Calvary Road Baptist Church




This morning I want to brag on the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to extol His compassion and exalt His mercy. My desire is to show that the Lord Jesus Christ does more than save those who are in and up, but is also the Savior of those who are down and out.

Over the course of a person’s life you can get things into your head that are just not true, things that bear no resemblance to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Such ideas oftentimes enter into the thinking of men and women, boys and girls, who rightly see themselves as failures. They have basically fouled up their lives, and they know it. Looking back over the course of their lives, they correctly conclude that their decisions have been mainly wrong, that their choices have been typically foolish, and that they have engaged in behavior that is frequently either self-destructive to themselves or harmful to others. How can you recognize failures? You can frequently recognize people who have admitted their failures by various appearance choices they have made, though this is not always the case.

More important than looking at someone and identifying him as a failure is for you to recognize that my Lord Jesus Christ is the Savior of failures. Think about this with me for a moment. Down at the beach you will find lifeguard towers strategically stationed to provide lifeguards for public safety. Have you ever thought about what a lifeguard does? Lifeguards do not rescue successful swimmers, but unsuccessful swimmers, what we might unkindly label swimming failures. Lifeguards are not needed for swimmers who succeed in their endeavors, who frolic in the water and who successfully swim and ride surf boards. Lifeguards, saviors in that sense, are needed only for those who are failures in the water.

In like manner, the Lord Jesus Christ is not needed by those who are successful in life, who successfully resist the temptations to commit sins, who are not dead in trespasses and sins. He is needed only by those of us who are failures. Rather than spend time this morning developing a theology from the Bible, I want to show you examples, illustrations, of Jesus saving what we should recognize as being failures.




Jacob, you will remember, was the grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac. He was also the twin brother of Esau, who took advantage of his brother’s hunger and bought the birthright of the firstborn son for a bowl of beans.[1] Remember, also, that he tricked his blind father while his brother Esau was hunting that he might receive the blessing typically given to the firstborn.[2] This all set in motion a chain of events that resulted in Jacob fleeing for his life, working for his uncle Laban for many years, and marrying two women, sisters, Leah and Rachel, before returning back to the land of promise to live with his father and grandfather.[3] It was on the way back that Jacob wrestled with a man one night at Peniel.[4] That experience was Jacob’s encounter with God that resulted in his conversion, the changing of his name, and the dislocation of his hip that resulted in a lifelong limp. My own opinion is that the man he wrestled was the pre-incarnate Christ, and that it was on that occasion Jacob was saved.

Years later, when Jacob was brought to Egypt by his son Joseph, he was interviewed by Pharaoh. On that occasion he summed up his life with these words: “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.”[5] By his own estimation Jacob’s life, but for God’s gracious interventions, had been an unmitigated disaster. In short, he knew himself to be a failure. However, he was a failure who Jesus saved.




You remember good king Hezekiah, the godly ruler of Judah whose kingdom was attacked by the Assyrians after they had overwhelmed the northern kingdom of Israel. Told by God that his life would shortly end, Hezekiah pleaded with God for healing. His prayer was heard, his request was granted, the prophet Isaiah applied a plaster to heal the affliction that was threatening his life, and he was given an additional fifteen years of life.[6] When Hezekiah died, his heir to the throne was a twelve year old boy named Manasseh, who was almost certainly spoiled rotten in his father’s final years, and who grew to be Judah’s most wicked king. For his refusal to listen to the LORD, he was taken by the Assyrians to Babylon and suffered terrible humiliation and affliction.

It was during his humiliation that Manasseh besought the LORD his God, humbled himself greatly, and I think was converted. We know God heard his prayers and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem, where he did his best to undo the terrible damage to his kingdom that he had done before his conversion.[7] There was never more obvious a failure than Manasseh, a man who very much deserved the punishment of hellfire for his sins, yet Jesus saved him.




