In August of 490 BC, the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. A messenger named Philippides was sent to the city of Athens to inform the anxious magistrates of the victory. According to legend, Philippides ran the entire way without stopping – 26.2 miles. When he arrived in Athens, he burst into the assembly and shouted, “Rejoice; we have won” – and then he fell dead.
When the first modern Olympics were held in Greece in 1896, the marathon was the final, crowning event. It followed Philippides’ original route from Marathon to Athens. The winner was a Greek water carrier named Spyros Louis, who ran the race in two hours and fifty-eight minutes. He didn’t drop dead at the end, however. Rather a crown was placed on his head.
In ancient times, that was the prize for winning a race – the victor’s crown. A leafy or flowery wreath was placed on your head marking you as the winner.
The Christians in the ancient city of Smyrna didn’t feel like winners. They were poor. They were persecuted. They were hurting. So Jesus sent them a message in the book of Revelation. He told them they would still have to suffer for a while longer. But he gave them this encouragement: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Today when we hear the word “crown,” we think of royalty. We think of the golden, jewel encrusted crowns of kings and queens. But that’s not what Jesus was talking about here. He was talking about the victor’s crown.
A number of years ago, I ran a marathon. It was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever done. The last few miles, I had to alternate between running and walking. I remember actually crying from the agony, but I finished … in 1,372nd place.
Life is like a marathon. It has its hills and valleys. It has its moments when it hurts so bad, you feel like giving up. But Jesus encourages us to be faithful, even to the point of death. Finish the race in faith and he will give you the victor’s crown of life in heaven.
You see, you don’t have to win the race. You can’t win the race. You can’t earn the victor’s crown. To win means perfection. It means not one false step, not one dirty thought, not one angry word.
You can’t earn heaven. You can’t earn the victor’s crown.
Jesus earned it for you. He earned it, not by running 26.2 miles, but by walking less than one mile. That doesn’t sound so bad, until you remember that he was dehydrated. He was bleeding profusely. His back was shredded like cheese. He wore a different kind of crown, one that perforated his skull. He carried a large piece of lumber on his shoulders most of the way. Even more importantly, he carried your sins and imperfections.
He suffered your defeat in your place. But Jesus didn’t lose. He pulled off the greatest comeback ever recorded. He rose victorious. Jesus wins.
And he promises his victor’s crown to all those who believe in him. You don’t have to win the marathon. You just have to finish in faith.
So don’t give up. Don’t stop or stray from the path. Keep trusting in Jesus. I know it’s hard, but he will get you over every hill and through every valley. He will pick up when you fall. He will get you to the finish line.
He will give you the victor’s crown … even if you finish in 1,372nd place.