April 10, 2020 | David F. Coppedge

Tough Guys Bow at the Cross

Portraits of three heroic strong men alive today who have humbled themselves before Jesus, calling him Lord.

Images of Jesus often portray his gentle side, seated with children on his lap and surrounded by lambs, birds and bunny rabbits. Jesus did describe his manner as “meek and lowly of heart,” but he also could overturn the money tables of corrupt businessmen in the presence of crowds on the Temple mount, and the religious leaders could not stop him. Before his arrest and crucifixion that we remember on Good Friday, he had survived 40 days without food in the wilderness. He had commanded the attention of crowds of people, and had resisted stern enemies. It’s true that he told his disciples, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16), but his power also led strong Roman centurions to kneel before him and plead for help.

Jesus had walked on foot all around Palestine, accompanied by disciples, some of whom had lived and worked outdoors as hardy fishermen. Jesus had both a gentle side and a strong side. One must not go beyond what is written of Jesus in the Bible, our source of information. We know little about his physical appearance; Isaiah 53:2 had predicted, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” His appearance was not the point of his mission. If the world needed physical strength, God would have sent a fitness instructor. But he knew our problem was sin, so he sent us a Savior. That mission required his substitutionary sacrifice for our sin, a sacrifice only the Son of God could accomplish. Knowing full well how his earthly mission was going to end, Jesus summoned all to repent and believe, whether young or old, weak or strong, male or female.

The traditional “manly” attributes of strength, courage and toughness will not help someone find God, but neither are they incompatible with humility and faith. To illustrate that, here are three exceptional characters who exemplify the ultimate in the “tough guy” image. The purpose is to dismantle the perceptions of some who might think that Christianity is for weaklings.

Chuck Norris

Many know Chuck Norris for his movies like Missing in Action, Delta Force and TV series like Walker, Texas Ranger, which led to a whole genre of jokes, like ‘Chuck Norris doesn’t do pushups; he pushes the Earth down.’ His exploits are not just Hollywood special effects; he really was a six-year world champion in karate. Even at age 70, Norris is a well-known advocate for health and fitness. Thinking about the global pandemic we are experiencing, Norris wrote on April 6 at WND.com, chuckling over the latest “Chuck Norris Joke” that has surfaced, “Chuck Norris contracted the coronavirus. Now the virus is in quarantine for 14 days!” Turning serious, he says,

I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe this pandemic is occurring by chance as Holy Week rises up like the sun rises over the horizon. Easter brings help and hope to the darkest times like the sun’s rays bursting through the stormiest clouds.

I’m not a preacher nor do I pretend to be. But Gena and I are Christians, and I’ll be honest: Our faith is the primary anchor for our souls. It’s the one thing that offers us true peace, hope and a remedy against fear.

Regarding the cross of Christ and his resurrection, Norris adds,

The physical Resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian religion and our personal faith. It reset the course of humanity, and has indelibly changed the hearts of billions, including Gena and me.

Through Jesus’ Resurrection, we not only learn that his teachings were true but also his entire ministry. Dying was His reason for living. And by rising from the dead, we understand that He can be our continual Helper and Hope every day. He promised His followers, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Terry Gene Bollea

Better known as “Hulk Hogan” in his legendary appearances in world championship wrestling, movies, and TV commercials, the Hulkster is a towering figure of strength. So-called “professional wrestling” is unquestionably about entertainment, not athletics, and the outcomes are rigged, but one does not lift another 250-pound man overhead and slam him to the floor before a live audience using Hollywood special effects. Now 66 years old, The Hulk is still fit and strong at 6-foot-7 and 301 pounds. He recently told the Daily News, “Jesus, not a coronavirus vaccine, is what we need.”

“Maybe we don’t need a vaccine,” Hogan wrote. “Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.”

His prescription for the cure comes straight from the Bible. He quoted this verse on his Instagram page:

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14, KJV)

Rich Froning

Eight-time winner of the International CrossFit Games, Rich Froning is close to the ultimate in overall fitness for a human being. He’s been called the Most Fit Man on the Planet, and the Fittest Man in History. That would be hard to prove, but watch the Trailer for CrossFit Games and you might believe it. Yet on top of all these achievements, he defines himself not by his physical fitness, but by his relationship with Jesus Christ. The YouVersion Bible app shows him in a video telling about his faith, and describes him as “foremost a passionate follower of Christ, seeking to glorify God in every area of his life.” The Christian Post says that “‘The “Fittest Man on Earth’ is 26, stands at 5 feet, 9 inches, weighs 195 pounds, and is on fire for Jesus.” In 2011, Froning confesses, he was making an idol out of CrossFit, even though he had been a Christian since his youth.

Right before the 2011 season started, he made a drastic commitment, tattooing his entire right side with the verse “Galatians 6:14.” The verse taught him humility and helped him keep God at the center. In the King James Version, it reads “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

Froning also said this focus on the cross motivates him when he feels like giving up. Also since 2011, he has the verses of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospel of Matthew written on his shoes. In moments of fatigue during events or training, he looks down and draws strength from the fact that, whatever pain courses through his nerves, Jesus Christ endured far worse for him.

This champion’s dedication to the faith doesn’t just show on his body, but in the company he keeps and even the music he listens to. Froning said he listens to worship music while working out, and consciously hangs out with people who will strengthen his faith.

“Faith, family, and fitness – that’s the order I try to keep things in,” the athlete said.

Froning started a discipleship plan called Powered by Scripture. In a Q&A interview with Craig Groeschel for Life Church, Froning tells more about his life, testimony and priorities.

The point of today’s entry on Good Friday is not to glorify masculinity, even though masculinity is under attack these days by elements of our culture, who speak disparagingly of ‘toxic masculinity’ and promote confusion in gender roles. (Those cultural trends will fade in due time, just like others that deny the realities of human nature.) Nor is the point to help men aspire to Biblical manhood, even though the Bible usually speaks well of “mighty men of valor,” with even God taking on that kind of title (Isaiah 42:13). There are ministries like FRC’s “Stand Courageous” to do that, reminding them of Paul’s command, “Act like men; be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13).

No, the point of today’s entry is to focus on Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb of God, but also the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5). He is the Creator, who gave us our bodies and individual natures. He is the one who died to buy back the human race from its rebellion. He is the one who shouted, “It is finished” on the cross, as he willingly gave his life for us. He is the one who so shocked a hardened Roman centurion below the cross, who had seen many men die, that he and his band of soldiers exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

Fitness is good, and all people should strive for it to the extent their genes and bodies allow it. But physical fitness is only temporary. Fitness does not commend us to God; before him, the greatest athletes are weaklings. All people need to humble themselves before the cross, repent, and accept Christ’s payment in full for their sin. These three strong men did that. Will you? Evolution teaches survival of the fittest. The Bible teaches survival of the humblest. The fittest will age and die. Christ followers gain eternal life. Weak or strong, come to Christ, and he will lift you up.

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