A funny thing happens in a city when one of its sports teams reaches the playoffs or finals.
Suddenly, everyone becomes a fan.
This is especially true if that team has suffered a trophy or title drought for a considerable length of time, perhaps decades.
The team’s fortunes become a topic of conversation everywhere in town. People talk about their team’s success while at work, in stores, or on transit. They speak with authority about the merits of certain players, or even about specific shots in particular games.
On any given day, people in town know exactly where their team stands, and how many games they need to win to achieve the championship title for that year.
My hometown of Toronto experienced this in 2019 when the Raptors won their first NBA title in the franchise’s history. Their victory was celebrated with a massive parade downtown, attended by millions.
I had friends who gushed about the Raptors’ success, then grinned sheepishly and admitted, “And I don’t even like basketball!”
Everyone loves a winner, don’t they?
But what happens when your team doesn’t produce the victory everyone is hoping for?
Jesus could tell us a thing or two about that.
Ancient Israel had been suffering under its Roman occupiers for years. They longed for a hero, someone to overthrow the foreigners who’d been subjugating them.
Along comes Jesus. There’s clearly something special about Him. People flock to hear His teachings. He produces astounding miracles, even raising people from the dead.
He looked like a winner, like He might be the one to fulfill the promise of old that Israel had been hoping for: their long-awaited King and Messiah.
During the lead-up to one particular Passover, everyone jumped on Jesus’ bandwagon. They hailed Him as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey:
“A massive crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed were shouting:
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Hosanna in the highest!’ ” (Matthew 21:8-9)
Everyone in town was talking about Him. You couldn’t ignore the chatter about Jesus in the streets, the marketplaces, and the synagogues.
“When Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’
The crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’ ”
No doubt the anticipation was high among the people. They expected a victory party any day now. Jesus would vanquish their Roman overlords, and the whole city would explode in joy and triumph!
But inexplicably, the winning streak Jesus had been on ground to a halt. He was arrested and dragged before the authorities.
Jesus seemingly turned from winner to loser in a flash. Just as suddenly, his “fans” vanished. The fickle crowds turned on Him: they went from saying “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” Most of His disciples crept back into the woodwork.
And then, instead of fighting back to a come-from-behind victory, He allowed Himself to be crucified.
It looked like Jesus had forfeited the final game in the playoffs.
Most of the people wanted nothing to do with Him now. They’d only backed Him when it looked like He’d win the only contest they really cared about: the battle against the Romans.
But Jesus had in mind a much bigger victory.
The “championship” He was fighting was over death and sin. And that’s a battle He won decisively, for all time.
Jesus was indeed the people’s hero, their Messiah, their King. But they couldn’t see that at the time: they were looking for a different sort of “win.”
They didn’t realize that He’d just won the greatest victory of them all!
© 2021 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.