God’s “Winning” Team

Martyrdom of St. Peter, Michaelangelo

Jeff’s post about Tim Tebow started me thinking the other day. What does Jesus’ team look like and what is their record in big games? So I looked it up, and here’s what I found


“The Rock” was executed around AD64 during the persecutions of Emperor Nero, or later in AD67. Apparently he was crucified, head-down, at his own request.

During the persecutions of Herod Agrippa I, King of the Jews, in c AD44, the apostle James was beheaded – ‘put to the sword’ (Acts 12:1-2 ff).

John was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. He was subsequently freed and died a natural death at Ephesus c AD100.

Philip preached the Gospel in Phrygia (west central Turkey) before dying or being martyred there at Hieropolis.

Nathanael (Bartholomew)
Traditionally he met his death by being flayed or skinned alive, and then beheaded. Derbent, north of present day Baku on the Caspian Sea may have been his place of martyrdom. Alternatively he may have suffered this cruel fate in what is now India.

The “doubting disciple” took the Gospel to India, where he was speared to death near Madras on the east coast.

Matthew (Levi)
After preaching in Judea, different traditions place his missionary work and possible martyrdom in Ethiopia or Persia.

Jude (Thaddeus)
He may have preached in Assyria (eastern Iraq) and Persia (Iran), before joining with Simon the Zealot and being killed with him in Persia.

Simon the Zealot
One tradition is that he first preached in Egypt, before joining Jude and travelling to Persia, where both were martyred. Simon may have been crucified or hacked to death.

He may have preached and been martyred in Ethiopia, Other traditions place him in Judea, and later Cappadocia (eastern Turkey) and the Caspian Sea area.

Tradition says he was beheaded at a place now called Tre Fontane in Rome.

Other “winners” on God’s team…

2 Corinthians 11:23-30 — (Paul’s record before his martyrdom)

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Hebrews 11:35-39 —

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised…

Luke 6:20-26 —

   “God blesses you who are poor, 
      for the Kingdom of God is yours. 
 God blesses you who are hungry now, 
      for you will be satisfied. 
   God blesses you who weep now, 
      for in due time you will laugh.

 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich, 
      for you have your only happiness now. 
 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now, 
      for a time of awful hunger awaits you. 
   What sorrow awaits you who laugh now, 
      for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow. 
 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, 
      for their ancestors also praised false prophets.


40 thoughts on “God’s “Winning” Team

  1. I’m just curious if Tim “Tebows” after an especially good performance cutting his grass or is it reserved for football games played in front of thousands and millions?


  2. Why do you think it is “getting known”? It is not as if it is a secret. Pretty much everyone who knows anything about American Football has already heard about Jesus.


  3. But what do we mean by commandment? The essence of Old Covenant Law is Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

    This is referred to in the Deuteronomy 11 passage that you quoted, Mike. Verse 13 and following: “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season…etc”

    It does sound a bit like the Prosperity Gospel, but this may have been on the level that people could understand. Much of the Old Testament is in covenant form: You do this for me; I do this for you. Legal transactions, same as today with mortgages, leases, whatever. The 10 Commandments are in the form of a Near Eastern suzerain treaty between a king and his subjects. It was what people could understand, and I think a lot of preaching even today is preaching to the choir, contextualizing so that the congregation can get it.

    But, because the true Commandments, or Law, really should have been a matter of the heart, as in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and weren’t, as evidenced throughout Israel’s history (and the history of every society so far) we need people like Jeremiah to remind us: Love the Lord with all your heart and soul, etc… That’s the real covenant.

    Here’s Jeremiah 31:31 and following:

    31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

    There’s that covenant contractual form again, in verse 33: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” It’s a prophecy to be sure, but it’s in the form of “the rules”.

    Anyway, it’s all about loving God. Those who only have in mind a return on their investment don’t get it.


  4. “They’ve got a name for the winners in the world
    I want a name when I lose
    they call Alabama the Crim-son Ti-de…”


  5. I guess my problem is all the hoopla surrounding Tebow, which he doesn’t seem to mind. Sure, he appears sincere, but I don’t have a real clue and most of the people falling all over themselves to sing his praises don’t really have a clue either. I’ll admit to being a little bit jaded because I’ve seen this all before and seen some pretty nasty falls by celebs who professed their love of God. Roethlisberger reportedly has had a come to Jesus moment recently and dedicated his life to the Lord, but he lost the game, so I guess nobody cares.

    It is very difficult to get to the pro football level by just being a nice guy. Pro sports are cutthroat and competitive to the extreme, so I’m not getting too excited about Mr. Tebow.


  6. Yes, you can find a lot of Old Covenant promises like that. It would be a good discussion to get opinions about how Christians should interpret and apply those. I’ll give one response: there is evidence of pushback even in the OT to the idea of righteousness leading to prosperity. For example, the Book of Job seems to be written to tell us that God’s ways are not to be taken as prosperity formulas.


  7. I gave a little talk once on the verses from Luke, talking about winners and losers.

    My main idea:
    – The world says “blessed are the winners” and “woe to the losers”.
    – Jesus puts it the other way around.

    I paraphrased “woe to you” as “sucks to be you”.


