Every story is different and unique, but they all follow the same basic formula. Those of you who have taken creative writing classes or even a basic English class may remember it, but for those who don’t, let’s have a refresher:
- Inciting Incident – This is where the story starts. You have a character, you have a setting, and–before the story can get boring–you throw in some kind of shock, something that will change our hero’s life forever. (E.g., Luke Skywalker meeting R2-D2 and hearing Princess Leia’s message.)
- Embracing Destiny – Maybe the hero has been fighting it, but this is the part of the story where he really embraces who he is and what he’s destined to be. He sets off on the quest to kill the dragon with his trusty band of knights by his side!
- Rising Action – The middle part of the story, where the stakes get higher, the villains get crueler, and our hero is constantly told he should turn back, that it’s too dangerous, that he’ll never back. Of course, he doesn’t turn back (he’s the hero, after all), but he’s sure considering it right about now. I mean, have you seen the size of that mountain?
- The Darkest Moment – This is when everything seems hopeless. The hero is stripped of his power, and the villain has taken away everything he loves. This is the darkest hour. This is the point where the reader or viewer crawls to the edge of their seats. “He has to make it,” they mutter. “He’s the good guy! He needs to win!” No, the final battle has not even begun yet. The climax is not here. But at this point, we truly believe that the hero cannot win in the epic final fight. He’s lost it all. How could he possibly win now?
- The Climax – Possibly the most famous plot point in story. The climax is what everything has been leading up to it’s the moment everyone’s been holding their breath for. And you know that we’re all going to rise up from our seats and cheer when the hero triumphs despite the troubles and sorrows he’s faced. Good defeats evil, and all is right in the world.
- The Denouement – The hero is now a changed man. We recognize all the lessons he’s taught us as we turn the final page, as the credits roll, as the curtain closes. The denouement is closure, though the crafty author may sneak in a final iota of suspense. Right as you thought you could breath a sigh of relief, you learn that the story’s not over yet for our beloved hero–and somehow that makes you love him all the more.
There are more parts to a story, more details that I could go into, but I won’t do that here. The reason I explained the structure of a story to you was to make a point:
Many people think the cross is the climax of Jesus’ story. This is what it’s all been leading up to, after all. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The cross is the final epic battle, right? It’s our moment of victory!
However, I would argue that the cross is not in fact the climax, but the darkest moment. It’s the beginning of the climax, but hardly the end. On the cross, Good did not triumph over Evil. On the contrary, Evil won!
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
– Matthew 27:45-46
God left Himself. Yikes. That’s got to be some pretty heavy stuff going on up on that cross.
The cross was a horrible execution device, used for the worst criminals. Essentially, you died from suffocation, which is not a fun way to go. On top of that, people walked under Jesus and mocked Him. He’d already been whipped, spit on, ridiculed, and beaten by the guards. They twisted a crown of thorns into His scalp and made a sign reading “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The same people who had celebrated His entry into Jerusalem just a week earlier now jeered at Him. That hardly seems like a triumph over evil.
Don’t get me wrong: The cross is essential to our faith. On it, Jesus took all our sins upon Himself, so that we wouldn’t have to die for them. Jesus was the once-and-for-all sacrifice, the only One who could pay our eternal debt for sin. If He hadn’t died in our place, well, we’d all be screwed and doomed to die on our own. The cross is needed.
But it’s still not enough.
Evil killed Good. Satan won. Jesus died. The great Savior of the universe now lay in a grave, dead. Completely dead. This is where our climax begins.
We may never know what happened during those three days after the cross, but it couldn’t have been pretty. Jesus fought with death. He struggled with it. He looked it right in the face. This is where our great climax arrives. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The Hero and the Villain, locked in a battle that will determine the destiny of the universe.
The cross was defeat. The disciples ran away and hid. Everyone left Jesus. They mocked and beat Him. He died. No breath, no pulse. Dead. Death won!
And yet, in that victory, death sealed its defeat.
Jesus succumbed to death, but then He overcame it! He didn’t stop after the cross. The battle–the biggest battle–was still raging in a realm we’ll never know or understand.
Death won on the cross, but Jesus won in the grave. He rose from the dead to prove His power. If He was still dead today, none of us would believe. He’d be another dead messiah that claimed he could save the people, but in the end was crushed by leaders who knew better.
Nope. Jesus showed His power as the Son of God by defeating death–that big, evil, dark terror we all fear. As Paul put it:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . . And if Christ had not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are losst. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
– 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19
The cross was the darkest moment. The Hero’s friends had abandoned Him. The villains had Him in their grasp. They striped away everything He had. They beat Him, mocked Him, and left Him to die. He took on all our sin and shame to the point where His own Father had to look away.
It was the darkest moment in all of history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died. Death defeated Him.
But the climax had only begun. Every climax must end in a victory, and Jesus’ victory is the resurrection. No, death had not defeated Him! They fought for a whole three days, but in the end, Jesus emerged victorious.
The cross was proof of Jesus’ love.
The empty tomb was proof of His power.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is crucial to our faith, but if He hadn’t risen again, we wouldn’t be able to have faith at all. If He hadn’t risen, He was only a mortal man–He had no power to save. The cross was Him waging war against death. He challenged death and won.
The cross is not the climax of the story of Jesus. It’s the darkest moment; it’s defeat.
Our victory comes through the resurrection. Our debt for sin is death. We deserve death. Jesus willingly took on death for us. His actions on the cross are what save us. But if He had only died, then He didn’t really do anything. Our faith is pointless.
As we head into this Passion Week, don’t forget that the cross is not the end of the story. Jesus put Himself through the darkest moment humanity has ever seen in order that we may live. His ultimate battle with death brought us life. His power, His triumph, are the reason we can so boldly proclaim His name today. Praise God!
What about the denouement? Does the story of Jesus have one of those? He rose from the grave, but then what? Do we get some sort of closure? Some kind of prodding that makes us want to know more? Well . . .
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20