“He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” — Mark 9:31-32
I love the NCAA Basketball Tournament. In my opinion, it is the greatest sporting event we have. It’s hard to beat the euphoria of the first weekend of the tournament, when we get wall-to-wall basketball for four straight days. Most of us watch with faint hope that our bracket picks will survive through at least those first several days.
Undoubtedly, one of the best aspects of the tournament is the upsets. No other sporting event can capture the magic of the lower-seeded underdog knocking off the big power-conference school in the first round. It’s the classic David vs. Goliath story, and as sports fans, we tend to latch on to those stories each year.
The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, which meant each of the four regions now included 16 teams instead of 12. In just the second year of this new format, two No. 14 seeds defeated No. 3 seeds. But it wasn’t until 2018 — when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County knocked off the top overall seed, University of Virginia — that a No. 16 seed finally beat a No. 1 seed. Some teams had gotten close in previous years, but the prevailing thought was that a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed was something we’d likely never see. Now it’s been done twice, as Fairleigh Dickinson beat No. 1-seed Purdue this year.
Upsets are always a part of the tournament, but the last couple of years have been especially wild with lower-seeded teams not only winning but advancing far. In 2022, Saint Peter’s became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight, while Princeton advanced to this year’s Sweet 16 as a 15-seed, and Florida Atlantic, a No. 9 seed, reached the Final Four.
What we’ve seen in recent years from the NCAA Tournament is evidence that anything is possible — even the things we think aren’t. I think a lot of us, even after seeing a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed, weren’t certain we’d ever see it happen again. Instead, FDU pulled off what is mathematically one of — if not the — biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
In a way, it’s kind of fitting that the NCAA Tournament happens around Easter. If anyone has ever predicted a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed, they’d likely be met with a look of bewilderment. People would call them crazy. Imagine the look people must have given Jesus when He predicted that not only would He be crucified and buried, but on the third day He would raise Himself from the grave. Not only had that never happened, but even His disciples thought it was impossible.
When Jesus prophesied this to His disciples, “they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it” (Mark 9:32). Yet, He did exactly as He said. But when the group of women who discovered the empty tomb relayed the news to the disciples, they rejected it as “nonsense” (Luke 24:9-12). Later on, when the disciples alerted Thomas, he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24-25).
It’s amazing how, even with absolute proof of something, humans struggle to believe something happened or that it could happen again. Our propensity to doubt clouds our acceptance of truth and hinders our ability to trust the assurances someone provides us. As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this week, let us remember that God will follow through on His promises. We have seen it and have the assurance of it, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
What we’ve learned in recent years from the NCAA Tournament is that anyone can beat anyone, no matter how physically outmatched or undersized they may be. Even more, let us also remember that no opponent is too big for God. Not even death.
Jesus is our hope in our battles against sin and principalities. He has already done the impossible and defeated sin and death on our behalf. Those who have recognized the sacrifice He made on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, and have declared Him as their Savior, have already won the battle because Jesus completed the greatest upset victory in human history.
— Cole Claybourn
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