OK, I admit it. I’ve never been passionate about sport; finding the Higgs Boson is more my kind of pursuit. All the excitement and hype about the Olympics has left me yawning, and yearning for some real news on TV. Surrounded as we are in North Yorkshire by sheep, cows, horses and fields of crops, Rio and the Olympics seem so far away.
Until last week, that is.
My wife was watching the rowing on TV, the mens' eight, and the commentators were describing the years of preparation, training, time away from family, self-denial, physical effort and often pain that had led to this moment on the starting line. And there was huge expectation on the GB team from the crowd as an added burden. I was drawn in to watch. I began to feel part of it. And as they approached the finish, I even leapt from my chair, shouting; “Come on, GB, you can do it!”—startling Sandra.
Well, the GB team got the gold medal, and I was cheering loudly anyway with the crowds lining the bank. Now I was really on board!
But it was a useful diversion because I got to reflecting on how we become part of God’s winning team and entering into his kingdom.
No personal sacrifice needed—or enough
In God’s Kingdom, no personal sacrifice is needed—or could ever be enough! What a contrast with the Olympic teams. All of them have committed years of effort and pain to the goal of winning a medal at these games. Some will go home with great excitement and satisfaction, and glory in what they have won. But most will return disappointed that they missed a medal; in some cases, by just a few hundreds of a second.
But to be on God’s team, no years of training, discipline and pain are required. And that’s really good news because, in reality, nothing we could do would ever be enough to meet God’s perfect standard. The New Testament writer Paul puts it this way in a letter to the church at Ephesus:
"Immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah."
Once far off – now brought near
Until we put our faith in Jesus, we’re a part of the people whom the Bible describes as ‘far off’. The group who, like me when it came to the Olympics, aren’t very interested and are a long way from the action. In the same letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul put it dramatically this way:
“It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God's ways had no idea of any of this, didn't know the first thing about the way God works, hadn't the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God's covenants and promises in Israel, hadn't a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
It’s not just that we feel nearer, as I did this week through the medium of television. When Christians feel nearer to God, by putting their faith in Jesus, that reflects a heavenly reality: they truly become part of God’s kingdom, his ‘winning team’.
(Note: all Bible passages are from The Message version).