Triumph at the Cross

Colossians 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

I have been coaching soccer at Wisconsin Lutheran School for the past 10 years. Over that time, the parents and players have been able to notice a few things about my coaching style. 1) I am constantly talking to the players throughout the game; 2) the parents can hear me talking (i.e. yelling) to players from the other side of the field; 3) I am always pacing the sideline during the game. I can’t sit down.

Oh, I’ve tried. I’ve brought a chair to sit in. The players have even timed me. 42 seconds. That’s my record for sitting during a game.

Whether it’s pounding the sideline of a close soccer game or pacing in the office with a stack of unpaid bills on the desk or lying awake at night when we should be sleeping, we act this way because the outcome of the game or work or life is in jeopardy. We can’t sit back and relax. We can’t take it easy. We have no confidence that we will triumph in the end.

And yet look at the angel in our new Easter painting. Is he pacing back and forth? Does he look worried? Is there any anxiety at all on his face?

NO! He is sitting calmly pointing at the open tomb. The fainted guards have left their helmet and spear behind as they have hastily retreated from the tomb. Feeling the earthquake and then seeing the angel was too much for them! They skedaddled as quickly as their wobbly legs would carry them!

Golgotha’s hill, the place of the skull is in the background. That is the place where the serpent struck Jesus’ heel and caused the Holy One to die. But that is also the place where the Woman’s Seed crushed the serpent’s head under His heel. For several hours, the cross appeared to be Jesus’ greatest defeat. But on Easter morning, it is announced to the world that is where Jesus won His greatest victory! It was unnaturally dark on Friday afternoon at Jesus’ death. But a bright, new and glorious day is shining on this Easter dawn!

Jesus is alive! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Nothing can stop Him. The Roman seal on the tomb door could not keep Jesus in the grave, just like the locked door in the upper room could not keep the resurrected Jesus out.

Jesus’ burial clothes lie in a heap inside the grave. He won’t be needing them anymore. The second angel is sitting where Jesus’ corpse once lay. The angel fills the dark tomb with his brilliant glory.

All because of Jesus’ triumph at the cross.

The women came to the tomb on Sunday morning, their arms full of spices and hearts full of disappointment. They were approaching what they thought was a place of failure, broken promises and fear. All they had hoped to do was anoint the body of a dead man. A dead Jesus does no good for anyone – not the women, not the disciples, not us.

How many times aren’t we exactly like those women? We are committed to Jesus. We are faithful followers. And yet we live like such losers. We hang our heads in shame. We mope about like failures. We cower in fear. We pace back and forth with worry. Our heads ache and our necks are tight with tension.

We live like unbelievers. We curse like atheists. We worship false gods like heathens. We worry like doubters. Our minds are filled with sex and evil like pagans. Our homes are filled with anger and fighting like we are barbarians. The holy days God has set aside for His worship are instead set aside by us for anything but worship like we are godless.

Take a walk this morning to the tomb once again. See what the women saw. Hear what they heard. Believe what they believed.

The angel said, “You are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” The angel rolled back the stone, not to let the Lord out, but to show the world that the Lord was already gone. He rolled it back to help his fellow servants believe. He rolled it back so the women, the disciples and the world might believe. The cross is empty; the grave is empty; which allows God to fill heaven. The once dead, now alive Savior dispels our doubts, calms our fears and forgives our sins.

St. Paul applies all of this to us in the single verse of our sermon text: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

At the cross, Jesus drove out Satan, “the prince of this world” (John 12:31-33). Christ disarmed “the powers and authorities,” the wicked spirits. These evil hordes, led by Satan, brought sin into God’s perfect world. They plunged humanity into death at the fall. They still tempt us to sin, and then, when sinners have fallen, these evil spirits turn around and accuse us before God. They are at war with God. They wage war on God’s children. They poke and prod and tempt and make life miserable for us.

But at the cross, Jesus disarmed them. Literally in the Greek, Christ undressed them. This is a picture from the ancient oriental custom of stripping the robes of office from a deposed official. As man’s substitute, Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations in the desert. He won victory upon victory over the hosts of the demons throughout His ministry – casting out demons, expelling evil spirits, reclaiming the lost, resurrecting the dead. At Calvary, when all the hordes of hell did their worst in that dark hour, Christ administered the final blow! Hanging naked on the cross, Jesus stripped the devil and his hosts of all their power! They now have no authority to oppose, intimidate or harass you.