  8. Bit of a devil’s advocate here Michael (pardon the expression), but then what about Deuteronomy 11:
    I am not trying to difficult here, but if the prosperity gospel is wrong, then how do these verses fit. It seems like I have always struggled to understand the problem with the prosperity gospel when I read verses like the following.

    13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied….

    22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. 24 Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.

    26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 29


  9. Americans who are familiar with the player were asked, “Do you believe that any of Tim Tebow’s success can be attributed to Divine Intervention?” Forth-three percent of respondents said yes.

    In another news story, Salem witches are going to perform a ceremony to help Brady win.

    As I commented over a week ago, believing that God determines the outcome of things like football games reduces us to this level of superstition and voodoo.


  10. The opposite comment is far more common: if you were preaching the faith, you would see the Spirit working in the growth of your membership.

    Maybe they are unconnected variables. You know, the Spirit is like the wind, which blows where it wishes.


  11. Gen 12 is God’s promise to bless Abraham and his family; and ultimately to restore his creation blessing to the whole world through Abraham’s Seed (Christ). It is a promise of pure grace to a person God chose, and, a sovereign promise to bless is the furthest thing from any form of prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel says God blesses me because I’m faithful and rewards me visibly as a testimony to the world.


  12. It just occurred to me. There is a Christian basis for all this Tebow enthusiasm, although it’s iconographic in nature and not, strictly speaking, Biblical: Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus.”


  13. Fair enough.

    I didn’t realize people were making such a huge big deal about this. I’m on the email list of a well-known charismatic figure (whose words I appreciate more often than not), and Tebow was front and center. He did make a good point, though, and it’s this: John 3:16 and its message are being made known, and that’s a good thing.

    A young man I knew in our former community came to talk with me years ago because he wanted to know what John 3:16 meant. He knew little or nothing about the BIble. Turns out, he knew John 3:16 because his favorite wrestler at the time was Steve Austin, who used the verse for his own purposes, “Steve Austin 3:16.” (I have no idea at all what he meant by it, although I seem to recall it wasn’t a good message.) If God can use a professional wrestler to make Himself known to someone, think what might happen with someone who’s actually try to cooperate with God in making the Gospel known!


  14. So true. If it were not for the resurrection, Jesus’ life would have been a failure by all accounts.

    Paul said, “If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. I believe the people on Jesus’ team are looking for a different kind of pay in their contract.

    Great post.


  15. Hi Mike,

    I am not an advocate for the prosperity gospel, but I would be interested in knowing how you (or anyone else) understand passages like Genesis 12.

    1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

    2 “I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
    I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
    3 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
    and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”


  16. Forgot to mention: Though according to tradition, several attempts on John’s life were taken, including being boiled in oil but surviving.


  17. It used to be in the Black Sea, but when they moved Sicily over to Italy this opened up room for Patmos. The space where Sicily is now used to be empty, but the boot of Italy needed a ball to kick, what with soccer being to popular over there.


  18. The church will have seasons of prosperity as well as persecution. That’s not really the issue. The issue is the prosperity gospel that says God will bless our faith and good works by making us winners in the eyes of the world.


  19. Actually I meant a few people have a problem with today… but it held true back then too!

    Only back then it was “these Christians are causing a problem” we had better do something about it.

    Today it is more “that church has a thriving congregation, they must not be teaching the gospel.”


  20. And that’s just the ORIGINAL team (plus Paul, natch). Later stars on that squad range from Polycarp of Smyrna to Jim Elliott and beyond …


  21. “John was banished to the nearby island of Patmos, now one of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.”
    So, where was the island of Patmos before now?
    ; )


  22. For much of the world (Ethiopia, India and China for example) times haven’t really change all that much.


  23. Christians in the US haven’t been dying for their faith in a long time, if every really. We seem preoccupied with “first world” problems like hanging religious banners in schools, and whether or not our favorite candidate thinks like us. Getting one’s feelings hurt seems to be all we have that constitutes suffering. Therefore, I interpret your blog as saying there virtually no winners on God’s team in the western world these days. Sad state of affairs.


  24. How about the list of spiritual heroes in Hebrews 11?

    “. . . Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. . .”

    Having said that, why on earth are we making such a big deal about a Christian young man who apparently has a deeply genuine faith and seeks to honor Christ? How is he different from others like him, who share their faith whenever they can, and who are accountants, car dealers, marketing managers, teachers, or goatherds?

    True, he’s a celebrity, and America now is about celebrities and not heroes. Because he’s a very good quarterback, he’s a celebrity in the context of America’s ultimate concern (Paul Tillich’s definition of religion), which is sports.

    I’m not bothered by him being a Christian and a celebrity. What will be interesting is to see how and if he can transform his celebrity into spiritual heroism. The kid needs our prayers more than he needs our analysis (including mine).


  25. How often we forget that Jesus Himself was a loser by the world’s standards. His sermons usually cost Him as many followers as they gained; His own family tried to have Him locked up as a lunatic; and He died a criminal’s death. The apostles were just following the example set by their own Messiah.


  26. Isn’t interesting how the Gospel was once counter-cultural to the extreme, but now we do our best to dress it up like the culture?


  27. They must not have been teaching the gospel. Otherwise they would have been accepted by their neighbors and had growing and thriving congregations.


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