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It was nearly 10 years ago when an ESPN editor wrote this headline: “Tebow phenomenon gets eerie.”

The article spoke of how then-college football quarterback Tim Tebow wrote John 3:16 in a white inscription on his eye black on Jan. 8, 2009. There it was, for all the world to see — a verse that summarizes the Christian faith. Apparently there were complaints and the NCAA then banned players from writing in their eye black.

Exactly three years later, Jan. 8, 2012, Tebow had another 3:16 game and broke no rules. Tebow threw 316 yards, averaging 31.6 yards per completion; the second quarter interception came on third and 16; he finished with a time possession of 31.06; and the network’s overnight ratings were 31.6. Which prompted said ESPN editor to write, “Tebow phenomenon gets eerie.”

That’s not eerie. That’s God.

Here’s the correct headline: “Jesus said, ‘Tebow! Do it again!’”

It was widely reported that 90 million viewers Googled John 3:16 during the 2009 game. Tebow, the son of missionaries, proclaimed his faith. The verse appears only once in Scripture. Many of those 90 million were perhaps Christians, but none were Baptists. Every Baptist child cuts his or her teeth on John 3:16. Yet even Baptists might not remember where Jesus spoke the verse. Was it:

a) To a Pharisee, in a nighttime meeting;

b) The evening Jesus walks on water in Galilee;

c) To His disciples in Jerusalem at the Last Supper; or

d) At the moment Jesus was raised from His baptism.

Here’s a hint. It does happen at night, which narrows the choice to the first three. Still not sure? Take a guess.

Surprisingly, such a magnificent verse is given to a Jewish ruler who comes to Jesus for a secret meeting.

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.”

Jesus tells Nicodemus a number of things. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus replies, “How can these things be?”

Jesus says, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things ... No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

The Gospel of John has barely opened. It’s Chapter 3, and yet Jesus is telling Nicodemus that He must be crucified. That it is by His sacrificial death that all mankind can be saved.

Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You don’t have to know anything about sports to have heard of Tim Tebow. You don’t have to care about the current controversy brewing around his return to football, switching positions from quarterback to tight end. In fact, some would say it’s a lot of bru-ha-ha from those with positively nothing to say.

The proof is in the pudding — let him play and let’s see.

Whether Tim Tebow succeeds at catching passes, what will become clear is that Tebow will score ratings. Countless Christians, who wouldn’t know a tight end from a meatloaf pan, will be cheering him on, remembering that day in 2009 when he proclaimed his faith and 90 million people Googled John 3:16. Christians everywhere will recall the NCAA ban on such messages and then the day, exactly three years later, when Jesus said, “Hey, Tebow. Let’s do it again!”

Do not underestimate your God.

The Rev. R.A. Mathews is a faith columnist, seminary graduate doing leveling work toward a Ph.D. in Old Testament, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at Letters@RAMathews.com. Find more Essays on Faith at www.wvgazettemail.com/life/religion.

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