From a purely human perspective, Jesus’ hours of agony upon the Cross appear to be the very inverse of victory. Rejected by His people, abused nearly to point of death, accused and convicted of crimes for which He is known to be innocent and then cruelly affixed to the tortuous tool of death, our senses struggle to see Jesus as being victorious in any context. Time—in this case a couple of days—proves that there is more than meets the eye however. Christ rises, and a new epoch of history follows in his wake.
Atonement has not been explained by a single theological position. At various times in this history of the Church, different theories have attempted to corral the revelation in the Scriptures and explain what was achieved by Calvary. Salvation is a constant, for certain, but humanity is also the beneficiary the multi-faceted view of God’s character that comes into sharp focus. Evil suffers defeat as well. Though often disregarded as the theory of atonement, Christ’s victory over the powers of evil is an aspect of the cross that has far-reaching implications for the lives of Christians today.
The name of this view, Christus Victor, is often attributed to Gustav Aulen and his book of the same title. In this tome he challenged the legal and moral views of atonement as inadequate and proposed a restoration of the view he called ‘classic’, saying that it was “the ruling idea of the Atonement for the first thousand years of Christian history.” (Aulen)
God’s plan for the defeat of evil is a lengthy, multi-faceted process that will not be fully consummated until the parousia, but offering benefits attainable by believers today. The Father set to work immediately after evil entered the world, stating that it would be defeated at a time in the future:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Gen 3:15)
The Messiah is in view as the one who will defeat this enemy, crushing his head, foreshadowing the ministry of Jesus. The Wicked One knows that the arrival of Jesus predicts his end and, as the Conqueror begins His ministry, he makes every attempt to destroy Him. Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he leads Herod to murder the boys and deceives Peter into attempting to dissuade Christ from the completion of His objective (Get behind me, Satan! (Mt 16:23).
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:13-15)
Conquest is achieved on Golgotha, the strong man is overpowered and bound. As the passage in Colossians attests, Christ accomplishes the disarming of powers and authorities, triumphing over them on the Cross. While the Evil One may have wanted to continue in his deceit, victory is announced and confirmed at the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, Eph 1:20-23). The church on mission extends the conquest, preaching Christ crucified as Lord, summoning others out of bondage through repentance and renewal.
While we avoid the language of triumphalism, victory should be a part of the vocabulary of the believer. As John Stott says “The victory of Christians, therefore, consists of entering into the victory of Christ and enjoying its benefits.. We can thank God that ‘he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’” (1 Cor 15:57). Caution remains in order though, as the Deceiver continues his self-deceit. He is defeated but has not conceded and continues to seek out ways to derail the Christian treading the narrow path (1 Jn 5:18, 1 Pet 5: 8).
Grace and peace to you…
image shawn alyea designs
In expressing his moral shock at God’s decision to destroy the good with the bad in Sodom, Abraham voiced what many believers have wanted to yell throughout history, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Indeed! The slaughter of the righteous and the wicked and the continued prospering of the wicked so many centuries later perplexes us. Some, believers and non, are tempted to the point of labeling God unjust based on what they see around them.
There are numerous warnings in the Bible that turn people away succumbing to this belief. Over and over, the Holy Spirit inspires the authors to record prohibitions against belief that the current reign of the unjust will continue forever. God will mete out justice at an appointed day in the future; “..do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:3b-4; see also Acts 17:30-31, 2 Pet 3:3-9)
The more observant will note the theodicy evident in the Cross. The clear language Paul uses in Romans 3:21 – 26 forms the foundation of this understanding. God present him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in justice.
Divine Justice is on full display. God judges sin, requiring the ultimate penalty in death. He also extends mercy to sinners, paying this ultimate price himself. As Stott says “For now, as a result of the propitiatory death of his Son, God can be “just and the justifier” of those who believe in him.” His justice is defended against the limited understanding of man and the questions that pour forth from it.
Grace and peace to you..
Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV) Rom 3:25-26
Christ Jesus ,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (ESV) Rom 3:25
The question of what was accomplished on the Cross that Friday afternoon has both simple and complex answers. The simple response is, it changed everything. A more in-depth examination discovers the true magnitude of that change.
