I’m an avid fan of the University of Kentucky athletic programs. While I support all the teams of my beloved alma mater, my allegiances are most deeply tied to the football and men’s basketball teams (and yes, those are listed in order of importance to me). As much as I am pro-Wildcats, I am almost equally anti-Cardinals. In fact, one of the more mind-boggling things to me is when someone insists they cheer for both the Cats and the Cards. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be so! It’s UK or UofL. It’s Cats or Cards. It’s blue or red. It’s right or wrong, respectively. To be for one is to be against the other. When it comes to this rivalry, there is no room for neutral ground!
In the grand scheme of things, sports rivalries are trivial—all in good fun, as they say. But today’s text presents us with a rivalry that isn’t trivial at all. It’s a rivalry of epic and eternal proportions. It’s the rivalry between good and evil, between light and darkness, between God and Satan. To set the scene, Jesus delivers a man from physical and spiritual bondage and is immediately confronted by the Pharisees, who reject the notion that Jesus is operating with any sort of divine authority and power. Instead, they attribute his supernatural healing and power to works of evil. After breaking down the faulty logic of their accusation, Jesus lays before them an ultimatum: you’re either with me or you’re against me.
The point is clear: with Jesus, there is no neutral ground. To reject any part of Jesus—his commands, his teachings, his perfect life, his substitutionary death in our place for our sin—is to be against him. And while being against a sports team is mere fun and games (typed with one hand while throwing the “L’s down” hand gesture with the other), Scripture would testify with clarity, frequency, and urgency that we do not want to find ourselves pitted against Jesus, God incarnate on the day of judgment.
The Pharisees were put on notice, and so are we. We are for Jesus, or we are against him. There is no third option, no riding the fence, no room for indecision. In Jesus’ ultimatum, the words of Joshua reverberate powerfully onto the pages of the New Testament: “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).