In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:4–5

With the flick of a switch, the packed auditorium went dark.

It’s not every day you get to dress up to attend a red carpet movie premiere in a historic theater. If offered a free ticket, I bet you would have been there as well! The director, producer, and lead actors were all in attendance, leading a Q&A session after the showing, and it was during this time that, for illustration purposes, the lights were shut off.

But even the thick darkness couldn’t stifle the energy that was in the room. Like stars in an evening sky, the glow of electronically-produced light burst onto the scene as one by one, attendees pulled out their cell phones on cue, collectively lighting the room and creating a symbol of hope in a dark place.

One Hope. One Truth. One Way.

Set in the 1970s, Woodlawn is the true story of NFL player Tony Nathan and the Birmingham high school football team who are determined to overcome the hate and prejudice within the community and newly-integrated school by winning games. In an atmosphere of violence and chaos, the one thing these teammates find in common is their anger. So they convince themselves that anger is what will unite them on the field.

But it soon becomes apparent that, win or lose, football is not the answer to their problems, nor is anger the solution to disunity. Things begin to shift in a big way when a “radical” named Hank (played by Sean Astin) shows up during practice and tells them it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way in Jesus where they can have hope and unity and even love—no matter what their skin color.

How will a tough, angry football team respond to the tender call of this lowly Jesus?

In what would seem impossible to the skeptical onlooker, nearly the entire team turns their lives over to Christ and undergoes deep-seated transformation. Anger is thwarted by the forgiveness Jesus brings, and hope is sparked through the love they find in Him.

So what’s the big hype? Is this just your typical football movie with lots of sweat, tears, and a little comic relief thrown in? Actually, it’s not.

On October 16 when Woodlawn opened in theaters, audiences got the chance to see not only a movie about football, racial integration, and dreaming big, but also the story of heart revival. This is a story of giving up your dreams to live for something—Someone—bigger. It’s the story of love and mercy conquering anger and hate.

And it’s the kind of story that offers the hope people are desperate to hear. Maybe that’s why it was a box office hit opening weekend and is still playing in theaters two weeks later. (There’s still time to find a theater near you!)

A Symbol of Hope

At one point in the film, Hank explains to the coach why the team is attracting the attention of their community and ultimately the entire country. It was not the skills of any one player or the number of W’s on their schedule that was significant. It was who they represented. “The thing special about us? We’re a symbol. We give them hope.”

There are a lot of important things in your life, like nurturing your family, fighting injustice, and maybe even winning a football game. But as the film portrays, all these things pale in comparison to truly knowing Jesus.

As the bride of Christ, our life message is to reflect the gospel light of Jesus to a dark world. How brightly are you shining?

Woodlawn: Shining the Light of Revival was originally published on

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