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Some religions view God as someone who is far away. A God who created the universe like a giant watch, wound it up, and is now merely viewing how things will unfold.
In the Bible, however, God describes Himself as a very intimate God. From the very beginning God reveals that He is deeply interested in people. He wants to interact with us, converse with us, teach us and care for us.
Way back in the garden of Eden God would actually visit Adam and Eve. He took tangible form and walked with them in the cool of the day.
Even after Adam and Eve pushed God away by sinning against Him, He still wanted to have a relationship with them. He promised to send a Savior who would take away their sins, and ours, and make it possible for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. Obviously, God desires a close relationship with human beings.
When the Son of God came to be that Savior, His whole life showed God's desire to be with us. The Son of God BECOME one of us. He became HUMAN so He could live and walk and talk with people like you and me.
God's desire for a deep relationship with us shows in every interaction that Jesus had with people. Jesus listened to their problems, healed their diseases, patiently taught them with parables and stories, and showed them the way to heaven.
God's desire to be close to human beings was so strong that He was willing to take all ours sins on Himself. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He was experiencing the punishment that our sins deserved.
If you think that the Son of God doesn't know you intimately, think again. Jesus knows each and every one of your thoughts, words and actions - because He suffered for your every sin.
Through Gospel of sins forgiven through Christ, God invites sinful human beings, like us, to experience His forgiveness. God invites us back into an intimate communion with our Creator.
When parents consider the option of adopting a child, that's a pretty big deal. If you decide to adopt a child you're inviting that person into our life, to be part of our family. You give them your name, and you make room for them in our home. You care for their needs and shower them with love.
God does this for sinners. When a person is Baptized, God puts His name on them. They are born again, out of the family of sin and death, and into the family of forgiveness and life. God desires closeness.
In the family of God we are invited to talk to God as our own Father. When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He told them, "Start like this, 'Our Father who art in heaven'" (see Matthew 6:9). God desires closeness.
Before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples that He would be leaving them soon. But, He told them not to be afraid because He was going to prepare a place for them so that they could be where He is. The Bible teaches that through faith in Christ, heaven is secured as our eternal home. Our Savior is preparing it for us.
All these things show how closely God wants to be to us.
It doesn't matter how unworthy we are to be with Christ, He still wants us. That's why He was willing to die for us.
Early in His ministry Jesus did a miracle while sitting in Peter's fishing boat. He caused a huge amount of fish to be caught even though Peter's fishing team hadn't been able to catch a thing all night. When Peter saw the miracle he knew that He was in the presence of the Almighty. He was a professional fisherman, he knew that this type of catch didn't just happen out of the blue. The Bible says...
"8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him" (Luke 5:8-11 NKJV).
Jesus knew Peter was a sinner, and He loved Him all the same.
Another time, Jesus' enemies brought a woman to Him who had been caught in adultery. They wanted Jesus to lead the people to stone her for her crimes. But Jesus just replied,
"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7 ESV).
When the crowd had all filed away, Jesus turned and said to the woman,
"Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
11 She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more" (John 8:10-11 NKJV).
In the same way, Jesus invites each and every one of us to experience the forgiveness that He has won for us through His cross. He tells us to openly confess our sins to God and to know that no matter what sins we bring, in Christ, through His cross, they have all been forgiven.
Can you imagine a more intimate thing? To lay before the Lord the deepest and darkest secrets of your past? To nakedly hold up your most sinful and embarrassing thoughts, words and deeds not holding back even the most shameful - and to know that His response will be, "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more"?
Through simple trust in Christ as our Savior from sin we are invited into the most intimate of unions. We become part of Christ Himself.
The Bible says that through faith in Jesus we become part of Him. He is the head, we are the body. (Colossians 1:18)
There's an illustration of this in the early history of the Christian Church. After Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended back into heaven, a man name Saul started hunting down Christian men and women in order to throw them in jail and have them executed. When the risen and glorified Savior confronted Saul, knocking him down on the road to Damascus, He said to him,
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4 ESV)
Whatever is done to His followers, is done to Christ. That is how close our connection to Jesus is, through simple faith.
In the book of Romans we find this description of our oneness with Christ. It says...
"3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Romans 6:3-5 ESV).
Through faith we are so intimately joined to Christ that we get credit for His death and resurrection. In addition to this, because of Christ, the way we live begins to change in the here and now. Because of Christ, one day we will be physically raised from the dead to begin everlasting life with Him in heaven.
The Bible says that the intimate relationship that Christians have with Jesus will bleed into their relationships with others. The Bible tells us to forgive, as we have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13). The Bible says that we love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The Bible says that one of the marks of the Christian congregation is that we will put each other first, in the same way that Christ put us first and gave Himself to redeem us (Ephesians 5:21).
Our sermon reading for today describes how our relationship with Christ is to be reflected in our marriages as well.
Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
You know, there are many reason why a married couple might keep their vows to one another. Remaining faithful to each other creates a stable relationship where love can grown stronger and mutual support can enrich our lives. Remaining faithful to each other creates a stable environment for children to grow up in, learning from their parents what it means to be part of a dedicated and loving family. Remaining faithful to each other safeguards a couple from all the pain and heartache of divorce.
But for Christ followers, if we really get down to the heart of the matter, Christ is the reason why we keep our marriage vows. And keeping our marriage vows means so much more than just remaining married. Keeping our marriage vows means following Ephesians 5 and all the other directions God gives us about how we are to treat other people in general, and our spouses in specific.
Keeping our marriage vows means constantly approaching God's throne of grace and confessing the sins we have done against our spouses. Keeping our marriage vows means constantly returning to our spouses to express heartfelt repentance over the ways we have sinned against them.
Without Christ's forgiveness we could never have a relationship with God, and without Christ's forgiveness poured out on our spouses our marriages cannot be all that God intends them to be - little reflections of our relationship with Christ.
Maybe it's been a long time since you said those vows, or heard others say them. Let's revisit them for a moment.
Man, will you take this woman to be your wife? Will you be guided by the counsel and direction God has given in His Word and love your wife as Christ loved the Church? Will you be faithful to her, cherish her, support her, and help her in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live? If so, answer, “I Will.”
Woman, will you take this man to be your husband? Will you be guided by the counsel and direction God has given in His Word and submit to your husband as the Church submits to Christ? Will you be faithful to him, cherish him, support him, and help him in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live? If so, answer, “I Will.”
It is respect for Christ on the part of husband and wife that lays the foundation for CHRISTIAN marriage. The love and respect that characterizes our relationship with Christ, is the same love and respect that is to characterize the relationship with our spouse.
And it is the greatness of Christ's forgiveness that makes it possible for sinful human beings like us to remain married for any length of time. For we all fall terribly short of being the husbands and wives that we aught to be. Thanks be to God for the gift of marriage. And thanks be to Christ for washing all our sins against marriage on the cross. Let's pray.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for blessing the human race with the gift of marriage. Give our younger generations wisdom to see that divorces and marriage problems don’t exist because marriage is flawed, but because we are. Help us to teach our youth rightly what the responsibilities and roles of husband and wife are, so that they can have strong marriages built on your principles.
Give those who are currently married: patience, active love, perseverance, selflessness, joy and fulfillment. Move our hearts to repent of our sins against our spouses, and to seek their forgiveness openly.
Move us to also come to you Christ Jesus, with a humble and repentant heart concerning all our sins against you. You are our great Husband, the Husband of the Church for whom you died. Forgive us. And thank you for loving us when we were faithless to you. Thank you for leading us into the light of your grace. Amen.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.