Has anyone here ever run a marathon? That’s okay let me walk you through one. You step up to the starting line of a race where you have committed to running 26.2 miles. Your mind is moving in a hundred different directions, and you try to gain control of it. The gun goes off and your legs instinctively start moving. You begin to settle into a nice steady pace that you feel like you can keep up the whole time. Mile 1 you feel good, strong, and the next 25 miles feel like they could be simple. Your pace steady and holding. Once you get to mile 5 the weariness kicks in. You take in some water trying to catch the breath that is slowly fleeting. You are still 21 miles from the finish. Mile 8 breath is getting very short, legs beginning to feel more weary. Weakness setting by the second. Your pace is changing dramatically from the beginning, but you try to keep it up. Mile 13.1. Halfway through when you realize that halfway through means you still have another 13.1 miles left. You try to get your mind off the distance. You try and return to your original pace. Mile 16. Legs begin cramping as you feel your body begin to fail you. You continue to push through with only 10 miles left not allowing the pain to control you. Taking in as much water as you can at water stops. Mile 20. “The Wall.” Your body has no more carbohydrates to left to burn. It begins to try make up by burning stored fat, but the rate at which it does it is not fast enough you begin to lose control of your body. Your body just stops, but you push through to keep going. The mind overcomes the body. Mile 23. You are in more pain than you can imagine right now. Suddenly you are not sure why you are doing this, but with just 3 miles to go you keep moving. Ignoring your body’s signs of distress. Your mind has truly taken over telling your body every little step that will get it through this experience. Mile 26. You have .2 miles left. You can see the finish line. Your brain tries to send a message to the rest of the body. As you try to kick there is nothing left. Everything is exhausted, but you finally bring yourself to cross the finish line. Mile 26.2. Suddenly everything is fine. The pain doesn’t hurt as much anymore, and the glory suddenly flows in. The Marathon has been conquered.
So why tell you this? What does this have to do with this passage in Hebrews? Well in looking back on history the marathon is one of the hardest tests of endurance a person can go through. It is a grueling race where the mind must overcome the physical restraints of the body. In fact the very first man ever recorded running a marathon dropped dead upon completion of it. Many others have tried it and met similar fates or near similar. The marathon not only tests ones physical endurance, but also their mental and emotional endurance. It is all about trusting that you can do it.
Just like a marathon faith is also a test of endurance and perseverance. The writer of Hebrews shows us that faith is not an easy thing to have, and the idea of faith should not be taken lightly. The writer shows us some of the people in the Hebrew Bible who show their faith through several acts. In fact Chapter 11 itself is an homage of sorts to those people throughout Hebrew Bible. These people who set the example of faith for us. All of these names leading to the one whom we truly hold dear in our hearts as Christians. Now none of these saints lived easy lives to say the least, but they all lived with faithfulness of God.
We know of the struggles of the Israelites who come out of Egypt. The faith that they gave to God was rewarded in their freedom when they crossed the Red Sea, but the trials and tribulations had just begun for them. Next we are brought to Jericho and to the ministry of Joshua. When the Israelites trusted that by walking around the city of Jericho in the manner they did that it would fall. God provided for them the promised land he had told them was theirs. As we continue to work our way through we see Rahab, the prostitute. We see her fear drives her faith. She understands the power of this great God of the Israelites and decides to trust in his saving grace. Her act of harboring the Israelite spies showed God that she was on their side.
The story then just rapid fires through the judges and kings of Israel. Showing ways in which faith was exhibited by those who are listed. In verses 33 and 34 it says, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”…Wow quite a list of things these people did. What a way to show faith. I don’t think we show it quite like that anymore. However, if we look there a couple of things that do apply to us that we get out of these verses. We get the idea that faith is about trusting God and listening to his commands. Each of those ways can be summed in those two points as well as the rest of the points made as well as the writer continues into verse 35 and onward.
This is the true meaning of faith. Its not doing acts, but it is understand the purpose behind the acts that show us what faith means. It is allowing God to take control of our lives and living out what he has planned for us to do. These people truly endured a marathon in their lives. The physical and emotional barrages that came down upon them. The chances they had to waver were immense, but they persevered for the God who would save them.
