I used to. Run, that is. And truth be told, I aspire to run again. My oldest son, in fact, just started track. Maybe I’ll train with him…
The author of Hebrews, however, has something else in mind. He’s not talking about exercising or road races or track meets. (Nor, for that matter, is he yelling “Get out of here!” even though that’s sometimes what it might look like when we do what he says—see Hebrews 11:27.) He’s talking about the Christian life and comparing it to a race. It is really a fitting analogy, even for non-runners, whether temporary or permanent ones! Like a race, the life of faith is hard. It calls for gritty endurance. And it’s got a finish line. But it’s also got something else.
There is a special moment in the Olympics. It’s during the marathon, right at the end, as runners make their final turn and head to the finish line inside the stadium. It’s an electric moment. Poor souls who have spent some two-odd hours laboring, mostly alone, pass through the stadium’s tunnel and into the deafening roar of the crowd. In fact, when the first runner enters—or the first hometown runner enters—the place goes absolutely bonkers.
The Christian life has something like that too. It’s got fans. A crowd. That’s the picture Hebrews paints in its longest and best-known chapter: Hebrews 11. And it’s electrifying. In fact, that’s what it’s for. It’s supposed to function like your favorite song on your workout playlist. Just before telling his struggling friends that they simply had to keep running, Hebrews—as good a name as any for the letter’s author—takes a step back and turns his and our attention to the crowd.
It’s a special type of crowd. Hebrews calls the fans “witnesses,” because they cheer us on precisely by telling us, from experience, that it’s possible to finish the race. “We did it; you can too!” That’s what they say. And there’s a lot of them. The stadium is packed (12:1).
Hebrews gives us a few of their stories but admits, right away, that he doesn’t have the time to tell us more. He can only give us the abridged version (11:32a). He only has time for 40 or so profiles (38, to be exact). Better still, he makes sure to remind us that these witnesses ran, like many of us do, in less-than-ideal circumstances. Their race conditions were often not good, to put it mildly: high temperatures, no company, often excruciating pain (see, especially, 11:35b–38). More often Badwater 135 than a Turkey Trot.
While it’s true, we’re not surprised by some of the folks we see in the stands. After all, some seem like they were born to run—the Caballo Blancos of the Christian faith. Others pleasantly surprise us. We get the distinct impression that for every Abraham (11:8) or Moses (11:24), there’s a Gideon and a Jephthah (11:32). Folks who finished, yes, but… how shall we put this?… didn’t set any records. These sit together in the stand’s “easy-to-identify-with” section.
And then there’s the way the chapter ends. The final flourish in the chapter’s denouement. Hebrews reminds us that each of those cheering us on ran their race with a significant disadvantage. They carried extra weight (11:39–40). They ran burdened (10:2). Yet, and this is the incredible part, they still finished. And the good news is—Hebrews has spent most of his letter so far making this point—we run without the extra pounds. (10:14). Thank you, Jesus! If they could run and finish, we can too!
So, to all of us—including our hard-working students finishing their very busy semesters—Hebrews tells us to run on. Persevere. And keep our ears tuned to the crowd. Hear them remind us that what God’s calling us to do is possible. The course can indeed be run. After all, it’s been done many, many times before.
Jared Compton, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek
- That our faculty and staff and especially our students would finish the academic year well.
- That our students would follow the Lord Jesus faithfully over the coming summer months.
- That God would continue to provide for our school, and especially that he’d bring the right students our way for the fall semester.