Description / Transcription
Well, good morning, Christ Covenant Church. It’s great to be with you this morning. It’s a privilege this morning actually to be here with you wearing two different hats today. Certainly any time I preach at Christ Covenant I’m wearing my teacher in residence hat, as I’m here on staff in a part-time capacity, and I always love to do that, but today is unique, because today is Reformation Sunday, and today I’m also here in my capacity as the president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.
And for those of you who might be new to the world of Christ Covenant, there is a long history between RTS and Christ Covenant Church and it’s been a tradition, in recent years at least, that the president of RTS comes and preaches on Reformation Sunday. In fact, this church, if you don’t know, nearly 30 years ago, was one of the founding congregations that helped bring RTS to Charlotte, and ever since it’s just been such a blessing to see that friendship, that relationship, to see how God has blessed not only RTS but Christ Covenant, and it’s just a privilege to be able to be here to preach to you that capacity today as well.
It’s also, of course, as I said, Reformation Sunday. Some of you may think to yourself, well, what in the world is Reformation Sunday? Well, we always put it on the last Sunday in October to try to get it as close as possible to the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, which is actually October 31. So this October 31, I don’t know what you’ll be doing, but it’s a good day to remember that Martin Luther on that day in 1517 started the Protestant Reformation. So every last Sunday in October, whatever that happens to be, we talk about some aspect related to Reformed theology or the Reformation, which is a whole vast swath of doctrinal discussions available to us.
But today, as you’ll see in just a moment, I want to focus on a topic we don’t talk about as much in the Reformed world. Even though it’s right there in our TULIP, the P in TULIP, which is Perseverance. Today I want to talk with you about running the Christian race and not stopping.
So on that score, let’s turn our attention to God’s Word today.
Hebrews chapter 12 is where we are. Hebrews, chapter 12. So if you have a Bible or a phone or a tablet, if you’re at home watching this on video, Hebrews chapter 12, verses 1 through 2 is where we’ll be focusing our attention.
Now as you turn there, you’ll notice this, of course, is a very famous passage. Arguably the most famous passage in the book of Hebrews, and certainly one of the most famous passages in the New Testament. Every time I pick a famous passage, I probably think to myself, well, maybe I shouldn’t pick a famous passage because it’s hard to live up to a famous passage. But this is so rich, so deep today, it’s fitting for this theme of perseverance before us.
So let’s listen to what God has to say to us today. Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 1 through 2.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Amen. Let’s ask God now to bless the reading and the preaching of His Word. Let’s pray.
Lord, we hear that passage today and we confess right out of the gate, Lord, that we are often not very good runners. And Lord, we also confess that there’s many times in our lives, maybe even today, when we’ve thought about stopping. But Lord, we praise you that this passage is not so much about us as runners but about the Great One who ran ahead of us, who ran the race for us, Christ Himself. May we look to Him today as that great picture of what it means to run. He is our finish line, He is our reward. We pray this in His name. Amen.
So a number of years ago I had the privilege of studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for my Ph.D. and I had moved my whole family over there and were studying at the divinity school there called New College, which has this great, long, rich history. It was really a joy to live in Scotland. Every once in a while when I was at the divinity school, I would walk around the hallways and look at the paintings. Of course, as any educational institution that has a great history, you can walk around the hallways and look at all those great theologians that have come before you. I would look at their names and I would read their stories and it was a rather intimidating affair to do that and you think to yourself, who could ever live up to this great heritage here at this divinity school?
But as I was there in Scotland, I realized there was another person who studied at the New College, the divinity school at Edinburgh, that did not become a famous theologian. In fact, he was never a famous theologian, although he’s famous in his own right and I never knew that he studied there. I found out when I was in Scotland that the Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell went to school there.
Now if you don’t know the name Eric Liddell, you probably know the movie that made him famous, which is the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, because Liddell was an Olympic sprinter for Scotland who ran in the 1924 Olympics. If you’ve seen the film, you know the story. It’s a rather remarkable one because that was the moment when England had hoped to capture again some of its former glory. Back in the 1920s, the British Empire was still the British Empire, and in many ways wanting to solidify their place in the world and there is no place better to do it than the Olympic games, and there is no one better to do it than Eric Liddell, who was the most famed sprinter in the world, running the most famous event, the 100 meter, surely he would go, he would win the gold, he would win glory for England, and all would be right in the world.
