By Simon ManchesterSunday 11 Oct 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
One of the veterans in World War I was a man called Edward Shillito, many of you will have heard this before, that he wrote a famous poem called, “Jesus of the Scars.” And the last verse of the poem says this;
“The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds, only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.”
In other words, the poem is saying that the sufferings of Christ speak to the sufferings of this world. When you consider the Buddha seated, perhaps eyes closed, great contentment, there may be no connection there with the sufferings around.
When you consider Allah, Superior, aloof, above, there may be no connection with the sufferings of this world.
But the sufferings of Jesus Christ mean that He connects with this world and not just in sympathy as if to look down and say, “Well, I’ve suffered too,” but to actually bring the solution that this world needs. We’ve been looking, for a few Sundays, at what it looks like to connect.
Nothing is sadder in this world than to have no relationships. And when you’ve got the capacity in your heart to connect, but you don’t connect, it’s a terrible, lonely existence. And why would a man or a woman go off to work or go off to fight if there were no people to work for or to fight for, no relationships.
The instructional manual that we’re looking at for this particular subject of love and connection is a book that has embarrassed many Christians over the years. And it’s the book called Song of Songs in the Old Testament. And if you’re visiting today, you need to strap yourself in because this is a weird and wild book to look at. We have however been finding it very wonderful.
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I think we’ve had, now, two Sundays and today is the third. The book is called Song of Songs in the Old Testament, it’s written by the great King Solomon. It describes a very private, personal relationship going on between a young man and a young woman.
And it is entirely possible that Solomon wrote the book to say, toward the end of his life, “This is how a relationship should be run, don’t do what I did, which is to use my power and my authority and my sinfulness to do whatever I wanted and to wreck relationships.”
Now, as we study this book, Song of Songs, and we’re looking quite strangely at this relationship between a girl and a boy, it’s like looking at a map. You look at a map to understand a more significant territory, and we’re looking at this model of a couple so that we might see a much bigger couple, which is Christ and His people, the bridegroom, and his bride.
So, every time you read Song of Songs, and it’s quite a tricky read, and you see a man there who is trustworthy, he’s tender and strong, and he’s sacrificial, and he’s making his girl secure and joyful and peaceful, you must be saying to yourself as you read the book, “The Real signpost fulfilment is Christ.”
This book ultimately points to Jesus Christ. He loves His people properly and perfectly, and it is the great privilege of the Christian to belong to Christ, not just to believe in Him from a distance, but to belong to Him. And more important than any horizontal human relationship is to have a relationship with Christ because, one day, you and I are going to meet Him and He’s going to say one of two things to us.
He’s either going to say, “I know you. Welcome.” The most wonderful words we will ever hear, or He will say, “I don’t know you. Depart.” The most terrible words we will ever hear.
We’ve seen this couple, in the first two Sundays, speaking, getting to know each other. And then we’ve seen the move from their courtship, I don’t know what the right word for courtship is, into the marriage. Actually, I looked up my thesaurus to see what it said about courtship because we have so many romantic men in this congregation and we needed some new words to describe what to do.
My thesaurus says that if you want to court your girl, you exercise some wooing and some cooing, some serenading, and this was a shock to me, some ogling, some gallantry, and you kill with kindness. So, for those of you who want to work on your courtship or your relationships, there’s this thesaurus for you.
Last week, we left the couple, so to speak, in the marital bed. And if this were a fairy tale book, it would finish at Chapter 5:1, “And the couple lived happily ever after.”
But this book is about the real world and God understands the real world. And today, we look at our section under three brief headings, and I know some of you write these down.
- When Things Go Wrong
- Why There is Hope
- What Love Looks Like
When Things Go Wrong – Chapter 5:2-8
I want you to see that the man in Chapter 5:2 naturally comes knocking at the door, he wants to connect with her, “Connect.”
She does not want to connect with him. She then changes her mind and gets up and says, “Yes, I’m sorry,” but he is gone. It’s just a little tiff. It’s a little intimate but sad moment in the relationship.
She says, “My beloved is at the door,” and he obviously seems to be wet and cold because he’s been out perhaps travelling through the night, “drenched with dew.”
She says in Verse 3, “Do I have to do this?” You know, “This is the wrong time.” Verse 5, she gets up, she says, “I rose to open the door.” Verse 6, “He’s gone.” She goes looking for him, Verse 6, and in Verse 7, as she wanders the streets, she gets treated, perhaps because of her nightdress or perhaps because of her distress, she gets treated as a kind of a wild woman, or drunk, or something like that. The men of the city treat her terribly.
So, things have gone wrong. Sometimes, things go badly wrong, do I need to tell you? A lady took out a billboard in Birmingham City, and it said this, “To my dear husband, Mark, and my best friend, Shelley, you are the most despicable, deceitful people I have ever met. I know what you did, and I am disgusted. I have changed the locks, Mark, and burnt your clothes and emptied our joint account to pay for this poster. You deserve each other. Jane.” You get the impression things have gone badly? There is a relationship catastrophe.
