In the darkest hour, Jesus looked like a failed hero. But the final chapter provides a very different picture.
27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
You’ve probably heard the quote (also a song line), “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” While not strictly true, it captures a key element of epic stories, which is that things get pretty tough for the hero just before he or she triumphs. In the story, we know what’s coming, though – the hero will get through the tough times and win.
In life, it’s not always like that. Sometimes the protagonist fails. Success isn’t guaranteed. Maybe those around the down-and-out hero walk away, disappointed and ashamed and looking for a better option.
In this passage, Jesus is down and out. It’s the darkest hour. His friends have fled. The only thing worse than the vicious mockery is the humiliating death that will follow. Game over, loser. Appearances can be deceiving, though. Dawn came, just as Jesus said it would. He won a glorious victory over death. He won eternal glory, and is seated at the right hand of God. He is ruler of all.
What about today? God is sometimes mocked as a fictional king that human wisdom has killed. The “God is dead” sentiment of Nietzsche, and those following him, echoes Matthew’s account here. Sometimes life feels pretty dark to us and perhaps we wonder if we are following a loser.
We need to zoom out from the tight focus of those dark moments and look at the full story. Jesus’ unexpected victory, from darkest hour to dawn, is the real-life epic story of which all other fictional tales are a pale reflection. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t unexpected. Jesus was never the loser; God was always in control; Jesus knew the victory was his: “I lay down my life—only to take it up again” (John 10:17b). He shares that victory, and the glory he won, with us.
Let’s make sure we follow Jesus’ real-life epic to the end – not getting fixated on those little shadows that remain for a little while, but celebrating the dawn that has already come.
Head: What things help you remember Jesus’ ultimate victory?
Heart: What are the times when Jesus seems like a loser to you? How will you remind yourself otherwise at these times?
Hands: Remind a brother or sister of the end of the story: that Jesus has conquered sin and death for all time.
Prayer: Our Father, please help me to look up to you when I’m tempted to see Jesus as a failure. I praise you that he is the greatest hero of all time, the one of which all others are a pale shadow. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A song to listen to: Christ is Risen