The Believer's Marathon

Bible Book: Hebrews  12 : 1-29
Subject: Faithfulness; Christian Living

Pheidippedes (530 - 490 B.C.) ran 22 miles from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, Greece. His purpose was to tell his fellow citizens about their victory over the Persians. The Greeks commemorated this selfless act with a race appropriately called a Marathon. I understand that after several adjustments for various reasons the length of the Marathon came to be 26.2 miles.

On April 15, 2013, Dr. Sam Boyd, senior pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, was one of 17,583 to finish the Boston Marathon. 27,000 started the 117th running of this prestigious race. Sports Columnist, Joe Biddle, provides the rest of the story about the tragic events as many were still making their way across the finish line. His column titled “Local preacher’s first hand account of Boston Marathon attack” appeared in the Williamson Herald. Other accounts of this attack reveal 3 lost their lives and at least 170 were injured. In times like these we need hope. Dr. John Phillips (1927-2010) explains, “The great theme of Hebrews 12 is hope. Hope in the Scriptures, is not something vague, based on wishful thinking and uncertainties. Hope is vital and dynamic and real, because it is based on eternal verities.”[1]

Allow me to share three points from our passage about the Believer’s Marathon.

I. First, note the venture with God.

We read in Hebrews 12:1-11, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was 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 endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Here we find the language of resolution to encourage others to prepare for the rigors of a great race.

A. The decision to run in the Believer’s Marathon.

People magazine (December 26, 1977) quoted comedian Lily Tomlin as saying, "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."[2] According to Wikipedia the expression "Rat Race" is "an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit, conjuring up the image of the futile efforts of a lab rat trying to escape whilst running around a maze or in a wheel."[3] Someone wisely exhorts, “Get out of the rat race and into the right race!” Dr. William Barclay (1907-1978) explains, “The Christian is not an unconcerned stroller along the byways of life; he is a wayfarer on the high road. He is not a tourist, who returns each night to the place from which he started; he is a pilgrim who is for ever on the way. The goal is nothing less than the likeness of Christ. The Christian life is going somewhere, and it would be well if, at each day's ending, we were to ask ourselves: ‘Am I any farther on?’”[4]

It is my understanding it takes about two years for a person to be accepted to run in the Boston Marathon. Runners must adhere to certain terms in this marathon. Remember the one who came to Jesus desiring to follow Him (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-30). Jesus turned him away because he was unwilling to surrender and submit to Him. In Luke 6:46 Jesus asked, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” It is impossible to follow Jesus Christ as Lord on your own terms.

B. The discipline of runners for the Believer’s Marathon.

Paul the Apostle writes 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Later Paul writes about the observation of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.”

II. Second, note the vitality from God.

From Hebrews 12:12-17 we read, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”

Related to the Believer’s Marathon there are at least two considerations.

A. Consider the release of strength in the Believer’s Marathon.

Running requires a release of strength. There is a tremendous expenditure of energy to run in the Believer’s Marathon. Paul declares his willingness to “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15a) in his love for the church. Obviously he felt this way about the cause of sharing the good news of the Gospel which is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and the provision of eternal life.

B. Consider the renewal of strength for the Believer’s Marathon.

Fran Sciacca wrote a book titled To Run and Not Grow Tired: Restoring Your Faith in Times of Trauma, Hurt or Depression. From the book description we read, “Running the race of faith is not without its stops and starts. Sometimes you hit rough spots, and things like resentment, guilt, or disappointment drag you down. If you've sustained some inner wounds--and you're not sure how to deal with them--take some time to study the lives of 12 men and women of God who struggled to keep running when they faced adversity. This Bible study will help you see how God cares about every problem as you grow in endurance, patience, and perseverance.”[5]

We read in Isaiah 40:28-31, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, / The Creator of the ends of the earth, / Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, / And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, / And the young men shall utterly fall, / But those who wait on the Lord / Shall renew their strength; / They shall mount up with wings like eagles, / They shall run and not be weary, / They shall walk and not faint.”

III. Third, note the voice of God.

This section of our passage refers to God speaking from two mountains, namely, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. We find the word translated “voice” in Hebrews 12:19 and 26. From Scripture we learn that God speaks.

A. Mark how God spoke to old covenant runners in the Believer’s Marathon.

In Hebrews 12:18-21 we read, “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: ‘And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.’ And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’)” Moses chronicles this event in Deuteronomy 4:11-14, where we read, “Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess.” After recording the second giving of the Law in the next chapter, Moses writes, “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me” (Deuteronomy 5:22).

