On January 6, 2014, the Auburn Tigers played Florida State University in the NCAA football championship. The Auburn team had one loss, and FSU was undefeated. Plus, the Seminoles’ outstanding quarterback was Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Oddsmakers expected Auburn to lose.
But fans like me had a feeling that Auburn would win after all. And the game almost went that way. With less than two minutes left on the clock, Auburn scored a go-ahead touchdown. But Jameis Winston led his team down the field and retook the lead.
The final score was 34-31. The last-second loss was devastating. My nephew Jake was an Auburn student at the time. He put his jacket over his head and sat in mourning for 30 minutes. Then he went outside and took a long walk in the 20-degree cold.
Every dedicated sports fan knows the pain of a heartbreaking loss. If you care nothing about sports, then you can identify with the sinking feeling triggered by lost keys, a lost wallet, or a lost smartphone. What if . . . what if the church cared about lost souls as much as sport fans care about lost games? What if the death of a lost neighbor gave us a sick feeling all over? What if someone’s falling away from Christ hurt us so badly that we put a jacket over our heads for half an hour? How would that deep concern affect our evangelism efforts?
The apostle Paul did care like that. To the church at Rome, he wrote: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:2-3). Paul was so troubled by the lost condition of his fellow Jews that he wished he could suffer hell in their place. Paul cared intensely – and he was the most effective evangelist the church has ever known.