You’ve probably never heard the name Rollen Stewart, but if you watched virtually any significant sporting event in the 1980s, you inevitably saw the rainbow-wigged guy wearing a John 3:16 t-shirt.
Things are not working out well for him these days. He’s serving three life sentences in prison, actually. A few years ago, Monte Burke of Forbes detailed Stewart’s downward spiral:
“When the 1980s came to a close, he became more volatile, ramping up his antics. ‘He became convinced that God had given him a sign to use more negative tactics,’ says George Winter, who is working on a biography of Stewart and acts as his unofficial spokesman. In 1991, at the Masters, he blew an air horn as Jack Nicklaus lined up a putt, then detonated a stink bomb. Later that year he detonated four more stink bombs in Orange County, Calif.
“His personal life was a wreck as well. Stewart claimed he never made any money (his tickets to sporting events were believed to have been bought by sympathetic Christians). By the 1990s, he was homeless and living in his car. His wife and one-time signage partner had left him—she claimed he choked her when she didn’t hold her sign in the correct place during a game.
“Finally he went over the edge. In September of 1992, Rollen locked himself in a hotel room in a Los Angeles Hyatt and made threats to shoot at airplanes landing and taking off at nearby LAX Airport. He held a Hyatt maid hostage in his room. He plastered religious verses on the windows. After an eight-hour standoff, SWAT teams broke into his room and found a handgun, two ammunition clips and 47 live ammunition rounds.”
Though we cannot be sure Rollen Stewart fully grasped the passage of Scripture he shared with the world for more than a decade, we need to be sure we grasp it. Here are four unforgettable truths from John 3:16.
- Of all people, God loves you. When John says, “For God so loved the world,” he’s using the term “world” in a moral sense. It’s mind-blowing that God would set His affections on the very people who reject Him.
- God loved you in a specific way. ” … that He gave His one and only Son.” God’s love for you is no mere sentiment. I’ve heard this quote attributed to Flannery O’Connor (but I’ve not been able to verify it): “Sentimentality is to Christianity as pornography is to art.” His love is not just a feeling or phrase. Rather, His love for you is tangibly demonstrated in His placing His wrath you deserved on His own Son. God’s love may have many other expressions, but all are mere facets to the diamond of the incarnation of Jesus and His substitutionary death on your behalf.
- Faith is the link to this love. “… that whosoever believes in Him.” We must grasp and trust this love in order to benefit from it. Whether we believe it or not, it’s true. But if we are enjoy it, relish it, adore Him for it—then we must fully submit to it willingly.
- Condemnation is the result of unbelief. “… will not perish but have eternal life.” The only alternative to belief is unbelief. There is no spectrum of belief in God’s love. You do or you don’t. You’re in or you’re out. You take it or leave it. To believe in God’s love is to enjoy Him forever. To not believe is suffer forever.
How Rollen Stewart spends his earthly days is apparently a settled matter. His grasp of John 3:16? Who knows? Despite anything he’s done to get into prison, he can still believe in God’s great love for him through faith and have eternity to enjoy God. These four unforgettable truths are just as true for him as they are for you and me. The only question is if we choose to believe them.
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for nearly 15 years. They have four children: Trey (10), Jonathan (9), Abby (1), and Luke (born April 10). He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at Lifeway Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.