Summary: The story of Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) forms the backdrop for this sermon on Christ the King Sunday. Are we willing to surrender all of our commitments and allegiences to Christ the King?
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
These words, found in Hebrews chapter twelve, are the words that we focused our attention on last week as we concluded our series on the book of Hebrews. They are words which remind us to run the race with endurance, to turn neither to the right nor to the left, but to fix our eyes on Jesus. They are words which remind us that Jesus has already ran this race, and endured more suffering than we will be called to bear. Indeed, much of the theme of Hebrews is about the journey to glorification which first leads through the valley of suffering. The good news of Hebrews is that our Great High priest goes with us through that valley, and all we need to do is to follow hard after Him. “We are not of those that shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”
The author of Hebrews presented a stunning picture of faith as a great marathon—a race that we are called to run. This image is one that the Apostle Paul uses in his writings, most notably in his letters to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, and to Timothy. “Run the race in such a way as to win the prize,” he says. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
These are words that inspired Eric—both spiritually and physically. Eric was a runner—oh, he wasn’t your typical runner, he ran with his head tilted back and his mouth wide open. He flailed his arms with little grace and had a high-stepping gait. And yet, he was one of the fastest runners the world had seen in 1924. Eric, or “The Flying Scotsman,” was born in 1902 to a Scottish missionary couple serving in China. It was during his time at Edinburgh University that his true athletic abilities began to gain notoriety, and it became clear that Eric would be a contender in the 1924 Olympic games.
Perhaps you know about Eric Liddell from the movie about him, “Chariots of Fire.” If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Eric ran “for the glory of God,” and that when he won, he won “for the glory of God.” Perhaps you remember this quote from the movie, in which Eric says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Eric used his athletic ability as an opportunity to preach the Gospel. After deepening his faith during a Wesleyan revival meeting in Scotland, he began to travel with the tent-meetings, setting up races with all of the young men in town, beating them, and then inviting them to the tent-meeting that evening. He would often speak about how the life of faith was a race, and that we were to “Honor God with our lives…every aspect of it.” Eric believed that even in his running, he was able to honor God.
And in fact, Eric was able to honor God through his running, for what the world most remembers about Eric Liddell is that he refused to take part in the 100meter race in those Olympics because the qualifying heats were scheduled for Sunday. Even being called a “traitor to Scottish sporting” by the press, hearing of the disappointment from friends and classmates, and receiving political pressure from the Prince of Wales did not deter him from his conviction that it would not be possible to “run for the Glory of God” at the same time as he was running on the Lord’s Day. Eric held fast in his convictions and withdrew from the competition, surrendering one of Great Britain’s certain Gold Medals.
While Eric was unable to run in the 100meter (his best race), he was able to completely upset the competition in the 400meter, by not only beating the favorites for the race by more than 15 feet, but by setting a new world record as well. When asked how he knew where the finish line was (despite his unconventional way of running with his head back and his mouth open), Eric replied by saying, “The Lord guides me.” When asked the secret of success, he said, “I run the first 200 meters as fast as I can. Then, with God’s help, I run harder.”