Summary: Each Christian is running in a marathon. Our Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon which demands our best always.

“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.” [1]

During the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the last runner to finish in the marathon was an athlete from Tanzania. He had a difficult race, to say the least. He'd stumbled at one point and ended up bruised, bloodied—and with a broken leg! But he didn't quit. Even though everyone else had already finished the race and gone home, he kept at it. Finally, at seven in the evening, he straggled into the near-empty stadium. There were still about 7,000 people on hand to witness his finish, and all 7,000 stood, giving this battered athlete a standing ovation as he finished his last lap.

When this dedicated marathoner was asked, “Why didn't you quit?” he simply responded, “My country did not send me halfway around the world to start the race; they sent me to finish it.” We have to admire such dedication. He had every justification for quitting, but he didn’t. He kept his eye focused on a higher motive—he would not disgrace his country.

When you became a Christian, you clearly entered into an Olympic-level race. Unfortunately, some of your peers will never finish the marathon. They'll get waylaid, sidetracked, or distracted, or they'll be disqualified. For one reason or another, they'll die with unfulfilled dreams and an unrealised ministry, and they'll fall short of their full leadership potential. I pray that you’ll finish the race, and that you’ll finish well. It would not be unusual if some who hear me today are on the verge of dropping out. However, I want to encourage you, my fellow believers, to keep at it; don’t quit.

MOTIVATION FOR THE RACE — “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” [HEBREWS 12:1a]. I have always been impressed as I read the initial words of this passage. The writer urges us to see with eyes of faith those who successfully completed the race. We are urged to remember the saints that have gone before—those believers who stood firm in the face of unimaginable odds to honour the Lord Christ.

The message before us today does raise a serious question in my mind: Do those that have gone before, those believers who preceded us, know what we are doing on earth? Can departed saints witness us in our day-to-day lives? Are our loved ones who have passed through the chilly waters of death aware of what we are experiencing? There is no warrant for the practise, as some imagine, of praying to the saints. Nowhere in the Word of God are we taught to pray to the dead. Perhaps that practise is justified through appeal to some weird form of ancestor worship, but it is worthless if we appeal to Scripture for our instruction. In short, there is no encouragement for prayers to the dead revealed in the Word of God.

We are taught to pray to the Father and encouraged to call on Christ the Lord; but nowhere are we either taught or encouraged to pray to those who have passed before us. Still, that begs the question, do those who preceded us in the Faith know what we face as we struggle through life? Do they witness those times we stumble? Do those who have gone before us see the times we sprawl facedown because we fell? Any thought of our loved ones who have preceded us peering over the battlements of Heaven to see how we are doing has no warrant in Scripture. Some have appealed to these verses to suggest that believers who have gone before are aware of what is going on in our lives. However, the verses of our text give no support to such a thought.

Perhaps we find in Scripture the barest suggestion that those poor souls now incarcerated in Hades may be aware of what is happening on earth. I suppose I could speculate that the knowledge of missed opportunities and witnessing the impact on family and friends through wasted opportunities is part of the eternal punishment the damned now experience. I must be careful to emphasise that I am unable to speak definitively about the possibility that lost souls see what is taking place on earth; but in one instance, a revelation provided by the Master possibly does suggest such could be the case.

Jesus had been responding to challenges by the Pharisees when He told them, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” [LUKE 16:19-31].

I suspect that this story Jesus told is dismissed by many people who view it as a parable, a morality story to make a point. However, Jesus provided a name, which simply isn’t done in a parable. He speaks in the present tense, indicating personal knowledge of what is taking place. The Master was providing us with a peek into reality.

The rich man, left unnamed in this story that Jesus told, was able to see across the gulf that separated those in torment from those comforted at Abraham’s side. This individual may have been aware of what was occurring on earth, he was certainly concerned for those whom he had influenced for evil during the days he walked the earth. Now, in torment, he begged that his brothers would not have to enter into the judgements he faced. He was concerned for them, though we could reasonably conclude that he was not particularly concerned when he was alive on earth.

However, this doesn’t explain whether the saints know what is taking place on earth, whether they are aware of our race. Let’s look a little more closely at the text. The word that is translated “witnesses,” is not the word that would be used for spectators. This is not a description of those in heaven seated in a stadium as they watch us compete. The word used is the Greek term from which we get our word “martyr.” The witnesses are not watching what we are doing; rather, they are bearing witness to us that God can see us through in our race.

