A Parade Worth Marching InBy Joe Stowell on July 2, 2018
For Americans, the Fourth of July is usually a day of picnics, parties and parades. Putting aside partisan differences and political perspectives, the people of the nation gather to celebrate Independence Day—the founding of the United States. Across the nation, people will line the streets of their towns and villages to see a line-up of brightly decorated floats, shiny fire trucks, antique cars and grown men driving go-carts in circles. It's a wonderful holiday and a great celebration!
I find it interesting to note that the apostle Paul actually uses the picture of a parade to teach the Corinthian believers an important biblical truth about the work of Jesus on our behalf. In the second chapter of 2 Corinthians he says that God "always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:14). The Corinthians would have been very familiar with the idea of "triumphal processions." In fact, anyone living under the Roman Empire would have instantly pictured what Paul was describing.
"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" (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Historians tell us that whenever Roman forces captured another region, the victorious Roman commanding general would stage a parade. Gathering his victorious soldiers, he would march through the streets of the city with crowds lining the roads. The captured general and his subdued men would be forced to march, shackled and humbled, with the Roman forces to demonstrate the power and might of Rome's reach. While they marched, the pagan priests of Rome would burn incense to symbolize the sweet smell of victory.
Paul takes that powerful picture and uses it to illustrate the immensity of Christ's victory over sin and death in the lives of His followers. He says that in the spiritual world, we are being led by the victorious one—Jesus—in a triumphal parade that displays His victory over the forces of evil. We have been set free from our enslavement to sin, and we are now "slaves to righteousness" (Romans 6:18). We have a new master now that we have been gloriously set free!
Paul even takes the illustration one step further by referencing the incense burned in the Roman processions. Look again at what he says in 2 Corinthians 2:14, "God . . . through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him." Isn't that incredible! Our lives, Paul says, are to be a sweet-smelling reminder of how attractive and appealing the freedom and victory we find in Jesus can be! The scent of God's grace is supposed to linger in the lives of those in our sphere of influence.
So today, if you are an American, enjoy the parades. But if you are first and foremost a follower of Jesus, revel in the independence and freedom that you have found in Him. Picture yourself being led through the streets of your town, on display to your friends and family as a trophy of Christ's victory. And pray that your encounters with others will leave behind the sweet smell of God's goodness.
And here's the good news: When Jesus is the victor, no one can rain on your parade!