In his book Good to Great, one of my favorite business authors, Jim Collins, tells the story of a high school’s men’s and women’s cross-country teams that successfully transitioned over five years’ time from being a pretty good team to being a perennial contender for the state championship. At the time of the story, the teams were engaged in a celebration dinner in honor of their second consecutive state championship.
“I don’t get it,” said one of the coaches. “Why are we so successful? We don’t work any harder than other teams. And what we do is just so simple. Why does it work?”
Running Best and the End
The answer to that coach’s question is encapsulated in what Collins calls “The Hedgehog Concept” – doing one thing and doing it very well.1 In the case of these cross-country teams, the one thing the team does well is stated as, “We run best at the end. We run best at the end of workouts. We run best at the end of races. And we run best at the end of the season, when it counts the most.”
The concept became firmly seated in the back of each runner’s mind that – if I am hurting this badly, then my competitor must be hurting even worse than I am.
Some time ago I attended a men’s breakfast, an event where I was surrounded by men I did not know. Before the meeting began, a young man sat down to my left, and as I looked over to greet him, I noticed an enormous tattoo on the inside of his left forearm. It was a single word – Τετέλεσται (Tetelestai), meaning, “it is finished.” I do not have a tattoo and have no plans to get a tattoo, but if I were to be persuaded to get one, Τετέλεσται would be a pretty good choice.
While we do not know the actual order of the last seven sayings from Jesus on the cross, Τετέλεσται is almost certainly the last, or second-to-last spoken word from Jesus prior to him yielding up his spirit on the cross. The work of redemption was completed. “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”2 Archeologists have found papyri receipts for taxes that have written across them Τετέλεσται, to indicate that the bill has been paid in full.3
Jesus ran a great race. Over the past year we have looked intently at how Jesus ran his race. We saw times when his race was difficult and times when it was enjoyable. We studied his attitude toward the run. Sometimes his run was controversial. Sometimes it was thought provoking. Sometimes it was even comical.
Jesus ran his race well throughout, but one thing about Jesus’ race seems clear – Jesus ran best at the end.
Beginning with his gut-wrenching prayer in the garden just prior to his capture and mock-trial, enduring brutal abuse, beatings to the point of being humanly unrecognizable, public humiliation, spikes driven through his flesh, Jesus endured to the end, to the point that he could say, victoriously, “It is finished.” Redemption’s work is done. All of the prophecies are fulfilled. Justice is satisfied. Sin no longer has ownership of humanity.
On Sunday, February 15, 2015, a 29-year-old Kenyan marathon runner, Hyvon Ngetich, ran the Austin Marathon, leading the race for the first twenty-five miles. With a significant lead and just a fraction of the race remaining, Ngetich’s body began to break down from dangerously low blood glucose levels.4 With the finish just out of sight, Ngetich collapsed.
Refusing assistance, which would have disqualified her from the race, Ngetich crawled on her hands and knees the final fifty meters to the finish line, while race officials and medical staff walked beside her, one following behind with a wheelchair. A woman on a bicycle encouraged her with verbal support, “You’re almost there. You’re almost there.”
While completing her crawl to the finish, Ngetich was passed by two other marathon runners, effectively moving her from first to third place. Despite the third-place finish, Austin race director John Conley doubled Ngetich’s prize winnings, saying, “When she came around the corner on her hands and knees, I have never, in forty-three years of being involved in this sport, seen a finish like that.” Said Conley to Ngetich following her astonishing finish, “You have run the bravest race, and crawled the bravest crawl I have ever seen in my life.”5
Despite falling from first place to third place, on her hands and knees, Ngetich ran best at the end.
The Bible makes frequent use of combative or competitive language to describe the life of a Christ-follower. We “fight the good fight of faith.”6 We put on the “whole armor of God.”7 For our encouragement to press on in the battle, we are told to “consider him who endured such hostility from sinners,”8 and from this we do not grow fatigued and give up the fight. Immediately prior to that encouraging word, we are told to patiently run the race set before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus as we do so, Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.”9
The Outcome of Our Run
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. – Revelation 3:21, NIV – 1978
The statement above was made to the church at Laodicea, the same lukewarm church that just five verses earlier Jesus threatened to spew from his mouth. Now Jesus is suggesting that they will sit on his throne, just as he sits on his Father’s throne. In five verses, we have moved from complete rejection to the highest exaltation. Let’s look at it again in the fuller context.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. – Revelation 3:15-21, NIV – 1978
It not relevant what my life has been up to this point. What is relevant is my willingness to see where I truly am in relation to Jesus and, starting there, to submit to his sovereignty, love, and discipline so that he can lift me to the highest place. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”10
Jesus moves from complete dismissal of the Laodicean church to offering them table fellowship and a seat on the throne. We have noted in a previous blog posting how the shared meal is a strong statement of acceptance. Wiersbe observes, “Note that when we invite Him in, the supper room becomes a throne room!”11
And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Matthew 28:19, NASB
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. – Romans 8:16-17, NASB
This passage above from Revelation is spoken to a gathering of believers. The characterization of Jesus knocking on the door, bidding us to open it and welcome him in, is a statement made to Christians. This is not an evangelistic call from Jesus, but a call to his own body of believers to fan into a flame that barely-glowing ember within so that they can finish strongly.
Jesus has not given up on the Laodicean church. It is possible, even at the latest juncture, to repent – to move from that place of being overrun by self-sufficient attitudes, and complacency to being zealous and victorious conquerors in spiritual warfare. Note the parallel, that just as Jesus overcame, we can overcome. He is speaking from experience. And just as we identify with Jesus in his trials, we will identify with him in his victory.
Run best at the end brothers and sisters. Finish well. Finish convincingly.
1. Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t (p. 206). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
2. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)
3. Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 340). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
4. Caldarone, A. (February 18, 2015). Kenyan Runner Hyvon Ngetich Crawls to the Finish Line at the Austin Marathon. Retrieved 08/01/2016 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-2955787/Kenyan-Hyvon-Ngetich-crawls-hands-knees-collapses-just-50-metres-finish-line-Austin-Marathon.html.
5. Prescott, D. (February 16, 2015). Kenyan Hyvon Ngetich crawls on her hands and knees as she collapses just 50 metres from the finish line at the Austin Marathon. Retrieved 08/01/2016 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-2955787/Kenyan-Hyvon-Ngetich-crawls-hands-knees-collapses-just-50-metres-finish-line-Austin-Marathon.html.
6. 1st Timothy 6:12
7. Ephesians 6:13-17
8. Hebrews 12:3
9. Hebrews 12:2
10. James 4:10, KJV
11. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 581). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.