Often, it is the smallest thing. And so many tensions start small. World War I began, not with an invasion, but with one bullet being fired.
An argument can begin with one comment, just one thing that he said out of place. “Why did you say that? What did you mean when you said that? Why did you do that? What did you mean when you did that?” And we are perfectly capable of creating trouble. Sometimes, we do it intentionally or foolishly, sometimes we do it unintentionally. Back in the Garden of Eden, everything was harmonious, and there was no tension but we are out of the garden, and there is tension everywhere. There is tension with God. We don’t know how to relate to Him without Christ. There is tension between people, and the planet itself is very unpredictable.
Tension has been built into the world outside the Garden. It’s helpful that the Song of Songs, which we’ve been following, doesn’t just talk to us about some kind of ideal relationship, but talks about a real relationship.
Whether it’s small fights or whether it’s big wars, they come from the same place. James, the brother of Jesus, says in Chapter 4 of his letter in the New Testament, “What causes fights and quarrels? Don’t they come from your desires? You cannot get what you want, and so you fight.”
Well, that reminds me of my time in the kindergarten sandpit. It reminds me of times in the home, it reminds me of times in the church, and it describes the wars of our world. All the breakdowns in this world are a spillover from the breakdown with God.
The sequence of the breakdown in the Garden, which is a breakdown with God, breakdown with people, breakdown with the planet, that sequence has to be fixed in the same order. You have to get back with God, through Christ. You then begin to get back with other brothers and sisters, and one day, with a new planet.
That’s why it is so sad when people think that if they just fix up human relationships that they will be okay for eternity. Or if they clean the rivers and watch the trees, that everything will be okay for eternity. We’ve got to get the first relationship back with God. You notice, in Verse 8, she asks her friends to keep a watch for the man. And they say to her, in Chapter 5:9, “What is so great about him? How is your beloved better than others?”
How is your beloved better than others? What’s so great about him? Why don’t you forget him? Why don’t you move on to somebody else? It’s as if they’re saying, “Is your man not like every other man?” I mean, have you not watched dating shows on television? You know, there’s just not enough dating shows at the moment, really, are there? We need more dating shows. They are so profound, so informative. They help us to know how life works. And these friends of the girl are saying, “Have you not been watching? You know you can’t trust men. Why should you be pursuing this guy? He’s left.” So, there’s the first thing, when things go wrong.
Why There is Hope – Chapter 5:10-16
I don’t know if you were listening as that very unusual reading was read for us, but this is the only time the girl in the book of Song of Songs describes the man. He describes her three times, she describes him once, and it’s here in Chapter 5:10. And you’ll notice that she describes him in response to the girls, the friends who say, “What’s so great about him?” And she says he’s very great. She describes him on the backdrop of the tension. In other words, “If you think I’m going to give up on this guy, let me tell you about him. Before you think I’m going to turn away and lose him, let me tell you about him.”
And she describes him in a very unusual way, in Chapter 5:10-16. This is not a photo, this is not an identikit. You won’t be able to use the verses 10-16 and take it out with you into the street and find him on the street.
She’s describing him in very unusual ways. And so, the first thing she does, in the first 4 verses, 10, 11, 12, and 13, is she talks about his face and his head. I don’t want to spend too much time on this but just to say that here was a girl who is thinking above the neck as she describes her man. And she says, in Verse 10, “He’s not just 1 in a 1,000, he’s 1 in 10, 000,” and she goes on to speak a lot about his face. And you discover a lot about a person from their face.
In fact, if you’re talking to a person, and I can see many of your faces now, and I can work out who’s asleep and who’s awake, and who’s happy and who’s sad, and you can see my face, and you can work out unusual things as well. But the face tells you a lot about the person. The expressions of a face, the integrity of a face is very revealing. And she spends a lot of her time saying, “My beloved has a head which has integrity and a face which is impressive.” Then you’ll notice that she describes a lot of gold in this man. You see, in Verse 11, his head is made of gold, his arms, verse 14, are made of gold, his feet are gold. We might say he’s got thinking, which is gold, doing, which is gold, and foundations, which are gold.
Later, in the Bible, there comes a time where there is a statue, and the statue looks as though it’s a statue of a person. And the head is gold, but the chest is silver, and the waist is bronze, and the legs are iron, and the feet are clay. As if to say there is going to be a decline or a cheapening as time goes on. But she says, of her beloved, gold. I feel like I’m at the Olympics, gold, gold.
Thirdly, you notice that she describes him with very sturdy materials. She talks about him, as I say, gold but also ivory and marble and cedar. We might say he’s a very steadfast, sturdy man. This is the sort of stuff that would go into a statue, but he’s not a statue. This is the sort of things that actually went into the temple.
