Monday, March 19, 2012

"Love Stories"


I read an article once about “Five Things to Do if You Want a Happy Marriage.” Good, solid legalism! Then I thought of five truths to BELIEVE if you want a happy marriage. This week let’s look at “Seven Memorable Marriages” in the Bible, each of which will give us a punch line truth that is the basis of happiness in marriage. Of course, #1 has to be the marriage of Adam and Eve. How happy they were the Bible doesn’t say, but for sure they were together far longer than any of us, and they never divorced. In each of these memorable marriages I find some key principle which, if you will believe it, can bring healing and stability to your marriage. I find that key principle in Gen. 2:22 where we read that “the Lord God . . . brought [Eve] unto Adam.” Now, I am not being fanatical: I am not saying that you should lie down and go to sleep and then the Lord will-presto-bring you a beautiful wife all ready to be yours. No, the common-sense idea is that you ask for, you wait for, you trust, you appreciate, the Lord’s leading the two of you together. And Jesus comments on Adam and Eve when he says, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6). The glue that will hold a married couple together is not their exercise of strong will power, to clinch their fists and grit their teeth and say “I will be true no matter how horrible this is!” No, the glue is their conviction, their faith, that “God hath joined [them] together,” that “the Lord God brought [them]” together. Of course, as a part of that confidence is the faith that not only does God exist, but “He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). You must believe that He is a loving heavenly Father who has in mind above all else your true happiness; and in His infinite wisdom He sees and knows that your true happiness lies with your being faithful to “the wife [husband] of thy youth.” (Mal. 2:14). Such faith can work miracles and can even transform what the devil makes you think is purgatory into happy matrimony.
Memorable marriage #2 has to be that of Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis. God called Abraham to be our example in faith—he was to be “the father of the faithful.” And his wife was to share that honor of prestige in faith. Their marriage was to result in seven grand blessings for the world, most of all, that “in thee shall all families [homes, marriages] of the earth be blessed [made happy]” (12:2, 3). But their own happiness turned out to be a long time coming. So long, in fact, that both husband and wife thought the only way they’d find it was to break their marriage vows—that is, to let a third party in on their marriage.
In that marriage of Abraham and Sarah you have all the elements that make for alienation and divorce as we know it today: (a) disappointment with the marriage and with each other; (b) a wife who is bitter and alienated and angry with God (read Gen. 16:2); (c) a husband who is all too ready to grab the excuse to find some happiness in the “other woman” (read vs. 4, how he “went in” to Hagar, the comely younger woman). But the happiness and personal fulfillment still didn’t come. In fact, read the story and you’ll find they waited 25 years before they could realize the married happiness they had been wanting and felt that God had promised them. Then the blessing finally came with the birth of Isaac, just in time to save them from the bitterness that old-age marriage failure always brings:
(1) Abraham humbly repented of his sin—which was more than mere lust; his sin was the darker one of unbelief (faith makes it impossible to yield to the temptations of lust); (2) Sarah repented of her anger against God because Heb 11:11 says that “through faith Sarah received strength [finally!] to conceive.” The punch line of truth in this memorable marriage is: BELIEVE the promise that God gave you of happiness in your marriage, and that believing will give you endurance and a rich reward that indulgence with a third party could never bring you.
If you’re married, the story is beautiful to think about again; if you’re not married, it will do your soul good to consider how the God of heaven brought Isaac and Rebekah together for what was the happiest marriage we read about in the Bible, memorable marriage #3. The fantastic story is in Genesis 24. In vs. 3 we find the guiding principle—Isaac purposed not to marry someone who is an unbeliever. In verse 7 we find the principle truth to believe—the Lord sends His angel on ahead to guide the choice to the right girl for Isaac, and to reveal who she is. Verse 8 makes clear that this is not Calvinist predestination, for God never forces two people to marry against their own free will. Verses 10-14 reveal how the Lord hears earnest prayer for guidance, that the one who prays may have discernment to recognize the true, beneath-the-surface character of the person to whom he/she thinks he may link his life. What a pity to marry someone who looks nice on the outside but who isn’t, on the inside! And Rebekah passes the test beautifully, demonstrating in vss 15-20 what a truly unselfish character she is. Then another principle is made clear in vs. 21, even now take your time; think; don’t rush. Verse 16 states a wonderful truth that makes for happiness in the marriage yet to come—both Rebekah and Isaac are virgins when they are married. Verses 32-50 make clear another element of happiness in marriage: the good will of the in-laws to be. “Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the Lord.” They know that the Lord is leading this young couple. A solid foundation for happiness! Vss. 57, 58 make clear that the Lord wants the girl to be absolutely free and clear in her own mind what to do-no coercion of any kind. Love can never be forced; it must only be won. Vs. 65 tells us something most unusual to this age—Rebekah is modest, even after she is engaged to Isaac. And then last of all, in vs. 67, and best of all, we read, “Isaac loved her.” Chapter 26:8 gives a tantalizing glimpse of the lasting love they knew as a married couple. Memorable marriage indeed! May yours be so!
