Jesus entered the world to fight a battle. In his baptism in the Jordan River he declared war—not against Rome, not against the corrupt Jerusalem aristocracy, or against fanatical zealots, but against the devil and his allies. The devil struck the first blow. “If you are the Son of God,” the tempter whispered, “tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus replied, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4:3-4). Two more blows followed. All three of the devil’s suggestions urged Jesus to adopt the world’s understanding of glory, honor, and power. But Jesus knows that Rome and Jerusalem are not the real oppressors of God’s people. The real enemy is not flesh and blood. The walls of his stronghold cannot be breached with siege works, nor can he be subdued with arrow and sword. The devil’s weapons are half-truths and lies through which he enflames lust for glory, honor, and power and instils fear of humiliation, obscurity, and, most of all, death. Jesus spoke the truth: God alone deserves our love, loyalty, and trust. Jesus rejected worldly glory, honor, and power and accepted death as the price of faithfulness to his Father.
The devil lost. Yes, God raised Jesus from the dead. But the devil had already lost. The real battle is not about who commands the most powerful army but about whom we love supremely, what we want most of all, and what we are willing to do for it. Can Jesus—can anyone—remain loyal to God despite every evil the devil can inspire human beings to inflict? The devil’s most powerful weapon is threat of death (Heb 2:14). But Jesus disarmed him of this tool: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4). Jesus’s faithfulness unto death on the cross inflicted on the devil a spectacular defeat! The cross, as Paul proclaims, is God’s secret wisdom:
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:6-8).
Indeed they would not have! For Jesus’s willing acceptance of shame, pain, and death on a Roman cross, instigated by the “best and brightest” and “holiest” of the rulers of this age, demonstrated their slavery to the devil and blindness to the truth. With their lies exposed, they found themselves powerlessness to intimidate Jesus’s followers into submission. The cross redefines what glory, honor, and power means for both God and human beings. To seek glory, honor, and power now means something totally different from what it did before the cross. And the rulers of our age understand it no better than the rulers that crucified the lord of glory.
Next Time: The “rulers of this age” push back.