Play the bigger game.
I heard this story once about an older brother teaching his younger brother about playing baseball. ( check out the Young Adult Christian book, Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan)
You work hard and train hard. You go out there and play the game with everything you’ve got. Sometimes it’s enough and you win, sometimes it not enough and you lose. When you lose, do you decide to go on steroids and juice up so you can win?
“No,” the younger brother says. His older brother says, “that right, because you’re playing the bigger game as well.”
You train hard and play hard, you want to win but it doesn’t always happen. But you’re playing another game as well at the same time, a much bigger game and that’s the game you don’t want to ever lose.
In our Gospel reading today from Matthew 10, Jesus is sending his 12 disciples out on a very specific missionary journey to the lost families of Israel. As Jesus sends them out on this journey he tells them about what will await them.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
This was not the kind of motivational pep talk that you might have expected Jesus to give to them. We would really like to hear something closer to, “don’t worry, God’s got your back, you can do this!” or “Just believe and you can achieve anything.” The same kind of motivational pep talks that are given to children all of the time. How often do we hear someone saying, “just believe in yourself,” or “have faith, you can do it!”
But sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, even with motivational pep talks, it happens, it’s a part of life. When Jesus sends the disciples out on this missionary journey it is the same, but with an even deeper dose of reality. You will be like sheep in the midst of wolves, you will be arrested and flogged, forced to give testimony, imprisoned and dragged before kings for the sake of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus doesn’t leave them with that harsh stroke of reality, instead He wants them to remember the bigger game they will be playing as well.
Jesus tells them not to fear those who may hurt the body but to fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell. This reminder for them is to look past the present situation in front of them and remember the bigger game and the greater reality they are involved in. When they are persecuted for the sake of Jesus there is a limit and a place where it will stop, even if their earthly life is taken away, no more can be done to them. Because the Christian remembers, they are part of the greater reality that does not end in this world but there is still more to come in eternity. So don’t be so afraid of those that may kill the body but cannot kill the soul, that you deny Jesus in this life, maybe gaining a few more years in this life, but losing eternal life being separated from God.
But the Christian life is not about fearing but to be aware of that greater game we are playing and what we are really living for. Then Jesus reminds them about the ultimate reality of just how much they are worth in God’s eyes. If two small sparrows that are sold for a penny cannot fall to the ground without the Father’s knowledge how much more are you worth, who even the hairs on your head are numbered by the Father. Suffering will come for those that live in Jesus because they follow the way of the cross and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but their heavenly Father has not abandoned them and even in the midst of earthly suffering He will never leave them alone.
Last week’s meditation we remembered that when Jesus calls us in the Great Commission to “Go and Make Disciples of all nations…” it is that going that’s not necessarily a special mission trip or just for professional Christians to do, but it is a going into every walk and area of your life. Go and be a Christian everywhere, all the time. This means to be a Christian even when it may not be popular, even when others look down upon you, even when you don’t want to act and be Christian.
But the same words of Jesus speak to us today as well in all of our goings as Christian, we are to remember the bigger game and the greater reality we are living in.
Jesus said, what good is it, if a person gains the whole world but loses their soul. For us today as Christians, we live our life with that greater reality and judge what we will do and will not do based upon it. There are many temptations and lures that call us to live according to worldly standards and away from the God who loves us. Temptations that promise the world if in exchange you only forfeit your soul. Sometimes these compromises come at work when we are asked to show a blind eye to something, or in school to fudge and cheat a bit on that report or from within when we say its okay if I use those hurtful words-I’m only human after all, or when we are alone to go places we don’t belong. Those areas when it seems to profit us in a worldly way but the price we pay is our eternal soul.
Remember the bigger game we are playing and the greater reality we are living in. Our ultimate goal, our hope and prize can never be found in those compromises or temptations but only in the greater reality of Jesus Christ and the eternity we are called to live in. How we live as Christians is not determined by what may profit us now but by looking to the bigger, eternal game that we don’t ever want to lose.
But take heart, your value to God cannot be taken away, You who are valued so highly that it cost Jesus everything to save you, God will not leave you alone or abandon you, but will be with every moment, now and eternally. The love of God in Jesus is the bigger game we are living in.
So, for Christians, what can we take from this passage? In life, we work hard, play and swing for the fences. Sometimes we win and sometimes lose, that’s life. But in doing that we remember that the way we make our decisions is not based on what we see in front of us but on the bigger, eternal game we are playing and that is the game we don’t want to ever lose. But more importantly our life is shaped by the greater reality of Jesus and His love. Amen.