The Bible tells of one memorable marriage that was built on a platform of sin. And yet God blessed it! Perhaps taking a brief look can encourage some perplexed people who must look back on a sordid past and wonder if God can ever bless their marriage. Take a look at the marriage of David and Bathseheba. It was the totally wrong way to do anything: Bathsheba apparently enticed David; he lusted, used his position to seduce her (surely, a double sin!); then murdered her husband in order to cover it up (“Davidgate,” now a triple sin or crime); then brazenly married Bathsheba, as though nothing had happened. Bad, all the way around. It would be difficult to make a worse mess. So, “goodbye, God’s blessings?” No, there’s still grace.
There’s one little smidgeon of goodness left in David. We read that after the murder of her husband and the rebuke of prophet Nathan and the death of their baby boy, “David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in to her” (2 Sam. 12:24). There was nothing David could do to make restitution to Uriah her husband, or to her; but he could have ditched Bathsheba to get her out of his life and go after someone else and left her to sorrow forever. No, he’d made a bad bargain, but he remained loyal. He had ruined her marriage by doing away with her husband, now he chose not to ruin her life by abandoning her. I remember reading of wise counsel given by someone who knew the Lord, about a man who had wrecked several women’s lives and had finally ended up with # so-and-so and the church members wanted him to get rid of her and go back to #1. This counselor said that he had already ruined several women’s lives; now don’t urge him to ruin another one’s. Let him stay where he was! David and Bathsheba had a shameful beginning; but they ended up giving Solomon to the world. That shouldn’t encourage us to follow David’s sin; it should encourage us to emulate his repentance.
Have you ever heard the story of the memorable marriage (#5) that fell apart because God told the man to marry a bad woman in the first place? It’s in the Bible. God actually told His prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 3:1). How could such a marriage not fall apart? And of course the lady Gomer played her husband false. He was forced to watch her flirt with other men in his presence. And then the flirting became outright adultery. She had no excuse, for the record is clear that Hosea was not a bad husband; he gave Gomer all her heart could wish for. She was just plain faith-less. “Infidelity” is the word. And there was nothing the grieving husband cxould do but wait. The problem was that he actually loved this woman! In fact, there was no other woman in the world that could take her place, for him. The modern way is that if your true love is betrayed, you chuck it and grab someone else. Hosea’s heart was gold, and he was captive to his love for her, the kind of love that Paul says “never faileth” (1 Cor. 13:8). So, what could Hosea do? Just . . . suffer. Well, the time came that her lovers inevitably demonstrated their faith-less-ness, leaving Gomer to end up a miserable wreck in the slave market (ch. 3:2). Hosea bought her for a paltry sum, was nice to her, and miracle of miracles, won her love and helped her find repentance. (I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a case in real life). Before Hosea could “save” a soul, he had to start from scratch and “build” a soul-to be saved.
They finally walk off the Bible stage hand in hand, in love forever, the memorable marriage of the ages. And how could Hosea, sinner though he was by nature, have ever been able so to love a loveless, faithless woman? He learned how from the God of Israel, who is the same as our Saviour of the world. Gomer is Israel. And Israel is “we.” There is enough in this story to keep you and me studying, praying, pondering, repenting, for a lifetime, yes, for eternity.
There is one memorable marriage in the Bible that no one seems to talk about: that is the marriage of Joseph and Mary. If there is a punch line of wisdom in which we can sum up the lessons of that marriage, it is this: Honor thy stepmother.
