“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
Right now, in the cosmos, a courtship is underway between two very unlikely lovers. One is the king of all there is. He is literally the King of the Cosmos. The other is a foolish and stubborn individual who is largely unaware of her lover’s interest, or even his existence. She is wandering around trying to make the best of her life in a confusing and dangerous world.
The king who seeks her love has provided a path, a gate, a portal, leading directly to his side. He is ardently hoping that she will pass through that portal and step inside, so that he can woo her and win her love and take her to himself.
He is Jesus, the Son of God.
She is the human race. She is us.
The portal is the Christian gospel.
Opening the gospel, opening the portal, is our prerogative. This cosmic courtship, like any other courtship, must begin with an initial introduction between the parties involved. Otherwise it remains merely a fantasy in the mind of one or the other, and never comes to anything. Once inside, however, the love affair begins in earnest.
The Christian gospel has enormous depth, and levels that humanity will never completely penetrate. But essentially it is a fascinating, emotional, passionate, and still developing love story between Jesus, the undisputed master of the universe, and us, the human race. Jesus is fervently (and almost obsessively) in love with us and has been pursuing us relentlessly for over two thousand years, even to the present day. In the gospel, the unfolding story of his courtship and love is revealed to us.
As a baby, Jesus astonished us. And as an adolescent, we thought him bright and clever. (See the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.) But when he came of age, around 30 years old, we somehow managed to catch his eye and win his heart. Filled with the spirit of love, he began showering us with marvelous and extraordinary gifts in the way of a suitor, and he began talking to us about his family and his father’s kingdom, of which he was heir. We listened, of course, with interest. As time went on he even began to speak of himself as “the bridegroom,” and us as his “pearl.” “A merchant,” he was overheard saying, “went out seeking beautiful pearls. When he found one pearl of great price, he sold all that he had and bought it!” He called us his “vineyard.” He called us his “little flock.” He called us his “treasure.”
Now all this sweet talk eventually found it’s way to the very top echelons of that cosmic realm, where Jesus’ father reigns as king and powerful beings rule in the heavens. The glorious and seraphic members of his father’s court were justifiably taken aback and puzzled at the news of this new love interest. They were quite familiar with Jesus, so there was understandably some shock and wonder and even dismay at this new turn of events. It might be helpful to picture the son of a great king traveling to a poor and remote settlement, and unexpectedly falling in love with an uneducated and very common peasant girl during the course of his visit. Naturally there were other contenders in this love game back home, brilliant, intelligent, well-groomed, and highly qualified, hoping to take their place at Jesus’ side when he became king.
Some of these splendid individuals were genuinely happy for him and wished him nothing but joy and happiness. Others, especially those with exaggerated self-importance, were disturbed and clearly envious, to the point of rage and hostility. One of them, known as Lucifer, decided to intervene directly and see what could be done. (A detailed account of this exchange can be found in the fourth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.) Finding Jesus alone, this gorgeous heavenly luminary showed up and made his pitch, “I can offer you food at the snap of your finger, risk, thrills, and excitement, and unbelievable popularity with the crowds! All you have to do is love me, and me alone!”
This was a tempting offer, to be sure, a wild fling with a dazzling escort. But Jesus thought way too much of his father and his family to run off with that floozy. Besides, he had already fallen in love with us, his treasure, his pearl! Though we were no great prize, we were his choice. He sent that arrogant highborn prince off empty handed with a curt dismissal, and that was that.
It wasn’t too long after this that our relationship with Jesus began to sour. For some unfathomable reason we began to grow alarmed and put up our defenses, questioning his every word and analyzing his motives. Our resistance only seemed to spur him on and strengthen his resolve to win our love. The second chapter of Mark’s gospel records the beginning stages of this angst, which only seemed to gain momentum as time went on.
Then one day Jesus met privately with his father’s legal team. Recorded in the ninth chapter of Mark and known as the “Transfiguration”, it was here that the facts were evidently all laid out on the table: We, the human race, as desirable as we might be, were in fact a convicted race of criminals and outlaws with a rap sheet that included thousands of years of treachery, deceit, murder, rape, war, pillage, carnage, and wholesale wickedness of every imaginable sort. The question begging to be answered was: How was Jesus going to reign over his father’s kingdom of justice, with us at his side as his future bride? Something drastic needed to be done to rectify our legal status, and it was going to be expensive and painful.
Immediately after this meeting we saw Jesus resolutely marching off to Jerusalem, the local seat of government, and declaring his intention of paying off our debt. We learn the rest of the story from the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Mark. Jesus was brutally crucified and put to death. But the gospel writers were careful to point out that he did it “for our sake.”
And now that the debt was paid and we were cleared of all charges at the price of his blood, Jesus was free to take his beloved bride to himself and carry her home, no?
