THE PASSION OF CHRIST #1
This week, we interrupt our series on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to begin a brief series of messages on the passion of Jesus Christ. As we have all doubtless heard the movie by that name now in theatres is a dramatic presentation of the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ. One of the themes the film does not avoid is the very real presence of evil and of Satan himself. The bible from beginning to end teaches the reality of a personal Satan who, though under God’s sovereign control rules the realms of spiritual darkness. In Mel Gibson’s film the cloaked figure representing Satan shows up with regularity at key moments in the story line. As we’ll see, the scriptures record that the adversary plays a prominent role during the passion of Christ and yet this element is often overlooked. When we think of the cross of Christ, we think of words like atonement and substitution and sacrifice and rightly so. But one word we seldom associate with the cross is victory. Yet the Scriptures tell us Christ’s victory over Satan and the forces of darkness was won at the cross. Hebrews 2:14 says it is “through [Christ’s] DEATH he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...” Colossians 2:13-15, which we will look at more later, tells us it is at the cross where Jesus defeated the “powers and authorities” that is, the forces of spiritual darkness.
The main message this morning is this; Jesus Christ won the decisive victory over Satan and the darkness at the cross. First John 3:8 says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” A big part of the purpose of Christ’s appearing on earth was militant in nature—to forcibly destroy the devil’s work. This morning, we are going to examine the cross within this militant context as the place of God’s magnificent victory over darkness and think about what that means to us. As we treat this topic, we want to divide our discussion into three questions. The first question is this, “What was God’s overarching plan to defeat Satan that culminated in the cross of Christ?” The second is, “What was the nature of Christ’s victory over Satan?” and the third is, “What does this mean to us?”
The first and most involved question is, I. What was God’s overarching, sovereign plan to defeat Satan that culminated in the cross of Christ?” This question places the cross of Christ within the larger spiritual context of spiritual conflict. This is so important and yet precious few people really understand this. We know that in some way Jesus’ dying in humility defeated a prideful Satan and we understand Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for our sins. But we don’t necessarily think of Jesus’ death on the cross as part of a larger plan fixed and carefully conceived by God in eternity past and which is carefully revealed in the pages of the Old Testament and the gospels. Let’s begin with God’s first recorded interaction with Satan and follow God’s militant plan to destroy the devil’s work through the pages of biblical history. For us to do that means we must place the cross and all of salvation history in a context not only of saving acts but also of warfare—the war between God and Satan, between light and darkness. As we do this we must never make the mistake of thinking Satan ever initiates or is in any way controlling this war. Throughout the biblical stories, Satan is never portrayed as God’s equal—he not a fallen god. He is a fallen, created angelic servant of God and is merely the foil in this divine drama in which God again and again displays his power and supremacy by warring against him and his destructive onslaught against humanity. Let’s go back to where it all started in biblical history.
We know this conflict began even before God created humanity. Revelation 12 says Satan and one third of God’s angels who sided with him rebelled against God. Verses 8-9 say of Satan, “but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world— he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” That was the first confrontation between God and Satan and it, like every other direct confrontation between God and Satan resulted in Satan falling to an ignominious defeat.
The next recorded battle scene in this cosmic conquest occurred when God placed man, his highest creation on earth and gave him authority over the earth on God’s behalf. In other words, God was expressing his Kingdom rule on earth through Adam. Adam and Eve were placed on this earth as vice regents under God and when they arrived, Satan in the form of the serpent appears on the scene. We must see Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve as an attack not primarily against humanity but against the Kingdom of God. Graeme Goldsworthy puts it well, “Since man had been created as the pinnacle of all creation, Satan attacked the kingdom of God at that point. He decided to get at God through man.” Adam, not the serpent had been given the authority to rule here. The only way Satan could gain any control over the world is if he was able to get Adam to forfeit his authority to rule by rebelling against God.
