Recently the Guardian ran a feature on three great fairytales. Cinderella, the Tinderbox and Mossycoat. Let me read you the endings of each of them:
Then her sisters knew she had been the beautiful lady they had seen at the ball. They threw themselves at her feet to beg her to forgive them for all the bad treatment she had received from them. Cinderella raised them up and kissed them and said she forgave them with all her heart and wanted them only always to love her. Then, dressed in splendour, she was taken to the prince. He thought she was more beautiful than ever and married her a few days later. Cinderella, who was as good as she was beautiful, took her sisters to live in the palace and arranged for both of them to be married, on the same day, to great lords.
They all cried out: “Good soldier, you shall be our king, and you shall marry the beautiful princess.”
So they placed the soldier in the king’s carriage, and the three dogs ran on in front and cried “Hurrah!” and the little boys whistled through their fingers, and the soldiers presented arms. The princess came out of the copper castle, and became queen. The wedding festivities lasted a whole week, and the wide-eyed dogs sat at the table.
And so they were married. There were celebrations and feasting and fireworks and fancy dress and they had a basket of children, and they're living there now in the house on the hill, as far as I know.
What’s the link between all three? The happy ending is a wedding day and the wedding day is a day of restoration, where wrongs are righted, where justice is dispensed. There is healing, forgiveness, joy and feasting. And of course on that wedding day the very heart of what happens is a girl in rags becomes the princess in riches. All because of the wedding. That’s a happy ending.
But it’s not just fairytales. Virtually every film, every TV show, every novel, every pop song is obsessed with the guy and the girl getting together. This kind of committed, loving relationship consumes our culture and consumes our hearts.
Two BILLION people watched William and Kate get married. Two BILLION. Our household was very unlikely to celebrate the royal wedding – I’m Australian, my wife is Irish, and we’re at least united in rejoicing over English sporting defeats. There’s nothing very royalist at all about Emma and I, but we were glued.
A wedding. A ROYAL wedding – the world was captivated.
Because the world is made for marriage. This universe, human history and each one of us are made for marriage.
I’m not talking about our relationship status. I don’t mean that we’ll all have our own little wedding day. But the world is heading towards THE wedding day. I don’t mean that each of us will or should get married in this life. I do mean that marriage – in its true sense – is the reason for our existence, it’s woven into the fabric of reality and it’s our future destiny.
You see the bible is a love story.
[SLIDE – LOVE STORY]
It begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve, as we’ll see this morning. It ends with the marriage of the Lord Jesus to His people, as we’ll see this evening.
And all throughout, it insists that our relationship to the Lord is like marriage and marriage is like our relationship to the Lord. He is the One we need to be married to.
So that, when His people go astray the Lord doesn’t just call them law-breakers, He calls them ‘unfaithful’. And when they go after other gods, He doesn’t just call them idolatrous. He calls them ‘adulterous’.
Now, think about this. If your boss hauls you into their office and chews your ear off about your work performance, that’s one thing. They might call you lazy, or incompetent, or negligent. But if they tell you you’re “unfaithful” to the firm or “adulterous” in the workplace, you might well say “Hang on! I’m not married to the company.” Unfaithful? Adulterous? I’m not married to my job.
But the Lord says to His people again and again “You’re unfaithful to me. You commit adultery against me.” And we say, What!? Are we meant to be married to the LORD? Apparently.
That’s the ultimate love story. But the course of true love never did run smooth.
Let me tell you about an Old Testament prophet called Hosea. He lived about 750 BC. And the Lord said to Hosea, “I’ve got a treat for you. You’re going to experience what it feels like to be Me in the great Love Story.” Here’s what happened:
The LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD." (Hosea 1:2)
The LORD says – “My people are committing vile spiritual adultery. So then Hosea, I want you to share in that experience! Marry an adulterous wife then the world will see what I put up with.”
So Hosea goes and marries a prostitute called Gomer. And true to form, Gomer doesn’t stick around for long. Soon she leaves the marital home and returns to the brothel. Perhaps Hosea thought his job was done. He’d married an unfaithful wife, she’s left, what can you do? Well if you’re the Lord you pursue your unfaithful wife and you win her back. So this is what He tells poor Hosea:
"Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.” (Hosea 3:1)
Hosea actually has to go to the brothel and pay 15 shekels – the prostitute-price – to get his wife back. Can you imagine it? Banging on the brothel door. “I’m here for Gomer. I’m her husband. I’ll pay whatever it costs, I just want her back.”
He is vulnerable, He’s exposing himself to great shame, he’s putting his heart on the line again with a woman who keeps spurning his love. Why should he pay for his own wife? Why should he do this? Because that’s what the LORD is like.
He loves us. He commits Himself to us. And we ignore Him, sideline Him, pretend He has no claim over us. And we slink back into the life we’ve always known. But what’s He like? He comes after us. He pursues us. He shames Himself to come and offer His love again. And He pays for us, He redeems us at His own cost, just to have us back in His arms.
I don’t know how you see the LORD...
