A big, smiling welcome to you! This post is part of a series I’m working my way through in the month of October, called Swim Your Own Race. If you’d like to start at the beginning (it is a very good place to start, after all) you can do so, right here. I hope you enjoy diving in!
It was the beginning of my senior year of high school. My tummy was full of anxious butterflies, every inch of me on high alert. It was the first swim meet of the season and I was pumped for my first race. I had a good position on the blocks, my long brown hair was stuffed up into the swim cap stretched round my head, my goggles on were on tight, and I was eager to take my first plunge of the meet.
I’d had a great summer. Full of the joy of being young and having a great group of friends. We’d made trips to the beach and visited our friends staying up in Manteo for the summer who’d graduated the year before. There were late nights and there was lots of laughter. On one of our beach trips, my best friend and I bought little matching anklets. I know, this BFF moment is starting to sound like a cheesy teen angst movie, so hold that thought, and let’s get back to the swim meet story.
I stepped up onto the block for the first race of my last season as a swimmer at Washington High School. An official standing behind the blocks immediately asked me to step back down. I’d completely forgotten about the little anklet around my ankle, and wearing jewelry of any sort was against the rules. I was disqualified from the race. I removed it quickly, and since the race hadn’t started yet, I asked if I could still participate. Unfortunately, the official held onto his position — I shouldn’t have stepped up onto the blocks with jewelry. I could not swim the race.
I was afraid my coach would be upset with me for this silly mistake, but I think he could see in my face that I was very disappointed, and that it had been an accident. He chose something positive to say instead, and I took a deep breath and decided to focus on the next race and just let it go. There’d be other meets and other opportunities to swim that event.
But missing out sure was a downer.
If our lives are just a blip on the timeline of eternity, but the race we’re swimming now determines our destiny when we arrive at the gates of eternity, then this race that we’re swimming has one central importance that outshines all the others: we need to swim a race that earns us a spot on the glorious podium of everlasting life. We live in a broken and fallen world, but at the end of it, there’s the hope of everlasting life. There’s the promised land on the other side, where there are no more tears, no more sorrow… there is just joy and peace and light and life everlasting in the presence of an everlasting, unchanging, incredible God. It is a place so perfect that no one who swims an imperfect race is allowed in.
And that’s where the problem lies. Yesterday we discussed the Head Coach who loves us and wants to help us make it through our race to glory. He created us and instilled in us the incredible gift of free will — meaning (among other things) He gave us the option of choosing whether or not to love Him back.
This is that problem, that important aspect of our race that we haven’t discussed yet: the fact that we’re all basically disqualified.
We fall short of the mark. We’re not able to swim a perfect race. So your Head Coach came up with a plan, one that was with Him at the beginning: Jesus.
Jesus dove into the murky waters of this world to swim a perfect race. While we were still practically drowning in a mess of sin and hurt and brokenness and pain, He came near, swam a perfect race by living a perfect life, and then chose to accept the suffering and punishment that would reconcile us to God, because we are incapable of doing it ourselves.
While we stood on the deck disqualified, Jesus dove in, perfectly qualified, to earn everlasting life and reconciliation, and a place in eternity.
No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we train, we would never be able to swim a race that would earn us a ticket to glory. So the Coach made a substitution, His race for yours. Jesus earned the qualification and freely hands it to you.
This truth might sometimes make us feel like we’re sitting the bench. We live in a competitive society where we value hard work, discipline and oh my goodness do we ever love our sports. The person on the bench doesn’t normally get much time in the limelight.
The best Good News is that Jesus swam the perfect race for you, but the story just keeps getting better. You are still invited to be a participant in the race that is your life. You aren’t supposed to sit on the sidelines and watch.
Jesus swam the perfect race for you, but you still have a race to swim.
You can still swim a race that pleases your head coach, and still make decisions with your life that will echo in eternity. Jesus means so many things — He is so central to our understanding of the race we are in. We’ll continue the discussion of Jesus and our race tomorrow, but I want to leave you with these thoughts today. We’ve looked at these verses from Hebrews 12 already in this series, but let me leave you with these thoughts to slowly soak in today. This version of those precious words (Heb. 12: 1 – 3) is from The Message:
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Swim wholeheartedly today, friends.