On the Victory Side

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Jesus was in the news again this week.

Last Sunday Fox News commentator Brit Hume was asked his opinion about golf star Tiger Woods, whose marriage is on the ropes because of multiple reports of adulterous affairs. Tabloids and TV shows and newspapers and blogs have covered the story in breathless detail, naming one after another of Tiger’s reported mistresses. The story has been so well covered that almost everyone knows about it. So when Brit Hume was asked about it on the Fox News Sunday show, he said that he thought Tiger could save his golfing career but salvaging his personal life was another matter. Then his comments went in an unexpected direction:

The Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal – the extent to which he can recover – seems to me to depend on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist; I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, “Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

Not surprisingly, his comments have resulted in a tidal wave of criticism. He has been called a “bigot” and “narrow-minded.” One writer called his statement “creepy” and “a stupid way to think.” Even to some Christians, it seems faintly embarrassing to see a public figure be so bold.

But Brit Hume wasn’t finished yet. The next day he went on The O’Reilly Factor and basically repeated what he said last Sunday, laying down some seriously good theology in the process. And then he went even further during a radio interview, explaining his remarks this way:

Christianity is uniquely and especially about redemption and forgiveness. That is what the cornerstone of what the faith is about. Now other faiths aren’t hostile to the idea, but think of what the message of Christ and Christianity is. It is that the God of the universe sent His only begotten Son, who died a hideous death on the cross, to atone for all of our sins.

He is saying nothing new here at all. But in calling for Tiger Woods to convert to Christianity, he violated the taboo that says either say nothing publicly about religion or praise all religions as basically good. But it is all to his credit that Brit Hume has refused to back down.

Near the end of his interview with Bill O’Reilly he said that the name of Jesus has always been explosive. Nice word. It reminds me of Romans 1:16 and Paul’s comment that the gospel is the “power” of God providing salvation for anyone who believes. One of my favorite preachers had a long running radio program called “Gospel Dynamite” based on the fact that the Greek word for power is “dunamis,” from which we get the English word dynamite.

An old gospel song says that “the name of Jesus is so sweet, I love its music to repeat.”
True, but the name of Jesus is also explosive.

Not everyone loves Jesus.
Many people prefer never to hear his name mentioned in public.

If you don’t want an explosion, keep quiet about Jesus. Brit Hume dared to open his mouth and calmly say what Christians have always believed-that there is forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ.  

I hope Tiger Woods will take it to heart.
And I hope more Christians will take courage to be as bold as Brit Hume.

“You speak the name of Jesus Christ . . . and all hell breaks loose.”

One other thing he said stood out to me. When Bill O’Reilly asked him why there were so many negative comments about Christianity, Brit Hume replied this way:

“You speak the name of Jesus Christ . . . and all hell breaks loose.”

It’s always been that way. Jesus himself reminded us that “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Remember that a sword cuts both ways. When we preach the Good News of Jesus, not everyone will be happy with us. Some will sneer, others will ignore us, and some will believe our message. And we never know in advance what reaction we’re going to get. You can’t look at an audience and say, “That man will believe but his buddy next to him won’t.” It doesn’t work that way.

What happened to Brit Hume happens to anyone who speaks up for Jesus.

What happened to Brit Hume happens to anyone who speaks up for Jesus. 

Some will like it.
Some won’t like it.
Some won’t care either way.

How do we stay encouraged when we know that some people will not only reject our message but us as well? How do we stay focused on our task instead of worrying about what others may think about us? 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 offers us a clear answer to discouragement by reminding us that when we are joined with Jesus Christ, we are on the winning side.

We may lose a few battles, but the victory belongs to the Lord.
If we are on his side, doing his work, we cannot lose.

