Today is the last lesson in our “Marathon” series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that you’ve been challenged.
As we’ve done the past couple weeks, we’ll start with marathon trivia. Today’s question has to do with ultramarathons. What’s an ultramarathon? An ultramarathon is basically any race longer than a marathon. They can be 50 KMS, 100 KMS, 50 mi., 100 mi., etc.
What is the world’s most extreme ultramarathon? I did a little research online, and here are my top five:
- Jungle Ultra, Peru – This is a 230 km race across the Amazon rain forest. The route features over 70 river and stream crossings, and the humidity is known to reach 100%. Also, you have to cope with annoying and potentially dangerous wildlife, from mosquitoes to snakes to jaguars.
- Spartathlon, Greece – This race is patterned after the legend of the ancient Athenian runner Pheidippides, who ran, not from Marathon to Athens (a distance of 25 mi.), but from Athens to Sparta (a distance of 250 km), and arrived the next day. This is the real Spartan race. If you reach one of the 75 check-points too late, you will not be allowed to continue.
- Badwater 135 – This race is from our neck of the woods in Southern California. It only covers a distance of 135 miles, which is short compared to other ultramarathons on the list, but the elevation change more than makes up for any lack in distance! You start in Death Valley, which is 280 ft. below sea level, and end up on Mt Whitney, 8,300 ft. above sea level!
- Marathon des Sables, Morocco – If you like running in Las Vegas during the the hottest part of the summer, in sand, you might want to consider this race! Patterned after the 350 km journey of one man across one of the most brutal deserts in the world, this 250 km (155 mi.) ultramarathon crosses the Saharan Desert.
- 6633 Ultra, Canada – Who would have thought that Canadians could come up with something this demented? I’ll read what I found about this race online: “This non-stop, self-reliant race covers a distance of 350 miles in the northwest Canadian Yukon, crossing into the Arctic Circle. Entrants must carry or pull their provisions by sled throughout the race, and they are responsible for their own food, cooking items, clothing, sleeping kit, and other gear. The race begins at the remote Eagle Plains Hotel and continues north to… the edge of the Arctic Ocean.”
Isn’t it amazing what people can do when they put their minds to it? They say that there are animals that can beat human beings in almost every form of physical activity–weight lifting… jumping… speed running… obviously swimming–the one exception is distance running. There really aren’t any animals that can run that far without killing themselves. Maybe an exceptional sled dog, but even that would be pushing it.
That said, it’s time to get into our material, and today, we’re going to talk about motivation. I use an app to track my calories, and when you open the app, there’s a news feed that shows up with various blog articles about health-related stuff. And it seems like I regularly see articles about motivation. How to stay motivated to stick with your diet, how to get motivated to push yourself running, or to work out harder, or whatever. And when you think about it, that makes sense, doesn’t it? For instance, we know that it’s easy to make a New Year’s Resolution; the hard thing is to keep it. So we need motivation. And in these four “Race Passages,” God gives us motivation to run. What are those motivations?
1. Role Models
Look on your handout at 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (2 Tim 4:6-8). This passage has been called “Paul’s Last Will and Testament.” It’s intensely personal… but the question arises, why include this passage in a letter to Timothy? Did Paul just need someone to talk to? Is this an exercise in something like journaling? No. Then why did Paul write this to Timothy? It was because he wanted Timothy to follow his example. And we see that very clearly from the context. So turn to 2 Timothy 4 (4:1-5). Then what is the first word in v. 5? (“for”) “You’re going to face a lot of trouble, Timothy. But you be faithful, for I have been faithful. Follow my example.”
Role models are discussed in Hebrews 12, as well. The author of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses….” Who are those witnesses? They are the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11! When the writer of Hebrews mentions a great cloud of witnesses, he may be thinking of spectators at an athletic event. But here, it’s a metaphorical grandstand. In other words, Paul’s point is not to say, “Obey because Abraham is watching you.” “O be careful little hands what you do… because Enoch and Noah are looking down in love.” No. Rather, he’s saying, ‘If Abraham can do it, so can you. Look to him for inspiration.” One commentator said, “It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them.”
Successful athletes often have heroes that they read about, study, think about, and model after. And the same is true for Christians. We look to men and women of faith from the Bible. People like Paul, Joseph, Daniel, David, etc. We also look to people in our own lives, just as Timothy looked to Paul. And we look to men and women of faith from church history. That’s why it’s such a good idea to read Christian biographies. In fact, I’m just going to stop right here and put in a plug. If you are not in the habit of reading Christian biographies, I would challenge you to give it a try. I think you’ll be amazed at what some of these people went through and about how God used them. You don’t have to start with the thickest, most daunting biography; just grab a little one, and read for ten or fifteen minutes a day. I think you’ll be surprised at how spiritually beneficial it is. And if you need suggestions as far as where to begin, come talk to me or Pastor Kit. We would love to point you in the right direction.
