The story begins at half time in a game of rugby. (For those who are not familiar with rugby see the alternative version, The Football Game. Sorry, I cannot do Aussie Rules or Gridiron!)
The game was the final in a club competition. It was the first time in its long history that the club had managed to reach the final but now everyone had high hopes. Some of the older members considered it to be the best team that the club had ever had. There were some exceptionally good players and no real weaknesses. The coach was a good rugby thinker and he had developed some really innovative strategies. He had the full support of all the team. The build up had been really good.
But now it was half time and they were losing 18-6. The players were sitting in the dressing room totally exhausted. The reason was that they were playing with three players short. Four minutes into the game two Rugby Union officials arrived with documentation proving that the transfers of five players were invalid. They had previously played in a different code and because of an outstanding debt their transfers had been cancelled. If they were not taken from the field immediately, the game would be forfeited. While the coach was discussing this problem with the officials, a key player, the first five-eighths, was caught in an awful gang tackle and broke his leg. He had been taken to hospital. With only three replacements, the team was reduced to twelve men.
The team had played valiantly, but with three players short, it was very hard. Some of their moves had worked really well and they had scored a couple of times. But most of the time their defence had been totally stretched. It was only desperate cover tackling which had prevented the opposition from scoring more.
The last five minutes of the first half were terrible. Exhausted from their efforts, they no longer had the energy to make the desperate cover tackles, so the opposition scored two tries in three minutes. When the half time whistle sounded, they had been camped on their goal line in hopeless defence for two minutes. Had the whistle not blown to end their agony, the other team would certainly have scored.
Now totally exhausted, they were sitting in a circle with their heads in their hands. The coach was not in the room. Finally the full back lifted his head. "This is hopeless," he said. "There is no way we can win this game. The second half will be worse, because we are all exhausted. If we go back out there we will be slaughtered. I hope that coach has gone to call the second half off, so we can go straight to the after match function. There is plenty of food and grog, if we stop now, at least we can enjoy the party."
While he was speaking, the coach had walked in unnoticed. "My team never gives up," he said emphatically. "My team never gives up until victory is complete". "I have some good news," he added. "I have just sorted out the transfer problem and have some extra players who can join the team. Although they come from the other code, they are good rugby players and are able to play our game.
I think that three of them were Jews because they had biblical names. Joshua was put on at number 7, Michael at no 8 and Andrew at No 10.
The coach then spoke to the full back. "I am taking you off", he said, "You"re stuffed and I have got someone to take your place." I think that the final substitute was a Christian; as when he walked out of the dressing room, he said to the others, "Just call me Christian".
(For those of you not familiar with rugby, the four men with these names and numbers were national representatives, and among the best players in the world in their individual positions).
Before he went back onto the field the coach said, "The game plan is exactly the same. I coached the new players when they were schoolboys, so they know my style. They will fit with your game.
The first five minutes of the second half were really torrid. The opposition coach had told his players that if they could score in the first few minutes, they would nail the opposition so they came out really fired up.
However our team put in some tough tackles and their line held. Then Joshua put in a bone crunching tackle right on his line. Michael was there to gather the loose ball. He stepped past his marker and passed the ball to Andrew, who did a thundering punt, which took the ball right to the other end of the field. Christian out-sprinted the defence, gathered the ball and scored under the posts.
This was the turning point in the game. The opposition was soon totally demoralised. The players in our team just sliced through the defence and scored time after time. At first Andrew converted the tries, but soon they stopped taking the conversions as it wasted too much time. For 35 minutes they ran rampant and were unstoppable.
The game had one final twist. With two minutes to go, the opposition was awarded a penalty near their own 22-metre line. Before the penalty was taken, the opposition coach made a substitution. The new player was well known for being a cheat. He smuggled onto the field a ball made of rubber, which was easy to kick and carried for long distances. Although the ball was illegal, the referee did not notice, so the new player kicked a penalty from 75 metres. This rallied his team and they were able to stop our team from scoring. But just as it looked like they might get their first try in the second half, the referee blew the final whistle.
It had been a game of two halves. The final score was 280-21; a great victory for the club.
There was a great celebration party after the game, but the fullback had a sad look on his face. He now regretted his words. And he wished he had been on the field when they turned the game around.
The church has been working hard for 2000 years, but if we are honest we are losing the game. You can work out the score by counting the number of people who have lived on earth and the number who have been Christians. The score is about 1 billion to us and about 6 billion for the opposition.
This is hard to understand, because we have a great coach (the Holy Spirit), and he has prepared a great game plan (the Scriptures). We also have some great players. Nevertheless we are seriously losing the game.
If the church were a rugby team, the knives would be out for the coach. Deaker would be saying, "Look at his results they are not good enough. The coach will have to go."
Many Christians are like the fullback. They have given up all hope of victory. They are hoping for the final whistle so that they can go straight to the great after match function.
Their only hope is that Jesus will come and rescue the church: that he will blow evil away (Rambo-like), and establish the victory that the Church and the Holy Spirit have not been able to achieve.
The widespread expectation that the end of the world is near, because we have reached the year 2000 is an illusion. It is like confusing the end of the first half of a game with the final whistle. Christians who understand the times in which we are living will be working hard to end the first half without conceding to much ground. They will be preparing for victory in the second half, not looking for the end of the game.
The problem is that Christians don"t understand what God is doing. We don"t know his plans. We don"t understand the times in which we are living.
A Game of Two Halves
Like this rugby game, the New Testament age has two halves. During the first part, the focus is on the church and its power rises and falls. In the second half, the Kingdom of God grows to fulfilment. The Kingdom of God has not yet filled the whole earth so we are still in the first half. The events of the second half should not be judged by the standards of the first half. I believe that the first half is coming to an end. We belong to a brilliant team which will have a glorious victory. They Holy Spirit has not been freed to do his best. When that happens we will be amazed at what he will do. The second half will be great, so we should take hope and begin preparing for it.
This article was written several years ago, when Josh Cronfeld, Andrew Merthens, Michael Jones and Christian Cullen were the stars of the All Blacks, the New Zealand rugby team.
For a full outline of God's plan, see Times and Seasons.