The Victory

"DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." I Cor. 15:54-58

I was called on in my first pastorate to meet a member of our church at the County Hospital and identify the body of one of his family member. This young man had mishandled a .45 automatic handgun and been killed by a single round to the chest. I will never forget the look of shocked unbelief that was frozen on his face. This was a difficult moment, but the toughest tasks still were ahead. The parents of this young man were on a once in a life time trip to Europe, and we had to break the news to them over the phone. Meeting them at the airport and walking them through the funeral and grief process was a challenging and prolonged experience. Thoughts of those days are a bittersweet mixture of remembrances of the frailty of life and the Sovereignty of God.

The cross was the ultimate weapon in Rome's battle over rebellion. They had taken it from the Persians and perfected it into a brutal but effective killing machine. It was reserved for the worst of criminals and it was a one way ticket out of the empire and into oblivion. No one ever walked away from the cross. They were carried to a grave. Prior to Good Friday, no one ever wore a small cross around their neck as an expression of their faith, or took comfort from the appearance of a cross over their city. It was a sign of death.

For the family who lost their son to the handgun, it will forever be associated by them as an instrument of death. It never crossed my mind to meet them at the airport with a picture or a small symbolic representation of the gun. That would have been cruel and unusual callousness. They would not have seen this as a sign of comfort and hope, but a rubbing of their noses in the worst thing that had ever happened to them.

This was Satan's plan with the cross. He intended it to be a defeat of God's Son, and use it as a demoralizing reminder of defeat whenever the followers of Christ saw it. It would be a constant reminder to them that their Savior died on that cross, and all their hopes and dreams died on it too. God had a different plan for the cross. His Son would die on it, but He would not stay on it. He would be buried in a tomb, but He would not stay in it.

The worst Friday was turned into Good Friday by the plan of God who intended to offer His Son as the Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. Satan tried to force feed Christ followers with a bitter meal in the shape of a cross. Paul reminds us in his first letter to the church at Corinth that God let Satan set the table, but He swallowed up death in victory. While Satan was up to his worst, God was bringing about His best.

Today the empty cross has been transformed from an instrument of death into a sign of victory. Jesus died on a cross in order to deal with the sin that separates people from God. He built a cross shaped bridge across the chasm between man and God. Anyone who crosses that bridge and returns to God can find forgiveness of sin and fellowship with the Father. The cross brings hope, not regret.

Good Friday is good because God offered His best to us, when Satan was doing his worst to His Son. Thank God for the victory that we have in Jesus Christ. God still transforms trials into triumphs. Paul called on the church at Corinth to remain earnest, immovable and abound in the work of the Lord. That is still possible today for Christ followers to do because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. The sting of death is removed by the forgiveness of sin, and the power of sin is overwhelmed by God's Son meeting the requirements of the law.

"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." I Cor. 15:57