Not washed to a rosy pink or a delicate shade of red, but washed clean and white as snow, white as wool [Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18]. And it is done in consonance, in congruity, in keeping with God’s infinite justice. He took upon Himself our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. He died in our stead [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:22]. And it brought more honor and glory to God – our atonement, our redemption in Christ – than all of the creation in the beginning of the world. This hath God wrought for us: quickened us and forgave all our trespasses [Colossians 2:13].
Then Paul describes the ground and the instrument of that marvelous work of the Spirit of God: "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" [Colossians 2:14-15]. That is positively one of the most remarkable theological statements and conceptions in this earth. Just to read it like that you might not see it. Look what he says. All of these principalities and powers, named and unnamed, known and unknown, presided over by Satan, all of them – sin and death and darkness and damnation and hell and decay and corruption – all of them, misery and tears and grief and age and suffering and pain and sorrow and death – all of them marshaled against a man? Nay, against God; and on the cross, at the cross, the day of the cross, that final war – that great and final stage conflict, the consummation of the strife of the ages – all on the day of the cross, on Calvary.
The cross to the Jew is a stumbling block [1 Corinthians 1:23]; the cross to a Greek is foolishness. It is a sign of shame, of defeat, of doom, of ignominy. He hid not His face from shame and spitting [Matthew 27:27-31]. He died a felon’s death, crucified between thieves [Matthew 27:38]. Earth refused Him [John 1:11], and He was lifted up and heaven repudiated Him [Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 27:46], and the sun went dark [Matthew 27:45].
To an unbeliever, the cross is just death, murder, and blood – the crucifixion of a felon on a gibbet. But to a man who has been quickened, to the eye of faith, it is not only suffering and sorrow and the dying of a savior, but it is a fountain of blessing. It is an opening of the gates of mercy. And a man who trusts Christ and believes in Jesus will lift the cross up out of the dust and set it a constellation in the sky to glitter in the seventh heaven forever. And this is why there, in that day on that cross, our Savior "spoiled principalities and powers, made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" [from Colossians 2:15].
The old commentators reading that said, "Surely not. That could not refer to His cross; that refers to His resurrection and His ascension, that glorious triumph."
No, sir. Paul said the cross: "He took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross" [Colossians 2:14]. And there in the cross: "He spoiled principalities and powers, making a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" [Colossians 2:15].
What I think he means is this: long, long time ago, there was a promise made that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head [Genesis 3:14-15]. And this world groaned and travailed under the agony of what Satan had done for it: took our crown away, took our paradise away, took our fellowship with God away, and in its stead placed misery, and suffering, and age, and death. And the promised delayed. It tarried long, but it finally came: Christ, the Seed of the woman, the Son of God [Galatians 3:16, 4:4].
And there in that cross on that day was converged all of the powers of darkness – all of them that Paul mentions here when he speaks of principalities and powers. Satan and his orders, death and its orders, the grave and hell and their orders, all of the powers of evil and death and spoiling and darkness: all of them converged that day upon the Son of God. And the Son of God won that day a victory incomparable and immeasurable and indescribable. He spoiled those principalities and powers and made a show of them openly [Colossians 2:15]. What He did, He took the crown away from Satan. He no longer is a reigning prince over God’s people. He may tip, but he cannot compel. He may threaten, but he cannot subdue.
"O death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. We fight a stingless dragon. He may hiss, but his teeth are broken and his poisonous fangs are extracted; he is a naked enemy. Every blow of the humblest child of God tells upon him. He is defenseless. He may roar like a lion, but he can subdue and rend and tear no one [1 Peter 5:8]. Satan is a subdued and conquered enemy, and that spoilation was wrought on the cross of the Son of God [Colossians 2:15].
Satan now has no other power except as we give it to him. He has no other entree except we open the door. By the slightest prayer, by the bending of the knee, by the calling of the name of Jesus, we can decimate him [1 Peter 5:9]; and that came through the victory of the cross, to His cross: "having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, and then triumphing over them in it" [Colossians 2:15].
All of that is built upon the imagery of a thing that Paul either had seen or had read about. He is following there the imagery of a Roman triumph.
No greater honor could come to any conquering citizen of the Roman Empire than for the Senate to accord him a triumph. You can read in history the description of those marvelous, marvelous and rewarding days when Mummius [Lucius Mummius Achaicus, second century BCE] destroyed Corinth and subdued Achaia, the Senate voted him a Roman triumph. And for days there was carried through the city streets of Rome the wagons and the wagons and the wagons of the loot and booty taken from ancient Greece. Beautiful statues, beautiful paintings, all kinds of marvelous things of art and treasure – wagon after wagon – and in the center of it, the great conqueror himself; then chained to his chariot, the kings and the noblemen that he’d overcome. Same thing accorded Pompey [Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, 106-48 BCE], same thing accorded Caesar. Same thing accorded Titus [Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus, 39-81 CE] when he overwhelmed Judea [70 CE], writ there and carved in the relief work of the glorious Arch of Titus that stands in the ruined Roman Forum today.
