Sunday Morning 7th Augut 2022: Jonathan Thomas 200th Anniversary Service.

To watch this service click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/xBaB0uI-L04

Song of Songs 1: 5-17

I believe in fairy tales. At least, I genuinely believe in fairy tale endings. Before you think I have completely lost the plot, let me explain what I mean. I believe that all fairy tales we were told as children have something in them that, deep down, is incredibly true. All fairy tales have a similar plot, a similar ending. Why has everyone written these stories? Why do we love the stories? Why do generation after generation of children, myself included, enjoy stories about the ugly sisters or the prince coming to save the day or the ultimate wedding feast with all the dancing? It’s because these fairy tales are aches to a long, lost echo; deep down, we all want to be loved. That’s what all fairy tales are about. Deep down, we all want to be loved by the king.

We don’t just want love, we want love with someone who can sort everything out. We all long for it in different ways. Some people long for it in romantic relationships. When I was growing up, I had a friend who had a file book and she had already chosen her wedding dress, she knew what the wedding was going to be, she had it all in a file. For other people it could be football. You fill your walls with posters of football players in the hope that you will be spotted, in the hope that one day you’ll be given that chance. Some hope in rugby, that one day people will realise that you are the answer to the needs of the Welsh rugby team, that one day you will get that call, ‘Let’s go, I want you to play.’ Wouldn’t that be amazing. It could be wanting success, a promotion. Some people look for success in sacrificing for others, in philanthropy, doing good. Sometimes, we want people to need us. We need people to need us, and we want people to see us. Deep down, it’s not that any of these things are wrong, but there is an ache for something. Because we have this ache, it drives us.

So often we look for happiness, success and significance in all the wrong places. Oscar Wilde famously said, “There are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want and getting it.” There is an ache within us. There is an ache that, so often, can be fulfilled in life for a season, when life is good. I live in an area in Abergavenny that is very affluent. When we think of evangelism outreach to people who have got money, family, a nice house and a nice life, people who are very happy, it is hard. When I say to people, ‘If you’re not very happy, come to Jesus.’ Their response is, ‘No. I’m happy. I’m happier than you.’ But when we realise that these things may fulfil for a while, there is something more.

In the Song of Songs there is a love that is fairy tale. It is so amazing that it will seem like fiction. But this isn’t a fairy tale. It is the ultimate thing that God has put in our hearts. God has placed eternity in our heart. He has put a longing in our heart for something that seems so crazy we put it in the category of fairy tale. But it’s even greater than a fairy tale and it is true.

The first thing we see in verse 5 is undeniable fear of ugliness. I wonder, does anyone here fear that you’re ugly? I don’t just mean physically. Does any one here fear if someone actually got to know you, they wouldn’t like what they see? In verses 5-7 the woman is speaking. We know that she loves the king and wants to marry the king. We know that he has come to her and she can come to him and speak to him because he has initiated this. All the friends are rejoicing, ‘Wow! What a great relationship.’

Everyone is excited and celebrating. Then, something happens in our hearts – this undeniable fear of ugliness. She says, “Dark am I, yet lovely, daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar.” (Song of Songs 1:5). Here is a barrier to intimacy. She has a moment where her self-image and self-worth is rock bottom. How you view yourself affects everything.

The woman starts talking about the complexion of her skin. She keeps going on about the colour of her skin, that it is dark. She says, ‘Don’t stare at me because I’m dark, because I am darkened by the sun.’ The darkness is, in effect, a suntan. The question is why? Because she’s been to Newgale Beach on holiday and had a wonderful time, got a lovely tan and shared it on Instagram? No! She says, “My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards.” (Song of Songs 1:6b).

Here is Cinderella. She has brothers who have told her to work in the vineyards. Here is someone who has been forced to do labour that she shouldn’t do. She has been forced into a situation where she has been forced to do something that she shouldn’t. She says, ‘If I’m looking after your physical vineyard, “my own vineyard I had to neglect.” (Song of Songs 1:6c) because her brothers have forced her into this situation because they are angry with her.

