A few thoughts, which I hope are not too tangled:
I shared a quote Sunday morning from NT scholar Douglas Campbell, that the story of Jesus “is the story of a divine rescue mission,” not “a prison breakout.” In our condition of slavery to sin, we are desperate for God’s help, and are completely unable to “dig a hole through the wall,” so to speak, as did the main character in the mid-1990s movie The Shawshank Redemption, for instance. As much as we try to pull ourselves up and “measure up” to God, we will always be crippled by our sin.
But in Jesus we have met one who is both God and man. He brings the perfection and obedience of God together with our broken humanity and does for us what we weren’t able to do. One of the church fathers famously said, “What is not assumed is not healed”; if Jesus wasn’t fully human we couldn’t be saved. But he also said, “what is united to God is saved”; salvation is also only possible if Jesus is truly God. He is not just a prisoner working extra hard to break out of the prison–he comes into our prison from outside to lift us out to safety and wholeness.
The recent superhero movies, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight trilogy, both help to make this point. Spider-Man and Batman are broken people. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) has seen his uncle killed by a criminal. Bruce Wayne (Batman) watched a mugger take the lives of both of his parents when he was a little boy. Within them both is not just a desire to help those who are hurting but also a more dangerous desire to see criminals pay for their actions.
All the while that they are helping their cities to keep order and goodness on their streets, they struggle with their own brokenness. Both of them are tempted toward revenge, not simply justice. They are broken heroes, heroes who are capable of doing great damage if they fall. Most superhero stories have explored this possibility: what if the hero is taken captive by the darkness? It’s a frightening thought.
In Scripture, we see this happen over and over again: Moses, in his desire for justice, kills the Egyptian. David, the great King chosen by God, turns to murder and adultery in order to enjoy his place of privilege. The people of Israel, given a great commission to be a light for the nations, fails to live up to that commission.
But Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, Israel’s true King, was the one who was perfectly obedient to his Father’s will. The Son of God gave up his privileges in heaven to come and be Israel’s King and the Lord of all. He is the faithful one, the one who will never let us down, the one in whom our rescue is found. Unlike the superheroes, Jesus has never given in to the darkness, even though it tried to overtake him in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry and in the garden at the end of that ministry. He has overcome the darkness of temptation by willingly going to the cross for us and he has overcome the darkness of death itself through his resurrection. He will never fail us.
Apart from Christ, we are imprisoned in sin. We can’t just work harder at being good and hope to be saved. We need to trust in the only one who can save. And each day, our dependence on him, our trust in him, our adoration of him, points the world toward the one who is the world’s only hope.