We know the tragic story of Genesis three where Adam did just that. He violated the one prohibition he had been given by God not to eat of the tree of knowledge. When he chose to follow Satan’s counsel rather than God’s, he forfeited his authority to rule under God and Satan seized control of the earth. We must make clear that He did NOT defeat God! But God, to display his glorious attributes more fully, allowed Satan to have the authority that Adam had held. In the fall, the destructive power of sin and death began to operate within Adam and in turn all of us. We know this was not a defeat for God because in the next development in Genesis 3:15 God tells Satan he is going to defeat him and God’s kingdom rule on earth (first seen in Adam before the fall) will indeed be established on earth. He decrees that he will establish it by way of another man of his choosing whom he will send. God tells the serpent who is Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Satan, knowing this makes war against humanity in part to stop this divinely appointed, promised Warrior from appearing and bringing God’s kingdom reign back to earth. With much help from sinful, fallen humanity Satan brings about great evil in the world and God, in a fearsome and mighty display of judgment that points to God’s future and final judgment on sin destroys the earth with a flood. He starts over with a righteous remnant of humanity in Noah and his family. Then in Genesis 12, God discloses some very important and very specific information about this promised seed of the woman. That is--his Champion who will bruise Satan’s head will be born through the seed or offspring of a man named Abraham. The coming conqueror would be a Hebrew—a Jew. Because the Jews were another expression of God’s kingdom Satan tries to destroy the Hebrew race through persecution by the Egyptians (all they do is multiply--that doesn’t work). Failing that, and again with much help from God’s stiff-necked people, he attempts to destroy the Jews as a people by bringing them into idolatry through the satanic religions of their Canaanite neighbors. Satan however fails in his attempt to cause the Jews to fall into utter apostasy by bowing down to him through idolatry and intermarriage with pagan people who serve his dark dominion. God is faithful to preserve a bloodline from Abraham for a thousand years to a King named David and for another thousand years down to a virgin named Mary.
This cosmic battle greatly escalates in intensity with the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s promised Vanquisher. Christ comes to fulfill ALL expressions of the Kingdom of God, of God’s kingdom rule on earth. He is the second Adam called to take back the dominion Adam relinquished. He is the Son of God in a way the Jews as a nation were not and he is the true King of Israel—the One who will sit on King David’s throne for all eternity. Satan is well aware of this and we know from Revelation 12:4 he incites King Herod to kill Christ as a baby but God dramatically thwarts that plan as well. Jesus grows in the favor of God and man and is baptized, beginning his public ministry. Having failed in his attempt to kill Jesus, after he is grown and is baptized, scripture records that Satan reverts to the same strategy he used to defeat Adam. This strategy is seen in all of Satan’s subsequent opposition against Jesus. He repeatedly attempts to influence Jesus to disobey the will of his Father-- precisely what he did successfully with the first Adam. If he can do that, he will, at the very least retain control of earth, God’s Champion will be defeated and even God himself in some way. We see this strategy when Jesus is led to the wilderness to be tempted.
Notice, God is in control of ALL this—the gospels record it is the Holy Spirit who leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Adversary. Satan, as God’s creature must always work within God’s constraints because again, He did not defeat God in the garden, only humanity. Satan tempts Jesus using the same three temptations he used on Adam. The lust of the flesh-- “Jesus, you’re hungry, turn those stones into bread.” The lust of the eyes, “Jesus, think about what an impressive display it will be if you throw yourself down and the angels of God come rescue you as the Scripture promises.” The boastful pride of life, “Jesus, if you fall down and worship me, I will give you power and authority to reign over all the kingdoms of the earth.” The difference between Adam and Christ is, Adam sold out in disobedience, but Christ trusted in God and obeyed Him.
Satan tempted Jesus throughout his ministry in ways we are not told, but we know that he left Jesus only “for a season” then came back. We see Satan again tempting Jesus to disobey Christ in Matthew Chapter 16. Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to fulfill his Father’s will to suffer and die on the cross. The leader of the disciples, Peter takes Jesus aside and “…began to rebuke him, saying, Far be it from you Lord!” This shall never happen to you.”[v.22] Jesus knew where the temptation to disobey was coming from and he named it. “…Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.” Satan’s agenda was to influence Christ to disobey God. Here he tried through Peter to dissuade him from going to the cross, but when it became clear he could not prevent that, he began working another plan to influence him to rebel against his Father.
We know he shifted his approach regarding Jesus and the cross because in John 13:27 we read in the upper room discourse speaking of Judas Iscariot, “Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Having failed in his attempt to keep Jesus off the cross, it now becomes clear that Satan will try to use the hideous process of Roman torture and crucifixion to cause Christ to rebel against his Father. But notice again Jesus is in complete control—actually ordering Judas and Satan within Judas to act expeditiously. It is Christ who orders the chain of events to begin that will culminate in his death. Satan’s aim as in the case of Job, as in the case of any who have suffered is to influence the one suffering to curse God and malign the Almighty. We see this strategy implicitly in Isaiah 53:7 where it says of Christ, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” Notice “he opened not his mouth” is repeated to show its importance.
