Sunday afternoon August 7th 2022: 200th Anniversary Service: Jonathan Thomas

To watch this service click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/D01LcP8ZoGk

Song of Songs Chapter 2

If you’re a Christian, I want to ask you some questions. They may seem strange and you may not be sure of the answer. You might not even agree that my questions are appropriate. If you are a Christian today, you know you are saved, but do you know you are special? You know that God has chosen you, but do you know He cherishes you? You know that you are redeemed, but do you know that Jesus relishes time with you? You know that God loves you, but do you believe He likes you? I wonder what you think of those questions? I’ll be honest, I struggle with them. It’s as if the gospel is good but I struggle to believe it’s great.

This morning we looked at the barrier to spiritual intimacy of knowing Christ; we just can’t believe that God would love a sinner like me. It is something that we all struggle with. But then there’s a time that comes when we realise that that’s exactly the gospel – I’m not loveable but He loves me. He has made me lovely and now I can rejoice because everything I have is His and it all depends on Him. We see that the answer to how we view ourselves is this great exchange – that He takes my sin and gives me His righteousness. So now everything I have is Christ’s.

But then, as we come into the Christian faith, even though we understand that we are in Christ, and even though we cherish Him, it’s possible to hide from true intimacy with God. There’s a barrier. Let me show you what I mean. Songs of Songs 2, verse 1, she says, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” He replies, “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.” (Song of Songs 2:2) I feel for this young woman. What we have here is a continuation of the conversation in chapter 1. She is making a bold statement which we misunderstand today. We think she is quite confident! Actually, at this time and in this location, the rose and the lily were the commonest of flowers. They just sprung up everywhere. It’s like saying, ‘I am a daffodil.’ She is saying ‘I’m pretty – pretty common.’

I think the reason we struggle with the opening questions are because we feel, ‘I am loved because the church is loved.’ We struggle with individual language. We are happy with corporate language. We are happy to have the church be the bride of Christ, but we struggle to bring that to us. There is a danger here; we must remember that we are united to Christ, but by being united to Christ we are united with all other believers. You have to remember that you are part of the church. Galatians 2:20 says, “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” One of the wisdoms of the Christian life is learning both – Christ loves the church and vice versa. It’s so important to try not to think of ourselves as a common Christian but a special saint – but no more special than any other saint. We are all equally priced because everything we have is based on Christ. What we tend to do is, because we all have the same, we lower it. I’ve got three boys so whenever I give them the same, they don’t want it. One of them wants to have more than the other. Having the same thing as everybody else makes it seem not special. We need to understand that all of us having the same Christ does not make it not special. It’s still special.

One of the implications of this thinking is that we can become Christians who don’t believe that God is interested in us. Think of Jesus as a doctor who gives us life-saving surgery. Sometimes, you see people doing an ultra-marathon because they had a car accident, and a surgeon saved their life and saved their leg. They then want to raise money. You also see it with the RNLI – someone was going to drown, and these men and women go out and save their lives. You see photos or television programmes of them being reunited and saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ Often, we can think of Jesus like that. He’s done an amazing thing but then it’s over.

The point of conversion is not the end of the story, it’s the start of the story. That’s the complication of the fairy tale ending. When we come to Christ, that’s not the ending. Fairy tales end with the wedding and then they all lived happily ever after. But I want to know what happened then. That’s the problem; we create a society where everybody thinks the happy ever after is the boring part that we’re not interested in. But actually, that’s the bit I’m fascinated by.

What does it mean to know Christ now that you are united with Him? Because of this view of ourselves being quite common, as she has in verse 1, we can end up not wanting to spend time with Jesus because we  think He doesn’t want to spend time with us. We’ve got this transaction of salvation and we leave it there. Because of this, she comes to the point where she actually hides from him. In verse 14 he says to her, “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” She is hiding from him.

I think, as Christians, sometimes we can hide from Jesus. You have a problem so big that deep down in your heart you’re thinking, ‘I’m in this problem because of me. I’ve created this.’ We don’t pray about it, we don’t go to Jesus about it.

I want to talk about the relationship between union and communion. So far this weekend, I have been teaching union with Christ. It’s the biggest doctrine in the New Testament and it is the most important. That’s why Paul keeps saying, ‘In Christ.’ You are united to Christ. Jesus has done everything and now we are in Jesus. We are united to Him. If you are united in Christ and in Him, you are as sure of heaven now as you will be when you get there. He has us and we are His.

But within our union with Christ, which is unchanging, unmovable and utterly secure -nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus – there is communion with Christ. Within the union there is experience of communion in Christ, of spiritual health and vitality. This covers a whole host of things: you can feel it, it can be peace in the midst of confusion, it can be balm to the soul in the midst of hurt and pain. We need to grasp that within the union we have with Christ, He wants us to have communion with Him.

The Lord Jesus invites us to abide in Him, to draw near to Him, to come to Him. What we tend to do as Christians, which causes us lots of heartache, is judge our union with Christ on our communion with Christ. For example, if I feel Christ, I must be secure in my faith. But it’s like being on a spiritual roller coaster all the time. You can be high on a Sunday morning, feeling the Lord loves you and you are going to heaven. Other times, on Saturday nights, you can be in the depths of despair, feeling Jesus doesn’t love you and you don’t know if you’re going to heaven or hell. When you base the judgement of your union with Christ on your communion and experiences of Him, it is up and down, up and down. Never do that.

