“Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross” (Colossians 2:14 Phillips).
When someone is detained in the investigation of a crime, law enforcement officials will often request a report known as a “rap sheet.” In this context, “rap” stands for Record Of Arrests And Prosecutions and it details the criminal history of the person in question. Colossians 2:14 describes something like an ancient version of that report in referring to “…the handwriting of ordinances that was against us” (KJV). We can associate those ordinances with a personal record of every wrong we’ve ever committed.
We might also consider these ordinances from a different perspective and view them as something like an IOU. An “IOU” (or “I owe you“) is a note that carries an obligation to pay. In this sense, every sin is like a debt incurred against a morally perfect Creator- and like any financial obligation, there is a time when the payment comes due. That due-date is given to us in the New Testament book of James: “…sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15 NIV).
However, Colossians 2:14 tells us that Jesus eliminated our record of indebtedness by nailing it to the cross. You see, a record of the charges against a crucified criminal was often secured to the cross of the condemned. Those who were sentenced to death by crucifixion paid for those charges with their lives. In Jesus’ case, He paid for the charges against us with His life.
One commentator offers some additional insight on the ancient imagery within this verse…
“The substance on which ancient documents were written was either papyrus, a kind of paper made of the pith of the bulrush, or vellum, a substance made of the skins of animals. Both were fairly expensive and certainly could not be wasted. Ancient ink had no acid in it; it lay on the surface of the paper and did not, as modern ink usually does, bite into it.
Sometimes a scribe, to save paper, used papyrus or vellum that had already been written upon. When he did that, he took a sponge and wiped the writing out. Because it was only on the surface of the paper, the ink could be wiped out as if it had never been. God, in his amazing mercy, banished the record of our sins so completely that it was as if it had never been; not a trace remained.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 1”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-2.html 1956-1959.