By 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics Stadium, it was beginning to darken. It had cooled down as well.
The last of the Olympic marathon runners were being assisted away to first-aid stations. Over an hour earlier, Mamo Waldi of Ethiopia had charged across the finish line, winning the 26-mile, 385-yard race looking as strong and as vigorous as when he'd started.
As the last few thousand spectators began preparing to leave, they heard police sirens and whistles through the gate entering the stadium.
The attention turned to that gate. A sole figure, wearing the colors of Tanzania, came limping into the stadium. His name was John Steven Aquari. He was the last man to finish the marathon in 1968. His leg was bandaged, bloody. He had taken a bad fall early in the race. Now, it was all he could do to limp his way around the track. The crowd stood and applauded as he completed that last lap.
When he finally crossed the finish line, one man dared ask the question all were wondering. "You are badly injured. Why didn't you quit? Why didn't you give up?"
Aquari, with quiet dignity said, "My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish."
So it is with God. God didn't just send you to start this race. God sent you both to start and to finish. What is it like for you? Most of us here are closer to the end of our life than the beginning. As you finish the race you began when you invited Christ to come into your life, how are you doing?
There are some wonderful words in the Bible which promise that those who endure to the end will be saved. This morning, I want to encourage you to endure.
Let us be encouraged by the many Scripture passages which promise us that if we endure, we will receive great spiritual blessing.
In II Timothy 2:11-13 we read, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us, if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
In this passage, there are four promises which speak about the assurance of salvation in a Christians life. The first promise is that if we have died with him, we will also live with him. This is reminiscent of Romans 6: 1ff which is basically a statement about our salvation. If we have placed our life under Christ, having died to sin, then we have also received the eternal life which becomes our possession as soon as we become followers of Christ.
Is that salvation assured? Well, the next promise states that if we endure, we will also reign with him. This is where the promise that we receive blessing from God on the basis of our endurance comes in. If we stay the course, if we are victorious, if we stand firm, then we will also receive the blessing of reigning with Christ.
But the statement about endurance also warns us that if we disown him, he will also disown us and if we are faithless, he remains faithful. What does this mean? It is one of the most difficult ideas in the Bible and many have debated it on both sides of the issue. Some say that once we belong to Christ, it is impossible to lose that relationship. They point to such passages as those which say that “no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Others suggest that we can lose our salvation if we walk in sin without repentance. They point to such passages as Hebrews 6 which warn that it is impossible to bring someone back when they have turned from Christ.
This passage in Timothy helps us understand. These two phrases are important. I believe they teach us that we can be unfaithful to Christ by not always living by faith. If we do that, Christ remains faithful and will not disown us. However, if we go so far in our unfaithfulness as to deny Christ, then Christ does not force us to remain his child. He will deny us.
Of course, when we enter into eternal life, we realize what a great blessing we have in Christ. Why would we want to lose what we have? So the encouragement of the passage is that we must endure.
Many other passages use the same language to encourage us to endure. One other interesting one that I would like to remind you of this morning is the series of passages in Revelation. Jesus speaks to the people of the churches in Asia, the seven churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. There is a pattern which repeats itself in the end of each of the letters to the churches. Each time there is one or the other of two phrases. Sometimes it says, “ “to him who overcomes” and other times it says “he who overcomes” which basically amounts to the same thing. The word is the same in both cases and means, “the one who conquers.”
So we see how important this idea is. The Bible recognizes the importance of making this invitation to endure.
Before we go on to talk about why it is necessary to endure and how to endure, let us be encouraged by the great promises which are made to those who overcome.
In Timothy we were encouraged that if we overcome we will reign with Christ. Look for a moment at the promises which are made to the churches in Revelation.
Revelation 2:7 - the right to eat from the tree of life
Revelation 2:10b, 11 - crown of life, not hurt by the second death
Revelation 2:17 - hidden manna, white stone with a name written on it
Revelation 2:26 - authority over the nations
Revelation 3:5 - dressed in white, name never blotted out, acknowledged before the Father.
Revelation 3:11, 12 - a pillar in the temple, never leave it, name of God written
Revelation 3:21 - right to sit on the throne
Revelation 21:7 - will inherit all this, I will be his God, he will be my son.
