At a recent dinner party there was, unfortunately, far too much testosterone in the air when several ladies collectively expressed doubts as to whether the men present could run a 42km marathon. One man retorted “Well, of course, we could run a marathon, isn’t that right fellas?” The bro-code demanded our quick affirmation. The fallout: three men standing ill-prepared at a marathon starting line two months later.
The beginning of the marathon felt great! Onlookers lined up to cheer, free drinks were passed to us along the way, and every runner felt strong and cheerful! I felt like the boxer Rocky Balboa running up the stairs to sound of the “Eye of the Tiger” song. Yet it wasn’t long before the good cheer and humor ran short. My facial expression exposed my struggle as I raced past my wife three times on our circuit: First pass: happy face. Second pass: sad face. Third pass: “Call an ambulance” face. As the kilometers clicked by old Rocky Balboa (me) had taken a few hits. At the finish line I had run out of steam, my spastic legs worked independently though in a forward motion…some reported it looked like a really bad break dancer generally moving in one direction. Limping across the finish line I was embraced into the arms of my proud wife!
Upon completion of the race it occurred to me how many of our lives are similar to a marathon. We begin with strength and hope, loved ones cheering us forward. Yet as we go along we start taking a few hits. We slow down, burn up, tire out, and life can feel burdensome. By the end we may even look like Rocky after a long fight. Our eyes are red, bodies tired. Those around us shout demands to expedite their expectations. So many begin strong but the struggles in life add up and we find ourselves limping over the finish line hopeful for rest and peace.
Like a marathon story, the birth of Jesus began with hopeful promise and support of many around him. Many cheered, others jeered, but everyone seemed eager to see him meet their expectations. By the end Jesus, too, had taken a “few hits” in life. Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends, stripped of his clothes, beaten, mocked, and finally crucified. Upon the cross Jesus cried out lamenting his struggle while people spectated on the validity of Jesus’ claims of hope. He then crossed the finish line of His mission with the words “it is finished”. 
Is there hope within our struggles today? The promise that Jesus made to his listeners is that there is hope. Limping across the finish line Jesus was embraced by God the Father, as the resurrection account concludes. The promise offered to all those who follow Jesus is that no matter what struggles add up in life we can run with hope. When we cross the finish line with we too will be embraced by the Father with the affirmation “well done”. That’s the Christian hope for our marathon life.
Ryan, as I was reading this I couldn’t help thinking that there’s another lesson to draw from your marathon story. To paraphrase Luke 14:28-30 in this context: “Suppose one of you decides to run a marathon. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you are physically and mentally fit enough to complete it? For if you start out pumping your fists like Rocky Balboa and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees you will ridicule you, saying, ‘There’s no way he was prepared for a marathon. No wonder he couldn’t make the distance. What was he thinking?’ ”
Okay, yes I’m being a little cheeky (or maybe a lot). You did actually finish a marathon – congratulations, that’s an achievement.
But Jesus knew exactly what price he was going to pay to reach the finish line, and he knew what it would take to finish well. He was prepared. Despite the obvious physical toll, I don’t think he ‘limped’ over the finish line, I think he broke the tape triumphantly! He won the victory over sin and death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). That is why we have hope.
(And just as an aside, the next time you guys are sitting in a room suffering from testosterone poisoning and your grip on reality is slipping, step outside, take a deep breath of fresh air and think about what you’re doing! You really don’t need to prove yourselves to anyone else.)
Here endeth the lesson. ;-)