Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:1-11(NRSVA)
You can go from hero to zero in a relatively short time; just ask Wrong Way Riegels. On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played UCLA in the Rose Bowl. In that game a young man named Roy Riegel recovered a fumble for UCLA. Picking up the loose ball, he lost his direction and ran sixty-five yards toward the wrong goal line.
One of his teammates, Benny Lom, ran him down and tackled him just before he scored for the opposing team. Several plays later, the Bruins had to punt. Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, demoralizing the UCLA team.
The strange play came in the first half. At half-time the UCLA players filed off the field and into the dressing room. As others sat down on the benches and the floor, Roy Riegel put a blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, and put his face in his hands.(1)
I know how Roy felt. In high school I did the same thing in the first basketball game of the season. When the tipoff for the game started I soared high to grab the ball, raced to the rim and scored two points for the opposing team. Ouch! They didn’t publish individual high school stats in the papers then; mine would’ve been, Brownworth -2!
The Hero to Zero syndrome is evident in so many areas of life. The leaves were heroes a few weeks ago, in their radiant color-filled splendor; now they have left, and the trees are pitifully bare!
Richard Nixon was a hero in 1972, claiming the presidency with one of the greatest landslide elections in history; by 1974 it was all over – the first president to resign in humiliation, a product of the Watergate scandal.
How many hero-to-zero stories can we recall? Just in recent years we have had Ron Lay, Sadaam Hussein, and Martha Stewart!
Isaiah was cousin of the king of Israel. He was a prophet of God during a difficult period – the occupation of his country by the Assyrians. Putting up with Assyrian domination was a hard pill to swallow. Yet Isaiah had the privilege of announcing God’s message to the people of Israel – the captivity is almost over – God is going to make it all right. He will smooth out every valley – level every mountain!
Isaiah was a hero for that; a few years later there was Manasseh, a new king. There was a new (and even worse) Babylonian captivity on the horizon. Isaiah pointed out that the new enemy was God’s further judgment for Israel’s sins. Manasseh had Isaiah placed inside a hollow log, and sawn in two as a warning for any other prophets who wouldn’t cooperate with his program. Hero to zero, just like that!
It can happen to you too! Have you noticed how changeable people can be?
• One minute you are a hero – someone worships the ground you walk upon; you will be nominated for the next vacancy in the Trinity. Soon, however, the tide changes like the wind blows hot and cold – and suddenly you are sub-zero, less than swine. Hero to zero!
• You have a great portfolio; A few dot-com dives on the Dow Jones and you’re broke. Hero to zero!
Now, the point is, Do we know which is which? Do you know the difference between what makes you a hero, or a zero?
The difference then (as now) is in perspective. In Isaiah’s day the king had the final say. His perspective was, I’m in charge! I’m the hero-maker here! But Manasseh wasn’t even close!
God’s perspective was somewhat different – and God has a way of getting HIS way! What’s the difference? Manasseh was in charge of a tiny strip of land in Palestine for a few years. God is in charge of forever. Manasseh’s hero stature was transitory, God is eternal. That’s the difference…always; transitory versus eternity.
When it is time to elect presidents and congressmen and local officials, how do you know whom to make hero or zero? Of course, for a Christian, the answer has to do with the difference between Isaiah and Manasseh. Manasseh was concerned with his transitory kingdom, and Isaiah with God’s eternal Kingdom.
How does that work in America? Consider the issues…which are transitory, and which have eternal consequences?
The economy – transitory.
Abortion – eternal.
The principle for voting is transitory vs. eternal.
Or, as the Bible says:
34Righteousness exalteth a nation:
but sin is a reproach to any people.
So, I see in this some important axioms –
1. You can go from hero to zero
2. You should know which is really which
And then, a third –
You can go from zero to hero!
In the course of living every person comes to the understanding that we are less than perfect. Roy Riegel ran the wrong way; Nixon chose the illegal way; you and I have had our zero moments. How can we turn it around?
The Bible says that a sacrifice is necessary.
… and without shedding of blood is no remission.