But of course, you know the story. It doesn’t go like that because as soon as Eric Liddell, a committed Christian, a Scottish Presbyterian, in fact, found out that the heats for the 100 meters were on a Sunday, he informed the Olympic committee that he would not run. Instead, he decided he would run a different event, namely the 400, which ran on a different day.
Now of course you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to know how remarkable that is. You trained your whole life, all that energy and all that effort into one particular athletic event, and then in the last moment you switch events. Nobody does that with any hope of winning, and of course the Olympic committee knew this. Although we look back on Eric Liddell as a hero now, what you may not know and what the film never really dived into, which is that Eric Liddell quickly became the most hated man in Great Britain. He was despised, he was ridiculed, he was mocked. There are even stories, if you read the books about sort of quasi-mobs forming outside his door in protest, how dare this man put the glory of England at stake for some piddly, religious conviction.
Of course, people were baffled by Liddell’s decision, and of course they were baffled by his decision because at the end of the day, they actually were not aware of what race Eric was really running. In their mind, the only race that he was really concerned to run was the Olympic one, but in Eric Liddell’s own mind there was a much greater, much bigger race that he was running and that was not the race of the Olympics, it was the race of the Christian life. It was that race that Eric Liddell was absolutely determined to finish, and to finish well.
Now that captures very much what is present in this passage today, we just read in the book of Hebrews. You noticed it when we read it, the very center of the verse is at the end of verse 1, which is “let us run.” This passage today is about the spiritual race of the Christian life. This would have been a very important passage to the original readers of the book of Hebrews, because if you know the background to the book of Hebrews, you know that the original audience for this book was in a very precarious spot. They were a group of Jewish Christians that had seemed to be converted to Christianity but were having second thoughts. They were starting to doubt what they believe. They started to wonder whether this Christianity thing was all it seemed cracked up to be. They were having second thoughts about whether Jesus is really better than Moses, or better than Joshua, or whether the new covenant was really better than the old covenant, and they were pondering the idea of quitting the race of the Christian life altogether.
Our author steps on the scene with these wonderful verses and says, no, no, no, keep on running.
Now, if we’re honest with ourselves this morning, though, it’s not just the audience to the letter to the Hebrews that feels that way sometimes. We feel that way sometimes. Isn’t it true that often in the Christian life, maybe even in the last year, maybe even as you sit here this morning at Christ Covenant Church that you’ve had the idea in your head that you know what? Maybe this Christianity thing isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I don’t really know if I want to keep running this race. I’m weary, I’m tired. In fact, I’m thinking about running a different race, or I’m thinking about quitting altogether and doing something different religiously.
That idea, that challenge, that temptation, is very real in the Christian life, and it’s not helped by the fact that when we look out in the world around us, we see, especially in social media, famous Christians, or former Christians, who’ve decided to do just that, to give up the Christian life and leave it and go believe something else. There’s a term for that in the theological world. The idea of someone who seemed to be a Christian and professed to be a Christian, but later leaves the faith and stops running and turns out not to be a Christian. The theological term we use for that is called apostasy.
Apostasy is just someone we thought was a believer, and maybe even they thought was a believer, but it turns out later they just stopped the race altogether. That’s why this passage is so key, because this passage is about the opposite of apostasy, which is perseverance, staying in the race in the Christian life.
Now make no mistake about it. Our author is not suggesting by calling us to stay in the race, he’s not suggesting that a true believer, a converted Christian who’s truly regenerate in their hearts, he’s not saying you can really lose your salvation, but he is saying that people who think they’re Christians can find themselves in a place where they’re no longer running and he wants to encourage us and not be that person, to keep running the Christian race.
So how’s our author going to do that today? What is he going to lay out before us in this passage to help us run? Here’s what’s fascinating. Our author does something very interesting here. He pulls into his discussion imagery from the Greco-Roman world of athletics. He actually paints a picture here, a picture he knows his audience would resonate with, saying just like in the earthly world of physical running you need certain things to succeed, so in the spiritual life and the spiritual world of running you need certain things to succeed.
And what are those things? Well, our author lays out three of them in this passage. They’re going to be easy to remember today, because I’m going to give you three F’s, right? I’m going to give you that alliteration, so I expect to quiz you at the door on the way out and see if you remember them.
