Not every hero fights with weapons on a battlefield, wields superpowers against a villain, or saves the world once a week. Though these are the heroes who make the pages of comic books, newspapers, and history, they are uncommon. More often, other, quieter heroes overcome fear and fight adversity unnoticed, or are soon forgotten. They are the unlikely heroes, and from them one can learn much about courage and heroism. To read some of the stories of the best of their company, one has only to turn to the Bible.
Surprising examples of these humble heroes fill the pages of God’s Word. Noah rejected the sinful society about him, obeyed God, built the ark, and thus saved a remnant of mankind. The midwives in Egypt saved the Israelite children and defied Pharaoh in order to obey God (Exodus 1:17). Rahab – a prostitute and an inhabitant of Jericho – protected the Israelite spies at the risk of her own life (Joshua 2:3-4). Who would have foreseen Gideon, who hid from the Midianites and doubted God, delivering Israel from Midian with only three hundred men? Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth left her home to stay with Naomi after Naomi had lost the rest of her family (Ruth 1:16-17). Though threatened with death in a fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Daniel 3:16-18). Risking her life, Queen Esther entered King Ahasuerus’ throne room unbidden to intercede for the Jews (Esther 4:11). Few of these men and women appear valorous. Some were young, some weak, some lowly. All were sinners. In spite of this, they sacrificed their safety, homes, and lives to help those in need and honor God. They were unlikely heroes who came when most needed and least expected.
Why, though, does the Bible include so many examples of God using fallen men and women to work his will? The LORD of all the earth is mighty. He could have accomplished all these events without raising up people and enabling them to be heroes. Yet – or perhaps as a testimony to his power – God uses weak, sin-broken men and women to accomplish his purposes. He can turn what is meant for evil into good (Genesis 50:20). He can make strong the weak, embolden the meek, and give faith to the faithless. Paul writes,
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
Knowing that God can use them for his great purposes, in all that God calls Christians to do, let them work as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23). No matter who people are or what talents they have, anyone can unexpectedly be a hero, for heroism encompasses the ordinary, as well as the extraordinary, acts of bravery.
At the same time, however, Christians need to realize a truth of even greater importance. As my pastor once said, “In our story, the hero is never us: it is Christ in us.” Only by the faith God gave them did Noah build the ark, Rahab protect the spies, and Gideon rout Midian (Hebrews 11:7, 31-34). Esther understood she relied on a power greater than hers for success, and for this reason she asked the Jews to fast three days for her before she visited the king (Esther 4:16). People cannot be heroes on their own. To be heroes, they need the most unlikely hero of all. He was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Jesus Christ is more than a hero, though. He is the Savior of the world. He is not someone people need only on an occasional basis when they’re in danger or when life’s hard – not someone merely to admire or esteem. Without him, all men and women are doomed. With him, they have victory. When the world was lost in sin and mankind’s hearts were hardened against God, an unexpected champion came, and he died that those who put their trust in him might live.
Heroes are not always what people expect them to be. The Messiah God had told Israel to expect and whom they had long awaited came, but many did not recognize him. He was not what they expected – not a conquering king of royalty and power. Or at least, he didn’t appear to be. Yet because of Christ, those who believe in him now have the power to conquer sin in their lives. Because of Christ, they can get up again after falling. Because of Christ, they now desire to be more like him. And sometimes in their life’s race, following and imitating Christ will require them to be unlikely heroes when most needed and least expected.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford Edition: 1769; King James Bible
Online, 2008. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/.