Until the movie “42” came out this year, many people could not tell you anything about Jackie Robinson.
Even many in my generation would probably have to admit, prior to the movie coming out, that “the name sounds familiar, but I can’t recall who he is or what he’s famous for.” However, I remember a time when everyone who wore a baseball uniform (from Little League to the Major League) knew the name Jackie Robinson.
In case you haven’t seen the movie, Robinson was the first African American to play major league baseball. However, his actions that day, April 15, 1947, when he played his first game, actually transcended the ball field. That day, as he walked onto the field to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he broke down a great barrier – the “color barrier” – that existed, not just in baseball, but in all sports. Prior to Robinson, no men of “color” were given the opportunity to play for a major league team. He not only broke the “color barrier,” but he also changed the course of our society.
However, it was not just by mere chance that Robinson was chosen to break that barrier. The general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a man named Branch Rickey, knew it would take someone special to be able to break that barrier. Rickey knew the hurdles that had to be cleared and the challenges that this person would have to face. He knew there would be many who would not readily accept it, and, in fact, would vehemently resist it. Rickey knew the man who broke down this barrier would face great verbal and even physical abuse – he knew there would be hatred and injustice. Rickey knew there would be mistreatment, and he would be shunned (even by his own teammates). He knew the man would be greeted with boos and vulgar insults from fans as he walked onto the field. He knew there would be bogus calls made by umpires. He knew the man would have to endure segregated living quarters, dining arrangements (he would not be permitted entrance to “white only” restaurants), and he knew the man would often be made to sit “at the back of the bus.”
Rickey knew Robinson was that man! He knew that if anyone could endure the trials of breaking down that barrier, it would be Robinson. Rickey knew Robinson’s background. Robinson had already broken down some barriers while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Robinson (after clearing some major hurdles of segregation) was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Armored Cavalry after completing officer candidate school at Fort Riley, Kan. But as his unit shipped to Europe, Robinson was unable to accompany them. He was held back for court-martial! The charge: refusing to take a seat at the back of a military transport bus.
Robinson, by enduring the racially motivated hardships in his military career, proved to Rickey that he would be able to withstand them in his baseball career. Because of Robinson’s determination, integrity and character, he broke barriers. He eventually gained acceptance. A lesser man might have folded under such pressure.
How many African Americans have benefited over the years – not just in baseball, but all sports – because of the barrier broken by Robinson! If he had given in to the pressure, who knows how long it would have taken for that barrier to come crashing down. Had he not brought down that barrier, many more would have been wrongly judged by the color of their skin instead of their ability to play the game!
There is another man in history that similarly had to break down a barrier. He, likewise, had to endure immense hatred, prejudice and oppression directed at him by the “class elite” of the day.
In Ephesians 2:13-14, we are told, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…”
Prior to Jesus coming to this earth and his death upon that cross, only the Jews were the people of the promise. Gentiles had no hope! In verse 12, the apostle Paul informed the Gentiles that before Christ they were “excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
Christ broke down that wall – that barrier that separated Jew and Gentile – by his blood that he shed upon the cross! Through Jesus, both Jew and Gentile now equally have access to God! In Galatians 3:28, the apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
No more barriers! That barrier was brought down by Christ!
Like Rickey’s choosing of Robinson, it was also not by mere chance that Jesus was chosen to bring down the barrier. It was God’s eternal purpose that this barrier would be brought down by his son, Jesus!
Ephesians 3:10-11 says: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Now that you know the Robinson story, as you watch your favorite team of any sport compete from now on, try to imagine that team competing without its many gifted black players. Then remember, it was made possible by one determined young man who sacrificed much for many.
Likewise, remember that you can be a “winner” of eternal salvation by the sacrifice made by Jesus upon that cross. We owe him a debt that we can never repay!