Here’s the background of the text. Paul mentions in verses 11-12 that he went to Troas (on the western coast of modern-day Turkey) to preach the gospel but left quickly to go across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia because he was looking for Titus who had news from the church at Corinth. Evidently he was fearful about what was happening in the Corinthian church. So greatly was he troubled that he left an open door in Troas to go find Titus in Macedonia. That probably seemed odd to his friends because as an evangelist, he preached the gospel wherever he went. As a seaport town, Troas would be a crucial place to establish a church. But Paul left there anyway. I think he was so troubled in his spirit that he couldn’t concentrate on his work.

We’ve all been there, some of us are there right now, and we’ll probably be there again before too long. What are the marks of a faith that keeps going when it would be easier to throw in the towel? I find three answers in our text. (When Ray Stedman preached on this text, he used a very simple outline that I have adapted for this message.)

I. Unfailing Success

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (v. 14).

Paul says that God leads us in a triumphal procession in Christ. Note three little words.

God leads us.

You want to be in a victory parade? Make sure you get hooked up with the winners.

In October 2008 Marlene and I spoke at a marriage conference at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference in New Jersey. In order to get there, we flew to Philadelphia where some friends picked us up and took us to the Jersey Shore. When we got on the plane in Atlanta, we noticed lots of folks where bright red Philadelphia Phillies jerseys. This was just after the World Series, and I thought it was just happy fans on their way home. They even started chanting about their team, which made for a rather boisterous flight. When we arrived in Philadelphia, we walked off the plane into a sea of red. Thousands of baseball fans filled the terminal. On our way out of town we passed by the stadium and saw that the road leading to the heart of the city was lined with tens of thousands of happy, cheering, jubilant baseball fans. It turns out that the team was having a victory parade that afternoon. News reports later said that over a million people crowded into the downtown area to cheer on their heroes who had defeated the Tampa Bay Rays four games to one in the World Series. The parade featured the owners, the manager, the coaches, and of course the victorious players. One commentator used the word pandemonium to describe the celebration. The entire parade route was jammed with people.

Why so much joy over a baseball team? Because if you are a Phillies fan, they are “your” team, they represent “your” city, and in some mystical way that is hard to define, they represent you. You belong to them and they belong to you. True sports fans understand what I’m saying. Soccer fans in England know what it means to live and die with your team. So do football fans in the United States. It’s the same way around the world.

When your team wins, you win.

When your team wins, you win.

That’s the picture behind Paul’s words. He’s thinking of the parades held in Rome when a victorious general brought his troops home. The rules governing these processions were quite strict. The general must have been completely victorious, he must have subdued the enemy, and the victorious soldiers must be brought safely home. At least 5000 of the enemy must have fallen in one single engagement. The general must have gained positive territory, not merely defended territory already controlled by Rome. The parade started with public officials followed by trumpeters followed by spoils taken from the conquered land followed by a white bull for sacrifice followed by wretched captives in chains. Then came the musicians. At length the conquering general appeared in a chariot pulled by white horses. Then came his family followed by the victorious soldiers. As the procession moved through the streets, the people shouted “Triumph!” “Triumph!” “Triumph!” It was a day so grand that a man might experience it once in a lifetime.

Jesus is the Undefeated Sovereign and the Ultimate Victor.

Paul pictures Christ as the conquering general with his people marching with him in the grand victory parade. Having subdued all his enemies, he marches in ultimate triumph, the Undefeated Sovereign and the Ultimate Victor. No one can stop him. No one can stand against him.

And Paul says, “All who believe in him march with him in his victory parade.” When he wins, we win because we’re on his team. He wins the victory, but we share in the triumph. He gets the glory, but we join him in the grand celebration.

II. Undeniable Impact

“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (vv. 15-16a). Paul calls Christians “the aroma of Christ” and “the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” Perhaps he is thinking of the incense that the priests swung as the general and his soldiers marched through Rome. That sweet smell meant victory, but to the wretched captives the same smell was a fragrance of death. While the crowds cheered, the captives knew that they were matching to their own execution.

What great burdens fall on the gospel preacher!

