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The Olympic flame

June 2012 | by Peter Jeffery

The Olympic flame

The tradition of lighting an Olympic flame comes from the ancient Greeks. During the ancient Olympic Games, a sacred flame was lit from the sun’s rays at Olympia, and stayed lit until the games were completed.

This flame represented the ‘endeavour for protection and struggle for victory’. It was first introduced into our modern Olympics at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Since then, the flame has come to symbolise ‘the light of spirit, knowledge, and life’.
    The torch relay also began in the ancient Olympics and was revived at the 1936 Berlin Games. Originally, the torch lit at Olympia, in Greece, was carried by relay to the host city of the games. The last runner carries the torch into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony.
    
Symbol

The flame is then lit from the torch and will remain lit until it is extinguished during the closing ceremony. The torch relay symbolises the passing of the Olympic traditions from one generation to the next.
    In the ancient Olympic Games the flame was a symbol of victory. History is full of such symbols, but they all pale into insignificance compared to the Christian symbol of victory. That symbol is the cross.
    In Colossians 2 Paul is delighting in the victory we have in the cross of Jesus. The church at Colosse was being plagued by heresy. Like all distortions of biblical truth, this heresy sought to tarnish the glory of Christ and his finished work at Calvary.
    The Colossian heresy consisted of an overemphasis upon rituals and special days (v. 16), philosophy (v. 8) and angel worship (v. 18). The Christian does not need these, because he is complete and has a fulness in Christ.
    This means that we need no one and nothing else other than Christ to deepen our relationship with God. In Colossians 2 Paul shows what this completeness is. A Christian may argue that he does not feel complete, but this is because he is looking at himself and not at Christ.
    On the cross, Jesus dealt with two things that dominate and control the life of every person who is not a Christian — the moral law (v. 14) and the powers of evil (v. 15). By his death, Jesus satisfied the demands of the law and paid the debt to God that we owed by our violations of God’s commands.
    Once this was done, the powers and authority of evil had no control over us. The law could not save us, but it could condemn us. Yet now our debt has been fully paid; our violations of God’s law, past, present and future, have been dealt with by nailing them to the cross — ‘Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross’ (v. 14).
    
Payment

Jesus was doing the equivalent of stamping the bill ‘Paid in full’! The cross is our eternal receipt for the debt paid, and is a guarantee that the payment will never be demanded again. No wonder the Christian has received fulness in Christ. Can there be anything greater than this?
    In Colossians 2:15 Paul uses the picture of a Roman general returning in triumph, to illustrate the victory of the cross — ‘Having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it’. A victorious general would parade in triumph through Rome with the captured kings and generals chained to his chariot.
    In this way, Paul depicts Christ’s triumph over Satan: the evil one is defeated and chained to the chariot of our Saviour. On the cross, Jesus disarmed Satan and took away his power.
    In a remarkable sermon C. H. Spurgeon describes this disarming: ‘Satan came against Christ; he had in his hand a sharp sword called the law, dipped in the poison of sin, so that every wound which the law inflicted was deadly.
    ‘Christ dashed this sword out of Satan’s hand, and there stood the prince of darkness unarmed. His helmet was cleft in twain, and his head was crushed as with a rod of iron.
    ‘Death rose against Christ. The Saviour snatched his quiver from him, emptied out all his darts, cut them in two, gave death back the feather end, but kept the poisoned barbs from him, that he might never destroy the ransomed.
    ‘Sin came against Christ; but sin was utterly cut in pieces. It had been Satan’s armour bearer, but its shield was cast away, and it lay dead upon the plain. Is it not a noble picture to behold all the enemies of Christ — nay, my brethren, all your enemies and mine — totally disarmed?
    ‘Satan has nothing left him now wherewith he may attack us. He may attempt to injure us, but wound us he never can, for his sword and spear are utterly taken away.’
    
Triumph

In Zechariah 3, Satan is silenced by our new garment of righteousness. He can no longer accuse us because the law is satisfied in Jesus, fully paying our debt. What a glorious triumph this is! On the cross, Jesus made a public spectacle of his victory. The whole world was witness to it, and still is every time a sinner is saved.
    The triumph of the cross was complete. Jesus had anticipated this on Palm Sunday when he said, ‘Now is the time for the judgement of this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out’ (John 12:31).
    Man because of his sinful nature violates God’s law. So the law, instead of being a blessing to us, becomes a curse. Therefore, Satan can quite properly use it to accuse and condemn us.
    We are guilty, ‘the power of sin is the law’ (1 Corinthians 15:56). But, on the cross, Jesus fulfils the righteousness of the law for us. He pays our debt and takes the cancelled statement of debt, nailing it to the cross as proof of payment.
    When we are saved, the triumph of the cross becomes our triumph. Satan can still tempt us, but he can no longer compel us. His influence is still strong in the world, but it’s limited in the lives of God’s people. He is chained, like the lions in The pilgrim’s progress.
    As Christians, we should live in the reality of the triumph of the cross. We are no longer slaves to sin. So, therefore, we are not to let sin reign in our lives (Romans 6:6, 12).
    The cross is a far greater symbol of victory than the transient Olympic torch. But if we should manage to catch sight of it being carried along its route to London’s Olympic Stadium, may we as Christians be reminded by the flame that we glory supremely in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Peter Jeffery