From the Pastor’s Study 10/8/23
This week, the career of a baseball legend was celebrated in Detroit as Miguel Cabrera played his final major league game. Over 41,000 filled Comerica Park to say farewell to the Detroit Tiger power hitter who was retiring after 21 years. Those seasons included twice being named league MVP, four batting titles, and twelve times being selected to the All-Star team. “Miggy” is in rare company, being one of only three players in history to amass 3000 hits, over 500 home runs, and a lifetime batting average over .300. Baseball Hall-of-Famers Hank Aaron and Willie Mays are the other two.
In the eighth inning, after Cabrera caught a hard-hit ground ball at first base and made an unassisted put-out, play was temporarily stopped. As he was pulled from the game, all 41,000 fans rose spontaneously to their feet to cheer their big-league hero.
The Bible offers a most unusual contrast and comparison to this scenario in the person of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. In Acts chapter seven, after boldly preaching the gospel to a hostile crowd, Stephen is thrown out of the city, and brutally stoned to death. The Bible states, rather curiously, that just before he died, Stephen “looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55) What makes this curious is that this is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is portrayed as standing rather than sitting at the Father’s right hand. Hebrews 1:3 says, “… when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 8:3, similarly states, “We have such a high priest who is set on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.” Numerous expositors and Bible commentators have suggested that the reason Christ stood in Acts 7 was to honor and to receive His faithful martyr. 19th century Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte, after citing verses identifying Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, wrote, “But with all that, He could not sit still when He saw them stoning Stephen.” The Savior, to Whom alone all honor is due, stood in honor of His dying servant. The adulation of a cheering crowd is nothing compared to the approval of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It should also be noted that Miguel Cabrera’s career achievements also include the elusive “triple crown.” In 2012 he led the league in batting average, runs batted in, and home runs. It had been forty-five years since this trifecta was accomplished.
In his last letter the apostle Paul offers what might be termed, a dying declaration. Anticipating his own soon martyrdom, he wrote, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also which love his appearing.” (II Tim. 4:8) He expected to lose his life, but then receive a crown representing something far more valuable. In an earlier letter Paul wrote of a crown of rejoicing. (I Thes. 2:19) The apostle Peter mentions a crown of glory. (I Pet. 5:4) Jesus Himself promises a crown of life to those who are faithful unto death. (Rev. 2:10) It is not coincidental that the name of the first Christian martyr Stephen actually means “crown.”
Whatever adulation and laurels may be bestowed upon a champion athlete, God’s word assures us that for the faithful follower of Christ something far better awaits beyond the grave. All the awards and recognitions that can be given to the victors in sporting competition – or any other field of human endeavor in this life – pale in importance to what the Lord promises His people in eternity. “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.” (I Cor. 9:25) For some, faithfulness to Christ means forfeiting all that the world can offer. But they are the winners. There are eternal crowns. And best of all, there is a Savior Who stands to receive them and say, “Well done.”