Go the Distance
The history of Hollywood is filled with movie moments that are hard to forget. I mean, just about all of us remember when Darth Vader told Luke Skywalker, “I am your father,” in The Empire Strikes Back. Or who can forget when Don Corleone promises to make a movie producer, “An offer he can’t refuse” in The Godfather? Or who doesn’t remember when Dorothy Gale goes skipping down the Yellow Brick Road when she leaves Munchkinland behind in The Wizard of Oz?
Another one of the most memorable moments in the history of movies begins with a down-on-his-luck boxer wearing an old, gray sweatsuit getting ready to go for a run. Now, if you just picture that scene in your mind, it probably doesn’t feel too memorable, but all of that changes when a trumpet starts to play the opening stanza of “Gonna Fly Now.” Because, as soon as the trumpet begins to play, Rocky Balboa starts to run through the streets of Philadelphia. And what happens from there is one of the most memorable montages in the history of Hollywood.
Rocky runs through city parks and past street vendors. He does one-armed pushups in a boxing ring and situps on the steps. And he finished by sprinting up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he bounces around with his hands in the air because Rocky has done everything he can do to get ready for the fight of his life.
Because not long after Rocky runs up those steps, he’s going to be stepping into the ring with the world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. And Apollo Creed isn’t some kind of paper champion who’s ducked any real contender just so he can stay on top. No, Apollo Creed is the best of the best. He is a fighting machine. And not only has Apollo Creed never lost a fight, he’s never even been knocked down.
So in spite of all the miles he’s run, in spite of all the punches he’s thrown, in spite of all the work he’s put in to get ready for this fight, no one thinks that Rocky has a chance of beating Apollo Creed. The odds say that Rocky is a 50-1 underdog, and the smart money says that he won’t last more than three rounds.
And even though none of us have ever had the chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, we all know how Rocky felt. We’ve all had times when it felt like the odds were against us. We’ve all had times when no one believed we stood a chance. We’ve all had times when the challenges seemed insurmountable, or the giants we faced felt like they’d never fall. Or to put it another way, we’ve all had times when we’ve felt hopeless.
We’ve all had times when we’ve felt hopeless.
The truth is that you may feel that way right now. You may be in debt up to your eyeballs right now and have no idea how you’ll ever get out. You may be trying to recover from a recent surgery that feels like it will never heal. You may have broken relationships in your family that seem like they can’t be repaired. So, yes, we’ve all had times when we’ve felt hopeless.
But even though Rocky knows his chances of beating Apollo Creed are so slim that he doesn’t even go into the fight believing he could ever become the heavyweight champion of the world, he still has faith in himself. The night before the fight Rocky tells his girlfriend, Adrian:
“All I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.”
So even though no one else in the world has faith in Rocky, he has faith in himself. He thinks he can do something no one else has ever done. He thinks he can go the distance with Apollo Creed. And when the bell rings and the fight begins, Rocky puts his faith into action.
But, as soon as the two boxers start swinging, it’s clear that Rocky is outmatched. But that doesn’t stop him. Rocky manages to withstand an early onslaught from Apollo Creed. And then round after round, Rocky keeps coming out of the corner and he keeps fighting.
Occasionally Rocky would rip off a signature left hook to the ribs that would cause Creed to grimace in pain. Once or twice Rocky even stunned Creed with a crushing overhand right that let Apollo know he had power unlike anyone else the champ had ever faced. But those moments were few and far between. For most of the fight, Creed imposed his will and flat-out outclassed Rocky in the ring.
Yet despite the mismatch, Rocky didn’t lose his faith in himself. Rocky kept punching, he kept fighting as the rounds went by. And when the bell rang to begin the final round of the fight, Apollo Creed couldn’t believe it. Rocky had already made it further than any of Creed’s previous opponents. And he was showing no signs of wilting long after Apollo Creed was supposed to put him away. Somehow the underdog from Philadelphia kept coming forward, throwing haymakers, and trying to land a knockout punch before the final bell rang.
Now, I hate to ruin the ending of the movie for you if you haven’t seen it yet, but since this movie came out back in 1976, it’s not like you haven’t had plenty of opportunities to watch it over the last 47 years. So, I’ll just go ahead and tell you that Rocky didn’t win the fight. Apollo Creed managed to escape with a split-decision victory that was much closer than anyone could’ve imagined when those two boxers stepped in the ring. But Rocky did what he believed he could do – Rocky went the distance when no one thought he could.
Now, of course, Rocky’s story is entirely fictional…but that doesn’t mean that it can’t teach us something about our faith. As a matter of fact, right now at Melbourne Heights, we are working our way through a series of sermons called “God on Film” where we’re exploring lessons that films can teach us about our faith.
And Rocky can teach us a lot about putting our faith into action. But Rocky isn’t the only underdog that we can learn this lesson from. We can learn this exact same lesson from the most famous underdog in the Bible.
Let me show you what I mean. If you’ve got a Bible close by, go ahead and grab it and turn to 1 Samuel 17. And in 1 Samuel 17, we’re going to find a story about another famous underdog who faces a situation that looks completely and utterly hopeless. But even though he’s up against worse odds than the ones Rocky faced, this underdog also refuses to quit because of his faith in God.
So you can probably guess the story that we’re going to be talking about today. We’re going to be talking about the story of David and Goliath. And even though a lot of us have heard this story countless times since we were kids, it’s still worth revisiting because it has so much to teach us about putting our faith into action.
