Now that the 2012 Olympics have officially opened in London, and the games begun, I thought I would share an Olympic memory of my own. During the 1984 summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, the torch bearer ran past our church on Sunday morning (see photo). Spectators lined the street on either side, including my wife and children. The tip of the flame looks like it's touching my son Brandon's stomach (kid in red trousers, blue shirt). My wife Cathy's behind him, me with my daughter Shannon on my shoulders. We anxiously awaited the police escort and motorcade, followed by the runner carrying the Olympic torch.
As we waited, our necks craning to see up the street, my daughter asked not once, but several times, "Is the flame coming soon?" To which I would reply, "Any minute now, sweetheart. Be patient." Finally we heard the distant shouts and siren squawks that let us know the torch-bearer was nearing our position. The shouts became progressively louder and louder. It's coming, the torch is coming! The excitement among the spectators was infectious. My kids were ecstatic. Finally we could see the flashing lights of the advance police escort. "Here it comes!" Cheers and applause went up on either side of the road as the torchbearer ran past. The pride and joy was apparent on the face of the chosen runner. What an honor for her.
As you may know the torch is carried from its place of origin in Olympia, Greece, where, according to Greek mythology, the god Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and carried it to the Olympic games. The modern tradition of carrying the torch from Greece to the venues of the Olympics actually began in the 1936 games, held in Berlin. The parallels to Christianity are worth noting.
On the day of Pentecost, soon after Jesus ascended into Heaven, He poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the gathering of believers at Jerusalem, and the Church was born. Tongues of holy fire alighted upon each head. Unlike the mythical Prometheus, Jesus didn't steal this fire from His Father; the Holy Spirit was His gift to every believer. Since that blessed day believers, one at at time, have "carried the torch" of the Gospel from Jerusalem, to all of Judea, to Samaria, and to the outermost parts of the earth. Finally, 2000 years later, the torch has been passed to you and me.
I became a Christian because of a faithful torchbearer, you became a Christian because of a faithful torchbearer, and so on down the long relay of believers passing the torch. Each Christian is a link in an unbroken chain of torchbearers that go all the way back to the lighting of the Flame at Pentecost. Think of it!
We may think at times that we are alone as we carry the torch for Jesus, sometimes down barren stretches of lonely road. But we're not. The writer to the Hebrews says that "we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1). All of heaven is watching us bear the torch––departed saints, angels, and most importantly...Jesus Himself! "I will never leave you nor forsake you," He promised. The witnesses are cheering us onward, upward. Can you hear their joyous voices? The sound of their applause? If only God would open our eyes, as He did King Jehoshaphat, and we could see the heavenly hosts that line the path of our spiritual journey.
Are you a torchbearer for Jesus? Are you full of the fire of the Holy Spirit? What an honor for each of us to carry the torch for King Jesus. More than just carrying the torch, we are privileged to pass the torch to our family and friends. Chin up, believer. Take long confident strides. Imagine the shouts and applause when you finally cross the finish line!