B. Mark how God speaks to new covenant runners in the Believer’s Marathon.

From Hebrews 12:22-29 we read, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”

The refrain from Psalm 95:7-11, “Today, if you will hear His voice,” appears three times in Hebrews 3:7, 15, and 4:7. The word translated “hear” means to “heed.” To trust and obey God’s voice is in view. In James 1:22-25 we read, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” From Romans 10:17 we read, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” All those honorably mentioned in Hebrews 11 were men and women of faith. Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest (1893-1962) comments, “The heroes of the faith of 11:4-40 are the cloud of witnesses, testifying to the efficacy of the faith way of salvation and victory.”[6] One commentator explains, “They are not there to watch us, to see if we win. They are there to cheer us on, to inspire us, to strengthen us for the race.”[7] While believers who have gone before might not be watching in the grandstands as some suppose, we know our Lord Jesus Christ took notice when Stephen courageously proclaimed the Gospel and gave his life as the first Christian martyr. Dr. Luke recounts the conclusion of Stephen’s sermon and the response of the hearers in Acts 7:51-60, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.’ When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Rev. Lawrence Baldridge, pastor of Caney Baptist Church, in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, shares, “When I was in Southern Seminary I heard Dr. Duke McCall [1914-2013], one of the great Southern Baptist preachers, and president of Southern, Seminary, preach and give his testimony. He said that when he had finished seminary he was preaching in a large church of which he and his family were members. A delegation had been sent there from an important church to hear him preach, and to perhaps call him to be pastor of their church. Dr. McCall said he was in the study ready to come out and preach a mighty sermon when his lawyer-father knocked on the door and came in. He looked at Duke and said, ‘Duke, there’s a very important person out there in the congregation wanting to hear you preach.’ Duke answered, and mentioned some of the names of these outstanding people who were on the pulpit committee to hear him, and asked his father which of these he meant. His father spoke very calmly and said, ‘Duke, the important person in the congregation that I am referring to is Jesus Christ. He wants to hear you preach His Gospel.’ Duke said that took all the starch and the pride from his heart and, and he went out humbly and preached the Christ of the Cross and Resurrection.”[8]


Scottish athlete, Eric Henry Liddell (1902-1945), was the winner of the Men’s 400 metres at the 1924 Summer Olympics held in Paris. Actor Ian Charleston portrayed Liddell in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. Charleston as Liddell said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”[9]

Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:11, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” Life is often unpredictable, but everyone is racing toward eternity. Solomon writes of God in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has put eternity in their hearts.” Solomon concludes, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, / For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, / Including every secret thing, / Whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Let me assure you no one truly fears God and keeps His commandments without coming by repentance and faith. If you realize you are running on the broad way that leads to destruction, repent and get on the narrow way that leads to life everlasting (Matthew 7:13-14). Make certain you are running in the Believer’s Marathon in a way that glorifies our Lord. Regrettably, many believers are running to achieve and acquire things outside the will of God. Paul the Apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”

In the words of Philip Doddridge (1702-1751),

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
And press with vigor on;
A heavenly race demands thy zeal,
And an immortal crown,
And an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around
Hold thee in full survey;
Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way,
And onward urge thy way.

’Tis God’s all animating voice
That calls thee from on high;
’Tis His own hand presents the prize
To thine aspiring eye,
To thine aspiring eye.

Then wake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
And press with vigor on,
A heavenly race demands thy zeal,
and an immortal crown,
And an immortal crown.[10]

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) comments, “The high prize of heavenly bliss is at the end of the gospel race. A crown for the runner; a curse for the runaway.”[11]

Paul the Apostle writes in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” At the end of his life Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Eric H. Liddell also said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”[12]

May each one of us faithfully finish the Believer’s Marathon!

[1]John Phillips, Exploring Hebrews: An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2002), 175

[2]People magazine, December 26, 1977

[3]“Rat Race,” Accessed: 04/17/13

[4]William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, The New Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, John Knox Press, 2002), 202

[5]Fran Sciacca, To Run and Not Grow Tired, Accessed 04/17/13,

[6]Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, Vol. 2, Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 213

[7]Lawrence Baldridge, “The Right Race or the Rat Race,” Sermon Notes, (Hebrews 12:1-3)


[9]Franklin L. Kirksey, “Do We Really Want Revival?” Sermon Notes, (Lamentations 3:40-42)

[10]Philip Doddridge, “Awake My Soul, Stretch Every Nerve,” (1755)

[11]D.L. Moody, Notes from My Bible, (Chicago, IL: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1895), 159-160

[12]Eric Liddell, Quote by Eric Liddell, Accessed 03/17/13,

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / /

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