Amidst the news reports published this week, the one that’s made me smile the most is that of Bugzy Malone, a grime artist who’s on trial in Manchester. His alleged crime isn’t funny so I’ll leave that but it took place against a backdrop of the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships. Who knew such an event existed, besides the organisers, competitors and spectators that is? It’s one of those eccentric activities in which we British excel, up there alongside bog snorkelling, bed racing and cheese rolling. My favourite has to be the Olimpicks which takes place in Chipping Campden and has events such as shin-kicking and king of the hill. Its origins go back to the 17th century, unlike the Olympics which are traced back to 726BC and the Ancient Greeks. Whether the Olympics, in particular, was in the Apostle Paul’s mind I don’t know but he wrote about athletic events. When writing to a young disciple Timothy he gave him some sound advice, “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” (1) Life’s rule-maker is God and Timothy was being advised to live his life God’s way, not to try and do things his way. It’s always the case that when men reject God and go their own way it ultimately leads to failure and disaster, if not in this life it will affect their eternal security.
In writing to a church in Corinth Paul said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (2)
We’ve just had the Olympics and the Paralympics and every competitor will understand what Paul is saying. The phrase, “It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about taking part” will be viewed as nonsense. They do it to win, they want the gold medal and they dedicate their lives to the cause. It’s not an attitude I’ve ever had to be honest. My greatest sporting success was coming third in an egg and spoon race and I’ve never had that dedicated mind, but Jesus would understand even though there’s no evidence of him competing in any sport. He just understood and lived a dedicated life set on one overriding purpose.
Jesus once said of himself, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (3) That was the reason why he came to earth and the reason why he lost his life. It wasn’t an unfortunate occurrence, the death of Jesus was planned before he was born. While still in heaven as God the Son, before he took on human form, he responded to the call for someone to save the human race. There’s a verse in the Old Testament which relates to his response, “Here am I. Send me!” (4) We were God’s enemies, a decision of our choice, as we rejected him and set out on our destructive path, but rather than reject us and let us take the path to eternal death God intervened and sent Jesus to die for us.
From an early age, Jesus would have understood his purpose. He knew that one day he would have to die the most awful death with the weight of our sins upon him. It’s enough to make any man quake in fear, but not Jesus. He was determined to please his Father and give to us the offer of salvation. His whole life was preparation for this event and if I can say it reverently, it was like his Olympic final but far more significant. Nothing could stop him and as an adult, while still a relatively young man, he went to Calvary where he died. It was both God’s plan for him, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge;” (5) and man’s responsibility, “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (6) Through his death salvation has been made available to all, salvation from eternal death and the impact of our sin, but not all will benefit. Only those who turn to Jesus and acknowledge him as their Saviour will have their sins forgiven and be saved. Those who reject him must take responsibility for their sins and that’s a shame when there’s no need.
- 2 Timothy 2:5
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
- John 4:34
- Isaiah 6:8
- Acts 2:23
- Acts 2:23