Followers of Jesus Christ, more than any other tribe, have reason not to despair. On the night of the Lord’s impending departure, however, despair was in the air.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace,” said Jesus in the Upper Room. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Have peace. Take heart. Amid tribulation. Don’t fear or despair. Why? Because the Savior has overcome the world. But how?
In the Garden, anguished drops of blood fell to the ground from Jesus’ face. He endured betrayal, arrest, and desertion. Before the Sanhedrin, he withstood mockery and slaps in the face from those who ought to have worshiped him. He was silent before the self-indulgent foolishness of Herod Antipas. Before Pilate, he allowed the unjust sentence of death to remain. With the Roman soldiers, he absorbed the crown of thorns, the whipping, the loss of his clothing. On the Cross he endured exposure before the vulgar masses, the agony of nails through his wrists and feet, the torture of asphyxiation, the catcalls. In his soul he experienced the shock of his Father’s withdrawal and wrath.
That doesn’t seem like the kind of overcoming that will enable us to take heart, but it is. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Death, it turns out, is not the end; it is the entrance to life, the passageway in which the chains of sin, fear, and despair are shattered. We must die so that we may live.
Christ died, paying the penalty for our sins, and was raised three days later, demonstrating our forgiveness with God. Now united to Christ by faith, we too are called to die to all that enslaves us, all that tempts us to despair. The stone that was rolled away from the tomb has become the entrance to a new life for believers, a journey in which the forces of fear, decay, and despair can never have the last word. We too, because of Christ, are overcomers in this tribulation-filled world … even as we await the next one.
No wonder, then, that the message entrusted to the Church is called gospel—literally, good news. The Church has been given the good news that liberates men and women from despair … providing daily freedom and eternal hope, no matter the fear du jour.
It is a joyful task, but it can be a difficult one as well. The same forces that drive our neighbors to despair can block our best efforts to share this good news: issues of ignorance, access, economic and political barriers, persecution, cultural clashes, and more. We live in a tribulation-filled world that sometimes chooses despair over good news.
Things may seem to be falling apart now; the center may indeed be crumbling. Yet because Christ has overcome, we can take heart. We can also take his good news to the ends of the earth with confidence, knowing that despair can never have the final word.