Saturday 6th August 2022: Jonathan Thomas 200th Anniversary Service

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Song of Songs 1:1-4

I remember coming to Pembrokeshire as a boy with my father, who loved to walk sections of the coastal path. I remember being excited, wondering what treasure I would find, having heard stories of smugglers and pirates around the coves of the Pembrokeshire coast. Can you imagine if, one day, you were going out and you saw a glimpse of a treasure chest in a cove? You realised you couldn’t get into it. You needed a key.

Within life there are a lot of treasures, things that we would love to have, but we’re never sure of the key, how to get into it. How do we make relationships work? What is the key? How do we find the meaning of life? What is the key? How do I know I am loved? What’s the key? How can I be truly happy? What is the key? Often, we can see that there’s a treasure of delights, but we don’t have the key. A ‘treasure of delights’ is actually how one rabbi in the 9th century described the Song of Songs.

This weekend we are going to spend our time in the opening chapters of the Song of Songs and try to find a key to unlock it, to a treasure of delights that is available to all of us. When was the last time you sat through a sermon on the Song of Songs? If you have, when was the last time you sat through a series of sermons on the Song of Songs? It’s one of those books that is neglected in the Bible. At points, it’s rather embarrassing. It’s also one of the most debated books in the Bible. Maybe you’re here and you’ve never read it, or maybe you started to read it and stopped. My hope is that by Monday morning, you’ll want to read the Song of Songs, and you’ll have a key to understand it.

I believe that within this book there’s teaching that can revolutionise our relationships with each other, but more so with God.

Firstly, this is a song. That’s the genre, the style of writing. It is a poem set to music. If you like music, it creates emotion. You feel music. Sometimes, even before the words start, or even if there are no words, you feel something. When a classical piece comes on, you may feel longing. When a country piece comes on you may feel a broken heart. When the blues start, you might get to feel depressed. Music creates emotions.

This is a song, which means it conveys feelings. It’s a poem set to music. Poetry can work on multiple meanings and levels. Something that’s quite simple, can be making deeper points. When it comes to poetry, you must always remember that what we are looking for is the author’s intent and meaning. When they wrote, what did they intend us to feel? What do they want us to understand? If you read the Song of Songs, on first read it comes about like a song about romance, about relationships. In many senses, it’s about marriage and its consummation. That’s why the book can be a little bit embarrassing.

The second thing to know about Song of Songs is that it is not smutty. It is an ethical book all about a poem about Solomon and the Shulamite. They are about to get married. They want two to become one (v4). She wants to go into the chamber, the King’s chamber. It is talking about marriage. This is not just poetry. The style of writing comes within wisdom. This is about more than just romance. This is a song of Solomon. It comes within Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms and Job.

If you know your Bible, you’re already saying, ‘You said this book was about one man and one woman. Now you’ve said it’s Solomon. How many wives did he have? One, two, five, twenty, two hundred, 400?’ It was 700. Not just 700 wives but also 300 concubines. What’s going on? That doesn’t seem very ethical. Solomon was the Hugh Hefner of his day. But interestingly, when he writes this book it’s all about one man and one woman. The man who had experienced everything, tried everything, ultimately, when he wrote the manual on relationships, writes it about one man and one woman. What’s going on?

I think that when Solomon was writing this, he was an old man who had learnt a thing or two. He has now realised that God’s design is monogamy – one man and one woman. Everybody in the Bible, outside of Jesus, is flawed. Everybody in the Bible, outside of Jesus, makes mistakes. Solomon has realised that. If you read Ecclesiastes, you know Solomon had experienced everything. He was like a rock star, a YouTuber, an Instagram influencer. But in the end, he comes down to the Song of Songs.

Whilst Song of Songs is not shy about relationships, this weekend I am not going to give you any relationship advice. I think you can read the book on two levels: you can read it spiritually about Christ and you can read it about relationships. I think there’s lots to learn there, but in the weighting, there’s more towards Christ. What we need to realise here is the answer to life is not human relationships but something far greater. Solomon hasn’t come to the point where he has realised monogamy is the ultimate key to life, He has come to realise that monogamy is the right way for relationships.

