The second season of Daiya no Ace (aka Ace of the Diamond) ended today. And this time, it’s really ending, at least for now, not just switching air dates like it did between the first and second seasons. It’s catching up with its source material, the manga, and it needs to take a break to let the manga get ahead again.
[I won’t give spoilers on the finale in this post, mostly because I was too busy writing this to watch it, but there are a couple spoilers for the past five episodes or so.]
I’ve said this before, but I love how Daiya no Ace handles its central baseball team, Seido. The upperclassmen (or senpai) leave a legacy of discipline and determination when they leave the club. And the underclassmen (or kohai) inherit their hope: make it to nationals and win.
This whole situation came to mind as I read Hebrews 12 last week. Christians may recognize this chapter best by its first verse:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1, NASB)
In this post, I’ll go through some of the main points of this chapter, using Daiya no Ace to illustrate them. Because like the characters in Daiya, Christians have a legacy of endurance—only ours goes back several thousand years, to Abel, and not just back to the foundation of a baseball club.
Some Daiya no Ace context for the uninitiated: The third-year (that is, senior) baseball club members retired from the team after the summer tournament so they could focus on college entrance exams. Since then, the first- and second-years have stepped up. They’re now in the Tokyo tournament finals. If they win this, they’re off to nationals. That alone would be enough pressure, but there’s more: their beloved Coach Kataoka is preparing to leave the team, and there’s already a new coach lined up to take his place. Kataoka is a vital part of Seido’s baseball club. He keeps the team motivated, disciplined, and eager to fight. Now he’s preparing to leave, and the students believe that if they win the tournament, he’ll stay on.
A cloud of witnesses
Up until now, the third years have provided examples and instruction to their underclassmen. You could even say they’ve given witness to the worth of persevering through training and difficult matches. Now, their time is over, and they witness the continuation of their team’s legacy through the first- and second-years.
Seido has a legacy of strength in baseball. So I can’t help but compare them to Church, which has a rich legacy of strength in faith, with a list of witnesses that goes back to thousands of years before Christ.
The first verse in Hebrews 12 points to Hebrews 11, which defines faith and lists men and women who lived and “gained approval” (or “obtained a testimony” of their righteousness) by faith. These Old Testament heroes would have been known at least as well by first-century Jews as by modern Christians. They endured pain and took apparently enormous risks because they had faith in God’s promises. These people are cited as examples of faith and used to encourage this letter’s audience to live similarly. These forefathers and -mothers saw some fruit of their faith during their lives, but they didn’t see the complete fulfillment:
“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39-40)
Yes, Abraham and others “gained God’s approval” and were “declared righteous,” but they didn’t see the details. They were still royally messed up throughout their lives, and while they repented, they knew they didn’t measure up, and they didn’t know how exactly God would take care of their sin problem. Their sacrifices under the Old Covenant weren’t a permanent solution. They knew that a Messiah (or in Greek, a Christ) would come, but God gave them news of the coming Christ only a bit at a time, over millennia, until Jesus finally came.
What does “made perfect” mean? This phrase comes up a lot in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews, and it’s important for understanding Chapter 12. The author often talks about the Old Covenant (that is, the one Moses mediated with the 10 Commandments and a zillion other laws for the Hebrew theocracy) as “imperfect.” The Old Covenant wasn’t ideal, but it was established by God… can we really say that it’s imperfect? Well, yes, on its own, because it’s incomplete. Kinda like how man wasn’t good enough until woman was created (and woman wouldn’t have been good enough without man). To be “made perfect” is to be “made complete.” And there’s no denying that the Old Testament heroes didn’t get to see the completion and fulfillment of their faith during their lifetimes.
We have an advantage Abraham, Sarah, Rahab, David, and the others didn’t: Jesus Christ has come to earth, God in Flesh, “the author [or leader] and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). He fulfills the Old Testament promises and practices, as earlier chapters in Hebrews explain more thoroughly.
That’s not to say that everything has come to fruition, though. If all of God’s promises were already fulfilled, we wouldn’t need faith.
