My pastor once said, "God is looking for your obedience, not your achievement. After all, to the world, Christ's death wasn't an achievement, but rather a defeat."
And so it seems. I can't imagine a darker day than that Friday many years ago when Jesus finally and once and for all took all our sins upon Himself. The disciples' hopes were shattered. Those who believed the Messiah would come as a conquering King rather than a humble servant had become disillusioned and disgruntled. Jesus himself had been falsely accused, but barely breathed a word in his own defense. And on that day, Christ took the sorrows and the sins of the world upon Himself.
The gospels are largely silent on the death of Christ, sparing us most of the details of Christ's suffering, many perhaps too horrifying to pen. The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse into what Christ's sacrifice meant: "There were many who were appalled at him--his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness . . . He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering . . . Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 52&53)
For those standing at Golgotha watching the scene unfold, it could not have seemed like more of a defeat, more of an anticlimactic ending, more of a shattered hope. But yet, subtle signs of the coming victory emerge even before Christ breathed his last. In John, he cried out, "It is finished!" indicating that the work He came to do was done, that the price for sin had been paid. According to Mark's gospel, "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last." Someone once shared with me that the Greek words used here for Jesus' "loud cry" are identical to the ones used to depict the "loud cries" of evil spirits as they were being driven out of people, which may symbolize that as Jesus breathed his last, his final cry of victory was also the demons' final cry of anguished defeat: as life overcame death, heaven overcame hell, and good overcame evil.
On the cross Christ did what we could not do. He paid a debt that we could never pay. He overcame what we could never overcome. And through Him, and only through Him, we have the sure and steadfast hope of eternal life--the greatest victory out of what seemed to be the greatest defeat.