So when it comes to motivation, look to men and women of faith in the Bible… look to people in your own life… look to heroes of faith from church history… but what is the problem with all of these people? They were sinners! All of them were flawed. In fact, it’s intriguing just to work your way through the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 and consider how many horrible things the people on that list did! Abraham put Sarah’s life in jeopardy to save his own skin twice and also slept with her maidservant. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and blessing and had children by four different women. Rahab was a prostitute, David and Moses were murderers; and, as we’re going to see in the Judges series, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah were all very flawed characters!
So that leaves us in a bind. Is there any perfect example we can look to? Yes! Who is it? It’s Jesus. And I think that’s why the author of Hebrews goes there next (v. 2). Notice what title for Christ he uses in v 2. Not “Christ,” not “the Lord,” but “Jesus.” Why does he do that? It could be that the author is drawing attention to the fact of Jesus’ humanity. He endured suffering not just as God, but as a man, and so we can identify with Him; and, through the power of the Spirit, we can follow in His steps.
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, or just “of faith” in general (the word “our” is in italics). What does that phrase mean? Jesus is the beginning and ending of faith; He is faith “from A to Z.” Without Him, there would be no walk of faith because there would be no salvation! He is the center of our faith, the One in whom we depend. He lived the perfect life of faith; in fact, it is His faithfulness which is imputed to us who believe. He is our perfect example.
So what specifically did Jesus do (v. 2b)? First, Jesus focused on the joy set before Him. This is very similar to what we learned last week from Philippians 3 about focusing on what lies ahead. Did you know that Jesus employed this same strategy to help Him endure the cross? We don’t often think of Christ as using means to defeat sin, but He did! He used the same strategy we are to use–He focused on the prize! Now, hopefully you remember that for us, the prize is Christ Himself. What was the prize for Jesus? According to Hebrews 12:3, it was the joy set before him. What joy is that talking about? Well, in Philippians 2, which is a parallel passage, Christ has been highly exalted, and He was given “the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,” and every tongue will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And all of this happens precisely because Christ endured the cross. So for Christ, “the joy set before Him” is His exaltation. It is the unique glory He has earned by means of the unique role He has played in redemptive history. Commentators have argued (and I think correctly) that another aspect of “the joy set before Him” was the joy of His people. Christ died for us because He loves us, and so His anticipation of our future as a result of our salvation also motivated Him to continue. Do you see how Jesus is the perfect example for us? We learned last week that we need to focus on Christ and on the joys of heaven, and in the same way, Jesus focused on the joy set before Him.
Was Jesus’ faith disappointed when He endured the cross? No, v. 2 says that He is currently sitting at the right hand of God. And in the same way, when we place our faith in God, our hopes will not be disappointed! Everything that God has promised to us, He will do. Sometimes, we doubt God’s promises when it’s hard to endure or we get tired of waiting. But we must cling to those things! I can guarantee you this: whatever God has promised to you will come to pass. Heaven is real. Christ is real. You will see Him one day. You will receive a glorified body. You will be free from sin. You will live in a perfect, restored world with no more death or suffering. Your faithfulness in this life will be rewarded, and you will serve God in meaningful and productive ways for all of eternity. Child of God, this is your destiny, and it will come to pass. So use that as motivation to keep running the next time your lungs are burning or your legs ache or you get a cramp! Focus on the joy set before you.
So again, we want to focus specifically on what Jesus did. The first thing we saw was that He focused on the joy set before Him. The second thing we see is that He endured the cross (vv. 2b-3). Obviously, there were many awful things about the cross, but this passage focuses specifically on two aspects of Christ’s suffering: the shame and the hostility. Since we don’t live in an honor-shame society, it’s difficult for us to grasp the shame of crucifixion. Shame is a powerful motivator! In Japan prior to WW2, it was pounded into the heads of the soldiers that to surrender was the most cowardly thing you could do. It would bring shame, not only on you, but on your whole family. That’s why so many Japanese soldiers committed suicide rather than allowing themselves to be captured.
In the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day, crucifixion was considered the most shameful way to die. A famous Roman orator named Cicero said this: he said, “Let the very mention of the cross be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears.” You see, it was usually illegal for a Roman citizen to be crucified. But Cicero’s point appears to be that not only should this never happen to a Roman citizen’s body, but he should never look at, hear about, or even think about a crucifixion, because it is so far beneath him. It was not a glorious way to die, like defending your homeland in battle. To be crucified was to be treated worse than an animal, and the assumption was that people who were treated that way generally deserved it, because that was all they were worth. I tried to think of something to compare it to that we would be familiar with, but the best I could come up with was being tarred and feathered, but that still falls way short of crucifixion.
