About three weeks ago, on August 7, one of my best and oldest friends got married. As I have watched Jarryd grow into a man of integrity and faith over the years he has always walked in a confidence and peace that is difficult to describe but obvious to observe. He knows who he is and never gets distracted or influenced by the world’s opinion of what he should or shouldn’t change. And Betsy is a perfect complement to him. I remember our sophomore year of college when they were first getting to know each other and the excitement that Jarryd had as he spent more and more time with this girl who completely stole his attention. The joy of their friendship has only increased since that time and it showed clearer than ever on their wedding day. As I watched them celebrate their love and the future before them I could not help but think of the Biblical narrative of Christ as the perfect Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride. God has highlighted this theme to me again and again over the past several months and especially during my time with YWAM. It is the story of our lives and the meaning that the world longs for. It’s the story of creation and the great finale that we all await.
In the first chapters of the Bible at the beginning of Creation God makes it evident that mankind is created for relationship because at His core God Himself is all about relationship. If we think backward until the past vanishes and forwards until our imagination collapses, God is there, the Eternal Family, unchanging and undiminished in glory at both points as the perfect expression of uncontainable love. From this place of heavenly family God created mankind in His image with the same DNA to desire love and relationship above all else. Unlike the rest of the universe which God spoke into motion through the power of His word, with mankind He actually got down on His knees and formed Adam with His hands from the dust of the earth breathing life into his frame face-to-face. From this most intimate of encounters Adam was born into a garden called Eden which means “pleasure” and the presence of God dwelt constantly in his midst. This was a place of peace where everything was as it should be and man was brought into unhindered relationship with the uncreated God. Adam knew no other reality but this until suddenly God cut across the grain of eternity and for the first time ever said that something was “not good”. It was not good for Adam to be alone because God Himself has never been alone and until this changed Adam could not fully understand what God is like. So Adam was put into a deep sleep and in that state of surrender God reached into the place that covers man’s heart and pulled out of His creation the “new man” as a perfect companion. Later in history this is the same process that Jesus himself went through when he hung on the cross completely surrendered to God’s will and out of his side was drawn the Bride of the Church. Adam and Christ together proclaim “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. This means much more than just the material but references the core of one’s being. From this point on in history what was taken out of man would go on a quest to be one with man again just as what was taken out of Christ would go on a quest to be one with God again. Jesus leaves His father and comes to us as bone of our bone to show that He is one of us and we can be redeemed to Him again.
When mankind becomes aware of the Man who loved us, died for us, and conquered death that we might be restored to an unbroken fellowship with the living God something truly real is ignited inside of us. We realize that no other relationship, dream, or ambition can make our hearts come alive like Him and we are moved into response to His unfailing love. In this life we are given the rare privilege in all of our unending existence to actually choose to love God without seeing Him. Andy Byrd said it like this during a DTS lecture in early August, “Because Jesus is Lord we will always exist and be able to worship Him in His presence before His throne but only in these few short years on the planet can we love Him at a distance. We will never have the opportunity in sickness to worship. We will never have the opportunity with sin all around to choose Him. We will never have the opportunity with circumstances that are difficult to say “You’re better”. Only now do we have the option to run after other lovers. This is why there were two trees in the garden because unless man really had the option to not love God he didn’t have the option to love God. And God lived for the moment in Adam’s day when He would walk through the garden and take a little glance at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then look at the Father and say “You’re better”. That’s why humanity was created. He longs for willful worship. He longs for a people who would survey all that the world has to offer and say “oh my goodness, you’re so much better”. Our love is a response to the revelation of His love for us. He loved us before we loved Him and sent His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (podcast of full lecture here).
Zephaniah 3:17 gives an unthinkable description of God’s love for humanity. The prophet writes, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” The phrase “in your midst” literally means to be closer than skin. God is in your very core and takes great delight in you! Do we actually believe that His main attitude toward us is gladness? Because the text actually goes far beyond this. The word for “rejoice” here means to spin around under violent emotion and one of the translations for “sing” is to scream with a shrill voice. This is our God. What in the world are we supposed to do with the fact that God looks at each of His children and spins around violently under great emotion while screaming out His love in a shrill voice? We spend so much time trying to convince God why He shouldn’t love us and yet this is His attitude towards us! Song of Songs 4:9 says “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes.” Christ as the perfect groom pursuing an insecure, hesitant bride says that with one glance of your distracted eye you made the God of the universe’s heart skip a beat. And the goal isn’t one glance but to lock eyes and never take them off. He is so undone by His children that He essentially says “one passing glance is all I needed to hear wedding bells and a future of us together forever”. God so longs for the intimacy of Eden to be restored in human hearts that He was willing to send His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Because it is all worth it to God for a people who will choose Him over all else. He is longing for a people who would lock eyes with Him, receive His love and reciprocate it all of their days. This was worth dying for to Jesus. This was worth going to the cross.
