|By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2012|
|John 3:16 is by far the best-known verse in the Bible. This is the single most translated (and I'm certain) most quoted and spoken biblical verse on earth. It is the best known verse in the world because it expresses the core of the gospel. And God has chosen to use it frequently, even in unusual ways.|
John 3:16 is by far the best-known verse in the Bible: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This is the single most translated (and I'm certain) most quoted and spoken biblical verse on earth. It is the best known verse in the world because it expresses the core of the gospel. And God has chosen to use it frequently, even in unusual ways.
Denver Bronco’s stunning wild-card AFC playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 8, 2012 offers a relevant illustration. Now famous Bronco quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow, according to Sports Illustrated, "the NFL's most intriguing player," is the latest sports sensation. Well-known for kneeling on the football field and giving glory to God for his accomplishments, Tebow provided a stellar performance on Sunday. He pulled off the longest overtime touchdown pass in the shortest overtime period in football play-off history. (The bets are for the Patriots this weekend in the NFL playoffs; we'll see.)
And in the popular culture "316" dominated the game. God used a quarterback’s arm to help millions of people read the gospel. Consider some interesting figures:
First, Tebow passed for a season-high of 316 yards. What are the odds of that? Not too exciting by itself statistically (others have done it), but given Tebow 's commitment Christ; personal love for John 3:16, the importance of the game and what had happened previously (another story), it appears to be significant theologically.
Second, he averaged 31.6 yards per pass completion, setting an NFL record. What are the odds of that? A bit more out of the ordinary with the theological relevance increasing.
Third, CBS ratings for the game peaked at 31.6, in the final quarter-television rating. Now it's getting interesting.
Fourth, during the second quarter, the one interception of the game was tossed by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and intercepted by Quinton Carter. The down and distance involved when Roethlisberger threw the interception was 3:16 – Third and 16. Okay, now I'm paying attention and it’s getting a bit exciting.
This is fun.
Fifth, Tebow's statistics for the first three quarters were 3-for-16 (316) passes. Now I'm engaged: God is up to something.
These statistics were literally spread across the globe by the Internet, at least the first three; last two are less well known. What are the odds of that?
Dozens of online newspapers, sportscasters and blogs (not to mention twitter, YouTube, etc.), sources that would typically not quote a Bible verse in a sports story, were quoting the entirety of John 3:16 so readers could know what it says. All this made John 3:16 the "most searched item on Google" for several hours after the game – allegedly, with estimates ranging up to an incredible 98 million searches, and, one assumes, views.
The Los Angeles Times reported the morning after the game, "John 3:16 was the most Googled search term for much of Sunday evening and into Monday morning, as sports fans and non-sports fans alike tried to make sense of the statistical coincidences (and maybe brush up on the Bible)."
And that doesn't include what may have been tens of millions of additional viewings of John 3:16 in numerous Tebow-mania inspired Internet articles. In its commentary on the game, The International Business Times for January 11, 2012 actually gave the biblical background story of John 3:16.
The Title of The Los Angeles Times online article for January 9, 2012 read appropriately, "Tim Tebow delivers John: 3:16 message without saying a word."
An apparently more religiously inclined reporter observed, "And thanks to Tim Tebow and a little Something-Something else, that verse is all over the place even though he couldn’t display it [it had been earlier banned from being placed on his eye black]."
Significantly, something similar to this had happened before. In college Tebow sometimes painted John 3:16 on his eye black. During the 2009 BCS Championship Game this eye-painting had resulted in 92-94 million Google hits for John 3:16 in the subsequent 24 hours: "After the 2009 BCS Championship Game, 92 million people Googled ‘John 3:16,’ the verse Tebow wore [using eye black] during the game." This event had occurred three years (to the day) of Sunday's most recent sensational comeback.
Okay, now that’s significant, statistical and otherwise – God is clearly up to something. A Quarterbacks arm (especially given all the facts surrounding Tebow) being used to perhaps have some 100-180 million people read John: 316. Only God does something like that, no matter what the skeptics say.
One apparently secular CBSsports.com national columnist observed, "What's the NFL comparison to Tebow? There isn't one. We're watching a new reality unfold, right before our eyes, and what we saw Sunday strained credibility. It was incredible. It was fantastical. It was damn near a Bible story... this game will go down in NFL lore as Tebow: 316." (As an aside, something analogous had happened to Billy Graham to kick-start his career: to the best of my recollection, for whatever reason the head of a national newspaper chain told his reporters to "Puff Graham" during his first revival and the rest is history. In fact, God does things like this all the time, to greater or lesser degree, but we typically never hear about it. Wonderfully so, we will hear some pretty amazing stories in Heaven.)
