Sermon Illustrations on victory


Christian Persecution & The Real Power

What is the witness of the church in times of persecution? The historical record demonstrates that persecutions of Christians were regular and prolific in the first centuries of the church, especially in the second and third centuries as the church began to spread significantly.

In 215 AD, Scapula, the leader of the Roman province of Carthage (modern day North Africa), led a campaign to to stop the spread of the church. The historian Tertullian wrote a four-page letter to the Roman administration to stop the torture and execution of everyday church members. One of Tertullian’s points, was that there were thousands of Christians in that region of North Africa. Was Scapula going to kill all of them? Instead of fighting back with weapons, Tertuallian offers to lead a protest at the seat of justice in Carthage, the place of justice for the Roman Empire.

 “What will you make of so many thousands, of such a multitude of men and women, persons of every sex and every age and every rank, when they present themselves before you?” he inquires.

Scholar John Dickson comments:

Tertullian’s boldness is striking. Ancient Christians were not timid. They did not adopt a posture of peaceful resistance through a kind of slave mentality of the bullied. Nor was their religion an opiate that dulled them to social realities here and now. In fact, reading the early sources, it is clear they actually felt like they were the victors!

They believed that true power to change the world lay not in politics, the judiciary, or the military but in the message of Christ’s death and resurrection.

John Dickson, Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History, Zondervan, 2021.

Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist

Towards the end of his life, the great missionary, theologian, cultural critic (and even bishop!) Lesslie Newbigin gave an interview. His interviewer asked him an interesting question, made even more poignant by the fact that Newbigin had returned home from the mission field to find his home country (England) had become increasingly secularized, showing scant interest in the Christian faith. 

Newbigin’s reply was quite powerful: “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!” Unlike many Christians, Newbigin was able to keep that which is most important at the center of his faith and life: the tomb is empty, and even when circumstances seem challenging, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! We know the ending, and it is an exceedingly good one.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Triumph and Failure in the World of Faith

Triumph and failure always go together in the wait of faith.  They are the head and tail of the same coin.  Show me a person who has had no struggle with waiting, whose faith has known no swings between victory and defeat, and I’ll show you a person who has never really trusted God with his or her life.

   To wait on God is to struggle and sometimes to fail.  Sometimes the failures teach us more than the successes.  For the failures teach us that to wait on God is not only to wait for his mercy, but to wait by his mercy. … The success of our waiting lies not in who we are, but in who God is.  It is not our strength that will pull us through to the end, it is God’s amazing grace and mercy.

Taken from Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


Not a Single Note of Joy

Months of struggle, of strategy, of sacrifice all paid off in a landslide victory for President Richard Nixon in 1972.  On election night his aide Charles Colson was in the place he had always wanted to be.  The picture Colson draws of that night contains three figures: chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, arrogant and sullen; Nixon, restlessly gulping scotch; and Colson, feeling let down, deflated, “a deadness inside me.” 

Three men at the power pinnacle of the world, and not a single note of joy discernible in the room.  “If someone had peered in on us that night from some imaginary people in the ceiling of the President’s office, what a curious sight it would have been: a victorious President, grumbling over words he would grudgingly say to his fallen foe; his chief of staff angry, surly, and snarling; and the architect of his political strategy sitting in numbed stupor.”

 The experience is not uncommon.  We work hard for something, get it and then find we don’t want it.  We struggle for years to get to the top and find life there thoroughly boring.  Colson writes, “Being part of electing a President was the fondest ambition of my life.  For three long years I had committed everything I had, every ounce of energy to Richard Nixon’s cause.  Nothing else mattered.  We had no time together as a family, no social life, no vacations.”  And then, having in his hands what he had set out to gain, he found he couldn’t enjoy it.

Taken from A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson Copyright (c) 1980, 2000 by Eugene Peterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Victory of God

The victory of God in our time over this deathly idolatry is hidden from us, as God’s decisive victory is always hidden from us. We do not know exactly when and where the victory has been wrought. It is hidden in the weakness of neighbor love, in the foolishness of mercy, in the vulnerability of compassion, in the staggering alternatives of forgiveness and generosity which permit new life to emerge in situations of despair and brutality.

Walter Breuggemann

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