During World War I, a British commander led his soldiers back to the front lines of the battlefield. They’d been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. A heaviness descended upon them.
As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. In the back of the church, he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. In that moment, something changed. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph. As the troops marched along, he shouted out, “Eyes right!” Every eye turned to the right. And as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ and the cross. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went.
Today I want to talk about our vision of Jesus “The Victor.” We’re in a spiritual war with very real enemies: our flesh, the world, and as we talked about last week, our great enemy Satan. But the most important, overarching theme of this series on spiritual warfare is the incredible, overwhelming victory of Jesus Christ. Every week, I’ve shared the same theme of victory. Today, I’ll share it again:
We do not fight FOR victory but FROM victory!
But what does this really mean? Isn’t this just some Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky, pastoral motivational saying? I mean, come on (you’re thinking). Do you live in the same world that I live in? Do you watch the same news that I watch? Do you experience the same problems that I experience? Because most days, I see anything but victory. That’s what some of you are thinking right now. Well today, we’re going to talk about it. And by the end of our time together, by God’s great grace, my hope is that you’ll be like those British soldiers, dispirited and dejected, trudging in the rain, marching to war but who looked to Jesus and the cross and were filled with courage. So let’s talk about Jesus “The Victor.”
#1 JESUS’ ULTIMATE VICTORY
If we’re going to talk about any experience of victory in this spiritual war, we absolutely must understand what kind of victory Jesus actually won for us… why we can actually say that we’re not fighting for victory but from victory. So let me set it up this way. Often times, when we talk about Jesus and the cross, what He did and what was accomplished when He died, Christians talk about it in very individualistic terms. We say that when Jesus died, He died for my sins and now my sins are forgiven and I can experience salvation. And please hear me… that is absolutely true. On the cross, Jesus died the death that you should have died because of your sin and rebellion against God, and He paid the penalty that you should have paid. And by placing your faith and trust in Him and by surrendering control of your life to Him, you truly receive salvation… life abundant now and life eternal forever. It’s beautiful… it’s powerful. But at the cross, something much bigger happened… something much larger. I want to look at Colossians 2:8-15 and explore what really happened at the cross.
1. At the cross, Jesus won a cosmic victory. v. 9 clues us in that something much larger is happening when Jesus, God Himself, came down to this earth. As much as I love thinking about the humanity of Jesus… as much as I love thinking about His humility, His smile as He loved people, His pain as He witnessed so much brokenness in this world, we must be ever reminded that Jesus is fully God (“all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form”). And as much as we like to think about the cross as being an incredible example sacrifice, a compelling picture of the underdog, a beautiful picture of love… the cross was ultimately about God coming down here to win a cosmic victory… to defeat our ancient enemy Satan who has deceived and taken hold of billions upon billions of hearts and lives. And the cross and the resurrection let’s us know who the Boss really is. Lest Satan, the world, or we ever forget, “He [Jesus] is the head over all rule and authority.” At the cross, Jesus won a cosmic victory.
2. At the cross, our slavery to sin was abolished. We need to understand that because of sin, not simply the things that we’ve done against God, but that inward, indwelling power that causes our hearts to be gravitationally pulled away from God… we were enslaved to sin and the kingdom of Satan. Don’t underestimate that. Part of realizing that there’s an invisible world just as real as the visible world is this: there are two kingdoms at war—God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. And if you’re not a part of God’s kingdom, what does that mean? You are a servant, a slave, to Satan’s kingdom, even if you don’t recognize it. So when Jesus dies on the cross and pays the penalty for the world’s sin (past, present, and future), we are brought into a new kingdom and the chains of slavery to sin are broken (Colossians 1:13-14). If you have given control of your life to Jesus, your slavery to sin has been abolished. Your allegiance to the kingdom of Satan and the world has been changed. You are a citizen of another kingdom now. You are free from the ultimate penalty and power of sin because Jesus abolished our slavery to sin.
3. At the cross, Satan brought about his own demise. In v. 14, this “certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” is everything that we’ve done did that has sold us into slavery to the enemy and set us at war with God. It’s a record of all of our sin and rebellion against God. Satan uses this metaphorical document against us in his claim to God that we’re his… that we’re actually a part of His kingdom. So here’s what happens at the cross. “He [Jesus] has taken it away, having nailed it to the cross.” Jesus erases it. He wipes the slate clean by paying the penalty on the cross. Now here’s the irony. While the cross was always God’s plan, Satan in his insatiable lust for more is the one who actually empowered wicked earthly rulers to crucify Jesus. “The rulers of this age” empowered by “the god of this age.” It’s Satan who enters Judas to betray Jesus. It’s Satan who deceives and directs Jewish leaders to hand Jesus over to Roman forces. When Jesus is murdered on the cross, Satan thinks it’s a victory. But what he doesn’t realize is that in Jesus’ death, as the penalty for our sin is paid for by another, Satan’s claim and certificate of debt over us is destroyed. And now the slaves of Satan’s kingdom are liberated. Satan doesn’t he know that Jesus will be raised from the dead and that sin and death will ultimately be defeated. It’s genius! God uses Satan’s own evil to bring about Satan’s own demise.
#2 OUR DAILY VICTORY
Here’s the challenge when we talk about what happened “cosmically” at the cross. You might be thinking, “Nice theology lesson Jonathan, and I see that you’re pretty passionate about it. But I still don’t understand how all of this applies to my life each and every day.”
In my life.