I was at a wedding earlier today and I gave a talk. I was at pains to say to the couple, ‘You are not the answer to your marriage. Your marriage is not the answer.’ You see, what happens when people get together and they think the relationship is the answer, that the other person is the answer, this is what happens: we put the person up on a pedestal and say, ‘You will save me, you will be everything I need, you will always be there for me.’ What happens when we put someone up on a pedestal? We quickly pull them off. That is so cruel to the person; they can’t be everything. No-one can be everything.

We have to make sure, as we come to the Song of Songs, that we don’t say human relationships are the answer. Otherwise, what about single people? What about widows? What about people caring for a partner, but due to ill health can’t love them or help them in return? What about Jesus? He was never married, yet He was the perfect man. So, there is something more going on in this Song. It is a song, it is not smutty, it is a song of Solomon.

Here is the last thing to note: it is the Song of Songs. It reminds me of ‘the Holy of Holies.’ This is Solomon’s greatest song and I believe it is the Bible’s greatest song. The greatest song in the Bible cannot be about human relationships because that would make human relationships an idol. It is about far more than that. I believe this is ultimately about Jesus. For the first 1600 years of church history, that is pretty much how everybody taught it. Everybody was happy to read this and see Jesus. Even though, if you read some of the old books, it does get rather fanciful and does go a bit too far. But you can read this book looking at Jesus, square on. Some of you might still be not sure. Let me give you a reason why you can. Firstly, allegory, seeing these things out of representation, happens throughout the Bible. The New Testament does it to the Old Testament. In Galatians chapter 4, we read these things are taken figuratively – the woman represents two covenants; one covenant from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be saved, this is Hagar. Hagar stands for Mount Sinai and the Arabia corresponds to the presence of Jerusalem.  Basically, the New Testament author is looking at the Old Testament saying, ‘There’s a history but actually there’s something symbolic happening there.

The main character in the Song of Songs isn’t a random but he is the King of Israel, a son of David, in the line of the Messiah – Jesus. The New Testament picks up on marriage and says, ‘When you see marriage, it is a picture of something greater.’

So, the New Testament teaches that when you see a marriage, you are meant to think of something else. This comes out in a number of different places. One place is Ephesians chapter 5. Here, Paul is teaching about marriage, where husbands and wives should submit and sacrifice for one another and should love one another. When he is going through that he then says, ‘Just as Christ does for the Church, for we are members of His body.’ Then he quotes Genesis saying, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” He goes further and says, “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

So, the New Testament teaches us when you think of marriage, remember to think of a better, greater, ultimate marriage. It’s always important not to get that confused. Sometimes we get this the wrong way round. We say, ‘I want to know what the relationship between the church and God is like, so I look at human marriage.’ That’s not the best way to do it because sometimes marriages are weak and there are problems. Rather, Ephesians switches this on its head and says, ‘If you want to know what marriage is like, look at the relationship between Christ and the Church.’ When you get the way Christ loves the Church, you will understand how you should love one another.

What is the big story of the Bible? Have you ever thought that in the opening chapters of Genesis we have a marriage. Imagine Adam seeing Eve and just singing, overwhelmed by the beauty. There they are, two as one. They are married together. How does the Bible end? The big climax of Revelation is a wedding in heaven. The big theme of the Bible is marriage, the ultimate wedding. So, when we read Song of Songs we can look at it as a way of understanding our relationship with God.

What can we learn from Song of Songs, chapter 1:2-4? These are lovely verses. I have to be honest, when I was sixteen, I laughed at these verses. It was the joke in our youth group. If we wanted to embarrass our youth leader, we used to say, ‘My favourite text is, “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth.”’ But I’ve learnt over the years, to love this. Even if it does feel awkward and embarrassing, if you pause to read it and read the next line each time, you start to realise, ‘This isn’t talking about what I think it’s talking about. It is about something far more profound.’ Here we have intimacy and invitation, love and longing.

Intimacy and invitation.

The woman is talking. She is passionate. In verse 2 she is inviting him to intimacy; she wants to be kissed. Solomon wants to make sure we don’t misunderstand here, so he repeats himself. She says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” She said it twice, there’s no ambiguity here. He doesn’t have to wonder, ‘Shall I make a move or not?’ She is very clear, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” She says, “of his mouth.” This is not kissing on the cheek, this is intimate. But it is more than that. Look at verse 4. She wants to go away with him, “Take me away with you – let us hurry!” She wants them to go away together. This is an invitation to intimacy. That is what we see first.

