The work of Christ 1 / Victor
Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one; clothe yourself with splendour and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility and justice; let your right hand achieve awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet. Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.
(Psalm 45:3-6, cited at Heb.1:8-9)
The Lord is my strength and my defence; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.
One of the many books penned by A.W. Tozer had the provocative title, ‘This World: Playground or Battleground?’ Our spiritual forebears would have had little hesitation in answering such a question. They saw clearly that we live in a Battleground. They spoke of ‘the Church militant here on earth’; they pictured the Christian as dressed in armour and fighting against sin, the world and the devil (see Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress; Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour); they wrote hymns that conjured up the image of warfare and conquest: Onward Christian Soldiers; Fight the Good Fight; A Mighty Fortress is our God; Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus: Soldiers of Christ Arise. These were the battle anthems of a people who understood themselves to be at war. But that was a different generation. We tend to be more hesitant about this aspects of the Bible’s teaching, and of the Church’s traditional self-understanding. Such hymns are rarely sung in our day. Perhaps we are embarrassed by such militancy? …or fearful of being opened to misinterpretation? … or more fundamentally, we have lost a way of thinking about our faith that stood our spiritual ancestors in good stead?
Alongside the loss of militancy in our thinking about the Church (and ourselves), is the loss of militancy in our vision of the Person and Work of Jesus. The imagery of Christ as our Warrior doesn’t sit comfortably with many. Those passages that speak, sometimes graphically, of His declaring war on His enemies upon His return, will be the subject of a later Jesus-Centred-Life term (see e.g. Rev.19:11-21).
In this study we’ll focus our attention on the conflict won by Christ on the cross. The death of Jesus at Golgotha can be compared to jewel of infinite beauty and worth. Different facets come to the fore as we hold it to the light of God’s Word, and each gives us a glimpse in to the depths of God’s being, heart, mind, and work. Each blends into the others, giving them depth and perspective, lending colour and brilliance. The facet that captivates our attention in this opening study demands that we lay aside our ‘squeamishness’ and our discomfort at language and categories that might seem ill-suited to a Western liberal democracy. In days gone by, the worship of the saints was fired by the vision of Christus Victor. He was our Champion, who David-like, steps out from the helpless ranks of the Church to slay the monstrous giant that threatens tyranny, slavery and death. Christ’s victory was won by Him for the sake of His people.
The arena of His victory was Calvary where, in the genius of God, the Victor becomes the Victim and the Victim the Victor. In a brandish of Divine Wisdom, the moment of defeat is supremely the moment of conquest.
The victory of Christ in His death and resurrection is the foundation of the victory of the Church in her battle against sin, the world and the devil. The rage, rejection, malice and persecution of the world are only the impotent death rattle of a vanquished foe (Jn 16:33; I Jn 5:4). Satan’s temptations are foiled (I Cor.10:13; Lk.22:31), his power over the Church is broken (Lk.11:21; Jn.12:31); His capacity to enslave is shattered (Heb.2:12-14; I Cor.15:47-56); and both he and his accusations are rendered impotent (Rev.12:10; Rom.8:1). The whole work of Christ can be summarised thus, ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (I Jn.3:8). Satan’s dominion rested on the reality of sin, and once sin is atoned for, his kingdom has no foundation or legitimacy. On the basis of the Cross, our Father has ‘rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’ (Col.1:13-14). In the death of Christ, Satan is judged (Jn.16:11), he is dispossessed of any legitimate power and authority he once held over us (Mk.3:27), and death is no longer weaponised (Heb.2:12-14; I Cor.15:54-56).
When we consider the Ascension in our Deep Church evening, we’ll see that the work of Christ is also the grounds of the Church’s inevitable victory in her advance through the preaching of the Gospel. We’ll do well to recover the militancy that remains latent in our Christian faith.
Could (should?) we worship / do evangelism with Roman Catholics, whose understanding of what Jesus does in His death is very different from Protestant Churches, e.g. the Church of England? Do we ‘all believe the same thing really’?
Why did Jesus have to die on a cross? Could he have dealt with sin and its consequences if He had died peacefully in His sleep?
Read Mark 3:23-27
Who do you think the ‘strong man’ is (v.27)? Why is this imagery used?
In what sense is this ‘strong man’ bound / tied up and what difference do you think it makes to our experience of life and Christian discipleship (v.27)?
Read on to Mark 3:30. What do you think is the ‘eternal sin’? How is it different from other sins? Why can it never be forgiven? How does Jesus’ teaching about the binding of the strong man connect with His teaching in vv.28-29?
Who or what are the ‘powers and authorities’ Paul refers to here (v.15, see also 1:16, 2:10)?
What does Paul mean when he talks about our legal indebtedness (v.14)? How does it condemn us? How is it nailed to the cross? What do you think is the link between this and the disarming of the powers and authorities?
Why is it important that they were made a public spectacle of (v.15)?
If, on the cross, Jesus was ‘disarming’ our enemies in this way, and ‘triumphed over them’ (v.15), why are they still so powerful and invasive? Doesn’t Christ’s death mean we should no longer experience ‘opposition’?
How does the idea of the Victory of Christ over evil affect how you think and feel about being a Christian?
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
For further reflection:
Why is the world a world of suffering, injustice and death? There are several levels at which we can engage with such a question. We could say it is because of ‘people’. Too often ‘we’ are what makes the world the way it is. We talk about ‘injustice’, when we really mean ‘people who are unjust’. A deeper level of engagement must confront God’s responsibility. We know God is able to create a world without (and incapable of), death, mourning, crying or pain. Isn’t that our New Creation hope (Rev.21:4)? But such a hope begs the question: Why not here and now? If God can create such a world, why didn’t He do it in this world?
There is an intriguing idea that we find scattered throughout the Scriptures. Christ, as a sacrificial Lamb, whose precious blood redeems us, was in fact ‘chosen before the creation of the world’ (I Pet.1:19-20). Again, Jesus is ‘the Lamb slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev.13:8). Paul too speaks of the grace that comes through Jesus’ destroying death as being ‘given us … before the beginning of time’ (II Tim.1:9; see also Titus 1:2). The cross, seemingly, was in the mind of God before creation. Indeed, it may be that the cross is the reason for and the foundation of creation, i.e. creation is the arena for the cross. Why then is there sin? So it can be dealt with on the cross. Why is there injustice? So Christ could suffer injustice on the cross. Why is there death? So Jesus could die to save the Church. Such thinking seems to lie behind a passage such as Heb.13:20, which speaks of the ‘blood of the eternal covenant’. The cross gives shape to creation, to its life… and to its death. This was the mind of God before the world began.