Written on the days 19th to the 21st of April 2003

Greater Love

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."

John 12:32 KJV 1611

Perhaps in the whole City of Damnation, there was not one sinner more depraved than I. A whore, thief and murderess, I had every reason to fear the Great Judge more than anyone. Since a very young age I had mocked and transgressed His Law so much that the vilest beggar in the street had more hope of mercy than I.

In my mad frenzy of hatred for the Great Judge and His Son, Immanuel, I would revile and persecute those the Great Judge had sent to warn the people of the City of Damnation to repent, causing many to tremble at their fearsome prophesies of a coming Judgement. All the people of the City of Damnation, they said, would have to stand singly in court before the Great Judge and answer for his or her crimes against his law.

The King of the City of Damnation, Apollyon, would not allow me to listen to the servants of the Great Judge even if I wanted to, for the Great Judge was his hated Enemy, and I was Apollyon's slave. Apollyon would get very angry if any of his slaves listened to the Great Judge or any of His servants.

When angry, Apollyon was terrible to behold. Flames would spurt from his mouth, his eyes would glow evilly and he would inflict dreadful cruelities upon the poor unfortunate who was as unhappy as to arouse his anger. I hated Apollyon with all my heart, but I never dared to disobey or defy one of his commands. Indeed, under his rule, the whole City of Damnation quaked and trembled, however, no-one dared rebel, for to do so would mean instant death.

I myself, would never have grown so wicked had not Apollyon singled me out when I was very young and seduced me into having him as my master. He had told me that if I only allowed him to control me he would give me much pleasure and grandeur. But somehow, I never had the satisfaction I craved. I felt that in some way I had been deceived. Great indeed was the wretchedness of my plight.

After several years in the City of Damnation, I began wondering who it was outside the city who sent so regularly wagonloads of food, drink, clothing and other such necessities. Apollyon tired to make out that they were from him, but I had been his slave long enough to know how very unlike him it would be to give good gifts to the the people of Damnation. For Apollyon hated his people, even more than his people hated him. I felt perfectly sure that the king was lying as usual.

As these gifts were sent to me as much as, and sometimes even more then, the rest of the people, I decided to investigate. I did not inform the king of my plans, for I guessed that Apollyon would instantly forbid such an inquiry.

I noticed, that on the labels of the packages addressed to me, there was first my name, and then the words 'with love from' and a large patch of black beside it as though somebody had inked something out. Under it was the name of Apollyon.

It was conceivable, I thought, that Apollyon had perhaps made an error in signing his name and had therefore inked it out. This may happen on the odd occasion, possibly more than once, but surely not as often as it had? And the labels were all the same. I guessed then that the large patch of ink was another of Apollyon's deceptions. The name of the true sender would be underneath.

Carefully taking the label off the package, I took it into my house. I told the courier to wait at the gate, as I still might have use for him.

I began to try to wash away the black ink from the label. However the more I tried, the blacker the stain seemed to became. I knew then that it was same ink Apollyon used to dye the clothing of the people of Damnation so that nobody could escape into the City of Deliverance and from thence into that most glorious city of all- New Jerusalem where lived the Great Judge and King Immanuel. Nobody could enter the City of Deliverance with a black robe, and the ink dyed so deeply that nobody among us could wash it out.

Then I had an idea. The courier still waited for me at the gate, but he wore a white robe. Perhaps he had discovered how to be rid of the stain? I ran out again and approached him warily, for it was forbidden to us to address the Great Judge's servants, and also I was unsure of how he would react.

"Tell me," I asked coldly. (I would not have him see this as some opportunity to shove his 'religion' down my throat!) "Can you wash the stain from this label?"

"No, I cannot." The courier replied. "No human being can wash away a stain made by that ink."

"But surely," I sneered, "a servant of the Great Judge can wash away a stain made by Apollyon? Is not the Great Judge Ruler over Apollyon? How is it then that His servants cannot wash away a simple stain?" My lip curled contemptuously. "Perhaps your King is not as 'all-powerful' as you make out."

The courier eyed me steadily. He did not seem abashed by the scorn with which I regarded him. "My King is all-powerful," he said. "But I am just His servant. Only Immanuel can wash away this sort of stain. He can also," he added slowly, "wash away the stain on your dress, so that you may leave this City of Damnation and go to live in the City of Deliverance which you cannot otherwise enter."

