I'm Fed Up
I am fed up!
I’m fed up of seeing people, who’ve battled life-long hurts, habits, and hang-ups, believe the lie that things can never change. I’m fed up with the accuser’s attempts to trap them into believing that what now is will never, and can never, change. I am fed up! I am sick and tired of seeing the lies of the adversary hold people captive.
That’s why I am so excited about Easter!
Easter reminds us that through Christ, God can set people free. I am excited because the promise of the resurrection is not a promise only reserved for the moment we pass from this life to the next. No! The promise of the resurrection is the promise of a power experienced while we live (Phil. 3:10-11).
Easter gives us another opportunity to celebrate the events that not only changed history but changes you and me too. Because Jesus died, we can be saved from the penalty of sin.
I love the words of the author of Hebrews:
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. [Hebrews 2:17-18 NIV]
Jesus became like us in every way, without sin, to pay the penalty for our sin. Notice how the author talks about the consequence of Christ’s death as offering hope right now to those who are tempted. The hope found in Christ’s death is not reserved for when we die but for while we live. Consequently, Paul writes this:
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. [Romans 6:6-7 NIV]
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. [Romans 6:12-14 NIV]
I love this. ‘Sin shall no longer be our master’ for, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the penalty of sin has been paid and the power of sin has been nullified.
This is why I am so fed up with seeing people, who’ve battled life-long hurts, habits, and hang-ups, believe the lie that things can never change. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not fed up with people telling me this. I will never tire of listening to people share their struggle. As we’ll see in a moment, in the struggle there is victory!
I am simply fed up with people believing the lie that things can never change. This is why I love Easter! Easter affords us another opportunity, the best opportunity, to celebrate the victory of Jesus.
In one text, 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul celebrates the victory of Jesus by painting a rather unusual scene.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. [2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV]
‘Leads us as captives’ is a term that refers to the Roman practice of the triumphal procession. Ancient literature is said to record at least three hundred and fifty such parades. They were a key part of Roman life.
In a few weeks Holland will celebrate Tulip Time. Many parents will line the streets to see their children parade in a joyful celebration of what it means to be Dutch. After all, ‘If you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much.’
Roman parades functioned in much the same way. They did however, add a dimension that we will never witness at Tulip Time. In Roman parades the leading soldiers of the conquered enemy were led in chains and presented as slaves. These warriors were paraded as those totally defeated and experienced utter humiliation as they paraded behind the conquering king.
Here’s what’s striking about Paul’s words: the apostle refers to himself as one being led in the procession as a captured warrior! He’s not there as part of the victorious army! Paul is the one enslaved, dare we even think humiliated, as he follows King Jesus’ triumphal procession.
The obvious questions are:
- Why would Paul write this way?
- What hope does this offer those who struggle daily with the power of sin?
At the end of the triumphal procession a number of the captured warriors, especially the leaders, would be executed as an offering to the Roman gods and as a demonstration of Roman might. The rest of the enemy would be sold off into slavery.
I think that it is here, in the almost morbid end of the procession, in the act of death, that we discover both Paul’s meaning, as dark as it may seem, and our hope!
The reason Paul writes of himself trailing behind in humiliation is because he remembers who he was and what he once did. Paul refers to himself as the ‘first’ among sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15) and the ‘persecutor’ (enemy) of the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:9).
There’s some debate as to whether Paul’s use of ‘chief’ in 1 Timothy 1:15 refers to ‘first in time’ or ‘worst in time.’ I personally believe that Paul means the former. Paul considers himself the first of a long line of sinners, an enemy of Christ, who was among the first to experience grace he didn’t deserve. Consequently, 1 Timothy 1:16 refers to Paul as the first (not worst, contra NIV) example or ‘pattern’ (which is a blueprint for something new) for those who would follow after him in receiving Christ.
With this as the background, Paul wants his readers to understand that he, as an enemy of Christ and God’s people, was captured by Christ on the road to Damascus. Since that time the apostle had been living as Christ’s slave—a term he frequently uses to describe his relationship to Christ—being led to death in Christ.
Why would Paul be comfortable with such imagery?
Two thoughts strike me.
First, his role as an apostle, set apart by God, brought an authority that could be misused (especially as it was challenged in Corinth). By pointing to himself as a slave of Christ, the analogy allows Christ to be glorified at Paul’s, and everyone else’s, expense. The word ‘triumph’ is used on one other occasion and in that verse it is also used as a display of Christ’s power!
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. [Colossians 2:15]
S. J. Hafemann sums up the idea well:
Paul’s suffering, as the corollary to and embodiment of his message of the cross, is the very thing God uses to make himself known.... Far from calling his apostleship into question, Paul’s point in 2:14 is that his suffering, here portrayed in terms of being led to death in the Roman triumphal procession, is the means through which God is revealing himself. This revelation of God’s power and glory took place in two ways. Either God rescued Paul from adversity when it was too much to bear (cf.1:8–11), or, having strengthened Paul’s hope through such experiences of deliverance, enabled him to endure his adversity with thanksgiving to God (cf. 4:7–12; 6:3–10). The latter way was even more glorious than the former (cf. 12:9). In other words, God continually leads Paul to death in a triumphal procession and in this way everywhere reveals the knowledge of him (2:14a). [2 Corinthians, p. 109-10]
Paul uses this analogy to glorify Christ and celebrate the conquering King.
Second, Paul knows that he can’t have a resurrection without first experiencing death. Because Christ has been physically raised from the dead, we will physically rise from the dead. We can’t experience such a resurrection until we die. Yet, at numerous other points Paul makes it clear that he has been raised with Christ now. Such a spiritual resurrection demands a spiritual death. Hence passages like these:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. [Romans 6:4 NIV]
…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. [Colossians 2:12 NIV]
Paul knows that there is no resurrection now without a dying now death (see Phil. 3:10-11). Paul wanted to experience the power of the resurrection while he lived to such a point that he was prepared to go to incredible lengths to achieve it. Even to die to his own pride.
Paul believed Christ to be helping him in this regard, leading the apostle as He was, toward his physical death that would bring about the apostle’s ultimate resurrection.
What does this mean for those struggling with the power of sin now? What hope does Paul’s message bring?
A few brief thoughts.
First, if we acknowledge our need for Christ, as humiliating as that may be, we become children of God and are no longer slaves to the sin that controls us.
Second, if we acknowledge Christ’s payment of the penalty of sin and accept his free gift of salvation, we will be raised then and now.
Third, if we grow in our knowledge of Christ’s power over sin, we experience increasing freedom from sin’s control because through Christ its power has been annihilated.
Fourth, if we acknowledge that for us, like Paul, the struggle we face reveals the power of Christ, we experience deeper freedom. As stated above, either God will rescue us from our struggle, or He will strengthen us to endure adversity with thanksgiving to God. Yes, we all seek the former, but we must not forget the power of the latter either. Being made whole is a process over time as much as it can be a specific moment in time. Embrace the journey!
Fifth, we must deepen our awareness of Christ’s presence with us now! That presence can be as powerful and real to us as it was to the those who saw Christ after he had been raised!
At our Easter services we will unpack some of these ideas a little more. We hope you can join us for a reminder of the power of the Easter and a celebration of King Jesus who leads us all in triumphal procession!