Friday, February 12, 2010

The Lovely Bride

You probably are acutely aware of all the pink and red decorating many of our stores. Yes, Valentine's Day is upon us yet again. I have been thinking a lot about what it represents, and what we can learn. It occurred to me that many of us preachers will preach timely messages on Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Easter, and even Christmas. Yet, when it come to Valentine's Day, we usually pass that one over. I had to ask myself the question, "why?"

I can't speak for others, but I think the answer for myself is that this seems too worldly to merit preaching a message related to it. But is God completely silent on the themes this day brings to us? You can't avoid it. The commercials, the decorations in the stores, the parties in school, the gifts at the office, and many other things confront us whether we like it or not.

We are talking about romantic love. Why do we Christians avoid that topic so much at church and in religious settings? Is it completely worldly? Is it ungodly? Does the Bible condemn it? Maybe the Bible ignores it? I think what we will find it that it is far from worldly. In fact, it is a reflection of our God. God is love. When I say love, I am not talking about the little miniature fat guy that goes around shooting people with arrows. That is almost too cute for my taste. In fact, it can make romantic love seem almost silly or frivolous. What I am talking about is the special love a man and a woman have for each other. The love a man and woman have for each other is part of God's design from the very beginning when he saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

If you have never read the Song of Solomon, which is really titled the "Song of Songs" in the first chapter, which means "The Best of Songs," then you are missing out on the best love poetry ever written. The whole book is a love poem between a betrothed couple, who later appear to have gotten married. It is romantic, sensual and is part of the word of God. The couple refers to each other as the "one whom my soul loves." It speaks of being faint with love. It describes the admiration for and the delight they have in each other. In poetically describes the precious beauty that they see in each other. Some people have had a real problem with taking this book literally, as if romantic love poetry is not worthy of scripture. As a result, they interpret it as an allegory of God's love for his bride Israel or as an allegory of Christ's love for the church. But that doesn't eliminate the fact that it is still romantic love poetry. If it were merely figurative of God's love for us, the conclusion is still the same. Romantic love is not worldly but comes from God. In fact, if it were figurative, then the case is even stronger that romantic love is godly, good, and beautiful. It is a reflection of the love that God has for us. Imagine that! God describing is love for his people in romantic love poetry! However, I think we should take it as what it is. It is simply beautiful and romantic love poetry.

Romantic love does not originate from the world. It comes from the God of love. In fact, all throughout the Bible, God presents himself as the greatest lover of all. God fondly recalls the early days of his marriage to his bride, Israel. Look at this scripture:

"Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine," declares the Lord GOD. Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you," declares the Lord GOD" (Ezek 16:8-14).

God loves his bride passionately. He showered all of the symbols of his love on her. Nothing was too good for her. God is the lover of lovers. When God loves, he loves passionately, and with passionate love can come intense anger, fury, and pain when the one whom your soul loves is unfaithful to you. Notice what happens next in this passage:

"But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing. You took some of your clothes, made for yourself high places of various colors and played the harlot on them, which should never come about nor happen. You also took your beautiful jewels {made} of My gold and of My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images that you might play the harlot with them..." (Ezek 16:15-17).

And God continues for many more verses describing how his bride was unfaithful to him using the very jewels, clothes, and other things God gave to her. It was as if his bride had committed adultery in their own bed! After going into more details about how he beloved was unfaithful to him, he concludes:

"Thus I will judge you like women who commit adultery or shed blood are judged; and I will bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy. I will also give you into the hands of your lovers, and they will tear down your shrines, demolish your high places, strip you of your clothing, take away your jewels, and will leave you naked and bare. They will incite a crowd against you and they will stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. They will burn your houses with fire and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women. Then I will stop you from playing the harlot, and you will also no longer pay your lovers" (Ezek 16:38-41).

Do you think God is angry? Of course! Wouldn't you be angry and hurt if the one your soul loves cheated on you? In fact, many of us would divorce our spouse in a heartbeat. But God does no such thing. In his passionate, relentless, undying love, God does not close the book on his beloved bride. His love never dies. Notice:

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her (or "woo" her), Bring her into the wilderness And speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. It will come about in that day," declares the LORD, "That you will call Me Ishi And will no longer call Me Baali" (Hos 2:14-16).

Maybe some of the flavor of this is lost in translation. God woos his bride back to him after a period of anger and wrath. He puts a song in her heart again. In that day, she will no longer call him "Ba-ali," which translated means "my Lord." No longer will God be "my Lord," but "Ishi," which means "my husband." Do you see the kind of love that God has for his bride?

In fact, one of the final pictures we have in scripture of the consummation of God's plan is that of a marriage feast. In Revelation 19:7-9, God uses the image of a wedding to describe the time when his heart's desire will be fulfilled. We, God's people, are the bride, and he is eagerly anticipating that wedding day when we will be together forever.

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God'" (Rev 19:7-9).

In the next scene is the arrival of the groom. But it is unlike anything you have ever seen. Notice:

"And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS" (Rev 19:11-16).

The groom comes riding in on a white horse. His robe is dipped in blood, his own blood. Jesus died and was willing to go to Hades and back for his bride. Even though she has been unfaithful, he will come riding in, swoop her up on his steed and ride off into Heaven with her arms around his waist. Yes, Jesus loves his bride with an undying love.

