The worst, and best, pregame speech ever delivered.
We all know that moment’s coming — that moment in the melodramatic sports drama where the overmatched coach gives his overwhelmed players a much needed shot in the arm and morale booster with a rousing, motivational speech. It’s euphoric, the players are ecstatic, and it seems as though victory is all but guaranteed. But the elation is soon met with reality and all the courage that was mustered by the coach’s words is quickly confronted with the cold truth that they’re the underdog and they’re woefully overmatched. The pregame or halftime speech has almost become a movie platitude, a sports film cliché, filled with pithy quotes and enthusiastic candor. Not many films have much novelty to add in scenes like these. But there’s no questioning their utility.
There’s something about that scene — that moment when all hope appears gone and defeat is knocking on the door. The players look lost, outmatched, and out of their league. They look to their coach, their leader, their general to remind them of how they got here in the first place. Moments like these and similar ones are riddled throughout movies, sure — but they’ve also become part of our lives. We live for these moments; we all long to achieve something great, something memorable. I recall one of the more memorable such scenes from 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. This poignant speech comes from Will Smith’s character who just can’t seem to get ahead in life. Here, he’s speaking to his son (both in reality and in the film):
Don’t ever let somebody tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream? You got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. You want something? Go get it! Period!
Preaching stuff like that to ourselves would certainly serve to motivate us to greater and greater heights of accomplishment and self-improvement. No doubt. But what if I told you that the worst pregame speech ever delivered was spoken by none other than Jesus Christ. Huh?!
It’s true. Matthew 10 is essentially Jesus’s pregame talk before his guys (the disciples, see Matt. 10:2–5) go out and do their thing (preach the gospel) — and it’s got to be one of the worst, most depressing “motivational” speeches ever given. Just read Matthew 10:16–25, and look at what was predicted to happen to these disciples! They’d be flogged, betrayed, reviled, hated, persecuted, even executed — all for their witness and testimony for Christ. What’s motivating about that? What’d make them engage in something like this? Why even turn to Christianity if this is what’s promised to its followers?
Christ essentially declares, “Guess what guys, you’re going to be scourged, you’re going to be judged and tried, you’re going to be rejected and ridiculed, you’re going to be hated, you might even die; but yeah, let’s go preach!” What would make anyone, let alone these disciples, want to pursue Christ if this is what they’re in for? Because, if you remember, Paul reiterates the same notion, that believers are “destined” for distress and affliction (1 Thess. 3:1–3). So what’s the attraction, then, of Christianity? What’d make us determine that the present, earthly sufferings are worth enduring for the sake of God?
Yours, mine, and ours: the reason not to fear.
Our encouragement, to that end, comes from the lips of Christ, as he further declares in that same chapter that he sees and he knows! Jesus promises, “I am yours.” He reminds his disciples that they’re not going about this mission alone. Note the repetition of “no fear” or “fear not” (Matt. 10:26, 28, 31). God was going with them, therefore, the apostles’ fear was unfounded.
Christ’s disciples could be as bold and courageous as lions with their message precisely because it wasn’t their message! They were vessels and voices of God, proclaiming his good news. “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matt. 10:20). They weren’t stepping out on this endeavor on their own but with God’s commissioning — “Behold, I am sending you . . .” (Matt. 10:16). He was with them. Their message would be viewed as insane, absurd, and foolish, totally against the philosophy of the world (Acts 17:6). But living for the gospel of God inherently means being at odds with the world — it’s the natural result of being in allegiance with Christ. “With his or her commitment to follow Christ faithfully,” Thomas Constable writes, “the Christian sets the course of his or her life directly opposite to the course of the world system. Confrontation and conflict become inevitable.”
Don’t be ashamed or astonished when affliction and adversity arise in your life. Instead, hold fast to the truth of the gospel and the ever-sure grace of Christ! “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:8–9; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18–25).
You are mine.
But not only is he yours, you are his! Christ further encourages and invigorates his apostles by reminding them that they are his (Matt. 10:26–32). “Don’t fear,” Jesus says, “for ‘you are of more value than many sparrows’ — you are Mine!” That assurance is enough to lift any spirit that’s cast down or dispirited. The reminder in those verses, though, is of God’s absolute omnipotence in the minuscule happenings of life. Christ affirms that since the Father is eternally sovereign even in the mundane and mediocre events that he’ll surely watch over and care for his sons and daughters in their mission for the gospel. As Steve Brown has said, “God is involved in bald heads and dead sparrows and the eternal verities of the Christian faith.” Every part of your life is seen and known of God! He knows how many hairs you’ve lost yesterday, today, and how many you’ll lose tomorrow — the point being, God’s intimately aware of his children!
Your life isn’t rule by fate — it’s ruled and carried and defined by God’s everlasting decree of love (the gospel) and covenant of grace (the cross), which are seen throughout our whole lives. The mayhem, the mediocre, and the mundane all teach us great truths of God’s divine glory and grace.
Our sufferings and afflictions are the perfect stage for the grace of God to get all the attention, praise, glory, and honor. Nowhere else but in the gospel are we told to rejoice and embrace suffering (James 1:2–4). You see, the remarkable upside-down-ness of the gospel is that our witness, our testimony to the world isn’t our “put-together-ness” — it’s not our competence, ability, goodness, or strength. No, your witness is your willingness to admit that you’re weak and broken and incompetent — that’s what makes you strong (2 Cor. 12:9–10). Your greatest witness to the world is your confession because that’s where Jesus is. Christ is most keenly found amongst affliction, suffering, and weakness. “Binding up wounds is his office.”1 Empowering, enlivening, emboldening the desperate is Jesus’s mission (Luke 4:18–19).
God will never abandon his grip of you; he will never, ever let you go (John 10:28). You can hold fast to Christ amidst intense suffering and persecution precisely because he’s holding on to you! (Heb. 3:6; 4:14; 10:23). Christ is with you, Christ is for you, always and forever.
Samuel Rutherford, Christ and His Cross: Selections from Rutherford’s Letters, edited by Lucy Soulsby (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1902), 85.