The Ironic Imagery of the Cross in Colossians

I love irony and the Scriptures are full of it: God chooses the foolish of the world to shame the weak. He who would save His life must lose it. The first shall be last. There is a scene in 90’s cult classic “Reality Bites” when Winona Ryder is asked to define irony and she stammers and stumbles through an attempted answer until she finally blurts out, “I know it when I see it.”

Topics: The Death of Christ

I love irony and the Scriptures are full of it:

God chooses the foolish of the world to shame the weak.
He who would save His life must lose it.
The first shall be last.

There is a scene in 90’s cult classic “Reality Bites” when Winona Ryder is asked to define irony and she stammers and stumbles through an attempted answer until she finally blurts out, “I know it when I see it.” Later she is relating the story to her friend, played by Ethan Hawke and asks him to define it and he immediately gives an exact definition, “it is when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.” Such a definition works in the use of irony in literature, but what about experiences which are ironic? A working definition of this type of irony is “an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.”

Nowhere is this irony more evident than in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Think about it:

An utterly innocent man is condemned by utterly guilty men.
The Author and Sustainer of life experiences death.
Man kills God so that God may save man.
The gospel is ironic.

I have been reading through Colossians lately and was struck by the irony of the imagery that Paul uses to speak about the humiliation, crucifixion, and exaltation of Christ.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Colossians 2:13-15

Here we see that Paul uses such explicit imagery of the seeming defeat of Christ to portray His victory.  Christ was nailed to the cross, but it was the record of debt that is now nailed there.  Christ was disrobed and humiliated before the onlookers, but it was ultimately the rulers and authorities who were disrobed and subsequently put to shame (the Greek word translated “disarmed” in the ESV pictures a ruler who has been unclothed and is only elsewhere used in the New Testament in Colossians 3:9).  In Christ’s death, it seemed that sin and Satan had triumphed over Him, and yet in His resurrection He has evidenced that He has triumphed over them.  In the greatest of ironies, those who were already dead killed the One Who is Life so that in His death He might grant them life.

My hope for myself and for all who may happen upon this post is that the reality of theological irony would inspire faith in us as we consider that even darkness is used by the Lord to shine His light, even evil is used by the Lord to accomplish His good, even sorrow is used by the Lord to bring about joy.

When you really think about it, all faith is an embrace of irony.  It is living life in such a way that the world’s expected outcome is death and futility and yet fully trusting that the actual outcome will be life and joy.  May we embrace the irony of the cross and wait for the day when the actual outcome is actualized, when faith and irony will be no more.