Running the race in the last days Bible study
The approaching finish line and ending well
(You haven't passed this way before)
by I Gordon
I was praying and pondering about what to speak on next and I kept thinking about the theme in the Bible of running the race. The scripture uses different metaphors to describe the Christian life and you may have noticed that there are few sporting one in there. Now, I'm probably biased as I enjoy sports. But Paul’s letters especially speak of running the race, fighting the good fight... of boxing and wrestling. One of my favourite sports, tennis, even gets a mention in the Bible. That may surprise you as the history books will tell you that tennis originated in 12th century France. But don’t be deceived... the Bible clearly says that Moses served in the courts of Pharaoh. Ok, that’s pretty bad. Let’s move on. Who was the fastest runner in the Bible? Adam, he came first in the human race. Ok, enough of that. Is baseball in the Bible? Yes - Gen 1:1 In the big-inning, Eve stole first, Adam stole second, Cain struck out Abel and the Giants and the Angels were rained out. Ok... time to move on... Quickly.
So I kept thinking of this theme of the race, and especially running the race in these last days. We’ll look at some of the passages surrounding this topic but for this first message I want to start, somewhat oddly, near the end. It was on my heart to speak about finishing the race well in view of the approaching finish line.
So we will...
Look at a few general verses about the race.
Focus in on one passage in the last words of Paul
Examine what finishing well actually is
Look briefly at the closeness of the finish line and associated instruction from an Old Testament type
Some common verses about the race
There are obviously some well known verses about the race that we are in. We’ll look at some in more detail as we move through this series but for now think on the following.
To the Corinthians, one of Paul’s earliest letters, Paul wrote:
1Co 9:24-25 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (25) Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
To the Hebrews he wrote:
Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
To the Galatians, another very early letter, he wrote:
Gal 5:7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?
And this theme goes right through to the last letter that Paul ever wrote. What letter was that? If we are going to explore what it means to finish well then we better look at someone who did just that.
2nd Timothy - The last letter & last words of Paul
2nd Timothy is the last letter Paul ever wrote. It’s 67 or 68 AD. Paul is in a Roman dungeon (as seen to the right1), waiting a beheading...his beheading. He knew, as he sat in that dark prison, that there was no coming back this time. He had previously been stoned to death and lived to talk about it. He had been in multiple shipwrecks and even spent the night in the ocean, yet survived. He had lived on though beaten with rods and whips. He had survived though bitten by a deadly poisonous snake. Paul knew all about comebacks... but not this time. He had been imprisoned and released multiple times before... but this time there would be no release. And he knew it. The Lord had made that clear to him. We often deeply value the last words that someone says. Whether it is on someone’s deathbed as they know their time draws near or, as in this case, a letter from a man who knew these would be the last words he would write. So this well-known passage comes from the last chapter of Paul’s last letter:
2Ti 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. (7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) 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.
Paul sees his life as being poured out like a drink offering. This imagery is taken from the Old Testament, where the drink offering was poured out upon the sacrifice. Paul didn’t see himself as the sacrifice itself… that is Christ and Christ alone. But he saw his life as a drink offering added to the Lord’s sacrifice and now being poured out to its last drop. He knows the time of his departure has come.
And in these last words we see this same theme of the race and the fight coming out again. He says he has fought the good fight and finished the race. He has done it. It was not an easy race or fight but he has completed it. Someone once wrote in to the website and asked ‘Is the Christian life easy or hard’? Truth be known, the Christian life is impossible. Only Christ can live it. But to answer like that is to avoid the significant role that we have to play. Scripture says that through many tribulations you must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) The truth is, being a Christian brings troubles and challenges that you would not get being an unbeliever. Yet it also brings the one who is adequate for, and provides strength in, all things. But it is, as we see here, a fight. It is a race. And neither give the impression of it being easy or a breeze. It had been a real fight and a difficult race but Paul could look back and say I’ve made it… I’ve done it. I have run well. I have got to the finish line. Through all the obstacles, all the opposition, I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. And now comes the time of my departure. Now comes the time of my reward!
So what is finishing well... finishing strong?