"I did not ask you to shove your religion down my throat!" I snapped. "I already have a city, and I already have a king. Our Apollyon, king over the City of Damnation is a far better king than your King Immanuel, King of the City of Deliverance and New Jerusalem. Why should I ask Him to wash away the stain? Why should I even desire to live in the City of Deliverance or New Jerusalem when those cities are ruled by the Person I hate above anyone else? His Father, the Great Judge, by His Law has condemned me to the worst death imaginable. Because I disobeyed this Law, which was impossible for me to keep, I am to be stripped naked of my clothing, whipped cruelly and crucified! King Immanuel has often claimed to be one and the same with His Father and I shall have nothing to do with Him. Apollyon has promised me security from your King as long as I am under his protection. I am not about to exchange him for a King who will kill me the first chance He gets, and I have not the slightest intention of asking King Immanuel for favours- indeed, I would rather die!"

"I am sorry," the courier said sadly, "because you will die. Unless-"

"Enough of this!" I shouted. "All I wish to know is who it is that sends us these things from outside the city. I am NOT interested in King Immanuel and I forbid you to speak of Him."

"Then I cannot tell you who it is that sends these packages," the courier responded.

"Do you know who sent them?" I asked eagerly.

"Everyone who lives in the City of Deliverance knows who sends you these gifts," was the reply.

"Tell me." I demanded the courier.

"You will not like my answer." The courier answered, with a keen glance.

"I do not care! I am desirous of knowing." I cried rashly. "Tell me immediately!"

"It is the same who has so far delayed your execution and judgement because of His great love for you- it is King Immanuel."

For a long moment I stared at the courier in amazement and disbelief, but I knew that a servant of the Judge would never lie. Hissing instructions to remain where he was, I ran back into the house. Bringing all King Immanuel's gifts together into a pile, I made some certain alterations, then, tight-lipped and white with fury I marched back outside and threw the vandalised treasures down at the shocked courier's feet.

"Take these," I said, trembling with rage. "Back to your King. You may inform Him that this-" I waved my hands towards the mangled gifts "- is what I think of His favours and that I want no more of them. Tell Him," I continued icily "that until now I have not wilfully broken any of His Laws but that now I shall have the greatest pleasure in doing so, as well as in teaching others to follow my example. You may go!" The courier started to protest but I had turned upon my heel and gone back up the pathway into a now somewhat empty house. Strangely enough, I felt inclined to cry.

But from then on, I was one of King Immanuels most fanatical opposers. I did not content myself with merely breaking His Laws, but in my blind, unreasonable rage I encouraged those around me to emulate my actions. Now I was the first to pick up large handfuls of filth from the streets and throw them at the followers of the Great Judge. I carefully trained my followers, until I was the gang-leader of a band especially chosen for such acts. I became notorious for every kind of sinful living- so much so that even my fellow citizens of Destructions would draw their skirts aside when I passed. It was also one of my greatest joys to shout curses and insults at King Immanuel and His servants. Sometimes, I would secretly draw some of the servants aside and seduce them into betraying their Prince, knowing that this would grieve Immanuel most deeply. Unfortunately, in many cases I succeeded only too well. I rapidly became the most infamous woman in the entire City of Damnation.

But I was miserable. The bitter satisfaction I got from my crimes was exactly that- bitter. There was no sweetness or joy in life and I was lonely, terribly so. Also, there was the constant dread of the time when I would pay for my actions. I tossed and turned every night in a fruitless effort to get to sleep. Sometimes I did not even try to sleep, but instead lay awake all night, weeping bitterly. These nights especially I became acutely aware of a deep heartsick yearning I could not identify. I know now that it stemmed from a lack of love. My execution day was coming and I knew within myself that there was no hope of escape. I knew also, that when it did come- I would deserve everything I got.

It was nearly a year later that King Apollyon called me up to his palace. I was expecting this because my exploits against King Immanuel were now so infamous that I knew King Apollyon would surely have heard of them. Indeed, my only surprise was that he had not called me up immediately after my conversation with the courier. He would have heard about it almost as soon as I'd finished speaking through his large network of spies that spread out through the entire city.

But now I had received the summons and I was to go up to his palace at four o'clock in the afternoon...

Apollyon greeted me with a smile. "My dear girl," he crooned. "It is a pleasure indeed to see you. May I congratulate you upon the great work which you have achieved in this city and the tremendous grief which you have inflicted upon our hated Enemy? You do not know how much pleasure you have given me."

"It was an honour, your Majesty." I responded reverently. "I am very glad to hear that my actions have grieved the Enemy. But I am surprised. I would have expected the Enemy to be angered by my actions- not grieved."

