Football has all the makings of a fine religion. Many will become faithful followers as the World Cup begins this month. It can take our hearts to places beyond the humdrum of life, it can thrill and absorb us, with expectation, commitment, hope, pain, disappointment, passion, and the longings for ultimate victory.
England last won the World Cup one month and a day before I was born, and since then we’ve had to learn not to raise our hopes too high. Certainly this year not many are really expecting to see Gareth Southgate on the final touchline, or Kane or Rashford score the final’s winning goal.
The Bible’s book of Revelation pictures a kind of football stadium atmosphere, with an uncountable crowd from every nation, tribe, people and language (chapter 7, verse 9). They watch and sing and celebrate and cheer the greatest victory of all. No dashed hopes here!
The victor is not a team, but an individual, Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise (5:12). Heart-stirring words. He has won, by blood, sweat and tears, through suffering and death, the great final victory.
Christians are neither his team-mates, as if we could help him win, nor mere supporters who enjoy his victory but never get their hands on the prize. The amazing truth of Christian faith is that he alone accomplishes the win, yet we genuinely share in his prize and glory.
He calls us ‘those who are victorious’ (21:7), and says ‘they will reign for ever and ever’ (22:5), with thrones and crowns, and all the spoils of victory.
Any football team will disappoint in the end; football itself turns out to be just a game. But Jesus wins, for us, against sin and suffering and Satan. ‘The Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings – and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers’ (17:14).
Praise God for such a certain hope! (And enjoy a bit of football if you wish!).
With my best wishes – James