Of course, he did not know where it was. He was eighty-five years of age and had written dozens of books. I was asking him if he could tell me exactly where in his books I could find the quote I was looking for. He told me that he had absolutely no idea, but gave me permission to quote it anyway. Since then I have used his quote over and over again because it seemed to me that Bishop Lesslie Newbigin had summarised a crucial insight for our understanding of Jesus and the New Testament.
‘The resurrection was not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of a victory.’
The cross was not a defeat. Rather, taken together, the cross and resurrection are the greatest victory to have taken place in the history of the world. It is a victory that has huge implications for our own lives, our society and the future of this world.
The idea of ‘victory’ can smack of imperialism and pride. Of course, triumphalism is to be avoided. However, ‘victory’ is not a negative word in the Bible, even in the New Testament.
The key to a right understanding of ‘victory’ is to see it as a gift made possible ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). This means that the appropriate response is not pride, but thankfulness.
Victory in your heartProverbs 20:25-21:4
The biggest battle goes on in our hearts and minds. This is where the victory is won or lost. God is not only concerned about your actions and your words, but also about your inmost being. God watches and examines us ‘inside and out’ (20:27, MSG). He ‘examines our motives’ (21:2, MSG).
‘Clean living before God and justice with our neighbours means far more to God than religious performance’ (v.3, MSG). ‘The lamp of the Lord searches the human spirit; it searches out the inmost being’ (20:27). I try to pray regularly as the psalmist prays, ‘Search me, O God… and see if there is any wicked way in me’ (Psalm 139:23–4, RSV).
I also pray this for other people. Proverbs 20:27 is a very useful verse in prayer ministry. If someone feels that they are wrestling with something they can’t quite put their finger on, I ask the Spirit of God to search their heart to reveal if there is any sin that needs to be dealt with.
God never gives a nebulous feeling of guilt. If a feeling of guilt is of the Holy Spirit, he will reveal the specific sin that needs to be dealt with. If something wrong comes to mind, repentance leads to forgiveness through Jesus.
Then I ask the ‘lamp of the Lord’ to shine again and reveal if there is anything else that needs to be dealt with. Because of Jesus’ victory over sin on the cross, where there is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, there can no longer be any condemnation.
Victory for a king (or we might say ‘leader’) comes through ‘love and faithfulness’: ‘Love and truth form a good leader, sound leadership is founded on loving integrity’ (v.28, MSG).
The leader’s ‘heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases’ (21:1). God is in ultimate control of a leader’s heart. I have trusted this promise many times in my life when praying about job interviews, dealings with the council, judges or governments. Thankfully, the heart of the leader is in the Lord’s hands and he directs it whichever way he pleases.
The heart is so important: ‘All your ways seem right to you, but the Lord weighs the heart. To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice’ (vv.2–3).
Since victory is a gift from God, it should never lead to pride: ‘Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!’ (v.4).
Lord, I pray that you would shine your lamp into my heart today and search out my inner being. Thank you for the gift of forgiveness, freedom and victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Victory over death1 Corinthians 15:50-16:4
Many people think that death is the end. They believe death always has the last word – that death in the end will be victorious.
‘Not so,’ declares the apostle Paul. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ (15:54). He taunts death: ‘Where, oh death, is your victory?’ (v.55).
Jesus, through the cross and resurrection, has defeated sin, guilt and death. As a result, one day you will be raised ‘imperishable’ and ‘immortal’ (vv.53–54).
There are three things you can give in response to this amazing gift of victory through our Lord Jesus Christ:
- Give thanks
‘Where, oh death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (vv.55–57).
The evangelist, David Watson, told the story of when he was called into the garden by the frightened cries of his daughter who was being chased by a bee. He wrapped his arms around her and then she felt his body go tense. He let her go and said to her, ‘You needn’t worry anymore, darling, the bee has stung me.’
On the cross, it was as though Jesus wrapped his arms around us and took the sting of death for us. We still die (if Jesus doesn’t return first) but, for everyone trusting in Christ, ‘the sting of death’ has been removed through the cross and resurrection. And, as David Watson said to his daughter, ‘Bees don’t sting twice.’ ‘Thank God!’ (v.57, MSG).
- Give yourself
Do you sometimes wonder whether what you are doing in serving God is really making any difference? Are you tempted to think that it may all be a waste of time and effort?
Be encouraged: ‘Nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort’ (v.58, MSG). Paul writes that the appropriate response to the victory of Jesus is ‘to stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (v.58).
Get on with ‘the work of the Lord’ (v.58). That is, the work that the Lord has called you to do. Do not be worried or threatened by what others are up to in different ministries. Different people have different callings. It is not for us to judge. They are seeking to serve God, possibly in a different way. Each of us should follow God’s call in our own lives.
Give yourself fully to whatever it is God has called you to do. Because of the resurrection you can stand firm and know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
- Give money
Part of giving yourself to the work of the Lord is through giving your money (16:2). We see here a number of principles of Christian giving. First, it is primarily ‘for God’s people’ (v.1) that is, the church. Second, it should be regular, ‘On the first day of every week’ (v.2). Third, everyone (‘each one of you’, v.2) should be involved. Fourth, it should be proportionate; in keeping with your income (see Deuteronomy 16:17): ‘Be as generous as you can’ (1 Corinthians 16:2, MSG).
Father, I can never thank you enough for the gift of victory through our Lord Jesus Christ over sin, the law and death. I rededicate my life, my money and everything I have, to do the work of the Lord.
Victory over evil2 Chronicles 21:4-23:21
The news today. Terrible events. Evil regimes. Horrific murders. Nothing new.
These chapters describe a bad period in the history of the people of God. God considered Jehoram ‘an evil man’ (21:6, MSG). He ‘led Judah astray’ (v.11). ‘There were no tears when he died – it was good riddance!’ (v.20, MSG).
Ahaziah was no better. His mother, Athaliah, was even worse: ‘training him in evil ways’ (22:3, MSG). When he died she carried on doing evil and causing destruction (v.10). She tried to kill all the princes.
However, Joash, like Moses before him and Jesus after him, was hidden and protected (vv.11–12).
God had promised to maintain a lamp for David and his descendents forever (21:7). Evil was defeated. Joash was crowned King (23:11) and ‘all the people of the land rejoiced. And the city was quiet, because Athaliah had been slain by the sword’ (v.21).
This is a picture of the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Joash foreshadowed someone far greater who was to come. God protected Jesus from those who wanted to kill him as a baby. He is the anointed King who ultimately defeated evil and death.
Lord, we can never thank you enough. ‘Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57).
1 Corinthians 15:58
‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour is not in vain.’
This is a great rallying cry that St Paul sent the Corinthian church. It may be hard work, but keep going and God will use it all for his glory.
Verse of the Day
‘Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, (Eerdmans B Publishing, 1995) p.36.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
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Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.