by Dale Reeves
Last Saturday the Cincinnati Bengals did something that hasn’t been accomplished in over thirty years. By beating the Las Vegas Raiders 26-19 in an NFL wild card game, they achieved the team’s first postseason playoff victory in thirty-one years. Thirty-one! 31 YEARS! Our daughters grew up in a house in which they’ve never known a Bengals postseason victory. They never really asked about wearing T-shirts, sweatshirts, or stripes to school that showed their support for the home NFL team. For those home-team fans who were present at Paul Brown Stadium last Saturday, it is a memory they will never forget.
Die-hard Bengals fan Matt James reacted, “It was like utter shock and joy at the same time. People were freaking out, overjoyed, crying . . . beer even landed on me that came from another fan’s cup! It was an incredible moment for the city of Cincinnati and the community of like-minded people who were gathered together to witness this historic event.”
Our student pastor at Christ’s Church, Cody Scroggins, was also at the game that day. He described his reaction at the end of the game: “After Germaine Pratt’s interception sealed the deal, all I could do was stand there in shock. The Bengals did the unimaginable that I thought might never happen in my lifetime!”
Here’s how a lot of Bengals fans reacted to the victory against the Raiders: click here to watch
Zac Taylor is in his third year as the head coach of the Bengals. After each Bengal victory this year, he has given a speech in the locker room, followed by giving out game balls to those who are most deserving—such as a game-winning interception, multiple touchdowns, or a huge amount of receptions and yards gained in one game. After their win against the Raiders last week, the coach surprised everyone with his choices for who would receive game balls that day. Check out what he said here: click here to watch
I love that he chose to give the first game ball to longtime owner of the Bengals, Mike Brown, who has received much criticism over the years. Zac said about Mr. Brown, “He’s waited a long time for this thing.” The second game ball he said was beginning a new tradition with playoff wins. “It goes to the city of Cincinnati so they can celebrate with us!” Later that evening, the coach traveled to three bars and restaurants in the area and distributed the game balls. I think it’s awesome that Zac chose to take three game balls to three places where sports fans gather, because those places are all about community. As the old TV show Cheers reminded us, people want to gather at a place where “everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”
The Ultimate Victory
Our teaching pastor Brad Wilson has been talking the past few weeks at church about community and belonging. Everybody wants to be a part of a winning culture and a winning church, something we can believe in, something we can own, something that gives us a place to belong to. The founder and first head coach of the Bengals, Paul Brown, said this: “Winning makes believers of us all.” Of course, Jesus is the ultimate winner and champion. By his victory on the cross of Calvary, he defeated death and the grave. He was victorious over his adversary Satan. He broke the curse that had its hold on everyone who had ever sinned.
According to Deuteronomy 21:22, 23, a divine curse was placed on anyone who died by hanging: “If someone has committed a crime worthy of death and is executed and hung on a tree, the body must not remain hanging from the tree overnight. You must bury the body that same day, for anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God. In this way, you will prevent the defilement of the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession” (NLT).
For most capital offenses in Jewish law, stoning was the usual form of punishment. On some occasions the dead body would be hung in public as a deterrent to future crimes. This law made it illegal to do so overnight. The concept of cursing and blessing in association with a tree goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that God had warned them not to touch. A tree was involved in the entry of sin into the world, and it was through Jesus hanging on a tree that a rescue from all our sins would be offered. Although he had done no wrong, Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice for our sins. His dead body was removed from the cross for burial on the same day of his death, since it could not hang there overnight. Thus, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. In so doing, he broke the curse for us!
Breaking the Curse
The death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of Roman soldiers was not accidental. Of all the possible ways in which Jesus could have been executed, he was hung on a tree to demonstrate the curse that rested on him for our sakes. The perfect, sinless Son of God was hung on a tree as though he were the worst of criminals and he suffered an unspeakable punishment in our place so that we might not receive the curse, but rather the blessings of God.
The apostle Paul writes that “Those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.’ So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. . . . But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:10, 11, 13, NLT).
When Jesus died on the cross for us, he put us all on an even playing field. We are united together at the foot of the cross because of the blood he poured out for us in overcoming his adversary the devil. It was the largest victory over an opponent of all time. I will be watching this Saturday when the Cincinnati Bengals head to Nashville, Tennessee, to continue their run in the playoffs against the Tennessee Titans. I am hoping to celebrate another victory. I am hoping their coach can give out some more game balls afterward. Regardless of the outcome, I know that these victories are only temporary, and even though they have happened in my lifetime, I realize that the greatest victory of all—the one gained by our champion Jesus—will last for all eternity. Praise God that the hold the enemy had on us has been overcome. Jesus has paid for all of my penalties, and the curse has been broken!