Hoops, Michigan, Jesus

Sports | Marvin Olasky

Hoops, Michigan, Jesus

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson is consoled following his team's loss to Michigan Friday night.
Associated Press/Photo by Tony Gutierrez

I gained both a wife and a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, so I enjoyed Friday night’s scintillating 87-85 NCAA men’s basketball tournament victory over Kansas. But embedded in that result is a thought about how Christ died for sinners like you and me.

Just after the game began, Kansas guard Elijah Johnson poked Michigan’s Mitch McGary where hands are not supposed to go. McGary crumpled in pain. Referees tagged Johnson with a foul, and frequent replays tagged Johnson in the eyes of the world as a dirty player.

Kansas from that point on dominated the game. It had a 10-point lead with little more than 3 minutes to play, when Johnson became infamous once again. We’ll let CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel pick up the story:

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“Elijah Johnson began to unravel. … Johnson threw the ball away. He threw another ball away. He was hounded into a 10-second violation … three turnovers in 87 seconds.”

Johnson then made three more crucial mistakes. Those are details, but here’s the way Doyel ended his article:

“Kansas lost. Elijah Johnson finished with 13 points, no assists against five turnovers, and a reputation that will follow him—the guy who punched the Michigan player in the testicles. Sometimes you get what you deserve.”

That was my initial thought, as well: For once, in sports events that are microcosms of life, we saw justice.

Then it occurred to me: Do we really want justice? Do we want condemnation before the world for our sins? If we got what we deserved for our omissions and commissions, our evil thoughts as well as our selfish actions, wouldn’t our lives be hellish?

On another Friday two millennia ago, Jesus died for our sins. The good news is that when we have faith in Him we don’t get what we deserve.

I don’t know where Elijah Johnson is theologically. If he hasn’t turned to Christ and now—shamed and shaken to his core—does, yesterday will not turn out to have been the worst day of his life. It will have been a Good Friday for him, as it is for me and many millions of others.

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