Here’s what the three F’s are, what every runner needs.
First you need fans to cheer you on, second you need freedom from entanglements, and then thirdly you need a finish line to run to.
Fans, freedom, finish line.
Let’s just take those one at a time. We’ll begin with the first one, fans cheering you on. Look at verse 1 of your passage where this is laid out very plainly. Our author writes: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”
Now the imagery here is not hard to miss. You realize as you look at the imagery here, he’s drawn this imagery of the Greco-Roman colosseum. In the Greco-Roman world, this was a common thing that people would be familiar with.
Think about the movie Gladiator and the colosseum in Rome. It’s a big circular structure and in the center you have events and activities, athletic events, other kinds of events, that take place there. Even in the outlying territories and in the Roman provinces, they have similar structures. Not at the grandeur of the Roman colosseum, but they would echo it in some ways on a smaller scale and people would be used to seeing some sort of colosseum-like structure where the crowds surrounds the runners, surrounds the athletes, and in the middle of it all is someone doing their best in some sort of athletic event.
Our author is saying in that scenario, what runners need is that crowd, that crowd of witnesses all around them cheering them on. If it’s like that in the physical world of running, so it is in the spiritual world.
Now if you knew the context of the book of Hebrews, when he says this great cloud of witnesses, you would know what he is referring to because he’s actually referring to, and we don’t have time to go there, but he’s actually referring to the prior chapter. Chapter 11 in Hebrews is known as the Hall of Faith. You’ve read it and you know what it is. It’s this great record, this great recollection, this great survey of all the saints of old that have come before, who have run the race, they’ve run it faithfully, and they finished it.
If we had time, we could rehearse it. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samson, David, on and on the list goes in a great amount of detail. Almost a history of the entire Old Testament of sorts and our author steps on the scene and says, “That is the crowd that surrounds you when you run.”
Ah, but there’s one big difference, and this is key. In the ancient world of physical running, the crowd was there to watch the runner, but in the spiritual life that’s not the way it is. In the spiritual life, the crowd is not so much there to watch you as they’re there for you to watch them. In other words, what our author wants you to realize is that it’s so much that they’re there to see you run and be entertained by it. No, they’re there for you as you run to see them. To look back, to recognize the great faithfulness of God over many generations, bringing many runners across the finish line.
By the way, that’s exactly what the Hall of Faith is, and don’t mistake what the Hall of Faith is in the book of Hebrews. Sometimes you read the Hall of Faith and think, “Oh, this is the list of Christian heroes. Look at the great saints of old and how amazing they were, how awesome they were, and all the great things that they accomplished.” By the way they did accomplish great things, but that’s not what the Hall of Faith is about. The Hall of Faith is not so much about how great the saints are, but how great God is at bringing to completion what He starts in people. How great God is in bringing us across the finish line. How great God’s grace is that when He begins a work in someone, He brings it to completion. Look how many times in the past God has done that in the saints of old.
Now you and I today need to look at that big, long list of saints in the Old Testament and breathe it in deeply, and here’s why: Because there’s times in the Christian life where we’re thinking that we cannot finish.
Some of you here this morning are runners, or were runners, and some of you may have even run a marathon. If you’ve ever run a marathon, this happened to you. About mile 18 or 19 you had this moment where you thought to yourself, “I’m not sure I’m going to finish this race. This is painful. This is more painful than I thought it would be. In fact, not only do I not think I can finish, I’m not sure anymore even if I want to finish.”
And there’s a point in any marathon where you’re thinking about giving up and it’s like that in the Christian life where your side hurts, you’re sweating and there’s sweat in your eyes and you can’t see, and you’re thinking to yourself, “I think I’d rather just stop. I don’t think it’s possible to finish. I don’t think anyone really can finish.”
Our author says, “Wait. Look back and see how many people have faithfully run the race before you. You can finish.”
Not by your own strength, not by your own power, not in a meritorious fashion where you earn your reward like that, but in a way that exemplifies what God’s grace can do in every believer.
