The Power of the Cross, 45th Edition, August 19, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,

We have one announcement this week: 

You are invited to a live, interactive course called Set Free.”  This series will be four sessions long (see dates below). The lessons are an interactive Bible study of Romans chapters 5 and 6 on how we are set free. There will be questions to answer and opportunities to share, if you would like, as we look into God’s Word together and see how to find freedom through the gospel. Each session will be less than an hour long.

First Session: Monday Sep 4, 2018 6:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android:

Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
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Meeting ID: 850 764 105

Here are the dates for the four sessions:

Monday September 4th, 6:00 PM Pacific time.
Monday September 11th, 6:00 PM Pacific time.
Monday October 1st, 6:00 PM Pacific time.
Monday October 8th, 6:00 PM Pacific time. 


Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging. 

This week’s teaching is the sixth lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. 

We have made each lesson contain 7 questions, so the study is done answering 1 question per day.

Setting Captives Free - Lesson 6: From Emptiness to Fullness

We saw in a previous lesson that the dying, snakebitten Israelites were called to look at the uplifted bronze snake on the pole, and when they did they were healed, cured, given new life. We understood that this pointed forward to when Christ would be lifted up on the cross so that we might look to Him and receive life everlasting. And it isn’t only life that we receive; every benefit and blessing that comes to believers comes directly from the cross of Jesus Christ (Psalm 103:2-12).

On the cross Jesus gave up His life for you, to not only redeem you but also that you might experience the power of the Holy Spirit and all the blessings that flow from the cross. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:14 NIV).

As we consider being set free from sin’s captivity, let’s look at the cross together and see how God has provided the solution for us there. Please read the following passage of Scripture:

Colossians 2:9-15 (NIV) For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Question 1. Please list the benefits that comes to believers as stated in Colossians 2:9-15.

We will spend this lesson examining these blessings, and we will see how God has tailor-made them to specifically set us free.

To begin, think with me about a problem all human beings experience at some point and that is an aching emptiness. Sin’s captivity can be described as a gaping void - never filled! And this internal ache can lead us to seek out people, drugs, alcohol, food, or any number of other things in an attempt to fill the emptiness. “People will never stop dying and being destroyed, and they will never stop wanting more than they have” (Proverbs 27:20). This is because of an aching emptiness within.

As I look back on my life, I see myself going from one immoral relationship to another, one bottle of alcohol to another, one food binge to another, one view of religion to another, and on and on the list goes. And why? I was trying to fill a void, to find something that would give me a sense of fullness and satisfaction in my soul.

And the truth is that all human beings are born empty - without the Spirit of God. We are simply natural people, “flesh and blood”, living life apart from God. This is the reason for our emptiness. Since God made us to be His home (1 Corinthians 3:16); yet before we come to faith in Christ He is not living in us, and so, we live with a real and true emptiness.

And even after we have placed our faith in Christ, we might still have feelings of emptiness during times of distress, life changing events, illnesses, times of sinful bondage, etc. These feelings come because we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and have turned the focus on our circumstances or ourselves.

This aching emptiness in the heart makes us ask questions of ourselves such as, “What is missing in my life?” “Why am I so empty?” “What is wrong with me?”  Such questions and feelings can be confusing, distressing, and even alarming.

Let’s examine exactly how the cross of Jesus Christ is the tailor-made answer to this very problem, that we might be set free from continual looking for fullness.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Colossians 2:9-10

Question 2. According to Colossians 2:9-10, to what is the believers’ fullness compared?

Colossians 2:9 tells us that Jesus Christ is fully God; indeed, all the fullness of God lives in Him. He is, in essence, “full of God”, as no part of God is lacking in Jesus.

Now notice the application of this truth: all who believe experience the fullness of Jesus Christ. “And in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” All the fullness Christ has of God He brings to dwell in us!

We know we were empty, with a void in our hearts and lives, and that we turned to many different things looking for fullness, excitement, a thrill, satisfaction, etc. We had “an empty way of life” (1 Peter 1:18 NIV).