These witnesses are introduced to us in HEBREWS 11. As we review the lives of those departed saints who preceded us, we are encouraged in the knowledge that the God Who was with them throughout their days will be with us throughout our days. Through their faithfulness, they were commended by God. Note HEBREWS 11:1-2. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” Mark the word “commendation” in the second verse. The word is formed from the same root as the word “witnesses” in the first verse of our text. The thrust of the verse is that God bore witness to them, and their lives bear witness to us.

The point is emphasised in HEBREWS 11:4-5, where we see several of those who went before receiving God’s witness. In fact, the fifth verse of that chapter says that Enoch “was commended as having pleased God.” As he brings this chapter to a conclusion, the writer has just listed this long list of those we would call heroes of the Faith. Beginning with Abel and continuing by naming patriarchs and godly women, he moves steadily toward a glorious conclusion. Finally, he writes of these earlier saints, “What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” [HEBREWS 11:32-38]. What an amazing list of righteous people who did more than just talk the talk. We have to admit, they walked the walk!

Then, the writer testified, “All these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” [HEBREWS 11:39-40].

The Apostle Paul spoke of staying in the race as he wrote in his final missive to the young pastor whom had accompanied him on many of his missionary journeys. Paul wrote, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” [2 TIMOTHY 4:1-8].

Well, what sort of race did the Apostle run? What were the obstacles as he ran this race? He informs us of the challenges he faced when he writes to the saints in Corinth. The Apostle was pointing out the arrogance of the false teachers by contrasting their supposed life to that which he had lived. “Whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands” [2 CORINTHIANS 11:21-33].

The description doesn’t sound like the life of someone who was seeking an easy life; it doesn’t describe the life of someone seeking praise from those who were considered great by denizens of this dying world. This is a description of the life of someone who made a difference, the life of someone worthy of emulating, the life of one who was transforming His world. This life speaks of one who was running successfully.

Writing the churches scattered throughout Galatia, Paul urged them to stay true to the Faith and not allow themselves to be bumped from their pursuit of God’s glory. In his letter, Paul recalls a trip to Jerusalem together with Barnabas, a trip that Luke also recalled. Paul wrote, “Fourteen years [after my first trip up to Jerusalem] I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus with me. I went in response to a revelation, and in a private meeting with the reputed leaders, I explained to them the gospel that I’m proclaiming to the gentiles. I did this because I was afraid that I was running or had run my life’s race for nothing” [GALATIANS 2:1-2 ISV]. He saw life as a race.

Advancing in the Faith, maturing in Christ the Lord, growing in godliness, is seldom given the attention it deserves in our modern world. Vital issues such as these describe the race in which we are engaged as followers of the Risen Saviour. It seems as if a significant number of professing Christians believe honouring God, serving Him according to His will, is incidental to life, a mere adjunct to what we have decided is truly important. However, I suggest that what is done in service to the Master is critical since it has eternal ramifications. The saints of a bygone era were wont to say,

Just one life, ‘twill soon be past;

What’s done for Christ is all that will last.

Contemporary Christians appear to be consumed with advancing their position in this present world, gathering money and accumulating things that must perish in any case. It is almost as if people actually believe they will live forever in this present world. Accordingly, many of the professed saints of God have relegated service to God to an ancillary facet of their lives. Service to the Master becomes secondary, something that is done if we can find time after focusing on the “really important” aspects of life.

I recall a man relating an incident that occurred when he was testifying of Christ and inviting another man to faith in the Saviour. This witness was interrupted as the man to whom he spoke asked what he did. I understand that his interlocutor meant by his question, “What is your profession?” or “What is your job?” However, the believer who was in the process of inviting the other man to Christ responded, “I’m a Christian.”

“Yes, that is all very well,” replied the one questioning, “but what do you do? What is your work?”

“I am a Christian,” the man said once again. “I support myself by plumbing.”

That was undoubtedly one of the wisest answers any follower of the Master could give. My first responsibility as a follower of the Risen Son of God is to serve Him. Whenever anyone asks you what you do, your response should be, “I’m a follower of Christ.” Whatever you do to support yourself and to provide for the first responsibility is subordinate to your calling to serve the Risen Saviour. After all, isn’t that the charge all believers received when Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [MATTHEW 28:19-20a]?

