Sunday, October 25, 2009

Worth a Shot

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

-- 1 Corinthians 1:27

These days it’s Swine Flu. Seventy-five years ago it was polio. But before 1800, one of the most feared threats to public health was smallpox -- a powerful and often fatal disease cited by some authorities as causing the downfall of the Aztec and Incan empires. But that all changed in 1796 with Dr. Edward Jenner’s highly improbable – yet successful – experiment that eventually lead to the scourge’s demise.

The breakthrough came after Dr. Jenner observed that milkmaids who caught cowpox (a similar but non-fatal disease) never caught deadly smallpox. The English physician then did the unthinkable: he took matter from the hand of a milkmaid infected with cowpox and injected it into a healthy, eight-year-old James Phipps. Not surprisingly, the boy eventually contracted cowpox from this vaccination. But then came the second part of the experiment – one that logically should have killed the youngster. Forty-eight days after administering the first inoculation, Dr. Jenner injected James with smallpox – the same lethal disease that had wiped out millions over the previous centuries. But rather than suffering a predictable fate, the boy remained healthy.

Dr. Jenner’s remarkable triumph over death, disease and disfigurement occurred despite the conventional wisdom of the time. His story also reminds us of other victories – the remarkable ones God shows us by accomplishing His will though the most unlikely people, places and circumstances. For instance, God chose someone with a speech impediment (Moses) to tell one of the strongest rulers on Earth (Pharaoh) to free the enslaved Israelites. God also chose a small shepherd boy (David) to defeat Goliath – the feared Philistine warrior who was taller than many modern professional basketball players. David later became Israel’s greatest and most powerful ruler. God even called him “a man after His own heart.”

This unlikely pattern continues in the Bible through the upside down way of Jesus. The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ first followers were anything but the cream of society. Some were lowly fishermen, one was a hated tax collector and another was who we might today describe as a terrorist. Jesus also chose Paul to spread God’s plan of salvation through both personal evangelism across far-flung lands and by writing several books of the New Testament. And why was Paul an upside-down choice? Before Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul (then known as Saul) was a feared religious leader who specialized in hunting down and killing Christians!

Then there’s the most up-side-down choice of them all. Knowing that His people were doomed because of their sinfulness, God willingly chose to come to Earth in the form of a man (Jesus), live a perfect, sin-free life, and then be executed on a cross to pay the penalty we all deserve. Out of hate, fear and ignorance, the Creator was killed by His creation – mankind. But that’s hardly the end of the story. Just days after His unjust crucifixion, Jesus fulfilled the predictions written in the Old Testament centuries before when God raised Him from the dead to prove that He was indeed the Savior of mankind.

And as improbable and upside-down as it might seem, Jesus invites us today to accept this same power that raised Him from the dead and use it to establish God’s kingdom on Earth – one unlikely person at a time. Sound improbable? Let’s remember the famous words of the Apostle Paul, who readily called himself “the Chief of Sinners”: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

And so can we all today.

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