I have a confession. I don’t know much about football!
This year I decided to really get into following it so that me and my older son, Jesh, could ‘bond’. We don't have a problem, but I figured this could take our friendship to a higher level. I got hold of a Russia 2018 World Cup wall-mounted schedule so that we could chart the results. We played football outside in the garden to create an atmosphere of expectation. I even bought some special snacks to watch the games with - carb free and healthy of course! However, so far the plan hasn't gone well! I’ve missed all the England matches for one thing or another, including the record-breaking 6:1 victory over Panama. A certain gentleman called Harry Kane allegedly played very well! Most of my information about this current tournament has come from Jesh, usually 3 days after the ‘big games’. That’s my confession!
However, watching a match the other day (I honestly can’t remember which one!) I noticed the looks of some of the guys who were sitting patiently ‘on the bench’ waiting to come on. These guys will have trained hard, they will have put in the hours, they will have sacrificed much to be there probably. But by the end of the 90 minutes or so, some didn’t make it on to the pitch. Or at least I think they didn’t. I could have missed something!
That got me thinking about a certain guy who loved to play on Jesus’ team. Now you all might be castigating me for my level of enthusiasm and knowledge about Russia 2018 or even my parenting dedication, but if I was to ask you who Joseph Barsabbas was I think I’d get my own back! Most of us, on hearing this name, would say, ‘Joseph Barsabbas……who the heck is he?’
Well he was on Jesus’ team….but on the bench. You’ve got to feel sorry for him. He was a follower of Jesus right from the beginning. When Jesus healed the crowds in Galilee he was there. When Jesus clashed with the Pharisees, he was there too. When Jesus spoke probably the greatest speech of all time, The Sermon on the Mount, he was taking notes. When Jesus drove out a demon at Capernaum, Joseph was faithfully present. When Jesus went up a mountainside to pray over which twelve followers he was going pick as his disciples, Joseph Barsabbas was on the shortlist. But the nasty surprise was that he didn’t make it onto the pitch. His buddies did, but not him. Even Judas Iscariot got there.
Roll on a few years, he didn’t give up. He remained an active, close follower of Jesus. He was there when Jesus fed the five thousand; he was there when Jesus sent out the Seventy-Two on their first Gospel mission; he was there when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He was there through the turmoil before Jesus went to the cross; he witnessed the crucifixion; he saw Jesus risen! He remained committed and faithful.
But in the turn of events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, Judas Iscariot was dead now. Maybe, just maybe, this was his chance to shine, to make it on to the pitch, to go down in history as one of Jesus’ disciples. Maybe, just maybe, Barsabbas’ time had finally come.
Acts 1:21 describes it like this:
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.Acts 1
Now, there’s a lot of speculation in my writing about the feelings and emotions of this man. But even if the bible doesn't say it outright, I’m pretty sure that this second sidelining for the big game must have hurt. A lot.
This is what Phil Moore, a Newfrontiers bible teacher in London, says:
‘So here’s the reason why Joseph Barsabbas is one of my favourite bible characters: he didn’t let all this spoil him. He stared God’s sovereign choosing in the face and made a courageous choice of his own. He would let God be God and accept that the Church was Jesus’ body, not his. It was a difficult choice, a mature choice, but it’s a choice we all have to make if we want the extraordinary God to work through our ordinary lives.’
Jubilee, in Jesus’ Church, we are all on the team. We all play our God-given roles. We all serve and look to the greater good of God’s Kingdom advance over our personal gain. We allow him to empower us with his strength rather than push and shove to significance on our own.
Nelson Mandela said,
‘Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.’
Jesus said, (Matthew 20:28)
‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
On reading Acts sometimes we can get captivated only by the ‘big cheeses’, the great heroes of the faith, Paul, Peter, Stephen and so on. These are good guys - ‘don’t hear what I’m not saying’! But Acts is also full of ordinary people who served in the background. The backbone of the Christian faith going viral. Dorcas who sewed clothing for the poor (she always reminds me of the faithful Joan Earl of Jubilee Church who, week in week out, washes the football team’s outfits and prays over them ‘strenuously’); Mary who opened her home for an all night prayer meeting; Simon the tanner who offered lodgings to Peter; the business woman, Lydia, whose home became Paul’s church planting base in Philippi; the tentmakers, Pricilla and Aquila, who discipled a zealous but ignorant young man named Apollos, little knowing that they were preparing an Apostle for the future. Which of these were the heroes of Acts? Which of these servants were significant in the big Kingdom match? Which of these players resulted in God’s name being glorified to the utmost parts of the world? All of them.
Jubilee, that’s the deal! Joseph Barsabbas refused to give into bitterness, setbacks, overlookings and disappointment and continued to serve God faithfully in whatever role he was given. And whatever the goings on, so you and I are called to faithfully do likewise!
Jesus is building his church and nothing will stop Him. What is your part?
The bench is the place where God’s extraordinary power is revealed through weakness. The bench is how God’s upside down world speaks to the foolishness of our culture. The bench is where we often meet God most closely!
On the cross, Jesus was sidelined, he was rejected by God, he carried the shame and embarrassment, he carried the hurt and the pain. But through his weakness he was glorified to strength. Through His perfection, his joy became real as he brought us, who didn’t deserve anything at all, to victory, to greater purpose, to life in all its abundance!
On the bench might not be such a bad place after all!
I couldn’t possibly write an Elders’ letter this month without at least making reference to that amazing night in Madrid on June 1st and Liverpool FC’s historic sixth Champions League trophy. Non-football fans…please don’t switch off!