Consider the small nation of Israel which is surrounded by enemies. Suppose these enemies banded together and planned a coordinated secret attack on all fronts during the holiest Israeli religious holiday of the year. A day in which virtually no one, including most of the military, is allowed to work. Perhaps the Israeli armed forces are outnumbered ten or twenty to one in personnel and equipment. What would be the world's opinion if Israel was totally defeated and driven into the sea? That would certainly be no surprise. Most would agree that was the expected outcome.
On the other hand, what if Israel somehow managed to quickly regroup and defeat the invaders on all fronts within only a few days? That would certainly be a shock! With the overwhelming odds against them, they could certainly not have overcome the enemy through their limited strength. Many would conclude that certainly God was on their side! This is exactly what occurred during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. This is how God operates through the nations and individuals He chooses. As compared to man's theory of combat, God takes a totally opposite approach when fighting battles. Man cannot have too many soldiers or too much equipment, whereas God always wants His side to be the decisive underdog.
Consider one of many biblical examples. When Gideon led Israel against the Midianites, the original number of his army was 32,000. God instructed Gideon to allow any that were afraid or fearful to leave and 22,000 departed. This lowered the Israeli army to 10,000. There were still too many in God's estimation. He instructed Gideon to take all 10,000 down to the river for a drink. All who lapped the water with their tongue like a dog were allowed to remain. This brought the army's size down to 300 from an initial size of 32,000. With these three hundred, God allowed Gideon to defeat the Midianites. Why does God desire that the side He supports be the underdog?
The children of Israel are God's chosen people. We are to observe them and recognize without a doubt that God punishes them when they disobey Him, and rewards them when they obey Him, regardless of their strength. If they had defeated the Midianites (for example) with a million man army, that would have been expected due to their strength, and they would have taken the credit. By defeating the vastly superior Midianites with only three hundred men, it had to be a miracle. Everyone, including the Israelis must conclude that they won because God was on their side. They did not win the battle, God did!
Likewise, God chooses the most unlikely candidates when selecting individuals to perform leadership roles. In the motion picture "The Ten Commandments," Charlton Heston played the part of Moses. He led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage with his booming voice and commanding physical appearance. Would those doing the casting have chosen the actual Moses of the Bible to play himself in the movie? Absolutely not! He did not come close to being the overpowering "Moses" required by the movie script! When God called Moses, Moses protested that he was "slow of speech":
In fact, God allowed Moses to take his brother Aaron who spoke well, along with him to be his mouth:
There is an excellent comparison between the leadership qualities desired by men versus those desired by God in the sixteenth chapter of First Samuel. God informs Samuel that He will choose a King of Israel from the sons of Jesse. Samuel is to review Jesse's sons, and God will tell him which one is to be anointed as king. The first to be reviewed was Eliab. Eliab was tall and impressive. He looked like a king! Samuel thought that surely this was the one. But the Lord said unto Samuel:
Jesse proceeded to call Abinadab, Shammah, and seven of his sons to pass by Samuel, but God chose none of them. Samuel asked if there were any other sons. There was only the youngest remaining. Jesse had not even considered him as a possibility, so he was still out in the pasture tending sheep. Samuel asked that the youngest son be fetched from his work:
So the son of Jesse that was thought unworthy of even consideration, became one of the greatest Kings of Israel. The Jews still call Jerusalem the City of David! With today's technology and sophistication, would we have chosen David as the first choice? Absolutely not. Physical appearance remains mans most important criteria:
On September 11, 1999, superintendent of construction Pablo Ortiz searched for survivors on the eighty-eighth floor of the north World Trade Tower; shouting into all areas for anyone present. After directing rescued groups to safe passage down a clear stair well, Mr. Ortiz ascended to the next floor, intending to locate all survivors. He was still going up as the tower came down. I never knew Mr. Ortiz. His name indicates that his family origins were possibly Hispanic. If so, some ignorant people in the states bordering Mexico might call him a wetback or spick. I call him a hero.
That same day, passengers aboard flight 93 prevented their hijackers from crashing that plane into another American landmark. One leader in this effort was an admitted homosexual. Some might call him a faggot or queer. I call him a hero.
A Native American named Ira Hayes helped raise the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. He became an alcoholic and died in a ditch. Some might call him a drunken Indian. I call him a hero.
