In the two previous articles, we have considered two Bible passages where the Christian life is compared to running a footrace: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Hebrews 12:1-4. We have been seeking answers to three questions that are raised by the words Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
- What is the race that Paul is talking about?
- What is the imperishable prize we are supposed to pursue?
- How do we go about running this race so that we can obtain this imperishable prize?
And we have noticed three things (so far) from the Hebrews passage that speak to those three questions. From Hebrews:
- We must run the race that is set before us.
- We must lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely.
- We must run with endurance.
That brings us to the fourth and final thing that we need to notice from Hebrews 12:1-4.
- Focus is essential.
Hebrew 12:2 says, “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.”
The key is to focus on Jesus. If we think our road is difficult, think about the road Jesus had to travel.
He was beaten with a whip across His back―a whip that was embedded with pieces of metal and bone so as to cause maximum damage and inflict maximum pain. Then He had nails driven through His hands and His feet into the wooden cross, probably while the cross was lying on the ground. A crown of thorns was pressed into his head, ripping into His scalp.
The Roman soldiers raised the cross upright and dropped it into a hole in the ground to hold it up, causing the nails to rip into His hands and feet even more as the cross landed with a thud in the bottom of the hole.
As He hung there, His body would begin to slump, causing his lungs and airway to become constricted so that He couldn’t breathe. He would have to push Himself up, pushing against the nails in His feet and pulling against the nails in His hands, just to catch a breath. Then the pain became so intense that His body would slump back down. This agonizing cycle would repeat itself over and over again until, finally, His physical body couldn’t take it anymore, and He breathed His last breath. Crucifixion was a horrible, agonizing, intensely painful way to die. But that wasn’t even the worst part.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus became sin for our sake, even though He had never committed a single sin Himself. He took the sin of the entire world on His shoulders so that He could pay the penalty for all of that sin. The weight and despair of that sin caused Him to cry out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And shortly after that, He died.
No matter how much we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down, our suffering will never compare to Jesus’ suffering on the cross. So how did He make it through it? The answer is, He focused.
Hebrews 12:2 says that “for the joy that was set before him” He “endured the cross”. He wasn’t focused on the pain and suffering of the moment. That doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel the pain, or that He didn’t experience the intense suffering. That’s just not what He focused on. He knew that it was temporary. He knew that it was for a grand purpose. And He knew that He would be reunited with God after it was over. What a joyful thought that was!
And that is what He focused on―the joy that was set before Him. That’s how He made it through the suffering of the moment.
That is how we can make it through all of the affliction, and perplexity, and persecution, and temporary defeat that this world may throw at us. We don’t focus on the pain. We don’t focus on the sorrow. We don’t focus on the frustration. We don’t focus on the feelings of abandonment. We don’t focus on the sense of failure and hopelessness.
We focus on the joy that is before us, the prize that awaits us.
In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth 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.”
Paul ran the race that was set before him. He laid aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely. He ran with endurance. And he ran with focus.
He fought the good fight. He finished the race! He remained faithful. And now it was time to claim his prize. Now it was time to go Home and receive his crown of righteousness, his eternal reward in heaven!
In 1992, the Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, Spain. Derek Redmond, representing Great Britain, was favored to win the 400-meter sprint. He erupted from the starting blocks in an incredibly fast start. He was running well, picking up speed, and things were looking good.
Then something horrible happened. Less than halfway through the race, at about the 150-meter mark, he collapsed on the track as the other runners sped past him. Later, he recalled, “I was running down the back straight, and I heard a funny clap or pop, and I honestly for a split second thought I’d been shot. And then I realized, ‘I’ve pulled a hamstring.’”
For several agonizing moments, as the crowd watched in disbelief, Derek remained kneeling in a crouched position on the track, holding the back of his leg. A couple of race officials came onto the track and knelt down beside him to assess the situation. The race clock was still running, though by now all the other runners had crossed the finish line. Not willing to give up, determined to finish the race, Derek rose to his feet and began hobbling toward the finish line, with over 200 meters of track still in front of him. He was experiencing excruciating pain, yet he continued hobbling forward.
Another race official ran towards Derek and tried to stop him, but Derek brushed him aside and continued slowly forward. The agony was apparent on his face. By this point, the crowd was cheering him on.
Moments later, a fan came out of the bleachers, broke through several security officials, and ran towards Derek. It was Derek’s father. He came up beside Derek from behind and put his arms around his son. For just a moment, Derek collapsed in his father’s arms, screaming in agony. His father told him, “Look, you don’t have to do this. You can stop now. You don’t have anything to prove.” Derek told his father, “Yes, I do. I have to get back into my lane. I want to finish.” “Well then, let’s finish this together,” his father replied.
On that day, in front of a crowd of 65,000 spectators from all over the world, all cheering in unison for this injured runner, Derek Redmond and his father walked arm in arm the remaining distance of the race and crossed the finish line together.
In this life, there will be times when you will stumble and fall in your own race. And when you do, your Heavenly Father will wrap His arms around you, pick you up, and say, “Let’s finish this together!”
What is the race that Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9 and Hebrews 12? It’s the Christian life that we live every day as we try to walk the narrow, difficult road that leads to life.
What is the imperishable prize that we are supposed to pursue? It’s the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to us on that day. It’s spending eternity in heaven.
How do we go about running this race so that we can obtain this imperishable prize? We make sure we are running the right race, the race that God has laid out before us through His word. We study His word so that it will light our path. We throw off anything that will weigh us down and hinder us from running at our best, including any sin that wants to cling to us. We run with endurance. And we keep our focus on Jesus.
Then, when we come to the finish line, we can say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth 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.”
– Paul O’Rear is the Involvement and Education Minister at Brown Street Church of Christ in Waxahachie, TX.