Those great and impressive Roman triumphs: first, part of the legions themselves marching in glory; people on the house tops, people on the rooftops, people from the windows, people lining the streets by the thousands there, seeing that glory pass by. In the midst of it would be the conquering general himself in a chariot drawn by four milk white horses; then behind him, the great legions again; then the captives; then the wagons of booty; and chained to his chariot, the king, the general, the great men that he’d overcome. That’s the imagery that lies back of this in the thing that Paul accords to Christ: that day of the cross, spoil principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it [Colossians 2:15].
And I think, according to the Bible, that this corollary is true. It is the basis and the ground of that glorious and final triumph that we’re going to witness in the glory that is yet to come and that is described in the first and the fifth and the nineteenth chapters of the Book of the Revelation. In that great and incomparably glorious day in heaven, there the day of triumph, the day of victory, and the Conqueror comes marching in. There are His saints of the Old Testament who have been saved by the pledge of His atoning blood, and they come in and sing the song:
Glory to Him who was slain [Revelation 1:6, 5:12]
Who hath washed us from our sins in His own blood [Revelation 1:5],
And hath made us unto our God and His Father [Revelation 1:6]
Kings and priests for ever and ever [Revelation 5:10].
And out of the ramparts of heaven and from the battlements of glory, there cry the angels and the redeemed as the Lord Himself appears: "His eyes as a flame of fire, on His head many crowns . . . dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name the Word of God" [Revelation 19:12-13]. And they cry, and they echo, and antiphonally they sing the song:
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is this King of Glory? The Lord Jesus great and mighty . . .
The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.
[from Psalm 24:7-9]
And then, we see marching in behind Him the redeemed of our day and of this age, washed in the blood of the Lamb. And we sing:
Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and has redeemed us unto God by Thy blood out of every nation, and kindred, and race, and people;
And hath made us unto God kings and priests; and we shall reign in the earth.
Then heard I the voice of ten thousand times ten thousand angels, and they sang . . .
"Worthy is the Lamb . . . to receive honour, and blessing, and dominion, and glory for ever and ever."
And they fell down and worshiped Him who liveth for ever and ever.
[from Revelation 5:9-14]
He hath ascended on high; He hath taken captivity captive; He hath given gifts unto men [from Ephesians 4:8]. Look at His chariot! There chained to His chariot is Satan and death and hell and the grave. "Spoiling principalities and powers, made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" [from Colossians 2:15]. Oh, it goes beyond imagination. It goes beyond word and sentence to bear the thought what God hath wrought for us in the victory of the cross.
May I just point out this thing I have just said? In the songs of glory, the song of Moses [Exodus 15:1-18] and the Lamb, they all sing the same thing: "Unto Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. Worthy is the Lamb to take the book and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hath redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every nation, and kindred, and tongue" [from Revelation 5:8-14]. And the angels: "Worthy is the Lamb to receive blessing, and glory, and honor, and dominion" [from Revelation 5:12].
The basis of our triumph, of our final victory, is in the cross of the Son of God. You, dead in sins, hath He quickened having forgiven all our trespasses [Colossians 2:13]. And these ordinances and these laws that condemned us and damned us and were contrary to us, He took them out of the way, and nailed them to His cross [Colossians 2:13-14]. There, "having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" [Colossians 2:15] – the victory of the cross.
While we sing our song, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord, put his life in the church – a family you, one somebody you. While we sing the song, would you come and stand by me? In this great throng of people, in the balcony, down these stairwells, in this lower floor, into the aisle and down here by my side, "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God. I am trusting Jesus as my savior." Would you make that confession openly, as He did – openly, where all the world could see, where men could pass by and look, would you too? An open, unashamed confession of your faith in Christ, would you come? Or you, to put your life in the church – a family or just one somebody you, while we sing this appeal, into the aisle or down this stairwell here to the front, would you come while we stand and sing?
THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. What we were
A. Dead in trespasses and sins(Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:1)
B. All natural men in same condition: dead to God(Genesis 2:17)
1. Physical death the separation between soul and body
2. Spiritual death the separation between the soul and God
C. We are dead to the spiritual things of God(1 Corinthians 2:14)
1. May be cognizant of ethical principles, religious instructions; but not spiritually sensitive, quickened
II. What God has done for us
A. Quickened(Colossians 2:13)
1. Mystery of physical life
2. Mystery of spiritual life(John 3:8)
a. Look into man’s most innermost heart
b. Man who did not like to hear me preach the Bible
B. Forgiven(Colossians 2:13)
1. An act of God(Mark 2:7-11)
a. Shakespeare’s, Macbeth
2. A gift of God
3. A work consistent with justice
III. The instrument of this marvelous work(Colossians 2:14-15)
A. The cross to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Greeks it is foolishness(1 Corinthians 1:23)
B. The cross the field of Jesus’ triumph(Colossians 2:15, 1 Corinthians 15:55)
C. The ground of our ultimate triumph
1. Imagery of a Roman triumph