In our society, it seems it’s becoming increasingly common to use shame as a tool to push people around. If you believe in six-day literal creation, you have no place in higher academia. You don’t deserve to teach our children, because you are intellectually inferior. If you believe what the Bible says about sexuality, you’re not only wrong, you’re immoral. You’re wicked and hateful, and you deserve to be censored, harassed–to have angry people shouting in your face, maybe even to be physically abused–you deserve it, because you’re evil.
How did Christ deal with shame according to v. 2? He despised it. Don’t you just love that picture? It captures something of the holy defiance in Christ’s attitude. To be shamed is to be despised, but Christ “fought fire with fire” so to speak, in that He despised the shame. He refused to let it affect Him. He didn’t care what anyone else thought as long as His Father was pleased.
Let’s say that you’re a world-renowned artist. Your paintings are hanging in famous art museums all over the world, and the wealthiest people in the world proudly display your paintings in their homes. You’re filthy rich, and super famous. But let’s say that as part of your philanthropic efforts, you visit a class of kindergarteners, and you show them one of your paintings. And one of those snot-nosed little boys has the audacity to shout, “That’s ugly!” Then, to the mortification of their teacher, they all join in. “I could do better than that!” These kids are heckling you! Does the world-famous artist feel threatened by that? Does he go home and cry? No! He is secure in himself. He understands these little kids have no idea what they’re talking about. Similarly, Jesus knew He was the Son of God and that those who rejected Him had no clue what they were saying or doing. In the same way, we must despise the shame heaped upon us by this world because we know that we are right.
So Christ endured the shame of the cross, but He also endured the hostility. I hate it when someone is mad at me. I hate it a lot. I hope that I’m learning to hate it less, but it still really bothers me. Can any of you identify with me? This world is full of hatred. And if you are determined to live by conviction–if you enter into spiritual warfare, that hostility will be directed at you. Satan is no dummy. He doesn’t need to bother with the Christian who’s picking his nose on the sidelines. But if you make up your mind to storm the gates of hell, he’ll throw everything he’s got at you. If it’s true that the more you’re doing for God, the more Satan will attack you, just think of how much opposition Jesus must have faced! In fact, you don’t have to use your imagination–just read the gospels!
When people get mad at me, you know what it does to me? It makes me feel weak. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. I get discouraged and tired. I just want to curl up in a ball and hide underneath my covers. Again, I’m working on this, but that’s my natural reaction. It’s interesting to note, that is exactly what the writer of Hebrews didn’t want his readers to do when they faced opposition! What does the last part of v. 3 say? “Lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” That word “discouraged” could also be translated “faint”– “lest you faint.” Aristotle used those two words in combination to describe a runner who collapsed after the finish line. Christian, God doesn’t want you to faint! He doesn’t want you to collapse from exhaustion or give up. So what is the alternative? It’s what we’ve been talking about all day. Look again at the beginning of v. 3. “For consider Him.” Consider Jesus. And don’t just take a passing glance. Stop and think deeply. Think about His life and meditate on His death. Use that to motivate you when the going gets tough.
We’ve spent most of our time today talking about role models, which is good, but before we close, I’d like to talk about two other motivations.
Two of the race passages mention crowns, which makes sense in light of the analogy, because winners in the ancient Olympics would receive wreaths made from tree branches to go on their heads. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul contrasts these corruptible crowns with the incorruptible heavenly crowns we will receive. But what exactly are these crowns? In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul speaks of “the crown of righteousness.” James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10 talk about “the crown of life.” And 1 Peter 5:4 mentions “the crown of glory.” Are these crowns literal? It’s possible, especially since we see the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before God’s throne in Revelation 4:10. But it could also be that these crowns are figurative representations of the blessings that we will receive as a part of our inheritance in Christ. According to this interpretation, “the crown of righteousness” would mean “the crown which is righteousness,” since we know we will never sin again. In the same way, “the crown of life” would refer to “the crown which is life,”–eternal life, including bodily resurrection. And the “crown of glory” would mean, “the crown which is glory,” because we will be glorified together with Christ. So are they figurative or are they literal? I don’t know for sure. But what is clear that the crowns are associated with glorification. Life, righteousness, glory–these are all things related to our final salvation. And although, as I said last week, you ought to be focused primarily upon Christ Himself, it is not wrong to look forward to these blessings, otherwise, God would not have mentioned them! What’s the point of dangling a prize in front of someone if he is not to be motivated by that prize? God absolutely wants you to think look forward to heaven! Your anticipation of final salvation should inspire you to press on.
