Athlete, Follow the Real Thing


Athlete, Follow the Real Thing

Jason Cooper

John 1:14 (NIV)

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

When I was a sophomore in college, everyone was talking about an incoming freshman from Missouri who was late arriving on campus. They said, “Tyler had 13 threes in one game” and “Tyler had 50 points in a high school game against the #1 team in the state.” 

I built Tyler up in my mind.

But when I saw Tyler walk into the gym the first time, he was wearing maroon cotton shorts and holding white low top Adidas shoes in his right hand. 

He had no muscle, and when he walked his legs kicked out in front of him, like a horse. I expected him to look cocky and sure, but he had his eyebrows raised like he had a question. 

Tyler is proof that we can learn stats about someone, but it’s another thing to see them in person. 

Jesus has good stats: Son of God, Messiah, The Most High God, the Lamb of God, the Anointed One, Prince of Peace, and the way, the truth, and the life. But does He look like those stats? Does the actual Jesus, the man and His life, match the images in our head those abstract attributes evoke? 

I didn’t know what 13-threes-and-50-points-Tyler looked like until I saw him in the flesh. Same with Jesus. We don’t know what God looks like unless we look at Jesus.

Since Jesus is God’s stats enfleshed, it seems like the church would be intensely interested in the actual deeds and words of Jesus and even His idiosyncrasies mentioned in the Gospels. 

But sadly, we put little emphasis on them, except for a few quotes and a couple of events. Maybe that’s because we are focused on His doctrinal credentials – which even the demons know. Too often we know things about Jesus like we know answers to trivia, like I knew about Tyler’s 13 threes and 50 points. 

But the simple ways Jesus lived reveal God’s character, not just the list of divine abstract attributes that “prove” He’s God. 

What Jesus did are also doctrines: Jesus touched the unclean. Jesus was responsive to people’s pleas and pain. Jesus comforted His sisters. Jesus wept. 

Jesus attuned to people who most people ignored. Jesus prayed for His enemies. Jesus went to sinners’ houses for supper. Jesus engaged wholeheartedly in a conversation with the promiscuous. 

Jesus was vulnerable. He was able to be hurt badly. 

Jesus was moved with compassion for the shepherdless. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus was a wandering sage. Jesus appalled people who considered themselves in God’s right.

Jesus gave women, children and foreigners (Gentiles) a place at God’s table, when that went against time-honored systems. Jesus didn’t use His rights for Himself, but to raise up the oppressed and afflicted. 

Those aren’t just past arbitrary instances of what the Son of God did in His brief time on Earth. Since God doesn’t change, those are the precise things God is doing and saying today. 

Athlete, Jesus is the Savior and Son of God. 

But if Jesus is just-a-Savior, and how He lived and what He said doesn’t matter, He can just seem like a list of theoretical stats or abstract attributes – like Tyler seemed before I met him. That Jesus can be distorted to stand for anything we want Him to, because we haven’t really seen Him. 

But that’s not the Jesus we follow. In a way, we follow the Jesus who walks into the gym wearing maroon shorts and holding white Adidas in His right hand. 

We follow the animated Jesus who said “Follow Me” to Simon and Andrew in the first century, because He’s the same Jesus who says “Follow Me” today.


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