What great burdens fall on the gospel preacher!

We preach and some believe. For them the message of the gospel is life unto life.
We preach and others want nothing to do with it. For them the message is death unto death.

The same message produces life in one and reveals death in the other. What awesome issues hang in the balance every time we speak of Jesus Christ. This applies not just to the preacher but to every Christian everywhere. The gospel is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways at the same time. It reveals our sin and then offers an eternal remedy. It explains our guilt and shows us the way to forgiveness. It strips away from us every self-centered excuse we have, and then it offers to clothe us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Think of all that we receive when we come to Christ:

Forgiveness.
Pardon.
Adoption into God’s family.
New birth.
New life.
Eternal life.
Peace with God.
We are declared righteous.
God’s wrath is turned away.
We are accepted by God.
We are redeemed from our sins.
The Holy Spirit lives within us.
Jesus intercedes for us.
God invites us to call him “Father.”
We join the worldwide family of God.
We have a high priest in heaven who feels our weakness.
We are equipped to serve the Lord.
We have an eternal inheritance.
We become citizens of heaven.
We are predestined to become like Christ.
All things work together for our good.
We are new creations in Christ.
We are now reconciled to God.
Christ lives in us.
Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
We have a home in heaven.
We will someday be raised immortal and incorruptible.
We will someday reign with Christ.

But some people don’t want that, can’t understand it, don’t believe it, think it’s not true, think we’re deluded to believe it, and some object to us telling others what Christ has done for us. And they certainly don’t like it when we tell others that they need Jesus too.

We dare not keep silent in a day of spiritual controversy. 

That’s why Brit Hume got so much negative reaction. He violated the # 1 rule of polite society. You never tell a person they need Jesus. That’s what the tub-thumping fundamentalists do. And we certainly don’t want to be like “them,” whoever “they” are.

When I wrote about Brit Hume, I got this email from someone who claims to be a Buddhist:

i was raised in a “christian” household and it’s people like brit hume and yourself that drove me away to look for alternatives.  it’s not jesus’s name that is explosive, but it’s you and your ilk’s sanctimonious use of it that is so offensive. 

That’s clear, isn’t it?

That’s what I mean by “undeniable impact.” The name of Jesus is powerful. It cuts both ways. Some people don’t want to hear his name at all. But that’s impact nonetheless.

Wherever the message of Christ has gone it has always created controversy. Some believe it and find hope and peace and eternal life through Christ. Others reject it, sometimes angrily because Christ threatens them down to the core of their being. Our Lord stands as a rebuke to every man who thinks, “I don’t need God” or “I can do it my way” or “I don’t need forgiveness.” And some people get very upset about the gospel.

We don’t control how people respond.

Now where does that leave us? Should we just shut up for fear of offending others? Should we pretend that it’s all the same to God? Should we talk as if Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and Jews and secularists all stand in the same position when it comes to salvation?

We dare not keep silent in a day of spiritual controversy. We must declare what we know to be true. Jim Elliot once prayed, “Father, make me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road. Make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”

One final word. We don’t control how people respond. It’s not that God calls us to be the “aroma of Christ” to the world. We are that aroma whether like it or not. Unbelievers can sense the fragrance of Christ in our lives. Some are attracted, some repelled. We aren’t responsible for who receives our message and who rejects it.

I know of no greater challenge than to simply be who you really are. 

When Robert Rayburn preached on this text, he mentioned a Duke University study that says most Americans report having had someone attempt to present the gospel to them. And most of those say it was an unpleasant experience. I’m sure the same thing would have been said of the Apostle Paul. He wasn’t such a big hit in Athens. Ephesus was a tough city too. He got run out of Thessalonica. And when he got to Jerusalem, the folks there weren’t happy to see him. But through it all Paul kept on keeping on, traveling and praying and preaching and winning people to Christ and planting churches. Thus did the gospel spread across the Mediterranean world.