If we take seriously the charge delivered by Christ our Master, we will focus on making disciples, incorporating them into the fellowship of the assembly and instructing them in the truths of God’s Word. This is not the responsibility of full-time church staff alone—this is the responsibility of each follower of Christ Jesus. You, if you are a follower of Christ, are appointed to bring others to faith and into the fellowship.

Elsewhere, Paul spoke of his dedication to the race. You will recall that he wrote, “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].

That is an insightful portrayal of life—the Christian running a race. We strain to achieve success, studying and preparing through education or through training so we can earn a living in order to provide for our family, for life. We seek out a mate who will share our life, loving us and standing with us in the life that lies before us. We work hard in order to advance in the profession or the trade we have chosen, always endeavouring to achieve success so that we can ensure a suitable means of providing for our family. All the while, we have our eye fixed on setting aside enough to provide for ourselves during the years of our retirement. And this is just the race to advance ourselves in the world of work. Beyond that is the more vital race to advance in the Faith.

Commentators observing contemporary life have noted on numerous occasions that we evangelicals produce sprinters when marathon runners are required. We train followers of Christ to fix their eyes on some immediate goal, and then give that dash a wild effort before turning aside from the race. We appear oblivious to the fact that we are running a prolonged, demanding marathon. In the Word of God, Christ-followers are instructed to inure themselves to hardship [see 2 TIMOTHY 4:5 NET BIBLE]. However, we don’t appear to care for the constant demand imposed when we are straining for the finish [see PHILIPPIANS 3:13-14]. Therefore, our natural tendency is to stop pushing ourselves hard as we cease striving to excel. Focused on obtaining our immediate desire, perhaps even boasting that we did run, we cease “looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our Faith.” Not surprisingly, we are easily distracted, and unable to see the stumbling blocks that litter our way. Hence, we are often found sprawled face down, suffering a tumble that never would have happened had we been looking to Christ as we are urged to do.

Unfortunately for us, we are not engaged in a sprint—we are running a marathon. Whenever new believers come into the Faith, we greet them and we encourage them, as we should, before instructing them to sit down and be quiet, letting us be in control. However, we should caution new believers that they have just entered into this marathon. They will be challenged as they could never imagine because they are now in this race. Thus, new believers need to enter into the long race immediately.

I suggest that we need to reassess what we are doing. We focus on the immediate, failing to look to the finish. I’ve heard, both in fact and through actions, Christians who say they have already spent their time doing what was necessary. Now, they just want to relax. We forget, “No one is discharged during battle” [ECCLESIASTES 8:8b]. Because we are able to live in relative comfort, we imagine that the war is settled. Well, though we are confident that Christ is victorious over death, hell and the grave, we are for the moment responsible to complete the battles assigned to us.

Dear people, we must never allow ourselves to forget that we are running a marathon. As we run, we have been preceded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” These witnesses passed the baton, anticipating that we would succeed because they had prepared the way, because they had successfully completed the earlier laps. Those who have gone before rightfully expected us to take up the baton and continue the race, the race that will not be completed until that day the Master returns for His own. Let each follower of the Master hear the call to push himself, to push herself, to excel. Let each of us refocus our eyes, looking to Christ our Saviour who even now is at the finish waiting to receive us into glory.

The strain is great, I know. I need encouragement, just as you need to be encouraged. Read again the Apostle’s assessment as he neared the end of his own portion of the race. “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” [2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8].

The crown of righteousness awaits each runner who completes this marathon. With the Apostle, each follower of Christ must determine that we will be marked as, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” [PHILIPPIANS 3:13b-14].

TO FINISH THE RACE — “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” [HEBREWS 12:1b-2a]. We are in a race; let’s run to win. We don’t want to be among those who sprint for a short distance, and then lapse into a stroll because it was too demanding. Let’s do whatever is necessary to complete the race, and in pushing ourselves to complete the race, let us run with the intent of winning.

It is not mere pious words to say that each Christian must strive to excel. If you are a student, and you can earn a “C,” work to earn an “A.” If you are a mother, don’t settle for raising your children to be successful according to the standards of this world; push yourself to raise children who excel as leaders, children who rise above the daily grind to be examples of righteousness. If you are a father, don’t just go to work to provide an income for your family, hoping to make a better life for them than you had; drive yourself to be an example of godliness that your family will always remember. Whatever you do, strive to excel, just as we are taught in Scripture. There, we are taught, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” [COLOSSIANS 3:17].