Now I’m certainly no Apostle Paul. Who is? But this thought of finishing well has been on my heart lately. I want to lay aside that which easily entangles and run with perseverance the race that God has for me. As I hope you do. But often we don’t always feel ‘strong’ do we? So what is finishing well? We get this image of someone sprinting towards the finish line, wind in the hair, muscles ripping, arms raised in triumph, powering home. And then you look at your own life and see yourself coming down the home stretch limping, supported by a walking stick or possibly a zimmer frame! Sometimes we feel a little beaten up by life. Does that mean you’re not finishing well? What is finishing well? Maybe you can relate to Christian in Pilgrims Progress who was making good swift progress till he came to the hill of difficulty where it says:
‘I looked and saw Christian go up the hill, where I noticed him slowing his pace from running to walking and finally to scrambling up the path on his hands and knees because it was very steep.’
He has not long made it to the top of the hill when, hearing the roar of lions, the author writes:
“Difficulty is behind, Fear is before.
Though he’s got on the hill, the lions roar.
A Christian man is never long at ease.
When one fright’s gone, another does him seize.”
So maybe you relate to Christian who went from running, to walking, to just crawling. There are different challenges that we all face in this race. We don't always feel like we are firing on all cylinders!2 But that isn’t what I mean by finishing well. You may get to the finish line with some physical and even mental scars from the fight... you may be coming along the home straight with a walking stick. But the important thing is this: how is your heart towards God?
Finishing well is getting to the end and...
You’ve kept the faith. You have not stopped. You haven’t turned around and gone back mid-race. People may try to discourage you. Tempt you. Tell you you’re not running the right way and try to lead you off onto another path... but you held your belief and trust in the Lord Jesus through the stillness and the storm, through the conflicting voices and opposition. That is finishing well.
You've guarded your heart. You still have a soft heart towards God that wants to know Him and make Him known. You haven’t let the thorns and thistles of this life make you bitter. Instead of blaming God or others for difficulties or failures you have kept a soft heart towards the things of God and are ever thankful for what He has done. That is finishing well.
You've kept your focus. You have fixed your eyes firmly and solely on Jesus - the author and finisher of your faith. You haven't let the lights and attractions of this world strangle and entangle your spiritual life. That is finishing well.
You are pressing on. You are still saying to the Lord – ‘Father, what would you have me to do?’ In the language of Paul in Philippians, you are forgetting the things that are behind and are pressing on to lay hold of that which He laid hold of you for. That is finishing well.
You eagerly desire HIS return. You are watchful, alert, looking, hoping and longing for the return of the Lord Jesus. Heaven is your home and hope and you are looking for Him. Jesus spoke about this need of watchfulness for His return in a few of His parables. Eagerly desire His return. That is finishing well.
The time of my departure is at hand.
The fact is that we are getting, I believe, near the end of our race. No one knows the day nor the hour3 yet the signs tell us that it is close and to be ready! The finish line in this race is our departure, whether through death or rapture, undertaker or uppertaker. And It will come quicker than you expect. Before leaving this passage it could be useful to just pause and examine this word ‘departure’. The word chosen here by Paul is not the usual word for leaving or departing and is used only here in the Bible. It is the Greek word ‘analusis’ and literally means ‘to un-loose’. Paul knew he was about to be ‘unloosened’ from this world.4
When we look at how this word departure (unloosen) was used in the Greek world we see:
1. It was used in tenting – ‘striking’ the tent meant to disassemble it and pull up the ropes that bound it to this earth before setting out. Seeing as Paul was a tent maker by trade he would have understood that this was now happening to him. We have cords that bind us to this earth but this is not our home and the call to pull it all up and move out will soon come!
2. It was used in agriculture speaking of the ‘unyoking’ of oxen or other animals after a hard day’s work. Finally being free and entering into rest! Even though we are called to not be yoked with this world, gravity pulls at our feet. And this fallen body pulls us down too! And quite frankly, I’m ready to be unyoked from this world and this body!
3. Probably most common, it was used in shipping where a ship would be released from its anchorage, when it was about to set sail on its voyage. Are you ready to depart? Or are you all tied up?
So for Paul, his departure was the start of his real freedom, his real adventure. The ropes had been taken away. The voyage was on. The ship was about to sail! It was the start of real life. And this is going to happen to all believers – whether, as I’ve said before, by undertaker or upper-taker. But don’t you want to get to that point and look back knowing that you tried to run well? Don't you want to get to the finish line knowing that you kept the faith and have come to the end of the race still with a soft heart towards God and a desire to do His will?
The Old Testament Picture
Jos 3:1-5 Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed. (2) At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; (3) and they commanded the people, saying, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. (4) "However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before." (5) Then Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."
Jos 3:15-17 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), (16) the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. (17) And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.
Israel’s whole journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is full of types and pictures. It is not just me saying that. Paul wrote about some of them in 1 Cor 10 and in 1Co 10:11 said ‘Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.’ So this crossing is a literal historical event, but one that has repeated fulfillments. It has a fulfillment for a believer in this day when we come into the promised life of Christ available to us. But it finds its ultimate fulfillment when we, as God’s people, finally make it to our Promised land – the Heavenly Jerusalem.
So what do we see? When Israel finally came to cross into the Promised Land, after 40 years (the number of testing and trial) in the wilderness, the instruction was very specific. Firstly, the Ark would be carried down to the waters of the Jordan. At that point, the waters did something miraculous – they rolled back all the way to the city of Adam, near Zarethan, where they stood heaped up. This is the only mention of the city of Adam in the Bible but it is typically placed about 16 miles north of the crossing point. Secondly, the people would follow the Ark across but they had to be about 2000 cubits behind. And though the priests carrying the Ark would stand in the waters (Josh 3:15), the people would walk through on dry ground (Josh 3:17).
You have not passed this way before (but soon will)
The typology is clear. The waters of the Jordan, as did the waters of the Red Sea, speak of death. The Ark is the very presence of God and represents the person of Christ. As the Ark (Christ) went down into the waters of death for us, the impact went all the way back to Adam. Zarethan, according to ‘A dictionary of Scripture Proper Names’ means ‘their distress’. The power of the Ark (Christ) reaches right back to the point of mankind's distress - It goes right back to Adam and gives victory over the source of their distress – sin and death! The Ark crossed over first into the Promised Land and represents the Lord's return to the final Promised Land, Heaven.. The people would follow later, but separated by a distance of 'about' 2000 cubits. While I can’t prove it, I believe this is pointing to a gap of 'about' 2000 years between the Lord going into the Promised Land (Heaven) and then His people following later.5 Notice also that God's people didn’t have to experience the waters. They went through on dry ground. In like matter there will be a generation, at the end of the age, that do not have to experience death but will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and be taken to the promised Heavenly Jerusalem.6 (1 Thes 4:15-17, John 14:1-3). Now in view of all this, look at what the scripture says:
Jos 3:4-5 "However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure… you have not passed this way before." Then Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."
Joshua said to the people ‘The Lord is going to do something wonderful for you. You have not passed this way before. You have never experienced this new land but you will - He will do wonders among you.’ Where believers are going, we have never been before. We have not passed this way before. We have been tied and anchored to this world. But we are nearing the end of the race.
But none of us have passed this way before. In one way it is the unknown country. In another it is home. And what did Joshua say to those about to experience the Promised Land for the first time? Look, for this is important.
'Consecrate yourself. Set yourselves apart for Him. Be people for the Lord. Tomorrow He will do wonders among you. Be His today!'
I want to end well. We should all want to end well. If I'm honest sometimes I feel like a complete and utter failure. I know what it is to trip and stubble. Sometimes I feel like I’m running in the wrong direction. Yet there is that inner voice whispering, saying "This is the way, walk ye in it. And Iain...end your race well."
We have never passed this way before. All we know is this world. Like an anchored ship we have been tied to this world. But the finish line is approaching.
End well people... End well.
A word from Amir Tsarfati for 2019
Let me close with a word written by Amir Tsarfati7, a Bible prophecy teacher that I very much respect and enjoy. You will just have to believe me that I had decided what I wanted to write about before I saw what he wrote (honest!) but it was interesting to see that his word for 2019 is exactly the same message that was coming back to me. He just says it better than me : ) He writes:
"As 2018 is coming to an end, I can look back and rejoice at what the Lord has done. However, the message that He has placed on my heart for 2019 is a resounding one: Finish well! Yes my friends, we are close to the finish line. The writing is on the wall, the signs are on the ground, all the players are in place. We are the generation that shall not pass away. We are the generation that will experience more deception than any other simply because it’s so easy to fall into deception with the digital world.