So Christ was willing, and in fact eager, to give His life for the restoration of Edenic communion with mankind forever and yet we often view the cost of surrendering to Him as such a heavy, difficult thing. In reality anything but Lordship is insanity. If He’s actually a good God we would be foolish to not surrender to Him! We often want the thrills of intimacy without the surrender of lordship and yet one without the other always ends in adultery. In marriage we say yes to one and no to three billion other men or women on the planet and surrender ourselves to our spouse and put parameters around it and say I’m not crossing these lines because I know where it will lead. Only a fool would stand at the altar and wonder about their decision because they would have already counted the cost and become more enamored with the beauty of their love than with the concept of surrender. Again Andy Byrd highlighted this by saying, “In the Church we have overemphasized, embellished, and exaggerated what we are surrendering and we have diminished what we are actually gaining. We married up in this deal! How in the world did God choose us? In that place of marriage we say “I gladly say no to 3 billion to say yes to you!” There is nothing in us to exaggerate what we are giving up and diminish what we gain. What fools we would be to cross the lines and boundaries of this intimacy! Have we really ever surrendered anything for what we’re gaining? There is nothing we could surrender to God that is anywhere near the proportion of what we are gaining. It’s time that a generation gets so infected with the knowledge and beauty of God, so overcome, so undone that we never get the thought of laying our lives down for God or weighing our options. He is the only plan. When we get so overcome by a revelation of this God like Paul we can look at all of life and say “my goodness its nothing. it’s actually trash compared to the excellencies and knowledge of Christ”.” We just don’t see it as trash because we have exaggerated it so much and we don’t see Him as the most wonderful thing in existence because we have diminished Him so much and have other things sitting on the throne of our hearts. It’s as if we reconsider whether or not He is worth it as He waits for us at the altar. He has gone to every extreme to win our hearts. There is nothing more He could have done and we consider whether He is worth it. He longs that we would actually look at all the world has to offer and say “no I still choose Him. I still want Him.”
In the Old Testament, God paints a picture of this marriage relationship with His chosen people through ancient Jewish culture and context. In Exodus 6:6-8 it says “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’” Anyone living in the ancient world would understand that in this passage YHWH is offering the four promises of any Jewish husband to his bride-to-be. He promises to bring out, rescue, redeem, and take as his own the people of Israel. This is wedding language. God is literally proposing marriage to His people and in Exodus 19 they respond. Beginning in verse 5 we are given the play-by-play when the LORD says, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.” Essentially the people say “I do.” In the very next chapter God outlines the 10 commandments as the boundaries which must be followed in order for this marriage to work. They are not simply a list of rules that the Israelites must fearfully obey but they are a set of parameters that function to protect the intimacy between God and His people. The desire of God across Scripture is that a people might be completely set apart for Himself in order that He could dwell in their midst as He did in the garden.
The heart of the Bridegroom is highlighted in the Gospels as well as Jesus enters Creation as the greatest revelation of God’s redemptive love for mankind. He comes after His people and reveals His heart through the work of Christ on the cross. The Gospel of John contains a clear parallel of Christ as the perfect Groom through the words of Jesus in chapter 14. Jesus tells His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” In the Jewish culture of Christ’s day a young husband would begin building an addition onto His father’s home immediately after becoming engaged to his wife. He would work continually on their future home under the careful inspection of his father until the room was worthy of his young bride. Then the groom would return to his wife’s home to find her eagerly waiting and together they would enter marriage under the fulfillment of their covenant vows. This is the marriage of Christ and the Church highlighted in Revelation 21-22. Jesus will return and fulfill His promise to collect His bride for the home He is preparing with His father in heaven. This is the story of Scripture that we rest our lives in. Because we know the end of the story we are able to see the coming of Christ on the horizon and run ahead of Him inviting everyone to the wedding! We are to bring people from “every tribe, language, people, and nation” along with us so that the Bride of Christ stands in fullness on that day. Revelation 19 paints a final picture of this marriage ceremony saying, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah!For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.” Let us live by this reality.
Please note that some of the language and nearly all of the ideas in this blog come from various DTS teachings over the past many weeks as well as some thoughts from Rob Bell’s book Sexgod. Teachings from Andy Byrd and Adam Cox in particular deserve mention.