And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
It was that last phrase that, in the context of the sermon, grabbed my attention most. Sentences of Scripture will do that in those moments when you sort through the grammar (Paul's especially was awful) and find something of its meaning. It can be a meaning you already "know," but I think we have all had times when something we "knew" actually came home to us as a thing of beauty and with maybe a little more clarity than it had before. The whole series has been that way, more or less, but again, this section stood out particularly.
We have a habit, I believe, of making Jesus Christ too tame in our conception of Him. Even if we don't agree with making statues and painting pictures and portraying Him on screen, the images from our Sunday School days still haunt us: the gentle rabbi with long brown hair and a saintly expression on his often-beardless face (honestly, where did the beardlessness come from?). Crucifixes and screencaps from "The Passion of the Christ" bombard us with the message of a Christ still on the cross. And while it is certainly true that Christ dealt gently with some, it is equally true that He pronounced woes upon others, rebuked them, called them whitewashed sepulchers.
And while it is also wonderfully true that He humbled Himself, suffered one of the worst deaths the human mind has managed to invent, and was forsaken by His Father and God, it is also magnificently true that in that death, He was triumphant.
The word picture Paul paints here in Colossians is one of a conquering Roman general in triumph through the streets of Rome. All his enemies would be paraded behind him and made to literally eat the general's dust; his loot from Gaul, Hispania, Persia would be flaunted to all the people, a visible testament to his prowess on the field and the blessing of the gods. This, Paul says with, as it were, a flourish of his pen - this is what our Lord and Savior has done. He has made a show of Satan, death, Hell, the grave. He has borne the curse and trampled on it; He has taken upon Himself all our sins, all our debts, all of the "ordinances against us," and also obliterated them.
But the fantastic bit - the thrilling plot twist in God's redemptive story - is that all this was done through and in the single most potent symbol of disgrace and failure and humiliation: the cross. "Cursed is every man who hangs on a tree." "The Serpent shall bruise His heel." Christ's heel was cruelly bruised, bruised to the death. We can only imagine what must have been in Satan's mind that day, when he gained the death of the One Who was God Himself and Who was promised as the redemption of the people Satan had stolen. He must have thought he had won, and that all the purposes of God had been brought to naught. Perhaps in that moment he really thought that he had attained his goal: "I will be like the Most High."
He hadn't, though, because God has chosen the cross to be the vehicle for Christ's triumph. That's the potent part: the part where you think, and the enemy thinks, that evil has won out and everything good has died forever. And then you find out that it hasn't. That God's wisdom was at play the whole time, and He has always had the upper hand.
the ideal and the parallel
Have any of you watched the Disney Hercules? Do you remember the climactic scene where Hercules goes down to bargain with Hades to save Meg? Perhaps it is a trite parallel (what isn't a trite parallel where something this wonderful is concerned?), but during the sermon I kept thinking of that scene: how Hades thought he had won, and then Hercules comes up over the edge of the cliff carrying Meg and he's shining and if you're a sucker like me you want to bawl. It's an animated children's film, and still the thought of it makes me tear up as only a few movies can - the post-crucifixion scene in "Ben-Hur" is another.
The imagery is not limited to "Hercules," though, nor to a mere smattering of stories. It is in fact a concept firmly engrained in the art of writing, and we have probably all heard of it in another, stiffer guise, that of "widening the odds," "upping the ante," and making it appear in the climactic scene as though the protagonist isn't going to win after all. When you reach that climax, it seems as though all the cards are in the antagonist's hands. He has his foot on the protagonist's neck; the protagonist has given it all he had, and now comes the end.
But then, of course, there is the twist. It can often seem cliche, and we always have to fight to make sure it isn't; but it seems to me that the only reason it appears cliche is that it is so fundamental to the Ideal Story. (I do believe in an ideal story. I believe God wrote it.) The tale of the Phoenix, rising again from its own ashes. The image of the Greek hero getting off the ground when you thought all hope was lost, and going into battle for the final round. The word-picture of Christ breaking down the doors of Hell and triumphing through Death itself. That, I think, is an ideal worth writing for.