But then the presence of God comes to us and things change.  We begin to experience fullness, as if our hearts were overflowing with love, as if we were stuffed full of joy and fully satisfied like when we eat a big meal. King David said, “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5) as he experienced the fullness of God.

How exactly does this fullness happen? How does Jesus do this for us? It happens as we come to the cross in repentance. There we see Jesus purchasing fullness for us at the cost of His own life.

Please read the following passage about Jesus...

who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8 NASB

Jesus emptied Himself of His glory (not His Deity) to become a man, emptied Himself further to take on the form of a bond-servant (a common house slave), and then emptied Himself all the way by going to the cross and pouring out His life unto death. Isn’t it absolutely shocking that God would become a Man, that the King would become a Servant, that He who has life in Himself (John 5:26) would choose to die?

The reality is that there has never been anyone more empty than Jesus Christ as He died on the cross. Watch as they whip His back and blood pours out, as they push a crown of thorns on to His forehead and blood pours down His face and shoulders. Listen as they pound nails into His hands and feet and blood begins to literally cover His whole body. And finally, watch as the Roman soldier spears the side of Jesus and  blood and water gush out.

Listen as Jesus pushes Himself up to try to get some air, He is now gasping for air so that He might say the words in a loud voice, “!” (John 19:30). This means that your sins are forgiven, your debt has been paid, your freedom has been purchased, your eternal life has been secured. Then Jesus finally surrendered His last breath, saying to His Father “Into Your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). This is Jesus purposefully emptying Himself of His life, giving His very Spirit in the work of salvation, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).

And why did Jesus do all of this? He did this so that you would be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). And so we see Jesus emptying Himself of life, and emptying you of your sins, that He might then fill you with His Spirit, all the fullness of God.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). Do you see how Jesus’ emptiness at the cross was designed to fill you?

Jesus emptied Himself of His very life “that we may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18). He gave His all that we might have it all. He became empty that we would become full. He gave His Spirit that we might gain His Spirit. He died that we might live! He received the wrath of God that “of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).

Sometimes I can’t hardly take it all in, to see all that Jesus went through for me. It melts my heart and penetrates deep into my spirit and turns me away from sin. Have you ever felt that way? It defies natural understanding, it takes my breath away, it fills me with awe and wonder, and gratitude. How about you?

Question 3. Please take a moment and reflect on all that Jesus Christ did for you in order to fill you. Do you receive His fullness into your life just now? Please share your thoughts:

It’s important to understand that it was not only Jesus Christ emptying Himself for us. The Father, Son and Spirit were unified in their efforts. God the Father emptied Himself of all His wrath and hatred against sin, pouring it out on Jesus, so that God’s love might be poured into you! Romans 5:5 (NIV) “And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” The Father gave up His Son (John 3:16), emptied Himself of all wrath (Romans 5:9-10) and gave up His Spirit for us (Romans 8:9-11).

God gave His Son, Jesus gave up His Spirit, and even the Spirit gives of Himself to come and live inside every believer. When we believe the gospel we receive the Spirit:

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,  who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.

It is so amazing to experience the fullness of the Trinity coming to live inside of us, filling up our emptiness. God the Father lives in us, God the Son lives in us, God the Spirit lives in us! “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). And, oh, how full we become when the Father, the Son and the Spirit live in us and pour out their love in us! This is “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

Now it’s time to apply this truth. If you’ve never put your faith in Christ, you should now understand that doing so will bring the Spirit of God and all the fullness of God to you. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus but have still been looking to various sinful things to find fullness, you should now understand the futility of your efforts. You’ve been looking in all the wrong places. Look to the cross! Receive the fullness of the Spirit! Experience “all the fullness of God Himself!

A friend of mine has an unbelieving wife, and one day her gambling, drinking and credit card debt brought her life to a crisis. My friend accompanied her to a psychologist.

The psychologist looked at her and said, “Susan (not her real name), do you realise that the problem is that you have this huge hole inside you, and you are trying to fill it with these things, the gambling, the drinking?”

