Our society has always a place of sympathy for the underdog. I mean, this nation started out as the underdog, taking on the greatest empire of the world and thumbing our nose at it. Even after Britain surrendered and recognized our independence, few people in Europe gave us any odds of surviving more than a decade. Movies and TV all love to tell us a story about a scrappy upstart who takes on the giant and triumphs against overwhelming odds. Imagine for a moment a movie about the New York Yankees: The coach at the end of the film tells his team “Well, we’re the richest team in major league baseball, we hired all the best players, everyone thought we would win the World Series in just four games, and here we are! We won, and it didn’t even come close!” Yeah, that’d be a real draw to the theaters.
So how can our story be an underdog story when the hero’s God Almighty? I mean, he’s God. He can do anything he pleases with a thought.
Today’s passage can give us a whole new perspective on this. Paul is talking about our redemption. He’s alluding to a common practice back then in which a notice was placed on prison doors once a convict was set free. Once his debt was paid in full, a paper to that effect was publically displayed for all to see. He forgave us all our sins and took the legal charges against us and nailed them to his cross.
Then he moves to another image. When a Roman officer or Caesar conquered an enemy, he took all the live prisoners of war and paraded them (usually naked) through the city streets. He made a living trophy of them. Everyone could look at the procession and laugh at the foolish would-be enemies of Rome, now reduced to lifetime slavery or death.
That’s the picture Paul wants to convey. Jesus conquered his enemies, which happened to be ours as well: Death, Sin, and Satan. He totally defeated them, stripped them of all power and authority, and led them in a victory parade before the universe. They’re utterly defeated and humiliated before the assembled creation.
But here’s where the supreme irony comes in. You might think Paul would say that Jesus conquered his enemies through his Resurrection. Or maybe when he returns one day. Of course there’s a sense in which his resurrection was the defeat of those adversaries. And naturally his return will be when his victory is completely manifested.
But that’s not what Paul is saying here. What was the victory he’s referring to? When did Jesus conquer these enemies, strip them and parade them like trophies? On the cross.
Let me tell you, my friend, if you were standing there on Golgotha and were a witness of those sordid events, that’d be the last thing you’d be thinking. The last thing going through your mind, as you watched Jesus bleed out and die on that execution stake, would be “Wow, he’s really got ‘em on the ropes now!”
But that’s totally in line with what Jesus said before this all started: “Now the prince of this world will be driven out.” He said this before the events of the Passion began, much less the Resurrection.
How can this be? I’m not totally sure. But I know that our Lord has a tendency to talk about things in our future as if they’ve already occurred. As far as God's concerned, for example, we’re already glorified, and we’re already sitting next to Christ in glory.
But there’s a deeper sense in which the cross was a victory. I wonder, I really wonder, when Satan realized that he was defeated—that each striking of a nail into Jesus’ body was a deadly blow to his own kingdom. But as Jesus was nailed to the cross, Satan’s grasp on humanity was slipping more and more.
That’s the wonder of this story. It would be amazing enough if our Lord conquered the Enemy through the Resurrection. And we look forward to the day in which we get to see with our own eyes the final sealing of our Lord's victory as he casts Satan and all our foes into the Lake of Fire. But when Jesus made his final decision to follow the Father’s plan to the end, that was it.
He won through weakness. He conquered through surrender. And if that’s his weakness, what chance do you think his enemies have against his strength!
Here's Michael Card's "Crown Him."
Lord Jesus, you deserve it all: All power and honor and glory and praise and thanksgiving. You deserve it, and no one else.