The tragedy of the story, the cruel twist, is that the bride-to-be, on the eve of her wedding, declined his offer. Remember that poor peasant girl, the one that he fell in love with? That was us. That continues to be us. What were we thinking? We positively rejected him! If the truth were known, we flew in his face in a rage. We told him all the terrible things we imagined he had done. We vowed we wouldn’t marry him if he were the last person on earth.
At this, Jesus went away stung to the heart. And we, the human race, the intended bride-to-be, have spent the last two thousand years trying to justify our behavior. We go over and over the facts as we see them. We argue that he is distant and aloof. Our friends all agree that he is only out to enslave simple-minded people. He has endless rules that he expects us to follow, we contend, and for him enough is never enough. We presume that if we take one step out of line we are cast off forever. He says he loves us, we declare, but we are left to suffer and die…and on and on we go as the years go by.
Then one day quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in his house, perhaps at a wedding, or a funeral. In his house we discover that he is deeply loved and honored by the people who know him and work with him and follow him. They can’t stop talking about him and praising him. As we marvel at this, suddenly someone throws open the gospel door and begins to read, and we are confronted with him face-to-face! There he is, holding out his hand and beckoning us once more to join him!
Deeply embarrassed and covered with confusion at this sudden encounter, we find we have nothing to say. We take flight. We run for the nearest door, jump in our car, and drive far, far away as quickly as possible.
But reflecting on this chance meeting leads us to a more realistic and healthy appraisal of the situation:
- After all this time he does still appear to have feelings for us.
- He is, in fact, very rich, which is a consideration.
- We are older now, we have been pushed around a bit, and we have to admit that we have no other offers on the table, no other prospects for a happy future.
- The fact is, if truth be told, we are running out of resources, and may be on the verge of some serious hard times.
- His offer, when seen in this light, does seem quite generous, after all.
- And he did, a long time ago, pay the price for our freedom.
- He seems like the kind of person we could learn to love.
- Perhaps we were too hasty in turning him down?
These new thoughts begin to move about in our brain, and we begin to feel something tender stir in our heart.
And then comes another chance encounter like the one before. Or perhaps we intentionally open that gospel door for another look. Once more, Jesus immediately appears and invites us in. We are still flustered from our earlier meeting, but we are somewhat more prepared, and we feel as though a simple acknowledgement, a thank-you, might be a good way to break the ice. We start to speak, but then it all spills out, “I am so sorry for the way I treated you, for the terrible things I said, for being so thoughtless and cruel. I can scarcely think of my behavior without pain and embarrassment. Is there any way that you could possibly forgive me, give me another chance?…”
Says he, without a moment’s hesitation “I will espouse you to me forever!“ (Hosea 2)
Now that’s direct talk! There’s no mistaking his intentions now! Most of us feel a wave of emotional ecstasy when we realize the implications of what we are being given. A fabulous future at the side of this joyous and generous king, with no legal fine print to dash our hopes!
It may be peculiar to imagine, but all of the ecstasy and disappointment and bliss and sorrow and joy that describe human love and marriage in our world is merely a faint reflection of this central and supreme cosmic drama between us, the human race, and Jesus, the king. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes human marriage as “A great mystery. I mean it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) We are the single object of this divine invitation, and if we have a beating human heart we can respond enthusiastically in the affirmative.
There will come a time when Jesus will have to move ahead with this marriage. He will be forced to dismiss those who have persistently refused his offer. That event, found in Matthew’s gospel chapter 25, will be known as the “Final Judgment” and it will be a very sad time indeed. It is true that many people will turn at the last minute and come back, especially those who have been kind and generous and humanitarian during their lifetime. “Come’” he will say. “Come and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you, since the foundation of the world!”
Those others, however, who never thought of anyone but themselves, will have to go. With enormous sadness and a breaking heart, Jesus will watch as a sizeable portion of humanity walks away in one final act of senseless defiance. Where will they go? What will they do? Who will take care of them?
It is far from certain that Jesus will ever get over this bitter and tragic disappointment. Nor is it certain that we will soon forget that awful day. The only thing we do know for certain is that the choice is entirely up to us. Happiness and joy (and a complete make-over!) as the bride-to-be, or loneliness and desolation in a dark and terrifying void.
The gospel comes to a close at this point, and we can imagine Jesus saying, “Please end my heart’s torment and say yes to my love.“
The Christian scripture concludes with a book known as “Revelation”, and that book describes the day of our future happiness, our wedding day. It’s not possible to even imagine what that day will be like, except that we will somehow be prepared and adorned, as a bride is adorned for her husband. (Rev. 19)
A 1970s love song from the Carpenters might describe our new life:
“We’ve only just begun, to live, white lace and promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way, we’ve only begun!”
Christianity is not a philosophy. It is certainly not a set of rules and regulations. Nor is it irrelevant or outdated or stale or boring. Those things describe what will be left if we pass up this incredible opportunity.
What inexpressible joy awaits us if we simply step through the gospel door and say yes!