(I wrote this last month, but thought it was not so out of date as to not be worth posting.)
Tim Tebow’s name (no, I’d never heard of him either!) came in as numbers two and three in the ranking of the top three searches on Google on Monday January 9th, beaten only by the phrase that had become associated with him during the previous day’s American football game as the young quarterback led the Denver Broncos to victory – John 3:16. Tebow’s brilliant 80 yard touchdown pass in the first play of extra time gave his underdog team the match, but it was only when game statistics started to emerge that the implications were seen.
You see, Tim Tebow had thrown passes a total of 316 yards. His completed passes numbered 10 out of 21, giving an average of 31.6 yards per completion. The opposing team got in on the act too – the Pittsburgh Steelers had possession of the ball for 31 minutes and 6 seconds. Stranger still, the match’s TV rating on the American channel CBS peaked at 31.6… And of course, once all this hit the internet, it “went viral”.
Tebow was no innocent bystander, as it were, during all this. He had already gone highly public with his faith, for example adding John 3:16 to his black eye paint as a younger player – now banned by , and repeatedly gives public thanks to God for the opportunities he has to be a role model of Christian belief in the midst of secular society for young Americans. The final whistle at this match saw him on his knees in prayer again.
“The gospel in football”, as one Tweet described this event, had immediate knock-on effects. Quick to respond to the intense internet activity, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association launched a special page on their own website at www.PeaceWithGod.net: “John 3:16 – What does it mean?”. A week and 9,000 visits later, 170 people had “indicated a decision to follow Christ”, hardly a reliable statistic, perhaps, but certainly a measure of the level of engagement around the theme. John 3:16 and “Tebow-mania” dominated the internet and sent many an American football fan scurrying for their Bibles, albeit via Google. Coincidence? God-ordained? The debate will no doubt continue for a good while yet, State-side at least.
Whatever we may feel about that, let’s not get too kabbalistic. There is nothing magic about it. John 3:16 does provide a convenient jumping-off point to speak about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. However, whilst most certainly the most widely known verse in the Bible, there is a whole lot more to the gospel than this. John 3:16 without Luke 3:16 can remain in the realms of pure theory, a distant contemplation of God’s action in Christ that never actually has any direct impact on a person’s life. The love of God must indeed be believed. This faith, however, is not just as an act of mental assent but a dynamic living relationship that transforms our whole being. Access to the eternal life promised by John is not a bolt-on extra for our current mediocrity; it is a radical transformation at the hands of the one who comes to baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire”.
A “baptism of fire” is a phrase usually reserved for an intense and often challenging initiation of some description. It might seem strange to want to apply this to the beginnings of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ – most of us prefer to think in terms of forgiveness, reconciliation, deliverance, or other eminently positive aspects of infant faith. But the good news of restoration of relationship with God is transmitted in the “See, I make all things new” of a life cleansed as by fire. And then it is in meaningful contact with the Holy Spirit that we grow in this new found life in Jesus, fresh green shoots appearing from the ash-cloaked soil of a life that quite simply can never be the same again.
The gospel is real. The love of God is real. It’s not just a divine lottery number to be scrawled on intriguing placards for the Olympic Games. It’s Luke 3:16 as well as John.
PS – Yes, I guess you could take a look at some of the Bible’s other 3:16s and see what you come up with, but please don’t take yourself too seriously, particularly when you get to Leviticus 3:16…