READ : Colossians 2:11-14
Is there something you’re afraid of? Whatever it is – sickness, loss, old age, an evil power or force, death itself – Jesus Christ has conquered it!
Listen to the three most exciting words you will ever hear: Christ is risen! Those are the words repeated each year by hundreds of millions of Christians on Easter Sunday. “Christ is risen!” And back comes the thundering refrain, “He is risen indeed!”
This was the announcement that spread like lightning throughout the first-century world. The news of Jesus’ resurrection first burst out in Jerusalem and then quickly spread to the ends of the earth. The good news of Easter is like a fireworks display that explodes bigger and brighter until it fills the sky and covers the whole earth. Today on every continent, in every land and country, Christians are calling out, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”
In doing this, we’re simply echoing the contagious excitement of the first Christians. If you could have asked the apostle Paul what was the si Listen to the three most exciting words you will ever hear: Christ is risen! Those are the words repeated each year by hundreds of millions of Christians on Easter Sunday. “Christ is risen!” And back comes the thundering refrain, “He is risen indeed!”
This was the announcement that spread like lightning throughout the first-century world. The news of Jesus’ resurrection first burst out in Jerusalem and then quickly spread to the ends of the earth. The good news of Easter is like a fireworks display that explodes bigger and brighter until it fills the sky and covers the whole earth. Today on every continent, in every land and country, Christians ngle most exhilarating event in history, he would have responded in a heartbeat, “Jesus’ resurrection!” What creates the gospel is not just the news that Christ died on the cross, but that God has raised him from the dead. Without the resurrection, Christ’s life ends in death, and the New Testament is a tragedy; with the resurrection, Christ is shown to be the Son of God with power, and the New Testament becomes a gospel, an announcement of good news that brings salvation and eternal life to those who accept it.
The cross is the very heart of our faith: Jesus’ death on the cross is what saves us. But it is the resurrection that gives the cross its power. If the cross is the great engine of forgiveness and reconciliation, the resurrection is what turns on the switch to make it operate. Jesus’ resurrection transforms the cross from an instrument of torture, shame and death into a means of life and a symbol of hope. By the light that streams from Jesus’ empty tomb, we see revealed Christ, the conqueror who has triumphed by his cross.
Listen to the apostle Paul,
When you were dead in your sins . . . 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 authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
(Col. 2:13-15, niv)
THE GREAT VICTOR
These stirring words set forth Christ the conqueror, the great victor who has triumphed over all his (and our) enemies. Paul’s words in Colossians 2:15 would have conjured up a familiar image in the minds of his readers. He describes Christ’s triumph over the powers and authorities in images drawn from a Roman general’s victory parade. Nowadays wars are public events that are even covered live on television, so we know very quickly who the winners and losers are. But in the ancient world, of course, it was very different. The only way people could know for sure that a great victory had been won was to actually see the spoils of battle. It was Roman custom to reward a victorious general with a great parade, called “a triumph.” Preceded by wagon loads of captured plunder, the conqueror would ride down the streets of the city in a magnificent chariot, to which was chained a long line of captives trailing behind him like the tail of a kite.
This is the picture the apostle is suggesting when he says that “having disarmed the powers and authorities [Christ] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Every evil authority, every human and demonic power that set itself in opposition to God, was overthrown when Christ laid down his life on the cross. He not only triumphed over them; he disarmed them, drawing their sting; he made a spectacle of them, he humiliated them. He showed them who’s boss (to put it in the vernacular). Christ put the powers of evil in their place, and that place was in the dust at his feet.
THE TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS
All of this happened at the cross and was confirmed by the resurrection. I suppose the most striking thing about the cross of Christ is the contrast it offers between appearances and reality. Jesus’ death just outside the city of Jerusalem on the hill called Golgotha was a very shameful thing. His was the most hideous kind of death, a death reserved only for the worst criminals. He died in excruciating pain and great humiliation, abandoned by all but a few of his friends, mocked and jeered at by his enemies, betrayed by his own people, unjustly condemned by the secular authority. When Jesus was put to death on the cross, it certainly looked like the end of everything for him. His life and ministry were a failure, and his movement was crushed out before it really even began. At Golgotha it seemed for all the world as if God had lost and Satan had won. We can easily imagine all the demons of hell celebrating with twisted glee on the day that Jesus died. No doubt the devil thought he had finally destroyed God!
