A friend of mine once gave a team mate a CD (it was in the old days!) containing a talk from the Bible about what happens when we die. That team mate listened to the talk and told a second team mate about what he’d heard and how dangerous our eternal situation is unless we leave this world trusting in Christ.
Some days later, the team mate who had not been originally been offered the chance to listen to the talk saw the Christian player and asked him why he didn’t like him. The Christian player was shocked and asked him to explain. The answer: ‘If the talk you gave to our team mate is true, and that I will face Hell when I die, you must really hate me because you didn’t offer me the chance to find that out.’
That’s salutary and it’s why we must tell our team mates and friends the truth about eternity. To help us think this through let’s have a look at the two destinies the Bible talks about when our life is over.
We rarely hear people talk about Hell unless it’s used as a swear word or used to mock Christians who ‘preach Hell fire and damnation’. It may be surprising to know that the one who talks most about Hell in the gospels is Jesus himself. Indeed, to understand His mission, we need to know that His very name indicates that He came to save us from something. His mother Mary was told:
“You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1 v 21).
Jesus subsequent teaching clearly indicates that He came to save us from Hell. Jesus speaks directly about Hell twelve times in Matthew’s gospel. To understand the word ‘Hell’ we need to know that in His time there was a rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem, in the Valley of Hinnom, where a constantly burning fire consumed the city’s waste. This rubbish dump was called ‘Gehenna’, and this is the word that is translated into our English New Testament as ‘Hell’.
With this in mind we can now consider three things Jesus says about Hell:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
Jesus is the one who warns us about Hell as a place of destruction that should be feared because it is a place of punishment that lasts forever; for those who have not been ‘saved from their sins’ by Jesus. This is serious and we must acknowledge it and warn ourselves and others about it.
If I am a true friend to the team mates in my club, I cannot let them reach the end of their lives in this world exposed to this situation. I must tell them what Hell is and how Jesus has come to save us from that horror.
We talk a lot more about Heaven than about Hell; but it is often spoken of in a rather vague way. In the last chapters of the last book of the Bible, in Revelation 21-22, Jesus reveals to His disciple John a thrilling picture of the life to come after His enemies have been thrown into Hell. Heaven, not Hell, is the future for team mates and colleagues who have turned and trusted in Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
Let’s consider three things Jesus says about Heaven:
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth””
The word ‘new’ in this context means ‘restored’ not ‘original’. Something broken has been restored to how it was meant to look. The world we currently inhabit will be fixed, it will be returned to how it was meant to be. It will be physical. We will feel at home in it. It will be real, more real than we ever imagined. This is not something vague. The world we currently inhabit and live and play restored to perfection. Imagine playing your sport in this new world. That’s not all, it gets even better…
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””
This repaired world will be free from all that spoils this world. No more pain, suffering or death. No more injuries so physiotherapists, doctors or surgeons. We shall have new bodies that cannot be broken. No more tears, broken bones, hearts or lives. I can’t wait to get training and playing there.
“He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
Jesus, who was present in person at the beginning of the world, will be there when it moves from its current broken state to being made whole again. The last time He visited His world He came as a suffering servant; on this occasion He will come as the conquering King. He will be present in person at every game played in Heaven.
In Revelation 21 v 27 Jesus tells us there are only two ways to live, and die, in this life. He explains that Hell is the consequence of a life lived without faith in Jesus and the wonder of Heaven where:
“nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.”
At the heart of the work of Christians in Sport is the desire to ensure that the Jesus who saves people from their sins is presented clearly to sportspeople so that they can escape the destructive horror of Hell to live and play sports forever in the restored world of Heaven. Don’t keep your CD to yourself!
When you’re in the middle of a great game, you forget time completely, wrapped up in the wonder of competition, this is a foretaste of the wonder of Heaven, where time is consumed by creativity.
When you’re in the middle of a desperate time in your sport, injured, dropped or in terrible form and the world feels so lonely and meaningless, this is a foretaste of Hell; where all the good things of the world have gone and the horror of this experience will drag on forever.
That God has given us today to coach and play with God’s Good News at the heart of our lives as sportspeople. Don’t be an unkind team mate, pass on the cost of rejection and the reward of acceptance of God’s gift of new life in Christ.
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A weekly devotional for sports people