My friend had his hopes up, finally a Christian counselor who understood the gaping hole we were all born with, and one who would point his wife to Christ where she could receive forgiveness of sins and the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

The psychologist went on to say, “Now Susan, let’s talk about the hobbies that you’ve enjoyed in the past. Perhaps we can encourage you to pick up one of those again.”

My friend said his hopes crashed and burned right there in that office. That is all the world has to offer, band-aids for cancer, false saviors, fake hope.

My friend, the Bible says, “in Christ you have been brought to fullness” Colossians 2:9-10), not gambling or drinking, not in pornography or sexual impurity, not “in hobbies” or vacations or religion or any other distractions. The fullness we have is to be found “in Christ”, and specifically by coming to and looking at the cross. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, looking at Him, brings life and fullness and satisfaction. “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40).

Think of the application of this truth: if you begin to experience the fullness of God, there will be no room for sin. Temptation may come calling, offering you the usual pleasures, but you’re full and satisfied. Now when temptation hits us we say, “I’m full and don’t need that!” #StuffedFull!

Question 4. Do you see the application of the Bible’s teaching on fullness, and how, if you receive this fullness, it can set you free? Please share your thoughts here:

This is where the Law can actually be an assistance to us. The Law tells us we have not measured up, we have rebelled against God and therefore we have fallen short and we have incurred God’s anger. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and we have all sinned therefore we are deserving of death.

But God has made a way out for us. He has given His Son over to death to take His wrath away from anyone who will put faith in Jesus. He has put Jesus as our Substitute, Who then lived perfectly in our place, so all that is needed is for us to come to God confessing our sins and receiving His forgiveness. We come as guilty, burdened, rebellious sinners deserving of death, and we receive forgiveness, full pardon and eternal life, and with all that comes a changed heart and new life. And, as we’ve been discussing, fullness and satisfaction.

Yes, believers in Jesus can experience tremendous fullness, satisfaction, overflowing joy, and continuous love being poured into them through the Holy Spirit. You can experience the presence of God and the Spirit of God at the cross of Jesus Christ. At the cross, fullness can be experienced where there used to be fear. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me!”(Psalm 23:4).

Question 5. According to Psalm 23:4, how can human beings experience no fear even when walking through very difficult experiences, even including death itself?

While unbelievers remain empty - always searching, yearning, craving, hungering, etc. - believers can say with David, “You are with me” (Psalm 23:4) and therefore “I will not fear” and finally, “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).

Friend, think of the safety and the freedom in this! To experience the love of God being poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5), to be filled with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 5:18), to be “overflowing” makes it so that we can finally become content and stop grasping after things to fill us! The emptiness is gone! The guilt is gone! No need for getting drunk, no need for drugs, porn, bigger houses, fancier cars, overstuffing ourselves with food, religion or any other efforts to try to fill ourselves. The Son of God fills us, the Spirit of God overflows us, the Father lavishes His love on us and in us. We are safe and satisfied, freed and liberated in Jesus!

In fact, this divine love of God that He pours into us goes beyond something we can even know intellectually; the Bible teaches us that we must actually experience it! “ know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Experiencing God’s love, which happens at the cross by God’s Spirit, brings tremendous fullness!

Friend, you, yes you can be “filled”, yes, you can receive… “fullness” as you repeatedly “fix your eyes on Jesus”, seeing Jesus empty Himself for you, pouring out His life unto death for you, and receiving all that He died to give you!

Colossians 2:9-10 (NIV) For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.

Question 6. Please take a moment and review this lesson, making a summary of the teaching, stating how it applies personally to you:

In the next lesson, we’re going to see another amazing benefit of the cross that sets captives free.

