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More Than Your Personal Savior

Jesus our Savior is Christ the Victor.


For over three decades, Paul Harvey made a name for himself by telling “the rest of the story.” Day after day he came on our radios recounting familiar historical events and biographies of famous people. He did it with great drama, attention to detail, and impeccable timing, causing his listeners to realize there was more to those stories than we previously imagined.

Based on my limited research, Paul Harvey never told this story. Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born an Austrian in the fall of 1914. She died an American in January of 2000—a recluse and estranged from her adopted son. You may have never heard the name Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler before, but the world today would be a different place if she’d never lived.

Hedwig Kiesler was better known for most of her life by the name Hedy Lamarr. If you’re a fan of Hollywood from the ‘30s to ‘40s, you’ll remember Hedy Lamarr as that actress whom MGM Studios touted as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” She appeared in thirty films over a twenty-eight year career, including the co-starring role in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic Samson and Delilah. She was so famous and so gorgeous that over one 10-day period at the height of her popularity, she raised $25 million for the American war effort by selling bonds and giving a kiss to one lucky sailor planted in the audience. Adjusting for inflation, that would come out to over $350 million today!

But Hedy was more than a movie star, and it’s not her beauty that changed the world. Hedy Lamarr was an inventor. She suggested improved aircraft aerodynamics to millionaire Howard Hughes; invented a tablet that dissolved in water to create a carbonated drink; and, most importantly, came up with the idea for a radio guidance system using frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology. Her invention was meant to help the Navy’s radio-guided torpedoes to defeat Nazi jamming during World War II. Sadly, the Navy ignored her technology because it came from a woman. Hedy, though, believed in her work and had it patented. Lucky for us she did, because our Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies today were originally based on the principles behind her radio-spectrum hopping system.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, a.k.a. Hedy Lamarr—movie star, American patriot, and world-class inventor. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.

On this Easter morning, we remember and celebrate another underreported story—the story of a first-century Jewish rabbi named Jesus. He was raised in the obscure village of Nazareth, lived the unremarkable life of a carpenter’s son for some thirty years, became a three-year sensation for his teachings and reported miracles, died a scandalous death on a Roman cross after his own people turned against him, and then, incredibly, according to numerous eyewitnesses, returned from the dead.

Is there anyone among us who isn’t at least vaguely familiar with that story? Probably not. It’s the good-news story that’s the heartbeat of the church. It’s Christianity’s gospel.

If you want to know what makes Jesus’ story worth remembering, worth celebrating today, you don’t need me to tell you. Walk down to our children’s department. Ask those tiny theologians munching on cookies and crackers who haven’t learned to read and write yet, many of whom can’t even tie their own shoes, what’s so special about this story. They’ll tell you. “Jesus died for our sins. He died so that God could forgive us and welcome us into heaven someday.” Chances are you’ve heard that before, too. But there’s more to this good-news story, this gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection than receiving forgiveness now and heaven when you die.

The Four Arms of the Cross

I love how theologian Mike Wittmer at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary pictures this for us.[i] He relates the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the four arms of the cross. The upward arm points toward God. Through his death, Jesus satisfied God the Father’s wrath by taking our punishment for our sin. This is what’s known as the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. “Penal,” meaning punishment. “Substitutionary,” meaning Jesus died in our place. “Atonement,” meaning that by his death Jesus made it possible for us to be reconciled, or reunited, with God—“at-one-ment.”

As Paul explains it in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” And again in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [in Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.” It’s this upward pointing arm of the cross, the penal substitutionary view of the atonement, that we’re most familiar with, but there are three more arms!

The two sideways-pointing arms of Jesus’ cross remind us of how much God loves us and to model how much God wants us to love him and one another. On the one hand, Romans 5:8 says that “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Peter adds, on the other hand, in 1 Peter 2:21, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” These two views of the atonement are called the moral governance and moral influence views. That leaves one more arm.

The downward arm points to the Devil below. The early church believed that through his death and resurrection Jesus defeated Satan who holds the power of sin and death. In support of their view, called the Christus Victor (or Christ the victor) view, early believers cited Colossians 2:15 (“He disarmed the rulers and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [in Jesus].”); Hebrews 2:14-15 (“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood [that’s you and me], he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”); and 1 John 3:8 (“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”).