And so we endure
The author of Hebrews uses running a race as a metaphor for living in faith—not only as individuals during our life spans, but as a body of believers. Paul used racing as a metaphor as well. These New Testament writers aren’t talking about sprints, either, though sprinters certainly must endure intense training themselves. It’s more like a marathon—or, I’d argue, a really long relay race.
Daiya no Ace characters have multiple sources of encouragement. First, there’s the legacy of their senpai’s hard work. They watched Kris, Tanba, Jun, and the others practice hard day after day. They took initiative outside of official practice—running, pitching, or swinging bats until they could do no more. When injury took Kris out of the lineup, he still worked tirelessly to support the team through teaching and research, all while continuing his own rehab and training. Other third-years never got to play in an official match, but they practiced hard anyway, in hopes that they’d one day play—or at the very least, be able to support the first string through their own hard work. The third-years retired without taking their team to nationals. But they retain faith in team Seido’s ability to make it to nationals. Their examples of endurance and hope, along with their instruction, has propelled the underclassmen forward.
Second, Seido’s current team looks to their current leaders: Coach Kataoka, whose own history gives an example to follow, and whose coaching they learn to trust without question; Miyuki, the new captain, who takes leadership in both defense (as catcher) and offense (as perhaps the most reliable batter on the team), even while injured; other second years and even first years who encourage one another in word and action. They have faith in their leaders and in each other’s skills and hard work. So they endure the discipline of tough training, and they persevere against imposing opponents, because they believe it will be worth it. And because if their leaders endured it, then they can, too. They’re not being asked to do anything their coach and captain have not endured themselves.
They have to give up much for their sport: other hobbies, unhealthy diets, even the homes they left to live and play at Seido. They also gave up the doubts that kept them from giving their all. We see this happen multiple times throughout the series. Their senpai had to do the same thing—they couldn’t press forward if they held onto doubts about themselves, their coach, or the value of what they did.
Similarly, Christians have leaders, both throughout history and in the Church today, who demonstrate endurance through discipline and persecution. We’re asked to give up our doubts, sins, safety, and comfort—if we hold onto these things, they will encumber us. That’s hard. We don’t run this race alone, and if we start to believe we do, it is easy to give up. Instead, Hebrews instructs us to run with our eyes on our leader:
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 12:2-3)
Christ leads through example. He endured a terrible death and hostility from the very sinners he came to save, but not without hope.
Hope in an unshakable kingdom
The Seido baseball club members endure in hope of winning a tournament and convincing their coach to stay. They believe that their work is worth it—even if they don’t win, they’ll persevere, believing it is worth it for themselves and for the future of the team. But what about us? Why do we endure? What do we have faith in?
There’s more in Hebrews 12 and 13 about discipline and endurance on a corporate level—because while while authors use races as examples, living is a team sport—but that would add another thousand words to this post. I have written a bit about discipline and sports anime before. So for now, I want to take a moment to look at what, exactly, we’re hoping for.
Jesus Christ knew the joy to come: his own glory, and reconciliation between God the Father and us. He died and rose again not only for his own glory, which he had a right to anyway and only gave up for our sake, but so that we could inherit his kingdom with him. He asks us to follow him in faith that it’s worth it and that he will win—in fact he has won against the sin and death that hold us captive. But he didn’t just come to save us from sin and its temporal and eternal consequences, but to eternal life with him. That includes an invitation to his kingdom.
This messed up, broken world isn’t our home. We’re only here temporarily, and that’s a good thing, because it will come to an end. Like the Old Testament Israelites in the desert, we have citizenship in a promised land. But instead of a corruptible, shakeable, conquerable stretch of land, we have a heavenly citizenship. This is what people of faith have longed for ever since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden: reconciliation with God and a place in his kingdom.
So we endure by faith, trusting in God to provide strength and to make good on his promises, even if we don’t see them completely fulfilled during our lives in this world. We remember those who have come before us, the “cloud of witnesses,” and are encouraged by their examples. We follow Jesus Christ, our leader and the fulfillment of our faith. Because we know that whatever we have to give up—physically, mentally, or otherwise—and whatever trials we endure, it’s worth it. Christ has secured our reward. We don’t have to earn it, since he already has. We just have to remember it, and live accordingly.