The Marathon Race of The Christian Life
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Sermon Delivered 8/17/03
Text: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." Hebrews 12:1-3
The Bible often uses metaphors to help us better understand the realities of the Christian life. For example, Christian living is compared to warfare. Paul counsels us to endure hardship "as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3) and to "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11). Paul also uses boxing to illustrate the Christian life. "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air:" and "fight the good fight of faith." (1 Corinthians 9:26; 1 Timothy 6:12). In our Hebrews text, the Christian life is compared to a marathon race.
Far too many of those who profess to be Christians today are mistaken about the nature of the Christian life. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that the Christian life is not a sprint but rather a marathon race! Too many believers think that they can put forth a burst of energy for a few seconds and then collapse at the finish line and that is acceptable. Whoever believes that, is deceiving himself, and being unfaithful to Christ. Again, the Christian life is a marathon race, therefore, as the Apostle Paul said, "run that ye may obtain." 1 Corinthians 9:24
Hebrews 12:1-3 gives us instruction in how to successfully run the marathon race of the Christian life.
"Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnessesÖ" Verse 1a
This letter was written to the Hebrew Christians from Italy (Hebrews 13:24). Remember that the Roman Empire dominated the world. And, I would remind you that the Roman Empire consumed with sports. One example of that was the Roman Colosseum. This ancient sports stadium was my first stop while touring old Rome recently. It was called the "collosseum" (colossal) because of the huge statue of Nero that was erected nearby. It could seat 68,000 people and had standing room for another 5,000. It was the site of many sporting events as well as the site of the vicious martyrdom of many believers. When the competitors would make their entrance into the Colosseum the crowds would cheer their favorites.
Many of you know that I was born and lived all my life, except the last twenty-three years, in Michigan. I was a Detroit Tigers fan. I believe the year was 1968 that the Tigers were in the World Series. My dad got us tickets to one of the World Series games. I have to tell you that I was excited, not just because the Tigers were playing, but because I got to see my dadís cousin Mickey Stanley play in that game. When the Tigers came on to the field I joined the crowd in screaming my lungs outÖGo Tiger! And when my second cousin would bat a make a play Iíd root him on! Iíll never forget that game. We wanted to motivate our team. We wanted to encourage them. We wanted them to keep on keeping on.
The author of Hebrews 12 wants to motivate believers to continue on in the Christian life. They had been having a hard time. Some of them were sitting on the sideline and he wants them to get into the marathon race. So, he reminds them of the "great cloud of witnesses." But, who are these witnesses? The Greek word translated witnesses is marturon, from which we get our word martyr. Friends, the "greatÖcloud of witnesses" is the Christian martyrs who have gone on beforeÖ Turn to Hebrews 11:37 "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted [tortured], were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented." Men like the Apostles (Peter, Paul, etc.) William Tyndale, John Rogers, Rawling White, William Wolsey and Robert Pigot, Jim Eliot and others.
So, what motivation should these people be to us? First, they completed their portion of the race! Paul said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:" 2 Timothy 4:7 We can learn from those who have completed the marathon! Second, they have passed the baton to us, and now it is our job to run the race that is set before us.
At this point, the writer gives his readers instructions in how to run a successful marathon race.
"Ölet us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us," Verse 1b
Believe it or not, I used to play basketball when I was in high school. When I was training, I used to wear weights around my ankles. But, when it came game time, I took the weights off so I could jump higher and run faster. Thatís the idea of the phrase "Ölet us lay aside every weight." This phrase reveals a couple of important things. To begin with the two words lay aside are just one word in the Greek and that word is in the middle voice which reminds us that this is something that the believer must do himself. No one can lay aside the weights for you. You must lay them aside yourself.
So what are the weights we are to lay aside if we are to run the Christian race successfully? Obviously, weights are not sins. Sin is addressed in the next phrase. The weight in focus here are things that will hold you back from serving the Lord.
We must not for get that genuine faith demands action. It is a marathon race. If we will successfully run in that race we need to make concessions and adjustment in our lives to make serving the Lord top priority. You may have to watch less TV in order to serve the Lord. You may have to forego your involvement in sports to serve the Lord. You may have to adjust your work schedule to serve the Lord.
The old Puritan, Thomas Merton, hit the nail on the head when he said, "My business is not to please the flesh, but to please the Lord." Merton is right! While sin cannot condemn the believer, it can ensnare the believer. If you have any doubts about that, just look at the Life of King David. He started off well, but when he should have been fighting he was relaxing and got ensnared in the tangled web of adultery and murder which ultimately led to the rape of one of his daughters, the murder of one of his sons and another one being killed.
Sin will hinder you from running the Christian race! Paul confronted the Galatian believers on this issue. He wrote, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" Galatians 5:7
As believers, we need to remember that the Christian life is a battle field and not a recreation room. Itís a fight and not a game. Itís a marathon and not a sprint. We must make a conscious choice to lay aside the weights and sins so we can compete in the Christian marathon.
"Ölet us run with patience the race that is set before us." Verse 1c
Focus on the word patience for a moment. The Greek word that underlies it means patience endurance. The word translated race is a translation of the Greek word agona, from where we get our word agony. The point is once again that the Christian life is a marathon. It is not a spectator sport! Our Lord calls you to run with patience (endurance) the race (agony) that is set before us. Thereís no shortcut.
Are you a Christian? If you are, are you running in the marathon or sitting on the sideline. If you are sitting on the sideline you need to get in the race.
Let me get really practical. Starting Monday evening September 15th Pastor Darrow is going to be teaching a class on how to witness effectively for Christ and how to disciple new converts. Why canít you attend that class? Why canít you attend Sunday School? Why canít you attend Sunday evening service? Why canít you attend prayer meeting on Wednesday evenings? If you are a believer and have not been Biblically baptized, why canít you be? If you are attending here and you are a believer, why canít you join our fellowship? Why canít you get in the race?
Now, before you say not, consider the lives of the witnesses who have gone before us. We all have challenges that we have to overcome, but we can do it. Hereís howÖ
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."
Christ is the one who will empower you to complete the
marathon race that is set before you Christian, so stop making excuses and
get in the race and give it your all.