The Olympics are always a great source of images and stories that define for us the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. This week we saw it again. We saw this thrill of victory with Usain Bolt’s amazing three-peat in the 100m race and we saw this agony of defeat with the reigning Gold Medal diver from Russia doing a belly flop. There have been other agonies of defeat this summer, the gymnast who broke his leg on the vault which was too gruesome to show. There have been bike crashes, slips and falls on the balance beam and false starts in racing, but the truly defining moment for the agony of defeat doesn’t come from any Olympics. You may not know Vinko Bogataj’s name but you know his agony if you watched any sports on Saturday afternoons during the 70’s and 80’s.
Vinko Bogataj was a very young Yugoslavian ski jumper who wiped out on his first jump and then had this complete fail on his second.
This one jump defines for us the agony of defeat but that single moment was not the end for Vinko. That day he actually wanted to go back up and try the jump again, but the doctors and trainers said no. Because of his well-documented fall however, Vinko became a worldwide sensation and at the Wide World of Sports 20th anniversary celebration Vinko not only received a standing ovation but he was the most soft after athlete for an autograph. In fact, it was Muhammad Ali, the greatest of them all, who was the first one who wanted Vinko’s autograph. The agony of his defeat led to the thrill of victory. And by the way, do you know who won that competition? Have you ever seen his jump? No, and that’s my point.
The lesson here is that the thrill of victory often comes only after the agony of defeat. Do you remember this miracle minute in sports? The miracle on ice was a miracle because for 20 years the Russian’s had beaten the US in international competition and so at the 1980 Olympics no one gave the young American team any chance of winning. It was through the agony of so many defeats that this thrill of victory came not only to these men on skates but to the nation that watched.
And then there was the agony of defeat we saw in the 1988 winter Olympics by the speed skater Dan Jansen. Dan was favored to medal in the 500 and 1000 meter races, but after hearing that his sister Jane had died of leukemia that morning, Dan fell during both of his races and was out of competition. In the 1992 Olympics Dan was expected to medal again but came in 4th in the 500 meters and 26th in the 1,000. In the 1994 Olympics, Dan was again the odds on favorite to win the gold in the 500 meters because he had set world records in that event leading up to the Olympics, but he came in 8th. In the final race of his Olympic career, the 1000 meters, not his specialty, Dan was not expected to medal but he came in first!
The thrill of this victory came for Dan because he had known and been through the agony of defeat. The lesson again is that the thrill of victory often comes only after the agony of defeat and this isn’t just true in sports it is a lesson we need to learn in life. The success and victories we experience are made more meaningful and significant because we have experienced failure but the reason we are able to experience these victories is because we did not let the agony of our defeat be the final word of our lives. If our failures define us – we know only defeat, but if we tell ourselves that our failure is not final then our life is not futile and the thrill of victory is there for our future.
So, where have you experienced the agony of defeat in your life? I’m not talking about where you have had to persevere through some hard times I’m talking about where you had to pick up and start all over again. Maybe it was watching a business you poured your heart into struggle for years and then finally go under. Maybe it was getting called into the boss’s office and told you were being laid off again due to a downturn in business. Maybe it was realizing you had to go back to work after retirement if you were going to make ends meet. For some the defeat is the inability to overcome an addiction that is destroying them body and soul or hearing the doctors say that the cancer has returned. Many have experienced defeat in relationships, in school and in life. Where have you experienced the agony of defeat?
Wherever that pain has come from, you are not alone because God knows this pain. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, experienced the agony of defeat not once or twice, but many times during his life.
In the beginning of John’s gospel it says that Jesus came to his own people but that they did not recognize him nor receive him. This happened when Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth to teach and preach and while the crowds were amazed at what Jesus said, they were skeptical and in time not only rejected Jesus but drove him out of town with the intent to throwing him off a cliff. Luke 4:29. The agony of defeat for Jesus was real.
Jesus was rejected by his hometown and despised by the religious leaders. He was called a heretic by the teachers and even his friends struggled to support him. In the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus felt the pain of loss looming on the horizon he asked his closest friends to watch and pray with him, but they all fell asleep and then one of his own disciples arrived and betrayed him with a kiss and when Jesus was arrested by the religious leaders his friends abandoned him. The agony of defeat for Jesus was experienced that night when he was thrown into a pit, tried before the religious leaders and Roman rulers and sentenced to die. The agony of defeat was experienced when Jesus was flogged and beaten and then forced to carry a cross. Then agony came when Jesus was nailed to that cross and hung there to die.