What blessing there is for those who will endure. That in itself is a great encouragement to all of us not to give up and to keep on.
As we think about this, we realize an interesting thought. Why does God have to encourage us to endure?
I was standing, rather precariously on the top rung of a ladder making a repair on the house. Carla was down below with a worried look on her face telling me to be careful. Warnings like “be careful” or “watch yourself” are not made if there is no reason to make them. The same is true of a warning like “endure.” The Bible contains these warnings because there are dangers out there which could cause us to lose hope and to give up on what we have. The Bible is very clear what some of those dangers are. Essentially, we are called to overcome because we are still engaged in a struggle with sin and with evil forces.
We are in a battle which may include a struggle with sin, a struggle with doubt, a struggle with false teaching, a struggle with persecution, a struggle with assurance. Behind all of these struggles is the presence of an enemy who would like very much to bring us to the place where we would give up.
I John 1:8 reminds us of our continuing struggle with sin when it says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
I John 4:1 indicates our struggle with the truth when it warns us, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
In John 15:20, Jesus warns us, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
I John 3:21 says, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” This verse speaks about the doubts that sometimes come into our life. There are times when our hearts make us feel like we are not worthy and that we will not receive the life we have been promised. These are the struggles with doubts and fears.
In Ephesians 6:12, the true nature of this battle is clearly revealed. There we read, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
So it is no wonder that the Bible makes so many warnings that we need to endure. We know that these things are true because we also experience them. We know how difficult it is and how we are sometime tempted.
How do we overcome? Each year in February when baseball players gather for training camp in Florida and Arizona, they begin by playing catch. Catching a ball is so basic to playing baseball and even though these players are making millions of dollars and are excellent at their sport, they keep on practicing the basics. The same is true in the Christian life. No matter how long we have been believers, it is only by following the basics of the Christian life that we will be those who overcome as we endure.
The first basic is the truth. We must continue to fill our minds with God’s truth. When Satan whispers lies in our ears or when false teachers seek to deceive, it is only a solid grasp of God’s truth that will help us overcome. I love those passages of the Bible like Ephesians 1 & 2 which are so loaded with the truth of God and what he has done for us. We need to keep God’s truth ever before our minds. Listen to the encouragement in II Corinthians 1:20-22, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
It is the truth of what God has done that must remain clearly in our minds as we study His word and remind ourselves of His truth.
The second basic is faith. II Corinthians 1:24 says, “…it is by faith you stand firm.” That faith is not a cold hard grasp of facts, rather, it must be a confident relationship to one who is our friend. Faith must be a growing relationship with God as we learn to trust Him and relate to Him every day. I John 2:28 encourages us, “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” Our faith and relationship are strengthened as we pray and develop a conversation with God that is daily and ongoing.
We are encouraged in Hebrews 12:2 to look to get rid of sin and to look to Jesus. There we read, “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. 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.” That is also a great part of the faith which overcomes.
We also endure as we relate to one another and encourage one another. Not only do we encourage one another as we meet with each other, but we also can pray for each other. I like the words of Colossians 4:12 which talks about “Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus…is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Isn’t that a wonderful thing that we can wrestle in prayer for one another? In church today I am going to talk about the importance of prayer. I invite you to pray for each other and for me so that we can all stand firm and endure to the end.
The other day on the radio, they were talking about the flu’s that are going around. For some flu’s there are vaccinations which make you immune to them and I suspect that many of you have had those vaccinations. For those who have not had vaccinations, they were talking on the radio about what you can do to strengthen your immune system. The advice was pretty basic - get plenty of rest, exercise, drink lots of fluids and eat healthy food. If your immune system is healthy, a flu will not be a serious thing.
We cannot get a vaccination which will prevent us from succumbing to the tricks of the enemy who is trying to get us to fall. But we can develop a strong immune system so that we are healthy. That immune system is developed as we daily engage in the basic matters of truth, faith and fellowship.
All of us will at some time or other have to struggle with issues of faith and so this morning, I would like to encourage you to be faithful in the basics. I would also like to encourage all of us to stand firm and overcome to the end.
The blessings of endurance are so great. It is worth it and I suspect that when we see how great our eternal reward is, we will know even more just how much it was worth persevering. So I encourage you all to endure.