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Finishing the Race with Joy

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(6/26) Our last sermon with you as Pastor is spring-boarded from just one verse in this emotionally moving farewell message to the leaders of the church at Ephesus. If I had 2-3 Sundays I could preach the whole chapter, but for today, just one verse and some principles from some others. Look at verse 24. Coming off the announcement that he would be arrested and troubled in Jerusalem, Paul says, "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

Letís go back to the beginning for Paul, and look at Acts 9:15-16. A disciple named Ananias was given the unwanted task of reaching out to this murderous persecutor of the church with the gospel of grace. "But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My nameís sake."

Notice, He is chosen, He is my witness, and He will suffer for my nameís sake. Saul came to understand grace and forgiveness and it changed his life forever and that of untold numbers of people. God chose him to preach that message with the understanding that, what he had done to Christians, other non-believers, would do to him, just as they had done to our Lord.

One more section, Acts 26:15-18. This is Paul sharing his story with the current King Agrippa, "So I said, ĎWho are You, Lord?í And He said, ĎI am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. 17 I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, 18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.í

Let me make a few points from this for you. These are some of the main thigs we believe God has called us to teach over the years.

1. Every Christ-Follower has been Chosen and Called by God. Donít ask me to explain that to you. I cannot. We dealt with that when we went through the book of Ephesians in chapter 1:3-4, where Paul says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world." Say this, "I have been Chosen by God."

And you have been called to serve Him. Let me break this down very quickly for you. You have been chosen, forgiven, adopted, and made an heir of the family fortune, but you have also been called to represent the Father as a conveyor of grace. God has poured His grace into you so you can pour it out on others. There are no un-called children of God. Look at Romans 8:28-30, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." Say this, "I have been Called by God."

2. Every Christ-Follower has been called to do 3 things. What are they Church?

a) To Love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30)

b) To Love others as Christ loved you (Luke 10:27ff)

c) To Love the people that Jesus died and rose again to redeem -the world!

The purpose of your life lies in these three things. Not just one area, but all three. The first two, Jesus said, is the whole Bible in a nutshell. And the third, is making sure that the world knows it. This is the point of John 14-15, the last few life -lessons that I shared with you. And, if I may be so bold, it begins in the home, in your family and ripples out from there, like a stone dropped in a lake or pond.

3. Every Christ-Follower will be hurt, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or physically for following Jesus-No exceptions! And, itís no secret. Jesus said so. More than once He said to expect trouble, that what happened to Him will happen to His followers. "In this world, you will have Tribulation." Hatred, abandonment, false accusation, persecutions, torture, imprisonment and death. Paul would tell Timothy in his last letter before his death (2 Ti. 3:12), "Yes, all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." It will come from un-believers and it will come from religious people. It will come from people who sit beside you on Sundays. Look at Acts 20:19, 23, 29-30!

4. Every Christ-Follower must learn to forgive as Christ as forgiven us. (Eph. 4:30-32). We Remember what Jesus said from the cross, "Father, forgive themÖ." And we remember how He has forgiven us and what He has forgiven us from and we imitate our Lord. We do so for our own peace, and for His glory. We leave all retribution to Him, knowing He has a plan.

5. Every Christ-Follower, must make the Bible the foundation for their lives. Acts 20:17-ff is Paul telling these leaders to stay focused on the Word of God. It is so easy, to let, logic, or common sense, or emotions, or our own desires dictate the actions of our lives or of our church. But, this book, the Bible must remain the foundation for all we do. I canít tell you how many times people have been angered at me because I said that the Bible must be the bottom line. I have been accused of beating people over the head with it, and interpreting it the old-fashioned way, when so many are not doing that any longer. But I implore you, to make every church decision, every family decision, every personal decision on one of these:

a) A Bible Purpose

b) A Bible Precept

c) A Bible Precedent

d) A Bible Principle

Paul uses this as his defense, as his pattern, and as his charge to these church leaders.

