The finish line was in sight.
It wavered before the runner's watering eyes as he forced air in and out of screaming lungs. His limbs were rubber tubes and he could no longer feel the earth beneath blistered feet, but he could hear the pounding, the rhythmic thudding that told him he was still running.
Still running... If he could just keep running a little further he would make it. The winner. All those months had turned into years made up of moments filled with pain and strain and fear. All for this moment. If he could just keep running...
The Apostle Paul compared the Christian life to a marathon, a race unfit for the fainthearted and uncommitted. The half-hearted drop out long before the finish line. The ones who opt for a shortcut get lost along the way and never show up.
We enter a race the moment we choose Christ over the world's offering and there is only one track. It leads straight to the goal line and unimaginable rewards.
But only to the finishers.
In Revelation 3, Jesus commends some of those finishers while urging them on just a little further. The church at Philadelphia had won His approval for their steadfast loyalty and their refusal to forfeit the race to those whose main objective was to get them off track. "I know you're running out of steam," He told them. "But hang in there and boy, do I have treasure for you guys!"
Jesus cheers from the sidelines, offering encouragement, shouts of victory, and promises that it will be worth it when we burst across that finish line. "Don't worry about the detractors," He calls. "They're dropping like flies! They'll stand on the sidelines when you take the winner's box and then the world will see who did it right!"
Don't you long for that day? Have you ever imagined those loud-mouthed, anti-God mockers as they stand quaking before the judgment seat of Christ? The intellectual scoffers who roll their eyes at the idea of Creation? The arrogant celebrities who insist that godly values are ridiculously out of date? C'mon, doesn't the picture make you smile a little?
That was the picture Jesus painted for his faithful followers at Philadelphia. He encouraged them to smile a little as they finished the course. He had told them at the beginning that only those who finished the race were truly his. The detractors had shouted insults from the sidelines. Instigators were planted in the midst of the runners and tried to trip, gouge, and elbow his people off the track, but they had kept at it.
The crowd that leaped from the starting line had thinned considerably. No surprise to Jesus, but everyone else would be astonished at who won. Especially his faithful runners.
Revelation 3 promises us that Jesus can't wait to leap from the stands and gather us in his proud embrace. At that moment, the world will know who really won, but it will be far too late to reenter the race.
Are you wearing out? Is your heart aching from exhaustion? Do you ever wonder secretly if following Christ is worth it? After all, the world makes their way look like so much fun, a stroll in the park compared to this marathon.
Jesus knows you're running out of steam and he calls from the stands: "Keep going! You're about there! Trust me, okay? You'll be so glad you stuck it out!".