I try not to start these out with a “once upon a time” vibe, but it is kind of hard to take a look back at Rayman and his slow drift from franchise star to a homeless mascot without at least recognizing “how it started” vs. “how it’s going”. There was a period of time that Rayman seemed poised to be the next breakout lead character of the platforming genre, with strong releases across multiple consoles that earned critical acclaim and modest commercial success. But it was his ill-fated dance with the “Rabbids” that grew his franchise into a global phenomenon… but left our limbless hero behind. The bizarre party-style “Rayman Raving Rabbids” game thrust these new side-characters into the spotlight, and they have yet to give it back. The over-the-top antics of the Rabbids quickly captured the attention of the gaming audience in a way that Rayman had yet to accomplish, spawning multiple new titles, spin-off’s, television shows, and a starring role in not one but TWO Mario titles. Landing in a game with Nintendo’s most protected mascot is rarified air, and these Rabbids are basking in the limelight and dancing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, Rayman seems destined to become a footnote to his own story, occupying a shelf next to fellow lovable iconic protagonist Abe (from Oddworld) as a hero who deserved better… heroes still waiting for their big break that simply refuses to materialize.
The good news is that Rayman is finally getting invited back to the party via paid DLC in “Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope”… an ironic title considering Rayman has been looking for a spark of hope for several years. As his contemporaries like Mario, Sonic, Crash, and the like have continued to thrive across the generations, Rayman still has no new sequels on the horizon, no T-shirts bearing his likeness, and he remains a character who has only been truly embraced by those who fully understand his legacy. Rayman’s series of games may have featured creative gameplay that could have gone toe-to-toe with his genre rivals any day of the week, but for a variety of reasons sustained mainstream success just didn’t happen for him. And as these Rabbids have now fully outlasted their original star and Rayman takes one last shot at stardom before fading into obscurity, an interesting question comes to mind… the same question eloquently raised by Luthen in the Star Wars Andor as he opined that he “burns his life to make a sunrise that he knows he will never see.” As Rayman unselfishly gave away the keys to his own franchise so the Rabbids could experience a global breakthrough, are we prepared to do the same if that is what our path asks of us?
Here is an inconvenient truth that many of us have to contend with during our walk with Christ… as encouraging as the Biblical stories of Joseph and his ascension from prisoner to prince in Egypt are, rising from our places of pain to a pedestal that makes it all worthwhile is often the exception rather than the rule down here. It is easy to shout praises from the mountaintops, but not every valley that we walk through leads to a mountaintop experience… and for “People’s Exhibit A” I humbly submit the painful path of Christ’s own cousin, John the Baptist.
John the Baptist’s role as the forerunner for Christ could not have been a more critical or noteworthy position… as the one prophesied to blaze the trail for Jesus’s ministry (Isaiah 40:3), he occupies a unique role in history without equal. As a matter of fact, it was Jesus Himself who said, “among men born of women, there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). But John didn’t seem to feel that way at the time Jesus said it, since John was languishing away in prison at that very moment. After a ministry that reached numerous souls and culminated with John baptizing Jesus Christ Himself, things went downhill for this prophet in a hurry. John was front and center for the launch of Jesus’s earthly ministry and paved the way for His path to prominence… but John’s star was designed to diminish as Christ’s began to rise. At first, John seemed to fully understand the trajectory of destiny and even embraced it as he told his followers, “He must increase, but I must decrease”…
John 3:25-30 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.“
But John’s vision of what a “decrease” would mean didn’t seem to match up with what it actually entailed… as Christ’s mission took the forefront, John’s life took a very different turn. John went from pinnacle to prison… literally. John was arrested and imprisoned by Herod, and sadly he would never taste freedom on this side of eternity again. And as his incarceration slowly drained John’s previous confidence and satisfaction with his journey, John sent his remaining followers to Jesus for reassurance that he hadn’t somehow missed a memo somewhere.
Matthew 11:1-6 Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Keep in mind that this is the same John who confidently proclaimed, “I have seen and testified this is the Son of God” (John 1:34), but he is now in a very different place in his life… literally and figuratively. Just like how Rayman went from a starring role to a forgotten footnote in his own franchise, John was finding himself facing more than simply obscurity… he was experiencing a crisis of faith as his story was reaching its’ conclusion. And this path is not unique to John the Baptist… the truth is that while our faithful pursuit of Christ truly does grow us from “glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18), the definition of “glory” can often fall far outside of what we had in mind. Many of us may be familiar with the “chapter of faith” in Hebrews 11, celebrating some of the greatest conquerors in the history of our faith and their encouraging stories of victory…
Hebrews 11:32-35 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.
