Sitting in a packed stadium, we look up as the lights dim and see the dark oval of the sky far above us. Fluorescent lights illuminate the faces of people from many different countries as a voice comes over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentleman, the Olympic Flame will soon be entering the stadium.” Cheers erupt and we stand to our feet. Far below us a runner sprints into view, with a torch held high above his head. He circles the stadium.
Then, in a hushed moment, he holds the torch to the cauldron in the center of the stadium and the flame ignites into a roaring fire. Fireworks burst all around the stadium, and once again we cheer as we look forward to seeing athletes powerfully stretch the limits of the human body. Caught up in the spirit of the Olympics, the feelings of peace, unity and hope fill us.
I have never been to the Olympics, but I can imagine how it would feel to have so many people from so many places gather together for one purpose; it would be inspiring to say the least. The torch relay alone is an amazing aspect of the Olympics. This year before the torch reached Rio de Janeiro it not only traveled from Olympia, Greece, where (I just have to mention) it was lit by the rays of the sun in a parabolic mirror, but also traveled over 12,000 miles in Brazil and was handled by 12,000 people.1
The Olympic Games is held every two years, and alternates between winter and summer sports. It is a massive, world-wide competition; in 2012, 204 nations were represented in the London Olympics.2 But the Olympic Organization sees something much bigger than sports when they plan the locations, the competitions, and even the torch relays. Their official purpose statement reads: “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”3
Building a peaceful and better world. Sounds like an impressive, unreachable goal. But what will they use in order to accomplish this? Sports.
Diversity is a word thrown around a lot these days and with 204 nations involved in the Olympics, there could be no better place to find it. However, in order for the Olympics Committee to promote peace they recognize that one thing is needed to unify everyone involved. And sports is what they gather around. In a small way, they do accomplish a sense of peace, even if only for the short time that the Olympics run. After all, Jesse Owens, a black man, ran in the 1936 Olympics under the very nose of Hitler and this year, for the first time, a woman is competing in a hijab. For the sake of the competition and unity, hatred is temporarily laid aside.
Well, so what? Sports unify people. But, the Olympics Committee members weren’t the first ones to understand the importance of a common, unifying factor in bringing people together. As Christians, if we are following Christ, we should know more about unity than anyone. I recently read a Voice of the Martyrs magazine and the caption on the front read, “Helping our brothers and sisters across the world.”
What unifying factor makes it possible for Christians across the world, from many different cultures and nations, not only to call each other brother and sister, but also to pray for, encourage, and support each other? What makes it possible for a church, made up of many diverse people, to worship together, care for each other, and meet week after week?
Christ. Christ is our unifying factor. Ephesians 2 says:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (v.13-18).4
Paul uses some amazing language to describe the peace Jesus is bringing. Christ broke down walls, killed the hostility that existed, and became our peace. As humans and sinners, we are always going to need some common ground to bring us together. Christ not only does more than we can imagine by reconciling us to God, but he creates peace between people.
In John 17, Jesus prays “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”5 The diversity among us is fully unified in the work and person of Jesus Christ. This unity is better than sports because Christ doesn’t just change people’s feelings for a short time like the Olympics but he changes hearts so people love one another. And this unity out of diversity results in God being glorified.
The continuing verses of Ephesians 2 are about the church. In the peace Christ brings, we are being built together for the glory of God. Read the rest of Ephesians for a description. God’s church is amazingly diverse, and God’s church is amazingly unified.
Sit back down in the stadium. Only this time, look around and imagine the countless generations of blood-bought Christians from many nations. Reach beside you and grasp the hand of the person next to you as we lean forward in breathless anticipation focusing on Christ, seeing the work he already accomplished in securing our salvation and waiting for the moment he returns to perfect the church he is building. Now, hold out to others the same torch of peace that Christ brings, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”6
|Sadie Beery has recently been transplanted to Elnora, Indiana where she lives with her husband, Aaron, and interacts with the Elnora Bible Institute where he works. She loves poetry, good coffee, and Skype calls. Currently she works at a little thrift store, turning one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. She is excited about the adventure of life God is leading her on and longs know him better and do all things with excellence for His glory. Her dream is to one day publish a book, but right now she just tries to find time to clean the house.|
- “Relay.” Olympic Torch Relay Rio 2016. Rio 2016, n.d. Web. 16 July 2016.
- “The Amazing Story of the Olympic Flame.” Olympic.org. The International Olympic Committee, Apr. 2016. Web. 16 July 2016.
- “The Organisation.” Olympic.org. The International Olympic Committee, n.d. Web. 16 July 2016.
- The Holy Bible, ESV. Crossway Bibles, Wheaton Il. 2005.
- John 17:22-23, ESV
- Ephesians 3:10, ESV