If people believe in God today they think of Him as an impersonal Force, no love, no heart, no personality. Or He’s a Sergeant-Major in the Sky who barks out orders. Or He’s a Heavenly Slave-Driver setting us to work. Or He’s a Moral Policeman, investigating our performance. Or He’s a Cosmic Headmaster writing reports saying “Must try harder.” But if we’ve inherited any of those ideas about God it hasn’t been from the bible.
In the Bible, the LORD is a Bridegroom. A Husband. A Royal Prince, who pledges Himself in marriage to we commoners, we paupers, we prostitutes. He longs to be united to us in a relationship of love.
This Heavenly Bridegoom is not looking for soldiers or slaves or moralists, He’s not looking for good intentions or good efforts or good works. He’s looking for Gomers to come home.
The bible is a love story. And it begins here in the garden of Eden, Genesis chapter 2. Let’s have a look at the original wedding. The paint is still drying on creation and immediately God wants to weave marriage into our story. Look from verse 18. Here we see that humans are not made to be alone:
18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
The LORD is the ultimate Bridegroom and He wants Adam to have a bride. Because Adam is going to be a picture of the LORD Jesus. Just like Hosea showed us what the LORD is like, so Adam is the first little portrait of what Jesus is like. Adam is very Jesus-like, just look from verse 19:
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man [Adam] to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
Do you hear how powerful Adam is? He’s calling the shots in God’s world. Isn’t that incredible? Whatever Adam says goes. Adam is God’s King, ruling over the earth. He’s very Jesus-like. He is lord. But he’s a lonely lord. He needs a wife. So we read about how Adam gets a wife. And as we read from v21, see if it rings any bells:
21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep [you could even say a “death-sleep” a very deep sleep indeed]; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called `woman', for she was taken out of man."
Do you see how Adam gets a wife? He’s put down into death-like sleep. And it’s violent. His side is pierced. His very self is torn apart. But out of that violence and death-like sleep, his bride is formed. And they are both raised up and brought together and, verse 23, the Bridegroom bursts out in the world’s first love-song. It’s all celebration, praise and joy.
And right here we see the history of the world in miniature. You see the LORD Jesus also wants a bride. (v18) God His Father doesn’t want Him to be alone. From before the world began God the Father has had an ETERNAL LOVE
[SLIDE – Eternal Love]
He has always wanted billions of people united to His Son, the Lord Jesus. God wants people all over the world and down through history to come into a love relationship with Jesus. The Eternal Love He has shared with His Son is too good to keep to themselves. They want to share. And the Father wants to adopt more family members into the Family. How will they come in? They will come in as the bride of Christ. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “bride of Christ.” It doesn’t refer to special Christians, like nuns. It refers to anyone who comes home to the love of Jesus. Anyone who trusts Him gets united to Jesus as His bride. This is how God seeks to draw the whole world into His eternal love. He wants billions to be united to His Son in love.
And so what happens. Jesus comes to planet earth. He doesn’t just knock on a brothel door and pay 15 shekels. He goes to the cross and pays in death and blood to win us back. Greater than Hosea, greater than Adam. You see Jesus too goes down into death – not just death-like-sleep, real death, bloody death, godforsaken death. And by excruciating violence His side was pierced and His body torn apart. But through His death, the price was paid. His bride was won. And He rose up again. And one day we will all be raised up and brought together with Him. Our future will be a future of singing and one-ness, joy and eternal love.
Adam’s story proclaims Jesus’ story. The original marriage proclaims the ultimate marriage. And then in verse 24 God weaves marriage into our world. He says,
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
God takes this picture of Jesus and He writes it into our cultural DNA. So that every marriage proclaims the ultimate marriage. We are surrounded, in every detail of our lives, with God’s ultimate love story.
And verse 25 shows us how it’s meant to be. Here’s how it’s meant to be:
No cover ups, no shame.
That’s how it’s meant to be: no cover ups, no shame. We’ve certainly fallen from this kind of innocence haven’t we? I’m very rarely naked without being intensely aware that I’m naked. In the garden of Eden, they were naked and didn’t even know they were naked. Our relationships are meant to be like tha.
We’re meant to be open, transparent, honest, close, intimate. No cover ups and no shame. That’s how we’re meant to be with one another. And it’s how we’re meant to be with the LORD.
But that’s not our experience is it? We have many secrets, many barriers. There’s much hiding and there’s much shame in our relationships – with each other, and with the Lord.
Something’s gone wrong.
And Genesis chapter 3 tells us what went wrong.
We broke faith with the Lord, we declared independence from our Heavenly Bridegroom and instantly it ruptured our relationship with Him. And it ruptured our relationships with each other.
In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, they feel ashamed, they try to cover up, to hide from one another and from the Lord. When sin enters in it kills relationship. With the Lord and with each other.
And the Lord’s first words to Adam after sin are quite haunting: Genesis 3 verse 9: “Adam where are you?” Do you hear the heartbreak there? You could almost imagine it on the lips of Hosea, “Gomer, where are you?” He says it to us, “My beloved, where are you? Where have you run to? Why are you hiding?”
