William J. Stewart | Spiritual Lessons from the World of Sports
Our title is a play on the statement made by a demon-possessed man in Acts 19. There, the seven sons of Sceva claimed to be exorcists, and had taken to using the name of Jesus in their trade. Casting out a demon, they would say:
We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches. (Acts 19:13)
On one occasion, before jumping on them, overpowering them, and chasing them away, a demonized man responded:
Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you? (Acts 19:15)
There are folks today who may be very familiar with this or that athlete, but have no clue who Jesus is. Dale Jr., Roger Federer, Wayne Gretzky, Lebron James, Tim Tebow, Tiger Woods—the list of well known sports personalities is lengthy. And it is not wrong to follow the careers of these people, and to enjoy watching their skills, but knowing about Peyton Manning will not save anyone’s soul. We need to know Jesus Christ; we need to have a relationship with Him to have the hope of heaven. Friend, what do you know about Jesus Christ?
HE IS GOD WITH US
Introducing Jesus in the beginning of his gospel, John wrote:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
Jesus asked His disciples who the people thought He was (Matthew 16:13). Among the answers were John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. To this list, folks today might add: a good man or a reformer. Being directly asked by Jesus who he thought He was, Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v 16). Those who know Jesus will agree with the testimony of Peter and John—He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus was not “like” a man; He was actually a man (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15-16). Equally, He was not god-like; He existed “in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Philippians 2:6-7, ASV). He did not cease to be who He is (God), but took to Himself another form—humanity.
HE WAS TEMPTED AS WE ARE
Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned. The more public the personality, the more public the sin seems to be displayed. There is no shortage of examples in the world of sports:
- Tiger Woods’ infidelity scandal (Dec ’09);
- Tonya Harding’s involvement in the 1994 attack on opponent Nancy Kerrigan;
- Jeremy Mayfield’s substance abuse resulting in an indefinite suspension from NASCAR;
- Mike Tyson’s multiple offenses, rape conviction, Holyfield ear-biting incident, etc.;
- Mike Vick, dog fighting ring conviction (’07)
None of these are the type of role models we want or want our children to have. And yet our world glorifies, even idolizes these and others.
Unlike all of these, indeed, unlike all of us, Jesus has faced temptations and overcome every time. Hebrews 2:18 tells us that Jesus has been tempted, and thus He is able to aid those (us) who are tempted. Further, the writer of Hebrews wrote:
…we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
It is important that we understand, Jesus did not conquer temptation and sin through some advantage. If He had an advantage that we do not have, then He cannot sympathize with us; He is not qualified to be our High Priest. He overcame temptation and sin by focusing on the will of God instead of fulfilling His own desires. There is a true role model for humanity!!
It seems that folks sometimes read Matthew 4 or Luke 4 and get the idea that Jesus was tempted 3 times, and that was it. That is not how we are tempted, nor is that how He was tempted. Notice the beginning and ending of the “temptation text” in Luke’s gospel:
…Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil. …when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-2, 13)
Jesus was not tempted three times at the end of the 40 days, but was tempted for the 40 days. And when the devil realized he couldn’t get Jesus to sin at that time, he departed, but planned to come back. How discouraging do you suppose it was in John 6:66, as people rejected Him and walked away? How about the times when His disciples, whom He had chosen didn’t show the faith He desired to see in them? And what about the night of His betrayal? The gospel writers show Him in prayer, pleading for another way. But He committed Himself to God’s will.
Some might reason, “Jesus didn’t face the temptations that I face.” Being in the digital age, we certainly do face temptation in a different way than what existed before the development of computers. But that said, all temptation falls into one of three categories: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life (1 John 2:16; Matthew 4; Genesis 3:6). The specifics may change from location to location, and from generation to generation, but the nature of temptation is the same today as it was in the garden of Eden. Jesus knows what we are going through.
Thankfully, He has also given us the key to overcoming temptation:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
That way of escape was no different for Jesus than it is for us. When being tempted, we see Him answering the devil each time, “It is written.” If we know what God’s will is, and we’ve committed to keeping His will, we have the power to overcome temptation and sin.
HE IS THE GOOD TEACHER
Finally, Jesus is the good teacher. Several texts show both friends and foes acknowledging His ability as a teacher (Matthew 7:28-29; Luke 19:39; John 7:32, 44-46; 12:42; 13:13-14). As the good teacher, Jesus has the ability to change lives. He can teach us about the will of God; about devotion to God; about the need to turn away from sin; about the hope of heaven. Peyton, Tiger, Lebron, Serena and others will entertain us, but they cannot do a thing to affect positive changes in our life here or prepare us for eternity.
May we know Jesus. Not just the name, but the man, the prophet, the Saviour, the Son of God—Jesus Christ.