I paced back and forth across the castle courtyard, waiting. Surely he would be ready soon.
Then I heard, or rather, felt, a horrible groan, followed by tears.
It was time.
Sprinting across the courtyard to the tower, I opened the wooden door, breathing in the stench of filth and death. Grabbing the torch flickering on the wall, I descended into the darkness, climbing down, down, down the curving stairs to the prison.
At the foot of the staircase sat a passageway lined with doors, each fitted with a barred window. Sobs drifted from the last door on the right, the one guarded by a black-robed figure.
As I drew closer, I realized the guard was making grotesque, grimacing faces at the person in the cell.
“Alright, Marty,” I said. “That’s enough. Step aside.”
Marty scowled and drew back.
I peered through the metal bars at the sobbing man kneeling on the damp stone floor.
“Phil!” I called. “It’s OK. I’m here.”
Phil looked up, bewildered, scrubbing the tears from his eyes.
“Where am I?” he asked. “Who are you? And who’s that black clown?”
“He’s no clown,” I said, shaking my head. “This is Hamartia Kai Thanatos, who you know better as ‘Sin and Death’.”
“Yeah,” Phil said, blinking. “I just read about that. In Romans, right?”
“What’s he doing here? Better yet, what am I doing here? I should be home in bed. Wait, is this some allegorical dream? You know, like John Bunyan’s?”
“No,” I said, “this isn’t a dream. Now that I’ve felt you’re heart is ready, I’m here to show you the reality of your inner struggle with sin.”
Phil groaned. “I knew it! This is about last night! Look, I didn’t drink anything, I swear!”
“But what about afterwards?” Marty taunted. “Are you going to tell him about that? About how when the others started cursing Christ you--”
“I know! I know! I didn’t try to stop them.”
“Some Christian,” Marty spat. “He went home and told his wife--”
“All right! I lied, OK! I didn’t want her to know where I’d been. I didn’t want her to know how I’d been tempted.”
“And now?” I asked.
“And now I feel like dirt,” Phil said, slamming his fist against his palm. “I can’t believe I did those things. I feel trapped and ashamed and lost and--”
“But you aren’t trapped,” I interrupted.
He glared at me. “What do you mean? The door’s locked. The windows are barred. I’m trapped!”
“Have you tried the door?”
“Oh, sure! You think I’d fall for that? You think I’d still be sitting here if it was unlocked?” And, laughing, he gave the door a strong kick.
I leaped out of the way as the door flew open.
“Surprise!” Marty cackled.
Phil gaped. “You mean … I was free all along?”
“But Marty said the door was locked! He said I’d never get out!”
“You still don’t seem to have grasped who Marty is,” I said, waving my hand in front of Phil’s eyes. “Look again.”
Phil took one look at Marty and yelled, covering his eyes with his hands.
“What do you see?” I asked.
“My sin,” Phil groaned. “He’s a horrid, stinking corpse with living eyes.”
“He’s dead, and death can’t control you anymore.”
“But an unlocked door?” Phil asked. “Why?”
“Look,” I said, pointing to the stone wall as a picture appeared, a picture of a dark hill, surrounded by storm clouds and covered with people. Three crosses towered above the crowd, and from one a man screamed, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
As the picture faded, Phil whispered, “Yes, I knew that. I guess I’ve always known it.”
“Because of his sacrifice,” I said, “you can walk through this door, cleansed and forgiven.”
Phil took a deep breath, and stepped through the door of his prison.
As he did, the scene faded, changed, until we were standing by Phil’s bed, listening to his wife’s soft snores.
With tears in his eyes, Phil asked, “What about you? Will I ever see you again?”
“Perhaps someday,” I smiled, “but don’t be afraid. I’m always with you, inside you,” I said, placing my hands on his forehead, and his heart. “I am the gift of your Savior. I am His Spirit, and my testimony is true. You are God’s child! You are free! Live like it!”
And with that, I disappeared.
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