The Christian life is a race, not a stroll in the sunset! And for most of us it isn’t a short sprint, but a marathon.
You may have noticed that the course for a marathon, being run on ordinary roads, is marked by a painted line. For a long time I assumed that they just sent some workman round with a map and a paintbrush, but actually it’s a little more sophisticated than that. Many years ago, I remember watching the Commonwealth Games when they were in Edinburgh, and we were shown how it was done. What happens is: the day before the race, an experienced marathon runner runs the course, and the painters go after him, painting a line that follows his exact route (i.e. not just down the middle of the road but taking the smoothest line round a bend and the best line if the ground is uneven) – so that the race runners the next day literally follow in his footsteps. And this is what the writer to the Hebrews says: the race is “marked out for us” because Jesus has gone ahead and we are following in His footsteps. He has lived a perfect human life and given us an example to follow – such as when He washed His disciples’ feet. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14,15)
In an endurance event like the marathon, the athletes have to run with concentration and determination in order to complete the course – and they do it even if they know they have no chance of getting a medal. But they are encouraged by the cheering of the spectators, and we too should be inspired and encouraged by the “great cloud of witnesses” – the saints who have preceded us.