[The following is a work of fiction. The everyday man’s resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is merely coincidental. The stranger’s resemblance is another matter. -JMS]
There once lived an everyday man in the everyday land that everyone else lived in. It was the only land he or anyone else had ever known. Inside the boundaries of the everyday land there was so much to live for, or so most everyone said.
Around the edge of the everyday land fell steep cliffs. From below these cliffs rose a thick mist. There was no safe way to climb down the cliffs, no way to see the bottom, and no way to see if any lands were beyond the mist. There were rumors of other lands: one which was blissful, and the other one, wretched. But the everyday man had long ago stopped thinking about such rumors.
What the man did know was that at some point in his life, just like everyone else, he would slowly or suddenly be drawn to the cliffs and vanish into the mist. People had many names for this common yet disturbing occurrence. But the simplest name for it, and the most honest one, was Death.
As a rule, the man stayed near the central part of the land. That’s where most people spent most of their effort trying to better their lives. The man found that he could improve his status quite well; he had a knack for recognizing and seizing opportunity when it came his way. But even though he had made his life quite comfortable, he could not seem to remove the perpetual unrest in his soul. Real peace and lasting happiness eluded him.
But that was before he met the extraordinary stranger.
He met the stranger through an odd set of circumstances. The man had noticed that the stranger always seemed to hang around one of his friends. One day, the man was in the company of this particular friend (whom the man found to be happier than most). The man then decided to take a walk, intending to be alone with his thoughts. The stranger fell into step beside him.
“Mind my company?” asked the stranger.
“Not at all,” said the man, wanting to be polite.
So they set out, and the man found he had ample time to think, for the stranger said nothing for a long time. As they continued in silence, the man began to unwittingly follow the footsteps of the stranger. Suddenly, the man looked up and realized they had left familiar territory, and were actually nearing the cliffs and the dreaded mist.
The man was both alarmed and annoyed. Everyone knew it was not polite to wander this way. He was about to open his mouth to suggest to the stranger that they turn back. But just then the stranger pointed outward, to where the edge of the cliffs and the beginning of the mist could clearly be seen.
“Do you see it?” he asked.
The man looked out. Suddenly the mist where he was gazing seemed to thin a little, and he did see something. Despite his loathing of the mist, the man took a few steps closer. He could plainly see it: a huge column rising up out of the mist, far past the edge of the cliff. The column was in the shape of a cross. Leading up to it, from the cliff’s edge to the foot of the cross, was a long narrow bridge.
“I know what this is,” said the man. “I’ve heard people talk about it. In fact…” He turned to the stranger. “Our friend talks about this. He was talking about this when we left. This is Christianity.”
“So you know about the cross.”
“I’ve heard the story. God’s Son Jesus came to earth, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead. It’s fine for some people. But it doesn’t help me.”
“Why not?” asked the stranger.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t see how this cross helps me find peace with God or happiness in life. Besides, why is it standing way out here? If you hadn’t led me here, I never would have found it.”
The stranger smiled. “That’s true.”
The man appeared not to hear this note of agreement. “It seems to me,” the man continued, “If God is so great and really cares about all of us, then he wouldn’t shroud himself in this mist and only provide us this narrow bridge to reach him.”
“Well,” said the stranger. “You’ve got it a bit backwards. And it’s a more complicated situation than you know.”
The man wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. He looked at the stranger’s face and saw no intrigue or deception, only sincerity. He looked back at the cross and the mist wafting over the bridge.
“Once there were no cliffs, and no mist either,” the stranger explained. “The land of God and humans were joined. It was because of human rebellion that God separated them from himself and shielded them from his holiness.” The stranger pointed towards the cliffs. “A good thing too. If he had not, then all humans would have been destroyed.”
“Destroyed. By what?”
“Not by what. By whom. By a perfect holy God, who must judge the wrongs of all human beings. The cliffs and the mist provide protection, but only for a while.”
The man’s jaw tightened. “And after that?”
“Death. And hell. But God doesn’t want that for you.”
“And to avoid that, I suppose, I need to start living for God. I’m supposed to leave all I’ve known and go walk over that bridge.”
“No?” The man looked back at the stranger. “But that’s what our friend does. He goes to church, reads his Bible, and actually tries to live by what it says.”
“I’m glad you noticed.” The stranger smiled with satisfaction. “He wasn’t always that way.”
“Did you have something to do with that?”
“Yes. I brought him out here and showed him the cross. I showed him that the Son of God suffered the wrath of God for all his sin, which bridged the gap between him and God. When he finally understood that, he took my hand and I’ve been with him ever since. Now he wants to obey God, and I give him the power to do so.”
The man didn’t need to ask. He knew who the stranger was. He looked back at the bridge. “Are you asking me to walk over that bridge, and give my life away?”
“Well, let me ask you a question. Why do you think I built the bridge?”
“I suppose it was so that we could find our way back to God, if we wanted to.”
“No one wants to find God on their own. Anyway, I didn’t build the bridge so that you could come find me. I built the bridge so that I could come find you.”
The man turned back to the stranger, and he saw that Jesus had stepped towards him and extended his hand. The man looked back at the cross, and suddenly he understood. He looked back at Jesus, and took his hand.
* * * * *
It had been many years since the man met Jesus. He felt that his real life had started that day. Over the years, he tried to tell others about what Jesus had done for him. He heard that a few of them had met Jesus. He wondered if any others had done the same.
Now the man had reached the end of his life, and he was once again by the cliffs, this time at the edge. He was staring into the mist which was swirling thick in front of his face. To everyone back in the everyday land, he would vanish just like all the others.
But the man looked beside him and saw Jesus, and he was not afraid. He looked ahead, and he saw the bridge extending into the mist. He couldn’t see the cross. But he knew it was there. And he knew it would bear him safely to the other side, where there was light and joy and life with God forever. Jesus stepped forward, and the man walked beside him, and they disappeared as one into the mist.