I was born in Mississippi and taught that Martin Luther King Jr. was an outside agitator, at best. Then I read his "I Have A Dream" speech. I was wrong! Dr. King was a very brave hero fighting for a just cause. "I Have A Dream" was the most incredible speech ever spoken. It stated universal concepts. Consider this sentence from his speech, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Did someone know that men judge others by physical appearance over character thousands of years ago? Consider the following verse which God inspired to be written in the scriptures:
My personal favorite of God's unlikely underdogs is Paul. Paul was originally known as Saul, and was one of the most notorious persecutors of Christians. Along the road to Damascus God confronted Saul:
Saul turned from persecuting Christians to become the great apostle Paul! Perhaps Paul is my favorite Bible character because he wrote the one Bible verse which best describes me and my life:
Other underdogs of God possessed some human frailty which made them unlikely candidates for the mission ahead. Paul apparently had none. He was originally a strong, powerful, persuasive, decisive, energetic persecutor of Christians. Incredibly, when God chose him to spread the gospel to the Gentiles, He gave Paul a "thorn in the flesh":
This thorn in the flesh could indicate pain caused by some physical problem. However, it may also indicate pain caused by some psychological problem. In Galatians, Paul describes his infirmity as a temptation:
Consider the following verse written by Paul:
Compare that verse with the definition of "compulsion" as used in psychology:
Did Paul have a compulsion? Someone suffering from a compulsive behavior will recognize themselves in Romans 7:15 as listed above. That is, what they desire to do (stop the compulsive behavior) they do not. What they do not desire to do (the compulsive behavior) they do. Most, if not all, compulsives desire to stop. Paul may have been an alcoholic, a womanizer, or something more serious, if indeed he suffered from some compulsion. Whether compulsive behavior or a physical condition, Paul prayed for God to remove it:
Describing his affliction as a "thing" or "it" further indicates Paul may have had a psychological problem. Physical ailments are generally accompanied by obvious symptoms such as bleeding, physical pain, rashes, fever, vomiting, disfigurement, etc. These are obvious conditions which we can see. Mental problems are difficult to comprehend since we cannot "see" them. Therefore, we describe these problems as abnormalities, things, weird, crazy, etc.
If Paul did indeed have a compulsion, then he made a great discovery which is today part of all twelve step rehabilitation programs. That discovery was that he was not sufficiently powerful to stop the behavior on his own. He needed help from a higher authority! Therefore, he prayed to God three times asking that it be removed from him:
Paul believed that there was no temptation, no matter how strong, that God did not also provide an escape from that temptation:
Regardless of what Paul's thorn in the flesh was, God refused to remove it. Therefore, Paul learned to take pleasure in his infirmities:
Paul's escape from his "temptation" was the realization that his weakness made him a stronger witness for Jesus. Thus Paul came to actually take pleasure in his infirmities. He realized that God made him weak so that others could see what God could accomplish through such a weak person! Regardless of how weak due to physical or mental problems, we are all here for a reason. Never, ever believe you are too weak to fulfill your mission! The weaker you are, the more spectacular your accomplishment will be for God's glory. How did other Christians of his day react to Paul's temptation?
Would today's congregations act accordingly?
Which human being of all time who ever lived, or ever shall live, might we consider to be the ultimate underdog? Let's consider Jesus Christ. Although He was the Son of God, He was also born of water and spent thirty-three years as a human being on the earth. Let's consider the day of His crucifixion and whether He was a winner or loser that day.
His disciples and most of His friends and family were in hiding. It was Him against the Roman Empire, the most powerful nation on earth. Many of God's chosen people wanted Him crucified. He had been whipped, beaten, and humiliated. He refused to prevent His crucifixion at each of several opportunities. He refused to defend himself. How could this apparently helpless, beaten down individual, turn this event into His victory?
Let's attempt to view the day's events from Jesus' perspective. What were Jesus' goals for that day? He wanted to be killed as a sacrifice. Being human, we can assume He wanted this to occur as quickly as possible. His other goal was to draw people to a belief in Him. After His death and resurrection this would be man's only path to salvation from the second death:
Could undergoing the most excruciating and humiliating death the Roman Empire ever designed, accomplish these goals? To answer this question, let us examine the testimony of the few witnesses which are detailed in the Bible. Of course, one criminal crucified alongside Jesus, asked for forgiveness and was informed that he would be with Jesus in paradise. But what about the other infrequently discussed witness? What about the centurion's eye witness account?
What is a centurion? In the ancient Roman army, a centurion commanded a century. A century was a company of approximately one hundred men. Today, we would call him a company commander. This centurion surely had participated in combat and perhaps seen much bloodshed in his advance through the ranks. Possibly he had supervised or witnessed many crucifixions. It is safe to assume that suffering and bloodshed were commonplace to him. Upon completion of Jesus' death, after considering Jesus' behavior and all he had witnessed that day, the centurion summed up that day's events with one sentence:
The corresponding verse in Matthew indicates that those with the centurion, possibly other soldiers under his command, reached the same conclusion:
Who won the victory that day? The Jewish leaders and the Romans wanted to humiliate and violently execute Jesus for even presuming to be the King of the Jews. They wanted to make an example of this pathetic person who some called a king. How could this dead body ever be a threat to the Roman Empire?
But who met their goals that day? Jesus did sacrifice His life so that those who believe in Him would never perish. He met that goal. Incredibly, while being crucified, he viewed the gathered crowd as an opportunity and drew the most hardened participants to a belief in Him as the Son of God. These included the criminal, the centurion, and those with the centurion. Certainly these soldiers went on to discover more about this "Son of God," and probably accepted Him as their Savior. So Jesus completed His planned sacrifice and drew several in attendance to a belief in Him during the process! Based on His plan, He had a good day!
Did the Roman Empire accomplish their goal? Their goal was the elimination of this so-called Christianity at its root, by crucifying its leader. Instead, Rome later acknowledged Christianity as the state religion! They then worshiped the "man" they so brutally murdered! In a sense, the centurion spoke for the entire Roman Empire of the near future when he stated: