2 Timothy 4:7-8 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
With these words written to Timothy, Paul compares the Christian life to a strenuous race. For Paul, he knew that he was about to leave this earth behind. He was in prison and he knew that his execution would be coming soon. In spite of that grim situation, he had the greatest hope. He knew that he was going to heaven because of Jesus. He knew that he would receive the crown of life because of the perfect life of Jesus. Paul reminds us that this victory crown is not just for him. All believers in Christ will receive the crown.
As a person who has completed 5 full marathons, I envision the race of faith to be like a full marathon. Running 26.2 miles is exhausting. There is much more to it than just the day of the race. There are also months of training which include hundreds of miles of running. It is helpful to have good sleeping habits and a healthy diet but with busy schedules those can be hard to get. Throughout training there can be many aches and pains. Even during the marathon there is going to be times when you feel like quitting. And yet, when you finish that race, you feel like you have accomplished something great. Most of us marathoners don’t run for first place. We run just to finish the race.
In our life of faith there are plenty of ups and downs. Living for God can be strenuous and exhausting. Whether our years on this earth are few or many, living our faith can be very difficult at times. We run our race of faith. We put in training by spending time in worship and Bible Study. We receive spiritual rest as we have devotional time. We have spiritual food with the Word and the Sacraments. There are many aches and pains. We have emotional anguish and we experience persecution from unbelievers. There are times that we think about quitting. We think life would be easier if we didn’t follow Jesus. And yet, strengthened by God’s grace, we keep running.
As we look for that eventual crown of righteousness, we understand that we are not truly earning it through our efforts. As with most marathoners who are just running to finish, Christians want to finish the race with faith in our hearts. We have faith in the one who already won the victory crown. Jesus put in a marathon of 33 years on this earth. During his marathon, he was perfectly sinless. He was brutally tortured and crucified. He experienced the spiritual agony of the guilt of every sin. Through his death and resurrection, he was victorious over sin, death and the devil. When we reach the end of our life with faith in Jesus, we receive the crown of life because Jesus won it for us.
Just recently, one of our members went home to heaven. Allen Peltz passed away after 95 years on this earth. That is an incredibly long life. He experienced many things through all those years. To me, 95 years is definitely a marathon of a life. Through all those years, he clung to his Savior. As I visited him over the last couple weeks, it was very easy to see how important his faith was to him. Right up to the end, he was concerned about others. He wanted many more people to know the love of Jesus so that they too could have eternal life. May we all approach life like the apostle Paul and even like Allen. We run our race of faith and when we finish this life, the crown of eternal life awaits us because of our Savior Jesus Christ.