So what is faith? We just saw that it is about trusting God and listening to his commands. But truly what do we mean when we saw “we have faith?” Lets examine it for a bit. The word for faith in greek is pistis, and it is derived from the greek verb pietho which means “to persuade.” Faith is all about persuasion. You have been persuaded to believe in something you cannot see. This is not a bad kind of persuading where we are brought to do terrible things. We are persuaded in a way that improves our lives. Faith is a type of persuasion that leads us to believe in things. We are persuaded by the Bible and good Christian teachings to follow a God that we have never seen or heard. We must believe without flinching as there are many forces out there that are trying to bring you down and sever your faith with God. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” Faith is a tough task, especially in our world. It makes our lives very difficult.
It can be compared to running a race, and not just any race but a race that tests your endurance and perseverance. THE MARATHON. The race happens over the course of our entire lives. All of our experiences in faith are challenges and obstacles in the race of faith. It is a battle and it is something that others are helping us through. We can choose to be a part of the race for God or we can drop out and do it for someone or something else. Faith is one of the hardest things to understand, because we are believing in something we cannot see or even hear sometimes. Life can be so punishing to faith. The things that happen around us can often makes us contradict our faith in God, and sway towards a different race with less heavenly goals. If you think about the walk through of the marathon I began with you can say the exact thing about our lives of faith. Every mile the race gets tougher, but when we believe in God and allow him to take over, much like we allow our mind to take over our body in a marathon, we can continue the race with the hope of finishing.
So where does our faith come from? How do we find the courage to believe without ceasing? Well the answer can be found in Chariots of Fire. Chariots of Fire is a movie which chronicles the journey of two runners of the 1924 British Olympic team. One of the two men, Eric Liddell a Scottish Christian, relays on God for everything he does. He allows God to control his life. After a meet he is giving a speech to a crowd of gatherers and he says, “You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe you’re dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.” Faith is a journey and it may be a difficult one, but we must remember where we derive our strength.
Jesus is our source of inspiration. The writer of Hebrews even seems to think so. The writer says in verse 2 that we are “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus was sent by God and trusted in God’s every action in his life and ministry on earth. He set the example of what faith should look like in our lives. What it is supposed to look like. He never said it would be easy to trust God. However, we are always reminded of the price that Jesus paid so that we could have faith. The writer notes, that Jesus “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus’ faith led him to the cross, and led him to take away our sins so that our faith in God could lead us to a better life. A sinless life where God’s grace could forever flow into our hearts.
Hebrews tells us that we need to set aside everything that gets in our way. All of the sin. All of the temptation. All of the nay-sayers who come against us. All the challenges, and obstacles. Everything. We must lay it all aside in order to run this race. We must believe that through God we are saved, and our faith must drive our beliefs. The marathon can be so difficult to finish, but it is through perseverance that we can finish it. It is the same way with our lives in God. It is a difficult race, but it is through perseverance of faith that we can understand the finish line.
Now when you finish a marathon you receive a medal…A finishers medal. Here is one. This shows people that you completed the marathon. You persevered and finished. However, unlike having finished the marathon our race of faith is not over. It can often be discouraging to not finish. To just continue running. We are in so much pain and agony. It is hard to function. We have been running so long already. We have endured many hardships. The sin and temptation amount to more than we can handle. We think it might be easier to quit. To give up on God and go run another race. An easier race, but the reward is not as great.
It is always easier to do something when you can see that you know someone who has accomplished it. Some people see this finishers medal and think “If they can finish so can I.” We do not have a medal yet in the race of faith, but someone has finished the race and gotten his reward, and we can use that to help move us along. To give us the courage to know that we can stay on the track and continue through the race. Christ has given us a symbol to remember his sacrifice for us. The cross is our symbol. Jesus gives us the cross to remember his example and to work in our own faith. This medal reminds that you persevered through 26.2 miles and finished. The cross shows us that Jesus persevered and finished for us. It is through him that we receive our strength. It is through him that our faith is strengthened. It is through him that we can lay down our challenges and sin.
So join that great cloud of witness. Join all the names listed here. Be part of the race of faith. Use Jesus as your example. Use the cross as your motivator that perseverance through faith leads to eternal life with God. It is not going to be easy. There are many trials and tribulations, but if we allow Jesus to guide our mind then he can guide us along the path towards the finish. So keep running and never give up…AMEN!!!