The Beautiful Glory in the Beautiful Game

How the greatest sporting event gave us one of the greatest matches of all time and the beautiful game pointed to something more beautiful than itself.

With over 110 million viewers, India had one of the highest digital audiences for the FIFA World Cup final between France and Argentina.

Sometimes a match does not live up to its billing. But this one exceeded all expectations. It was a beautiful game—entertaining, pulsating, and nerve-wracking.

Indian cricket fans can resonate with the widespread longing for Messi to finish his career with a world cup victory.

We remember how much we wanted Sachin Tendulkar to win the cricket world cup before he finished his career. So we can easily share in the joy of Argentina.

More than a football match, it was embedded with inspiring, heart-warming storylines that point to a greater story than football and a more satisfying victory than a final.

Is Everything Sad Going to Come Untrue?

The Disappointment Was Deep

The end of the 2014 World Cup final gave the world an iconic, evocative picture of Lionel Messi gazing at the world cup trophy before he passes it by.

On receiving the award for the best player, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said, “Messi was talking to himself. He said to himself over and over again: ‘The best but not the champion.’”

It is a heart-rending picture of a longing that goes unfulfilled. Hope deferred truly makes the heart sick (Prov. 13:12).

The end of the 2022 World Cup final gave the world a beautiful picture of Lionel Messi kissing the trophy, knowing he has finally won it.

Within 18 hours of him uploading it, the picture became the most-liked post on Instagram by a celebrity.

It is a soul-satisfying picture of how a desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Prov. 13:12).

In Dubai, a 3-D Adidas billboard shows present-day Messi carrying his younger self on his shoulders in victory.

Similarly, an internet meme shows present-day Messi handing over the trophy to a young Messi.

Both images conspire together as if to say, “What happened today can redeem what happened yesterday.”

“Lionel Messi’s day of destiny is a rare shot at World Cup final redemption,” read a headline before the final match.

The same thing will not make Messi feel the same way anymore. A new thing has happened that rewrites the past, reframes the story, and turns sorrow into joy.

Sporting redemption is rare. But biblical redemption is certain.

The Fairytale Ending is True

Messi’s redemptive joy points to the hope of the Christian life—in this life, and the life to come (Rom. 8:28, 1 Pet. 5:10).

So many of the crowns we seek in this world will pass us by. Many Christians can live a lifetime and may not be healed, get rich, become famous, get married, bear children, or win a world cup.

In this world, we will have trouble. But if Christ has overcome the world, we can take heart because the one who perseveres will receive a crown of life (John 16:33, James. 1:12).

The healing of Messi’s football wounds in a fairy tale ending is an arrow that points to our hope in Christ and confirms there is truth at the heart of every fairy tale.

One day there will truly be no more pain, no more death, or pain, or mourning. On that day he will wipe away all our tears and we will kiss the king who will heal our hearts, satisfy our souls, and redeem our stories.

Everything sad will certainly come untrue.

Perseverance is Powerful

The two best players on the pitch—Messi and Mbappe—revealed a mental fortitude of platinum strength. In the musician Sia’s words, they were titanium.

They faced the pressure and played with pleasure. Neither gave into the intensity of the moment but rather thrived on it. It was a masterclass of high performance under intense pressure.

Messi’s redemptive joy points to the hope of the Christian life—in this life, and the life to come.

In the Christian life, if you want something as beautiful as a diamond, you have to embrace something as intense as pressure.

I am not the first to draw a parallel between athletic discipline and spiritual flourishing.

The apostle Paul pointed to the discipline of athletes as an education for Christian perseverance under pressure.

They do it for a glory that lasts for a moment. We do it for a crown that lasts forever (1 Cor. 9:25).

Whatever pressure you are facing today, press on! Persevere, endure, push, and keep on keeping on.

Jesus is the prize (and the power) for our perseverance. No matter what you stand to lose, the prize is worth the price.

Real Victory is Representative Victory

Messi celebrated victory with his mother, his wife, his sons, and even his friend Sergio Aguero.

In his victory, they felt victorious. In the team’s victory, the nation is victorious.

Why does Messi’s victory feel like victory for his fans? On the contrary, why does Mbappe’s defeat feel like defeat for his supporters?

What is this mysterious personal joy we receive because of what someone else has achieved?

Football gives us a taste of representative victory.

Though eleven players are on the pitch, they are playing on your behalf. They are your representatives, your substitutes. You are “in” them.

The beautiful game points beautifully to Christ, our perfect and victorious representative.

On the cross, when Jesus cried out “It is finished” it was a cry of victory, not much different from Argentinian shouts of joy when the final whistle was blown and victory was sealed (John 19:30).

The beautiful game points beautifully to Christ, our perfect and victorious representative.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Heb. 12:2).

All his labour accomplished its goal of securing our salvation and he came out victorious over sin, death, and evil.

The crown of thorns became the victor’s crown.

If you are “in Christ,” his victory is your victory and it is sealed forevermore (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

All that he has earned is yours to enjoy. Everything that belongs to him is yours eternally. We freely receive what he has firmly achieved.

Rejoice deeply in this victory, more than anything else, because it is truly finished.

Every Good and Perfect Gift is From Above

On winning the world cup, Messi thanked God in simple and sublime terms, saying, “I knew God would bring this gift to me.”

How telling that the one who worked the hardest to achieve victory sees it as something he received as a gift.

The true Christian sees everything as a gift and lives under the power of gratitude.

After watching a match like that, there is so much for which we can be thankful, starting with football and ending with Christ.

My father told me stories of Pele and Maradonna. What a privilege that we will get to tell our children stories of Messi, Ronaldo, and Mbappe.

Though the world may debate who is the G.O.A.T., let us be thankful that we lived to witness so many great players in one generation. It is a gift.

What we witnessed in the final was a foretaste of eternity.

In Christ’s new creation, people from every tribe and every nation will bring their glory as an offering to Jesus (Rev. 21:26).

How thrilling to know the beautiful game will be played on the streets of gold.

Through our beautiful Saviour, we will enjoy the beautiful game in a more glorious way through all eternity. It is one of his many thousands of gifts of grace.

Ultimately, all our earthly gifts point to the great gift of Christ himself. Every little joy deepens our ultimate joy. Nothing we strive to achieve can compare to what we freely receive in Christ.

The greatest sporting event delivered one of the greatest football matches of all time. But the beautiful game became more beautiful in how it pointed to something more glorious than itself.

The scenes of celebration in Argentina today are visible precursors to the unimaginable celebration at the coronation of Christ (John 16:22, Phil. 2:10-11).

What a beautiful game. What a beautiful Saviour.