Now the Bible says, “Honor thy . . . mother,” but not a word about honoring a stepmother. But that’s what Mary was! Matthew 12:46 tells us that Jesus had “brethren,” and ch. 13:55 actually tells us the names of four of the brothers, and adds that Jesus also had “sisters,” but doesn’t say how many girls there were. Now the question arises, were these brothers and sisters children of Mary herself? Or were they Joseph’s children by a previous marriage? Two quite clear clues are in the Bible: (a) the fact that Jesus’ “brethren” bossed Him around would indicate that they had to be older than He, for in Jewish families the younger never did that to the older siblings (John 7:3-5); and (b) when Jesus was dying on His cross, He did not leave His mother to the care of any of these “brothers” or “sisters,” as He would have done if they were actually her children (see John 19:26, 27). Therefore the conclusion seems inescapable: these four boys and these girls were children from Joseph’s previous marriage; he was a widower. That opens up a wider vista of appreciation for Mary herself.
Being step-mother to such a brood was a terrific job! We know there was friction and tension in the family, for these siblings “did not believe in Him,” says John; and that would mean also they did not believe in Mary.
Imagine raising at least 6 stepchildren who are not truly respectful of you and who believe you are an adulteress. But wait—look how the story turns out: after Jesus’ crucifixion, at least some of those siblings repented, and believed in Jesus. In Acts 1:14 we find “Mary the mother of Jesus with His brethren” gathered in the upper room with the apostles, praying for the Holy Spirit. And one of the boys actually became president of the General Conference (see Acts 15:13). And so I conclude, all honor to Mary as a step-mother!
Life today is solemnly exciting—more than at any time in 6000 years: this is the cosmic, grand “Day of Atonement.” It’s the antitype of ancient Israel’s one Day of days when the nation was in such heart-stopping excitement that they ate nothing all day. They (and God, too!) were on trial in an awe inspiring Day of Judgment. But now the real thing is going on.
In Israel, it was the one Day of the year when everything got straightened out and all questions were answered. At Day’s end, the nation was in heart-oneness with God. In miniature, “the great controversy” (between Christ and Satan) was finished. Sin and sinners were no more. The entire nation was clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beat throughout. Sin and sinners were as no more. Life and light and gladness flowed from the Lord. It seemed to Israel, all things in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy declared that God is love—on that one grand day of the year, the Day of Atonement.
Now the message from our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is this: “be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). “Atonement” is not obscure Latin, Greek or Hebrew—it’s pure simple Anglo-Saxon, “be at-one with God.” It’s time for your doubts to be resolved, those deep feelings that He has not been fair with you. It’s time to join that distraught father in Mark 9 who cried with tears (when everything seemed against him), “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” (vs. 24). It’s time for “Jacob” the Supplanter to wrestle with God and get a new name, “Israel.”
But can we shake ourselves by our shoulders and just DO it—reconcile ourselves to Him? It means a change of mind (Greek, metanoia) which actually is repentance. Now wait a moment: do we have a self-start button to press for “repenting ourselves”? Acts 5:31 says it’s a “gift” from our “Prince and Saviour.” A “gift” is not what you work for.
Which reminds us: the Israelites never “cleansed” their own sanctuary: the high priest alone always did it. It wasn’t a works-trip for them. Yes, bitter as this pill may be for do-it-yourself legalists: we have to LET Him do it for us and in us on this cosmic Day of Atonement. He takes the initiative and we cooperate “through faith.” So stop resisting the blessed Holy Spirit. Your High Priest loves you more than you ever dreamed He does. To understand, “behold” and “comprehend” what happened on His cross.
This little tid-bit of “bread” will come too late for those who are giving special attention to the Lord’s last-days message to the shepherds of His flock in Laodicea. But don’t trash it—if you are alive spiritually you’ll be studying that message until earth’s last day.
Jesus says something strange in Revelation 3:20. It grips our attention—“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He is quoting the Old Testament, but not the Hebrew text. He decides to use its Greek translation instead. And therein lies a profound revelation.
Jesus has quoted His Old Testament Bible from the Song of Solomon, chapter 5, verse 2. The ancient Greek translation (known as the Septuagint, LXX) has three little words that are not in the Hebrew version—“at the door” (epi ten thuran, if you want the Greek). And why this miniscule but tectonic choice on the part of this divine Author? Why does He quote the Greek version? This: Jesus reveals Himself here as the disappointed Lover who has just come from His safari to His Beloved. It’s night; it’s cold; it’s raining; He is hungry; He is lonely; He wants her. But she doesn’t want Him, apparently. He is hurt.