And it may be that she is using a whole lot of Temple pictures to say, “My beloved is Godly.” So, you see what she’s saying with this unusual description. They say, “Why not, as it were, leave him?” And she says, “No, he’s incredibly steadfast and reliable. And the more I’ve got to know him,” she says, “The more I trust him.” Because you do work people out after a while, don’t you? You work out, after a while, if somebody is false, or greedy, or sleazy, or foolish. And you work out also, thankfully, that some people are true and are genuine in their faith and are sincere and are wise. Well, this girl is describing her man as consistent, valuable, and impressive. No wonder she says, “He’s 1 in 10,000, and he’s her beloved, and he’s her friend.”
She may be looking through rose coloured glasses as you do when you are sort of in love for the first time, but her language is very loaded as if to say, “I’ve discovered a very great man. And given the troubles that have come,” she says, “And remembering that he was keen to be loving towards me and I was not, I’m so thankful that he has a steadfast character, a steadfast love.” Well, now, what do we do with this? We could sit here and think, “I don’t know what you’re talking about but if they’re happy, good for them.” We could think, “I think the preacher is telling us that we ought to be better than we are so we’ll go out and try and be better.” But I’m not saying either of those.
I think the real message is that this man is virtually superhuman. I mean, he is a real man, and she’s talking about him in terms of character, but he is very much appointed to Christ. There is somebody who is gold, absolutely invaluable, unchanging, and supreme, and that person is the answer to all the troubles of the world. This man, in the song, is pointing to the great person of Christ. Some of you may remember Mike Ovey who was here with us for a few years from England with his wife and family, he went on to become the principal of Oak Hill Theological College. And he’s very sadly died in his 50s. But I remember he preached a sermon, in this Evening Pulpit, and his subject that he took was feminism. It was many years ago.
And I think I’ve told you this before, but he had three points. And the first point was, “Men are much worse than you think they are.” And you could sense the congregation going, “Yes.”
And then his second point was, “Women are much worse than you think they are,” and there was a little bit of a gasp. And his third point was, “Jesus Christ is much better than you think He is.”
So, where do you find the person? That’s what this book is really asking, where do you find the person who can deal with you when you yourself are in trouble, either through sin, or tension, or stupidity, or grief, or whatever it is? What do you do when everybody disappoints you, including yourself?
What do you do when you are disappointed with your friend, and you’re disappointed with your spouse, and you’re disappointed with your pastor, and with your church? And is it possible to be disappointed with your bank? It could be. And you’re disappointed with your politicians. And as I say, you’re disappointed with yourself. You’re fed up with yourself.
And the New Testament says this, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” Hebrews Chapter 13. So, the Song of Songs, you see, is painting here a great portrait, but ultimately, you’ll have to go outside this world to find the person who is valuable, and is stable, and is steadfast, and is wonderful. And that person is Christ.
What Love Looks Like
Song of Songs Chapter 6. Now, just before we look at the subject of love, I wanna suggest to you that I personally and you as well may find Anzac quite a confusing time. One of the reasons I think we find it confusing is because we rightly spend some time thinking about the men and the women who have given their lives for others. And then the preacher gets up and says, “Don’t forget Jesus. He gave his life for others too.” And we find a sort of a file for Jesus. It’s as if He gets lost in the forest of all the sacrifices. But that’s a great mistake, that’s to forget who Jesus Christ is.
Jesus Christ is the infinite person. He’s the infinite person. And therefore, his death has infinite value, global and eternal value.
Because when the Son of God came into the world, the Son of God who made the world and came into the world, who holds the world and will one day judge the world, and then He dies for sinners in the world, that brings hope, because He is an infinite person dying an infinite death. It’s as if His death opens oceans of mercy for the world. And you can bring the match or the candle of your sin to the ocean of His mercy. And I would suggest that you understand Christianity in proportion to your understanding of the Cross.
If you make a big thing of the Cross, you understand Christianity. If you make a small thing of the Cross, you probably don’t understand Christianity. And the love that He showed as He died on the Cross is the same love that He has for His people as He lives. So, when He died, it was a very great demonstration of love, and that is the same love that He has now that He lives. And that’s why, in Chapter 6:1 when the friends say, “Where has your lover gone? Where is your man?” She says, Verse 2, and this is slightly M-rated stuff, she says, “My man is as committed as ever. He may withdraw so that I go looking for him, but he never gives up on me.” And she puts it, in Verse 2, in very physical terms, “He’s as close as possible. He is in the garden.” And remember, she describes herself as his garden.
So, we may break fellowship with Christ, but when we seek His mercy, and we get His mercy, He doesn’t play games with us, He doesn’t play no-speaky, He doesn’t give us lectures, He doesn’t give us law, He doesn’t give us reserve, He doesn’t give us coldness.
