A baby born in Bethlehem freed us from the letter of the law - week of December 1, 2011

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By Bill Horner

  A Baby born in Bethlehem freed us from the letter of the law


         Christmastime is here, the season to be jolly, decorate the tree, drink eggnog, and shop like crazy. And to “kick off” the season, believe it or not, I have a lesson for you from football. I’ll admit it. My blood runs deep orange. Marcia and I graduated from the University of Tennessee; we spent many a happy Saturday afternoon (and some not so happy) in Neyland Stadium.

         So we were listening to the game a couple of weeks ago with rapt interest like everyone else. The Big Orange of Tennessee squared off against the Black and Gold of Vanderbilt in a surprisingly hard-fought struggle for these in-state rivals. With the lead see-sawing back and forth, regulation time ended with a tie, sending the teams into the first-ever overtime between the two schools. 

         UT won the toss and elected to go on defense. Vandy, in its first possession, not only failed to score but also gave up the ball on an interception by Tennessee’s Eric Gordon. Gordon then proceeded to run it all the way back into the end zone. That play should have ended the game, but an official blew the whistle and ruled it a recovered fumble with the play over at the 11-yard line. Subsequent review revealed that it was indeed an interception, not a fumble, and that Gordon was never down. Tennessee won.

         Nevertheless, Vandy fans were upset. According to NCAA rules, when the official blows the whistle, the play is dead. Gordon’s run, then, should not have been subject to review. The score, therefore, should still have been tied, UT having possession of the ball. 

         If the letter of the NCAA law had been followed, would Tennessee have won anyway? No one knows for sure. One can understand Vandy’s frustration, even though sympathies may lie with Tennessee.

         But by all that’s fair and right, the official had no cause to blow that whistle. A review of the game video clearly shows that the play was an interception, that Gordon’s knee never touched the ground, and that he had a clear path to the end zone. Tennessee should have had a clean win with no controversy. Perhaps that’s why the officials reviewed and finally reversed the horrendous original call. They seemed to opt for the principle behind the rules over the letter of the law. Right or wrong, that left Tennessee with the win. I think it was right!

         What does all this football talk have to do with Christmas?  According to Galatians 4:4-5, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” It is impossible for anyone to justify himself before a holy and righteous God by keeping the law to the letter. We simply cannot do it; we are too sinful. But what we could not do for ourselves, God did for us through His Son Jesus Christ. Being fully God and fully human, He was the only one qualified as a sacrifice to redeem us. He kept the law, to the letter. He kept it perfectly. He did it on our behalf. Now we His followers are God’s adopted sons and no longer have to worry about the letter of the law. Instead, we can know God’s heart and keep the intent of His law.

         The outcome of football games is not ultimately important. But reconciliation to the God who made us is. And it does not come about by keeping a rigid set of rules. A Baby born in Bethlehem changed all that for us.

         “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” (Romans 8:1-3).