We do not know if it was the first time Jesus saw him or not, but the first time he is mentioned in the gospel record we are told that his name is Levi, the son of Alphaeus, and he was sitting at the receipt of custom.[8] In other words, he was a sellout, a traitor, a collaborator, who worked for the Romans by collecting the toll from travelers who crossed back and forth over the Roman’s bridge for a price.

Regardless of how his life had begun, by this occupation, Levi, known to us as the apostle of Jesus Christ referred to as Matthew, had sunk about as far as a Jewish man could sink in the eyes of his people. He was without any doubt, a failure in the eyes of his father, a failure in the eyes of his mother, a failure in the eyes of his people, and a failure in his own eyes (though he was making good money). Still, Jesus saved him, and even called him to be one of His twelve apostles.




If Levi, known to us as Matthew, was a failure for collaborating with the Romans as a tax collector who received money from those who crossed over the Roman toll bridge at Capernaum, Zacchaeus occupied an even lower position in the eyes of the people. Zacchaeus was chief among the publicans, very wealthy.[9] His money was even more cruelly obtained than Matthew’s money, since Zacchaeus was engaged in what was is called tax farming. He would pay the Romans a set fee for the right to collect taxes from his countrymen, so the Romans would have a guarantee of their money and so Zacchaeus and others like him could squeeze as much money from the local population as they could get. In other words, Zacchaeus was a predator, impoverishing his own people as an agent of the Romans.

However, as Jesus passed through Jericho this man of small stature climbed a tree to get a better view of the man from Nazareth, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.”[10] Did Jesus save this miserable failure of a human being? Listen to what He says in Luke 19.9-10: “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”




This is the Samaritan woman spoken of in John chapter 4, who had been married five times and was living with a man she was not married to.[11] That she not only considered herself a failure, but that she was thought to be a failure by her whole circle of acquaintances is evidenced by the fact that she came to obtain water in the heat of the day, rather than when the other women did so, in the morning and in the evening.

So, she is not only despised by the Jewish people for being a Samaritan, but she is despised by the Samaritan people for being an adulterous woman, for being sexually promiscuous. At least in an informal way, she has been ostracized by everyone who knew her. However, Jesus dealt with her in a compassionate way and saved her.




In John chapter 8, we find the Lord Jesus Christ sitting in the Temple courtyard early one morning, when they forcefully brought a woman to Him and sat her down in front of Him, and said, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.”[12] There was no disputing the fact that she had been caught in the very act of having sex with some man who was not her husband.

By any standard of marital conduct, this woman was a failure. She had failed by committing a flagrant and wicked personal sin. She had failed by involving someone else in that sin, the man with whom she committed adultery. Finally, she has profoundly sinned against not only her husband, but also against God and the people she identified with.

However, though He in no way minimized the severity of her sin, we notice that He did not speak to her in a condemning way, and did not personally vilify her or speak harshly to her. Instead, He spoke only after her accusers had left, leaving her accused in front of Jesus and those He was teaching, but without accusers. Listen to His words: “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”[13]




Very few people who knew him would have considered Saul of Tarsus a failure. By his own account he was “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”[14] He was in every way imaginable a religious and cultural superstar.

What he and those who knew him did not realize at the time, however, was that he was about as wide of the mark of success as a man could possibly be. Years later, writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he very definitely labeled himself in First Timothy 1.15 as a man who had been one of the chiefest of sinners. Thus, he was clearly a failure in those ways that are most important.

Yet, Jesus saved him, did He not? He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and rebuked him for persecuting Christians, at the same time showing him that He had obviously risen from the dead. As a direct result of that encounter, Saul of Tarsus was converted from the most aggressive enemy of the gospel to the most effective Christian the world has ever seen.[15]


Eighth, And Finally, LEON WALDRIP


You might think that Jesus once saved failures, but for one reason or another He no longer saves failures in modern times. Let me confront that sentiment by relating to you the testimony of my uncle Leon, who had grown up on a sharecropper’s farm, had been notorious for his moral failures, had joined the Army and was captured at Corregidor, had suffered through a Japanese prison camp, had experienced twenty years of drunkenness and dissolution after the war, and was then gloriously saved in the mid-1960’s when God answered his mother’s prayers.