III. Unquestioned Integrity

“And who is equal to such a task?” Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (vv. 16b-17).

If our very lives are the sweet smell of life to some and the stench of death to others, how should we then live? Or as Paul says, “Who is equal to such a task?” The answer is, no one! Not you, not me, not the smartest man or the most gifted woman on earth. In ourselves we cannot do what God calls us to do. But in Christ all things are possible. Therefore, Paul says, knowing that the gospel cuts both ways, we live like this:

Honestly-We do not peddle the Word of God.
Sincerely-We are not hypocrites.
Courageously-We are sent from God.

I know of no greater challenge than to simply be who you really are. Most of us struggle with that because we don’t feel very good about who we are. I know I struggle with it and have struggled with it in some ways all my life. It’s so easy to get down on yourself and think, “You ought to be a better person” or “You’re not a very good Christian” or “What if people knew the real you?” And there is truth in all those statements. But if being yourself is not enough, faking it won’t get you anywhere. Most people can spot a phony a mile away.

Jesus is still the great divider of the human race.

Paul says, “We didn’t get into the ministry for money. We came to Corinth because we loved you. And regardless of what you think, we’re not hypocrites. What you see is what you get. We can say that because God has sent us, and therefore we don’t have to pretend to be something else."

As we face the challenges of the 21st-century, let’s take to heart the words of Ray Stedman:

It is hopeless to look to secular leadership to get us out of the mess we are in. If the church is not going to say to the world what God has sent it to say, there is no hope for this country or any other country today. It is truth we need. It is light in our darkness we need.

Let me end back at the beginning with one final comment from Brit Hume. When he was on with Bill O’Reilly, he made this comment:

“I think, because I’m a Christian and I believe that Christianity is true, that Tiger Woods and his wife Elin would be a lot farther down the road toward forgiveness and redemption if they were both Christians. But they’re not. And they’re going to do the best they can with what they have. And I wish Tiger Woods well.”

When that clip was posted on YouTube, a number of people made comments, including someone identified as “GrinchandMax” who said:

Tiger beat around the bush instead of telling FOX and Hume directly to mind their own business.

In Hume’s honor the next Jesus person who knocks on my door is gonna get a punch in the face.
The controversy his words stirred up this week prove one thing that I find very encouraging:

Nothing has changed!

Twenty centuries have come and gone since Christ walked this earth, and it is still true that he is the great divider of the human race. There is no one like him, no one who can be compared to him. He came to bring a sword, and that sword rests now in our hands. Not to use as a weapon for conflict but as a testimony to his divine power.

Nothing has changed!

Nothing has changed!

We are still the aroma of Christ to the saved and to the lost. Some believe and are saved. Others reject and are lost. That was true then, and it is still true today. What is our calling in light of this text? To be faithful to the One who loved us and gave himself for us. Ruth Bell Graham defined a saint as someone who makes it easy to believe in Jesus. Do not be discouraged even a little bit. By God’s grace we are already in the victory parade with Jesus. A thousand attacks against us cannot change that fact.

As I wrote this sermon, I was reminded of my friend Jack Wyrtzen, the great youth evangelist who founded Word of Life in the 1940s in New York City. The ministry he started now stretches around the world, with youth camps and Bible institutes in more than 60 countries. In my files I have a handful of letters he wrote me across the years. Invariably he ended every letter this way:

“On the victory side,

Jack Wyrtzen”

A few years ago when I was speaking at Word of Life in Schroon Lake, New York, I took a walk and happened upon the local cemetery. I decided to stroll through it to see who was buried there. After walking down one row, I found Jack Wyrtzen’s grave. It was marked this way:

Jack Wyrtzen
1913-1996
On the Victory Side

That is how every Christian should live and every Christian should die.
On the victory side.

Be encouraged, brothers and sisters.
Be faithful, fellow Christians.
Be bold, saints of the Lord.

Thanks be to God who in Christ has put us forever on the victory side. Amen.

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