[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given at the UCG Hood River congregation on April 3, 2016.]
I am going to ask you all a series of questions and I want to see a show of hands. How many of you have ever had mortgage on a house? How many of you have ever signed a promissory note for college loans? How many of you have ever borrowed money to buy a car? How many of you have ever signed the bottom of a credit card receipt promising to repay a bill? How many of you have ever signed your agreement to a court order, or a personal improvement plan at work or school that required you to do certain things and not do other things? Congratulations, all of you know what it means to have a handwriting of requirements against you. There is a verse in the Bible that deals very strongly about this idea of humanity having handwriting of requirements against us as is the case for so many of us here; this verse is Colossians 2:14. Let us turn there today, so that we may see what is said in this verse, and what needs to be explained. In order to get the local context of this verse, let us begin in verse thirteen. Colossians 2:13-14 reads as follows: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” When reading this verse, many people think that the law was nailed to the cross and is no longer of importance for Christians, but what does this verse really mean?
In answering this question, let us first ask another question. What is the handwriting of requirements that was against us in the first place? The specific word for handwriting, used only here in the New Testament, is Strong’s Word 5498 in Greek, cheirographon, referring to a handwritten bond or a legal document of debt. In our modern language, this term would be referred to the handwritten signature that is required for a promissory note for a student loan or on the bottom of a credit card receipt or when singing a mortgage note for a home or the signature on a court order for child support after a divorce by which we promise to repay our debt. It is specifically a legal term, handwriting by our own hand that can be used against us in a civil court to force our repayment of a debt through the garnishment of our wages or the seizure of our tax returns. In this light, it is clear that the handwriting of requirements cannot refer to God’s laws themselves, for those were not written with our hands, but it refers to the debt we owe to God because of our disobedience against those laws, a debt we cannot hope to repay. This handwriting is against us, because the penalty of breaking God’s law, namely death, hangs over our heads so long as we are in opposition to God.
Let us ask another question so that we may better understand this verse: What was it that was nailed to the cross in the first place? There were three things nailed to the cross. Two of them were literally nailed to the cross, and the third thing was figuratively nailed to the cross. The first and most obvious thing that was nailed to the cross was Jesus Christ Himself. The second thing that was nailed to the cross was a sign that stated the identity and the supposed crime of Jesus Christ. We read of this in John 19:19-22. Let us turn there. John 19:19-22 reads as follows: “Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”” Here we see that what was nailed on the cross was a handwritten sign in Pilate’s own hand, pointing out Jesus’ identity as the king of the Jews, an identity that was resented by the chief priests who had sought the death of our Savior. We can also see here that this handwritten sign was in three languages so that it would be clearly understood by the audience, whether they were Roman soldiers who spoke Latin, Greeks of the diaspora visited Jerusalem for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, or the local population that likely understood Aramaic. The sign showed the handwriting that was against Jesus Christ, the King of Kings who was rejected by His own people and executed by Roman means.
The third thing that was nailed to the cross was nailed in a figurative sense, namely our sins. Let us turn to Romans 3 to read one of the places where this is spoken of. As it is written in Romans 3:23-26: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Because all of us have sinned, the only way that we can stand before God without condemnation is through the blood of Jesus Christ, so that as Christ died in place of we ourselves as a substitute, we live in faith through the righteousness of Christ, which our lives are supposed to demonstrate. We can live because Jesus Christ died for us, dying to wipe away the handwriting that was against us, namely our inability to repay the debt to God that was incurred as a result of our sins.
So, if someone came to you quoting Colossians 2:14 and saying that the law had been done away with because it had been nailed to the cross, how would you answer them? First, we must carefully point out the definition of the handwriting of requirements, pointing out that this is not God’s law, but rather our own inability to repay the debt of our sins. Second, we must point out what was nailed to the cross: Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savoir and soon-coming King, a sign handwritten by Roman governor Pontius Pilate in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew proclaiming Jesus Christ as the King of the Jews, and thirdly, the sins of the world committed through disobedience of God’s laws. Let us also point out what is not nailed to the cross: God’s law. Let us turn to one more scripture, Matthew 5:17-18, so that we may be clear about Jesus Christ’s attitude towards the law. As it is written in Matthew 5:17-18: ““Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Therefore, if someone comes to us and tells us that because the the law has been nailed to the cross it is no longer important for Christians to obey God, we will now be able to respond to them and to give an answer for why we believe and behave as we do. We can all be glad that when it comes to spiritual debts, at least, that the handwriting of requirements is no longer against us.