Becoming Champions for the LostJanuary 18th, 2024
We all love champions. As a tennis fan, I have followed Novak Djokovic for years, and it was so exciting when he landed his 24th grand slam. He is a real champion. The last few years another exciting athlete has entered the big stage of NCAA women’s basketball. She is Caitlin Clark, the point guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Sometime in February (barring injury) she will pass Kelsey Plum’s all-time scoring record of 3,567 points in a college career. She is a real champion. However, the Bible has a different idea of what it means to be a “champion.” Hebrews 12:2 envisions Jesus as a champion, but a different kind of champion than the ones we are familiar with. Hebrews calls us to “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Notice that Jesus is called the “founder and perfecter” of our faith. The two Greek words used there are “archégos” and “teleiótés.” The latter word is the word for “perfecter” or the one who brings us to perfection. It is obviously an important word in the Wesleyan world because part of our faith is the confidence that God will bring us to perfection, not meaning the absence of sin, but “perfect in love” meaning that we have a new orientation towards God such that the gravity of sin gives way to the gravity of holiness. The new “pull” on our life has been changed. That’s the second half of the gospel. Sin is no longer our secret lover, but our mortal enemy. That is what we mean by being “made perfect” and, like all Christian growth, it is only possible through being united with Jesus Christ.
The first word, “archégos,” is translated by the ESV as “founder.” Jesus is the “founder” of our faith. However, if you survey a range of modern translations, you will quickly discover that this word is very difficult to translate. In fact, it (archégos) is translated by a range of words including “founder” (ESV), “author” (KJV/NKJV), “pioneer” (NIV/CEB), “champion” (NLT), “initiator” (JB), “leader” (Darby) and “source” (GWT). The reason for this is that the Greek word has a wide semantic range, and it is very difficult to nail down to one specific word.
It was my daughter Bethany who first pointed out to me the power of the translation “champion.” Jesus came as our “champion” in standing against all the powers of evil and hell and death, by defeating them. We then join in His victory by being united with Him. However, as champion, Jesus does not come with power and strength but through weakness and humility. The greatest powers of hell are defeated through the greater power of love. 2 Cor. 12:9 declares, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Jesus lays down His life and suffers death on the cross for our salvation. That is how Jesus exhibits being a champion! It is not a figure like Novak Djokovic, or Patrick Mahomes, or Catlin Clark. Jesus becomes our champion through weakness and laying down His life. Likewise, we are called to join in union with Jesus and lay our lives down for a lost world, that they might come to know the true Champion of their Salvation: Jesus Christ!
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