20 March 2016

Can the underdog win? NCAA and Easter.


It's that time of year in the US. They call it "March Madness" and it has to do with basketball. University basketball is thrilling, as thousands of young people stand and scream the full 60 minutes of action. This is finals b-ball, and the top 64 teams in the country vie for dominance, ending with the Final Four. Those teams will play in the finals on the first weekend of April in Houston, Texas. The tournament is a single-elimination affair with 16 teams in each of four divisions. The number one in each division plays the 16; 2 plays the 15; and so forth. Those rankings are decided by experts over the last few weeks of the regular season and finalised the Sunday before the tournament begins. It began this week.

Surprises are common as a team will get up over the predicted winner and the crowd will go wild. Such was the case yesterday and today as Yale beat Baylor, Stephen F Austin beat West Virginia, Hawaii beat California. And more are forthcoming.

Some outside the US may think of the Electoral process with primaries and caucuses as Madness. It certainly seems to be so titled.

And maybe a similarity is that underdogs may just win in one contest or another. I have an emotional investment in the basketball as my former uni, the University of Kansas, is ranked #1 and I hope for them to last through the Final Four and cut down the nets (gain the ultimate victory). I have nothing invested in the political process in the States, and it looks like the natural underdogs are long gone from the national contests.

But underdogs who win are great stories. In March Madness they are often titled the "Cinderella" team. That's a reference to the fairy tale of the hated step-sister who serves the others and has no chance in a million of gaining the prize, in her case, the prince. But as all good fairy tales, she does win the prince and they live happily ever after.

I think it's an American value, certainly a Jewish one, that we cheer for the underdog. We hope that little David beats the giant Goliath. We want the little Israel to dominate in the 1948 war against the entire Arab League. We want little Yale to beat big bad Baylor. There is a sense of hope for us, I suppose, when this happens. Not many of us are noble; fewer of great significance. We want hope for us to succeed in life and to at least have a good life. We may not want the ultimate victory of world dominance, but we want to be happy.

Maybe ours is the ultimate underdog story. When we see Hollywood celebrities who have everything end up with nothing, suiciding themselves, or leaving families destitute, what hope do we (really) have? When sports stars wind up with nothing, after having gained the world, what hope do we have?

The answer: The Ultimate Victor. Not in the NCAA men's basketball tournament (sometimes nicknamed "The Dance"). Not in the four golf majors. Not in the US presidential races. The Ultimate Victor was the ultimate underdog. Born in a little hamlet of a village on the back side of ancient Judea, Yeshua was a real nobody. Nothing of note about him. His parentage was from King David and before him the tribe of Judah, but that's about all he had as a claim to being a somebody. His adopting father was a carpenter, hardly a significant leader in the little community around the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was another village, far from the political capital of Jerusalem, with little influence. This Yeshua was raised with little hope of being a somebody, and at 30 he entered into the public sphere, with little chance of gaining popularity. He taught a handful of men; they wandered from village to city to hamlet and had a little following. At times hundreds, even thousands gathered to listen, and on a Sunday before Passover he had crowds thronging to see him. But days later, those same crowds were counting him less-than-human, and hoping to toss him aside, yelling "Crucify him!" to the Roman leadership who eventually did just that.

His crucifixion was insignificant as so many were already being killed in that same way, even a couple other criminals next to this Yeshua on that Friday morning. The sky turned dark, as if even heaven didn't notice, nor want to notice the scene. The Sabbath was coming, and most left as the ultimate underdog was laid to rest in a new grave.

Tears, sadness, weeping, malaise, disappointment abounded, as their hoped-for messiah lay dead, behind a sealed Roman grave.

Friday night. Saturday. Saturday night. Sunday morning.

As if out of nothing, the stone in front of the tomb was rolled back, the grave emptied and the underdog was risen. RISEN! He appeared to some ladies, then the 12, then to 500 after that death. What? This cannot be. But it was. #16 had beaten #1. Yeshua was risen from the dead. The Ultimate Victor had conquered death. Hosea the Jewish prophet said, "O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?" (13.14) That triumph over the last great enemy, death, was accomplished by God's noble Son, Yeshua, whom many call Jesus. That's the ultimate victory. Death could not hold him; He rose from the dead. And He lives forever to make intercession for us. He died and lives to bring us into relationship with the Father. To bring YOU into relationship with the Father. Say "Yes" to Him now. Believe in Yeshua and you will have eternal life. Your existence will end one day, but your life will live forever if you do.

John the apostle and friend of Yeshua said, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith." (1 John 5.4) He's the Ultimate Victor who brings us the ultimate victory. Eternal life with God. "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." (1 Cor 15.57)

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