But that’s not all Jesus did. St. Paul says Christ “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” This is again an illustration taken from ancient history. In the days of the apostles, when a conquering emperor returned from a great victory, he was given a triumphal procession. The victor and his army marched through streets lined by cheering thousands. While the musicians played, chariots and soldiers carried the looted treasures of the defeated king, while the king, his general or other selected prisoners were led in chains, their shame openly displayed.

This would be like the Green Bay Packers beating the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game … again. Then going on to win the Super Bowl. But instead of having the victory parade in Green Bay, the Packers have their victory parade in downtown Chicago … in Soldier Field … making all the Bears’ players and fans watch.

Jesus triumphed on the cross. Then He descended into hell  - not to suffer defeat – but to publicly proclaim to the devil, his demons and all the souls who had rejected Him that He had won. He had won absolutely … completely … and finally. He publicly put them to shame. Christ marched in the lead with the devil and his demons tramping behind Christ in their chains. Jesus made a public spectacle of their defeat, and now every demonic being and soul in hell knows that Satan has been defeated. Their satanic lord’s authority has been stripped from him.

This assures us that the devil and the evil spirits have no real power over us. They only have what we give them. Yes, they are still our enemies. They are still powerful and dangerous. They still tempt and torture. We must daily be aware of them and pray for God to lead us away from their temptations.

But Jesus Christ, our all-sufficient Savior, has defeated Satan and all his forces. Because we share in His victory by faith, now the one little word of Christ can fell Satan (CW: 200).

Satan has lost and we won’t let him forget it. He is vanquished forever. The prince of this world has been hurled down and the Prince of Life reigns immortal. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Every time we confess these words, we are poking the devil in the eye with the sharp stick of our resurrection confession. We are mocking the mocker.

In a few weeks our WLS girls will be playing in the conference soccer tournament. Hopefully we will be playing in the championship game. And hopefully, I will be sitting during the second half of that championship game. If we are up by several goals, I can sit back and relax. The girls can enjoy themselves on the bench . They can look forward to what is coming next.

Soon they will be holding up the 1st place trophy. Teammates will be congratulating one another. Parents will be hugging their daughters. The girls will be mugging for pictures. Then we will go out for a party of pizza and ice cream, and shaving the coach’s head … I mean, the assistant coach’s head.

Notice how everything changes when we know that victory is in hand. It is true whether we are playing sports or at work or in the home. If we feel like we are losing or we think the outcome is in jeopardy, then worry and tension are our constant companions. We doubt whether God will see us through the tough times. We are confused about what good can come from a loved one’s death. We are distressed that our marriage is failing. We are feeling guilty over past sins. There is no way we can be rest and relax.

Dark. Despondent. Depressed. We feel like the disciples gathered in the upper room during Holy Weekend. Uncertain. Uneasy. Upset. We feel like the women walking to the tomb on Sunday morning. Annoyed. Then anguished. Then afraid. We are like the soldiers guarding the grave that weekend. We waver between unbelief and faith. We fluctuate between a dead faith and a resurrection faith.

But the triumph at the cross changes everything.

The angel’s announcement, “He is not here;” the empty tomb able to be reused; the disarming of the demonic authorities changes everything.

Now we can take our Christian uniforms that have gotten dirty with sin and bloody from persecutions and exchange them for the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are looking forward to a party – not of pizza and ice cream – but the Lamb’s High Feast. We can exchange our worldly trophies of plastic, or our job titles, or our prize of a big home, or our rewards of old age, etc. for the trophies of the crown of life and the palm branch of victory. We can hand over our doubts, worries, and sins. Jesus gives us forgiveness, new life, and salvation as replacements. We can lift up our heads and wait with confidence for Christ’s return. We can stop living like losers and start living as champions.

We can sit down and relax. The outcome has been decided. The devil is defeated. Sin is conquered. Death is dead. The tomb is empty. The angel is sitting on the stone.

All because of the triumph at the cross! Amen.