The marathon is a long-distance race. It lasts 26.2 miles and is not for the faint of heart or body. In other words, don’t expect to see me running a marathon. The race began with the reinstitution of the modern Olympics in 1896 as the organizers looked for a great popularizing event and drew on the story of Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens in order to deliver the message to the Athenians that the Persians had been defeated in the battle of Marathon. His last words, “rejoice, we conquer,” spoken just before he collapsed and died, were meant to inspire the Athenians in the midst of their battle with the Persians. While there are longer races now, and the marathon is just part of the competition known as the triathlon, we’re still inspired by the run of this untrained messenger who sought to give courage to his people and died in the process.
That commitment to do what it takes for the good of others, even if it means your own death, is admired by most people. Thomas Paine wrote during the Revolution of those who would shrink from their responsibilities in December of 1776: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Paine reminded the new American colonists that the battle would be difficult just before Washington crossed the Delaware and won an important victory. Any battle has casualties. The battles that Christians fought to survive against the persecution of the Romans cost many lives. As John described a battle against the devil in heaven, he talked about those who had won. “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Revelation 12:11)
One of the rules I have to live by when reading the Revelation is to understand that timelines, as we understand them, don’t exist. The story of the battle in heaven that John describes would seem to me to have happened long before this time. Yet, John points out that this battle against Satan resulted in his being cast down to earth. The one who sought to accuse God’s people lost his place in heaven and was hurled to the earth – with terrible consequences for the earth, but a victory for God’s forces nonetheless. This victory was won by those who were covered in the blood of the Lamb, who testified of God’s work in their lives. They testified about the glory of Jesus Christ in their lives knowing that the end result might be death, and yet they testified joyfully knowing that faithfulness to God carried greater joy than life itself. This is why they didn’t shrink from death. This is why their final words might be, “Rejoice, we conquer!”
There are those who claim to follow Jesus who might fit into the definition of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. When following Christ is easy, or popular they are there in church. They might even be leaders. Then, things change. Society no longer smiles upon those who claim to be Christians. These people who were culturally Christian, but without a true commitment start falling away. We’re beginning to see that in the world today. While society may not be hostile to Christians in the US now, they are no longer willing to accommodate us or our beliefs. Now is not the time to shrink back and let society dictate what actions are allowable in the world. Now is the time to proclaim the gospel more boldly. We won’t lose our lives, but we may suffer in the eyes of the world. If our fellow Christians can stay true to the death, we can stay true in the face of ridicule and tell others “rejoice, we conquer.”
Lord, there is nothing greater than my relationship with You. May I always stay faithful.