In fact, when I read this passage, I think back to my college days at UNC Chapel Hill when I was a student three years ago. I used to enjoy, like any students would do at Carolina, going to see basketball games, and we’d go into the famed Dean Dome to watch the games. Every time you’d walk into the Dean Dome, you would see the sort of vast stadium there and you’d walk in and you could not miss, I think at least, one of the most prominent things about the Dean Dome, and that is hanging from the rafters were the retired jerseys of the great players of old. Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Michael Jordan. Hanging in the rafters. It’s certainly true that they were there in some sense for the fans, but they’re really there for the players, right? As soon as you think it’s impossible, you can’t go on, you can’t keep going, you look up, you see the name Michael Jordan, #23, and you think to yourself, “Wait, there’s greats that have gone before me, who’ve done this very thing and succeeded.”
That’s, that captures an element in the Christian life I think we need to capture, and that is some of us, many of us, sometimes all of us, at our core sometimes are skeptical about whether anyone ever really runs the Christian life and finishes it faithfully. Sometimes we think, “Can it really be done? Can someone really do that?”
Our author says yes. In fact, I just gave you an entire chapter of how God has brought His saints faithfully over the finish line.
So this first “F” is critical as an antidote to apostasy, to look back and realize you don’t run alone.
Now before we leave it, though, let me make one more observation, and that is it’s not just that you don’t run alone with past saints, you ought not to run alone also in the present. That great cloud of witnesses in its immediate context includes saints of old, but it also includes those around you now. I think our author would certainly say, “Don’t find yourself running the Christian life by yourself, running alone.”
The people who are most likely to quit are the ones who are running by themselves. Run in a crowd.
I think of that scene, it’s branded in my head whenever I think about crowds running, I think of that scene Forrest Gump, right? Where they’re running across the country in a big group, right? That’s the picture of the Christian life. Run together, not alone. If you run alone, you’re more apt to stop. You need fans cheering you on.
Okay, let’s look at the second “F” here, if we’re going to keep ourselves in the race. Not just fans cheering you on, but secondly freedom from entanglements. Here we come to the second part of verse 1. Look down there again with me.
He says, yes, we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, that’s the first thing, and look what he says next: “Let us also lay aside.” Well, what are you supposed to lay aside? Well, he mentions a couple things here: Every weight, and then on top of that, the sin which clings so closely.
It’s harder to pick up in the ESV, but I have no doubt that our author is continuing to use the analogy of athletics in the Greco-Roman world. I love how the NIV puts this. I think it captures it a bit better. It says you need to “lay aside the sin which so easily entangles.” The idea of is which so easily entangles, I think, is an allusion without much doubt to the way a runner would trip and fall if he tried to run in his normal garments, his normal robe.
In the ancient world, when you would watch a runner, they would have very little on clothing-wise. They would have the equivalent of shorts, so to speak in the ancient world, but other than that, nothing else. They would run barefoot, they would have no shirt on, and they would just run.
Our author is saying, “Look, can you imagine for a moment if you tried to run in the normal garments you wear in the ancient world?” In the ancient world, the normal garments would have been what we call a cloak or a robe, it would probably go down to about the ground, it would be the full length of the body, and this is what you would sort of wear on a normal day. But imagine trying to run in that. As soon as you try to run in a cloak or robe, you would trip yourself up and get entangled, and he’s saying, “Look, just like an earthly runner needs to put off anything that causes them to stumble, so you in the Christian life as you run spiritually need to pull off anything that can make you stumble.”
In fact, our author goes here and he lays out two things, which are the two most common ways that people get tripped up in the Christian life, and they lack that freedom to run.
I’m going to do these out of order, starting with the second thing he mentions there. Let’s begin there. He says the main thing I want you to see, it’s the second in his order, is you need to take off the sin which clings so closely.
Now you have to understand what’s going on here in our passage. Our author is not saying that if you have any sin in your life, well, then you’re not going to finish the race. He’s not saying that if you’re a sinner you’re not going to finish the race, because that includes all of us. All of us sin, all of us are sinners. What he’s getting at is the kind of thing that will stop you from finishing the race, is sin that you keep so close to you that it trips you up and tangles you up. Sin that you’re, in one sense, unrepentant about. Sin that you’re grabbing ahold of and won’t let go. Sin that you feel like is close to your life and you won’t relinquish it.