Love and longing.

Whilst I joke about the kissing, it’s not really about the kissing. Look closely. Why does she want to be kissed? Why does she want to be close to him? You see in verse 2 the linking word, ‘for.’ “For your love is more delightful than wine.” She is not really interested in the kiss, she is interested in the love. It is not the kissing that is intoxicating, it is the love. The love is “more delightful than wine.” That’s amazing. You see, his love is like fine wine. That’s why she wants to draw close. She then says it’s like a fragrance, “Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes.” Whatever this perfume is, it’s not Linx Africa! There is something better going on here.

Smells bring associations. Sometimes, you can smell certain perfumes and remember your mother. Certain smells bring something to mind. The smells of the seasons, for example when rain is coming, or when the hedges and flowers are in bloom, can bring to your mind remembrances. The smell here is amazing. But it’s not just a smell. Just like it wasn’t about the kisses, it was about love, so it’s not about the smell. “Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.” The perfume is his name. That is what gets her excited.

In the Bible names represent things. It doesn’t happen so much now. Often people get names, for example, from a Disney film. But people still get given names with a meaning. Our youngest boy is called Seth Joshua. He is called Seth Joshua because there is an amazing man in Welsh history called Seth Joshua. When someone comes up to him and says, ‘What’s your name?’ He can say proudly, ‘Seth Joshua.’ I love his name because every time I hear it, I think of him but I also think of Seth Joshua. There’s a reason in the name.

In the Bible, names are often linked to character and will describe the character of the person. There is a name here that is like perfume. There is name here that is love. There is a name here that when you hear it, you want to draw closer. When people come and visit in the house, or when people come into the workplace, you hear a name and you either want to go and hide in the kitchen or you can’t wait to meet them, to sit, to listen, to see them. Certain names get us excited.

There is a name here that gets her excited. Who is he? He is the king. “Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.” (Song of Songs 1:4). This is why she is so excited. She wants to draw near because she is loved, loved by the king. What we have in the Song of Songs is the ultimate fairy tale – being loved by the king. From Sleeping Beauty to the frog, from one of the Bridgeton girls to Meghan Merkle, there is a story that is deep in all of us, in all of culture, that we desire – to be loved. The Bible says it is an ache in all of us for something more, someone more – the king. So, she wants him to come and ultimately go into the chamber. She wants them to become an ‘us,’ to be married, to be together forever.

We have said the Bible starts with a wedding and it ends with a wedding. Have you ever thought about the centre of the Bible? The centre of the Bible, when we go from the Old Testament to the New Testament, is the arrival of the Bridegroom. In Matthew 9 and John 3, for example, Jesus refers to Himself as the Bridegroom. When you look at Matthew 22 and 25, Jesus says that the great day is going to be the wedding banquet in heaven. It’s all about this great romance and this great wedding. The King wants to be married to the church. We see in Revelation 19 wonderful words, “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Revelation 19:6-8).

The Bible is all about consummation, all about this wedding feast. It’s amazing. It should affect us. Julian Hardyman, a minister, has written a wonderful book on Song of Songs (Jesus lover of my soul) and he says, “Christ is so infinitely sweet and beautiful and satisfying as to evoke a deep longing and a wild, mad desire. He wants us to love him with all the madness our souls are capable of.” If you ever met Julian Hardyman, he is not an over-the-top guy. He is very refrained. But yet, having read Song of Songs, reflecting on Christ’s love, he is able to write about a madness our souls are capable of. In Psalm 2 we are commanded to kiss the son. Hebrews invites us to draw near. Repeatedly in Scriptures we are encouraged to come under the shadow of His wings, to find rest in Christ, to let God sing over you and quiet you with His love.

Sometimes, we sing a hymn, ‘Jesus Lover of my soul.’ Is this your view of Jesus? That Jesus is the lover of our soul, who calls us to draw near, to know His name, and to desire to know him more. It’s wonderful.

