By the Numbers

I was listening to the commentators last evening and understand that Michael Phelps has now completed his Olympic career, finishing participation in 4 different Olympics with 22 medals – 18 of them gold. They comprise a remarkable career in the pool – both individual and team participation in a number of different events culminating in what is arguably the greatest career in Olympic history. Personally, I guess that I can’t even weigh in on that discussion because I don’t know enough about some of the others who may believe that they are, or were, the best ever.

So I listened to the arguments for both sides of the debate. It seems that an overwhelming majority of Olympic medals have been won by people who are either swimmers, track stars or gymnasts. That is because they can participate in so many different events that their medal count soars compared to other sports. For example, someone in archery or the decathlon don’t have as many chances for the podium.

And there are athletes who may have only won one medal, yet were considered tremendous examples of physical prowess. For example, Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammed Ali, won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division of the 1960 Olympics in Rome. And he was named the athlete of the last century – sounds like he could deserve the title as much or more than Phelps. Or, how about Bruce Jenner, who won gold in the decathlon in Montreal in 1976? Of course, we would have to excuse his participation in the reality show, the “Kardashians.”After all these guys didn’t have a chance to compete in nearly as many events as Phelps…

And then there is the woman who held the highest medal count until Phelps overtook her in London. Larissa Latynina, who has won 18 medals, was dethroned in the total medal count but still considers herself perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time. In part, because she was responsible for the soviet Union earning another 10 gold medals during her time as their coach after her own career was finished.

Finally, there is also some controversy because some of the more modern Olympians, such as Phelps, can get paid to swim and earn a living when others did not have that option. For example, Mark Spitz, another highly decorated swimmer, had to leave the sport of competitive swimming because he didn’t have a way to earn a living. He was done by the time he was 22.

Notwithstanding all the debate on this current topic, sometimes we run into similar problems trying to assess the numbers in the Bible. We read about the world being created in 7 days, Noah being shut up in his ark 7 days before the rain started, or any of the other occurrences of the number 7 in the Scripture. It has come to signify a time of completion. Every seven years, the ground was to lie fallow. Every 49 years, 7 x 7, there was to be a time of Jubilation when all the land reverted to its former owners and all debts were cancelled. So one can see how 7 could come to mean a time of completion. Only one thing wrong. The Bible never says that.

And how about the number 40? It rained for 40 days and nights, Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness, both David and Solomon ruled for 40 years and these facts, along with many others, have led people to believe that 40 is another number of completion, or perfection. In fact, this gives weight to the idea that Christ was 33 years old when he ascended, so it is thought that he will come back for another 7 years to make a total of 40 – the perfect reign of a king on earth. Again, only one problem. It doesn’t say that in the Bible.

Numerology is something that was practiced by several of the early church Fathers, such as Origen, but the practice has only led to confusion and is inconclusive at best. In fact, at the Council of Nicea, held in 325 A.D., people gathered to dispute, discuss and settle the issues of the deity of Jesus Christ once and for all. There was bitter opposition on the question and both sides claimed Origen as the architect of their position. And you know what? They were right… Origen flip-flopped around so much that he changed his mind and, in fact, had invented the strategy for both arguments. After all, he claimed, every verse in the Bible had a numerological significance. So much for that approach…

There is only one mathematical equation you ever have to worry about when it comes to Scripture. Simply stated, 1+1+1=1. That’s right. And in our human world, it doesn’t make sense to us, but it’s the truth. Because the Father, plus the Son, plus the Holy Spirit = God. Period… They are indivisible; you can’t have one without the others. It’s a package deal.

The verse tonight reinforces the idea of ONE. Paul tells us, in Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Get it? One… No more, no less.

My encouragement this evening to affirm that God wants you to live eternally with, through and in you. My prayer is that you will realize the wonderful gift of eternal life that is available to each of us. If you have already accepted this gift, then you’re on the bus forever. But if you are still thinking about it, please reach out and ask questions – learn and pray that God will enlighten you and that the Holy Spirit may indwell you for all the years of your life as you accept the opportunity to let Christ be the Lord of your life. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…


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