Fred Smith said,
If Christ is an example, nobody needs him;
but if he’s a sacrifice, everyone does. (2)
How does a sacrifice turn my zero status into hero status? Good question! A story may help us with the answer:
John Griffith lived through the Great Depression. He got a job on the edge of the Mississippi caring for one of those great, huge railroad bridges that cross that mighty river.
John brought his 8-year-old son, Greg, to work with him to see what Daddy did all day. The little boy was wide-eyed with excitement, and he clapped his hands with glee when the huge bridge went up at the beck and call of his mighty father. He watched with wonderment as the huge boats steamed down the Mississippi.
Twelve o’clock came, and his father put up the bridge. There were no trains due for a good while, and they went out a couple of hundred feet on a catwalk out over the river to an observation deck. They sat down, opened their brown bag, and began to eat their lunch.
The time whirled by, and suddenly they were drawn instantly back to reality by the shrieking of a distant train whistle. John Griffith quickly looked at his watch. He saw that it was time for the 1:07, the Memphis Express, with 400 passengers, which would be rushing across that bridge in just a couple of minutes.
He knew he had just enough time, so without panic but with alacrity he told his son to stay where he was. He leaped to his feet, jumped to the catwalk, ran back, climbed the ladder to the control room, went in, put his hand on the huge lever that controlled the bridge, looked up the river and down to see if any boats were coming, as was his custom, and then looked down to see if there were any beneath the bridge.
And suddenly he saw a sight that froze his blood and caused his heart to leap into his throat. His boy! His boy had tried to follow him to the control room and had fallen into the great, huge gear box that had the monstrous gears that operated this massive bridge. His left leg was caught between the two main gears, and the father knew that as sure as the sun came up in the morning, if he pushed that lever his son would be ground in the midst of eight tons of whining, grinding steel.
His eyes filled with tears of panic. His mind whirled. What could he do? He saw a rope there in the control room. He could rush down the ladder and out the catwalk, tie off the rope, lower himself down, extricate his son, climb back up the rope, run back into the control room, and lower the bridge.
No sooner had his mind done that exercise than he knew--he knew there wasn’t time. He’d never make it, and there were 400 people on that train.
Suddenly he heard the whistle again, this time startlingly closer. And he could hear the clicking of the locomotive wheels on the track, and he could hear the rapid puffing of the train. What could he do? What could he do! There were 400 people, but this was ... this was his son, this was his only son. He was a father! He knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his arm and he pushed the gear forward.
The great bridge slowly lowered into place just as the express train roared across. He lifted up his tear-smeared face and looked straight into the flashing windows of that train as they flashed by one after another. He saw men reading the afternoon paper, a conductor in uniform looking at a large vest-pocket watch, ladies sipping tea out of teacups, and little children pushing long spoons into plates of ice cream. Nobody looked in the control room. Nobody looked at his tears. Nobody, nobody looked down to the great gear box.
In heart-wrenching agony, he beat against the window of the control room, and he said, "What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you care? I sacrificed my son for you. Don’t any of you care?" Nobody looked. Nobody heard. Nobody heeded. And the train disappeared across the river.
Rarely have we heard such a story of a father, sacrificing his only son for so many people. Unless you read the account of the Father in Heaven, willing to turn His own back on the most perfect Son ever born! (3)
This Jesus, perfect Son of God, Hero of Heaven, became a zero for you. The answer to the question, How do we turn around our zero moments, is, that we cannot; He can, and did!
Here are a few sentences to remember about turning life’s zero moments into hero moments…
1. Remember to come to God. He is the one who is the eternal mover and shaker of this world.
2. Remember to come to God on your knees. Humility is upside down in our world. But to be a hero with God means being a zero in the eyes of the world. Don’t conform to the crowd’s idea of being a hero – be different, be Godly!
3. Remember to come to God often. The more you fellowship with Him, the more you’ll be like Him.
And that’s how the valleys will be filled up, and the mountains made low – a straight path, a smooth path, a place where the Messiah, Jesus is made welcome in your heart!
(1) Wayne Rouse in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership
(2) Fred Smith, Leadership, Vol. 4, no.3.
(3) D. James Kennedy, "Message from an Empty Tomb," Preaching Today, Tape No. 66.