Oct 8

Rev Gav

Why did Jesus die? Part 6: Victory

In this 6th part of the series, ‘Why did Jesus die?’ we look at how Jesus defeated evil on the cross and what this means for the defeat of evil in our own lives.

So far, in this series, we have explored different ways of looking at the cross of Jesus Christ — each offering a unique perspective on arguably the most influential event in human history. We have journeyed through the mediation room, the temple, the courtroom, the prison, and the hospital, and now we turn to the battlefield, where the enemy is defeated and victory is assured.

As Jesus hung on the cross, his final word was translated into Greek as ‘telestai’ which was a word stamped on business documents or receipts to show that a bill was paid in full, and it means ‘completed’. With just a single word, Jesus communicated that he had achieved his objective, the battle had been won, and the victory was his. But victory over what?

I doubt many would argue over the existence of evil. One only has to see or hear the news to know that evil exists, but the question is, does evil exist outside of human thoughts, words, and behaviours? In other words, if there were no humans, would evil still exist? Christians assert that, in the same way that mathematics exists, whether or not humans are here to perceive it, morality also exists. For example, the conscious and intentional murder of an innocent person would be morally wrong — even if it never happened. Therefore, it follows that if morality exists then good and evil also exist not only, as the novelist Joseph Conrad put it, “in the hearts of men.” If it is indeed true that good and evil exist outside of ourselves, then the world becomes a cosmic battlefield, and our hearts become the spoils of war.

The idea of good battling evil, appears to be imprinted on our consciousness, and is the basis, in some form or another, of every novel and film: protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains, goodies and baddies, allies and adversaries, liberators and oppressors, friends and foes, cops and robbers. In our cosmic battle, there are many names for conscious evil — the devil, Satan (the Hebrew word for ‘adversary’), the ‘prince of darkness’, or as Jesus put it, ‘the ruler of the world’.

“Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:31-32)

Evil ultimately seeks to kill and destroy. The goal of evil, if you will, is to seek the death and annihilation of all that is good, and as creation is ‘good’ (as God called it in Genesis), this means the death and annihilation of all creation. Evil literally wants you to be no more. Evil wants to destroy me, you, and everything, and it is this evil that God, through Jesus Christ, came to conquer. As the apostle John wrote in his letter:

“The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8b)

The cross of Jesus, therefore, represents the triumph of good over evil because, if evil ultimately seeks death, and death is conquered, then evil itself is conquered. I cannot put this much better than the apostle Paul does in his letter to the church in the town of Corinth.

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  …thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

The cross of Jesus becomes the throne on which the victor, Jesus Christ, is literally lifted up, and it is why churches have crosses on their walls, and Christians wear them around their necks, tattoo them on their arms, and dangle them from their ears. The cross is the symbol of victory.

However, where does that leave us now, because clearly, evil still exists and is at work in the world. Evil continues to work through human agents as humans succumb to their sinful natures, and choose evil over good, and in the grand order of things, we all still experience pain, death, and destruction. If Jesus has victory over evil, how does that victory manifest itself in the here and now?

There are four options when it comes to how to deal with evil when it is encountered. We can follow, fight, freeze, or flee. Firstly, we can follow, cave to the evil, collude with it, and become complicit — ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ Secondly, we can fight back, retaliate, seek revenge, give as good as we get, and counter violence with violence. Thirdly, we can freeze in fear, cower, allow oppressors to intimidate and walk all over us. Or fourthly, we can flee, run away, hide, and separate ourselves for our own protection. Of course, in reality, we may be forced to take one of these four options, however, it is not only interesting but vital to note that Jesus, when all of hell’s fury was thrown at him — the pinnacle of all creation that the devil sought to destroy — he did none of these four things. Instead, he stood his ground and acted with perfect love and that Love did something remarkable, He transformed evil into good.

When Jesus defeated evil on the Cross, he did not destroy it, but he could have done:

“Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52b-54)

No, he did something far more radical and far reaching. At that moment, as Jesus claimed victory over evil, the Roman overlords were not destroyed. The corrupt Jewish authorities were not destroyed. No, instead, the evil that was directed at Jesus — to kill and destroy him — was channelled through the cross which ultimately led to resurrection — not death but life — and God’s glory was revealed. It was, in effect, used not only for good, but for the ultimate good of all humanity. Jesus took evil, death, and destruction and new life — what Jesus called ‘eternal life’ or ‘life in all its fullness’ — was born. Through giving himself, humanity was redeemed.

If all evil was dealt with on the cross, then it means for us, that there is no evil that cannot be redeemed in our own lives. There is nothing we can do that God will not channel through the cross and make good. We are neither destroyed or discarded, but are instead rendered complete and whole! Jesus redeems and transforms our sins and failures. Why? Because this is the way of love.

What is more impressive? To turn a wilderness into a wasteland or into a wonderful garden. Christian writer, Phillip Yancey wrote, “Pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed,” and this goes for sin and evil too. Redeemed Sin is far more impressive than removed sin. And the greater the sin, the greater the possibility that forgiveness may be meted to the sinner. The greater the evil, the greater the possibility there is for transformative redemption. As the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: 

“…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5: 20b)

If you are struggling with things you have done in your past, mistakes you have made, feel guilt or shame at the people you have hurt, know that there is nothing you could ever think, say, or do, that cannot be channelled through the cross of Christ and be redeemed, renewed, and restored for God’s glory. There is no sin in our lives over which Christ cannot have the victory. Nothing. At St. Mark’s we wrote this song, especially for those that struggle with their past mistakes and is Christ’s words to us:

No matter who you are or what you’ve done
I promise I’ll complete what I’ve begun
The end’s already written and it’s good
There’s nothing you can do to make me love you more

So eat of me and drink of me
You’re welcome at the table of the King
So eat of me and drink of me
To all who come to me I am the bread of life

I lived a life to feel your pain and loss
I died with arms wide open on the cross
I rose again so you can meet me here
There’s nothing you can do to make me love you less

So eat of me and drink of me
You’re welcome at the table of the King
So eat of me and drink of me
To all who come to me I am the bread of life

Amen.

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