What is needed in our world are Christians who are so much more than mere “Sunday wonders.” I have no doubt that you know the type. They wonder whether they should bother to get dressed on Sunday morning. They wonder whether they should set aside any funds to contribute during the time of the offering when they manage to get up in time go to church. They wonder whether they should bother to even pretend to be godly in front of their children and before their neighbours.

These Sunday wonders are not the only ones who are wondering! The assembly wonders if they will be in the service on Sunday. We wonder if they will participate in the ministries provided by the congregation. We wonder why they even bother to call themselves “Christian” since living a righteous life seems to be unimportant to them. We wonder who they think they are fooling. They are “Sunday wonders;” and because they once professed to be followers of Christ, we are not supposed to question their commitment to Christ or to the congregation of the faithful.

In one former congregation, the church rolls indicated a rather large congregation. However, attendance was less than one-third of those listed on the church roll. I recommended to the church that we assess whether those listed, though they were never seen in a service, wished to be counted as members of the assembly. The response of people as we began to contact them was astonishing. Some thanked us and asked that we remove their names from the church roll. Others laughed and made derogatory remarks about the church, amused that they were still even carried as members. A few, however, were actually angry that we would even suggest that they shouldn’t continue to members.

One woman was quite insulted when I phoned to ask whether she wished to have her name continue to be listed as a member. She let me know in rather strong terms that she was a “charter member.” Her family was a pioneer family. “Well,” I gently remonstrated, “I’ve been here for almost a year, and I don’t recall ever seeing you in a service.” She fairly shrieked that she did not need to come to church to be a member. If I felt that way, she would just remove her membership. Of course, she immediately phoned some members of the church to complain about the rudeness of the new pastor, suggesting that he needed to be removed since he didn’t respect charter members.

Allow me to speak plainly, pointedly, even passionately to remind you that membership in the assembly of the Lord is not a privilege—no one has a “right” to be a member of a New Testament church. When one unites with a congregation, or more properly, when one is divinely appointed to an assembly, they become responsible to fulfil responsibilities that come with the privilege of union, with God’s appointment.

Membership in the New Testament assembly is not some right that can be treated casually or dismissed with a sense of disdain. To claim membership while refusing to support the ministries of the church is lese majesté of the vilest form. To avow to be a member of the Bride of Christ and yet to treat her as though she is nothing more than a tawdry plaything meant solely for one’s own benefit is to dishonour the One claimed as Master of life. The congregation of the righteous has no obligation to pretend that those who do not wish to be here should be allowed to claim membership. We are not responsible to make people feel good about themselves because they listed their name on a church roll. We are responsible to call people to confess Christ as Lord, to accept the responsibility that comes from walking with Him.

How dreadful are the words which Jesus spoke one day in a powerful Sermon! The Lord testified, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” [MATTHEW 7:21-23].

How frightful to think that multitudes are now deceiving themselves concerning the conduct of their lives. We must never imagine that we can live life on our terms and somehow at the end of our days in the flesh breeze into the presence of the Lord God. Having lived only to fulfil our own desires, how could we imagine that He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” [MATTHEW 25:21]? If we have not served Him, there is no possibility that we have been faithful! If we have lived solely to fulfil our own desires, we have deceived ourselves. Why would anyone imagine they will be welcomed into the eternal kingdom when they have not lived for His glory during the days of this life? Such thinking is folly-wide-the-mark.

There is yet this dark word spoken by the Master which we must not ignore. “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” [MATTHEW 10:33]. Surely, that sobering warning will serve to cause the individual who is living life without regard to the will of the Saviour to reconsider what he or she is doing. Surely, the knowledge that we must live as those who are redeemed rather than living so that we are indistinguishable from the world will lead us to walk with Him!

Denying the Christ is more than merely voicing our refusal to believe. Denying Him as Master over life must include failure to live for His glory. Denying Him as Saviour must include living as though His death is nothing other than a musty historical footnote. Have we never heard the warning, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” [HEBREWS 2:3-4]? We must guard our hearts, refusing to surrender to a life reflecting unbelief.

OUR CHAMPION — We who have been redeemed are encouraged to look to “[Jesus], 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” [HEBREWS 12:2b]. Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our Faith, is our Champion. The reason Jesus is our Champion is because He did the hard task, surrendering His life because of our sinful condition. Writing the churches of Galatia, Paul marvels at Christ’s love when he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [GALATIANS 2:20].

Jesus, our Great Champion, went down into the grave and cleaned it out. Jesus removed the sting of death; no individual need fear death. The Apostle speaks the truth when he writes, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” [1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-28].

I wouldn’t want any follower of the Master to fear death. Christ our Saviour has conquered death, making that once fearsome spectre a docile servant to the redeemed of God. Death has become the servant who escorts us home and into the presence of the Living God. Christ conquered death, and we are now promised, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” [2 CORINTHIANS 5:6b-10].

Our appearing before the Judgement Seat of Christ will reveal the perfection of His work in us. Christ has no need to reveal our flaws, flaws which we have embraced in many cases. Rather, He will reveal the glory of His perfect work in those whom He has redeemed. We need not fear His revelation, because, as John writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” [1 JOHN 4:18-19].

I am delighted when I am given opportunity to exalt the Name of our great Champion—He has done so much for me. I realise the truth of Paul’s affirmation, “In Him we live and move and have our being” [ACTS 17:28b]. The fact that the Apostle cited Epimenides of Crete is a reminder that all truth is God’s truth. We rejoice in the truth, because we know that as we pursue truth, we will draw ever nearer to the Living God. It gives me unimaginable joy to glorify the Son of God since He has richly blessed me because I have believed Him. Each child of God can testify to the blessings which Christ has showered on each of us who have believed.

One great encouragement for us as we run this race is the realisation that not only is Christ our Champion, but He is the One who shall award us when we have run the race. This is the promise recorded in Paul’s final missive to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” [2 TIMOTHY 4:7-8].

I know I’ve already cited these verses earlier in the message, but this point is too important to miss. It is the One Who completed the race—Christ who conquered death—Who waits to present the crown to us when we have run the final lap. This is the promise recorded elsewhere when the Apostle writes, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body” [2 CORINTHIANS 5:10]. This promise is iterated when Paul states in the Letter to Roman Christians, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God” [ROMANS 14:10b].

God is not seeking to expose our flaws, our sinful failures; before the Lord Jesus, our God will reveal the perfection of His work in us who are redeemed. This is the promise we read when the Apostle looks forward to that day when we who believe shall have been changed into the image of Christ. He writes, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” [1 CORINTHIANS 13:8-12].

“When perfection comes,” when we shall at last be made perfect, the race will be completed. We will have run the final lap and at last we will be home. At some time you may have heard Antonin Dvorak’s “Largo.” You may have heard this song played on bagpipes as the processional at a military funeral. One of Dvorak’s pupils, William Arms Fisher, adapted and arranged the Largo theme, adding words as though a black spiritual. [2]

How haunting the melody! How prescient the words of this song for the child of God who has run the race and is shortly to appear before that Judgement Seat of Christ.

Goin’ home, goin’ home, I'm a goin’ home;

Quiet-like, some still day, I'm jes’ goin’ home.

It's not far, jes’ close by,

Through an open door;

Work all done, care laid by,

Goin’ to fear no more.

Mother's there ‘spectin’ me,

Father's waitin’ too;

Lots o' folk gather’d there,

All the friends I knew,

All the friends I knew.

Home, I'm goin’ home!

Nothin’ lost, all's gain,

No more fret nor pain,

No more stumblin’ on the way,

No more longin’ for the day,

Goin’ to roam no more!

Mornin’ star lights the way,

Res’less dream all done;

Shadows gone, break o' day,

Real life jes’ begun.

There's no break, there's no end,

Jes’ a livin’ on;

Wide awake, with a smile

Goin’ on and on.

Goin’ home, goin’ home, I'm jes’ goin’ home,

Goin’ home, goin’ home, goin’ home!

There are young people who are listening today. The race stretches before you. Take up the baton and run the race for Christ’s glory and honour. There are some with gray hair who are listening now. Your race is almost done. Give those last strides your full energy as you drive for the finish line. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] “The True Story of ‘Goin’ Home,’ From Bohemia to Boston,”, accessed 19 April 2019