The truth of Romans 3:23 [All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God] points us to His attitude toward humankind. His holiness demands retribution, His love leads to sacrifice. The perfection of His character does not allow one or the other. Propitiation—the turning of God’s righteous wrath away from sinners—is the answer to the first, the self-sacrifice of Himself in Christ the second. No substance or creature from within the fallen world held the perfection necessary to fulfill the demand of perfect holiness. For this reason, Jesus enters the world thirty-three years previous.
Modern Christians don’t often meditate on the turning aside of God’s wrath. We have pushed into the realms of the angry-God of the Old Testament, forgetting that it demanded the life of Christ for satisfaction. The life of our buddy. The life of the Jesus of modern prom songs. The life of Jesus who has become a casual expletive.
The life of Jesus our Savior.
Grace and peace to you in the Name of the One who is over all and through all and in all.
image Fred Jackson
The Jesus We Missed by Patrick Henry Reardon
The folding of the kerchief may have been completely unconscious. I do not find this hard to believe. The universal Christ, the eternal Word in whom all things subsist, was still the same Jesus to whom an act of elementary neatness came naturally.
It was in reading these words in the closing paragraphs of The Jesus We Missed that the import of the book finally took hold. The humanity of Christ, while a matter of theological discussion through the centuries, is rarely given the biographical treatment that we read on these pages. Is it important? I believe yes, because the full picture of the God-man Jesus is incomplete unless the full measure of his humanity is realized and taken into account alongside of His words and actions.
Jesus was not God simply inhabiting a human form. He was God who willingly made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phil 2:7). He was not an infant who simply pretended not to comprehend the voices around him, Jesus was the helpless babe in the feed trough. He was the terrible two-year-old, the rebellious teenager, the young man full of strength and possessing the craftsmen’s hands.
And He was God, knowing an intimate relationship with the heavenly Father that we are called to emulate in the days preceding His return.
Reardon’s excellent book is not a casual read. It demands consideration on every page of the human nature of the Savior. In doing so, the reader is awakened to the senses of sight, smell and hearing in the fully-man Jesus. Events that often take on an other-worldly character when we forget His humanity are viewed in a different light as you consider scriptural hints that you may have skimmed in the past. The human portrait that Reardon paints is an encouragement to the reader in addition to its edification. Jesus relied on prayer to know the Father and His will and God used that open conduit to guide the Son’s steps. Has He promised anything less to us?
The Jesus We Missed will challenge you. It is written for the non-theological reader but that doesn’t make it a breezy read. You will be stopped on page after page as you find facets of the Lord that you had not considered in your travels through the Bible. Don’t hesitate to put the book down and pick up the Scriptures. The expanded perspective is well worth the time.
I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this copy for review.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian
Thomas Paine described the crisis of revolution as the “times that try men’s souls”, a season of life in which one would have to be undeniably sure of the foundation on which his feet rested. Without that assurance there would be no resistance against which to create forward motion. Though not as momentous as the birth of a nation, author Tullian Tchividjian was confronted with a leadership challenge in the melding of two ministries that brought an unexpected resistance. The crisis forced him back to the irreducible minimum that formed his foundation, faith in Christ alone.
Driven to reflection, Tullian renewed his understanding of the rock on which he stood as character attacks and questions of ministerial competency swirled around, making him doubt the efficacy of what had brought him to that point. A performance ethic in particular threatened to derail his belief in the completed work of Christ as the touchstone against which he pushed for momentum. His exposition of key passages in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians restored his understanding of the sufficiency of Christ and the atonement and it is these reflections that form the core of the book.
Tchividjian’s writing and structure are dense, limiting the appeal of the tome to those willing to reflect alongside him. It will be read in small sections that turn your attention back to the Scriptures to see things that may have been masked to your eyes on previous reading. It is this density that gives the book its timeless appeal. Unlike the myriad volumes that will be published giving advice that quickly goes out of date, Pastor Tullian has written a book that can be pulled from the shelf over and over in the years to come as a guide to returning to the key, Christ alone.