The questions I’ve been posed to ask myself, as well as all of you are: Is life here in this world all that you care about? Is this world all that you have? Is it all about “making the most” out of it? Are the things of this world the main issues on your mind and the prime goals of your life?
Are you as excited about eternity that you wouldn’t want to live here in this world again? Is heaven your home or this world? You can only be homesick for where your home is! ...
As we approach the finish line, we must all examine our hearts and ask ourselves…Do we know that when the Lord comes back He will tell us?
“…well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23
My friends, let’s finish well. Let’s finish strong! "
I know what you are thinking looking at that painting of Paul in prison - "Did you paint that?" No... it's not one of mine. Some chap called Rembrandt did it. https://www.wikiart.org/en/rembrandt/st-paul-in-prison-1627 But I can understand how you may get our works mixed up! To be fair, if I were to paint you would definitely recognise my works... but not for any good reason! Ok, all joking aside, it's an amazing picture capturing Paul, scriptures open, pondering and writing his letter. Have a read of 2nd Timothy with the thought in mind that Paul knew that this was his last letter. What would you write about if you knew these were your last words? I encourage you to read 2nd Timothy with that thought in mind. Look at the topics and themes that come out in Paul's last letter. ↩
I was feeling pretty tired at the end of last year... especially at work. So I was just looking forward to having a break. On my first official day of my holiday I got rash and pain down my leg. I didn’t know what it was. But after a few days with this odd looking rash only increasing, I thought I’d better go to the doctor. He took one look and said ‘ok, you know what that is don’t you?’ ‘Um, no I don’t. That’s why I’m here!’ ‘That’s shingles’ he said. ‘It’s the chicken pox virus which lays dormant in the system but can come out when a person’s immune system is worn down or stressed. ‘ Ok... makes sense! So we don’t always feel strong physically. But ending well isn't so much about what is happening to you... but what is happening in you. It's all about the heart as well shall see. ↩
I shouldn't have to write on this because it should be evident from the Bible. But in this age of Youtube and everyone stating their opinions and wanting to be famous it is important to just say again that we do not know the day of Jesus' return... just the general season. So many are hyping things up giving date after date for His return... And when their sure-thing date passes they just go on to the next date with no apology. At times it drives me crazy! It doesn't matter what fancy charts or videos they put out. If they are naming the date, stay clear. It gives Bible prophecy a bad name and hardens people to the true message.
"Mat 24:42 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." Jesus was clear on two things concerning this:
1. We are to always be watching for His return.
2. We watch because WE DO NOT KNOW the day. ↩
I listened to J.D Farag the other day and he was speaking about how God, through difficulties and trials, sometimes has to un-loosen’ our grip if we are holding on too hard to this world and the things of this life. The coming of the Lord for His bride is close. Do you think He wants to come back for people that are desperately holding on to this world or for those who hold the temporal things lightly and desire Him? How strong is your grip? Has the Lord been loosening it? ↩
I wrote a study that went into some general timing aspects for the Lord's return that give additional information here: http://jesusplusnothing.com/studies/online/jesusiscoming.htm ↩
My sister was recently speaking to someone who is familiar but skeptical about Christian things and was asked ‘Do you really believe in the rapture? Do you really believe that Jesus is going return? Is that actually what you think?’ To the one who doesn't know the Lord it is a fanciful idea...an outrageous thought. Yet to the believer it is the blessed hope. All other prophecy including the Messiah's first coming and countless prophecies concerning the scattering and regathering of Israel has been fulfilled to the very letter. The return of the Lord for His bride will be no different. Mankind is descending into an 'anything goes' state. God will not allow it to go on much longer without intervention and judgement. ↩
Taken from https://beholdisrael.org/a-word-from-amir-for-2019 I haven't included the full message so click on the link and have a read. ↩