Standing outside in the cold, He says He goes on knocking, knocking “at the door.” The object of His love has just gone to bed, is in that twilight zone between waking and sleeping. Then she hears Him. (You can’t understand this unless you’ve lived in a mud hut with a cow-dung floor!). She is annoyed; why does He bother her at this hour? She doesn’t want to get her feet soiled on that floor—she’s comfy in bed. Finally, however, she stops thinking of her own selfish laziness, and thinks of Him outside. Belatedly she gets up to go to the door to let Him in. And, lo, He is gone. He got tired of waiting, waiting. (Yes, there is evidence that Jesus and the angels do get tired waiting).
Hundreds of years ago a few thoughtful scholars in Europe discerned that the Laodicean message is tied to the Song of Solomon. Has it somehow eluded us? This is a love story! It brings us to chapter 19:7-9 where the long-disappointed Bridegroom is perplexed what to do with His dilatory Bride-to-be. He can’t force her to marry Him. The next move is hers.
It was in the history of 1888 that our Lord “knocked” as a Divine Lover seeking entrance at the door of His Bride-to-be. Can we not sense how Christ “the Lover” hoped against hope that she would respond? But Ellen White said afterwards, “The disappointment of Christ is beyond description” (Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904).
What is distinctive about the Christ whom we are to love and proclaim to the world? Ellen White says of the 1888 message:
“On Sabbath afternoon many hearts were touched, and many souls were fed on the bread that cometh down from heaven. … We [she and A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner] felt the necessity of presenting Christ as a Saviour who was not afar off, but nigh at hand” (ibid., March 5, 1889, emphasis added).
Clearly this is an allusion to the Christology that Jones and Waggoner presented that made Him “nigh,” that brought Him truly near as our “kinsman” who came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” “tempted in all points like as we are, “yet without sin.”
Note how Ellen White clearly ties in the Song of Solomon with the results of the 1888 message:
“The Christian life, which had before seemed to them [the youth] undesirable and full of inconsistencies, now appeared in its true light, in remarkable symmetry and beauty. He who had been to them as a root out of dry ground, without form or comeliness, became the chiefest among ten thousand [SS 5:10], and the one altogether lovely” (ibid., Feb. 12, 1889).
It is a love story indeed—the most poignant ever penned. It breathes the same hope of ultimate reconciliation and reunion as does the Laodicean message. Such a hope is worth dying for, and worth living for. Whether our own poor little souls are at last saved and we get to Heaven to bask in our rewards—this is not at all important. What is important is that the deeply disappointed Lover and Bridegroom-to-be receive His reward, that He at last receive as His Bride a church which is capable of a true heart-appreciation of Him.
“Everything in sacred history proclaims there has been a terrible delay in the second advent. All that the human mind can comprehend in a union of true love between a man and woman has been thwarted in the experience of Jesus. If there was anything more that He could do to win His fair one, He would have done it. And so the delay continues … until the Bride hears the knocking at the door and repents of her harlotry. But with all the tragedy of this, she will repent and she will be ready for the marriage of the Lamb. This marriage need not be delayed further. It must come for the prophet has said, ‘These are the true sayings of God. …. Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev. 19:9, 22:20).”
The most memorable marriage of all time and eternity will be one that most people have never thought of: the marriage of Jesus Christ to His Bride. The idea is so strange, that it seems out of this world. But the Bible tells about it in Revelation 19:6-8: “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.”
And the Good News is that you and I are invited to attend the wedding and the marriage feast: “And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (22:17). This will be grandest party ever held anywhere, bar none!
Why should Jesus want to get married? Well, the answer is clear: He has become a human being, to retain His human nature forever. He is a man, as well as the Son of God. It is He who created us male and female and ordained holy marriage as an object lesson to help us understand His love for His church. No woman on earth could ever become the Bride of the Son of God; but in a corporate sense, the entire church becomes His Bride. And Revelation says that this wedding is something that hasn’t happened yet. It must take place just before Jesus can return the second time as He promised, “I will come again.” In other words, for the church to be ready for the marriage of the Lamb will require a growing up “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13. That’s more than just getting ready to die and be buried, to await the resurrection: that’s getting ready for translation, as 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 says, “Then we which are alive and remain [after the first resurrection] will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” Now, around the world, God is preparing that people!