Jesus knows all about the agony of defeat but he never let that defeat define him and he knew that defeat would not be final. Jesus knew that through his defeat would come the thrill of victory. Jesus did not give into the defeat he experienced because he knew that through the agony would come the thrill of victory over sin and death. When defeat, failure and loss enter our lives we need to ask ourselves what we are going to do with it. Will we give in and give up and allow that defeat to define who we are and how we live or will we choose to look for the victory that can be ours in the end. Jesus shows us the way. The agony of defeat can lead us to the thrill of victory
The apostle Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 15:54b-58. It is because of this victory of Jesus that we can find victory in our lives.
What is it about looking to Jesus that helps us experience victory? Let’s look to Rio for some answers.
Standing 2,329 feet over the city of Rio de Janeiro is the statue Christo Redeemer. At 98 feet tall it is the fifth largest statue of Jesus in the world and for 75 years it has stood as a symbol of Christianity. There are two things you may not know about the statue. The first is that this Jesus is blind. While all statues have stone eyes, there is absolutely nothing in the space where Jesus eyes should be. There is just blank stone.
It is a little unsettling when you see it up close and many people think this is how God lives – blind to our problems.
If we think God is blind to our defeat and pain then we will never make it through to victory. If God doesn’t see us our agony then our defeat will define us, but God sees our pain and He knows our failures. Jesus said that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without God knowing about it and that the very hairs of our head are numbered. God see our lives and sees our defeat and pain and God is at work to redeem those moments. In Romans 8:28 it says God works for the good in all things for those who love Christ Jesus. Whatever agony of defeat you have experienced has been seen by God. God was with you and God will see you through it to victory.
The second thing you may not know about this statue is that carved on Jesus’ chest is a heart.
Again, many people think this is what God is like; having a heart of stone, but quite the opposite is true. Jesus’ heart beats for us and his love is what sees us through the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory. Romans 5:8. God loves us so much that when he sees our defeat he sends Jesus to suffer the consequences for us so that we might live. God’s love for us can see us through all the agony of this world. Paul said that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Romans 8:35-39. The heart of Jesus beats for us and God’s love leads us to life and victory.
What turns the agony of defeat into the thrill of victory is knowing that we have a savior who not only sees our pain and knows what that it’s like but loves us enough to endure the cross so that we can emerge victorious.
While sports provides some amazing and fun stories that show us what the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat look like, where we need to see this kind of spirit at work is in changing the hearts, lives and destinies of people. Carissa Phelps, no relation to Michael, was a young girl living in central California when she became a victim of human trafficking at age 12. Abducted and used by a friend to provide sex for money, Carissa lived on the streets for months before she ended up in a juvenile detention center where she met a counselor named Ron Jenkins. It was Ron and a math teacher who helped Carissa overcome her early defeats and experience the thrill of victory. Carissa graduated with honors from Fresno State University and went on to receive a Law degree and an MBA from UCLA. She gave up a lucrative career in private equity firms to go back to the streets to help other girls find victory through their defeats. Here is part of her story.
We have all experienced the agony of defeat; you may be going through that pain today. If we give up, then the defeat will define us, but if we keep going with our eyes on Jesus then we will find victory. God came to us in the person of Jesus who has eyes to see our pain and who has a heart that loves us unconditionally. It is through the agony of Jesus’ death that we can experience the thrill of victory and new life.
While the Olympics may be coming to an end, our race of faith continues on so let us, forget what lies behind and strain toward what is ahead. Let us press on toward the goal and win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us run with perseverance the race set before us.
The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat
1. Name an agony of defeat that you have experienced during your life.
• Has this failure defined you?
• Has it led to the thrill of victory?
2. Think back to a thrill of victory you have experienced. What defeats and failures did you have to go through to get there?
3. What 2016 Olympic story can inspire you to victory? What other stories of victory through defeat can motivate you to keep going? Search for stories of victory that can be used as a source of strength for you and others.
4. Take time this week to note where you need to experience the thrill of victory.
• Outline what it will take for you to experience victory.
• What past defeats do you need to overcome?
• What defeats might you face as you keep going?
5. What keeps us going is knowing that Jesus does NOT have blind eyes nor a stone heart.
• Name the problems that Jesus sees in your life today.
• How does knowing this give you strength and peace?
6. Jesus has a beating heart of compassion that loves you.
• Read Romans 8:15-39
• Read 1 John 4:7-8
• How can this love give you strength to persevere?
7. Reach out to one person who needs your help to overcome the agony of their defeat.