6. Every Christ-Follower Must Walk by Faith not by Sight (vv. 21-24). This is one of the main lessons that God has taught us over the years. And maybe for the last time, let me define this for you. Faith is obedience based on trust, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. I donít always have to understand, I just need to obey because I trust God, and I will keep on obeying no matter what! God has a much bigger picture in mind for my life and for the world that my life will touch. You must never forget that.

7. Every Christ Follower- Must realize that we are not called to do any of this on our own. We have been given the gift of the very presence of the Holy Spirit living in us to enable us to do all God has called and commanded us to do. This is not us, it is Him living and loving through us. A forever presence of God who wants the world to see Him through us. This is a main point of John 14-17. (Gal. 2:20; Romans 8; 12; I Cor. 12-14 and many more.)

8. Every Christ-Follower must realize, that itís all about Jesus (v.24). Itís not about us. God so loved the world, that He gave His only unique Son to die for us. Thatís how He showed us love. Thatís how He gave us hope. Thatís how He changed our lives. Thatís how He brought us into His family. And there is no greater purpose than representing Jesus for the glory of Jesus, in this world.

9. Every Christ-Follower must realize that Life is short and un-predictable (v.23). We donít know what tomorrow will bring, or even - today. I was reading Ecclesiastes 9 recently and saw this, "I returned and saw under the sun tható

The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong,

Nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding,

Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all.

12 For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them.

Now I know that fish, birds, and animals, do not think like people, but just for a moment ponder this; no fish, bird or animal, leaves their bedding area thinking I will be on someoneís dinner table tonight. The net, the trap, the hook, the arrow, the bullet was not part of their plans for the day, Solomon says. Neither is the accident, the insanity of others, the cancer, the stroke, aneurism, or the heart attack that we were not expecting. Every day, people get up to go to work or school and never arrive, or they leave to go home but donít arrive, and none of us know when that day is for us.

Thatís why we donít put off our ministry calling for another day, and why we should encourage people to turn from sin and receive the wonderful grace of Jesus. Thatís why we forgive our offenders and forget the past and give grace to people every day. Thatís why every dayís morning prayer should include the desire to show grace to someone.

10. Every Christ-Follower needs to keep their Eyes on the Prize (v.24). Letís camp here for a few minutes. One of the things that is fairly clear in the New Testament is that this Paul, this city boy, this scholar, this missionary pastor, this leader of men, loved sports. Throughout his writings he uses sports to illustrate his points. The same way that I relate a lot of things to hunting, Paul related a lot to sports. In his day, it was mostly the Olympic kind of sports. He refers to boxing, wrestling, and racing, and the training that was needed to compete in athletic competition. Some examples can be found in 1 Cor. 9, Ephesians 5, Phil. 3, 2 Tim 4, and the author of Hebrews does the same in chapter 12. 2 Cor. 4:8-10, "We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyedó 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our bodyÖ" The word imagery is that of a boxer that keeps being knocked down but wonít stay down, like Sylvester Stallone in the first Rocky movie.

The Course or RaceĖ in 2 Tim 4 Paul said, that he had finished the race. But that would be several years after our story in Acts 20. In verse 24, (look at it), Paul says that his race is not finished and he wants to finish it and the KJV and NKJV says, with joy. Now, I have heard a lot of sermons and I have preached a lot of sermons about the race. Hebrews 12:1-2 is among my favorite passages to preach and to remind myself of on a regular basis.

Let me tell you what I think about this race, that Paul is referring to. It is:

ē Not a sprint or a dash. A sprint or a dash, is a race in which from the starting blocks to the finish line, every bit of energy and strength is put into the effort which is usually a quarter of a mile or less.

ē Not a longer distance race like a mile, or 1500 mm, or 10,000 mm, or cross country, where runners pace themselves for the length of the race that lasts 5 minutes to an hour.

