Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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One Hundred Meters Away from Gold


There's a very special image, a visual treasure, near the end of the spiritual film, Chariots of Fire, about a Christian and a Jew competing in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. After Eric Liddell drops out, refusing to run on his Sabbath, Harold Abrahams is left to run for England in the 100-meter finals against American superstars Charlie Paddock and Jackson Sholtz. For years he's trained, dominated all the meets, taken all the blue ribbons for Cambridge. But none of that will matter if he comes in second here in the Olympic Games.

And he confesses that to his trainer, Sam Massabini. "Everything I've worked for is IN these ten seconds. What if I fail?" Finally there's this long, quiet camera shot just showing the athletic running lanes. It's slow motion, almost like an underwater scene; the crowd is still, waiting, tension thick in the air as thousands of people and a row of scared runners wait for the starter's gun. One hundred meters away, almost so close you can touch it, is the tape. It's right there, and with the tape comes a gold medal if you get there first.

And maybe the director of photography, David Watkin, had this unforgettable passage in Philippians chapter three in mind as he set up that meaningful camera shot. Because Paul seems to look down that long, narrow lane of competition as well. He sees the tape out there, the prize. He senses the nearness of the gold medal. And he declares his intention of going for it. Here's verse 12:

"Not that I have already attained all this [knowing Christ]," he writes, "or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

Then a moment of confession to his Christian brothers and sisters:
"I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it." And now the line from the Olympics: "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

And you know, there's so much there we can scarcely take it in. "I know I'm not there yet," he admits. "But guys, this is what I'm going for. The Olympic gold ideal of completely knowing Jesus, of complete surrender to Him, absolute commitment."

Back in 1996 we did a week focusing on the Olympic Games in Atlanta, and how the athletes have to just give EVERYTHING! Hours and hours each day, practicing, lifting, stretching, running, sweating . . . reaching out for that gold medal. Total, unreserved commitment.

And I like this line: "STRAINING toward what is ahead." Maybe you recall in Chariots of Fire a vignette where the coach teaches Abrahams how to lunge for the tape at the last moment. You don't look to the side, to see where your competition is. As you approach the finish, you simply THROW yourself into the tape; you hurtle across the line with every muscle giving its all.

And there's another vital expression of twin goals here in verse 13. Two things. First of all, "forgetting what is behind," Paul writes. Friend, aren't there things right now, today, in our lives that as Christians you and I should forget about?

Let me ask you this. Have you recently found yourself in a pit of discouragement because of something stupid or even sinful you'd been involved in? How could I have been so dumb? you lament. Won't I ever learn? That's the hundredth time I've blown it that way! Well, listen. Praise God for the miracle, the guaranteed, promised, rock-solid assurance of heaven's forgiveness! Don't look back! Don't YOU keep thinking about something God has already promised to forget. The devil loves to keep us looking back, lamenting endlessly about the times he beat us. Don't do it!

The same with the old life of sin, the bad habits of last year. Don't look back! True, things were bad, and perhaps, just like Paul, you have to honestly admit that you haven't yet completely gotten on track in your new life with Jesus. But keep looking forward, not behind you! Keep your eyes on how things are going to be, and not on how they were.

How about last month's resentments and arguments? Did you know that even Paul had some hot temper moments with fellow workers? In fact, one of his evangelistic teams split up for a while because they just plain could not ride together on the same airplane without arguing. But don't keep looking back at all that. Forget what is behind, and strain toward what is ahead: the second coming of Jesus, the eternal rule of our Redeemer, the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world.

We've found ourselves dropping in a few Greek words here and there, and that's not to show off, because for most of us here, all the Greek we know we learned in restaurants. But one commentary pointed out that the word di k , for "I PRESS ON," or "I FOLLOW AFTER the prize," is sometimes used as a hunting word. "I pursue." That gives it a life-or-death feel, doesn't it?

And in Bible times, this word was actually used in terms of foot-races and the ancient Olympian games. Even back then, before the invention of Gatorade and Nike footgear, these athletes knew about singleness of purpose, and pressing on toward the prize.

Back in verse 12 is a subtle nuance it might be easy to miss, so let's backtrack for a second look.

"I press on," Paul writes, "to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of ME."

And we say, "Wait a minute! I'M grabbing for the prize; I'M taking hold of the gold medal. What's this about Jesus taking hold of ME?" But this is the most beautiful metaphor, where, as we strain and push toward victory, lunging for the tape, Jesus Christ reaches down, Paul tells us, and pulls us toward Him. And the same thing in verse 14:

"I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which GOD called ME heavenward in Christ Jesus."

One paraphrase puts it this way:
"So I keep pushing ahead, going after what Christ had in mind when HE first got hold of ME."

And here's what we make of this. Because you know, you and I might be pretty lousy runners. We're stumbling along on that track, with a lot of super-Christians passing us by like we're standing still. There are scrapes on our knees and our shoelaces are untied. But as we go for the gold, we discover that when we take hold of Jesus, even more He has taken hold of us!

Remember, the goal, the gold medal, is fellowship and friendship with Him! And He meets us more than halfway; we find that He seeks us much more than we can ever seek Him.

And all through Philippians, where Paul makes us nervous when he writes about perfection and attainment, this is where it's such beautiful truth that Jesus has taken hold of us. He's put Himself in charge of our running abilities, our performance on the course.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wonders along with us why the race is sometimes so hard, why we fall and fail so much? Why does God permit the hardships of daily Christian life? Here's his observation about it all:

"We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time," he writes. "When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now?" And now notice this: "Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us."

In the old football book, Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer tells about his rookie year, way back in 1959, and how in practice coach Vince Lombardi just pushed him and drove him and screamed at him. And Jerry was all beat up, absolutely exhausted. He was sitting in front of his locker one day, too tired to even take off his pads. Ready to quit and go sell shoes somewhere for a living. And Lombardi, who had been pushing him so hard, walked up and said quietly: "Son, one of these days you're going to be the greatest guard in the league." And Jerry writes: "I was ready to go out and practice four more hours right there." Because he caught the vision of what the coach was going to make of him: a Super Bowl champion.

Friend, it's that way with us. When things are hard out there on the 100-meter track, remember that Jesus has taken hold of you. He has in His divine mind a picture of you as a glorious runner, a winner, an Olympic champion. It's His dream to make you perfect, to make you a restored son or daughter of the most high God. Despite the bruises and the aches and pains, He's going to make you the greatest guard in the league, the athlete who stands on the top platform during the flag-raising ceremony, and gets to hear the national anthem.

Which maybe should be: "Amazing Grace."

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