Monday, February 25, 2013

The Longest Ladder

Image courtesy of Nattavut /

Harry, Gary, and Larry were walking through the woods one night on the way to their favorite fishing spot.  Suddenly they stumbled upon an old, abandoned mine shaft, and all three of the friends fell through the rotten wood and crashed to the bottom.  Having managed to survive the fall with just some bumps and bruises, they were soon peering up at the small window of light above them.  It was a 50-foot shaft, but it might as well have been 1,000 feet. 

“Oh, great!” groaned Gary.  “How are we going to get out of this mess?”

“I don’t know” replied Harry.  “I’m just glad our gear fell down here with us.” And with that, he grabbed a slightly dented can of beer from their now-broken ice chest.  “No reason to let a little thing like this keep us from having a good time.”

“C’mon, Harry!  Are you nuts?”  This time it was Larry speaking.  “We’ve fallen into an abandoned mine shaft, and all you can think about is your beer?” 

Harry sneered, “Well, what are you suggesting, Mr. Know-It-All?”

“I’ll tell you what I’m suggesting” said Larry, “I’m suggesting that we’ve got a big problem, and we better get busy if we want to save ourselves.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Gary.

“Well, you guys can do whatever you want to do, but I’m going to build a ladder to get myself out,” answered Larry. 

And that’s exactly what he began to do.  First, he made his plan.  He would use two of their fishing poles for the sides of the ladder, and with the saw on his swiss-army knife, he would cut the third fishing pole into short lengths for rungs, and he would tie the rungs to the poles using fishing line.

“Hey, wait a second” said Gary.  “I didn’t say you could have my fishing pole.  I want to make a ladder too.”

Harry just laughed.  “You’re both crazy.  You’ll never be able to get yourself out of this pit.  But if you really want it, you can have my fishing pole, Larry.  Go ahead and add it to your massive stockpile of ladder-building supplies.”  And so, for the next few days, the three of them fell into a routine.  Staying alive by the food that had fallen into the pit with them, each passed the time in his own way.

Larry was determined to get himself out of the mine shaft.  He planned and he schemed. He thought and he worked.  Always having been a very self-confidant man, he was sure that he could save himself.  Every single day he was obsessed with it.  Nothing else mattered to him, and he would allow nothing to interrupt his progress.  You could almost say that he was religious about it.

Harry was at the opposite end of the spectrum.  For him, life had always been more about playing than working.  So, he chugged down beer after beer and mocked Larry’s efforts to save himself.

Gary was somewhere in the middle.  He really wanted to get out of the pit.  He admired Larry’s efforts, and sometimes even emulated Larry’s efforts.  But in his heart, he didn’t think they had much of a chance to be saved.  Sometimes he would just sit and drink with Harry when he felt particularly despondent.

One morning, after several days of this routine had ensued, Larry cleared his throat, as if to call for the attention of his two friends.

“Look at this,” he proudly said, holding out his rickety fishing pole/ladder contraption.  “I think I’m well on my way.”

Gary gave a long, slow whistle of admiration.  “That’s great!” he said.  Then he hung his head, “I’ve really got to get working on my ladder, too.  You inspire me, man.”

Harry just laughed, “It’s 3 feet tall, guys!  And it looks like it wouldn’t hold the weight of a half-plucked chicken.”

Larry just stared at his mocking friend incredulously.  “You are totally missing the point, Harry.”

“Really?  And just what is the point, Genius?”

“The point,” replied Larry with a haughty tilting of his chin, “is that my ladder is longer than your ladder.”

“Uh…Larry?  I don’t have a ladder.”

“Ex-act-ly,” said Larry, with a sinister smile.

At that moment, Gary chimed in.  “I have a ladder, Larry.  Well…sort of…I mean…it’s a ladder of sorts…I mean…sure it’s only 1 foot tall, but…”

Larry continued with his condescending attitude.  “Gary, I will admit that you have a…ahem…”ladder”…but still, my ladder is longer than your ladder.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  I better keep working on mine if I’m going to save myself.”

“Fools,” Harry muttered under his breath.

But both Gary and Larry continued to construct their “ladders,” using twigs, sticks, or anything else they could find.  They were convinced that they could save themselves.


“Today’s the big day!” said Larry.

It had been one week since the three men fell into the mine shaft, and Larry was rousing the other two from their sleep.

“Big day for what?” grumbled Harry sleepily.

“Today’s the day I will get out of this hole all by myself with my self-made ladder,” he announced grandly. 

Now they were all awake.

“Do you think it will work?” asked Gary. 

Larry answered smugly, “Well, just remember Gary…my ladder is longer than your ladder.”

