No, God is not a Denver Broncos fan – certainly not in the sense of the people who paint their faces half orange and half blue and cheer on the home team at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. So Sunday’s exciting-as-it-was-unlikely playoff win over the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers was not, in any way that would suggest the creator of the universe picks sides in a football game, an “act of divine intervention.”
But that doesn’t mean His name wasn’t glorified in the Broncos’ 29-23 victory led by quarterback Tim Tebow, whose unconventional playing style and uncompromising expressions of his Christian faith have made him one of the NFL’s top stories this season.
I’ve been to plenty of football games – some of my dearest friends in the world are the families of former Detroit Lion and Bronco Luther Elliss and former Bronco and Atlanta Falcon Jason Elam – but I’ve never experienced anything like I did Sunday. Yes, the action on the field was thrilling – but it is the discussions in the stands I’ll remember, which will have real impact long after the details of yet another “Tebow Time” comeback have faded.
As an evangelical Christian, like Tebow, I am called to share my faith with others – that’s why we call it the “good news.” Sometimes, that can be a daunting responsibility – the Bible tells us that the way of Jesus can be offensive to those who don’t know Him. But there was an openness to hearing the Gospel all around me and my friends Sunday, as complete strangers asked us, in the midst of the game’s tensest moments, if we “pray like Tebow does” when circumstances turn challenging. (This is as good a place as any to point out that Tebow is hardly the only, or even the most outspoken, follower of Christ in pro football. Devout Christians suit up every weekend for every team in the NFL.)
Tim Tebow himself, as humble as he is, would likely be the first person to reject what I’m about to say, but as a Christian football fan living in Colorado, I can’t help but think that the “platform” God has given him – for which he always expresses thanks in interviews – makes him a little like John the Baptist. In the Bible, John the Baptist comes to prepare the people of Judea for Jesus’ arrival, as “a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (John 1:7-8). In other words, Tim Tebow isn’t the Messiah (it’s actually quite sacrilegious to even joke that he is), but he takes every opportunity presented him to point people to the Messiah.
Anecdotes of how Tebow has done this could cover a football field. A caller to a Denver talk show several weeks back said he was at the Broncos-Bears game on Dec. 11, and when it appeared there was no way the team could win he turned to his friend and said, “If we pull this out, I’m going to church.” The team did pull it out, in overtime, and he told the radio host was going to keep his end of the bargain and attend a worship service.
After the win over the Steelers, the social media world began lighting up with the fact that Tebow had thrown for 316 yards – as in John 3:16. A friend posted this fact on his Facebook page, not to prove that God roots for Denver, but in the hope that some of his friends who did not know Jesus might look the verse up and learn more about God’s goodness and plan for salvation. Sure enough, one of his friends did just that. And John 3:16, like it did when Tebow scribbled it into his eyeblack during his days at the University of Florida, became one of the Internet’s top search terms again.
Now it’s on to New England for the Broncos, where they’ll take on the Patriots in another game the “experts” are giving them little chance of winning. That means another week of Tebow talk, some from him, mostly about him, with additional opportunities for every day believers to plant seeds of the Gospel and no shortage of opinions about whether he’s right or wrong to be “mixing religion with football.”
Interestingly, that discussion will happen as Tebow leads his team in pursuit of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the NFL’s highest honor, named for the legendary Green Bay Packers coach who said this in a May 1964 speech to the First Friday Club of Los Angeles:
“When we place our dependence in God, we are unencumbered, and we have no worry. In fact, we may even be reckless, insofar as our part in the production is concerned. This confidence, this sureness of action, is both contagious and an aid to the perfect action.
“The rest is in the hands of God -- and this is the same God, gentlemen, who has won all of His battles up to now.”
And those are the eternal victories Tim Tebow understands matter more than anything that happens on a football field.