I am free. If your slavery to sin has been abolished, then you are free. The problem is that we still see ourselves as slaves to sin. And therefore, we think like slaves. It’s like we’re still up on the slave-selling block. Jesus has made the payment. The chains have been removed, but we’re not quite sure what we’re supposed to do. We stand there for a minute rubbing the raw spots on our wrists and ankles where the shackles dug into our skin, and we wonder if we should step off into the unknown realm of faith and freedom. It seems too good to be true. And the victory of Jesus on the cross and in His resurrection means that you don’t have to be a slave to sin any longer. You don’t have to be an angry, bitter person. You don’t have to lie to create a false façade of yourself or cover your tracks. You don’t have to cheat to get ahead. You don’t have to go to sex or substances to try to ease the pain. You don’t have to be an addict any more. You’re free. Start living like it.
I have power. Here me on this. I’m not giving you some new age, pop psychology here. I’m telling you that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us in our daily lives. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 1:18-20.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places”
He prays that we’d get it… that we’d no longer see ourselves as slaves to sin but free in Christ but realize that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is operating in us to bring us power and new life. Because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, you have power. When you’re struggling with sin and the old pattern of life, go to Jesus. Ask Him for the power to stand firm as you resist the enemies.
In our church. So what does the victory of Jesus means in our church? The Church is God’s trophy case. Ephesians 3:10 says this, “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Those rulers and authorities in the heavenly places are the invisible supernatural powers that include Satan and his demonic horde. And through the church, through all of these lives that Jesus has rescued and liberated from Satan’s kingdom, God reminds Satan of His cosmic ultimate victory and Satan’s ultimate defeat. So here’s how we live out this victory as a church:
Pray it. In our prayer life, in our own lives but also when we pray together, we remind ourselves of Jesus’ victory. And we pray that His victory, freedom, and rescue would extend into our lives and into the darkness of our world. That’s why we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Share it. We invite the people of our world into the life-transforming community of Jesus. Evangelism and mission always evokes more warfare. Because every time someone says “yes” to Jesus, they say “no” to Satan and he loses ground. So we share the victory of Jesus in our world.
Demonstrate it. Every time we stand up for truth, every time we fight against injustice, every time we serve the poor, every time we do a good deed for the cause of Christ, we demonstrate the transforming, healing power of Jesus and His kingdom. When we demonstrate it, the darkness is exposed and pushed back that much more. Paul encourages us with this in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58: “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
I want to close by reading you an excerpt about Jesus’ victory from John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat:
One of the most powerful 30 minutes of film I’ve ever seen is the opening sequence of the movie Saving Private Ryan. Veterans Groups say it’s maybe the most realistic picture ever given of the brutal suffering that those soldiers faced. It’s on D-Day, June 6, 1944. An unbelievable price was paid to gain just a toehold, just a few feet of Omaha Beach in Normandy. And that price was paid in blood.
At the end of D-Day, at the end of that one day, in one sense, nothing had really changed. The vast majority of Europe was still as it had been the day before, under the power of the swastika. Evil reigned through the whole continent. There was only this one little plot of ground, a few feet of sand on an obscure stretch of beach in one lonely country. But that one tiny stretch of land, that one tiny little beach, that was enough.
The truth is, at the end of that one day, everything was changed because now there was an opening, just a crack—a tiny little crack at first. But it would get a little larger the next day, and a little larger the day after that, and a little larger the week after that. And the forces would get stronger every day.
There still was a lot of fighting to do and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying. But from that day on it was just a matter of time. Then the day came when Paris was liberated. And then the day came when all of France was liberated. Then the days came when the concentration camps were overrun and prisoners were set free. Then the day came when Hitler destroyed himself in the bunker. And judgment came to that particular beast as it always does, as it always will. And then came V-E Day, victory. And then victory in the Pacific and the soldiers could come home. The war was over. The enemy was defeated. But really, the truth was that victory was all sealed on D-Day. It just took a while. The battle raged for a season. But after D-Day, victory on V-E Day was just a matter of time.
The Apostle John says this earth has fallen under a dark power. And then one day a woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who was destined to rule all the nations. He taught about and lived in a kingdom. He lived a kind of life that the rest of us had always dreamed of, but hardly dared hope for. Then one day, at a cost that none of us will ever fully understand, He took upon himself, on the cross, all the brokenness, all the suffering of D-Day, and all the suffering and all the sin and pain of every other day in the history of the human race since the Fall.
After the Sabbath day, before Jesus’ friends went to care for his body, the stone was moved. In one sense, nothing had changed. Pilate and the chief priests were still in charge. Caesar still reigned in Rome and didn’t even know the name of this obscure Messiah in some remote country. Nobody knew at first except a couple of women, but that was D-Day. Now there was an opening in this fallen world. Tiny at first—no bigger than the entrance of an empty tomb.
But now there was an opening, and the truth is, friends, every time you resist sin, every time you proclaim the Gospel, every time you give a portion of your resources for the spread of the kingdom, every time you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to the poor, that opening gets a little larger, and the darkness gets pushed back a little more, and the light gets a little stronger.
That’s why we exist as a church. That’s why we are called to struggle and pray and work and suffer and labor because one day liberation will come, make no mistake. There will be a lot of fighting and a lot of suffering and a lot of dying, but D-Day already happened when hardly anybody was looking. And at the end of that one day, everything had changed, and now it’s just a matter of time.
Here are some additional resources on the victory of Christ: