Summary: The Bible uses many sports related images. In this classic text, the writer to the Hebrews explores the image of a race to reflect upon the nature of a disciple's life.
I am a sports fan, and the big news for me most recently is that the New Orleans Saints opened training camp on July 28th, about ten days ago, and they’re first pre-season game is only a mere thirteen days away. Not only that, but I know the local high schools are gearing up for the new season, and they’ll kick off in a big way the last weekend of August with jamborees. Let’s not forget the local college scene, either. ULM proudly opened its new field house this past week in preparation for the college football season, and we’ll all be in front of our TV’s as LSU travels to Wisconsin to face the Badgers at Lambeau Field on August 27th. Unfortunately, we LA Tech Bulldog fans will have to wait until September 3rd to kick-off their season.
The fall is a great time of the year if you’re a sports fan. Not only is college and professional football kicking off, but Major League Baseball is coming to the end of its season. The Texas Rangers (my team) currently hold a six game lead over the Houston Astros in their division, by the way, and NASCAR is getting down to the “Chase for the Cup”—their playoff system. NASCAR, football and baseball, all happening at the same time—I tell you, it doesn’t get much better than that. Of course, some would argue that NASCAR isn’t really a sport…like ice curling…is that really a sport? Vernon Davis, the WR for the San Francisco 49’ers is the national spokesperson for ice curling. I don’t get the point of ice curling. Is there a point to ice curling? Some people say auto racing isn’t a sport, either. I believe it is, though. Well, maybe not drag racing. I mean, seriously, anybody can drive straight for a quarter of mile, but it takes a real athlete to turn left for 500 miles.
It’s okay to be a sports fan because sports is in the Bible. Yeah, baseball is right there in the opening words of Scripture. It says, “In the big-inning” in Genesis 1:1. Seriously, though sports images are used throughout the New Testament, primarily by the Apostle Paul who invokes images of wrestling and boxing, as well as running. The Apostle Paul also talks about winning the crown of righteousness, but the crown he refers to was specifically the crown a competitor won in a competition. So, sports images fill the pages of the Bible. Ours isn’t the first generation or culture to be caught up in the whole competitive sports thing.
One of those passages that evoke a sports image is the one we read in Hebrews 12 today. There, the writer speaks about running the race that God has set before us, and of course, the writer is referring to the race of life. The Olympics began on Friday, and we know that running is part and parcel of most of the events highlighted in track and field. Most of those events are not endurance events, but rather speed events…sprints. There is event on tap that is focused on endurance, and it is the marathon that comes to my mind as the writer speaks of running with endurance the race that is before us. That’s his way of saying life is a marathon.
We, too often, treat life like it is a sprint. We sprint to work, sprint back home, sprint with our children to some sports practice or event, race around to our church activities, our recreational activities…always running, but never seeming to get anywhere. Actor Steve McQueen once said, “Racing is life,” but I’m not sure he didn’t have it backwards—life is racing. We make fun of the NASCAR guys and gals simply going around in circles, but doesn’t life feel just like that for us at times?
Life is a marathon, meant to be run with endurance. Marathons are typically road races. It would get awfully boring for a marathoner to run 26.2 miles around and around in the same circle. But, a road race is filled with hills and valleys, twists and turns, beautiful scenery, and yes, sometimes, an occasional blow-out. How do we make it to the end of the race? I see three pieces of advice the author to the Hebrews offers in running the race of life: teamwork, preparation and focus.
The author begins the passage by referencing the “huge crowd of witnesses,” as though we are surrounded by on-lookers. Obviously, the author is referring to the number of saints whom he has just recounted in Hebrews 11. Were we to read back in chapter 11, we would discover God’s Hall of Fame, those faithful people who trusted God, who ran the race of life and finished their course well, even if they didn’t see the ultimate fruit of their faith. He referenced Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Gideon and David…a pretty extensive list of the all-stars of God’s story. That was the crowd of witnesses he was talking about. There is a sense in which they sit in the stands of eternity watching as a crowd at a sporting event, but the writer seeks to communicate much more than that image. They are witnesses in the sense that they have run the race, too, and God has committed the witness to them, and their lives bear witness to God’s faithfulness. They aren’t in the stands watching! They’re on the side-lines as teammates because their lives still give witness to God’s faithfulness.