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August 27, 2008

God’s Olympians

Filed under: Bible Passages,Following Jesus,Salvation — Dr Earl @ 9:58 pm

Our generation is a generation that loves sports. Paul, the Apostle that is, also loved the sports program of his day. In fact, I would lay odds that he was an athlete, honored in his day. In Paul’s time there were three major games that were played around the known world: the Olympian Games held at Mt. Olympus, the Pithian Games held at Delphi, and the Isthmian Games held at Corinth.

These games were staggered throughout the year so that the jet-set of that day could go to all three. While they featured many events, the greatest and most popular by far was the foot race, the track meet.  These runners were the most popular and recognized heroes. They even had fame and fortune back then. Tell the truth, these athletes won more fame than the conquering generals.

Each and ever city had their “Circus-Circus”, the arena, the coliseum. These arenas were about six time the size of our modern football field. People would pack into these arenas to watch the races.

The writer of Hebrews (a book in the New Testament), whom I believe to be the Apostle Paul, uses the imagery of the games to illustrate powerful spiritual truths for us today.

The athlete is on the field. He has trained for months and months; rigorous training, severe discipline. He has denied himself the legitimate pleasures of life that other people enjoy. He’s on the field; the stadium is packed, the emperor is in his velvet lined box, everyone is watching that lone athlete. In that day, he would go to the end of the field and dip his hands in a fresh bloody sacrifice, raise his hands to the gods and swear he us morally pure, he has kept all the rules, he will run a fair race and participate as an honored athlete. After the ceremony he goes to the line and gets himself set. He is ready to run the race. Every nerve is tense, every one of those finely toned muscles are taut. His mind is centered on one thing, one goal – TO WIN!

Hebrews 12:1 states: “Wherefore seeing we are encompassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily beset us, and let us run with patience (endurance) the race that is set before us …”

Who are the witnesses Paul talks about in this verse? I would suggest to you that Paul was visualizing two groups and one person as he made that statement under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. The first group is the most obvious: Those who have gone on before and are now in the grandstands of the dead in Christ. He has already talked about many of them in Chapter 11 of Hebrews. We could go through each one of these individually but we’re not going to take that time. Just notice one important thing: what they had was divine revelation concerning things that would happen in the future. They studied these words seeking to know what they meant (cf. I Peter 1:10-12). Even though they didn’t understand, they obeyed! If they obeyed the Word of God on that side of the Cross and Resurrection, how much more should we be willing when we have the truth given to us on this side of the Cross and Resurrection? (More about this group in my next installment.)

The second group Paul may be thinking of  are those in the here and now. They are watching every day. They want to know: is there any power in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is there any real power in the lives of those who call themselves Christians? Is there anything in their lives that make them different? Is there any hope in the people of Christ? Where is the joy they talk and sing about? Can these Christians believe when the going gets rough? They want to know!They are watching our speech, our attitudes, our actions and reactions, our judgments and resentments; our lifestyle. Yes, they are watching as we commit those little polite sins like greed, unforgiveness and gossip. You cannot stop them from watching and if they watch long enough, they’ll see something in us they think is unChristian. We are not perfect. That’s why it is so important to point people to the One who is perfect: Jesus. We need to help them see Jesus.

But there is also someone else who is watching: our Coach, Jesus! He put us into the race and it is to Him we run. He is the Alpha and Omega, the A to Z and every letter in between.  He knows what we can do, He knows what we can endure. He will never allow us to have more than we can bear but will offer a way of escape. Our Lord does have a plan for your life. He has a race for you to run. Let us run as honored spiritual athletes, knowing that we are being encouraged by those who have run the race before us. They are saying: “Come on, you can do it. We did!”

Are you in the race? Salvation is not something you receive at the end of the race, it puts you into the race. God has a race for YOU to run but you will never know what it is until you get under the leadership of the COACH.

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