In other words, what our author is getting at here is the number one thing that can trip you Christian life and cause you to stumble and maybe even cause you to stop, is unrepentant sin in your life. Sin that perhaps you began to do and won’t stop, sin that you have gained affection for over time, and slowly you find that your affection for that sin grows so much that at the end of the day you would rather serve it than serve Christ. That ends up causing people to stop the race.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this over the years, just on a pastoral level, on a shepherding level, that people start clinging to sins and they cling to them so much that it starts changing what they believe.
You see, we need to realize that it doesn’t always work in the order we think it does. We’re very committed to the idea that what you believe affects how you behave, and that’s true. What you believe about doctrine and theology affects how you behave. But don’t miss the second thing, which also works in reverse. How you behave in what you do and what your actions are also affects what you believe.
In fact, as you cling to certain behaviors, if you won’t let go of them, it can start affecting what you’re willing to believe and what you will embrace, and you can find that your beliefs start to change as a result of the behaviors that you’re engaged in.
In shepherding situations, people will come to me and say, “You know, I don’t know if I believe Christianity anymore. I don’t know if I really want to go to church anymore. I’m not sure I want to follow Jesus anymore.” Almost inevitably, as you bore down into that sort of series of doubts, you find that a person sometimes is clinging to a sin they won’t let go of and the clinging to that sin has led them to doubt the truth of the Gospel.
Arguably, that is one of the number one causes of apostasy in the world. Our author is saying if that’s you today, if you have a sin you know you need to get rid of and cut away, you can’t have it wrapped around you. You’re going to trip and fall and knock you out of the race. You need to let it go.
But he doesn’t stop there. He’s the interestingly thing. He says, yes, sin can ruin the race. That’s sort of an obvious point. But what I love that our author does, he says it’s not just sin that can ruin the race, other things can ruin the race.
Look back to the verse again. I took the second one first here, “sin which clings so closely,” but notice what he said before that, “let us also lay aside every weight.” Anything you’re carrying around with you that can slow you down, trip you up when you run, even if it’s not in and of itself sinful, lay it aside so you can run more effectively.
In other words, what he wants us to realize here is that what can slow you down and trip you up in the Christian life is not just wrong things, but just anything that weighs you down and slows your running. Here’s where I think we often ask the wrong question in the Christian life. You often ask the question, “Is this certain thing allowed?” when we should be asking the question, “Is this certain thing going to help me run?” and those are not the same things.
There’s many people that have stumbled in the Christian life not because they’re chasing sin per se, but because something else has distracted them and drawn their attention and drawn their time away from what it should be on. If there’s something in your life, even if it’s inherently not sinful, if it’s causing you to stumble, slow you down, our author is saying get rid of it so you can run.
Years ago this was sort of bored into my brain when I visited with some old college buddies at the Grand Canyon. We took a trip to the Grand Canyon years ago to hike it with some friends from college. It’s an amazing place. I’m sure many of you have been there. It’s one of those sort of classic lifetime trips and when you arrive, if you’ve never gone before, you’ll be blown away. It’s much more magnificent that you can imagine.
But when we were there, I can still remember before we walked down the trail, there was a park ranger there at the trailhead sort of giving warnings to people before they departed. This was a fascinating experience to hear what he was saying. He basically was saying to people, “Do you realize how many people every year we have to rescue from the Grand Canyon? Before you go down this trail, you need to recognize something that’s unique about the grand Canyon that’s unlike any other hike you’re ever going to go on, and here’s what’s interesting about it: This hike, as opposed to most hikes, you start by going down first, and then up second, whereas most other hikes you start by going up first and down second.”
Think about that for a moment. If you go the North Carolina mountains to hike, 99% of the hikes you’re starting by going up, you’re spending all your energy, and at least on the way down, well, you’re going down when you’re tired and at least you have an easier pathway. The Grand Canyon’s the opposite; you start off going down and you think it’s easy. People get far too deep into the canyon and they can’t get out.
What he says is that people don’t realize now only is it easy to get far too down, but it’s hotter down there than it is on the rim. So it’s hotter, you’re down, and then you start coming back out, and he says all the time people are carrying a pack full of supplies and on the way back out they realize they cannot both make it out and take their backpacks with them. So the ranger says it’s not unusual every year to just walk down the trail and see supplies on the side of the trail. There will be a tent and there will be pots and pans and there’ll be other things, there’ll be a backpack. People ditch this stuff on the side of the trail because they realize they get stuck down there and they can’t get out and they realize it’s either a choice between ditching these things or not make it out, and they’d rather make it out alive.
