Summary: Paul’s personal epitaph provides insight into what it means for every believer to be ready and waiting to face the reality of death.
Through the New Testament 2005
Ready and Waiting
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
The other day I had a conversation with a family about death and dying. Preachers probably have those kinds of discussions more often than most people. In this case, I we were talking about a family member who had passed away a year or so ago. Someone remarked how she had known for a couple of years that she was dying of cancer.
The conversation turned to whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to know in advance that you’re dying. On one hand, you have time to prepare. On the other hand, it might be better to go without having to think about it for so long. That knowledge has a way of casting a dark shadow over everything. Maybe it would be better just to drop dead without having to dwell on it. It would be a tough call –whether you would want to know or not.
If the truth be told—we all know! The real issue is when not if! Human mortality is 100%. Some of just act like we are going to be the exception. Hollywood star, Woody Allen, spoke for a lot of people when he said, "It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens."
Did you hear about the three guys discussing their obituaries? One asked, “What would you like folk to say at your wake?” One of his buddies thought for minute, "I’d like them to say ‘He was a great humanitarian who cared about his community.’" The fellow who had initiated the conversation replied, "I’d like them to say ‘He was a great husband and father who was an example for many to follow.’" The two nodded in agreement and looked to the silent buddy. Without hesitation he added, "I’d like them to say ‘Look, he’s moving!’"
Our text was penned by a man who knew his days were numbered. These words come from the last chapter of the last book written by the Apostle Paul. This kind of confidence in the face of death doesn’t happen by accident. Paul looks death in the face and says, “I am ready.” Note the two illustrations he uses to describe his attitude toward what he is facing.
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering..” A drink offering was a type of sacrifice. Both Old Testament Jews and their pagan counterparts were familiar with drink offerings. A worshiper would approach the altar of hot coals with a goblet of wine. As a prayer or special vow was spoken the wine would be poured on the coals. The wine instantly evaporated giving off a cloud of smoke and a sweet rich fragrance.
The Romans often ended a meal or banquet with such an offering. It marked the time to rise and move on as well symbolized the giving of last drop to glory of the gods. That is how Paul viewed his coming death. It is as if he was saying: "The day is ended; it is time to rise and go; and my life must be poured out as a sacrifice to God." His executors might think they were taking Paul’s life. He viewed his death as an offering he was giving to God. He had given everything to his Lord since the day of conversion on the Damascus Road. He has one thing left to give—his life. He offered that too as a sacrifice of worship to God.
He also calls his death a departure. That too pictured a concept common to his readers. This was the word for unyoking an animal from the shafts of the cart or the plow. Death marked a rest from labor. This was also the term for loosening bonds or chains. Death would mean release for Paul. He would be promoted from a Roman prison to a heaven palace. The Greeks also used the term for striking a tent. Life in this world was temporary. It was to pull the tent pegs and pack the gear and move on. It is the same word for loosening the moorings of a ship so it could set sail. Paul was ready to set sail for home.
In verse seven, Paul looks to the past. This explains his readiness for death. He says, “My life has not been easy, but it has been worth it.” Paul uses three word pictures from the world of the athletic world.
I have fought the good fight. This was the description of a wrestling match. Life can be tough. Sometimes we do hand-to-hand, down and dirty combat with the world, the flesh, and devil. It’s a fight. Nobody said it would be easy. But finishing well is worth the effort.