But lest I give the impression that heaven is an “all or nothing sort” of thing, the New Testament also teaches that we will be rewarded commensurate with our service here on earth. That’s why Jesus said to “lay up treasure in heaven.” Also, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul says that one day, your works will be judged, as in a fire. Just like a fire burns up hay “like that,” everything you did in life that was of no eternal value will immediately dissipate. But whatever you did in sincere love for God and for people will be like gold, silver, and precious stones; they will endure the flames. And whatever comes out of that fire is what you will be rewarded for. Some Christians will walk away from the Bema Seat Judgement with little to show for their lives. Others will be greatly rewarded. Which one will you be? Let that question motivate you to give 100% in the race!
So use role models to motivate you, use prizes to motivate you, and 3) use warnings to motivate you.
We’ve spent a lot of time today talking about positive role models. But the Bible also uses negative role models. For instance, turn to 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. This passage follows right on the heels of the race passage in 1 Corinthians 9, so it helps us to understand what Paul is getting at in that passage (1 Cor 10:1-10).
You talk about a generation that saw God’s power! These people witnessed the ten plagues. They walked through the Red Sea! They were given the ten commandments. They ate manna. And yet many of them sinned against God and were judged. Let them be an example to you, and do not test the Lord our God. Flee from idolatry. Do not let even a hint of sexual sin into your life. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
People you never thought could fall into sin do fall, and it happens all the time. It could happen to anyone in this room, and that starts with me. That is why we must remain humble, disciplined, and vigilant. Do not grow lax in your fight against sin. You think that your sin is like a cute little pet and that you can control it. But one day, that little lion cub is going grow up into a big, hungry lion, and he will attack you and eat you. Do not tolerate sin in your life. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Maybe those warnings make you feel vulnerable. In one sense, they should, because you are! But maybe you’re discouraged. You say, “Pastor Kris, I know what’s in my heart, and I just can’t do what you’re telling me! I can’t hold on to Christ!” Well, I’ve got good news for you. You may feel like you can’t hold on to Christ, but Christ is holding on to you. As the song we sing puts it, “I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path. For my love is often cold, He must hold me fast. He will hold me fast. He will hold me fast! For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.”
You didn’t save yourself, and you don’t keep yourself saved! You are responsible to persevere–we’ve seen that–but you do so knowing that Christ has promised to keep you.
In light of these things, I’d like to close with two assurances. The first is found in the middle of 1 Corinthians 10:13. It says, “God is faithful.” According to this verse, the specific way in which God is faithful is that He never allows us to be tempted beyond what we are able. He always gives a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it. You may be facing a difficult trial this morning. Or maybe you are faced with a temptation so strong, you don’t think you can resist. Christian, God will never give you more than you can handle. Or maybe we should say, “He will always give you more than you can handle, but never more than you can handle with His strength.” So ask for His help, and then by faith, obey. God will see you through the valley.
The second assurance is found in Philippians 3:14. And it’s a little bit hidden, but it’s definitely worth noting (Philip 3:14). Again, the prize, in this passage is Christ and all that is associated with glorification! As Christians, we press on toward heaven. But we do so with the assurance that we will make it. You say, where do you find that in this passage? It has to do with the call in v. 14 (Philip 3:14). I think that is the effectual call to salvation. That’s commonly what that word means in the New Testament. So what Paul would be saying here is that the prize for which he is striving, and the destiny for which God saved him, are one-in-the-same. You’re not out there all by yourself running this race. God is right beside you, above you, even within you, propelling you forward. Your desire to persevere is perfectly in-line with His desire to keep you. He saved you for heaven! To be with Him forever is your eternal destiny. The call to salvation is an “upward call.” So as you continue to run and fight and to press on and to endure, do so with the assurance that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
I hope that you’ve been challenged and encouraged by these past three lessons. If this series has inspired you to think more about this topic, I’d like to recommend to you a book. There happens to be a great book written on this subject. It’s actually one of the best-selling books of all time. It’s called, The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. How many of you have read it? Even though it’s not technically about a marathon, it covers many of the topics we have discussed. And I can’t recommend it enough. Buy it on Amazon, get it on Kindle, borrow an audiobook from the library–you can do the modern English version, that’s not cheating–but do read it. In fact, if that’s your only take-away from this lesson, it would still be well worth it.
I’d like to close today with a quote from Jude 24-25. It says, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”