They’re good things, they’re not bad things. They’re things that are probably expensive things and wonderful things. Probably cost them a lot of money. But when you have a choice between survival and those good things, you’re ditching the good things.
It’s almost like our author is saying that about the Christian life. Sometimes you walk around with a backpack on, filled with things that aren’t bad in and of themselves, but if it keeps you from running, then leave them on the side of the trail.
Freedom from entanglements is what we need more than anything else.
Okay, that brings us to the third and final “F” here. Yes, you need fans cheering you on, yes, you need freedom from entanglements, but this is the big one, this is the culmination of all of it, and this is where our passage is headed to, its sort of big crescendo is you also need a finish line.
When we come to it here we find that we have the most wonderful, magnificent, inspiring finish line imaginable.
Look at verse 2 with me. After giving all those recommendations, then he says, “Here’s one final thing I want you to do: Run while you’re looking to Jesus.”
You see what our author is doing there? He’s painting it as a visual thing, that when you run, you’re going to have a stadium around you. When you run, you’re going to take off these robes, and when you run, you’re looking at something. That’s what runners do. Here again he’s appealing to the Greco-Roman world. When you run, there’s a finish line. You’re aiming for something. You have a goal. It’s as if to say, the most sure way to make sure you don’t finish is to not have a finish line. Or one of the most sure ways to distract yourself when you run and to be discouraged is to not even know where the finish line is.
Imagine running and being exhausted and you don’t even know where you’re going, or how much further you have, or what the finish line might be. That’s a sure way not to finish the race. He says, “But you have a finish line, it’s a clear finish line, look to Jesus.”
Here’s where we come to, I think, the crescendo of the passage for lots of reasons, because as soon as you realize that Jesus is the finish line, that changes the whole nature of the race. It changes it in so many different ways.
For one way it changes it is it changes your motive. Don’t think for a moment that when you run the Christian life that somehow it’s this meritorious, earning your way to God, as if you finish the race, God rewards you with salvation because, you know, well, that’s just a works mentality and so on.
No, no, no. This is not a works-oriented, meritorious-oriented race. If Jesus is the finish line, you’re running because of Him, through His power, by His grace, for His glory. This is a Christ-centered race. So it affects your motive.
Here’s the other thing it does when you realize Christ is the finish line. It also changes the perception of what your reward is.
In the Greco-Roman world, the trophy would be at the finish line. That’s where the crown would be, or whatever reward they had. When you run in the Christian life, what are you seeing at the finish line? Jesus Christ. Here’s what I want you see this morning, this is what our writer wants us to see: Jesus Himself is our reward.
This is a critical shift for us theologically, because I think there’s so much in the Christian life where we think that our reward is something Jesus can give us, or something Jesus can do for us, or something Jesus can provide for us. The ultimate reward is not what Jesus does for us or provides for us or gives us, the ultimate reward is Jesus Himself.
Here’s the question for you this morning: Is that a reward you’re excited about? Is that why you’re running?
One of the things I’ve learned over the years in the world of the Church is that people are very busy people. They’re doing very many things, and many of those things are very good things. As I look around Christ Covenant Church this morning, I know many of you are doing many great things here and working really hard. Most churches are like that. But I think when you bore down into it, you have to ask yourself: What is the finish line I’m aiming for here? Because I can tell you this: If your finish line or your goal or your motive is just a good cause to labor for, or just a good idea to pursue, or just some philosophy that you’re pursuing, you will not finish this race. That is not enough motivation.
To finish this race you need something more glorious, more wonderful, more special, more distinctive. There’s no greater reward than Christ Himself.
It’s amazing how He’s described here in this passage. I wish we had time to unpack all of it, but I want you to notice that why is Jesus such a great reward? Well, He’s the founder and perfecter of our faith, who ran His own race and Himself received the prize. What you realize then is that when you follow Christ, you’re following someone who’s already ran the race ahead of you. You in one sense are following in His footsteps. In one sense He is the pioneer and you’re following in His path. That’s why you finish the race, because Christ in one sense already finished it for you. This is the pure cure to apostasy.
Apostasy happens when people run the race for other reasons, and other reasons aren’t enough. Then people give up, they’re like, “That’s it, I’m finished, I’m out.”
