It happened quite a few years ago but it was so dramatic that I, along with many people, still recall it and remember it vividly when asked about it. It was a European cup final and, to all intents and purposes, the team I supported was going to lose. The other team was winning 2-1 and any hope of a recovery and victory was fading fast. Nothing was going right. My team was seemingly doing everything alright but there was no sign of the two goals we needed to score to win the trophy.
Time was running out fast and hope of a victory was fading even faster when a big cheer went up from the supporters. Another player was warming up on the touch line and on he came as a substitute for another player who had not been able to do what he was supposed to do to win the game.
The substitute took the place of the one who was taken off and, to the absolute amazement and appreciation of the supporters, went on to score the two goals that were needed for an unexpected and unlikely victory. Even better; the second goal came in the dying seconds of the game. The substitute had won the game. The trophy and the glory of such a victory was ours; it was shared with the manager, the rest of the team and those who had supported them through it all.
Although no one thought it at the time the manager knew exactly what he was doing as he had waited for just the right time to make the substitution. That's the strange thing about time isn't it? We had scored the first goal and, when we were winning, time seemed to go very slowly as the other team gradually became stronger and scored the two goals they thought would secure them the victory. When we were losing and the end of the game was approaching time seemed to go very quickly and hope was fading fast of a victory.
That story set me thinking. It makes me appreciate how Jesus took my place as my substitute. At Calvary He took my place in redeeming sacrifice. It was me that deserved to die but it was Jesus that died in my place. It was my sin that deserved the due punishment but it was He who stepped in, at the right time, to take my sin, shame and punishment upon himself. The just died for the unjust. God sent Jesus to die in our place so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) What a substitution!! What an exchange!! What glory!!
Just one of the incredible things about God is His sense of time. It's totally different from our concept of time. The Bible clearly tells us that it was when the hour had fully come that He sent his only begotten Son to atone for our sins. In other words He came on and took our place, as our substitute, just at the right time. There are those who may ask the question, "Why not sooner?" The answer is that God knew the right time.
Just one of the incredible things about Jesus is that, in view of who He is, He was willing to die in our place. The aim of the footballer we spoke of earlier was simple. He had the prospect of some form of glory before him if he could achieve that purpose for which he was sent on to the field. But it was different for Jesus.
The Word who was with God, and who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth but, in fact, His immediate aim was not his own glory. It was suffering, of such an intensity that we will never fully fathom, purely for our sake and for the sake of the glory of his Father's name. The truth in which we can all share and in which we can equally rejoice is that He endured the suffering and accomplished the victory. That was the glory that was set before him.
This is the time of the year to appreciate fully God's plan to substitute you. You may be thinking that time is running out and you have yet to secure the victory in some area of your life? It might be sorrow or regret. It might be affliction or oppression. It might even be some habit that always rears its head when you thought you already had the victory. You feel as though nothing's changed, it will never change, the clock is ticking and time is running out.
If that is so remember this. God sent Jesus to be your substitute; to do what you cannot do. The wonder of that is that He has overcome the world, and that through his overcoming, you are more than a conqueror. Now we can share in the glory of that victory just as everyone shared in the glory of that football victory years ago. The substitute won the reward but we all share the trophy. Now there's a thought.
Isaiah 53:4-6 surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and, with his stripes, we are healed.
Over the last week, many areas of South Eastern Africa have been devastated by Cyclone Idai. Torrential rain and winds up to 170km/h have swept from Malawi, across Mozambique and into Zimbabwe.
We need donations to provide food and assistance, roofs for destroyed homes and money to rebuild Elim's destroyed churches.
Can you help us demonstrate through practical ways the compassion of Jesus to a nation broken by this natural disaster? You can donate online at "Elim Missions - ERA South Eastern Africa Appeal" web page.
There really ought to have been a no entry sign. The lane down which we were driving had given no indication at all of what we were now facing and, to be honest, I was already beginning to be concerned about any damage to my car. It was also starting to feel that the way forward could become a bit of a challenge.
The surface of the road suddenly appeared to be in a very bad condition. There were large cracks and big holes that were extremely obvious but, what was even worse was that, there were weeds and bramble bushes growing from them that were far too large for the car to pass over without incurring some substantial damage to the sides and the underside of the car. In addition to all of that the hedges down both sides of the lane were so neglected and overgrown that, in places, they were spreading right across the lane.
There was absolutely no way forward, at that point, and so I took the only option available to me. I needed to back off the situation that faced me and so I began to reverse my car all the way back, a hundred metres, to the point at which I had turned in to the lane with damage limitation being the order of the day.
What had started as a pleasant drive in the country had become more like a nightmare. The thing was that this lane was one I was familiar with as a child. I knew where it led and that it used to be wide enough for the local farmer to drive his tractor along. The assumption was that it would be passable for the car but I hadn't reckoned on the passing of time and the effect of neglect on this little lane.
That set me thinking. How often do we find ourselves in a similar situation in our journey of life where we are faced with obstacles, that seem impassable, preventing us moving on? How frequently do circumstances seem to hem us in on all sides? It's those times where, if we are honest, we do exactly what I had to do in my car. We back off. We compromise and become content with damage limitation.
Now here's the good news. We do not have to back away from these sort of situations. There is a way when there seems to be no way. God
knows the way, Jesus is the way and, with the Holy Spirit as our sat nav, we can move on through what looks impossible and feels so daunting. We are an overcoming people, in Christ, and every situation in which we find ourselves worried (for whatever reason), in reality, is an opportunity to prove that we are willing to trust God all the way through a problem and not just to a point where it feels impossible.
As a matter of fact I can tell you that the sat nav in my car has taken me on a few strange roads but I know that when the Holy Spirit is navigating us on our journey He never makes a mistake or an error of judgement. There is no obstacle in the way of the Christian that cannot be overcome with the Holy Spirit as guide.
When we look at some of the blockages we face they appear to us as giants. A situation may seem impossible and impassable. A hurt may often seem absolutely immovable. Circumstances may seem to close in on us from all sides and we feel as claustrophobic as it did in my car on that journey I was relating to you. Whatever the problem; there is a way forward.
Don't focus on the giant; if we do we don't move forward. Focus on Jesus and, in the light of His glory and grace, the things that trouble us will fade away. Look to the truth of the Word of God and see that the power of God, at work in us, is able to do far more than all that we ask or even think is possible. (Ephesians 3:20). The truth is that we need never become stuck so that we cannot move forward. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13).
Why not have a go? Think of whatever situation God has brought to mind while you are reading this and ask Him to clear the way forward and remove all hindrances and blockages that have hemmed you in for such a long time. Tell Him that you are willing. He will do it if you will press on for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Take the first step and see what God can do. Don't hesitate. Press on. Forget the no entry sign. Now there's a thought.
Ephesians 3:20 Now to Him who, by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or even think; to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen.