It’s Not Looking Good, But It’s Not over Yet
“It’s not looking good, but it’s not over yet.”
Remember thinking this thought at two minutes left to go in the fourth quarter? You said to yourself, If they can make a three pointer and then force a turnover . . . . You might have had the same thought on an election night, as you kept watching the news show state after state turning the wrong color. You might have watched an intense movie and had the same thought: Five minutes to go in the movie. It’s not looking good. Half of the Fellowship is fighting really big orcs; the other half is hiding from the orcs. Not looking good, but the movie’s not over yet.
As you near the end of the Gospels, Team Jesus is down by double digits with not much time left. Candidate Jesus is losing state after state. And if it were a movie, it would have our hearts heaving and sinking, because it’s not looking good.
But there are glimmers of hope.
Yes, the soldiers storm the garden to arrest Jesus. But Peter has a sword and plenty of fight in his spirit. This doesn’t end up being the turnaround Peter was hoping for, but still—it’s not over yet.
True, Jesus is on trial. But Peter is waiting in the shadows, pretending to be someone else, seeking the moment to rescue Jesus. Three busybodies blow Peter’s cover. Not good. Still, it’s not over yet.
After all, the story so far has had God’s authorial signature all over it. This Jesus has healed sickness and crashed funerals and taught jaded people to hope again. It’s clear that God has been writing this story up to now. So we all know that—if this is God’s thing—God is not going to bring such a beautiful story to such a tragic ending. Something has to happen. It’s time for Rocky to start landing some counterpunches. It’s time for a game-changing interception.
Perhaps the turnaround will come during the trial. Jesus, after all, has never yet been bested in a debate. These “witnesses” can’t even get their accusations straight. And yet, the verdict is clumsily and groundlessly reached. He’s on His way to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
But wait. Pontius Pilate himself is unconvinced that Jesus has done anything wrong. Perhaps the turnaround will be the greatest of ironies: that a tyrant governor will get justice right, set religious leaders straight, and let Jesus go. Pilate fails to persuade them with words. Perhaps the flogging of Jesus will soften their murder-bent hearts. Perhaps the generous Passover tradition of releasing a prisoner will give Jesus a chance to escape the mob.
It’s not looking good. First nail. Second nail. Third nail. Hours pass. Spear thrusts into His side up into His heart. Blood and water flows. And that was the buzzer. There go the credits. The official concession speech. Jesus is dead.
But I thought it was God who was telling this story! Ah, but it was.
So [the soldiers] said to one another, “Let us not tear [the tunic], but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (John 19:24).
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst” (John 19:28).
For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).
Turns out there was no way that Jesus was going to be rescued, no matter how many glimmers of hope we thought we saw. His death was inevitable. It was going to happen. Why? Because the Scriptures had already said it was going to happen.
Roughly 700 years before Jesus, Isaiah had written about it: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). Roughly 1000 years before Jesus—and before the invention of crucifixion—David had written, “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:16-18). There was no way Jesus’ crucifixion wasn’t going to happen.
But it wasn’t just the Cross which was inevitable, was it?
It’s difficult to resist the conclusion that the poor suffering servant Isaiah wrote about was dead. He was “crushed” and “pierced” (Isaiah 53:5). He was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (53:7). He was “cut off out of the land of the living” (53:8). Isaiah even uses the words grave and death: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death” (53:9a).
And all that makes it surprising what happens next. Something happens after the buzzer. After watching the suffering servant pour himself out to death, God “shall prolong his days” (53:10). Come again?
It never mattered how much optimism we could manufacture. Jesus was going to die. We couldn’t stop the Cross. Fair enough. Yet just as assuredly, it didn’t matter how much hell would be unleashed on Jesus. Lashings in his back, thorns in his scalp, nails in his wrists, laughter in his ears, loneliness in his spirit, spear in his side. Didn’t matter. The Devil could not stop what was coming on Sunday.
Because the Scriptures had already said it was going to happen.
I can be a slow learner, and the disciples were too. Jesus had tried to predict and explain what was going to have to happen. Their responses were blank stares. “Okay, okay. I guess I’ll just have to explain it after the fact.”
That’s why on Sunday, “[Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’” (Luke 24:45-46a).
But notice that it doesn’t stop there. More is written. According to Jesus, more is inevitable:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46).
We are written into the story. We are the nations he talked about. And we have become the disciples who make disciples of other nations. True, as we carry out his mission, we find mockers in our midst, aches in our side, doubts in our minds, and heaviness in our souls. Doesn’t matter. The Devil cannot stop the Kingdom that is coming.
There may be days you tell yourself, “It’s not looking good.” But the final chapter of the story is already written. And Jesus wins.