Jesus will always be enough. Keep your eyes focused on Him.
It reminds me of a movie that actually came out a few years ago. It didn’t actually make a big splash in the box office, but it’s a fascinating little film called The Walk. It actually tells the true story of a Frenchman by the name of Phillippe Petit, who in August of 1974 did something no one had ever done before. In August of 1974, Philippe Petit snuck in the dark into the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, with some help from some friends, these Trade Centers were still under construction at the time, in the middle of the night he strung up a cable between these two buildings. By dawn, by the time the sun rose, with the help of his friends, he had strung a cable between the Twin Towers in New York City. As the traffic started to come up and the city started to awaken, Philippe Petit stepped out his cable with a long pole and began to do a high wire act, the highest that any human being had ever done. Over the city of New York, illegally.
It’s a remarkable story. He broke all kinds of records and he went back and forth on this thing multiple times. So much so that the crowd started to from below, causing traffic congestion, all these problems, he ended up getting arrested, you know how all that sort of thing goes. What’s remarkable about it, though, is people were wondering how in the world do you walk across a cable like that multiple times and not fall.
The answer is very simple. Philippe Petit said, “I look at the end of where it goes and I never take my eyes off that one spot at the end of the cable.”
In other words, I keep my eyes on the finish line.
The last thing you want to do in your high wire cable act is to look down. You look down, it’s over, right? You keep your eyes on the finish line.
Our author here is making the same point in the book of Hebrews. If you want to run this race, it’s not because you’re the greatest runner ever or because I’m the greatest runner ever. That’s not why we’re going to finish this race. We’re going to finish this race by Christ’s power, by His grace, and by keeping our focus on Him.
You know, returning to the story of Eric Liddell, what’s fascinating, of course, and you know how this goes, is that he ended up running the 400 in the Olympic event in 1924. Before the event happened, it’s curious. All the pundits were convinced he was going to lose. The reason they were convinced he was going to lose is because sprinters can’t run the 400 because they can’t pace themselves. They come out of the blocks too fast and they’re gassed out by the last turn and there’s no way he could possibly win. In fact, in the race was the world record holder, Jackson Schultz, who was a United States runner, you know, Jackson Schultz has the world record in the 400, you’re running an event you haven’t trained for, you’re wired as a sprinter, you’re going to come out of the blocks too fast, there’s no way you’re going to win this race.
Actually, things got worse for Eric Liddell, because it turns out the day of the event he drew the outside lane. If you know anything about the 400, the outside lane is not the lane you want because the lanes are staggered, right? So the outside lane is actually the very front lane, or the very front spot, so when you run, you can’t see any other runners. When you run, you have no one to pace yourself with. You’re the person that’s way out in front. They were convinced, okay, it’s over now. The best shot he had was pacing himself with the other runners, now he’s surely not going to work because he can’t see any other runners, he’s sunk.
Before the race began, someone ran up to Eric Liddell and gave him a little slip of paper. That paper had a passage of Scripture from [sic] it, 1 Samuel 2:30: Him that honors Me, I will honor.
So the gun went off, out of the blocks they all went, and of course Eric Liddell did what everyone thought he would do, he started like a sprinter. Bolted out of that with all his might. Later, newspapers as they discussed it said that they were sure that he was going to be caught on the last lap. He never was. Even Jackson Schultz, the world record holder, was several steps behind him and Liddell went on to win the gold medal. What’s remarkable about it all is I think that drawing the last lane was his best thing, because what that allowed Eric Liddell to do was to run when the only thing he could see was the finish line. No other runners, nothing else to watch, just the finish line. Which, of course, in the 1924 Olympics was that piece of tape, but I think in Eric’s mind it was more than that. It was no doubt the finish line of Christ Himself. He ran for the glory of Christ.
May that be the way we run. May we run today with fans all around us cheering us on, putting aside all the entanglements, but most of all running with Christ as our great reward. Amen.
Let’s pray. Lord, we’re grateful today for this passage of Scripture. Lord, as we began our time, we prayed, acknowledging that we’re often not very good runners, we’re slow, we’re out of shape, we often think about quitting. But Lord, use this passage today to remind us of the glorious finish line in Christ that awaits, that He empowers us, He strengthens us, He gives us the endurance to make it. Let us look to Him and to nothing else as we run. We pray all this in His name. Amen.