He was going home. It wouldn’t be very long now, only a matter of days at most until the soldiers would come to his cell and drag him out to the executioner’s block. Death was still the last enemy, but Jesus had conquered death and hell and made them captive. There was no fear. His work was done, and he was ready to be with Christ, which was far better. He would be home, and nothing could ever separate him from the love of God.
He watched the moving light of his one poor candle flame reflected on the damp walls of his cell, and thought back across the life that he had lived. It was not at all the life he had expected, the comfortable, respectable life of a successful, influential Jewish rabbi; instead he had been imprisoned many times, flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, and lived a life of constant danger. But it was a life with Jesus at the centre of it, and he did not regret it for a moment. He pondered.
“I have fought the good fight ..” Yes, there were so many bad fights out there that a man could spend his life in: fights for riches, prestige and power. And there was the worst fight of all: fighting against God. Even now, after all these years of grace, he winced just a little at the memory. He had been so zealous, so eager to serve the Holy One, and he had totally misunderstood what God wanted. He had totally misunderstood who God was. And God, in mercy, had stopped him in his tracks and turned him round in the opposite direction, and had given him something worth more than his own life to fight for. And then, as if that wasn’t wonder enough, He had armed him for the battle in the armour that was Christ Himself.
“I have finished the race ..” Yes, that was true too. There had been so many times when he wished it was over, and he could go home to the God who had captured his heart. But he had a job to do, and a race to run, and the victor’s crown was for those who persevered to the end. Only God knew where the finish line was. So he had kept on going, as single minded as an athlete running in the games, but for a prize immeasurably greater, a crown of righteousness that awaited him.
“I have kept the faith ..” Yet it was not he who had done it, but Christ who so laid hold of him. He had kept the law so keenly, seeking to prove and promote his own righteousness – then he had seen the righteousness of Christ and known that the best he could ever do was rotten to the core. But it didn’t matter, because what he could never have done, Jesus had done for him. It was as the bond slave of Christ Jesus that he had learned the glorious liberty of the children of God. And he jealously guarded the churches, lest they, in turn, should trade in their dependence on Jesus alone for a bowl of legalistic pottage. And now Christ, whom he had clung to as a drowning man clings to a spar, would carry Him home as the spoils of his triumph.
He smiled in wonder, acknowledging once again, that it was love that mattered. The battle, the marathon, the fidelity – they were only possible because God Himself, with love beyond all comprehension, had reached out across the darkness of sin and death, and planted such responsive love in his own heart, that everything else was dust and ashes in comparison. And in that love he was always, already, at home.