You know, love does strange things. It makes people look past the warts and the rough edges. Sometimes people will say, "I just don't understand what he sees in her!" Maybe she is a "Plain Jane" with several flaws. Maybe she is overweight. Maybe her hair is stringy. Maybe her clothes are out of style. Maybe she is mismatched. Maybe her nose is too big. Maybe she is nothing to look at. Maybe she is a mess. But to her man she is the most beautiful thing in the world. Love causes him to look past those things to see who she really is.

Isn't that what God does? He looks past all of our rough edges, all of our filth, all of the ugliness in us. He sees what we can truly become. They say that "true love is blind." I disagree with this. Oh, I know that there can be the star struck person who is no longer capable of thinking with good judgment, but that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about true love. True love is not unaware of the flaws, the warts, and the dirt. Instead, true love looks beyond these things. Listen carefully to this passage:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also {does} the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church" (Eph 5:25-32).

You see, our Savior's love for us was anything but blind. Jesus was acutely aware of the blemishes in us. He didn't turn away. He dealt with it. Why? Because of his unfailing love for us. He looked past those things to see how precious you are. You, who have been created in the image of God, are the crown of God's creation. You are his jewel and his joy. You were created as a thing of beauty and glory. Sin corrupted it, but he looked past the corruption to see you. He sanctified and cleansed you by the washing of water with the word. He purified you with his own blood. Now, you have no spot, or wrinkle, or any other such thing. He gave you a spiritual makeover.

If someone says, "I just don't understand what he sees in her," then consider what we have just looked at in this reflection. What he sees is the beauty of God in her. There is no greater beauty that this. In fact, there is no beauty other than this. The love that God has for us is the model for the love that a husband and a wife have for each other.

All of this is simply to point out that romantic love does not come from Hallmark. It does not belong to Hollywood or anything else of the world. In fact, the world usually twists and distorts the beauty of true romantic love. Romantic love comes ultimately from the God of love. We need to discard the attitude that romantic love is something worldly and not worthy of scripture.

Christians are not frigid prudes that do not know what love is. Christians are passionate people full of life that comes from the giver of life. Remember this, the next time your anniversary comes up, or the next time your beloved's birthday comes, or just when you are on your way home. We serve a God full of passionate love, and nothing is godlier when you display the same passionate love of God toward the one whom your soul loves.

We will conclude with a story that appeared in the newspapers a few years ago.

Early in 2005, John Phipps got called to work early. He boarded a train to work and went to sleep. He was jerked awake and saw smashed bits of train all over the place and a mist falling on his face. It dawned in him that he had just been in a bad train wreck. He touched the back of his head and found it bloodied. He was also bleeding below the waist. He called out for help, but no one was there. He reached out and felt a chair and saw his bloody handprint he left behind. The realization hit him: he was going to die. Without thinking, he scrawled a message on the back of that chair with his own blood. It read, "I (heart) Leslie." There was more room, so he wrote, "I (heart) my kids."

When rescuers arrived, they saw the message. Fire Captain Robert Rosario said, "I have seen some gruesome things on this job, but that moved me." Phipps was rescued and taken to the hospital. Leslie Phipps said she does not remember how she first learned about the message, but a nurse gave the family a photo that appeared in the paper. "Hallmark is never going to top this," she said. "It's moving, it's thoughtful and it's chilling all at the same time."

A dying man writing a message of love with blood is a moving one. But there is another
moving love story written in blood. Jesus expressed his love for a lost world in blood. You see, due to sin, we were separated from God. But God didn't close the book on you. Jesus came and died on a cross to take away that sin, and rose from the grave to take away the power of death (2 Cor 5:15; 1 Thess 4:14). Imagine, Jesus, the creator and sustainer of the world (Col 1:15-17), became a man, became flesh like us (Jn 1:1-3; 1:14; Heb 2:14). He was able to bleed. He died a painful, humiliating death on a cross as a common criminal. His blood drained from his body. His very life left his body. He died for our sins (1 Cor 15:1-4). Sins are what has come between us and God (Isa 59:2). Sin has affected all of us. None of us are without sin (Rom 3:23). Because of sin, all of us were separated from God and at the mercy of death (James 1:15). But Jesus defeated sin by dying for our sins on the cross (1 Pet 2:24). He defeated death by raising from the grave (Rom 6:9; 1 Cor 15:20-23).

Now, the only thing that can stand between you and God is you. God wants you to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess your faith in Jesus as your risen Lord (Rom 10:9). He wants you to turn your life around serve him and no one else. He wants you to be godly in all things, to change. The Bible calls this reprentance (2 Pet 3:9; Rom 2:4-5; Luke 13:3). He wants you to be baptized (Acts 2:38). Notice this passage:

"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;for he who has died is freed from sin" (Rom 6:3-7).

According to this, when you are baptized, you are baptized into his death, you are buried with him, and raised to walk in a new life. His death is where he shed his blood and died. When we are baptized into his death, his death becomes our own death. His blood becomes ours and it washes away our sins. According to what the passage says, that body of sin is done away with. That sin that separates you from God is destroyed. You are freed from it.

If you have not done these things, you are still separated from God and are lost. If the Lord were to come right now, or if you were to die to today, you would not go to be with the Lord but be in complete misery in Hell. God doesn't want that for you. So, if you need to do any of these things, then don't wait.