1989 was a year of freedom. The Polish people voted out communism, the Berlin Wall came down, Chinese students protested in Tiananmen Square, and Michael Keaton’s Batman liberated Gotham from Jack Nicholson’s Joker. While most of the headlines from the front page of 1989 talked of victory, a big defeat ran as the lead on the sports page.
In 1989 Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life. Though Major League Baseball did not have hard evidence at the time regarding what games Rose had wagered on, it was clear that he had a gambling problem, and it was strongly believed that he had bet on baseball games, maybe even games his Cincinnati Reds (the team he managed at the time) were playing in. Betting on baseball by someone inside the game is about the biggest “no-no” in the big leagues. Think about it, you can commit a felony and be an all star. You can be on steroids and set home run records. You can commit moral failure, and still have product endorsements. However, you bet on the game . . . and you will never see the clubhouse again.
Facing the prospects of public humiliation and suspension, Rose began negotiations with Bart Giamatti, the commissioner of baseball. Giamatti (and his right hand man, Faye Vincent) offered Rose a 10 year ban from baseball, if he would admit his guilt. Rose rejected the offer. Then they offered him 7 years. Again, Rose rejected . . . he refused to admit his guilt. Finally, Giamatti offered Rose a “life time ban,” but with the possibility for reinstatement after one year. This offer (though the most uncertain) also carried with it no mea culpa, so Rose signed on trusting in a handshake agreement with Giamatti that he would be reinstated one year later. This seemed like a good plan to Rose. 26 years later, Rose is still banned from baseball. What happened?
Nine days after signing the agreement with Rose, Giamatti died. With Giamatti’s death, Rose’s dream for reinstatement died as well. Faye Vincent would become the commissioner of baseball, and he did not share Giamatti’s quick timeline for reinstatement. As time has gone on, public sentiment has kept the tide against Rose’s return as commissioners continue to deny his appeal.
I go through this story today, because its antithesis reminds me of a great Christian truth found for us in 1 Peter 1:3-5. The New Testament speaks of the sinful condition that plagues all of humanity. Because we are all sinful, we all have an “eternal ban” from spending an eternity with God in heaven. Further, the New Testament tells us that we have no hope for ever negotiating reinstatement to the kingdom of God based on our good works or religious knowledge. This is terrible news. However, this is not all of the story. Though we cannot negotiate our way into heaven, God can give us access into fellowship with Him on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done for us. His life, death, and resurrection provide the only hope that mankind has for being back in the eternal game. If we place our faith in Him, He promises to reinstate us into fellowship with God . . . fellowship that was broken when Adam and Eve tasted the wrong fruit in the Garden. Therefore, we are asked to place all our faith in Him.
Now, if Jesus were like any other human, placing our faith in Him alone would be a risky proposition. As Pete Rose found out, even when someone promises to do something nice, they may not be able to follow through on that claim because of their own limitations (yes physical death is a limitation in this life ). 1 Peter 1:3-5, however, lets us know that placing our faith in Jesus does not carry with it the same set of risks. These verses say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” I believe these verses talk about the certainty of our hope in Christ. Our hope for reinstatement is certain because it is founded in the One who is alive! It is a living hope for our new life because He is alive and will never again experience death.
Giamatti’s death spelled Rose’s doom. Christ’s life promises our hope. Place your faith in Him and be certain of your salvation. He has broken down the wall of separation and ushered in our eternal freedom.
Join us at Wildwood Community Church on Sunday, June 7 as we unpack 1 Peter 1:1-12 in a deeper way as a part of week 1 of our “True Grace” Sermon series. Hope to see you there!
To access the entire “True Grace” study of 1 Peter, click here.