Resurrection Sunday: Triumphalism Is Not Victory

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40:1-5 (NIV).

 As we celebrate the Resurrection, are we heeding Isaiah’s plea that we bring the Gospel to our Jewish friends? (See Isaiah 40:1-2). Metaphorically speaking, Isaiah indicates that removing barriers which hide Yeshua, (i.e. mountains, valleys, crooked paths), not just from Israel but from all humanity, is integral to the “comfort” we are to offer. One such barrier is triumphalism.

Back in the 1980s, I heard about a well-known rabbi who was teaching on Jewish/Christian relationships to a mixed audience of Christians and Jews. Having learned that the rabbi had New Testament scholarship credentials, I had lots of questions and was particularly curious about why he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. So I invited him to meet with a small group of believers at my home. His presentation was completely respectful of Christianity.

Toward the end of that evening, I asked directly, “Rabbi, why don’t you believe in Jesus?” He dodged the question twice, but in the same tone of respect I persisted. Finally, he gave a direct, and I believe sincere, response: “I don’t believe in Jesus because I see Christianity as a religion of triumphalism.” Although he did not elaborate, I’ve given his answer much thought and want to explain what I think this particular objection to the gospel means and how we can learn from it and better define the victory of God.

First, the rabbi was making the common quasi-mistake of judging the Christian religion by the followers of Jesus, instead of dealing with who Jesus is, His teaching, and His resurrection. Certainly Christians fall short of Jesus’ example all the time, in many ways. So if he wants to consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus, he should ultimately focus on Him. Second, I characterize his mistake not as total but as “quasi” because he was partly right. Jesus taught us, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers” (Luke 6:43–44). Our rabbi acquaintance properly considered evidence of the truth of Christianity and all who profess to follow Yeshua by the results their lives produced.

So here are some aspects of triumphalism that some of us express with a prideful attitude. Please be sensitive to the reality that the sin of triumphalism does not just apply to the historic sibling rivalry of Christianity and Judaism, but also to other groups such as Muslims or secularists who may feel Christians, Christian America, or “Christendom” are trying to dominate them. These perceptions, sometimes false, sometimes valid, keep non-believers from seeing Jesus:

1. The belief that Christians are better than Jews

2. That Christianity has more adherents than other religions

3. Our cathedrals and our churches are bigger and grander than those of other religions

4. Christians control American law, and most American presidents have been Christians

5. Our laws will control your moral conduct: alcohol and drug use, sexual conduct, marriage, gambling, pornography, and so on

6. The New Testament makes the Old Testament obsolete

7. The church has replaced Israel

I have not listed these examples of triumphalism to show how the perceptions of our critics may be mistaken. Rather, I have listed them to help us realize how Christians and Christianity are perceived by many and for us to think about which aspects of those perceptions are true so we can change and humble our behaviors that lead to those perceptions. So let us examine our hearts and repent of whatever impure motives we detect. Then we can help non-believers see Jesus more clearly, especially as well gather to celebrate that He has risen.

This article is an excerpt from John Mauck’s upcoming book “Jesus in the Courtroom: How Believers can Engage the Legal System for the Good of His World,” set to be released by Moody Publishers this July. Preorder your copy today!