Crossed-Up: Victorious - Mark 16:1-6
What would you consider to be the greatest sports comeback in history?
Duke actually gets a mention in some lists. Their comeback from twenty-one points down to Maryland in the second half to win by nine, and then go on to win the national championship two days later.
Many sports enthusiasts label an event from nearly ten years ago to be the all-time greatest. They were down by three games in the best of seven series and no one in the history of their sport had ever come from that far behind to win the championship. Yet as they overcame injuries, including one that resulted in a now infamous (at least in the world of baseball) “bloody sock,” the Boston Red Sox shook off their 86 year old curse and defeated their archenemy New York Yankees to claim the American League Championship before going on to win the 2004 World Series.
The thing about sports victories, though, is that they are temporary. In 2002, Duke didn’t even reach the final four, much less the championship game and in 2005 the Red Sox didn’t make it out of their division playoffs.
Athletic victories are not the only fleeting victories. Academic victories, political victories, military victories, and even business victories are but temporary wins in an every changing world.
There really has only been one eternal, world-changing victory, and it is the one that we have gathered here to celebrate this morning.
Throughout the season of Lent, as we prepared ourselves for today’s Easter celebration, we considered various theories of atonement—the ways in which we are brought to be “at-one(ment)” with God through the actions of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The ways that we considered all focused up the work of Jesus upon the Cross. We were reminded that all aspects of the work of Jesus must be considered to capture the fact that the cross is a “multi-faceted jewel” and a “masterpiece of art” by God.
We considered the Substitutionary Theory of Atonement in which we remembered that though we deserved death because of our sin, Jesus took our sin upon Himself and died our death on the cross.
We also discussed the Subjective (or Moral Theory of Atonement) which states that in the cross we are confronted with the ugliness and self-focused sin of ourselves against the self-giving, self-emptying nature of Christ and realize that we must change.
Finally, in our third week of reflection, we examined the Sacrificial Theory of Atonement, realizing that throughout the history of God’s people, sacrifice was required for the forgiveness of sins…and in the Jewish community animals were sacrificed over and over again, to only bring temporary reconciliation between God and humanity, the animals could never fully atone for our sin…only the free sacrifice of a sinless man could bring complete atonement…and that sacrifice was completed in Jesus Christ.
Somebody may be wanting to shout, “Hey Preacher, enough of the cross, this is Easter, we are supposed to be on the other side of the cross. We are supposed to be focusing on the empty tomb.” If you want to shout that, you are right, well partially right…and that is where our final theory of atonement takes us. However, unlike our society that tends to separate the holidays—from Christmas to Easter—we in the church cannot—without the manger, there is no journey to the cross…and without the cross, there is no empty tomb.
Our final (though our reflections have not be exhaustive of all the theories) theory to consider takes us from the cross to the empty tomb…it is formally known as the Christus Victor (Christ the Victor) Theory of Atonement.
In the cross and with the empty tomb, Jesus conquered humanity’s greatest enemies. Many who lived in Judea in the time of Jesus thought that their greatest enemy was Rome. After all they were the latest in a round of empires that had come to their land and made them a vassal state, subject to their rules and laws. The Jewish people, though, understood their covenant with God was that they would be the nation through which all nations in the world would be led to God—and how could that be done if they were subject to someone else?
God, however, knew that Rome was not their greatest enemy, nor was Greece, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, nor any other nation that would try to conquer them. God knew that the greatest enemy of His chosen people was sin, and with sin, its penalty, death. God, in the cross, claimed victory over sin, freeing His people, freeing us all, from the bondage of sin…and with the empty tomb three days later, as if a referee was doing a three count on death’s pin of Jesus, Jesus stood up, free of death’s hold on Himself, and in doing so claimed victory over death for all who would be joined to Him through the grace of God. Through the cross and empty tomb—on that first day of the week—in the Resurrection, Christ, and we, became the victors over our greatest enemy.
What does that mean for us?
The obvious is that through Christ, we can be forgiven of our sins, we find the freedom to strive to live free of sin, and that we have the promise of eternal life—life that will not end with the grave—life that will continue despite death, prompting Paul to say, “O Death, where is your sting?”
Yet there is even more. What are you wrestling with today? Whatever it is, claim the victory…for if Christ has brought us victory over our greatest enemies, He will surely bring victory to us in whatever we face. We no longer have to be helpless victims, we have been promised a victory, we simply have to claim it.
Are battling an illness or injury? Claim the victory. We can choose to be a victim and just give in to the illness or injury, lay in the bed or on the couch and just feel sorry for ourselves, or we can claim victory over it, and refuse to let it limit us from being who God created us to be, and living life to the fullest. Does it mean that we will experience a miraculous cure, maybe, maybe not…but it means that we won’t let what the world calls a disability disable us…we will be victors.
Are we wrestling with an addiction—drugs, alcohol, tobacco, eating, gambling, pornography and sex, or some maybe something else? Claim the victory. We could choose to be a victim, we can say that our body just craves it and we have to give in, we can’t help it, or we can claim the victory and refused to allow our lives be controlled by something other than ourselves and God. Does it mean that we won’t have to go through withdrawals, crave what we have been freed from, or ever be tempted to give in again, maybe, maybe not…but claiming the victory means that we will not be under the control of things that would destroy us…we will be the victors.
Are we wrestling with depression, with anger, with anxiety, or some other dark emotion that saddens or hardens our hearts? Claim the victory. We can choose to be a victim, to be content to live in the darkness of despair, with the bitterness of anger, or in “worse-case scenario” fear of anxiety or we can claim the victory and choose to live in the joy that comes from having a relationship with the risen Savior!
Is it something else? What are you wrestling with? Don’t let yourself be pinned down by the enemy! You may feel like you’re down three games to nothing…but my brothers and sisters, Jesus has already hit the winning run in the final game out of the park…He has won the victory and will give victory to all who have been joined to Him.
Praise be to God…He is Risen…He won the victory!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!