A key battle took place in Europe in 490 B.C. that brought freedom and democracy to Europe. It was the “Battle of Marathon,” in Greece, as they fought for freedom against oppression and slavery. After the battle, legend has it that the Greek messenger, Pheidippides, ran from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to relay the news of the victory. After a grueling run of 4-5 hours, Pheidippides declared “Nike!” (nee’kos) and dropped dead. He wasn’t telling them what kind of shoes he wore! “Nike” (or “nee’kos”) means “victory” or “conquer” in Greek. So, how far was it from Marathon to Athens? It was 42.2 kilometers or 26.2 miles, the distance of the race run many times annually world-wide to commemorate that legendary feat by Pheidippides.
I used to do a lot of jogging, but usually only 3-10 miles. I never ran a marathon, but those who do relate a phenomenon that takes place after about 20 miles, when the body runs out of glycogen (stored sugar) and begins breaking down the protein in muscles and tissues for food. This is called “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” Every fiber of your body is telling you to stop! The body should start to burn stored fat, but it can’t because some carbohydrate is needed to allow the burning of fat, but all is gone unless the runner has been snacking on energy bars and drinks.
As I think about this, I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1-3 which says: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us (the men and women of faith of Hebrews 11 who persevered by faith), let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” The author of Hebrews is challenging us to “run with endurance” the race He (Jesus) sets (uniquely) before each of us as believers. We have all the examples of Hebrews 11 of those who have done so and are now awaiting us in heaven. Our ultimate pattern, of course, is the One who never failed in His carrying out of the mission on which He was sent by His Father to provide redemption for mankind by being offered as “The Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29) for sin. The eternal plan included His suffering and death on a cross, as was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isa. 53 and Psalm 22). Hebrews 11:3 tells us to “consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners.”
Jesus was misunderstood, rejected, arrested, falsely accused and tried, beaten, scourged with his body ripped to shreds to where bones and innards were exposed. He had a crown of thorns pressed down on His skull. He had spikes driven through his wrists and feet. He suffered from loss of blood, dehydration and shock. Like a marathon runner, every part of His body was telling Him to stop—to call on the angels to destroy the world and set Him free—but He endured the cross for you and for me. And when Victory had been won, He too, like Pheidippedes, cried out “It is finished! And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit” (Jn. 19:30). “It is finished” is just one word in the Greek (tel-eh’-o, meaning “complete,” “accomplished.”). The Greeks had the ability to put “a sea of meaning in a drop of words!” God is a finishing God. He always completes what He starts. Paul said, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection made freedom from the penalty and bondage of sin available to all who will come to Him, lay down their burden of sin at the cross and receive Him as Savior. Jesus gave this invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
When we put our trust in Christ for salvation, we enter into His victory. Paul expressed it this way: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory (nee’kos) through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57). After listing things which cannot separate us from the love of Christ, things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, or even death, Paul writes: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Ro. 8:37). The word for “overwhelmingly conquer” is hoop-er-nik-ah’-oh, i.e. “super conquerors!”). No wonder the writer of Hebrews, when challenging us to “run with endurance” told us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” and “consider Him” and how He endured all the suffering and death on our behalf. He never quit, Praise God! He fulfilled what He came to do, having loved us, He loved us to the very end (Jn. 13:1) and is now seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Heb. 7:25) to guarantee our arrival in heaven (Jn. 6:39,40).
Since He is the One keeping us, sustaining us, we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” But, to do so, we need to get rid of anything that is weighing us down or holding us back, and we need to deal with any sins to which we keep falling prey. Runners, to be efficient and run with endurance, train to get their bodies in top condition, and have self discipline to avoid those things that would be a hindrance of their competing well. If we do that, we can, with the Apostle Paul, say one day: “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7) and there will be a reward for us at the end of the race (v. 8).