Christ the Victor

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 16:7-11

Someone has said that evil and death can never win in the end, because they lost at the only time they could have really won – at the cross. But life and righteousness won when Christ “arose as victor from the dark domain.”

On a Jewish religious holiday called Pentecost, in about the year 30 a.d., 120 or so of Jesus’ followers were gathered together in the city of Jerusalem. They were waiting for something to happen. These disciples weren’t quite sure what it was that was going to happen, but Jesus had told them to wait there in the city until a special power came upon them. Shortly before 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning, it did!

While the disciples were all praying together in a large upper room, there was an unusual sound, a mighty rushing noise like a powerful wind. Then dancing tongues of fire-like flame appeared above their heads. Both those phenomena were signs of the coming of God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus himself, who had been crucified and raised from the dead just seven weeks before. And as this Spirit filled them, Jesus’ followers were moved into action.

Rushing out into the open, they began to speak about all the mighty things God had done through Jesus. Because Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims who had come from all over the Roman Empire for the religious holiday, the disciples soon attracted a large crowd of onlookers. The words they spoke struck the various listeners in that international crowd with astonishment, not only because of what the disciples said, but because they were speaking in each listener’s native language. The crowd was amazed as much by the medium as by the message. “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own languages!” they exclaimed. This was the miracle of the tongues of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit miraculously enabled Jesus’ disciples to speak foreign languages that day so they could proclaim to the peoples of the world in their own languages the amazing news of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ.

Peter Takes the Lead

All during the three years when Jesus’ disciples lived and walked with him, Peter was their principal spokesman. Peter was the leader, the talker, the bold, blustery one. Sometimes his confident talk got him into trouble, most notably on the night when Jesus was arrested. Peter, you may recall, turned coward and loudly denied ever knowing Jesus. But on Pentecost Peter was a changed man. He became a magnificent spokesman for the Lord Jesus before this huge mixed crowd, which even included some of the very leaders who had conspired to put Jesus to death. As that vast throng of many thousands of curious onlookers gathered around the Holy-Spirit-driven disciples, it was Peter who addressed them. He told them the good news that Jesus was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. He rehearsed the basic facts of his life, especially his death and resurrection. He challenged the people plainly with their own complicity in Jesus’ crucifixion. And he offered them the hope of salvation, forgiveness, and new life in Christ.

The main subject of Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. His theme is those great things by which Jesus accomplished salvation for his people, especially his death and resurrection. In the sermon Peter declared that:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it . . . This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.

(Acts 2:23-24, 32)

The crucifixion of Jesus was a gross perversion of human justice. But at the same time, this terrible sin was used by God according to his wonderful predetermined plan as the perfect sacrifice to pay for sins. Nor did God permit Jesus to remain the victim of sin and the captive of death, but he raised him in triumph and glory from the grave to secure eternal life for all who put their trust in Christ.

Jesus and the Victory of God

A recent book by a leading New Testament scholar is entitled, Jesus and the Victory of God. That really would make an excellent title for Peter’s great Pentecost sermon as well. This is a victory that wasn’t just described in the evangelists’ Gospels or proclaimed in the apostles’ sermons; it was also prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures. When he began to preach Peter didn’t simply announce the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He grounded those events in the prophetic teaching of the Old Testament. Throughout his Pentecost sermon Peter quotes over and over from the Psalms and the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures. Christian preaching from the very outset takes the form of biblical exposition. “We are witnesses of these things,” declared Peter on behalf of the other apostles. And so they were. But so also were the Old Testament writers. All of Scripture—the whole Bible from beginning to end—points to Jesus Christ. The Christian church is built upon the foundation of both prophets and apostles, of the Old Testament as well as the New.

So just after proclaiming the great fact of Christ’s resurrection, Peter turns to the 16th Psalm for confirmation of the truth of this event. In fact, he quotes the entire second half of the Psalm.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

(Psalm 16:8-11)

These beautiful words of David the psalmist testified to his unshakable confidence that nothing could separate him from the Lord whose presence means life and joy. Even death would not cut David off from God, for the Lord would not abandon him to Sheol, the realm of the dead, or let his body decay in the grave. But now comes something interesting. Peter, in quoting from the 16th Psalm, immediately goes on to point out that this promise could not be referring to David himself, at least not then and there. “I may say to you with confidence about . . . David,” remarks Peter to the Pentecost crowd, “that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). So if, as anyone in Jerusalem could see for themselves, David was still in his tomb with his body turned to dust these past thousand years, what then could the words of this Psalm mean? Peter goes on to explain:

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, [David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. . . . Let all . . . therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Acts 2:30-32, 36

So the promises of Psalm 16 refer first and foremost to Jesus, and they predict his triumphant resurrection from the grave. The resurrection of Jesus really is the victory of God, and in refusing to abandon Christ’s soul to Hades or leave his body to corrupt in the tomb, God is thereby proclaiming Christ the Victor. The resurrection is Jesus’ great vindication. It marks his victory over all his enemies, all who participated in his destruction: the Jerusalem authorities who feared and resented his popularity, the scribes and Pharisees who hated him for his independence, the Romans who saw him as a threat to their power, the crowd who turned on him when he disappointed their expectations. But more importantly, Christ’s resurrection proclaims him to be the victor over the evil spiritual powers, over sin and death and the devil himself. “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). He “disarmed the rulers and authorities”—all the forces of darkness—triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Colossians 2:15). “The evil world will not win at last,” wrote the Scottish theologian P. T. Forsyth, “because it failed to win at the only time it ever could. It is a vanquished world where men play their devilries. Christ has overcome it. It can make tribulation, but desolation it can never make” (The Justification of God).

More Good News

Here’s more Good News: Christ shares his victory with us. Because he lives, we too shall live. And God’s great promise through the words of the psalmist David that in your presence there is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore will come true for us because of Jesus. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, affirmed that “All the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Because Christ, by his resurrection, has defeated every evil power, one day, not only that promise but all of the Bible’s good promises will come true for all who know and love Christ. Including his promise that he will not abandon us to death. Someday, you know, David will be raised from his grave, and his body will be restored to him uncorrupted. And so will yours, if you belong to Christ.

“All dies, and all dries, and moulders into dust,” declared the great preacher John Donne,

and that dust is blown into the river, and that puddled water tumbled into the sea, and that ebbs and flows in infinite revolutions, and still, still God knows . . . in what part of the world every grain of every man’s dust lies; and . . . he whispers, he hisses, he beckons for the bodies of his saints, and in the twinkling of an eye that body that was scattered over all the elements is sat down at the right hand of God, in glorious resurrection.

Amen. So be it. We will live forever because Christ is Victor.