The race or athletic event is a favorite metaphor in the New Testament epistles. It is used in 1 Corinthians 9:24, and in Hebrews 12, as an example of the Christian life, or more specifically the journey the Christian makes. The apostle Paul says: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable . So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified,” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV.
The metaphor of a runner in a race is one that would have been well known and understood in Paul’s day. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans competed in foot races. It was (and is) one of the events held in the Olympic games. There are depictions on ancient Greek pottery of foot races. The writer of Hebrews expands upon the metaphor, bringing an audience into the illustration: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood,” Hebrews 12:1-4, ESV.
A great crowd of spectators is introduced, those who have already completed the race, perhaps in a stadium or along the path of a marathon. They’re all watching intently as those still on earth run the journey of the Christian life. Look to Jesus for an example of how to run the race. Eugene Peterson translates the passage this way: “Do you see what this means–all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running–and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed–that exhilarating finish in and with God–he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” Hebrews 12:1-4, MSG.
Look to Jesus to sustain you while running the race. Look to Jesus for the much needed boost. Look to Jesus to lift you up when you stumble while running. Look to Jesus, fixate on him as you run for the finish line. Look to Jesus; keep running.