Golf, The Oakmont Country Club. Oakmont, Pennsylvania. 1973 US Open. Final Round. June 17, 1973. Perhaps the 2 biggest names in the history of the sport- Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer- are comfortably leading the pack coming into that final round. The only REAL question that day was which one of those 2 would win? Everybody else in the field was simply an “also ran” at that point. Except that one of those “also rans” was a then relative unknown golfer by the name of Johnny Miller. He came into that final round down by 6 strokes- frankly an insurmountable lead when the people you are trying to catch are Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But apparently Miller didn’t GET that memo. All Miller did that fine June day 45 years ago was tear through the course, hitting an amazing EIGHT under par, finishing with a 63, winning the US Open by one stroke and carving out a place in golf history. In 1998, Miller took his rightful place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. But that storied career grew out of what was truly one of the most amazing comebacks in the history of the storied sport of golf.
Today, we begin a new sermon series- Your Comeback. Based on the book by Tony Evans, this series focuses on fear- fear that you’ve fallen too far to be used by God. We are focusing on epic comebacks of sports teams who seemingly had no shot at victory and coupling them with Biblical heroes with scandalous pasts to show that God can turn things around for anybody—including you!
2Kings 5:1-14 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
Naaman- head of the army of the king of Aram- a region that coincides with modern-day Syria. He’s a great military leader, but he has leprosy. In one of their raids on Israel, his soldiers bring back a hostage- a girl. She becomes a servant to Naaman’s wife. She sees his predicament and says to his wife that there is a prophet in her homeland that could cure him.
Naaman goes to his king, asking for permission to go and see this prophet. The king says, “Sure- go. In fact, I’ll send a letter with you. That’ll make things easier for you.” Naaman takes the letter, along with gifts, to the king of Israel. The king reads the letter and says, “Who am I- GOD? Who does this guy think he is?” The king’s prophet- Elisha- hears about it and says to the king, “Hey! Send him to me. I’ll show him what God can do!”
So Naaman goes to Elisha’s house. The prophet doesn’t come out himself but sends a messenger out to tell Naaman to go to the Jordan River and wash himself 7 times. Then he’ll be cleansed of the leprosy. Naaman hears all this and is shocked. “What? That’s it? The best he can do is send a messenger out to ell me to wash 7 times in his cruddy little river? I could have done that myself in the rivers back home. They’re way better, anyway!” And he storms off. But his servants go after him and point out that, if Elisha had come out himself and told him to do something great and difficult…he would have done it. So- why not give THIS a try? What does he have to lose? Naaman, considers that, then turns around and heads to the Jordan, where he washes himself 7 times and is completely cleansed of the leprosy- skin like that of a boy.
In 1997, IBM absolutely OWNED the computer market while Apple was a young, upstart company on the verge of complete failure. That year, IBM rolled out a multi-million dollar ad campaign built around one word- THINK. Apple, with nothing to lose, countered with their own campaign that was built around TWO words- think DIFFERENT. Within 12 months, Apple’s stock had TRIPLED in value and they were well on their way to the global domination they still hold today. The “Think Different” Campaign focused innovators who had once been vilified or laughed at who were now seen as history-makers: Martin Luther King, Ted Turner, Albert Einstein.
The whole campaign was also built around something John Keating, the Robin Williams character in the movie Dead Poets Society, said- “We must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in a different way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. Dare to strike out and find new ground.”
Naaman didn’t WANT to do what Elisha told him to do. But…he did. And notice this- he wasn’t cleansed after the first dip into the Jordan River. Or the second. Or the fourth. Or even the sixth. He had to COMPLETE the instructions- wash himself a 7th time- before the healing happened. So many people fail to experience their comeback because they fail to finish- they only go partway. They get, say, 2/3 of the way through, don’t see the results they want and…quit. But partway is NEVER the instruction. God wants complete obedience, full faith. If you are truly called by God, challenged by Him to greater things, quitting partway through and walking away is simply not an option.
But before He can do that. He needs you to think different. Before God can give you your complete comeback—your double portion— He needs you to set aside your pride, your dignity and your rationalizations. He needs you to seek Him first concerning your situation so He can tell you what to do. And then He wants you to obey…completely.
Are you struggling in your marriage? Has God asked you to show unconditional love to your spouse? Then do it. Fully. Are you facing challenges with your finances? Did God instruct you to honor Him with the firstfruits of what He gives you, even when money is tight? Then do it. Are you failing to live out your destiny? Do you feel like you’re wandering around with no real purpose or intention? Then seek God first and He’ll not only direct your path straight to your destiny but also give you the desires of your heart.
Your comeback is waiting for you to act. Your comeback is waiting for you to do what God has instructed you to do- and do it completely, even when it makes no sense at all. Your comeback is waiting for you to depend fully on Him in faith. Before God can give you your complete comeback, He needs you to think different.