We do ourselves a disservice and disfigure the Cross when we ignore any of its four arms. That is not to say these arms are equally important. All four arms are important, but in different ways. As Wittmer explains it, the downward arm points to the goal. The goal of Jesus’ cross was to defeat sin, death, and Satan, thereby restoring all things to their rightful place. The upward arm points to the means. The means for achieving this defeat was Jesus’ penal substitution. The side arms point to the benefits. No longer bound by sin nor under Satan’s spell, we find in Jesus’ death the assurance of how much God loves us and the power to love one another.

Think of it like a cake, suggests Wittmer. “Christus Victor is the cake itself—the thing that Jesus was doing on the cross. Penal substitution supplies the ingredients, the flour, and sugar. And moral influence and example are the frosting, the lingering sweetness of our great salvation.” I love that!

Easter’s Underreported Story

So you see, while the story of how Mary’s little lamb Jesus died to save you from your sins is wonderfully and gloriously true, it’s only part of the story. The fuller story is that Mary’s little lamb was also the lion of glory. Jesus our Savior is Christ the Victor! When you forget that, when you forget the goal of Easter’s story, his story suddenly becomes all about you—God loving you, God forgiving you, and God accepting you. As far as most American Christians today are concerned, that is the story! But it isn’t. It’s only part of the story. When you accept it as being all there is to the gospel, it keeps you from seeing and living into the rest of the story. So, let me quickly take you back to the first time this story was ever told, back to Genesis 3:15, to remind you of what it’s ultimately about.

The first person to declare the gospel was no human or angel, but God. The first time he spoke it, he didn’t even mention sin specifically. Here’s what he said way back there in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers ; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” What does that mean?

To begin with, given that God spoke these words to Satan shortly after he persuaded Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, it shows us that the conflict between good and evil has been raging since the dawn of time. God speaks in binary terms here—“you and the woman,” “your offspring and hers,” “he will … and you will ….” There’s no neutral third party here, only two sides in conflict. That suggests that everyone who has ever lived, including you and me, resides in one of two camps. You, this moment, are marching under one banner or the other. In the words of Jesus, you are a sheep or goat, wheat or tare, wise or foolish, on the path that leads to life or the path that ends in death, of your father God or of your father the Devil. It’s either or.

Secondly, the gospel as God first announced it makes clear that the forces of evil can’t thwart God’s plan. From the beginning, God’s plan was that we, his beloved creation, should live joyfully with him our benevolent creator and peacefully with one another as stewards of his world. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in that kind of world? In harmony with God and in unity with one another.

But then a serpent slithered into the Garden, and sin spoiled paradise. What would you have done if you’d been God back then? Probably what you do now whenever you pull a rotten apple from the refrigerator, or what you do with a sketch that doesn’t remotely resemble what you intended to draw. You throw it out! You start over. God didn’t do that. Instead, he declared his intention to “crush” evil’s source—not to annihilate the Devil but to utterly devastate him; in the words of 1 John 3:8, “to destroy” the Devil’s works.

What are the Devil’s works? It’s easy enough to spot them in Genesis 3. We’re painfully familiar with them already because they’re a part of our everyday experience. The Devil’s works include deception, distancing, discord, distress, and death.

What did the serpent whisper to Eve? “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” But what actually happened? “When they ate of it, their eyes were opened, and [drum roll, please] they saw they were naked.” Wha wha whaaaa. Talk about being deceived! That’s not at all what they bargained for!

Prior to that sin, Adam and Eve looked forward to strolling through the Garden with God in the cool of each day—sort of like how your dog gets all excited when he hears your car pulling into the garage. But after they sinned and saw their nakedness, they felt self-conscious, ashamed, and hid. They distanced themselves from their loving Creator.

Later, when they finally came out of hiding and presented themselves before God, discord ensued. Adam blamed Eve and, yes, God too for what he’d done. Eve blamed the serpent.

God’s verdict was swift. He declared that the serpent should forever be the lowliest of creatures, the woman should endure the grief of childbearing, and the man should earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, working hostile soil. Distress would hound their days until death returned their bodies to dust.

Deception, distancing, discord, distress, and death—only a fistful of the Devil’s diabolical works. To this day, those works affect us both individually and collectively, because sin itself is both personal and systemic. We all know that sins are personal. I have mine; you have yours. But sin is also systemic. How can it not be? All of this world’s operating systems were created by people. All people are infected with sin. Therefore, all of this world’s systems are sinfully infected. Despite all that, all those systems together and the evil that plagues them can’t thwart God’s original paradisiacal plan. Why? Because of “the seed of the woman.” That’s the third insight that comes from the gospel as God first announced it.

