The Isaiah Olympic Biathlon

The Isaiah Olympic Biathlon
February 4, 2018
Isaiah 40:21-31

Pyeongchang is a county is South Korea, which I had never heard of until just a few months ago. If I’m pronouncing it wrong, I will need Yena’s help in getting it right.

The 2018 Winter Olympics will take place in Pyeongchang, beginning this Friday, February 9. Almost 100 nations will participate, competing in 102 events. From alpine skiing to speed skating, and from biathlon to ski jumping, athletes will throw themselves down slopes, off ramps, and across ice in attempts to be faster, higher and stronger, in line with the official Olympic motto.

Athletes will get pumped up and put forward their best efforts, while trying to keep things as simple as possible. In the last Winter Olympics, the goaltender of Finland’s hockey team was asked to reveal his strategy. “My strategy,” he said, “is to stop the puck.”

Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?

Then there was the ski crosser from Switzerland gave this concise analysis of her Olympic performance: “Everything went smoothly until I crashed.”

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

And the coach of the Canadian men’s hockey team revealed this secret, “The main thing is to race over to McDonald’s to get an Egg McMuffin before they shut down for the morning.”

You laugh, but Canada won the gold medal in hockey in 2014. Two gold medals, actually — the men’s team and the women’s team. Bring on the Egg McMuffins!

One of the most unusual events at the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, a race in which athletes ski through a cross-country trail system and stop to shoot rifles at targets. The event is rooted in the traditions of Scandinavia, and is an ancient way to pay respect to the Norse god of skiing and hunting. In modern Norway, the biathlon has been used to promote civilian marksmanship in support of national defense.

The prophet Isaiah has his own type of biathlon, but it doesn’t include skiing or shooting. Instead, Isaiah promises that “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary” (Isaiah 40:31).

You’ve heard of the IOC, haven’t you? The International Olympic Committee. Well, this is the IOB, The Isaiah Olympic Biathlon. In the IOB, there is no corruption!

In Isaiah’s Olympics, the biathlon includes flying and running. Athletes “shall mount up with wings like eagles” and “run and not be weary.” But success in these events is not based on consumption of Egg McMuffins. Instead, preparation and training require waiting. Isaiah says that “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” We enter the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon by doing three things: Waiting, flying and running.

First, wait. Of all the things that Isaiah challenges us to do, waiting is probably the toughest. I absolutely hate to wait. When I buy a product online, I want it to show up at my doorstep immediately. When I pay for same-day service, I don’t want it tomorrow. When I order fast food, I don’t want it to come to me slowly.

But Isaiah says that good things come to those who “wait for the LORD.” To wait for God means to step off the daily treadmill and stop moving for a minute. To take a moment, slow down, and feel God’s presence. To listen for what God might be saying, without expecting a particular answer. Psalm 46:10 is a verse that provides a simple meditative exercise that can help us to wait for the LORD. It puts us in touch with the presence of God as we repeat the verse slowly, omitting a word or two with each repetition. Close your eyes, and listen as I repeat this verse:

Be still, and know that I am God.

Be still, and know that I am.

Be still, and know.

Be still.

Be.

When we slow down, we discover that God is the source of all that is. God is the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). When we wait for the LORD, we are confronted by the questions raised by the prophet Isaiah: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? …. Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers … who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing” (Isaiah 40:21-23).

When we wait, we discover that our lives are in God’s hands, not our own. We are like grasshoppers in a field, cared for by the Creator who provides everything we need for life. The rulers of the earth have no real power in comparison to Almighty God, and their schemes quickly blow away like dust in the wind. “To whom then will you compare me,” asks God, the Holy One, “or who is my equal?” (v. 25). No one, of course. When we wait for the LORD, we see that no one compares to God, and no one is God’s equal. We can rest in God’s presence, and trust God to work for good in our lives.

Next, in the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon: fly. To “mount up with wings like eagles” (v. 31) does not mean that we will soar through the air like ski jumpers at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Stadium in Pyeongchang. No, to fly in the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon means that we rise above our earthly perspective and see the world from the vantage point of “the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (v. 28).

So what does it mean to see things from this eagle-eye perspective? The Gospel of John offers us this particular point of view, and it is no accident that John’s traditional symbol is the eagle. That’s right, John is often depicted as an eagle. He begins his gospel by describing Jesus as the Word of God, the one who was “in the beginning with God,” creating all things (John 1:2-3). This Word of God “became flesh and lived among us,” says John, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (v. 14).

To mount up with wings like eagles is to see the world from the perspective of Jesus, the one who is full of grace and truth. Jesus offers grace to all people, seeing them as friends instead of enemies. He practices hospitality, breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners. He heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and welcome outcasts — just like the God of Isaiah, Jesus “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (v. 29). In addition, he speaks the truth to all people, challenging them to seek the kingdom of God. Jesus invites us all to fly with him, and to see the world with his eagle-eye perspective.

I was talking a fellow pastor the other day, and I said to him that all of the craziness in Washington, DC, had really changed my preaching over the past year. I said that I am preaching Jesus much more than I used to. More than ever before, I’m finding that I need to perspective that Jesus gives me. The eagle-eye perspective, which sees the world as God sees it.

Finally, run. After waiting for the LORD and flying with Jesus, we can “run and not be weary” (v. 31). You can bet that Olympic athletes have been doing a lot of running in preparation for the Winter Games, in addition to squats, lunges and weight-lifting. This is demanding physical work, and Isaiah is right to say that “even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted” (v. 30).

But God is more interested in our spiritual stamina than our physical strength. He wants us to be able to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). With our eyes on Jesus, we can run and not be weary, even when we face obstacles such as job losses, relationship problems, and moral failures. When we stumble, Jesus picks us up, dusts us off, and helps us to start running again.

The secret to winning gold in the Isaiah Olympic Biathlon is understanding that your strength comes from outside yourself. Success does not come from making your body as powerful as it can possibly be, but from turning your life over to the God who wants you to successfully run the race that is set before you. As Olympian Gabby Douglas has said, “if you see my mouth moving at the Olympics … I’m praying. It’s all up to God. He delivers us from so many obstacles.”

Deliverance from obstacles. That’s what God does, in the Winter Games and in everyday life. When we wait for the LORD, we find that our strength is renewed. We are able to see the world from the perspective of Jesus, and run the race that lies before us without falling down exhausted.

In the end, we may not get a gold medal around our neck, or even a silver or bronze. We won’t get a thrill from having billions of television viewers watch us stop a puck, ski down a mountain, or perform a figure skating jump. But that doesn’t matter. The biathlon that Isaiah asks us to enter is a much more private event.

Whether at home or in Pyeongchang, you can wait, fly, and run. And with God’s help, you’ll win big. Amen.

Sources:

D’Amato, Gary. “Best, worst and weirdest quotes from the Winter Olympics.” Journal Sentinel, February 23, 2014,

http://archive.jsonline.com.

Kaleem, Jaweed. “Prayers And Religion Make An Appearance At Sochi Olympics.” Huffington Post, February 7, 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com.

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