I’m very excited to announce my engagement. Although it happened years ago, and the wedding is likely still years from now, I want you to know all about it. Let me explain.

Several months ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time. As we traveled on a tour bus through various cities and towns, I saw numerous modern homes in what appeared to be unfinished stages of construction. Most were set onto hillsides, with a lower and upper floor completed. Protruding from the walls and roofs were numerous pieces of rebar, ready to hold in place the cement for a not-yet-constructed third floor. We saw a few homes with three floors completed, but the same rebar look on the top of the home. It reminded me of so many neighborhoods I saw in our country after the Great Recession of 2008/09: homes in various stages of construction left unfinished because the buyer or contractor no longer had the funds to complete the project.

Seeing these homes scattered throughout Israel piqued my curiosity. While waiting at one stop for the members of our group to return to the bus, I had the chance to ask our tour guide about this phenomenon.

“In the United States, your goal is to get your adult children to move out of your home, right?”

“Of course,” I replied. “We look forward to that day with great anticipation.”

“That’s not how it works in Israel. Here, the sons are expected to find a nice girl to marry, then move back in with his parents. Most homes are constructed in such a way that additional space can be added later for the son, his wife, and their children. Of course, in Israel, we pay high taxes on the home, so you do not want to build until you actually need the space. In fact, do you want to hear a joke about taxes in Israel?”

“Sure.”

“We say in Israel that one third of the population works, one third pays taxes, and one third serves in the military.” Then, with a slight grin, he said, “And it’s the same one third.”

I laughed. Americans aren’t the only ones who complain about taxes.

“We say in Israel that one third of the population works, one third pays taxes, and one third serves in the military.” Then, with a slight grin, he said, “And it’s the same one third.”

I thanked him for this insight. The next day, our group visited the ancient town of Chorazin. Sometimes spelled Korazim. We see this city mentioned in the Bible, and it’s a place Jesus certainly visited. In this village are the ruins of a third century synagogue, shops, and homes. As we walked through one particular area, I noticed what was once some sort of large building complex. The roof had long been destroyed, and much of the walls were demolished. However, enough of the structure remained to clearly see the numerous rooms all attached to one another. I asked our tour guide about this, and he confirmed my assumption. This custom we’d talked about the day before existed in ancient times as well. A husband and a wife lived in the same complex with his parents, grandparents, and several aunts and uncles. Each of the immediate family members occupied a smaller dwelling connected to other dwellings, with the extended family all residing under one common roof.

As I stood there looking at the ancient ruins of a family compound, I remembered the words of Jesus from John’s Gospel. I’ve spoken these words so often at funerals that I now have them committed to memory.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-6)

My trip to the holy land and further research into the practices of the Israelites during the time of Jesus helped me view the fuller context of this passage. The custom was for a son’s father to choose a bride for his son. I know this sounds archaic and awful to our modern ears, but considering the divorce rate in our society today, we have little room to criticize this ancient precursor to eHarmony. Once the father found a suitable spouse, father and son would travel to the village or town where this girl and her family resided. They then met with the father of the girl and negotiated a price for his daughter. Again, this sounds harshly patriarchal to us, but the payment was more than simply negotiating a fee for this man’s daughter. The father of the bride — and the entire family — would be losing the help she provided to the house. This dowry was to compensate the girl’s family for their loss. The groom and his family would then have the benefit of his bride living with them and her contributions to the needs of their household.

“As I stood there looking at the ancient ruins of a family compound, I remembered the words of Jesus from John’s Gospel. I’ve spoken these words so often at funerals that I now have them committed to memory.”

Therefore, the father of the groom would offer, as compensation for this loss, four goats and a cow. Or three donkeys. Or a couple of young camels. Once negotiated, the groom placed a cup of wine in front of the girl. She would drink this wine, indicating her acceptance of his proposal and making their engagement official. The son and his father then left, letting the bride’s family know that they would return later for the wedding ceremony.

The son then began work on the home where he, his bride, and their future children would live. This construction project happened on his family’s compound, many times his home being directly attached to the home of his father. In most cases, this engaged son was only seventeen or eighteen years old. The father oversaw the construction to ensure it was done correctly, and he would be the one to let the son know when it was completed. Once the father gave his approval, the son and his family would travel back to the bride’s village and loudly announce the arrival of the groom and the imminent wedding ceremony. The bride and groom made their vows, then the entire village would have a great celebration. Afterwards, the groom and his bride traveled home to the place he’d prepared for her. In this place their new life as husband and wife would begin.

“The moment I placed my trust in Jesus as Lord was the day we became engaged.”

Knowing these facts and seeing the ruins of that ancient compound enabled me to actually understand the image Jesus created. He is the groom. The church is the bride. As a part of the church, I’m included in this wedding ceremony. However, I contributed absolutely nothing to make this happen. The groom’s father negotiated a price for me; one that was very costly to the father and the son. The moment I placed my trust in Jesus as Lord was the day we became engaged. It was the day I drank from the cup of wine and accepted the proposal. Now, Jesus is constructing a room for me in his father’s house. It’s a building complex with many rooms because he has a big family. This family of God is wonderful. No dysfunction or crazy uncles making Thanksgiving miserable. In this home, everyone has been made perfect, and life is beautiful. And Jesus is constructing a room for me in his house.

Therefore, when Jesus returns, or I breathe my last breath on this earth (whichever comes first), I get to be part of a great wedding celebration. Jesus will come and throw a big party, then take me home to his perfect, loving family. I get to reside forever in this glorious place.

I now understand why King Solomon proclaimed that for a righteous man, “…the day of death better than the day of birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). That day of my death will be a wonderful wedding day and the beginning of my life in a fabulous new home.

I’m so happy to be engaged. I hope you are as well.

Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor at Northway Church in Macon, Georgia.