Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
I Corinthians 9:24, 25
He seemed destined to win from the start. As the horses thundered (or splashed) around the track, every rider but one had to contend with the mud that was flung in his face with every hoof-beat. For all but a few tense seconds, it was clear who the front-runner was, and the moment “Maximum Security” crossed the finish line, his rider was approached for an interview before he had even dismounted. The reporter asked the predictable question: “You’ve won the Kentucky Derby! How does it feel?” The breathless jockey’s face was predictably beaming, as he spoke a few words about a “dream come true.”
BUT WAIT …
Moments later there came what was for many the unthinkable: a protest and a chance that Maximum Security would be disqualified – not just have to settle for second or third, but be disqualified. He had run a great race, but had he run a perfect race?
The joy on the faces of Maximum Security’s people turned to expressions of concern, as judges deliberated for what seemed like hours, repeating footage of the race from every possible angle to determine if there had been a foul. News cameras focused on the faces of the owners and jockeys as they waited for the verdict. The spotless face of Maximum Security’s rider was clearly worried. Meanwhile, the mud-covered face of the second-place rider looked (to this observer) like a mixture of hopeful and awkward as reporters threw questions at the young man. My heart went out to everyone involved, including the officials, who were stuck with the job no one would have wanted.
When the verdict was announced, the second-place horse with the modest name “Country House” was declared the winner. His jubilant owner embraced the mud-covered jockey, oblivious to the consequences for his suit. Meanwhile, those who had invested much of their lives in Maximum Security left that day with no mud stains, and no prize.
What About You?
So, what does this have to do with us?
As we are all running our race on the same track, some seem to have a distinct advantage from the start, and inasmuch as they take advantage of every opportunity, they seem to stay ahead. Others start out not so advantaged, and yet they run anyway, sometimes getting mud kicked in their faces by those in front. The rich and famous (or whoever the world describes as “successful”) have their fifteen minutes of fame. They may have breathless reporters shoving microphones in their faces as long as they are on top, while onlookers may waste a good portion of their lives envying these people.
Those with a more spiritual perspective may look for different qualifications when determining who the “front-runners” are. Their “winners” would include the Billy Grahams and the Mother Teresa’s of the world – those who have spent their lives doing good. Surely, they must be God’s favorites because of all the work they have done for Him. The list may also include those who aren’t famous but nevertheless have spent their lives doing the right things, staying clean, and avoiding doing anything they might be sorry for later.
But someday that will all change, and for many it will be a rude awakening.
Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount with these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3-4) The road to eternal life begins with recognizing one’s failure – one’s spiritual bankruptcy – and grieving over it. It begins with humility. (“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – verse 5) It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing yourself covered with mud – unacceptable to a holy God – and realizing there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. If perfection is required, we are all doomed to die in the dirt.
There’s so much more at stake here than in a horse-race. Titles fade, trophies gather dust, and roses wilt within days. But the race we’re running is about eternity – either in the glorious presence of God or away from Him in eternal darkness, from which there is no escape. (Talk about maximum security … !)
But our heavenly Father created us to be objects of love – He is love. (I John 4:8) He has made a way for us to become clean. Since perfection is required, atonement requires a perfect sacrifice (and that ain’t us, folks.). But God provided that perfect sacrifice – His sinless Son Jesus, who willingly died so we could be forgiven, clean, accepted by Him. When all is said and done, Billy Graham and Mother Teresa would be the first to tell you that they weren’t saved by anything they had done, but by the blood of Christ, shed for them.
The winning horse at the Kentucky Derby was draped with a blanket of flawless red roses. And those of us who are covered with the blood of Jesus – those of us who have believed in His atoning death to save us – will be the winners, through no act of our own, other than placing our faith in the one Person who qualifies.
(He is the only One who ran a perfect race.)