She is having this moment of doubt because of what has been happening in her family. It’s amazing how much of our childhood and family affects our relationships. In verse 6 she thinks everyone is staring at her. She doesn’t want people to stare at her because she is dark. How often do we think that people are looking at us? She is out there because her brothers have put her out there. She is struggling.

“Tell me, you whom I love, where you rest your sheep at midday.” (Song of Song 1:7a). She has literally been calling to him in verses 2-4, and now she feels that she has lost him. She doesn’t know where he is. Her upbringing, her experiences, her hurt, have all become a barrier to experiencing his love. If you are involved in any kind of psychology, counselling or social services, you’ll know about ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences – all the childhood experiences which affect them in later life. If you go into fostering or adoption, you’ll learn all about attachment disorder and how the experiences of childhood can make you struggle to attach to others. How many of us will sometimes remember things from our childhood come back to haunt us? The wonderful thing is all those things can be changed. Lives can be changed with a loving environment.

What we are seeing in this book is a life being transformed by the love of the king. But the first thing we have to see is there is an undeniable fear of ugliness. Do you have a fear of ugliness? How do you view yourself? I think deep down we all fear that we are so ugly that God can’t love us. Sometimes, when bad things happen, we say, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ because, deep down, we think we do deserve it.

The woman has this fear, so she doesn’t know where the king has gone. She says, “Why should I be like a veiled woman?” A veiled woman in that culture is a prostitute. She has really gone down to the depths. Her friends listen to her and say, “If you do not know, most beautiful of women, follow the tracks of the sheep and graze your young goats by the tents of the shepherds.” (Song of Songs 1:8). Don’t we need friends like that, friends who come along side and say, ‘Hold on. He hasn’t gone, you haven’t lost him. This is the way to go.’ Very often in life we need people to come along and say these things. In a sense, I feel that is my burden for this weekend, to come in God’s word and say, ‘Here is the way to Jesus. Here is the way to know love. Here is the way to find eternal life.’ It is wonderful when people come alongside.

She’s been having a complete meltdown. Her friends point her in the right way and in verse 9 he speaks. I love this. He says, “I liken you, my darling, to a mare.” Today, that doesn’t sound like a lovely thing. But in this poetry, he is speaking to her in response to what she has said. It shows us he has heard her. When I read the Bible, I see when God’s people cry out to Him and think He’s nowhere, He’s always there. When God’s people were in Egypt in slavery, they thought God had forgotten them and had left them. Things went from bad to worse. They knew they were there by their own deliberate fault, trusting in other gods rather than Yahweh. What did they do? They cried out and God heard them and came to them. Remember how Elijah had a massive victory and then straight afterwards had post-mission blues? He lost all his trust in the Lord. He’s completely destitute and God comes to him, feeds him, listens to him, talks to him, and tells him to rest. When we cry out to the Lord, even when we share that undeniable fear of ugliness, the Lord hears us, then He speaks to us.

Firstly, we had the undeniable fear of ugliness. Secondly, we have the unbelievable fact of undeserved love.

“I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharoah’s chariot horses. Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels” and so on. In those days, a horse was a thing of beauty and was the animal of power. He is telling her she is a powerful, beautiful woman, adorned in natural beauty. She isn’t beautiful because of the jewels; they enhance her beauty. They often say, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ The king is clearly besotted with her. He is in love. He sees beauty. He is looking beyond what Julian Hardyman calls, ‘socially determined stereotypes.’ Within God’s creation beauty is not socially constructed. There’s a pressure today for us to conform to what the world says is beautiful.

The king tells her how beautiful she is, and she responds by getting incredibly excited. What does this mean for us today? Is it, we have an undeniable fear of ugliness and God says, ‘You’re actually amazing.’ Is that the gospel? No. There is something different going on. Deep down, we all know that that isn’t sufficient. C.S. Lewis says, “He loves us not because we are loveable but because He is love.” Whatever God’s love is for us, it is based on His love, not on us. We know we are not perfect; we know that we sin. We know that there are problems. We know about Genesis and the Fall, we know about Romans 1-3. We are able to say with Paul that we are the chief of sinners.

