I wonder how different sports events would be if there were not any people up in the stands watching, cheering, screaming and holding up signs. Would it make a difference in the games? There might well be 50,000,000 people watching the event on ESPN but inside the stadium the stands would be empty. Would it matter? I see players in football games throwing up their arms to try to get the people in the stands to make more noise and get behind the team. I often think, when I see such happen, that I wish the player would forget about the stands and play the game to the best of their ability. I remember as a young man playing baseball in high school and often there wouldn’t be anyone much in the stands watching. When we played away from home, I really don’t think anyone came who didn’t have to. Was it because we weren’t any good as a team? I don’t really think that was it. It was a very different time and parents didn’t try to go to every game their kids played. We had one guy on the team whose dad came to most of the games and we thought he was some kind of sissy that had to have his dad there for all the games. Now if the parents aren’t at the games people seem to think the child is being abused in some way. But, at least in that era, it didn’t seem to make any difference in how we played the game.
Think about one of the great statements in the Book of Hebrews. The writer had just completed the chapter on faith and all the different people during the Old Testament period who had walked by faith. It was people like Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, and Moses. Each of these people didn’t just make one move by faith, they lived their lives by faith. Then the writer starts what we know as chapter 12 in verse one with this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
When the writer shared with us this great scene, he wasn’t thinking about football or baseball or basketball. He was thinking of the games like we see in the Olympics. He may have seen the Isthmian Games of that day that were carried out in the ancient city of Corinth. The runners in such games practiced every day for the games. The arenas would rival the massive football arenas of our own time without of the screens and replays. When time came for these games the stands would fill with slave and free alike (not seated together mind you) who came to cheer and encourage their favorites.
The writer of Hebrews pictures the ancient people of faith, like the ones mentioned in chapter eleven, being there in the stands as we run the race for God, by living our lives by faith each day. He wants us to see all those people of faith whom we have read about in Scripture, heard about from family as they shared with us the stories of our loved ones living and risking life and limb in service to God, and to see the ones we have known and loved who have gone on to their reward now, but they are still in the stands cheering, encouraging and longing to see us run the race for the Lord. If I were an artist I would try to paint this massive scene and have us on the playing field preparing to run in the competition. On the side lines I would picture as coaches those older saints at church that share their life stories with us to help us walk the walk for the Lord. In the stands I would paint the faces of people like Moses, Abraham, Deborah, Paul, Peter, James, John, Mary, Martha and Aquila and Priscilla. But those faces would only fill a small section of the stands. I would paint the faces of those I’ve known and loved who lived their whole lives dedicated to serving God in the best way they knew. Mother and Dad would be in the stands, but there would be tons of godly people who have influenced my life for God all through the years. My wife, Linda’s mother and dad would be there in a prominent place. There would be great men and women who loved and blessed us along the way. The neat part of the picture, if I were an artist and could paint it, would be that it would constantly changing as the faces of great saints continue to leave this world in death and join those who have crossed over already and are now in the stands.
How much difference would it make in your life for God, in your running of God’s race, if you thought all along of those loved ones in the stands not only watching what we do, but cheering us on as we run the race for the Lord? You may ask, “Leon, do you think this is literal? Do you think it is actually the case that all those who have lived by faith and gone on to be with God are now in the spiritual arena watching us run the race?” I don’t know whether he meant it literally or as an illustration to help us visualize the race for God. I know that the writer of Ecclesiastes said that the dead do not know anything under the sun, meaning they don’t know what is going on down here on the earth. But so much of Ecclesiastes was given as the opinion of Solomon as an older man. Many of the statements made in that book cannot be taken as the inspired word of God. Much of it is to illustrate how Solomon, who had drifted far from the Lord, thought and searched for meaning in his life. It reaches the right conclusion that the whole of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. But I wouldn’t use some random statement from Ecclesiastes to prove a point. But the other scenes the Bible gives of those who have gone on from this life to be with the Lord don’t present them as being in the stands watching us and cheering for us. Revelation 7 pictures them being led by the Lord by everlasting fountains of water and God wiping all tears from their eyes. So I tend not to think it is literal.
But I do know that beyond the grave we still have our same mind, only fully enlightened. We would certainly be concerned about the life and future of those we love on earth. I can’t imagine us becoming so enthralled with heaven that we forget about the ones we love on earth.
But here is my point, God had the writer to give us the scene to encourage us. The two “Let us” statements give the main points he longed for us to get. These two points are so significant I’m not going to try to develop the thought in this article but will in some detail in the next two posts. But the points are, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us.” And “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Here as this year is reaching it’s end and we are ready to celebrate Christmas time and rejoice because our Lord and Savior was willing to leave the glory and majesty of heaven to come to earth as a baby and become one of us, suffering our trials, knowing our temptations and taking on our sin to pay the price for our redemption, let’s be sure to remember, He was also raised from the dead and reigns with power at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus became a child of humans that humans might become the children of God. “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
(I hope you can stay with me in the next studies on the race that is marked out for us. It is big stuff)