Two of the more famous characters in the Bible share the same name – the son of Kish, and the famous missionary; the first Israelite king, and the great Christian theologian. Both of them named Saul; both of them called to monumental tasks by the Lord; both of them, at their low points, breathing murderous threats against God’s people; but both of them very different men in one very important respect.
One of them, the ancient Israelite king, began quite well, and finished incredibly poorly. The other, the church’s greatest missionary, began quite dreadfully, but finished with a marvelous flourish!
Saul, the son of Kish, did indeed begin quite well. When Samuel first met him and announced God’s plan for his life, he was humbled by the whole thing (1 Samuel 9:21). And, soon after, God worked marvelously in him so that his heart was made new, and so that his mouth began to proclaim the word of God (1 Samuel 10). And it wasn’t long before he was leading his countrymen to great victory in battle against their enemies (1 Samuel 11). But read on and you will find Saul disobeying God’s clear commandments, and seeking to murder his godly servant David, and eventually consulting a kind of Old Testament palm reader because God was no longer answering the wandering king’s pleas for direction. And finally Saul died, alongside his sons, at the battle of Gilboa – falling on his own sword after being wounded by Philistine archers. He began so well, but finished so poorly.
But the story of the other Saul is just the inverse! He began by persecuting the godly, and pursuing them from town to town, just like old Saul with David. But this Saul, having begun so poorly, actually finished quite well. For He met Christ, and was converted, and began preaching God’s Son, rather than persecuting God’s saints, from city to city! And this Saul died able to say that he’d finished his race, and fought a good fight for the Lord. And he died with many souls prepared to follow him heavenward because of the way in which he’d spent the last decades of his life.
And so the two Saul’s – and their inverted life stories – pose for us a simple question: How will you finish? Praise God that some of us have begun much better than New Testament Saul. Some of us have been taught to know and love Christ and His people from childhood. Others of us began to walk in His ways from early adulthood so that, praise God, we don’t have nearly as much to look back on and regret as we might have. But how will we finish? Like the old Saul or the new?
Others of us have begun quite poorly (maybe we’re still in the process of beginning poorly, even as we read these words). But New Testament Saul gives us hope that, with Jesus, all of that can change, and we can end our days saying with the apostle:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7
You really can finish in just that way, if you finish with Jesus! Or you can finish despairing and defeated, like the Saul of old, if you walk away from Christ. And so I urge you, however much time you may have left, finish well! Finish with Jesus!