“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 for ever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26).
The Olympics are here. Every four years, this extravaganza of colour and ceremony rolls around and the eyes of the world are drawn to one place.
Jesus has run the race before us and He is our hope: past, present and future. We now have the choice to be on his team or not.
Even those who don’t watch much sport are drawn to the spectacle of so many nations competing in unusual and highly specialised sports.
Unfortunately, the Olympics are never without controversy and tragedy. There always seems to be a last minute scramble by the host city to be ready, to be better than the last Olympics, to win the world’s admiration and favour. Even worse, there have been rumours of forced and modern day slavery so the show will start on time.
In Brazil, headlines for months have been dominated by the rise in sex trafficking, cleaning up the favelas, the Zika virus and it’s potential to spread worldwide, as well as appalling conditions at the athletes village. Still, millions around the world will tune in. For the next few weeks, the Olympics will dominate our attention and our headlines. Why?
I think the reason we are drawn to the Olympics is hope: the anticipation of our country winning a medal; the next Eric the Eel or Steven Bradbury inspiring us with their perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds; the underdog story, of a tiny or struggling nation going toe to toe with giants, and winning, or losing but gaining respect. We love the drama and the good stories in the news cycle for once.
With such an event capturing the imagination of young and old alike, it is little wonder Paul uses the games as a connection to the Christian life.
As in Paul’s day and throughout history, the world today is starving for hope. In the community and the camaraderie of the Olympic Games, people find the connection and the unity that they have craved. But in this carnival of colours we get only a shadow of God’s Kingdom and the nations that will be represented in it. There is competition and fierceness and striving and envy at the Games that we don’t see. We revel in the triumphs of the victors but we forget about the losers and their pain, hurt and unfulfilled dreams.
Hebrews points us back to the hope that the world has been looking for.
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:19-20).
Jesus has run the race before us and He is our hope: past, present and future. We now have the choice to be on his team or not. Spoiler alert: He has already won.
As you watch the Olympics, enjoy the stories of triumph over tragedy, enjoy the inspiration, and enjoy seeing people overcome the odds and their personal history to bask for a moment in the sun.
Hopefully, though, you will also remember the parade of nations that is going to happen at the end of time when we all enter that heavenly city as winners already and you will cling to that hope you already have in Jesus, the Son.
Jarrod Stackelroth is editor of Adventist Record.