‘Simply the best’ – so goes the refrain of a popular song. Everything has to be the best. There’s no room for modesty in today’s competitive world!
We want our children to be the best at reading or swimming – to attend the best schools and later get the best jobs. The education system contributes with ‘grade inflation’ in GCSE and A-Level exams, so that almost everyone can be ‘the best’.
Tongue in cheek, the comedy musical The producers turns this notion upside down. The fictional producers hit on the idea that huge profits could be made from a guaranteed flop.
Here is the idea in their own words. ‘We find the worst play ever written, we hire the worst director in town … we hire the worst actors in New York and open on Broadway’. Could anything good really come from something so bad? I’ll tell you later!
But strange as it may seem, this unlikely model does describe many of God’s dealings with people! That is, he delights to take failures and make them succeed.
‘Hold on!’, you may protest. Surely God is only interested in good clean-living people. Won’t he use the best-of-the-best rather than the worst-of-the-worst? Let’s see.
Well, no, I didn’t actually e-mail Moses – though I would have done if he’d been on-line! But I did the next best thing. I sent e-mails to people from various walks of life and beliefs asking them to say a few words about Moses (and some other ‘famous names’ in the Bible, including Jacob and Paul).
My correspondents almost all pointed to the triumphant end of each man’s story – ignoring their decidedly shaky starts! Let me show you what I mean. But beware, you may be in for some surprises!
If you saw the movie you know about Moses. He was the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom – crossing the dried up Red Sea before the waters surged back to drown Pharaoh and his luckless troops who were hot in pursuit. What a triumph!
But Moses’ beginning was less auspicious. Raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and with all the king’s wealth at his disposal, he simply blew it. He got in a fight and killed an Egyptian. Fearing arrest for murder, he fled for his life and wasted his next forty years grazing sheep in the wilderness.
A real loser? Not in God’s estimation. When Moses was eighty, God commissioned him to liberate the Hebrew people from their slavery. Was he grateful for a second chance? No way – he made every possible excuse to avoid the huge responsibility he was being given. ‘I am slow of speech and slow of tongue’, he argued. I’m no leader. Why don’t you pick on someone else? (Exodus 4:10-14).
Needless to say, the Lord was not amused! Yet he patiently met all Moses’ objections and provided for all Moses’ shortcomings – supporting him all the way. Moses’ only real asset was his faith in God, but that was enough (Hebrews 11:27-29).
Then there was Jacob. He lived long before Moses. His name meant ‘usurper’ or ‘twister’ and he was well named. He cheated his brother, schemed with his mother, and lied to his father – all to acquire a birthright that he had been promised anyway.
Like Moses, he was found out and had to run away. He tried to strike a bargain with God. Far from home, he eventually met his match in an uncle who was a bigger cheat than himself! Finally, he returned to his homeland, scared stiff that his brother would take revenge on him.
Yet, through the patience and mercy of God, Jacob learned to stop living by his wits and start clinging to God. He became a changed man and was given a new name – ‘Israel’, meaning ‘a prince with God’ (Genesis 32:26-28). The con-man made good, but only by the grace of God.
Fast forward to the New Testament and the apostle Paul. Born a Roman citizen and raised a proud Jew, he bitterly persecuted the early Christians. Not content with hounding them to imprisonment and death in his homeland, he launched a crusade to hunt them down 150 miles to the north, in Damascus, Syria.
But his conscience was troubling him, even as he trod the Damascus road ‘breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 9:1-2). The risen Christ suddenly met him on that road and he was humbled into the dust. Blinded and broken he was led by the hand into Damascus – where he revived, regained his sight and began to preach to everyone that Jesus was the long-awaited Saviour and Messiah!
He went on triumphantly to bring Christianity to the Gentile world, enduring persecution and imprisonment along the way.
Changed by God
These men, in their different ways, all started out not as the best but as the worst. What happened? How did they change? The answer is they didn’t! They were changed by God.
The Bible tells the whole story, warts and all, to help us see a deep truth – there was no way that any of these men could have made themselves acceptable to God (let alone useful to him).
And any true Christian today will tell a similar story. We too were sinners and losers on whom God had mercy. He changed us from people with little thought or respect for Jesus Christ into his children – giving us spiritual life and the sure hope of a wonderful and eternal home.
Christians understand that Christ ‘loved them and gave himself for them’ to redeem them from their sins (Galatians 2:20). As a result they live their lives differently, desiring to serve God and others rather than self.
Remember, when you look at a Christian you’re not seeing the beginning of the story!
The biggest of hits
O, I almost forgot! What happens in The producers? The show cobbled together from the worst possible ingredients turns out to be the biggest of hits. So also, God gives the weak and the ungodly the wonderful gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ – turning them from darkness to light, forgiving all their sins, and befriending them now and for eternity.
Now that simply is the best!