Lesson 6 Testimony: Raph

Raph writes, "I remember very well how my entire existence was fascinated and captivated by  ‘beauty’! I could spend hours watching and contemplating the “magnificat chef-d’œuvres’’ of world famous talented artists (Rembrandt, DaVinci, Raphaël, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, so on and so forth). I was 6 or 7, when hiding from my parents to eyeball the art books depicting ‘the perfection of the human body’ materialized in statues and painting... I was about to finish the art school when realized how deeply I was enchained imagining, drawing and painting “the beauty and the perfection of the CREATED or CREATION’’. I adored and venerated the image of the created in my mind, heart and even my body, as I dreamed to resemble the David or Apollo. I didn’t need to simulate this worship by watching any uncensored explicit material or even experiencing practically in sexual relationships; “the image” was more than real in me to be the fuel for my obsessional worship.

Even before my baptism (with water and the Holy Spirit) when I was 17, I knew how weak and hopeless I was--enslaved to self-gratification and starving curiosity to absorb more and more of the “image”. Unfortunately,, I stayed enslaved to masturbation until I was 30.

Then my inner and subconscious perversion in endless self-gratification  passed on to a new stage - practicing and consuming sex in a 7-year-long never ending hellish torment of relationships.

...but God was patiently waiting. Last year He started reawakening me...the dark cloud of depression and hopelessness was so heavy that I thought I was dead...and then He came with the Word . The invisible hope and perseverance started blooming in my soul. Day after day I rediscovered the “well-known’’ verses I learned years before. Then 2 months ago, a Christian brother suggested to me this course, as he had found freedom from the bondage of porn within his marriage.

And I saw His miracle! The Holy Spirit knew the perfect timing and the way to continue and accomplish His work in me. He told me in an invisible and delicate way : ”Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (my sins, my idolatry, man-worship, my selfish flesh pleasing through images, relationships, videos, etc) for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”Deuteronomy 31:6

He started to take the control of my life through my obedience in front of the cross. I was once washed by the Most Powerful Blood of my Lover long ago, but I was still a captive to my flesh. Then I got the revelation of the Water which comes out the side of Jesus' body. The Water that cleanses me every day which is The Word through the Spirit of ALL Mighty God, who addresses every single verse directly on the particular place where the iron chains of sin have hurt and damaged me.

The Lord illuminated the “well-known” or memorized story of the cross to BECOME an action and a vivid practice. In my mind He put this 3d illustration : _ the gravity power of sin (flesh, world, devil) draws me to the pit, hypnotizing with different powerful means, BUT THE DIVINE CROSS COMES RIGHT BETWEEN me AND those luring powers, SO THAT VICIOUS CIRCLE IS BROKEN!!! I cannot fall into that pit of the old snake!! My feet are no longer running after every and any “gorgeous creature’’, my knees are no more bending in front of Delilahs and Apollos of our modern times!

Even though I am still in flesh and single, I don’t sense my loneliness the same way as I did before (which was used by the evil one to give me all the possible and impossible reasons to drink out of poisonous wells to momentarily drench my craving and always starving body, soul and spirit). I feel I am married now! I am eternally married to my Lover, my Savior and Redeemer, my King and my Husband, my Life and my Way to the Father, my Vine where I am attached to so closely and intimately, my daily Bread and Fresh Water, MY ALL IN ALL!

Miracle!! I am drawn upwards !! My Father is drawing to Him upwards, breaking the “law of physics” of sin by the Cross of His Glorious Son.

The moments of temptation will still come, but I am no more terrified to be enslaved as I believe that my Savior broke apart those iron bondage chains forever !! Yes!! FOREVER.

I carry on through faith (which comes from His Word and The Spirit’s power), no more effort and trust on my skills or intelligence to overcome and win the battle. IT IS FINISHED, THE WAR IS OVER... HE HAS OVERCOME!!!!

And my soul proclaims Romans 8:39 NIV “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in ALL CREATION, will be able to separate ME from the love of God that is in CHRIST JESUS MY LORD.

Please listen to this song. <It Is Finished, It Is Done>

The whole eternity won’t be long enough to praise Him and adore Him ... My only craving is Him, who is inside my very spirit! What intimacy!! Even the married couples cannot live this profound extraordinary Love!

Ezekiel 36:27 NIV “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Note: Raph went on to become a mentor with Setting Captives Free and is now ministering the gospel to many others.

Question 7. Please share your thoughts on the above testimony:


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free