The Triumph of the Gospel





Too many Christians view missions work as a solemn duty. We should be celebrating the victory of Jesus as we carry out the Great Commission.

Missions work is not dull. It is the most exciting work in the world because it is propelled by joy over what God is doing throughout the earth today.

"Missions is exciting, and I can actually participate!" exclaimed one churchgoer at the end of a missions seminar I taught. He elaborated: "I'm excited. This is the first missions service I've been in that didn't leave me feeling guilty."

Here, in a good missions church, a dear child of God had been shackled by chronic missions guilt for years, rather than propelled by irrepressible missions joy.

Beware of "missions guilt." It's so unnecessary. Yes, the work is hard; yes, the world's needs are staggering; yes, we need to be increasingly committed to the will of our Lord. But to merely serve out of a morbid sense of duty will quench the Spirit.

I am absolutely convinced that missions represents the most potentially satisfying and triumphant aspect of the Christian life.

The perspective I bring you is born of actual experience: pioneering and helping develop Teen Challenge missionary ministries in 20 countries; eight years of teaching missions in a graduate school; and eight years in missions mobilization, networking with local churches, missions agencies and missions schools. Throughout all I've done in ministry, I testify enthusiastically that missions is a joy; it is fun. It is an expression of the jubilant victory of Christ.

I believe every Christian's entire reason for being is to help win the world to Christ. If this were not true, the Lord would have taken us to heaven right after He saved us. But He left us here for a purpose: to fulfill the Great Commission and prepare the way for His imminent return, this time to rule and reign forever. What a victory that will be!

Though some may misinterpret it as such, our aim is not to advance a form of cultural triumphalism. But let's look at the reason why God does want us to prevail in missions: We are talking about living out Christ's victory over Satan's power, and living it out in a way that conforms to Christ's priorities in the Great Commission.

Neither our national prestige nor our national history makes us triumphant. It is not our personal strength, education or our financial resources that makes us triumphant.

We have no posture of victory to bring into the battle against Satan other than our being crucified in Christ, risen in the power of His resurrection and filled with His Spirit. The victories we seek in missions come only by appropriating the triumph He made over Satan on the cross. In Christ we triumph not over cultures, but over the cross-cultural barriers that have hindered the spread of the gospel.

In Colossians 2:15 Paul describes triumph in terms of the cross of Jesus: "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (NIV). Our triumph is founded on His defeat of Satan on Calvary, and His triumph came through His sacrificial obedience to His mission. The Greek word for triumph means "to lead in a triumphal procession, to conquer."

Glad expressions of victory. In 1991 the sacrificial commitment of our soldiers and the brilliant field leadership of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf led a combined military coalition from 18 countries in a tremendous victory over the ominous threat of Iraq's military. Before the war began, each member of the military faced his own private Gethsemane and pressed forward. Dangerous military operations--executed with a great degree of courage, discipline and skill--inspired the admiration of Americans back home. And admiration overflowed as pride and national confidence.

In 100 days American soldiers performed to the maximum, defeated the third most powerful army in the world and neutralized the threat of its sinister weapons of mass destruction. The pride, relief and joy that Americans naturally felt was the result of a difficult and high-risk endeavor. The tremendous, glad relief and sense of accomplishment just naturally expressed itself in a vast array of victory parades across the United States. Such triumph had not been experienced in the United States since troops had returned from World War II.

Parades happened across the United States, but the darling of them all was held in New York City. It was a glorious spectacle. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf himself led the parade, followed by column after column of his victorious troops.

The streets were crowded with cheering people waving victory banners and throwing confetti--the exuberant frenzy of a New York ticker tape parade. Americans were proud to be Americans again.

Through the filtered lenses of this national experience, and in the wonderful text of Colossians 2:15, we see three truths concerning Christ's conquest over Satan and his powers of darkness:

1. God reversed Satan's diabolical plan. The cruel implement of shameful death, the cross, with which the hostile forces intended to destroy Jesus, became the instrument by which Jesus conquered Satan and brought his forces into captivity.

When Jesus breathed His last breath on Calvary and uttered, "It is finished," Satan and all his demonic powers were stripped of their stolen authority and placed under divine arrest. He "disarmed the powers and authorities" in that He divested them of all their wisdom and armor, and now seeks to divide their spoils. That's the job of the church.

Our Lord won the final victory and now commands us to go into all the world and administer that victory through His authority and power, just as the military forces of the Coalition reversed Saddam Hussein's schemes. We can't fully apply Christ's victory without being obedient in missions, for God's priority is reaching those who have never heard the name of Jesus even one time and are still blinded by the god of this world.

2. God uses the cross to "make a spectacle" of the hostile opposition. The church should never be fearful of evil powers, but instead should exercise spiritual warfare over them in prayer and power encounters.

The public spectacle Paul speaks of in this verse refers to the humiliation of the captives taken in battle who are led in chains behind the victors in the triumphal procession. This is the ultimate result when we enforce His victory won on the cross and release unevangelized captives from their bondage.

3. The shameful cross becomes the victor's chariot. Victory emerges from apparent defeat. The cross is the scene of history's greatest triumph. The victory and triumph are His and His alone. He bought them with His blood on the cross.