“Oh yes,” replied Gary, “I had forgotten.” (Gary didn’t like confrontation.)

With an unmistakable flourish, Larry hoisted his ladder against the side of the shaft. 

“Good-bye, fellas…I’ll see you later,” he called.  And then he stepped up onto the first rung.  Slowly he climbed from the first rung to the second rung, and then the third.  The homemade contraption groaned and creaked under his weight, but still he kept on climbing.  From the third rung to the fourth rung he went, and then on to the fifth.  Suddenly he stopped.  He was out of rungs.  He had only made it five feet up the side of the shaft…not even close to the top.

Dejected, he descended from his not-so-high perch as Harry hooted with laughter and Gary looked on sadly. 

“I thought for sure it would be long enough,” he said, to no one in particular.  “I mean, after all, it is longer than anybody else’s ladder.”

And then he sat down to search the pit again for anything that might be used to add to his ladder.


A few days later the three were awakened before daybreak by a powerful beam of light shining on them from the opening above them.

Then a distant voice yelled, “It's them!” 

They had been found by a search and rescue team.

“We’re going to throw you a rope,” came the cry from above.

Larry quickly cupped his hand to his mouth and yelled back up, “Don’t bother!  I’ve got a ladder.”

Gary jumped up quickly and grabbed Larry’s arm.  “Maybe a rope is not such a bad idea, Larry.”

Larry glared at him in disbelief. “Why…you little traitor!  I’ll have you know this ladder-building experience has been very special to me.  It makes me feel good inside.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to try to talk sense into his friend.  “That may be so, Larry.  It might have made you feel good inside, but it definitely has not gotten you out of this pit.”

“I just have to try harder,” exclaimed Larry.

At that precise moment one end of a good, sturdy rope fell down into the mine shaft and dangled right in front of their faces.

Harry spoke first. “I’ve known all along that there was no chance of saving myself. I figured I would die down here. But now for the first time since we fell down here, I have hope.”

“But you don’t even have a ladder!” argued Larry.

But Harry had already grabbed the rope and was being hauled to the surface. As he ascended he called down, “Don’t worry…they’ll throw it back down. We can all be saved!”

A moment later, Gary was tying the rope around his waist as Larry continued to extol the virtues of his ladder. 

“It’s longer than yours, Gary.  And Harry didn’t have one at all.”

But Gary had already started his ascent. “Don’t you get it, Larry? Your ladder was longer than mine, but it was still too short.”


After spending several hours trying to convince the third man to grab the rope, the rescue team finally began to pack up their equipment to go home. 

“After all,” they explained, “we can’t force someone to be saved who doesn’t want to be saved. Perhaps someday he will wake up to the reality that his short little rickety ladder is worthless. We’ll come back and check on him later and hope it isn’t too late.”


Friend, the whole world is like Larry, Harry, and Gary. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, all of mankind has been in a pit of which there is no escape.  That pit is called “sin.”  Many people think they can get out by themselves through religion.  They will even laud themselves and pat themselves on the back because they are more religious than their neighbor.  But the Bible says that all the good deeds and religious ceremonies that we can scrape together will never be enough to get out of the pit of sin. A man can build a ladder of religion that puts his friends and neighbors to shame, but it will disappoint him in the end. The longest of man's ladders are still dreadfully short of God's glory. In order to be saved, we need outside help.

2,000 years ago, a one-man search and rescue team arrived on the scene. His name was Jesus. He was God, but took human form for awhile so that he might carry out His mission. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world, and then He arose from the grave on the third day, triumphant over sin, death, and Hell.

His sacrificial death on the cross made it possible for you and I to be forgiven of our sins. Jesus is the rope that was thrown down into the pit of sin. There are just two kinds of people in this world: Those who will grab the rope, and those who insist on saving themselves. You’ll notice that when it came to getting saved from the pit, there was not one iota of difference between the lazy drinker and the ladder-builder. Likewise, there is no difference between the drunk on the street and the most religious man in town. Both are helpless and hopeless in the pit, and both will have to be saved the exact same way.

Have you trusted Christ as your Saviour? Or are you holding on to your religion in the hopes that maybe someday it will be enough to save you. I encourage you today to let go of anything that you are clutching, and instead grab on to Jesus, the only Saviour from sin.

Note: The above parable was written a few years ago after a lengthy conversation I had with a man who thought that he would most certainly gain entrance into Heaven because he was, in his opinion, better than other people. I am considering turning this parable into a Gospel booklet with pictures, in a format similar to The Fun Train. The Fun Train targets the "life-in-the-fast-lane" crowd, while The Longest Ladder is geared towards the religious crowd.

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