The Olympics are the most celebrated games of history. Dating from the 700’s BC, some of the earliest events were the foot races. They were generally a 200 yard dash around the stadium. The runner would fix his eyes on a square pillar which became his mark or goal and would run with all of his might with the intention of pleasing the gods through victory.
In the 14th Olympiad longer races were added. Other events were introduced in the 18th that included: Wrestling, boxing, throwing disc and javelin.
Victors would receive a crown of leaves and it was generally a forgone conclusion that they would have wealth and glory for life. In some ancient games some victors were provided pensions for life, great monetary re- wards, even a white stone with the name of the Emperor that worked like a sort of credit card that allowed the carrier to purchase items which were paid for by the city or state of his origin. It is from these rich and vivid images that the Biblical writers drew their analogies.
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, We are all in a race. A life and death race with universal and cosmic implications. We are in a race against time and spirit of the age; against the forces of evil and the spirit of anti-Christ. Hebrews 12:1&2
Each of us are in a race. Our children, homes, and freedoms are at stake. Our church is in a race with our community’s destiny on the line in a winner-takes-all sprint to the finish line.
In the above Hebrews text the cloud of witnesses is a metaphor referring to those from chapter 11, the previous chapter; the roll call of the faithful who are figuratively in the amphitheater around the race track in a first century Olympiad. They rise in the surrounding spiritual realm as if in the theater, tier upon tier, generation upon generation watching and cheering, encouraging, testifying as witnesses of what God can do. Coaches if you will. Each with a specialty earned from experience; a champion in their own right. If you have ears to hear, listen. You can hear… If you have eyes to see… Watch. You’re running with champions: Hear them…
Abraham… “Run, God is faithful… Don’t try to do it your own way… He’ll bring it to pass.”
Isaac… “Run, Trust God. He is starting something new with you and be sure to pass it on…”
Jacob… “Run, Don’t let your circumstances identify you… God will give you a brand new name.”
Moses…“Stay with the cloud… Remember the flame of the mountain bush.”
Wait, I hear a woman’s voice… It’s Rahab… “Go… Go… stand with the Lord even if alone. He will protect you”.
David… “Don’t be afraid.. I know he’s big but you can take him.”
Oh yes I can hear them can’t you? Daniel would say… “No matter how it looks, do what’s right… they can’t eat you!”
There are others whose names we do not know shouting, “Endure, it’s worth it… the rocks can’t steal your joy…” “The fire can’t burn your spirit…” “Even in prison… they can’t shackle the word…”
If you stumble..Peter would shout “It’s OK… get up and run. He’ll still love you”. Paul would say… “Fix your eyes on the mark. Run… Run”
We are all in a race. It is a relay and our baton is a torch. It is a torch of truth and justice, of love and grace. It has been handed down through time from generation to generation, person to
person. It was carried through the coliseum in Rome, held tightly by bloody hands that refused to let it fall. It’s been used to light the stakes of countless Christians who were willing to burn but not willing to bow to the idols of their day, carried by kings and entrusted to the hands of peasants, carried by the free and those who were called slaves. This torch has marched through the midnight of the dark ages and though dimly lit and difficult to see, it still burned. It became brighter to light reform, carried in the hands of visionary men and women who broke the mold and entered a new phase of revelation fanned to flame by the fuel of their own blood. It has been carried on ships of exploration and discovery and through the wilderness by pioneers.
This torch of divine purpose has been carried through the battle- fields and over the naked fields of famine, through the fire and rain and endured the cold loneliness when none stood but a few. Its been carried by protesters and patriots. Handed to children and to the aged. Let us learn the lessons of champions who have gone before as they teach us about the:
Four Challenges Of A Champion (Hebrews12:1&2)
1. To Learn from other champions who have won before
2. To Lay aside things that if carried create an unfair advantage for the adversary.
3. To Leave behind anything that could catch the wind and cause resistance.
4. To Look toward (focus) on the race and the prize.