Some have clearly seen only a coincidence with Tim Tebow’s John 3:16 phenomena and I read a number of insulting articles by skeptics. And I have no idea what the actual combined odds are of the five "316’s", and surrounding phenomena and it might be interesting to have a statistician specializing in probability theory look at the odds. But to my mind there is little doubt that God was honoring Tebow's faithfulness in his Christian walk (he clearly seems to be a stellar Christian), and in giving God the glory on the field before tens of millions of people, simply by arranging sufficient "316's" to make John 3:16 become "the most searched item on Google" – twice in a row. After all, some eyeshadow and controlling a game’s statistics causing perhaps 200 million people or more to see John 316? Again, who does that but God? I would hardly be surprised if, as a result, many people were spiritually saved (regenerated) on those two days because of the inherent power of the word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Were hundreds saved? Thousands? Perhaps hundreds of thousands? I don't know. But how many times has something like this happened in NFL history, in this particular context, to a committed Christian like Tim Tibow, who loves Jesus and loves John 3:16? Not once; not since professional football began on November 6, 1869, 143 years ago.
As one reporter commented, "this stuff is just great."
If you believe in God's sovereignty, there's no doubt about it.
But there is another twist: according to one version, “Tebow's mom was told that he was dead in the womb and, to save her own life, she should have an abortion.” That's not quite the case as far as I can determine. While his parents were working as missionaries in the Philippines, his mother came down with a life-threatening infection while pregnant with Tim. The doctor anticipated a stillbirth, placing her life at risk, and therefore recommended an abortion. Her faith in Jesus ruled it out. And as a result, Tim entered the world to fulfill God's purposes for His glory. (In 2008 he recorded a pro-life advertisement for Focus on the Family based on his "miraculous" birth.) Truth be told, every birth is a miracle, no matter how normal. See note.) (For a poignant but related and important aside, see note.)
Regardless, Tebow has obviously caught the public's imagination and is following in a long line of principled Christian sportsman such as Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry; Super Bowl XXXIV star Kurt Warner; New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera (four World Series titles); running back "touchdown" Shaun Alexander; Allyson Felix, perhaps the fastest woman in the world (three gold medals at the outdoor world championships in Japan; Olympic gold, 2008); heroic Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling who led the Red Sox to its first World Series victory in 86 years, despite bleeding from a sutured ankle wound; golfer Zach Johnson, who won the Masters on Easter Sunday, 2007, and last but not least, the devout Scottish Christian Eric Liddell, whose life was center stage in the hit 1980 film "Chariots of Fire."
Tebow has been called a one-man cultural blitz, a national phenomenon and lots more. Consider some facts.
Tebow, incidentally, was the first college sophomore ever to win the Heisman Trophy. After the most recent game, he had a million mentions on Twitter alone. The tweets per second were the second-highest in tweet history, 9420. Earlier, he beat out the Dalai Lama in the annual USA Today Gallup list of most admired men in the nation at number 11. Mark Coppenger, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary asserted that Tebow is currently behind only Billy Graham as the best known national figure of evangelical faith.
And of course, there's more. The overnight television rating of the game was 25.9, the best for an AFC wild-card game in 25 years. Tebow's autobiography, Through My Eyes was the best-selling sports book of 2011. "Tebowing" has become part of the global English vernacular. There's even a website (www.tebowing.com) with pictures of people tebowing throughout the world, some apparently posed, many seemingly genuine and some quite poignant (such as the one before the majestic Statue of Liberty) – I stopped looking at pic #150. The official definition of tebowing is: "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different." In the yearly Zillow Celebrity Neighbor Survey Tebow actually beat out super-stars Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston to become the celebrity that most Americans would prefer to have living as their next-door neighbor. And the quarterback was recently voted America's favorite athlete in an ESPN poll. God seems to have grand plans for Tim Tebow.
He is perhaps the biggest thing to happen to US sports in a long time – and, incredibly, he's only 24.
God has graciously given Tim Tebow a tremendous and unique platform for ministry; indeed a global one, and we need to pray for him and those like him -- because everyone remembers what happened to Tiger Woods, and sports and its fame are hardly the only spiritual battle such men and women are engaged in (Ephesians 6:12).
And while we’re on the subject of sports, it might be good to remember what the great apostle Paul declared about competition, using the Corinthian Isthmian games, providing an important spiritual application. As with Tim Tebow, if we are Christ's, we need to run the race and finish well, especially because we receive "everlasting joy in return for but a day’s effort on earth":
The apostle Paul did everything he could, striving like an Olympian to win the spiritual race and finish well. He did this so as to not bring reproach upon the gospel and to not discredit his ministry in the eyes of men. He knew that he needed to preserve his evangelistic preaching ministry and not be disqualified through moral dishonor or any other means. And by God's grace, he succeeded. Indeed, where would the world be today had the apostle Paul disbarred himself from his own ministry? By God's grace, may his success come to each of us as well. Nor should we forget that every believer is in full-time ministry, whether secular or Christian, and that God's glory is at stake. And therefore we must never forget the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ. "For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:14; see: 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:16; 14:10-12 ). (See note.)