He knew that no man had ever made it through the ordeal. Like an obstacle course through a desert, each hurdle, each almost insurmountable obstacle tested whether he would win the prize that held his heart spellbound. Each day the sun came up and each night it set brought him closer. Nothing could hold him back — neither fire, nor water, nor test after test after test. Like a man in the twilight working feverishly to finish before nightfall, he raced on, drawn by his love for something more precious than life itself.
What was it? Wealth? Fame? Power? Pleasure? Were these what claimed his heart’s energy? Or was it something deeper, longer lasting, something living and eternal? It had to be. For he knew, as men have always known, that once this brief life on earth is over, we face an age so long that no one, not even the wisest among us, can grasp more than a tiny piece of it. Here we live our few short years that make all the difference where we will be forever. If he could complete the ordeal, if he could run the course, then he would not be alone. Others would follow, ones like him who would be with him in that unending future.
On the last day he faced his final obstacle. Death himself had come to test him. Like a scapegoat1 thronged about by those eager to cast their sin upon it, he passed through a gauntlet of his own people, a crowd lining the streets, hurling abuse and scorn and curses. Beyond that came a second, more dreadful torture. All his spiritual enemies had gathered round and formed a gauntlet, too: two long rows of savage beasts armed with long rods, swinging at his back as he passed between them — to break his spirit, to cause him to give up, to drive him to his knees, and into the ground, and down into death.
Like the scapegoat wandering around in the wilderness until thirst or hunger or wild animals killed it, he took the sins of the whole world far away into the fiery darkness in the core of the earth. In that wild landscape he finished the agonizing ordeal. In a tossing sea of volcanic sulfur and molten stone he received the storm of Heaven’s full wrath against sin. Like a helpless victim drowning in the flood, he passed through a suffering too great for us to understand. A universe of hurt and shame, of unpayable injuries and ruined lives, of corruption and perversity was paid for, one crime at a time, in that brief three-day eternity. Finally it ended!
What had given him the strength to go on and on? Love, for certain; only love grants such strength to endure. But wasn’t there something more? Something else that had captured his heart and was the center of all his attention? What could have fascinated him so?2 Who was it?
It could only have been those who would follow him and be like a bride married to him. They were the reason why he felt compelled to die. He wanted to save them from the horrible agony of unending death. He knew that once they heard what he had done for them, they would respond to his love with the same fascination he felt toward them. They would willingly give up everything for his sake — family, career, wealth, ambitions, dreams, comforts, even their very own life and interests.3 This sacrifice, on their part, would come from their genuine response to his sacrifice, and would bring about a new nation of twelve tribes. Though his ordeal is over, hers is yet to come. Through all the labor that will take place, she won’t lose heart, for he is her fascination.