The Winter Olympics began in Chamonix in 1924 with competitors from sixteen nations participating, watched and cheered on by spectators in the arena. The 23rd Winter Olympics have recently finished in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, where competitors from ninety-one nations participated, cheered on by countless spectators in the stadium and watched by millions worldwide on social media. Every competitor was in South Korea with the determination of winning their race. Most had trained with perseverance for years spurred on by the hope of a medal. They were intensely ambitious, aiming for the highest prize, and some competitors who won silver and bronze medals wept that they didn’t win the coveted gold.
The image behind our text for today is a race in a Roman amphitheatre with spectators cheering on the competitors. It is symbolic of the Christian life in which every believer is a competitor; the spectators are the heroes of faith through the ages who finished the course, won the prize and are examples of a life well lived. They testify that the race is worth it and that God is faithful. Our race is not a short sprint but a strenuous long distance run and, sadly, some professing believers are tempted to drop out when trouble comes. How you begin the race is not the important issue – it’s how you finish it, because the prize is at the end, not at the beginning.
In the arena, the eyes of every competitor are on the finishing line. No one stands still and no one looks back. It’s forward all the way with perseverance and endurance, focused on the prize. If we, as believers in Jesus, are to finish the race well, we too must ‘Forget what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ’ (Philippians 3:13-14.) Jesus called us into the race. We started it with Him, and we will only finish it well if we are focused on Him. To fix your eyes on Jesus means to look earnestly at Him; never let Him out of your sight.
Excess baggage and sin are items which bog us down and are powerful hindrances in our race. That is why our eyes must be fixed on Jesus. Fixed on Him, we lose sight of ourselves, our overwhelming circumstances and present distractions; of past failures, griefs, sorrows and disappointments and of an unknown future. Sin easily entangles us, clings closely to us and separates us from the goal of our race. Sin has to be given a bitter blow at the cross, and hatred for it has to be put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit to free us to run with joy, whatever our circumstances may be.
Hard times may come into our lives, when we feel we come to a standstill. We’ve stopped running, but God knows what we need for the next leg of the race, and, if we turn to Him, He will strengthen and re-equip us, so that we finish well. At those times, we need to remember that the great cloud of witnesses that surround us didn’t give up when trials came, even when they were threatened with death for the sake of Jesus.
May we each be able to say with the great apostle, ‘I have finished the race, I have kept the faith; now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Jude, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also for all who have longed for His appearing’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your calling on my life, and thank You for Jesus. By Your grace, please give me strength to daily fix my eyes on Him, and, through the enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, may I run with perseverance and faithfulness the race marked out for me, for Your glory. Amen.
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