We are all different. I know the singing was superb this evening. After two years of Covid, of singing out of tune on Zoom, to be amongst God’s people again and to sing and to hear singing is wonderful. Whilst we were singing, I was looking at the projected words on the wall. I didn’t turn around and seeing you singing, but I am sure some of you would have looked miserable. However, if I was able to see inside your heart, you would be jumping for joy. Some people get really excited, but they haven’t told their face. That’s fine. Other people might seem as if they need to calm down as they raise their hands exuberantly in worship. That’s fine. We are all different. We don’t have to show things in the same way. Very often, you find the true heart of someone in a prayer meeting.

The Lord has created you the way He has created you. You express yourself in the way you express yourself. Praise God. Don’t feel pressure to give a show or look like someone else. You are who God has made you to be. You can see that in marriages. Sometimes, you look at couples and think, ‘He’s not very happy.’ But he’s delighted. He just wouldn’t know how to show it. There’s a story about an old couple who went on holiday who heard a young couple talking on the table next to them. The young wife was telling her husband how much she loved him. The older wife turned to her husband and said, ‘You never tell me how much you love me. Why not?’ He replied, ‘Well, my dear, I told you that I loved you on the day that I married you. If it changes, I’ll let you know.’ It shows we’re all different.

The wonderful news for us is the King has come to us. The King is the one who initiates. She can only go to the King because the King has come to her. She can only ask the King to come to her because He has gone to her. This is so important to understand. We can love God because He first loved us. It’s always the best news of the gospel. It starts with this wedding, enjoying the Lord in the garden. It’s wonderful. But soon, we go our own way. The fall is horrendous.

Everything in the garden is perfect. God has given Adam everything he needed. Adam and Eve were there with the Lord, forever to enjoy. But yet, they wanted to put something else up on the pedestal. They didn’t want to get something by the Lord’s name, they wanted to get something of their own names, about each other, other things. Very quickly, the world goes from beauty to death. You get this beat of death: wars, killings, hatred, brothers falling out. All these terrible things. The world goes from bad to worse.

If you read the Bible for the first time, not knowing the whole story of the Bible, when you get to Noah and the flood, you kind of want to go, ‘That’s the end.’ But all through the Bible God keeps going, ‘Hold on.’ One of my favourite verses in the Bible is in Genesis, when you read, ‘And the Lord walked in the garden in the cool of the day.’ It’s a lovely verse. For years I thought, ‘Wasn’t life amazing before the Fall.’ Then you read the verse and you realise it’s after the Fall. Even after Adam and Eve had rebelled, the Lord walks and He comes to them. He talks with them, and He gives them clothes. He covers their shame. He makes them a promise. He talks about the serpent being crushed one day. Even after the flood there’s a rainbow, reminding us of His promise. All the way through the Bible, every time you go away from God He always comes up with ‘But.’ Even in the darkest passages of the Old Testament there is always hope.

There is fine print in the Old Testament. When you get a contract when you take out a mortgage, there is always the fine print. In the big words they tell you everything they are going to give you. But in the fine print they say, ‘But this is how we’re going to take your house.’ When I read the Old Testament, I find it completely the other way round. The big text is ‘You’ve gone away. You’re wayward.’ Look at Hosea, a classic passage where marriage is used as an illustration of Yahweh and Israel. You get all of this judgement. Then comes the fine print, ‘But yet I will take you out of the wilderness. But yet, I will come to you.’ The fine print of the gospel is grace.

The wonderful news, the story of the Bible is even though we reject God, in the New Testament the Bridegroom comes. The Lord Jesus comes into our mess, into all of our rebellion, to show us His love. Christ gave Himself for us because He loves us. It is the ultimate romance.

Friends, as you celebrate 200 years of faithful witness here, remember Jesus. Remember that He is the great lover of our souls, that He has given all for us. If we trust in Him, we can draw near to Him. If we trust in Him, we will know His name. John Newton wrote, ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear.’ Why? Because when we hear His name we should want to draw near. We should, in the words of Psalm 2, want to kiss the son. We should want to know His love, hear His name, come close to Him.

For what is 200 years here? It’s 200 years of God’s faithfulness, the One who has given everything for you.

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