There is a popular Christian film made by the gospel singer Carman called “The Champion.” The finale is a boxing match and by the end of the film, the audience is on its feet. The good guy, a believer, knocks out the bad guy. When he finally lands the knockout punch and becomes the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, the Christian audience goes crazy with shouts of approval.
But the truth of the matter is that films like “The Champion” miss and undermine the fundamental message of Christianity. The Champion appeals to the flesh. The “baddie” is given a thorough beating. But Christ does not excite the flesh. Indeed, Christ does not appeal to the flesh. If “The Champion” were to be true to the gospel, Carman would have lost the championship fight. It would then have been in losing it that he would have been victorious.
That is the glory of the cross of Jesus. “It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44). Today, many wear the cross as an ornament. But nobody would do that in biblical days. The reason is simple: the cross was not an emblem of victory but of humiliation and defeat.
At Calvary, the greatest heavyweight boxing fight in the history of the world was over practically before it even began. Jesus was knocked flat out in the first few minutes of the very first round. He himself proclaimed his own defeat. After he took the first few blows, he said: “It is finished.” Then he died and they carried him out feet first. They did not even rush him to the hospital. They dumped him in the grave and buried him.
“Whenever you win in the flesh, count your losses spiritually; name them one by one.”
The thieves who were crucified with him put up a better fight. They took much longer to die. In fact, they had to break their bones in order to speed up their death.
Imagine this scenario. You have been training for months for a bout billed as the fight of the century, determined to write your name in gold. One week to the fight, the Holy Spirit informs you that the man you are going to fight is actually no match for you. Nevertheless, he tells you: “I want you to lose the fight.”
He says: “Throughout the fight, I don’t want you to throw any mean punches. In the third round, he will land one harmless blow and I want you to fall down and stay down. Your victory in this fight is going to be entirely spiritual. It will be in the fact that this is a fight you could so easily have won, but chose instead to lose. You are going to win this fight by losing it.”
Just think what would happen if you obeyed those instructions. You would be humiliated. You would become another shame-faced Roberto Duran who walked out during an epic boxing match with Sugar Ray Leonard shouting: “No more, no more,” and has never been able to live it down.
Victory in defeat
Who does not like the story of David killing Goliath with a sling and a stone? Who is not impressed by the walls of Jericho falling down flat? Who would not get excited about Elijah calling down fire from heaven against his opponents? But all that is old wine. Jesus proffers in the New Testament a completely different approach. That approach is the way of the cross. It is the way of laying down one’s life. (Matthew 16:25).
The story of Jesus does not make an Arnold Schwarzenegger kind of movie. At the end of this film, the great protagonist is not standing victorious. He is hanging dead on a cross. Okay, so he resurrected after three days. But only a select few knew about it.
Would it not have been more appropriate for Jesus to have paid a visit to Pilate on his resurrection and said: “Remember me?” The man might just have died of a heart attack. How about having him knock on the door of some of those skeptical Pharisees again and say: “Check it out. Did you really think you could kill the Son of God?” It would have been great to see them begging for mercy.
So why did Jesus allow himself to be arrested when they could not even arrest Elijah? Why did the flogging, jeering and taunting not provoke a glorious and majestic display of overwhelming divine power? Why did the Saviour of the world fail so woefully to save his own life?
The answer is that Jesus came to give us a radical re-definition of victory. This victory is godly and is therefore not achieved by the sword. It does not come vaingloriously by killing Goliaths. It is not achieved by power or by might. It comes by total submission to the will of God. It comes by turning the other cheek; even in the face of intense provocation and certain death.
Jesus teaches that a true believer does not boast of carnal victories. Instead, he is someone who overcomes the world. (John 16:33). He is that man whose children die, and he remains steadfast in the faith. He is the one who gets paralysed in an accident, and yet still testifies to the love of God. He is that unfortunate man whose house is burnt down; whose family perishes; whose business fails and still he sings: “It is well, with my soul.”
How do you gain victory over poverty? You don’t do so by coming into riches. You do so by making poverty inconsequential. If a man “makes it” by winning the lottery, he does not overcome poverty. He simply becomes rich. And if he becomes rich, he can just as easily become poor again.
But when a man truly overcomes poverty, he can never be poor again. When he overcomes poverty, he does not have to be rich. When he overcomes poverty, it means poverty no longer has an effect on him. He can be as poor as a church rat, and yet be as happy as a king.
The man won the fight, but please what did he lose? He won the fight but lost the battle. He won the fight but lost his eye. He won the fight but lost his faith. He won the battle but lost the war. Whenever you win in the flesh, count your losses spiritually; name them one by one.
The Lord told me a story. A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by armed robbers. They stripped him of his belongings and beat him black and blue. They beat him until he slumped and died. Then the Lord asked me a question. He said, “Femi, what happened after the man died?”
I did not know the answer so I asked the Holy Spirit. He said: “They stopped beating him.” Then he said to me: “Femi, if they are still beating you, it is because you are not dead yet. Once you are dead, the beating will stop.”