"But my dear child," King Apollyon replied soberly. "He is angry- extremely angry. So much so that right now He is plotting His terrible revenge upon you. But you need not fear," he smiled reassuringly, "as long as you are under my protection He cannot harm you."

I wondered at this. The Great Judge and His Son were all-powerful, and what's more, they were Apollyon's rulers. Also, I had heard that Apollyon could do nothing without the Great Judge's consent. The servants of the Great Judge were known for their honesty, especially when speaking of their King. Who was telling the truth?

"You have done so much for me, my child," King Apollyon was saying, "that I have decided to reward you with some good news." He laughed as if in gleeful anticipation.

"Good news, sir?"

"Yes, my girl. A piece of very excellent and good news! Are you not going to ask me what this piece of very good and excellent news is?" I had never seen him so joyful. The news must surely be happy!

"Your Majesty, what is this piece of very good and excellent news?" I asked eagerly.

"The news is," he gurgled. "That tomorrow you are going to be crucified!" At this he fairly fell off his throne with his glee while I remained kneeling on the floor, stunned.

"Your Majesty must surely be joking!" I spluttered.

"Oh, it is no joke," said King Apollyon, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

"But this is impossible! You said that you would protect me! You promised me that while I was your slave no harm would come to me!"

"I know," Apollyon chuckled, "but I lied."

"You lied?" I faltered.

"Yes, I lied! And tomorrow, at dawn, you will be executed!"

"You said I was to be rewarded!" I protested, believing the whole thing to be some kind of terrible nightmare.

King Apollyon leaned forward in his throne, his evil eyes gleaming. "This is your reward! It is the eventual reward to all my followers, and tomorrow, you will realize afresh, with each blush of shame and spasm of agony that you earned every part of it."

"But I trusted you!" I cried. The true horror of my situation was beginning to dawn upon my stricken senses.

King Apollyon burst into a roar of laughter. "I know." He giggled at last. Clapping his hands he ordered the guards to take me away to a cell he had prepared for me. "See to it she does not escape!" He snarled. For the first time I realized how stupid I had been. King Apollyon hated me. I had not earned his favour. Even now his bloodthirsty nature was thirsting for my excruciating punishment.

The guards jostled me roughly out of the palace and down to where my house used to stand. Only, now it no longer was a house, but in some way, it had transformed itself into a prison. Around it were all the people of the City of Damnation and it was not long until I and the guards were spotted. The crowd began to catcall and jeer. Some of the people had rotten eggs and fruit which they threw with only too good an aim. Heartsick, I recognised members of my old gang among the crowd. Even they had turned against me! Poetic justice is often made a joke of, but I was not laughing as I was thrust into the prison cell which had formerly been the house Apollyon had given me. The heavy metal door clanged shut, and I was left alone with my thoughts. King Apollyon himself could not have provided worse company.

Until then, I had been too stunned to cry, but, as the realization of the full extent of my hopelessness burst upon me, the tears began to flow. I cursed and swore terribly as I railed helplessly at a world that had betrayed my confidence. Fool was I to ever trust King Apollyon! I had believed that my actions had endeared me to him, but instead I had achieved nothing but to hasten my judgement and make my penalty the greater. Too late now I realized the folly of my reply to the courier. I should have gone to King Immanuel. I should have thrown myself at His feet and pleaded for mercy. His servants were fond of boasting of His tremendous compassion on the penitent. However I had not gone, and the consequences were mine to bear.

I was without hope. I could not ask for mercy after the shameful way I had treated King Immanuel and His servants, and King Apollyon had completely betrayed the trust I had placed in him. The band of which I had considered myself leader were now completely arrayed against me, my family had long ago disowned any relationship, and all my friends had become enemies in a single afternoon. King Apollyon always declared a holiday while there was an execution. My death would be nothing more than an excuse for these people to entertain themselves at my expense. I well knew how it would be- I had been among the crowd at public executions often enough myself, partaking in the revelry, and laughing at the anguished screams of the victims.

It was a long and sleepless night...

I was puzzled, nay, bewildered. It was now nearly noon and nobody had come to fetch me. I had heard the mob at dawn, and had shrunk back into the corner of the cell, expecting any second for the door to open, and that I would be taken. To my surprise, however, the crowd had passed on and from that hour to this I had seen and heard nothing. Had something happened? Why had I been forgotten? I should have gone out for my execution hours before, and King Apollyon never tolerated delay. The suspense was nerve-racking, and when I felt a gentle touch upon my shoulder, I let out a cry of terror.

"Fear not. Behold, I bring thee good tidings," a voice said soothingly.