ē Many like to compare the life of a Christ-Follower to that of a Marathon runner. That is a 26.2-mile race that takes the best runners in the world between about 3 hours to complete. Itís a grueling race that is modeled after the story of the Greek hero Pheidippides, who in 490 B.C. ran the 26 miles and 385 yards to Athens from the Plains of Marathon to tell of the allied Greek victory there over the Persian army. He is said to have ran to the Senate, said, "Joy to you, we won," and then collapsed and died. In 1896 at the revival of the modern Olympics games in Athens, the Marathon race became part of the games.

ē Maybe, today, Paul would use the Triathlon as a model for what he meant. In the early 1970s, someone came up with a race called the Iron Man competition. It has 3 courses or legs to its completion. It begins with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, followed by a 26.2- mile marathon run.

ē Or maybe, as I told you a few years ago, the super Marathon that is run in Australia from Sidney to Melbourne, a 532-mile race where runners literally run for 16 hours a day and for 6-7 days.

Now when Paul, speaks of finishing the race, whatever we compare it to, I donít think he means to cross the finish line in first place, but rather to complete Godís purpose for his life. Many Bibles use the word, "Course," instead of race. A Course can be that which is laid out to compete, like a race course, a golf course, the tract of study to add to oneís education like an education course. It is the life you have chosen to live, or that those who follow Jesus believe that their Father has designed for them. Paul wanted to cross the finish line having done his best at what God had set him apart to do; that is, to tell people about Jesus and teach them how live lives set apart to God. He wanted to do so in such a way that he would, one day, look up and see His Lordís smile and hear Him say, "Well done. You didnít quit, you didnít drop-out, you didnít lose heart. You did it." Like Hyvon Ngetich from Nigeria.

On February 17, 2015, Hyvon Ngetich crawled across the finish line of the Austin Marathon and still managed to win third place after collapsing with less than a mile to go. She was leading the women in the Austin Marathon until around mile 23, but her body began to give out and with less than a mile to go. Rather than giving up and waiting for assistance, Ngetich began to crawl on all fours to the finish line. She refused any help from the race aides who ran alongside her and won third in the womenís category. She later explained that "Running, always you have to keep going, going." And so, she did, until she crossed the finish line.

You Tube is full of videos of special Olympic athletes as well as Olympic athletes like the women in the 1500 mm. run 1 year ago, that help each other cross the finish line.

Now listen, Paul never said, I canít wait until I reach 65 or 66 and can stop this race. He said, I want to finish my race or my course (NKJV says), with joy. That is Debbieís and my desire. For years we have been praying to finish well, with joy. Our good friend Shirley Shifflet is an inspiration for us. In her late 60ís, she has been on 5 mission trips and 15 rebuilding trips for Samaritanís Purse, helping flood and hurricane victims. She just got back on Friday, a week ago, from Tarboro, N.C. and is preparing to go to Baton Rouge in July for another. Isnít that great?

Because at the finish line is Jesus. At the finish line is a bench where Jesus will sit. Itís called the Bema or the Judgement Seat. A place where the Lord will sit and we will kneel and He will give a prize, a reward, call it a crown, a commendation, to all who finish well.

But donít all receive a prize? Sadly, no! All who repented and received grace will receive eternal life and a home in heaven, but 1 Cor. 3:10-15, makes it abundantly clear that not all receive a reward. "Öas a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each oneís work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each oneís work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyoneís work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyoneís work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire."

Look at 2 Cor. 5:9ff, "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; 15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again." Paul makes it clear that we donít give our lives to honoring Him because, like a parent, or prison warden, or slave master, we have no choice; rather, we do so, because of what Jesus has done for us. Why would He love me so, why would my savior to Calvary go? Why would He love me so? I want to honor and serve Him by loving others the rest of my life. I want to finish my race with joy. Debbie and I want to finish well with joy. We live to hear Him say, "ĎWell done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.í (Matt. 25:21). I hope you do as too.

Thatís what Debbie and I want to do, and thatís our message for you. I would like to conclude with this short video for you that we were shown by our good friend John Miller. The Full Gospel.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman