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Spiritual warfare: the triumph of the cross

The cross is central to us because it is central to Christ!  Jesus blessed Peter for recognizing He was the Christ (Matthew 16:17), then sternly rebuked him moments later when Peter sought to separate being Christ from bearing the cross (v. 21-23).  Jesus made it clear --- to be Christ-centered you must be cross-centered. 

But it’s not just theology – it’s biography.  We found life in Jesus when by faith we were "baptized into His death" (Romans 6:3).  And each week in communion we celebrate what happened at the cross.  The cross is central.

It shouldn’t, then, come as a surprise that it was at the cross that “the powers of this dark world” and the “spiritual forces of evil,” were dealt a death blow by Jesus.  This is what Paul concludes in Colossians 2:15. 

But what does this mean?  How did it happen?

It will help to remind ourselves that there were several forces that sent Jesus to the cross.  The most obvious would be the religious and political powers which conspired against Him.  Under Roman rule, the Jewish leaders lacked the authority to put Jesus to death (John 18:31), so they brought their case to Pilate, the governor of Judea (v. 28).  However he was unwilling to condemn Jesus and left the choice to the Jewish people to release Christ or Barabbas.  They choose Barabbas.  Jesus was sent to the cross by the combined powers of religion, government, and the will of the people. 

But there is more.  Behind these visible, earthly powers were the invisible, “spiritual forces of evil,” which capitalize on man’s wickedness and use it to bring about destruction.  Paul specifically identifies them in Colossians 2:15.  At the cross then, Jesus faced the powers of the natural and supernatural world.  All sought the same thing --- His destruction.

Only, it didn’t work out the way they intended.  Paul speaks of three things in describing what happened at the cross:

*      Jesus disarmed the powers,

*      He made a public spectacle of them,

*      He triumphed over them.

These three things occurred whenever someone was crucified.  The person was disarmed (in fact, the one to be crucified was stripped completely of all clothing (Matthew 27:35).  They were then fastened to a cross, which was almost always in some public place (a crossroads, the side of the road, etc.).  This public humiliation was intended to teach all would-be rebels that they would pay the highest price for their defection --- an agonizing death in front of all (including their family and loved ones).  In this way, Rome brutally triumphed over them.

But that was not what happened that day!  Jesus disarmed Rome (and all of the powers behind it).  He took the worst they had to give and when it was over so were they!   He defeated them by His total obedience to God.  Listen to Paul’s words in Philippians 2:8-11:

And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

While you and I would have been making plans to overthrow the evil forces through our cunning and strategy --- He was making plans to obey His Father.  While we have been looking for more power and force --- He was looking to surrender completely to God.  While we would have been concerned with weapons, tactics and technology --- He was concerned with submission. 

He was right and we were wrong.  He did what no one from Adam onward has done --- He said “No” to the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil.  He said “No,” from the time He knew enough about good and evil to say no --- and He kept on saying it!  He said it at His baptism.  He said it in the wilderness.  He said it in the synagogue.  He said it in the country, in the city, and in the villages.  He said it in public and He said it in private.  He said it with friends and He said it among enemies.  And then, He said it at the cross.  He said it in life.  He said it in death.  And because He did what He said, the powers and authorities had no power over him.  As Peter would say, “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him,” (Acts 2:24).  Why?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law,” (1 Corinthians 15:56).  There wasn’t anything to for them to get a grip on!

So what does this mean?  It means what He said it means.  He told His disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).  He has overcome the world!  In the context of John, this is the world that is under the dominion of sin (1 John 2:15-17, 5:19).  It is the world controlled by the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).  He has overcome!

In Revelation 5, John weeps because the scroll containing a message about the (immediate) future is sealed with seven seals and no one can open it.  Then he is told not to weep, the Lion from the tribe of Judah has triumphed and is worthy to open the scroll.  He has overcome and He is worthy.  That’s our message.  That’s our Lord!

And because He stood, we can stand when we rely on His strength, rather than ours.  Paul tells us “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” (Ephesians 6:10).  We don’t do so well on our own, do we?  That’s our story. 

And because of all of this, the last word for the believer is life.  Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10).  At the conclusion of His gospel (20:30-31), John would write:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Note the last clause, “by believing you may have life in His name.”  Believing should bring life – not death, or mere existence.  And this life comes from believing in Jesus – not just believing Jesus.  I’m afraid there’s too many who see Christianity as believing what Jesus said, getting dipped in some water, and receiving a ticket for heaven.  They miss all of the richness, depth, and fullness of life that comes from believing in who Jesus is and what He did, as well as what He said.

I heard of a tragedy where a father, mother, and their 19 month old child were killed in a fire.  The cause of death was not the fire itself, but smoke inhalation.  The point of origin for the fire was a couch in the living room.  Firefighters arrived in time to keep the fire contained to that room.  Father, mother and child were all together in a back bedroom.  There were two smoke alarms which should have sounded and given them time to escape.  They were in working order but they had no batteries.

How sad is that?  How haunting is it for the family and loved ones?  The only good that can come from a tragedy like this is for others to learn.  The church needs to learn that our life is in Jesus and our belief in Him are the batteries.  The triumph of the cross is the triumph of the Christ.  The good news is that all of the evil powers and forces have been defeated.  Right has prevailed.  Good has won over evil.  

And Jesus was responsible for it all!

May God help us all to live like it.

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