Don’t you just love it when a local football team provides you with an awesome Gospel illustration?
Check out this story. Basically, Jose Baxter, a lad who played for Everton from the age of 9 , had a streak of bad behaviour and attitude problems. At one point he failed a drugs test and also got into trouble with the police. He rejected opportunities to develop in the youth team and go out on loan, considering himself to be better than that, and wanting to be a first team star. Eventually – like the prodigal son – he rejected a new contract with Everton and went to seek his fortune elsewhere. After some minor successes, he failed two more drugs tests – for ecstasy and cocaine respectively – and is currently serving a 1 year suspension from the game. He is without a club – highly unlikely to ever be trusted by a football club again, his career and life in ruins.
Today the news is that Everton – the club he let down and walked away from – have offered him a contract to play with their under 23 team and work as a part of their charitable organisation in their outreach work. Dave Unsworth, the man who will coach Baxter when he signs up, said this:
“It can be anything he wants it to be. As soon as he comes through the gates of Finch Farm in July, he will be treated like an U23 player and we work very…He will be given the same opportunities as everyone else….
We want to help because that is the sort of club we are. He is one of our own…”
This is the gospel in a 21st century, real world, football-shaped nutshell! Jose Baxter has messed up. He is facing a bleak future because of a stack of bad decisions he has made. He has rebelled against those who have tried to love and support him, and has failed again and again to do the right thing. He deserves to be on the scrap heap and to be left to find his own way back – which he is very unlikely to do.
And yet…he has been offered, completely undeservedly, fresh start. A clean slate. A new chance. The people he rejected have sought him out and offered him forgiveness and love instead of judgement, punishment and scorn.
Many Evertonians today are reacting angrily to this news, claiming that club are making a big mistake and that Baxter does not deserve what he is getting.
But that is the basic truth of Christianity! The Bible tells us we – ALL OF US – are rebels and failures. We have all messed up, let God down. Done our own thing. We are all destined for a bleak future.
But for Jesus! His response to our mess was to give us what we don’t deserve – that is, GRACE. Through dying on the cross and taking the punishment that should have been ours, he spared us from our just desserts. And through beating death and rising again he achieved a bright and glorious future for us – the hope and assurance of eternity with God!
In the grand scheme of things, each and every one of us is Jose Baxter. Lost and in need of forgiveness and grace, due to our own mistakes.
The good news is, like Jose, we have someone who is more than willing to offer it to us.
We will see shortly what Jose Baxter makes of the grace that has been offered to him. But the important question, for all of us, is what do we do with the grace that Jesus offers to each and every one of us? Do we acknowledge that we need it and respond by accepting him as our saviour? Or do we trust in ourselves and back our own ability to make life work and meet God’s standards on our own – and try to be our own saviours?