The pages of the Bible are filled with the stories of men and women who had tremendous potential, people who started well but ended miserably.
But the Bible also gives us examples of those who started miserably but finished quite well.
A classic example of someone who had tremendous potential but did not finish well is the first king of Israel, Saul. It is worth noting that in the beginning, it was not really God’s intention to give Israel a king. God wanted to uniquely rule Israel and speak to them primarily through their prophets. But the Israelites began to whine and complain. All the other nations had kings, and they wanted want one too.
So God gave them a king. He gave them Saul, a man after their own heart. This man had all of the human ideals for a leader. He seemed to be a charismatic individual. He was strikingly handsome and stood a little bit taller than everyone else. He seemed to have a natural humility. Even the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied with the prophets. He appeared to have it all together and start out quite well.
But then Saul began to disobey God, and God began to use another man named David. Filled with paranoia and jealousy, Saul dedicated his life, for all practical purposes, to destroying young David. In the end, Saul foolishly threw his life away. He summed up his life accurately when he said, “Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21 NKJV). Saul had tremendous potential that was never realized, and it was his own fault. He did not finish well.
There was the mighty Samson, who was blessed by God with superhuman strength that enabled him to vanquish his enemies with relative ease. On one occasion, he killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey he had picked up off the ground. But Samson was a he-man with a she weakness. He fell into sexual immorality and ultimately had his hair shaved. His hair was a symbol of his commitment to God and a part of the strength that God had given him. But he threw it all away. He was a man who started well but did not finish well.
I think of Gideon, who was plucked from obscurity, yet he courageously led Israel into battle with a comparatively small army. God gave him great victory, but when his life came to an end, he lowered his standards and fell into immorality and pride. Gideon was yet another person who started well but did not finish that way.
Like Gideon, David was lifted from humble origins. He was beloved by God as a man after his own heart. But like his persecutor, Saul, David also played the fool. He almost threw his life away and came close to undoing the great amount of good he had done so far. But by the grace of God, he repented, came to his senses, and sort of limped across the finish line. David reaped the consequences of his sin for years to come, but God forgave him and gave him another chance.
Then you come to those who had everything going against them, but they still did incredibly well.
Nicodemus did not start well, but he finished very well. Here was a man who was searching for the answers in life, a man who was looking for truth, but he approached Jesus under the cover of night. Some would chide him for that, saying he was afraid to be seen. And maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t the boldest guy, but at least he came and heard what Jesus said. And what is interesting is that in the end, Nicodemus really came through.
Consider this: Judas Iscariot was a full-fledged disciple of Jesus’ in good standing when Nicodemus was searching. Yet at the end of Jesus’ ministry, Judas betrayed him and went and hanged himself. Nicodemus, on the other hand, stepped forward when all the disciples abandoned Jesus.
After Jesus had been crucified, Joseph of Arimathea sought permission from Pilate to take the body of Jesus and bury it. But we also find this detail in John 19:39: “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” When all of the other brave followers of Jesus – the ones who promised to be by his side – were in hiding, Nicodemus came through.
We find examples in the Old Testament as well. Although Joseph had numerous setbacks, he came through in the end with flying colors. Queen Esther looked as though she might miss the opportunity of a lifetime, but in the end, she came through. Rahab had one of the worst beginnings: She was a prostitute. In the end, she did so well that she made it into the Hall of Faith, as Hebrews 11 is known.
It is a frightening thought that you can do well for so many years and then do something wrong and undo a great amount of the good that you did in life. This serves as a reminder to us to hold the course.
What would sum up your life most effectively? I hope it could be said of you that you prayed or you worshiped or you walked with God, because we are all leaving a legacy.
If you are not leaving the right kind of legacy, if you are not leaving a godly legacy, then it is not too late to change. As I mentioned earlier, the Bible gives a number of examples of people who made some mistakes in life – some big mistakes – but in the end, they finished well.
Maybe you would say, “I have made some mistakes. I started well. You should have seen me 20 years ago. But I am not doing so well now.” Then change. You might have a humble beginning. You might even have a beginning that is quite weak. But in the end, you can come through. Get back in the race, and finish well. There is still another chance for you.