But the reality was exactly the reverse, for the cross would prove to be Satan’s downfall. Think of that; the very instrument by which evil seemed to destroy the Lord Jesus was the means of evil’s own destruction! The early church fathers liked to compare the cross to a fish hook. Satan used it to strike his hardest and most fiendish blow against God, only to discover that it was there he himself was caught and defeated once and for all.
The English poet Richard Crashaw put it wonderfully:
Christ when He died
Deceived the cross,
And on death’s side
Threw all the loss:
The captive world awak’d and found
The prisoners loose, the jailor bound.
O strange and mysterious strife,
Of open death and hidden life:
When on the cross my King did bleed,
Life seemed to die, Death died indeed.
So Jesus’ death is the means by which he won the victory, and Jesus’ resurrection reveals him as the victor, the great conqueror whose parade of triumph was launched from an empty cross and an empty tomb.
In modern warfare most successful generals (or generals of any kind, for that matter) never get close to real fighting. The army commanders and their staffs are part of the host of rear area support troops, who often have very little in common with the combat soldiers living in the mud and the blood of the front lines and experiencing first hand the terrible reality of war. But when Christ came to earth, he didn’t come as a symbol or a figurehead, or simply to give us inspiration or issue commands. He came as a soldier – and not one sitting in a safe command post. He came into combat. He left the security of heaven and went to the front lines. He, in his own person, took the battle to our worst enemies and in a no-man’s land called Golgotha, he inflicted the decisive defeat upon them all.
THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES
Who are “the powers and authorities” Christ disarmed and defeated at the cross? It’s a comprehensive expression. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus has overcome all the forces of evil, whoever, whatever and wherever they may be. This includes, first of all, evil and immoral human authorities, both religious and secular. On a human level, Jesus’ death was engineered by religious leaders who were jealous of him, and who enlisted the aid of a corrupt and cowardly politician. But God vetoed their judgment and reversed their verdict by raising Jesus from the dead. “You,” the apostle Peter proclaimed to some of these same leaders, “with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead. . . .” (Acts 2:23-24). No oppressive regime, no persecuting state, can defeat Christ and his followers, for he has already defeated them. “Don’t you realize I have the power to execute you?” a Nazi commandant asked Pastor Martin Niemoeller, when he was imprisoned in a wartime concentration camp for his testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. “And don’t you realize I have the power to die?” Niemoeller replied.
Secondly, Christ has triumphed over the psychological powers of evil. On the cross he conquered sin, washing away its guilt and breaking its hold on us. “God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross” (v. 14, cev). God’s holy law, which reveals all our sins, hung over our heads like an unpaid debt. But God took the debt and erased it clean, wiping everything away, and what is more, he nailed it to the cross to publicly display it as paid in full. What a victory! This means that, whoever you are, whatever you might have done, your past no longer has power over you once you are in Christ. Oppressive memories . . . bad habits . . . terrible experiences . . . psychological conditions . . . besetting sins . . . old fears – Jesus Christ is stronger than all these things. He has already defeated them decisively, so you and I need not remain in their grip or under their control.
Thirdly, he has triumphed over all the spiritual forces of wickedness. Are such things real? Can modern men and women still believe in things like the devil, evil spirits and demons? Whether or not you may think you can believe in them, these enemies are very real – and very terrible. But they too have all been overthrown at the cross. Their power is broken; they cannot do us any ultimate harm. Even death itself (which the Bible calls the last enemy) has been defeated by Christ the conqueror. When John saw his dazzling vision of the risen and glorified Lord on the island of Patmos, he heard Christ say this: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). Jesus Christ has absolute authority over all our enemies.
A SHARED VICTORY
It is a mighty victory won by Christ! But perhaps you’re wondering, “Does it really make any difference to me?” It does if you have been baptized! “You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. . . . having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God . . . When you were dead in your sins . . . God made you alive with Christ” (Col. 2:10-13).
If you have faith in Christ, then you have been united with him (as symbolized in your baptism), which means you have died with him and been raised to a new life in him. Your sins are forgiven, and Christ’s victory over all the evil powers is your victory too.
Please don’t think I want to oversimplify things or make them sound too easy. Even though the great victory has been won, things can still be very difficult for us as Christians. We still struggle, and we still lose some battles against evil and sin. But not the war.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why our power isn’t always great, or greater than it seems to be. I don’t know why we don’t live more triumphantly and consistently. But I do know this: Jesus Christ is the conqueror. He has defeated every enemy and all the forces of evil. And his victory is ours. I know that, and one day, the whole universe will know it too.