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Olympic horses say neigh to “intense” sumo wrestler statue: The great imperative behind the Great Commission

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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closeup of sumo wrestling statue at equestrian Olympics event
Britain's Harry Charles, riding Romeo 88 (cropped from photo), competes during the equestrian jumping individual qualifying at Equestrian Park in Tokyo at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Here’s a headline you don’t see every day: “Sumo scare? Riders say horses might be spooked by statue.”

At the Tokyo Olympics equestrian jumping event, an unusual statue stands near obstacle No. 10—a life-size sumo wrestler. “There’s a lot to look at,” says one rider. Another echoes, “It is very realistic. It does look like a person, and that’s a little spooky. You know, horses don’t want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he’s ready to fight you.” 

Riders say this statue may have distracted several horses in qualifying for the individual jumping final Tuesday night. A few pairings pulled up short of the barrier, thus accumulating enough penalty points to prevent their entry into Wednesday’s finals. 

Most of the course’s hurdles are decorated with a distinctly Japanese feel, but none is quite as unusual as the sumo wrestler. However, the Olympics have a reputation among riders for flashy course design. One rider said, “You know it’s going to be colorful coming here. You know it’s going to be decorative. And it’s beautiful, you know? It’s fantastic. That’s what makes it a championship. If it was just plain old jumps, it’d be just like any other week.” 

How to talk to a horse 

The horses have nothing to fear from the sumo statue, but they don’t know that. While some of the riders brought them to the tenth jump before their runs so they could look it over, it’s impossible to know if that was necessary or helpful. 

In fact, the only way to be sure the horses understood that the statue is not a threat to them would be to communicate that fact in a language you’re certain the horses understand. To do that, you’d have to be a horse. 

This is the mystery and beauty of the incarnation: We could not climb up to God, so he climbed down to us. We could not comprehend his holiness and perfection, so he made himself one of us so we could meet the Father in his Son. 

Jesus’ best friend said it this way: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 

Now Jesus calls us to extends his incarnational ministry by incarnating his love and grace in ours. 

“Apart from me you can do nothing” 

You and I are literally the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27), the visible manifestation of his invisible presence in our world (cf. Matthew 28:20). People understandably judge Christ by Christians. We are his “sermons in shoe leather,” the “Bibles” they read every day. 

This is good news when we reflect well on our Master. The Christians who grieved with me when my father died drew me closer to the One who wept with me as well (John 11:35). Christians who had survived cancer were incredible encouragers to our family when our oldest son went through cancer a few years ago. 

However, this is bad news when we reflect poorly on our Master. I am convinced that the single greatest contributor to the rise of the “nones” (people who claim to have no religious affiliation) is the ongoing clergy abuse scandal that continues to make news. When people see Christians, especially Christian leaders, behave in reprehensible ways, it is understandable that they would reject not only the messengers but also the message. 

As a result, the single greatest imperative in fulfilling our Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) is being disciples ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have or lead people where we are unwilling to go. We must be the change we wish to see, every day. 

Staying attached to the vine is indispensable to bearing fruit. In fact, Jesus stated bluntly, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

So, here’s the question: If the people you know were as close to Jesus as you are, would that be a good thing?