You can hear the crowd from the tunnel—singing and chanting. You’re about to play in the Final, and the significance is not lost on you. Entering the pitch, you look at your team and you find confidence in your ability to achieve victory. The opposition look intimidating and aggressive; you know they’ll be doing everything in their power to stop you. They’re renowned for cheating and they won’t hesitate to hit you where it hurts if it means bringing your team down.
There’s a sinking feeling in your stomach. Doubts arise about whether a result can be achieved against such an opposition. But then you remember that your Coach is also the team’s star Striker. He is going to lead the line—the opposition’s defence quake in their boots when they see Him. He has full confidence in you, but it goes beyond that. His game plan is unbeatable and you have a special part in making it happen.
The game kicks off. Both teams are locked in a very intense contest. In the early minutes, your Coach and Captain scores a crucial early goal. Everything is happening according to the game plan, and you know that it’s now impossible to lose. However, as the game goes on, there are still periods when it seems like the opposition are certain to score. Whenever you counter and play deep into their half, they begin hacking at you and your teammates. Some of your teammates get up and keep going, while for others it’s the end of the game and they need to be substituted.
Ultimately, your team makes it to the final whistle as victors, but it was all because of the Coach’s master plan. Everything was meticulously planned, and He has condemned the opposition to eternal defeat.
Soccer is a beautiful game. The World Cup is a special event for the whole world, especially the 32 countries involved. People from multitudes of cultures share the euphoria of victory, and the crushing disappointment of defeat. This past month we experienced the shock and jubilation that soccer can provide. Germany, Argentina, Spain and Portugal were all countries expected to progress far into the tournament. Other countries often considered minnows have instead replaced them.
But the World Cup pales in comparison to the greater war happening at the moment, involving all our fates. The Bible tells us that the great conflict was started by a rebellion in heaven. “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9). Our opposition in this great game aren’t going to play fair—they tried to start an insurrection against our Coach, and have been trying to exact revenge on Him ever since. They think there’s strength in numbers, so they’re also doing everything possible to recruit players from God’s team.
It hurts God to let His players join the opposition, but He gives everyone on His team the power of choice. He is always willing to welcome anyone from the opposition back onto His team and give them a special role. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). [pullquote]
Zinedine Zidane infamously headbutted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, allegedly after hearing insults about his family. There is going to be a similar attitude among the opposition in the great war. They are going to get personal—any tactic to try and throw God’s team off their game. God already knows this; He gave His players plenty of warning beforehand: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
In the 1986 World Cup final, Diego Maradona punched the ball into England’s net and subsequently won the Cup for Argentina. The “Hand of God” event has been notoriously debated ever since. However, God’s hand will guide His team to victory in the great conflict, and it will be because “Good and upright is the Lord” (Psalm 25:8). Jesus’ death on the cross is the winning goal, it’s the reason why victory was assured before the first whistle was even blown. Jesus Himself said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will win, even though they die” (John 11:25).
He still needs His players to go out and represent Him on the pitch, but they are never alone. As his footsoldiers, we are commissioned to “. . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:10). He has given each of the members on His squad unique skills and qualities that help win this game against the opposition. The blessings are described as “. . . the full armour of God, so that you can take a stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
The reward for winning the earthly World Cup is being able to keep the 18-carat gold trophy until the next tournament in four years. But the reward for reaching the end goal in the great conflict against the opposition will be so much greater. As the final whistle blows and your whole team cries out in elation, the Coach, Jesus, will greet you with the greatest gift; eternity with Him. Rather than giving you a temporary trophy, “. . . when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4). The players who fought the battle but had to be substituted will greet you at the end. They will say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (1 Timothy 4:7). And although the game was tough, your faith in your Coach will be repaid by eternal joy in heaven.
Now that’s a team worth supporting.