Jesus: How does God triumph and inspire us through the cross?
From video games to blockbuster movies and bigger than life sporting events, people never grow weary of heroes who rise up to lead their team to victory. Something in us wants to see someone step onto the field of battle to defeat a foe so that everyone on their side of the fight wins.
Scripture clearly says that there is a very real war between Jesus and the angels and Satan and the demons; sinners have been taken as captives in war. [ENDNOTE #1] Jesus himself confirmed this fact at the beginning of his earthly ministry when he said he had come to set captives free. [ENDNOTE #2] Jesus said this because there is no way that Satan would release us from his captivity and no way that we could liberate ourselves. Therefore, Jesus came as our triumphant warrior and liberator.
The first promise of Jesus as our victor over Satan came to our first parents. In Genesis 3:15, God preached the first good news (or gospel) of Jesus to our sinful first mother, Eve. God promised that Jesus would be born of a woman and would grow to be a man who would battle with Satan and stomp his head, defeat him, even as the serpent strike his heel killing him, and liberate people from their captivity to Satan, sin, death, and hell through Messiah’s substitutionary death.
Leading up to the cross, Satan entered one of Jesus’ own disciples, Judas Iscariot, and conspired with him to betray Jesus and hand him over to be crucified. Through the cross, Satan and his demons thought that they had finally defeated Jesus. However, crucifying Jesus was the biggest mistake the Devil ever made. Had he understood what was happening, he would never have killed Jesus. [ENDNOTE #3]
An essential portion of Scripture on the victory of Jesus over Satan, sin, and death is Colossians 2:13–15:
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 rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Thus, the authority of the Devil and his demons has already ended. Matthew 28:18 makes it very clear that Jesus has all authority now, which means that Satan has no authority over Christians. As a result, we can now live in accordance with Colossians 1:10–14 and “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The Bible uses the word grace to explain the victory Jesus achieved for us on the cross because there is no logical reason that God would love us and die in our place to liberate us from captivity to Satan, sin, and death, other than his wonderful nature.
Consider, for a moment, all of the time and energy you put into cleaning yourself and the things in your life. For starts you bath your body, brush your teeth, wash your windows, clean your dishes, vacuum your house, wash your clothes, change your sheets, and detail your car. If you are a germ freak, the list is much longer. What is true physically is also true spiritually as our souls also need to be cleansed.
The typical gospel presentation is that we are all sinners and that if we confess our sins to Jesus, He will forgive our sins through his sinless life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection. This is clearly true according to Scripture. However, this gospel only addresses the sins that you have committed (as a sinner) and neglects to deal with the sins that have been committed against you (as a victim).
Throughout the Bible, some dozen words are used frequently to speak of sin in terms of staining our soul, defiling us, and causing us to be filthy or unclean. [ENDNOTE #4] The effect of sin, particularly sins committed against us, is that we feel dirty. The Bible mentions a number of causes for our defilement, such as any sin at all, as well as involvement with false religions and/or the occult, [ENDNOTE #5] violence, [ENDNOTE #6] and sexual sin. [ENDNOTE #7]
Thus, souls are stained and defiled by the filth of sins that people commit and that are committed against them. In Scripture, places, [ENDNOTE #8] objects (such as the marriage bed), [ENDNOTE #9] and people are defiled by sin. Subsequently, the Old Testament and the Gospels are filled with people who were ritually unclean and not to be touched or associated with. The commandments for ceremonial washings and such foreshadow the cleansing power of the death of Jesus.
The predictable result of defilement is shame, including the fear of being found out and known, and our deep, dark secret getting revealed. This pattern was firmly established with our first parents, who covered themselves in shame and hid from God and one another after they sinned. Shame exists where there is sin, and so feeling ashamed, particularly when we sin, is natural and healthy. Therefore, shame is not bad, but unless the underlying sin that causes the shame is properly dealt with through the gospel, then the shame will remain, with devastating implications.
Jesus forgave our sins at the cross and cleanses us from all sins that we have committed and that have been committed against us. Through the cross, Jesus Christ has taken our sin away forever, as was foreshadowed by the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement. This goat was sent away to run free into the wilderness, symbolically taking the people’s sins with it. Theologically, we call this the doctrine of expiation, whereby our sin is expiated or taken away so that we are made clean through Jesus, who is our scapegoat.
The Bible uses words such as atonement, cleansing, and purifying fountain that washes away our defilement and shame to explain that our identity must be marked only by what Jesus Christ has done for us and no longer by what has been done by or to us. The Bible clearly teaches that dirty sinners can be cleansed.
- For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. [ENDNOTE #10]
- I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. [ENDNOTE #11]
- On that day there shall be a fountain opened…to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. [ENDNOTE #12]
Jesus not only went to the cross to die for our sin, but also to scorn our shame. As Hebrews 12:1–2 says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
As a result, we can walk in the light with others who love us in authentic community. On this point, 1 John 1:7–9 says:
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus does “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This means that because of Jesus’ cross we can be cleansed and made pure. The beauty of this truth of the expiating or cleansing work of Jesus is poetically shown in symbolic acts throughout Scripture, including ceremonial washings, [ENDNOTE #13] baptism, [ENDNOTE #14] and the wearing of white in eternity as a continual reminder of the expiating work of Jesus. [ENDNOTE #15]
When I was a little boy, my grandpa was a diesel mechanic and my dad was a construction worker. I remember they both wore steel toed work boots, carried a lunch box and thermos, and wore overalls and jeans respectively. As a little boy, I looked up to them and so I followed their example. I had my own jeans and boots I wore, and thermos and lunch box that I would bring when I would ride in their trucks to help them with projects. The truth is, we all have people we look up to as role models and examples. Since Jesus Christ is perfect, it makes sense that He would be our perfect role model to follow.
Jesus died for our sins, thereby enabling us to experience new life. Jesus lived as our example showing us what it means to live a truly holy human life.
Throughout Jesus’ life he repeatedly stated that the purpose of His life on earth was to glorify God the Father, or to make the Father’s character visible. Jesus’ glorifying God the Father included dying on the cross. [ENDNOTE #16] Practically, this means that there is joy not only in our comfort and success, but also in our suffering and hardship, just as there was for Jesus. [ENDNOTE #17]
At the cross of Jesus, we learn that to be like Jesus means that we pick up our cross and follow him as he commanded. [ENDNOTE #18] Practically, this means that we glorify God by allowing hardship, pain, and loss to make us more and more like Jesus and give us a more credible witness for Jesus. As Christians we should neither run to suffering as the early Christian ascetics did, nor run from it as some modern Christians do. Instead, we receive suffering when it comes as an opportunity for God to do something good in us and through us. We rejoice not in the pain but rather in what it can accomplish for the gospel so that something as costly as suffering is not wasted but used for God’s glory, our joy, and others’ good.
In order to suffer well—that is, in a way that is purposeful for the progress of the gospel both in and through us—we must continually remember Jesus’ cross. Peter says:
What credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. [ENDNOTE #19]
- 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:25–26.
- Luke 4:18.
- 1 Cor. 2:6–9.
- g., Ps. 106:39; Prov. 30:11–12; Mark 7:20.
- 19:31; Ezek. 14:11.
- g., Lam. 4:14.
- 34:5; Lev. 21:14; Num. 5:27; 1 Chron. 5:1.
- 18:24–30; Num. 35:34.
- Acts 22:16.
- John 12:23, 27–28; 13:30–32; 17:1.
- 1 Pet. 2:20–24.