Christ’s humble acceptance of the suffering in his passion is VERY important in all this! Part of Christ’s victory over the darkness during his passion was in his humble and patient endurance and in his utter refusal to blaspheme God. We can’t imagine the sheer number of demonic forces assembled against Jesus to cause him to cry out in rebellion against His Father. We know he must have faced enormous opposition on the cross because while he was on the cross, he took sin upon himself. Paul tells us, “He BECAME sin for us…” Where sin is, spiritual forces of darkness have a right to be because sin is part of their area of dominion. They reign over that area. So when Jesus was on the cross bearing sin on his own body--all the demonic powers in the world had a right to exert their full energies against him to tempt him to rebel against his Father. They threw the kitchen sink at Him. They had a right to because he was bearing sin. Here we see a crucial part of the victory of the cross.
With all of these forces of darkness marshaled against him in their last chance to bring about his disobedience, while on the cross under this inconceivable oppression what effect does this onslaught have on Jesus? How does Christ respond to this? Here are four of his responses. First, He quotes Scripture saying from Psalm 22:1 among other texts, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” That was not rebellion, merely a pronouncement from scripture declaring that He and his Father who for all eternity had known perfect, unbroken fellowship had now temporarily ruptured fellowship as the Father now poured out his wrath for sin upon his chosen sin-bearer. Second, Christ prays for the forgiveness of those who had nailed him to the cross. He not only does not rebel against his Father, he pleads with God to forgive those who have just perpetrated the ultimate in human rebellion. Third, he dispenses his legal duties as the first-born son by arranging for his mother’s care. That’s what he is doing when he says from the cross to John about Mary, “behold, your mother.” He is settling his legal obligations while on the cross. Fourth, he fully takes upon himself the sin of the world and he surrenders his life at the precise moment HE chooses, having finished his work to pay the penalty for sin and destroy the spiritual power of sin. The head of the serpent is crushed and God’s kingdom is established on earth through His victorious, warrior Son-- King Jesus. Paul proclaims this victory and contrasts it with Adam’s defeat in Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. The victory of Jesus over Satan came by way of Christ’s obedience. There is more to it than that, but that brief summary is important for us to know.
The second question is this, II. “What was the nature of Christ’s victory over Satan?” Or, how did Christ’s death on the cross destroy the power of sin and enable his followers to triumph over sin? One answer is in Colossians 2:13-15. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” He disarmed the [demonic] rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” There is so much here, we are only going to scratch the surface but Paul here in verse 15 describes two things God the Father used Jesus to do to Satan and his minions on the cross. 1. He disarmed the powers and principalities, 2. He put them to open shame by triumphing over them.
Jesus disarmed the powers of darkness--he took their weapons away. What were the weapons they used? Ironically, they used God’s law against us or as Paul says it here, “…the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” The words translated “record of debt” in the original language literally mean an IOU. The Jews were under a legal debt they could never pay because they were obligated to keep the law perfectly. Paul tells us in Romans chapter two that the work of the law is also written on Gentile hearts through our consciences placing Gentiles in the same debt. Satan used this IOU that we could never pay to mercilessly hold us in his grip through guilt and condemnation by his relentless accusations. Those who are in Christ are forgiven—ALL IOU’s to God have been canceled! Paul says the weapons Satan used to hold us captive have been wrenched from his hands because on the cross Jesus disarmed him. He remains loud and obnoxious and wants us to believe he is something, but Christ took all the bullets out of his gun.
Second, He “put them to open shame by triumphing over them.” Jesus, suspended between heaven and earth was on display for all to see--all the people and all the angels of light and the darkness. In front of this publicly assembled gathering, He obeys the Father. He took the worst Satan could hand out and not only endured the pain; he triumphed in the midst of it in humble obedience to the Father. He “triumphed over them.” This is a powerful metaphor referring to what happened when Roman generals would return from a successful military campaign. In a parade through the city, he would lead the captives through the streets to show the citizens of Rome the evidence of a total and complete victory. That’s what happened on the cross--Satan was violently demoted from a spiritual ruler to a shamed and shackled captive--conquered by the power of the sin-cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. He had dismally failed in his offensive against God and he suffered a humiliating public defeat. D.A. Carson says of this text, “In making a public spectacle of them he (God…) exposed to the universe their utter helplessness, leading them “in him” …in his triumphal procession so that all the world might see the greatness of his victory.”