Why does the king say she is beautiful? Because in His eyes she is. Luther, the great Reformer says, “God does not love us because of our worth. We are worth because God loves us.” Your worth is in the price purchased. God paid for us with His only Son. For the believer, it is not just what Jesus was willing to pay for you, but it’s now that you are His. That is the love than transforms us, that makes us beautiful. This is a truth that, as Christians, we need to grasp.

We believe we are sinners. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We believe that Jesus came and lived for us the perfect life that we could never live. He always did what the Father wanted Him to do. He always followed the Commandments. He did this on our behalf. We believe that Jesus died to pay the price for our sins. It is a wonderful exchange. Jesus takes my sins. ‘He who knew no sin becomes sin.’ If you think of it like a debt, we are in debt to God, Jesus has come, He has lived the perfect life and has died on the cross and paid our debt. That’s amazing! But we often stop there, but the gospel is so much more. When Jesus lived and died for us, then rose again on the third day, went to heaven and is now preparing a place for us, He didn’t just pay off our debt, but He filled our account to the max. He did not just take us from being an enemy to a non-enemy, He took us from being an enemy to a son, to a friend, to the beloved. So, He just didn’t die for us, He lived for us. This divine exchange isn’t just Christ taking our sin, but it is Christ giving us His righteousness. There is a complete exchange. It’s wonderful!

On the cross, when the Father looked at Jesus, if you have trusted in Christ, He saw you. It was your sin that held Him there. Here is the wonderful thing – if you have trusted in Christ, your sins were nailed to that cross in Christ. Now, when the Father looks at you, you can call Him Father because now He sees Christ. ‘I am clothed in robes of righteousness.’ It’s not just that the old self has gone, but there is a new creation. It is not just that your sin has been taken away, you have had righteousness imputed to you. That is why we can always know that God loves us and delights in us. I love the ways we go from being slaves to sons, from being lost to being loved. Jesus has done it all.

Some of us have got a limited view of Jesus. Deep down, this undeniable fear of ugliness keeps coming out. I often think of Jesus as a barrister. Barristers are wonderful people. If you get a good barrister, he can get you off pretty much anything. When a barrister stands in a court he speaks on your behalf. They do everything for you. I think there are barristers who have defended people they don’t like. Do we sometimes view Jesus like that? Legally He has died for me and I’m so thankful. But we leave it there. The gospel is far, far greater. He wants to draw us near. He wants to love us and embrace us. He wants us now to be with Him.

I think we’re all slightly living ‘My Fair Lady.’ We feel like we’ve come to the Kingdom, we’ve come to the church, and we’ve been taught to speak and sound like someone who is ‘in’ – but we’re all waiting for that Cockney accent moment to happen, when people don’t think we deserve to be here. But Jesus has done it all. I believe that when we read the Song of Songs there is poetry here that is showing us how God delights in us. It is undeserved.

Friends, do you suffer from imposter syndrome? There is no place for imposter syndrome in the Christian life. There are no imposters in the Kingdom. If you have trusted in Christ, all that is His is yours and the Father loves you. He sings over you. He says, ‘Come under my wing.’ He says, ‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ It’s a wonderful, wonderful truth.

I love the way that God’s love makes us lovely. We have this amazing love. The king talks about it in how He sees her. She responds with excitement (v12-14). Then you get this lovely mutual exchange, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves.” Can you get to a point where you believe that is true of you and Christ? If all your worth is based in Christ, then to the Lord you are beautiful.

How does she respond? “How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming!” When we see who we are in Christ, that makes us worship Him all the more. It is a wonderful thing.

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

To listen to this service, click on the link to our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/rzdy5GNhX1E

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.