The month of April 1997 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game in the major leagues. It was an event so important that Major League Baseball has dedicated this entire season to Jackie Robinson, his accomplishments and his memory.
Even those who do not follow baseball are familiar with the name Jackie Robinson because his actions transcended the playing field. Being the first African American to play in the major leagues, he not only broke down the "color barrier" in baseball; for until he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers on that day in 1947, no player of color had been given the opportunity to play for a major league team; he also changed the course of society for the better.
It was not mere chance that Jackie was chosen to break that barrier. Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers, knew it would take a special person. He knew the abuse, hatred and injustice the one who broke that barrier would have to suffer. He knew Jackie was that special person. With integrity, character and determination, Jackie endured the ill-treatment -- the boos and insults from fans; the shunning by other players, even some of his own teammates; the unfair calls by umpires; the segregated living quarters and eating arrangements, etc. Through it all, he maintained a quiet dignity and played his heart out excelling on the field. Eventually, except for those hardened by prejudice, he gained acceptance. A lesser man might have folded under such tremendous strain and pressure-not Jackie Robinson.
Larry Doby was the next African American in the majors and first in the American League. He was the first to benefit from what Jackie had done.
Many more followed. If Jackie had been a lesser man, who knows how many men would have been denied the opportunity to rightfully take the field. Even though it would have been wrong, his failure might have caused men to continue to be judged by the color of their skin not by their ability to play the game.
A company that markets athletic shoes has an advertisement on television now in which many of the superstar athletes of today, both black and white, are saying, "Thank you Jackie Robinson." They, and society in general, owe a great debt to such a courageous man.
There is another who, very similarly, broke down a barrier. He too was a person of integrity, determination and commitment. He likewise quietly endured the hostility of those who opposed Him and His activities. He is Jesus Christ who has "broken down the middle wall of separation" (Eph. 2:14).
Until Jesus came to the earth and died on the cross, only the Jews were the people of promise. The apostle Paul said that before Christ the Gentiles were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:12–13). Christ broke down the "wall" that separated Jew and Gentile and "abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Eph. 2:15–16). Through Him both Jew and Gentile have access to the Father (Eph. 2:18) and the Gentiles are no longer "strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). In Him, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female" because all are "one in Christ" (Gal. 3:28). Those in Christ are "heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17).
A lesser person could not have done what He did. He was tempted in all points but was without sin (Heb. 4:15). By living sinlessly, He qualified to be the perfect sacrifice.
It was not mere chance that chose Him to be that sacrifice. It was the "eternal purpose" of God that it be "accomplished in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3:11). It was impossible for anyone else to do it for when Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that if it were possible to "let this cup pass" from Him (Matt. 26:39), the answer was the will of God had to be done.
This year I, along with many baseball fans, celebrate Jackie Robinson but every first day of the week, I, along with all other saints, celebrate Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who has made our salvation possible. We owe Him a debt we can never repay.