Satan, master deceiver that he is, did not openly admit his defeat. Hitler did not concede defeat after D-Day, but everyone knew it was over except for the clean up operation. The decisive battle has been won; Christ now expects his church through the gospel to spread his kingdom to all the earth in the wake of his victory. He will come once again to mop up, but the victory has been won. The enemy of God and humanity has been defeated through the cross.
The third question is, III. What does this mean for us? Let me share three points of application. First, for those who have placed their trust in Christ, we must believe what the bible, not our senses say about Satan and his defeat. We may know intellectually that Christ vanquished Satan, but we are called to believe and live out this truth. Sometimes his attacks through our flesh in the areas of depression, discouragement, lust, anger, bitterness, jealousy seem so strong we cannot possibly overcome them. We cave into them, feeling overwhelmed and Satan, liar that he is will tell us we are indeed overwhelmed and-- “why bother?” We can and we must fight against him in a SURE hope of victory because he is a defeated foe.
Second, for those who have placed their trust in Christ the way to experience victory over the powers of darkness is to follow our Savior’s example, humble obedience. When we out of gratitude and with joy obey whatever God calls us to do, we are acting in humble dependence upon Jesus. We are trusting in him and that’s why John says in First John chapter five, “this is our victory, even our faith.” Faith is an expression of humble trust in Christ and his power and not our own feeble resources.
Third and finally, for those who are here today who have never trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins you need to do that today. The spiritual IOU you owe to God is one you could never pay on your own. The bible declares we are all sinners—hopeless debtors to God, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[Romans 3:23] Paul says, “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside…” [Rom3: 10-11a] We all owe God far more than we could ever pay and in fact the bible tells us that every time we try to pay God back with our good deeds, even our best deeds are tainted with sin and are to God as dirty rags. He rejects and condemns all our efforts to be good enough for him. We cannot because we are sinful not only in what we do but also in who we are.
We are fallen children of Adam and God is holy and must judge sin. Paul tells us “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” [2Thess1: 8-9 NIV] For those who refuse to trust in Christ, you will be forced to “pay-out” on that IOU to God for all eternity through punishment in a hell created for Satan and the fallen angels. We desperately need a Savior who has purchased our forgiveness with his blood and who offers to us new life in him where apart from him we have only spiritual death. We know that new life can be ours because God raised Jesus from the dead—Jesus is a resurrected and living Savior who offers his new life to any who will call on him in faith. Peter tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” [1 Peter 1:3] This new life is a life of joy and purpose—a life where we by God’s grace relate to God not as an angry Judge but as a loving Father.
For those who have seen “The Passion” film with its accurate depiction of the graphic brutality inflicted on Christ, you have been made aware perhaps in a new way of the torment Christ suffered for our sins. The blood and gore of Christ’s passion should be repulsive to us not fundamentally because it is unpleasant but primarily because first, the One who suffered it was of all people in human history the One and only person who did not deserve it (!) and second, because it helps us see the utter vileness and destructive power of our sin. This is what sin does—it takes the spotless Lamb of God and temporarily transforms him into a swollen, bleeding mass of human wreckage. The film does not even pretend to capture the most agonizing aspect of Christ’s passion—that is, what was happening in the spiritual realm where Christ warred against and triumphed over the evil minions. Nor does it show the holy and fierce wrath of God being poured out upon his divine Son—a wrath you and I deserve but which he took upon himself as our chosen Substitute. That unseen torment cannot be captured with a camera—but it was nonetheless experienced by Christ so that we could live eternally with him free from torment.
If you are here today and you have never placed your trust in Christ, call on him today—cry out to him as a sinner, confess your sin and your need of him—place your trust in him and the penalty he paid for your sin. Repent of your sin and come to Christ. By God’s grace you can know forgiveness. You can know joy and victory over sin. You can know the love of God as your Father. Come to Christ and accept him as your personal Savior—receive the forgiveness and the new life he gives—a life of joy and peace with God for all eternity. “For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[John 3:16] May God give to all of us the grace to trust in Christ and live for Him for his glory.
Page last modified on 3/8/2004
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