Trembling I turned and beheld what seemed to me like a thirty-three year old male dressed in a dazzlingly white raiment.

"Who are you?" I asked, trying in vain to keep my voice steady. "What is it that you want of me?"

"I am the angel of the Lord," the man replied. "I have a message to deliver, and I am to show you something."

"You mean that you are from King Immanuel, the Great Judge?" I was shaking with fear. So this was why King Apollyon had waited, it was to let King Immanuel Himself perform the crucifixion as His revenge. King Immanuel must have sent the angel to fetch me. Had I been calmer I would have realized that this did not fit in with what the angel had just told me.

The angel, sensing my thoughts spoke again, "Fear not. I am from the Lamb, your Substitute."

"What do you mean?" In spite of the angel's gentleness, or perhaps because of it, I began to tremble more violently than ever. Somehow the words 'your Substitute' gave me hope.

"I mean," the angel said kindly, "that the Lamb has taken your place."

"What do you mean 'taken my place'?!! What are you saying? You can't mean that someone has..." I broke off, tears stinging my eyes. What I had been about to say was impossible. Nobody loved me anyway, let alone like that!

This time the angel left no room for doubt. "The Lamb volunteered to pay for your crimes in your stead. At this very moment He is dying for you."

I stared at the angel in open disbelief. Someone was dying for me? "It can't be! Nobody loves me that much!"

"The Lamb does." The angel responded.

"But you do not know who I am- what I have done! You must have made a mistake! I am a criminal, a-"

"I know." The angel interrupted. "We must go. There is little time left."

I began to protest again, but the angel of the Lord took me firmly by the hand and led me out of the prison, through the city gate, and up to the execution hill- known to many as the 'Golgotha' or 'The Place of the Skull.'

I shook in a sudden, dreadful apprehension as I saw the well-known silhouette of that most terrible of all torture instruments- a cross, up upon the summit. All the people of the City of Damnation had gathered around and I saw that King Apollyon was also there with the people from the palace. They were all mocking the figure hanging on the cross and shouting up insults so foul that even I felt sickened and longed to cover up my ears. The figure on the cross, however, was silent.

The angel had stopped, then turning to me said, "Up there is your Substitute. This is what I was told to show you. It is up to you to decide whether you will investigate further. I have done all that I have been commanded to do." He turned and vanished into the crowd.

I stood for a moment undecided. Such emotions were surging through my breast as I had never felt before. Somebody loved me in spite of my wickedness. Someone was bearing my shame, had tasted the lash that should have fallen upon my back, and was even now, of His own choice, writhing in agony upon a cross- a cross that was meant for me. Somehow, I must have already made my decision, for I was suddenly aware that I was making my way up the hill to the foot of the cross. Around me the crowd fell silent.

I was now directly beneath the figure that had such a strong compulsion over me that it had caused me to defy my own wishes by coming. I stood there, with my head bowed. I could not- would not- look up. But again I felt that strange compulsion I was powerless to resist.

The body was horribly mutilated. Spikes were driven into both hands and feet. I could see the terrible wounds they had inflicted and the pain the Victim must have felt while they were driven in must have been immense. Someone had woven a crown of thorns and jammed it hard down upon the Sufferer's head. The thorns bit deeply into the skin and caused blood to run down a face which had already been bruised by rough and cruel blows and cut by the whip. But that was not all. The lash was made out of strips of leather which had bits of bone and other sharp objects embedded in them. These had sliced open the skin, leaving large gashes in their wake. I was only vaguely conscious that tears were slipping down my cheeks. Who, in the whole City of Damnation could love me enough to endure this- when a word could have cancelled the entire thing and it would be as if He had never volunteered? Unless... the Man was not from the City of Damnation at all.

A sudden premonition caused me to look up. The Sufferer's eyes were open and He was looking right at me and I saw in them a world of such love and tenderness that could only be divine. Cut to my heart, I sank to my knees, my mind whirling with the intensity of the shock. It couldn't be- it couldn't be- not King Immanuel!!

But it was. This was He Whom I had mercilessly mocked and insulted. This was He Whose gifts I had so heartlessly spurned, and He Whose commandments I had broken without a compunction! Again, my soul cried out that it couldn't be- it couldn't be- my wits were deceiving me. But there was no denying the plain, unaltered fact- it was.

In the threefold anguish of heart, mind and spirit I cried out the only thing possible to me. "My Lord and my God!" And above me, through King Immanuel's cracked and bleeding lips came the blessed words, "Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee."

Thankyou, Lord Jesus.