Sermons : 2015 : August 2, Christ Runs the Spartan

Well on Facebook or in casual conversation, I tend to come across a lot of people who are training for either a marathon or one of these punishing obstacle course competitions like the Spartan Race or Tough Mudder or my personal favorite, the Death Race. Here’s a description of the Death Race I found on the website, “Every Death Race is its own uniquely brutal challenge, no two races are alike. The race, created by Ultra athletes Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg, was developed as a way for athletes to test themselves both mentally and physically.” Another website said, “Last year, more than two million people entered obstacle events, four times the number who ran marathons. By some measure, obstacle racing is the fastest growing sport in American history.”

So there is one very prominent conclusion that I draw from this surge of interest in these types of events. And that is, as human beings, we like to test ourselves. We do. We like to see if we can rise to the occasion, if we can overcome the seemingly impossible, if we can distance ourselves from others and prove to ourselves that we can be something of a conqueror or a victor.

And so, we put ourselves through grueling training. We push ourselves. We take our bodies and our minds to the outer limits of human potential. We want this; we put other things in our lives on hold for this. We say to ourselves, “I will past this test. I will succeed.”

Now, here in our reading today, there is actually something quite similar that’s happening. God has brought His people out into the desert . Now, I know you all think Texas is hot, but in this part of the world the temperature at 3 o’clock in the afternoon here is like what the temperature is there at 7 AM and it only goes up as the day progresses. So the Israelites are out wandering in this, food provisions are winding down and there’s no information about where the finish line is. Life for them is grueling and demanding. Life for them is basically one big test. And yet, they’re complaining.

Now, what’s the difference say between the Spartan Race and the Exodus? They’re both tests; they’re both physically and mentally demanding; they’re both pushing people to the outer limits. Why then, do people respond to one with determination and to the other with complaint?

Well, completion races might test you physically and they might test you mentally, but really, in this life, there is no competition that is quite as tough as that which tests you spiritually. You know, in competition races, I’ve seen people complete one such race and then they’ll move on to another. I guess there’s actually pieces of a medal you get each time you complete one. When you finish all three, you complete the medal much like a puzzle. So you know that if you finish one, you can’t not do all three. You have to. And that’s some incentive. Let’s be honest now, there’s some boasting motivation there, right? I own the Spartan Trifecta. That’s quite the accomplishment. Not a lot of people can say that. I wish I could say that. That will never happen, but I wish I could say that.

But what about boasting when it comes to the testing of faith? During this life, God doesn’t give out medals for that. We don’t have anything to show one another for overcoming spiritual obstacles and passing spiritual tests.

And even if there were, we wouldn’t have medals to boast of anyway or if we did, we would only have medals for the sake of having medals . Our motivation for gaining such medals wouldn’t be without human pride.

And so the Israelites today grumble. Where are our comforts, God? Why did you bring us out here, Moses? See, we often talk about God as our Provider and of course, He is. You remember the meaning of the first article we memorize in confirmation, “He provides all that we need to support this body and life.” And so we’ve come to expect the provisions. But what we don’t come to expect is the testing.

We don’t expect that God will sometimes bring us discomfort. We don’t expect that God will sometimes withhold things from us. We don’t expect that God will actually test our faith, but He does. Romans 5:3-5 says, “ We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives."

As in athletic events, testing brings about strength and steadfastness. During our own wilderness experiences, your faith is placed into the crucible. Now some people in this life endure greater testing than others. Maybe that’s you. Any testing often makes you feel like it is you as we seem to get tested in just a way that feels a little too targeted; a little too specific and a little too unbearable.

Now see, if I test myself, that’s different. I can quit any time. I am in control. But with God and His testing…I am not. I am not in control. I can’t leave when I want to; I can’t put one race on hold and wait for the next one. I can’t decide which test I want to put myself through. The testing that comes from God of my faith does not come at a time of my choosing and it does not have a finish line that I can see to know how much further I have to go . When God tests me, I cannot see the end of my trial.

But I can protest. I can grumble. I can accuse God of being unfair or unjust. I can make my grievances heard. Testing can lead to us trying to climb up to the judges’ booth so that we can switch places with God. We will be the judge and test whether or not His oversight of our circumstances is fair. Often times, this is what we do. We become like the Israelites in this story who accuse God or His servants of leading us out to the most unimaginable of places.

But God is still gracious. He is gracious to me when I don’t deserve it. He is gracious when I sin against Him, even when I know better and I still sin against Him. There is no testing in this life that is quite as difficult as what tests you spiritually. But at the same time, there is no reward that surpasses that which God has in store for those who love Him, as 1 Corinthians 2 says.

Through the means of grace, God calls you to Himself and claims you as His own. He unites you with the blessings of His Son’s sacrifice and makes you an heir of eternal life. He forgives your sins and remembers your transgressions, your grumbling and complaining, no more.

Sometimes in this life, He does test you. He makes you uncomfortable. He brings you to a place where you feel like cursing instead of blessing and complaining instead of praising. If you endure through this test by the power of His Spirit, there are no medals, but we can say there is a crown. It’s the crown Christ won for you when He ran His own Death race. In this race, Christ overcame physical torture, mental affliction, the devil and the abandonment of His Father. Unlike the races we run in this life, Christ did not do this for Himself. He did it for you. He won the crown for you. He endured testing of every sort for you.

And now, the race we run in this life is one in which we already have the victory. There may be some testing yet, but through the Spirit God gives you the power to endure. The race Christ won for you is God’s version of the Spartan and it was one only Christ could win. But now His victory is your victory and His crown, your crown.

In this life, your faith will be tested and you will not know for how long or to what extent it will go. But He has called you by His Spirit through His Word and He will be with you every step of the way. The wilderness we experience in life is inevitable, but the grace and mercy of God in Christ is even more sure. His Spirit will sustain you during your time of testing and on the Last Day, He will bestow on you the crown of life and seat you at the victor’s table in His presence forever. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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