There have been few men so charming while being more malevolently wicked than my uncle. He was a long haul truck driver who was drunk every day he did not drive, and who admitted his many failings to me. If ever there was a man who was a moral failure, a social failure, a family failure, and an unmitigated disaster, it was my uncle Leon Waldrip.

Yet, one day while walking down the street with a bad hangover, God brought to his memory the gospel truths he had been taught as a little boy and haunted him with the prayers of his mother. He told me that on the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with one foot on the sidewalk and one foot in the gutter, needing a change of clothes because he had messed himself, he turned from his sins and embraced Jesus Christ, the Savior of failures.

He never again drank liquor. He never again violated his marriage vows. He never again embarrassed his family. He began to attend church. He followed the Lord in believer baptism. He constantly witnessed to the lost. He lived before his fellow man as a sinner now saved from his sins. Then, one day sitting at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee, he slipped out into eternity, a blood-washed and blood-bought child of God.


My friend, do not make the mistake of thinking Jesus saves the up and in crowd, but does not save the down and out crowd. When he wrote to the Corinthians, Paul very clearly stated something that many today pass over thoughtlessly. I read from First Corinthians 1.26-28:


26     For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27     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;

28     And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea. . . .


Here is the truth of the matter: Every man, every woman, and every child is a failure with respect to the one issue where success and failure really matters, sinfulness.

What confuses most people, and what interferes with a person’s willingness to listen to the gospel message, is when we appear to be successful in areas of life that do not matter, such as being smart, such as being good looking, such as being athletic, such as being successful in business, or having some kind of talent. In other countries, and sometimes here in the USA, success seems to be coupled to being high born to a rich or prestigious family.

Whatever situation you may find yourself in, you are a failure. Adam failed when he sinned against God, and every descendent of Adam’s has been born a failure since then. However, if you are by some measure wise, or mighty, or noble, you will be sorely tempted to make the mistake of thinking you are not a spiritual failure. That is why those who are from the more humble levels of society, who have personal failures staring them in the face, are more easily persuaded of their spiritual failure and need of a savior.

Some, however, sink so low in their thinking, or who have a low view of the Savior, that they think they are too much the failure to be saved from their sins. That is why I have brought this message showing Jesus to be the Savior of failures. We are all failures in some sense, and we are all sinners. Therefore, the question you should ask yourself is, can Jesus save such a failure as me?

If the illustrations I have set before you are not convincing enough, perhaps two verses from the Bible will convince you:


Isaiah 59.1 declares, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save.”


In other words, no sinner, no failure, is beyond the reach of Jesus Christ to save.


Hebrews 7.25: “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him.”


Anyone who seeks to come to God by way of Jesus lies within His ability to save, no exceptions.

Thus, my friend, not only does Jesus save, Jesus saves failures like Jacob, like Manasseh, like Matthew, like Zacchaeus, like the woman at the well, like the woman taken in adultery, like the apostle Paul, like my uncle Leon, and like me.

Why don’t you come to Jesus . . . now? Sure, you’re a failure. We are all failures when it comes to sins. However, Jesus forgives sins and transforms lives so dramatically that no one who knows Him can possibly be anything through eternity but successful. Forget about turning over a new leaf. What you need is a new life. Come to Jesus.

[1] Genesis 25.29-33

[2] Genesis 27.1-40

[3] Hebrews 11.9

[4] Genesis 32.24-32

[5] Genesis 47.9

[6] 2 Kings 20.7

[7] 2 Chronicles 33.11-18

[8] Mark 2.14-16

[9] Luke 19.2

[10] Luke 19.5

[11] John 4.16-18

[12] John 8.2

[13] John 8.10-11

[14] Philippians 3.5-6

[15] Acts 9.1-30

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