Twice in the bible the Lord says this:
“All day long I’ve held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” (Isaiah 65:2; Romans 10:21)
How long can you hold out your hands when the love is unrequited? Even just a handshake, how long can you hold out one hand to someone who won’t take it? How long before you feel embarrassed or angry? 5 seconds? 30 seconds. The Lord says “All day long” that’s His posture. He gets up early in the morning and holds out His hands until late at night – CONSTANTLY wanting to reconcile. But it’s unrequited. And He says to the human race, where are you?
Here’s a third phrase: Jealous Love.
[SLIDE – Jealous Love]
Exodus 34 says this:
Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
It matters to the LORD. How we spurn His love and turn away to other things. It matters to Him. He is jealous for our hearts. Not in a petty way, not because He’s threatened, but because He loves us too much to have us give our hearts to worthless things. He is Jealous for our love. Because true love is always a jealous love.
If I said “I love my wife but I don’t really care who she spends the night with”, you would question my love wouldn’t you? You’d say “You can’t really love because you don’t seem to have jealous love.” It’s the same with God. He really loves us, therefore it is a jealous love.
The prophet Zephaniah speaks in these terms:
In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed. (Zephaniah 1:18)
The Bible says “God is love.” (1 John 3:8). That’s not a wishy-washy truth. That is a blazing truth. God is love and He burns with jealous love. For those who are on the inside of this Almighty Passion, they experience it as the sunshine of God’s love.
For those who continue to spurn His love, they experience it as a blazing, jealous anger.
But all the world is headed for the fires of God’s jealous love. For some it will be heaven, for others hell. And all because God LOVES so fiercely.
How do you react to that?
If you’re anything like me you hear about God’s blazing, jealous love and you think: “The LORD is so passionate, I am so dispassionate. He is a furnace of affections, I am damp squib of indifference. His heart is so set on me. My heart is so distracted by everything. He is so constant in His love. I am so feeble and unreliable in my love.
To be honest, the more I read about the blazing love of the LORD, the more I feel like Gomer. Like He’s faithful and loving and devoted, and I can’t keep up, I can’t match that. So I slink off to the life I know and I give my heart to other things. When judged by the Jealous Love of the LORD, I am unfaithful and adulterous. I’m a spiritual prostitute.
But thank God for Redeeming Love.
[SLIDE – Redeeming Love]
Who here was married at All Saints? Where do you stand? Well there you make your marriage vows and you say:
All that I am I give to you
All that I have I share with you.
Of course when my wife and I said those vows to each other there were sniggers in the congregation because effectively we were saying “All my debts I give to you, And all my student loan repayments I share with you.”
Now imagine the marriage of a King to a prostitute. What would those vows mean? Well the prostitute says “All my debts, all my sins, all my shame I give them to you.” Not a great deal for the King you wouldn’t have thought. But He seems to love the girl. And astonishingly He says to His bride: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” All his wealth goes to her, all His royal status and power goes to her, all His family connections go to her.
And friends, that’s precisely what happens with the Redeeming Love of Jesus. He came into the world calling Himself “the Bridegroom” (Mark 2:18-19) and He came to win us as His bride – spiritual adulterers that we are.
But the minute we marry, what do we say:
All that I am I give to you
All that I have I share with you.
We give to Jesus all our debts, all our sins, all our shame. And Jesus absorbs it all. That’s what the cross is all about. Do you know why Jesus died on the cross? He died to take our debts, to take our sins, to take our shame. The cross is the place where Jesus takes all that we are and He pays it off in full.
And then, wonderfully, He rises up again from the dead and comes to us in love to say: “All that I am I give to you; All that I have I share with you.”
What’s that? His riches, His righteousness, His honour, His royal status. He invites us into His royal family, to call on His Father as our Father. He shares His royal power and inheritance. And best of all we get HIM. He gives HIMSELF to us,
For better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health
till death when we meet.
And on that day He will sing to us – “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” – and we will enjoy the eternal love of God – with no cover ups and no shame. All by saying “I will” to Jesus.
Have you said “I will” to Jesus?
He has already pledged His life. He has already said His part of the vows – look to the cross if you doubt that. He stands with arms outstretched to you – they’ve been nailed open for you. What’s your response to the love of Jesus?
The real issue in life is not whether you’ve been good or bad. So what?! The real issue in life is not whether you’ve been religious or not. So what!?
The bible is a love story. And the issue is this: the arms of Jesus are opened to you. The issue is His offer: “All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you.” Will you respond to His love? Or will you refuse it, and jilt Jesus?
I’m going to offer an opportunity to respond to the love of Jesus now. It’s a chance to say “I will” to Christ’s offer.
It just says “Jesus, thank you for your love. I see that my heart is so cold by comparison. But thank you that you keep opening your arms to me. Thank you for giving yourself on the cross. I want to receive You into my life for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death when we meet. Amen.”