Our communion with Christ and enjoyment of Him comes from our union: I can know Christ because I am united with Him. Because I am united with Him, even if I can’t feel Him, I am secure. Isn’t that wonderful! Even if I don’t feel the Lord Jesus, He still loves me. I am His. If we get our union with Christ right, we can go for this invitation of intimacy, of communion with Christ, knowing Him in our weakness and in our sorrows, in our joys and in our difficulties. We can ponder, spend time with the Lord, meditate on scripture, allowing our minds to wonder. We have this communion that we are invited to. This communion is based on how amazing Jesus is.

She sees herself as lowly, common, but he responds in verse 2 by saying she is “a lily among brambles.” He is saying, ‘My darling, among the young women, you are special to me.’ We need to see Jesus. If we see Jesus, we will know our union more and we will enjoy our communion more. This is something that open to all Christians. It looks different for so many Christians. Sometimes, Christians talk about it in two stages; there’s a time when they were a Christian but they weren’t enjoying God, and then something happened and they enjoyed God. For most Christians though, I think it’s just steps, experiences, different seasons of life and experiencing the Lord in those different seasons. And that looks different for everybody. The wonderful thing is the Lord meets us where we are.

There are three things we see about Jesus in this passage. Firstly, when she looks at the king, she sees him as her protector. Jesus is our protector (verses 3 & 6). She sits in his shade. He protects her. It’s a lovely picture of protection and embracing. It’s a picture that is repeated in scripture in lots of different ways, particularly with the church. One of my favourites is in Revelation 1. John, as a persecuted Christian, is given a vision of heaven. The curtains of heaven are rent so he can look in. Although he’s being persecuted, he can see a great throne, a higher throne. Everything is going to be OK. You get this amazing vision where the church is there, represented as lampstands and Jesus stands among them. Wonderful! All the churches in Pembrokeshire, Jesus stands among them. Then we see Jesus holds the churches in His hands. Is He standing there or holding the churches? Both! Then, whilst He is standing among the churches and holding them in His hands, John is falling down on the floor as if dead, so Jesus places His hands on John’s shoulders and says, ‘Don’t worry. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.’

The Lord Jesus is our protector and He is amongst us.  We remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, no one will snatch them out of My hands.’ Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If you know Christ is your protector, and you are safe and secure in Him, in your union, you can enjoy communion.

In verse 6 we read, “His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.” Wonderful protection and embrace. Does that mean we will never get sick? No, you’ll get sick. Does it mean you’ll never get persecuted? In all probability you might get persecuted and have problems for being a Christian. You might get into difficult conversations. But it does mean that Jesus will never leave you and He will keep you forever. Even if we don’t trust Jesus in difficult times, He still has us. He is our protector.

Jesus is not just our protector, He is also our provider. “Let him lead me to the banquet hall and let his banner over me be love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” (Song of Songs 2:4-5). “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (Song of Songs 2:16a). He is the provider. Everything that is his is hers. He brought her to a banquet, to a public feast. He is giving her food and recognition. Food is a time of celebration. Here he is celebrating her, providing for her. We pray for the Lord to provide, but we also remember the Lord Jesus is the bread of life. He provides Himself. We should want Him.

When it comes to this kind of union, we must make sure we do not get it wrong. When we think of relationships, we can think of a symmetrical, equal, mutual relationship. That is not the case. We haven’t all brought something equal to this relationship. Jesus has brought His righteousness, His love, His eternity, His beauty, His holiness, His sovereignty. What have I brought? My sin and my need. We don’t come symmetrically, but in our union we are one and all that is His is mine. It’s phenomenal, isn’t it?

Thirdly, we see that Jesus is our pursuer. In verses 8-15 we see the king comes leaping across the mountains and hills. He’s really excited. But then in verse 14 he says, ‘My dove is in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside.’ It seems to me she is hiding. She really wants the Lord but there’s something stopping that. She’s building a wall, this cleft of rock around her. She knows he bounds towards her, she knows that he loves, but yet she’s in the cleft of the rock.

This is the great struggle of the Christian life; I know the Lord loves me, I know the Lord will forgive me, I know the Lord is gracious, yet will I confess that sin? No. Why? Because deep down, I’m not sure He will forgive me. I know the Lord is calling me to do something, to step out in faith, to trust Him, to follow Him, to give my all to Him in that certain area of my life, but will I do it? No. Why? Because I’m not really sure He is the provider.

Here, she remembers what the Lord is like, and she see that he is a pursuer. She has built this wall, but he comes. See how he comes to her – this is really important. We hide from the Lord and when we don’t believe we can come to Him, listen to how He comes, “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face. Let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” (Song of Songs 2:14). Do you believe that your voice to the Lord Jesus is sweet and that your face is lovely?

When we build walls between us and God, He doesn’t come and bulldoze them down. He doesn’t come and say, ‘How dare you build a wall, don’t be so silly.’ He comes and wants her to being the walls down, he wants her to see him. Hosea is so similar because there’s this marriage picture being used when Israel has gone away from the Lord completely. Yet the Lord says these wonderful words, “I will allure her.” (Hosea 2:14). He is the one who comes and says, ‘Speak to me. I want to hear your voice. Come before me. I want to see your face.’

In verse 11 we see what she remembers about him, “See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the seasons of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.” What we call experience in our communion with Christ of going away, backsliding, a wilderness period, which there can be so many reasons for, in Revelation it is talked of as ‘being cold.’ A winter has come in our relationship with the Lord. The wonderful thing is, if we call to Him, the winter is over. The flowers come out. The wall can be brought down. We can stand face to face. “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.”

Friends, is the Lord calling you to open the door? Is the Lord calling you to speak to Him again? Have you grown cold? Have you built a wall and you’re willing to go this far but no more? The Lord says, ‘Come to me. All that is mine is yours and you are mine. I love you. I want you to enjoy me and to know me.’ The Lord will meet you in the way that you need Him.

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