St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

More Than A Marathon

Sermon on Hebrews 12:1-13

Text: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined — and everyone undergoes discipline — then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

We often speak of things as being a marathon. The term refers to anything that is long and grueling. The history of this terminology comes to us from ancient Greece. The Persian army invaded Greece. Their mighty army outnumbered the Athenians by three to one. Yet, on the Plain of Marathon, the smaller Athenian army defeated the Persians. According to legend, a man ran the twenty-six miles back to Athens with the news of the victory and died after delivering the news. This feat marks the beginning of the marathon race. The people who originally read the words of our text would be well aware of the imagery of the marathon. The modern-day marathon shows a great deal about the character of the person. It takes a great deal of training to be in shape to run a race like that. The writer to the Hebrews reminds them, and us, as well, that we are involved in something more grueling than a 26-mile race. We are running the race of our life. As we study the words of our text, we remember that life is MORE THAN A MARATHON. 1. The Distance Is A Lifetime. 2. The Race Requires Perseverance. 3. The Inspiration To Keep Running Is Jesus.

Few of us can imagine running 26 miles. I think that the thought of running from Clatonia to the Saltillo Road exit from Highway 77 is less than appealing for most of us. Yet, we are involved in a race. It is the race of our lives. We read in verse one that we are to, “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The race is our lifetime on this earth. The start line is when we are born. The finish line is the end of our lives. That, definitely, is longer than 26 miles. We could finish a 26-mile race in the matter of a day or two, if we had to. However, the race we are involved in takes quite a bit more time than that.

Yet, we find comfort in the words, “marked out for us.” (Verse 1) A racecourse must be plotted and planned by those who are in charge. They must see to it that the runners know where they are supposed to go. They help the people as they run their race.

So also, God had plotted and planned our course, as well. Before the world was created, he knew what was going to be our starting time. He planned the course that we would follow throughout our life. He knew what we would meet before we started the course. He also knows when we will finish our race. It is so wonderful to know that I am not running aimlessly. God is in complete control of my life. He has planned my course. I say with great joy, “My times are in your hands.” (Psalm 31:15) God has planned my life long race.

Does that mean that my race will always be easy? Because God has planned my course, does that mean that the life of the Christian will flow along, and I can take it easy? Of course not. You and I both know that we face many obstacles as we run our life’s race. What are we supposed to do when we run into an obstacle? Give up? Quit? Our God encourages us, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Verse 1) Perseverance means we keep on working at it. You keep going, and God himself will help us as we run our race.

How does God help us? He acts as our trainer. Every athlete has a trainer, who pushes the athlete to do better. He plans the athlete’s diet. If the athlete is lazy or not doing what he should, the trainer corrects him, sometimes, using some harsh methods. He keeps pushing at the athlete to be better. The trainer helps the athlete improve their skill. This is all done so that the athlete might win the prize.

God acts as our trainer. He does what is best for us so that we might win the prize of heaven. Sometimes this might include correcting us when we are not doing what we are supposed to. Sometimes God will discipline us. We have done wrong, and God disciplines us. What is the purpose of discipline? Think of the area where we often use the word “discipline.” Usually, it is in the home. Why do parents discipline their children? Isn’t it so that they learn that a particular behavior is not acceptable? Isn’t for training a child to teach him what he can and cannot do? The motivation to discipline is love. If the parent would discipline the child for putting something into an electrical socket, is the parent doing that because they hate the child? No, if they hated the child, he would allow the child to keep on doing it. Rather, out of love for that child, he disciplines the child to teach him that this is a bad thing to do. So, also, God may discipline us to teach us that the path we are on is dangerous and to bring us back to the straight race.

When you discipline a child, you probably will not hear a “Thank you” when you are done. Often it isn’t until years later when children appreciate the discipline that their parents gave them. That’s because discipline isn’t fun. It doesn’t feel good to be disciplined, yet it is for our good. As we read in verse 11, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” It may not feel good to have God discipline us, but we know that it is for our good. It is there to help us on the race of our life. God’s training program is designed to make us better runners on life’s racecourse. When troubles come into our lives, we do not despair. Rather than asking “Why,” we can ask “What?”. What is God trying to teach me? It may not be until years later that we see why God allowed this or that to come into our lives. We may never know why, but we can be sure it is for our good, so that we might run our race.

The writer to the Hebrews also gives further advice as we run our race. He says in verse 1, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” When an athlete runs the race, he doesn’t wear a long bathrobe. He doesn’t run with his shoelaces untied. If he did, he probably wouldn’t get any further than a few steps before he tripped and fell. The athlete gets rid of everything that would hinder them in their race.

So also we want to get rid of everything that would trip us up as we run our race. We take stock of our lives. Is there something in it that causes me to stumble and fall into sin? If I want to run a good race, I will want to get rid of this thing that causes me to stumble and fall, whether it be an emotion or a particular temptation. This might be painful. But, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” That is the bottom line. For those who win the race, there is eternal life, but for those who don’t finish, who get lost on the way, there is only hell for them. My friends, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

But it’s such a long race. There are many times when we feel like giving up. It’s too hard. That is why the writer to the Hebrews gives us the inspiration to keep on running. He says that we are to run the race, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Verse 2) A coach who hopes to inspire his team might point to someone as an example of what can be done. So also, we are pointed to a perfect example. We are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus as we run our race.

We focus on Jesus because he is “The pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus Christ is the one who brought our faith to perfection. If Jesus hadn’t completed his race, if he had not lived a perfect life, had not died an innocent death, had not risen from the dead and had not ascended into heaven, there would be no reason for us to run our race. That is because we would still be in our sins and, even if we wanted to run the race, we would never have done it the way that God wanted it to be done. There would be no race, for there would be no prize of eternal life at the end. However, because Jesus did suffer, die, and rise again, we have reason to run the race. Eternal life is waiting for us at the end. It is the crown of eternal life that Jesus won for us.

We focus our attention on Jesus because he endured everything for us. Moreover, he knows what we go through in this life because he also went through it. We focus our eyes on Jesus because he encourages us on our way. He speaks to us through the pages of Holy Scriptures, urging us on. If we focus on Jesus, if we put him at the center of our lives, we will not be running all over the racecourse. We stay focused on the end, where we will receive the crown of victory, won for us by Jesus Christ. Let us run our lifelong race with Jesus as our constant inspiration and strength to keep on running.

During the Summer Olympics of 1984, the world waited in eager expectation for the women’s 3,000-meter race in the Olympics. The favorite to win was American Mary Decker. She had trained long and hard for the race, However, as she was running, she was accidentally tripped by a runner from South Africa, by the name of Zola Budd. I still can remember the tears streaming down her face, as Mary Decker sat in the infield. She had trained so hard, but one misstep ruined it all. Dear friends, let us run the race marked out for us. It is a long race. It is a hard race. It requires an extraordinary amount of training. Let us, however, run that race with all perseverance, allowing nothing to trip us up. Let us throw away everything that would get in our way of winning the prize. Let us focus our eyes on our victorious Savior, Jesus Christ. We come to God for the strength to run the race. Let us not sprint through the tough times and casually stroll through the good. We are in a race. Let us run to receive the prize that Jesus has won for us. May God help us so that our feeble arms and weak knees are strengthened. Remember that you are in a race that is more than a marathon. It is the race of your life. Amen.