Knowing Christ, Growing in Christ, Going with Christ, Showing Christ @ Kennet Valley Free Church

ESL or Hackney Marshes?

Where is your Arena for God’s Glory?

By Pastor Graham Cooke

What a frenzied few days for football! At the start of last week the feline was flung right into the midst of the feathered foragers with the announcement that the so-called ‘big six’ Premier League clubs planned to join with other major European clubs to form the European Super League. The purpose of this? Well, according to Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez, it was to ‘save football’, no less. Most seem to agree that a greater motivating factor is the very great sums of money involved for those included, along with the crucial factor that there would be no relegation. The chosen few would stay in, no matter their performance, enabling them to plan financially without fear of being ejected from the presence of the golden egg-laying goose.

Reaction has been swift and passionate, including a very strong response from born-again-interventionist Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Such was the response that all six of the English clubs have now pulled out of the proposal leaving the plan in tatters. One cannot help but wonder what deals have been done in the background over the last few days.

Many of us will join in the disapproval of this venture. However, you can see the appeal. Many clubs are in dire financial straits after this last year, and the jeopardy of relegation has always made it notoriously difficult to plan. What a lovely idea, to be air-lifted away from the grim realities and risks of the English leagues into a paradise of guaranteed income and security of tenure!

It is not uncommon for people to talk about the Christian faith in very similar terms. Trust in Jesus and we have the promise of being removed from this world, to eternity in a heavenly paradise, whilst the rest of the world goes to hell in a handcart. Perhaps as you read this, you’re thinking “Well, isn’t that precisely the Gospel?”

Well, it’s certainly true that those who trust in Jesus are promised that they will spend eternity with him, in a place where there is no sickness, sadness or tears[1]. It is also true that the authentic choice we have to reject this leads to the consequences of being shut out from God’s presence, and all the goodness that has its origin in him- this is what the Bible calls ‘hell’[2]. But if this conveys the idea of believers being airlifted to safety whilst the world goes down the tubes, then we’re doing the Gospel a great disservice.

For a start, right at the heart of the gospel is the declaration that God, rather than condemning us from a distance, has stepped right down onto the muddy pitch of human existence[3]. And not to a palace. Jesus’ life was lived more among the Hackney Marshes of earthly existence rather than the rarefied atmosphere of Premier League humanity. Rather than separating himself off from the stragglers, the indebted, the defaulters, he identified himself with us losers, dying on the cross for us. Then, just as we thought it was all over, he staged the greatest comeback ever, leaving even Istanbul 2005 in the shade, by being raised to new life[4]. It is true that after his resurrection he left this world, ascending on high, back to his Father[5].  Not, however, because he wanted to separate himself from us; it is from there that he poured out the Holy Spirit, so that God’s power and presence is operating throughout the world, and, in particular, wherever his followers are found[6].

God … has stepped right down onto the

muddy pitch of human existence

And he hasn’t finished with this world. Yes, he will take his believers to be where he is[7]– but where he will be is here! He’s coming back, to bring judgement, to recreate and renew this weary world, to reign here forever; and we, his followers, will reign with him[8].

What a glorious prospect! In the meantime, far from being encouraged simply to keep our heads down below the parapet and wait for glory, we’re exhorted to live out the reality of the future here and now, with lives consistent with the dawning day of God’s kingdom, rather than continuing with deeds of the darkness[9]. As we do so, we bring God’s values to bear in a world which desperately needs them, building his kingdom now, in whatever sphere God has placed us. As this is all his world, then there are no no-go areas for the Christian. Abraham Kuyper famously declared “There’s not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not exclaim, ‘Mine’!”  Politics, healthcare, education, media, arts, sport- yes, even football; these are all fields into which Christ sends his followers to bring his kingdom to bear.

“There’s not a square inch in the whole domain

of human existence over which Christ,

who is Lord over all, does not exclaim, ‘Mine’!” 

Abraham Kuyper

Surely any Christian with a smug ‘I’m all right, Jack- pull up the ladder!’ mentality hasn’t yet allowed the gospel truly to shape their lives. Jesus’ own attitude could not have been more different. Then again, he is in a super-league all of his own.

29th April 2021


[1] Revelation 21:4

[2] Matthew 13:49-56; Luke 13:24-29; John 12:48; Romans 2:5-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8…among many others

[3] John 1:14; Romans 8:3

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

[5] Luke 24:50-53

[6] Acts 2:32-33

[7] John 14:3

[8] Acts 1:11; 17:31; Revelation 21:5; Revelation 11:15; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21

[9] Ephesians 5:8-20; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-1; Romans 13:11-14

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