In 1916, a college football game between tiny Cumberland College (located in Lebanon, Tennessee) and Georgia Tech resulted in the most lopsided score in college football history. Georgia Tech won the game 222 – 0. That is not a typo. Two-hundred and twenty-two to nothing. There’s more to the story though.
You see, just prior to the beginning of the 1916 season, Cumberland College discontinued its football program. However, just as colleges and universities still do today, Cumberland had signed an agreement to play Georgia Tech a few years prior to the 1916 season. But Georgia Tech’s athletic director and head coach John Heisman (yes, THAT John Heisman as in….Heisman Trophy), would not allow Cumberland to cancel its game, threatening a lawsuit if they did, even though the football team had been disbanded and the coaching staff had dispersed.
Heisman not only coached Georgia Tech’s football team, he was also the baseball coach and it’s generally believed that Heisman wanted to pay Cumberland back for a 22 – 0 defeat that Georgia Tech’s baseball team had suffered at the hands of the Cumberland College baseball team the year before. Heisman, along with several sports writers, accused Cumberland of using professional baseball players as ringers and he was eager to settle the score. He even offered to pay all the expenses of the Cumberland players out of his own pocket. In that day and time, even large colleges operated on a shoe string budget and could ill afford the expenses associated with a lawsuit. A lawsuit would have certainly forced a small school like Cumberland to close its doors. So rather than face off against Georgia Tech in a court of law, one of the students was persuaded by Cumberland administrators to put together a team and head off to Atlanta and face Georgia Tech on the football field.
And so this student, a young man by the name of George E. Allen (no relation to the NFL coach George Allen of later years), put together a team of scrubs who had absolutely no experience playing, or knowledge of, the game of football whatsoever. All told, Allen, who was both player and coach, was only able to round up 14 men, most of whom were members of his fraternity. That same Georgia Tech team would go on to win the national championship the following year, so it’s not difficult to imagine how one sided the game was.
What the Cumberland students did might seem insane to us; they committed themselves to something that was completely hopeless. They didn’t stand a chance and they knew it going in. It might seem insane and we might think we’d never make a commitment to a hopeless cause. But here’s the reality: People do it every day.
In Isaiah chapter 55, God poses this question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy?” This doesn’t mean that God is saying that we should only spend money on the most basic necessities. Within the context of Isaiah 55, it’s a question that asks why we pursue things that offer no hope, no hope for an empty soul, no hope for redemption, no hope for reconciliation with God. There are things that matter in this world, and things that don’t. Why waste time and energy on the things that don’t matter? That’s what God is really asking.
Centuries before Isaiah lived, Solomon came to realize that the pursuit of anything not done for the glory of God is meaningless and he summed it all up in Ecclesiastes: If we are living apart from God, nothing we do on this earth matters, regardless of what we do or how much we have. Apart from God, all earthly pursuits are but hopeless causes.
Think about it like this: If you were stuck in a dead end job with no hope for a raise or promotion, if there was never a chance for any sort of advancement, you’d look for another job. No one would deliberately remain in a hopeless situation if they had to the power to do something about it. But here’s something else to think about. How many people in the world today don’t realize they are in a hopeless situation? We might be tempted to think that all of this only applies to those who are neck deep in sinful living. And that is true. If they do not turn away from their sin, they are without hope. They will be separated from God for all eternity. But just as hopeless are all the good and decent people who live good lives, who go to work and pay their taxes, who teach their kids right from wrong, who treat their mates with love and respect, but yet they’ve failed to do the one thing that matters most; they have not accepted Jesus Christ. No matter how good and moral and decent they are, if they willfully turn away from Christ, they are as hopelessly lost as the worst sinners we can imagine. As Solomon pointed out, all that they do is meaningless.
That’s not what the world wants to hear, but it is what the world needs to hear. People need to hear that a life without God is a life without hope. They may not like it, but they need to hear the truth. And they need to hear the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.
In John 5 verse 24, Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. To turn from death to life, from condemnation to salvation, that is the message of hope. Only Jesus can offer that. He takes away hopelessness, and replaces it with hope!
In the battle between the flesh and the spirit, we ask Jesus to step into the gap between the flesh and the spirit so the spirit of God within us may prevail.