So the story of David and Goliath takes place when the Philistines gathered for war against Israel in the Valley of Elah. The Israelites took up their position on one hill while the Philistines lined up on the opposite hill with the valley in between the two armies. And every day for forty days the biggest and baddest warrior on the Philistine side, a giant named Goliath, would come out to challenge the Israelites to send someone down to fight him one-on-one to prove which army was superior.
But the book of 1 Samuel tells us that Goliath was around nine feet tall. He wore armor that weighed over 125 pounds. And he carried a spear with an iron tip that weighed 15 pounds. So just try to picture this massive mountain of a man stepping into the valley separating the two armies wielding weapons that would’ve looked more appropriate on a battleship than a battlefield. And when you think about just how massive Goliath was, it’s not surprising that there wasn’t a single person in all of Israel who wanted to fight him.
That is there wasn’t a single person in all of Israel who wanted to fight Goliath until David showed up in the Valley of Elah. Now, David is just a shepherd boy who is far too young to be in Israel’s army. But David’s father sends him to check on his older brothers who are on the frontlines with King Saul.
But when David arrives and hears Goliath hurling his Giant-sized insults, he can’t believe that anyone would defy the army of the living God. David starts asking the soldiers, “Who is that uncircumcised Philistine, anyway, that he can get away with insulting the army of the living God?”
David’s oldest brother Eliab heard what David was saying and he got angry, accusing David of coming just to watch the battle after abandoning their family’s sheep. But David didn’t back down. He kept asking, “What will be done for the person who kills that Philistine over there and removes this insult from Israel?”
When King Saul heard about David’s questions, he had David brought to him. David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine! I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”
Saul told David that he was just a boy and that Goliath had been a warrior longer than David had even been alive. But David responded that when a lion or bear came and took one of his sheep, he would chase after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. And he confidently told the King, “The Lord who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
And, in a classic case of being careful what you wish for, Saul gave David exactly what he wanted. Saul told David that he could fight Goliath. But Saul wasn’t going to send this shepherd boy out to face a giant empty-handed. No, Saul offered David his own sword and armor to carry into battle.
But in a scene that would look more appropriate in a cartoon than in the Bible, none of the armor fits David because he’s so small. And David knew he couldn’t fight like that, so he took off all the king’s armor and sat down his sword. And David walked out to fight Goliath with his slingshot and a handful of rocks.
And you can probably imagine Goliath’s reaction when he saw David coming. But let me show you exactly what Goliath does. So let’s take a look at 1 Samuel 17 together. We’ll start reading in 42, which says:
42 When the Philistine looked David over, he sneered at David because he was just a boy; reddish brown and good-looking.
43 The Philistine asked David, “Am I some sort of dog that you come at me with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said to David, “and I’ll feed your flesh to the wild birds and the wild animals!”
But David didn’t back down. As we keep reading we’re told:
45 But David told the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel’s army, the one you’ve insulted. 46 Today the Lord will hand you over to me.
And then David declares a line that is almost as famous as Rocky yelling, “Yo, Adrian!” when he says:
47 And all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.”
1 Samuel 17:42-47 (Common English Bible)
And we all know what happens next. With just a sling and a stone, David struck down the giant and then cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword, showing that the battle belonged to God. When the Philistines saw their champion fall, they turned and fled. And the Israelites pursued them and defeated them decisively.
Now, anyway that you want to look at the story of David and Goliath, it’s clear that David was completely overmatched. David was just a boy while Goliath was a man. David couldn’t wear armor into the fight because he was too small, but Goliath was over nine feet tall. David brought a couple of stones to the fight while Goliath was holding a massive spear. David was a shepherd while Goliath was a professional soldier.
So David had every right and every reason to do the exact same thing that everyone else in Israel had been doing up to that point. David had every right and every reason to cower in fear at the sight of Goliath.
But even though the odds were against him, David does the same thing that Rocky did. Instead of being afraid, David had faith.
Instead of being afraid, David had faith.
But the biggest difference between David and Rocky is that Rocky had faith in himself. Rocky believed that he could go the distance against Apollo Creed. But David didn’t have faith in himself. David knew that there was no way that he could defeat Goliath on his own with just a sling and a stone. Instead, David had faith in God.
And that’s because David knew that no matter how big Goliath was that our God is bigger. Our God is the God who created the heavens and the earth just by speaking. Our God is the God who made every one of us with his own hands. Our God is the God who turned Abraham into a great nation. Our God is the God who parted the Red Sea so that the people of Israel could escape Eygpt. Our God is the God who saved Daniel from the lions’ den and Shadrach, Meshack, and Abendigo from the fiery furnace. Our God is the God who walked on water and fed the multitudes with just a few small fish and a couple of loaves of bread. Our God is the God who defeated death when Jesus was resurrected.
So even though David was just a shepherd armed with a few stones, David had faith that God could use him to defeat a giant. And David put his faith into action.
And we need to do the same thing. When we’re facing our own giants, we need to have faith in God. When we’re facing our own giants, we need to have faith in God.
So when the odds feel like they are stacked against you, when it feels like the challenges you face are insurmountable, when it feels like there is no chance the giants you’re facing will ever fall; turn to God. Because God is with you. And when God is with you, you never fight alone. God will help you stand up to any giant. God will help you make it through.