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.” 
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].