It's not over until it's over
The commentator for Radio 5 Live was almost incoherent when Lucas Moura scored for Spurs in the closing seconds of the Champions League Semi-Final against gallant, underrated Ajax. As one Twitter user observed on the night: "The most astonishing comeback I have seen, well, since yesterday." If there is one thing we learned from these two remarkable back-to-back Semi-Finals is that "It's not over until it's over." The phrase itself comes from a famous US baseball player, Yogi Berra, from way back in 1973 and has inspired sportspeople ever since. However far you may be behind, however long the odds against you, there is always hope. Though your dreams be tossed and blown, keep on walking on. That's very much the theme of the New Testament and in particular, its final book, Revelation. Everything seems stacked against the young churches, not least the full weight of the Roman Empire (or its equivalent through the ages) personified as the beast. "(The beast) was given power to wage war against God's holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. (Revelation 13:7) At the time it would have seemed an unequal contest. Certainly if you were a member of one of the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, you would have been frightened, very frightened, especially if there were Roman armoured cars parked at the end of your road. Then you receive a letter from a fellow disciple who is already suffering for the Gospel: "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." (Revelation 1:9) And his message? To encourage his fellow disciples to see reality in an altogether new way. The resurrection victory of Jesus has changed everything. His crucifixion under Roman rule was not the final whistle. And now through an open door John can see directly into heaven where God's rule stands uncontested. "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise !” (Revelation 5:11f When it comes to sheer political power, the Roman Empire - however it may seem at the time - is being outplayed by the Kingdom of God. So, says John, live your lives with this hope: "It's not over until it is over!" He knows the final score. This message to persevere against what appears to be overwhelming opposition is particularly relevant today. As the Sri Lanka attacks on Easter Day show, Christians worldwide face serious persecution. As Giles Fraser reports in the Guardian: "We are living though one of the most serious phases of Christian persecution in history, and most people refuse to acknowledge it." You may have seen earlier this month the initial findings of a report commissioned by the Foreign Secretary from the Bishop of Truro on this persecution. The full report is being published next month. The bishop found "widespread evidence showing that Christians are by far the most widely persecuted religion" and that religious persecution is a "global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity". The beast is still active. The report continued: "Research consistently indicates the Christians are the 'most widely targeted religious community'. Acts of violence… are becoming more widespread with an increase in the severity of anti-Christian persecution." I'm not sure how well I would handle direct persecution, especially for my family. It certainly would make me think through my priorities, not simply as a paper exercise but as a matter of life or death. And for that reason I stand in awe of those brave disciples who hold their nerve and their ground, faced with overwhelming opposition. It's one thing to think that life is stronger than death and that love will ultimately triumph over hate but actually to risk your life on this Gospel message is altogether in a different league. Here you may appear to be on the losing side but as Yogi Berra reminds us, "it's not over until it's over!" As Klopp reminded us before Tuesday's match: "It is football. There is hope!" So we are to play with confidence, with determination; above all, as Jurgen urges, with hope. And this message of perseverance is just as relevant in situations like ours when the opposition comes from a culture, from a hostile worldview. Here the message of Revelation is for all Christians for all Christians will face opposition, often from powerful people. However, knowing how it all works out, e refuse to be faced-down or intimidated into silence and acquiescence. It's like watching Match of the Day when you know the final result: against every expectation, the Lamb - not the beast - is on the throne. “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise !” (Revelation 5:13) This understanding should inform all that we do as disciples of the Lamb that we slain. His unexpected victory becomes ours, his defeat of evil is for us to claim. “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children." (Revelation 21:6f) Well, who would have thought?