But the final parts of this chapter highlight the “other side” that many others experienced… stories that ended similar to John’s. Pain, imprisonment, unfair punishment, and worse…
Hebrews 11:36-40 Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
Like these heroes of our faith, Rayman certainly deserved better treatment than he has received… but being a trailblazer can often mean that our position is to prepare a path for the promises that we don’t always get to fully experience for ourselves on the mortal side of our journey. Rayman’s existence is what made the Rabbids’ massive success possible, but his role has now been relegated to the shadows as the Rabbids’ star has risen. But just as John found in his solitary place of disappointment and disillusionment, Jesus had neither forgotten him nor the value of his contributions to the kingdom. Instead, he gently reminded John that the current explosion of miracles that was blessing thousands of people was the prayed for and desired outcome from John’s incomparable loyalty to his mission and the sacrifices that he had made…
Matthew 11:4-6 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Jesus was the physical embodiment of the fulfillment of John’s mission, and by John faithfully performing his critical role, Jesus was able to complete His essential ministry… one that was designed to both build on and surpass the ministry of John. Just as the Rabbids would never have reached the point of starring in a game with Mario and his pals without Rayman paving the way, we are all standing on a foundation of faith that was built on the very real blood and tears of those who sacrificed all so we could enjoy the fruits of their labor. And part of our journey will also involve the act of “paying it forward”… and while this will take a different form for each of us, there will be multiple points along the way in which our role as a supporting character in each other’s stories will be uncomfortable, painful, and unenjoyable. But this is the path of a follower of Christ, and in these moments when we are experiencing a crisis of faith, we can find strength and encouragement knowing that even the mightiest of those who have gone before us have confronted these same feelings and fears.
There will be many times along our journey in which we will be asked by the Lord to burn our lives to make a sunrise we will never see. We are called to be servants, and in Christ’s kingdom the greatest of us are measured by our willingness to be “last”. John’s earthly journey may have ended with his tragic beheading in Herod’s prison, but that is NOT the fulness of his legacy nor is it where his story concludes. John’s courageous message and his unselfish commitment to preparing the path of Christ is part of the tapestry of EVERY believer’s spiritual heritage… and John demonstrated a pattern for us to follow through his faithfulness in life as well as in death. We will all face dark times that shake our faith… and in these moments, we can all be guilty of worrying that what we trusted in the light is not quite as stable and safe in the shadows. But when we reach out to Christ to reassure us, He will be faithful to show us that this current position of pain is still serving a purpose beyond our wildest expectations… and the sacrifices we are currently making are having an immeasurable impact on souls we may never even meet on this plane of existence.
Rayman may never return to the forefront of gaming as a mascot who gets to head up his own game… and this is not an indictment of him or the legacy that his series of games has generated. He may have simply served his purpose by bringing the Rabbids and their wacky adventures into the gaming world in a way that would have never happened without him. And in the same way, we are not the stars of our own story… our lives and the missions we have been placed on are part of a mosaic that has been designed for us to serve others and reach souls for Christ. Sometimes this adventure will take us to dizzying heights, and other times this will involve us serving the Lord from places we would not have willingly gone on our own. And no matter where our service to Him begins or ends, we are all running in a relay race that will eventually require us to pass the baton. But the Lord is just as present with us in the valley of the shadow of death as He is on the mountaintop… and our service to Him is not valued by how prominent we are in our output, but in our obedience through each part of this journey. Christ completed the most important part of His mission in the position of His greatest pain, suffering the humility and indignity of being viciously murdered while being publicly mocked. Our greatest victories will also be measured in a similarly paradoxical manner… by those who we have helped and served even in the deepest parts of our most painful experiences. We may not end up with the “credit”, our names may never show up on the marquee, and we may not even get to see the sunrise that we burned our lives to create… but “This is the Way.” Just ask John, the faithful servant who was chosen to burn his life to pave a path to the “Son” rise that could not have been accomplished any other way.
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