The gospel tells us that the hero who ends the conflict is the seed of the woman. Before we consider this seed’s identity, let’s start with the imagery conveyed by these words “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” A man in the first church I pastored was the foreman over a road construction crew in Mobile, Alabama. One afternoon Norman needed to check the progress of his crew working out near a swamp. Walking back to their site, he spotted a small poisonous snake on the path ahead. Having grown up in the country and owning a home on the bay, Norman immediately recognized the type of snake it was but wasn’t frightened. He was going to let it slither on past. But then it stopped. When he got closer, it coiled to strike. There was no going around it, and he really needed to get to his crew. He didn’t have anything handy to hit the snake, but he managed to kill it anyway. How? Here’s what he told me. “I stepped on it.” What?!? He stepped on it. As he explained it to me, he was wearing a pair of thick-soled work boots. He raised his foot and moved in the direction of the snake, heel first. When he felt the snake strike his boot’s heel, he crushed its head. That’s what God said the seed of the woman would do!

Who’s this seed of the woman? Ultimately, it’s Jesus. Satan bruised Jesus’ heel on the Cross. Jesus crushed Satan’s head through his penal substitutionary death and three days later by his victorious resurrection. But let’s not forget, by virtue of our identification with Jesus, we’re included in the woman’s seed. Let that sink in for a moment. You and I are part of the woman’s seed! This is borne out by what Paul told certain believers in Romans 16:20 when he wrote, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” This echoes his earlier declaration in Romans 8:37 that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Mark that! “More than conquerors,” in my own expanded translation of the Greek, the word Paul uses here means uber conquerors; over, above, and beyond conquerors.

You might be thinking, All of that’s interesting, I guess, but what does it mean? What does it have to do with me? I’m glad you asked! Here’s what it means for you. Back when you asked God to forgive your sins on the basis of Jesus’ death, he not only forgave you, he simultaneously placed you in Christ’s body, the church. God intends for the church to be a microcosm of his fully restored creation (the “mystery” to which Paul refers in Eph. 1:9-10). You today are part of his restored creation! Second Corinthians 5:17 says if anyone be in Christ, that person is a new creation.

As part of God’s new creation, you have been restored to your original purpose, the very same purpose for which God created Adam and Eve. God’s purpose is that you live harmoniously with him and that we live in unity with one another while tending to his creation. That covers more than horticulture. It means tending to every aspect of every culture to bring it into conformity to God’s design, to bring it all under his authority. When that happens, when all things are finally subjected to him, 1 Corinthians 15:28 says, “Then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”

“Put in subjection.” Them’s fightin’ words! Christ’s body, his church on earth, is what theologians call “the church militant.” That’s to distinguish it from that part of the church that’s already gone home to be with Jesus, the so-called “church triumphant.” As a believer in Jesus, you’ll be a soldier in the church militant until belief gives way to sight and you step over into heaven. Until then, soldier on! Follow your Commander-in-Chief into the fray! Snatch souls from the enemy’s hand! Trumpet your Chief’s victory! Reclaim what’s his in the fields of politics, entertainment, commerce, science, medicine, education, the arts, and all the rest! The church militant has been the church dormant long enough!


Why do we gather on Easter? To remember Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? To celebrate the forgiveness of our sins? Yes, that’s part of it. But remember, Jesus’ death and resurrection are the means, not the end.

The end only commenced when Jesus walked out of the tomb on that first Easter morning. And that end is still unfolding. Through his followers, Jesus is continuing to this day to destroy the works of the Devil, to conquer an unrelenting foe. It is to his faithful followers that he promises in Revelation 3:21, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Jesus’ story did not end in a lowly crib nor on a scandalous cross, but ends with a glorious crown and final consummation when all things are restored according to God’s original design. That restoration process is ongoing. If you’re a forgiven follower of Jesus, you have a part to play in that process. It won’t be easy. It never has been. But victory is assured. Jesus our savior is Christ the victor! If Jesus has saved you, you’re on the victor’s side. Fight like it! Fight like Jesus fought—to the death; not theirs but yours. Fight in the assurance that just as God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, you too shall be raised! Fight on!

And, to quote Paul Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story. Good day!”

[i] Mike Wittmer, “What Makes a Full Atonement Full?” thegospelcoalition.org, retrieved December 9, 2020.

Gregory Hollifield is the Associate Dean at Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies at Union University and Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.

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