In Verse 3, he begins to praise her all over again. He says, from Verse 4, “She’s got beautiful eyes, she’s got beautiful hair, she’s got beautiful teeth.” And we want to say, having been here the last couple of Sundays, “He said all this before, why does he keep saying this?” And the answer is because he keeps thinking it and he keeps feeling it. And that’s the point. He wants to say, again, the good news that she is the one and only. You see that Verse 9? “You’re mine,” he says, “You’re loved. You’re loved forever.”
It’s a little bit like Justification by Faith. He’s saying to her, “I see you as perfect.” When you put your faith in Christ, He does see you as perfect. He wraps His own righteousness around you, and He sees you as perfect. And in the trickiest part of Song of Songs, you’ll see, in Verse 10, the friends say, “I think she’s looking radiant, brighter and brighter.” Verse 11, he says, “Everything’s great as far as I’m concerned.” And she says, Verse 12, “I feel like I’m back in the chariot with him, safe, ready for anything.” Well, I wonder if you can, therefore, see the consequence of what we’ve tried to skim across in those two chapters this morning. It’s a little bit broad strokes, but I hope you can follow it.
There’s a tension that comes in the relationship, the hope is found in his character and his steadfastness, and actually, as they come together again, they have gone deeper in their fondness for each other. Is that not, friends, the way it works in life? I remember being in a triplet with a couple of guys and they were absolutely driving me crazy. I couldn’t work out whether I could keep meeting with them. I was outstanding in personality and character, a lovable, delightful person meeting with two very difficult men. I’m so glad you’re smiling, and they thought exactly the same of me, impossibly difficult. And we persevered and we actually, by the grace of God, we went through that. And we got to the point where we had great affection for each other although we knew each other.
So, it is in the marriage. You may be going into a little valley in the marriage, you may be in a very big valley in the marriage, but Christ will see you through the valley and up the other side and will often bring you up on to higher ground than you went in. In your relationship with Christ, it may be that you’re going through a bad patch, a dry patch, a difficult patch. You feel as though He’s withdrawn or you’ve just lost interest, He’s not lost any interest in you whatsoever. His character is the same. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. His love is steadfast. And He will use this time to awaken a new affection and a new devotion and deepen your faith. Watch and see. But, of course, you need the will to do this.
If you’ve got the information, but you don’t have the inclination, you’re in a bad situation. I was reading recently that the diggers in the trenches of World War I were all given New Testaments, but it’s not clear how many were reading. One man, John Ridley, wrote back from World War I and he said, “War is an awful thing, but what is more awful is that so many who are here facing death care, not for the one who can save them.” And the first line of the Edward Shillito poem, “Jesus of the Scars,” begins like this, “If we have never sought Thee, we seek Thee now.” Well, I wonder if that’s true. We don’t see it much in our city. We don’t see it much in our country.
There is a great hunger for Christ in China. They cannot produce enough Bibles to keep up with the demand, and the government now afraid of the church, has stepped in recently to declare that no secular bookshops can deal with Bibles, can sell Bibles. All the other religious books, fine, Bibles in secular bookshops, no. And here we are, we’re in the West, and we’ve got Bibles all over the place, and they’re gathering dust because we don’t have the brains to read them. We’re in a very great spiritual battle. And I wanna say to you, friends, that’s why we stop to pray. Because we cannot do this just by cheerfully buzzing along, we need to stop and pray. We feed when we come here, God willing, and we fellowship, God willing.
And then we stop and we come together to fight the fight of the battle in prayer. And we don’t have enough soldiers from this congregation coming to fight. We’ve got lots of feeders, we’ve got lots of fellowshipers, but we don’t have enough who are fighting. And the fight is worth it because there is a lover worth finding, and this lover, Jesus Christ, is not just a person who’ll make you safe, but He is attractive. And people in this world are finding masses is going wrong, masses of things are going wrong, people are looking and needing some hope. They need love which will spill over into their relationships. And the source and the key of all of that is Christ.
I read that a couple has married, in America recently, at the age of 83 and 78. What is interesting is that they had been divorced from each other for 50 years. They’ve got back together. Their families say they’re like a couple of little teenagers in love. And if a couple, by the grace of God, can come back together after such a gulf, you can be entirely sure that God is able to bridge the gulf for you if you come to Christ because you’re lost or if you come to Christ because you need new grace for living for Him.
Let’s bow our heads in prayer. We thank you, our gracious God, for this window into yourself. We thank you for showing to us something of the world in which we live, so much caused by our own trouble and foolishness. We thank you for the reminder that there is one who is steadfast and perfect, gold from head to foot. And we pray that you would give to us, not only a grasp of His love for us but also a response which is appropriate. We ask it in Jesus name, Amen.