August 18, 2013 Hebrews 11:29-4012:2

Many metaphors are used to describe the Christian life. Abraham would call it a journey. Job would call it a struggle. Paul often used athletic metaphors and spoke of running a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” The writer of the Book of Hebrews picked up on that metaphor and said, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
 There are two questions we could ask as we contemplate the race and the prize. What is my race? What will be my prize?

Your Race May Be the Race of Earthly Triumph
It seems there are some folks who always win. Everything they touch turns to gold. Other folks struggle and struggle; for them, it’s two steps forward, three steps back. It seems as if Hebrews 11 is the roll call of those who have won through their faith. In today’s text we read about Rahab. Rahab? Are you kidding? Rahab was a prostitute who lived in a wicked city. Yet when she saw the Israelites approaching, she knew whose God was really God, and she hid the Hebrew spies. In 11:32, the writer said, “I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets…”

As you read through the lives of these men, you see they were all flawed individuals, yet they accomplished great things through faith. They, “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, [and] shut the mouths of lions,” just to name a few things. You continue reading through the heroic feats and you say, “Who wouldn’t want to sign up to live the life of faith?”

Your Race May Be the Race of Seeming Defeat
In the midst of this list of inspiring accomplishments—when the heart swells, courage builds and we’re on our feet cheering, the tone changes. We know the names in Hebrews 11, and we read their stories in Sunday School. Still, there are others who are unnamed in the text because their life of faith didn’t end well from an earthly perspective. We read, “Some faced jeers and flogging, chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated…”

Yet, the writer says the world was unworthy of them. Their work, lives and witness mattered as much as the people whose names we know. It is only with them and us that the witness of the heroes is made complete.

Our Prize Is Connection with Jesus Christ Himself
You can’t know at the beginning whether your story will be one of earthly triumph or of seeming defeat, but you can run your race faithfully. It is not superior faith that makes some triumphant and others apparently defeated. The roll call tells us “God hits straight licks with crooked sticks,” crooked sticks who will place the focus of their lives on Jesus Christ Himself.

If we know the prize is Jesus, how do we run? We get rid of everything that’s holding us back. We throw off every weight. We experience the connection to the body of all of those who have lived before us because we’re surrounded by the cloud of witnesses. We anticipate joy. There is joy in the journey, but ultimate joy comes when we meet the object of our faith—Jesus Christ Himself. He is the One who, for the joy set before Him, endured. Faith in Him can keep you going in your race.

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