I love athletics. Though I was never an athlete, my wife and I still find it exciting to watch a good basketball, football or baseball game. We are in our mid-eighties, but we still have season tickets to the University of Northern Iowa’s football and basketball games and enjoy them very much.
One of the attractions for me with athletics is to see how games present such a realistic picture of life. Life is really a game, with many losing and winning experiences.
The writer of the book of Hebrews must have had similar feelings, for he talks about running the race which is marked out for us with perseverance. We’ll see how he builds on an athletic scene.
Seven weeks ago millions of Americans watched the Super Bowl. We were cheering for the Arizona Cardinals because Kurt Warner was their quarterback. Kurt had played university football at Northern Iowa, which is in our town. The Cardinals almost beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Believe me, they were running a race and took a lot of punishment trying to come out on top. But it was not to be. In the last few seconds they lost the game.
Christians are running a race. Their goal is to live the abundant life here on earth and then to inherit their heavenly home for all eternity. Notice the word “inherit.” We do not earn the victory as the Steelers did. It is a gift to us from God through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross. But our enemy, Satan, is doing battle with us, seeking to destroy our faith in Christ and causing us to reject the gift which God offers us.
Let’s turn from the greatest gameÑwinning the heavenly homeÑand consider one of the most important games we play while walking through this life on earth.
What was your wish when you stood at the altar saying your wedding vows? Were you not praying, or at least hoping, that this would be a lifelong union filled with many blessings? Most people whom I have married wanted it to be the beginning of a great life together where their love for each other would grow daily. But we are not into the marriage long before we find that marriage takes daily preparation. As the athlete must keep in shape physically, so the husband and wife realize the need to be strong emotionally and spiritually in order to make a success of their marriage.
There is a lot of give and take. Only a few realize that it takes a lot of prayer and listening to God speak to us about our relationship to Him and to each other. And then those times may come when the love has grown cold and Satan has sent a friend to say, “Divorce him. You deserve someone better.” You know what it is to fight when it looks like your home is crumbling in defeat and your children will be hurt living with a single parent.
Who is your only true hope that the marriage can be turned around? The Christian soon realizes that it is Christ, and your marriage is failing simply because He has had no place in it. But He is always there to help you. That’s what He promised the night you were bound together as husband and wife. He never left you; you left Him. He is eager to come back into your lives and change your wills and attitudes toward Him and each other.
So you call a time-out, just like a football team does. You rearrange your life and find new priorities. You pledge your allegiance to each other. New life begins to appear in your marriage. You see your strengths and weaknesses. And you experience what God’s grace is all about.
Look at the words of our text. These great people of God whom we met in the sermon last week had their difficult times too, and yet the text tells us to look at them as a
“cloud of witnesses.” How did they win the race?
It was necessary for them to get rid of everything that hindered them in their relationship with God, so they could run the race. Think of the temptation as Abraham walked to the top of the mountain to sacrifice his son Isaac. God was testing his faith. God’s command did not make sense. Doubt had to be thrown aside when the little boy asked his father where the animal was for the sacrifice. Then Abraham said, “God will provide.” Read this chapter (Genesis 22). They were hard times, but Abraham looked to his Heavenly Father for the answer and God did not fail him.
In the same spirit God said, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lost heart” (v. 2-3).
The game of life for the Christian is not an easy one. There are many battles to be fought, but our text tells us we do not walk alone. It is generally known that the home team is supposed to have an advantage in winning the game, if the teams are roughly equal in talent. Why are the hometown players favored? Because of fan support. God is our cheerleader, and He uses a host of our brothers and sisters in Christ to assist us in facing the hours when it is difficult to continue the race. He will see us through. He will forgive our sins and strengthen us when we are the weakest.
Yes, we are playing the game of life, the most important game there is. We are strangers on our way to a homeland where together with all who have died in the faith we will enjoy the heavenly mansions with our Lord forever.