Summary: The fact that we are alive testifies that we have a race to run, and that it requires endurance. Such races often stem from extreme misfortune. Some suffer from health conditions, or conditions of their own making. In any case, everyone has a race set before them.
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The Race Set Before Us
I recently read a fictional story about a young woman who – in early childhood - had been badly injured in an explosion. One side of her face was deeply scarred. The story told of something that happened frequently to this unfortunate young woman. A child saw her scarred face and ran crying to his mother. The scarred woman just smiled and gave a little friendly wave to the boy and continued on her way.
Her companion asked her, “How can you be so gracious when that happens?”
I have learned to run with endurance the race that is set before me.
That response parrots an admonition given by the writer of the Hebrew letter.
The very fact that we are alive testifies that we have a race to run, and that it requires endurance.
Such races often stem from extreme misfortune:
It brings to mind soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Some return healthy, their bodies intact, but others are disfigured, with limbs mangled or destroyed by IED’s.
Young men and women barely out of adolescence experience the horrors of war and life-altering injuries, and are then discharged into a society in which many disapprove the war and blame anyone who fought in it.
Instead of being honored as self-sacrificing heroes by a grateful nation, returning soldiers – even severely injured ones – are sometimes treated with contempt.
War-hardened veterans are sometimes unable to function normally in civil society.
Some have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) - their minds affected greatly by the horrific experiences of war.
It’s not just war injuries, though. Many others, like Job, suffer calamities not of their own making.
Some suffer from debilitating health conditions, like MS or epilepsy.
But sometimes a race is set before someone by that person’s own actions:
A girl who has had a secret abortion to hide her sin, and immediately regrets it deeply, and as penance must carry a heavy burden of guilt for the rest of her life.
Yes, she set the race herself, but it is nonetheless the race that lies ahead for her.
Or one who has committed one of those sins that many Christians consider to be grounds to ostracize for life persons who have been guilty of them and are bereft of the companionship and support of fellow pilgrims.
They are left to run the race before them in loneliness and shame – or find friends among those outside the Christian fellowship, who find nothing wrong with the sins that have alienated them from other Christians.
It’s not only guilt that lays out a hard race to run.
We’re not confining our thoughts to the things in which people are victims of their own actions or things that befall them.
We’re also talking about races by which a worthy and sought-after result is pursued.
II. We Have a Race
Although it is true we all have a race in common as a church and within it as individuals to carry out its mission, that’s not my primary focus this morning.
Today I want to direct our thoughts to our individual races that are before us personally – either as burdens to bear or challenges to meet.
Hebrews 12:1-2 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.
Clearly, a connection is being made between our race, that of Abel, Abraham, Noah, and Moses - and that of Jesus.
Notice that “set before” appears twice in these two verses:
…race that is set before us…
…joy that was set before him…
Also note that endurance is mentioned twice:
…let us run with endurance…
…endured the cross…
Things like this in scripture are no accident.
In his earthly walk, Jesus was an active participant in this aspect of the human experience.