Today we continue our project of reading through John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. Stott has been writing about the achievements of the cross. He has already spoken of the salvation of sinners and the revelation of God. This week he looks to “The Conquest of Evil.” Now there’s a great title for a chapter. The conquest of evil is such a prominent theme in books and movies and stories–we love to see evil vanquished. And maybe the cross of Christ offers us an idea of why this is such an important theme among not just Christians but all human beings.
The Conquest of Evil
Stott begins the chapter in this way:
It is impossible to read the New Testament without being impressed by the atmosphere of joyful confidence which pervades it, and which stands out in relief against the rather jejeune religion that often passes for Christianity today. There was no defeatism about the early Christians; they spoke rather of victory. … Victory, conquest, triumph, overcoming–this was the vocabulary of those first followers of the risen Lord. For if they spoke of victory, they knew they owed it to the victorious Jesus.
We love to speak of the victory of Jesus, but let’s not lose sight of the context. The early church was celebrating the victory of a man that their contemporaries had seen slaughtered.
Of course any contemporary observer who saw Christ die would have listened with astonished credulity to the claim that the Crucified was a Conquerer. Had he not been rejected by his own nation, betrayed, denied and deserted by his own disciples, and executed by authority of the Roman procurator? Look at him there, spread-eagled and skewered on a cross, robbed of all freedom of movement, strung up with nails or ropes or both, pinned there and powerless. It appears to be total defeat. If there is victory, it is the victory of pride, prejudice, jealousy, hatred, cowardice and brutality. Yet the Christian claim is that the reality is the opposite of the appearance. What looks like (and indeed was) the defeat of goodness by evil is also, and more certainly, the defeat of evil by goodness. Overcome there, he was himself overcoming. Crushed by the ruthless power of Rome, he was himself crushing the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.
There is a sentence worth repeating: “The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.”
What was the victory of Christ? In short, “What the New Testament affirms, in its own uninhibited way, is that at the cross Jesus disarmed and triumphed over the devil, and all the ‘principalities and powers’ at his command.” Stott shows that the conquest is depicted in Scripture as unfolding in six stages:
- The conquest predicted
- The conquest begun
- The conquest achieved
- The conquest confirmed and announced
- The conquest extended
- The conquest consummated
I realize that I have stopped short here of sharing the bulk of the chapter’s content, but I suppose this is meant to be only a summary and a bit of a springboard. So I will leave it to you to read in detail to see how Stott builds his argument and to see what else he shares along the way. You’d do well to check it out, to see how how Christ triumphed over evil and how we have now been given that same power.
For next week please read chapter 10, “The Community of Celebration.”
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.