He wants us to appropriate His victory, even through personal sacrifice, and see the cross become the victor's chariot that will lead a triumphant processional to complete His mission on earth, and then bring Him back as the King of kings.

Next, let's look at another major result of our triumph in missions. Our compelling reason to persevere comes from the vivid metaphor found in 2 Corinthians 2:14: "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."

To appreciate this exclamation of Paul's, we need to know how magnificent a triumphal procession was in the Roman Empire of Paul's day and what its connection was with spreading fragrances.

Celebrating the triumph of God. The triumphal procession given to a Roman general returning home after a great victory in a distant land was a dazzling spectacle. It had to be a battle in which at least 5,000 of the enemy had fallen and where the conquered country was effectively occupied and placed under the dominion of the Roman Empire.

To celebrate such a victory, the general, his troops and the captured armies would draw up to the Port of Capena. This would herald the beginning of a massive and jubilant event: the triumphal procession of conquering armies.

The vanquishing general would be welcomed at the gate by a host of senators and state officials. The streets of the city were lined with cheering throngs. The general, flanked by the senators and state officials, led his victorious armies through the streets of the imperial city of Rome, through its magnificent gates and down the famous Appian Way.

They would continue through the Via Sacra (Sacred Way) and to the point where all the roads of the empire met. Then the processional would turn toward the Capitoline hill and the Roman Forum.

Legions of trumpeters pierced the air with trumpet blasts that announced a long train of carriages bearing the spoils of war. Throughout the long processional, incense-bearers waved their censers to spread the aroma of victory along the roadway. The whole extravagant celebration was associated with the special aroma of incense that filled the air.

Next followed a white bull, which would be offered for sacrifice to Jupiter or another god that the general felt had given him favor in war. Then came the pathetic sight of the vanquished king, queen or general in chains, followed by the defeated troops, also in chains. Everyone knew that these prisoners were destined to become slaves of the Roman general and senators or worse, to be imprisoned or executed.

In the midst of all the shouting and blaring of trumpets, the loudest of all cheers rose for the triumphant general himself. He was riding in a decorated chariot drawn by four white horses, followed by his family and then his conquering soldiers. In his hand was a royal scepter and on his head was a laurel crown. The general had overcome incredible obstacles and this jubilation was appropriately grandiose.

Through this fascinating imagery of the Roman triumphal procession, we not only understand Paul's description of Christ's victory as "making a spectacle of his enemies," but also his references to special fragrance issuing from the procession. He explains that this scent of victory, like the incense, emanates from us and is "the fragrance of the knowledge of Him." This appealing scent of victory brings an ever-growing number of people to Christ.

What kind of fragrance emanates from your life and church? If it's not the fragrance of His glory that fills your area of influence with the knowledge of Christ, possibly a much less desirable odor springs from your ministry. Some churches possess the aroma of their own self-ascribed agenda, rather than the fragrance of a triumphant commitment to completing the Great Commission.

So, Paul painted this word picture for us in Scripture: Our Lord is leading the triumphant procession. Paul follows as a victorious servant who serves as a valiant soldier in helping to win some of the battles of the war. It is God, not Paul, who manifests the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. Paul is the servant-vessel through whom the victory is actualized and the fragrance is released.

Triumphal missions gives a victory shout. A derivative of the word for the victory shout is a Hebrew equivalent for "shout for joy": "'Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband'" (Is. 54:1).

The picture here is of Israel as a barren woman whom God is promising to become extremely fruitful. Therefore, the woman has great reason to shout for joy at the prospect of giving birth.

As local churches today prepare for a final harvest of souls, we have an extraordinary chance to discover the joys of bearing fruit in evangelism and missions. Certainly childbirth is painful, but there is nothing else in life like the awesome, reverent satisfaction of participating with God in the miracle of birth.

Why not see yourself and your church triumphant in missions? Triumph in missions will cause you to jump for joy. Yes, missions is fun, and any believer or church not involved in missions is missing a major part of the joy of knowing and following the Lord.

Take a moment to see yourself in God's final parade of triumph. Our risen Lord is leading in a great white victor's chariot. The early saints and patriarchs are in the parade. Everyone is shouting and singing praises to God.

Then come the 12 apostles and the other early saints. Many had been martyrs, but they were always victorious and spread the fragrance of the knowledge of the Lord, even in death. Missionaries from all the ages are in the parade, and so are the reformers.

The stream of triumphant soldiers gets wider and wider, and the reverberation of singing and shouts of joy escalate even higher and higher. You and your congregation should be there! Pastors should be in this final triumphant processional. And with us should be the members of the unreached people groups that we were instrumental in winning to Christ.

The parade leads through the gates of glory. We all stand before our King, worshiping and waving palm branches of victory. The incense of ultimate conquest over Satan fills the air. We are part of that joyful throng that helped to complete the Great Commission. The "It is finished" of Calvary has now become the "It is finished" of the mission that Christ left for His church. *


Howard Foltz serves as professor of global evangelization at Regent University in addition to serving as president of Accelerating International Missions Strategies in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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