February 17, 2013

Bride and Family - Feb 17, 2013

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As part of my Lenten devotions this year I’m doing something different. Each day I’m trying to think of one thing in my life that I appreciate, that Jesus gave up. I don’t plan to then give these things up for Lent, that’s not the point. The point is to focus my thoughts on what Jesus was willing give for me.

The first thing that came to mind this week was a family. Jesus never had one of his own. He never met that one special girl. He never courted her. Never proposed. Never married her. He never went on vacations with her. Never had children. Never saw his grandchildren. Never grew old together with the love of his life.

Thinking about this fact helped me to appreciate how blessed I am to have my family. But as I pondered, I realized that I was a wrong.

Sure, it’s true that Jesus didn’t have a wife and children of his own. But he DID raise a family. The whole reason the Son of God became human was to court a bride, to win her, and build a family.

Jesus gave up a single, earthly bride and a short lifetime with a few children to gain a huge family, and to be able to spend eternity with that family in heaven.
In Bible language, Jesus is called the “Bridegroom”. We would just call him the “Groom”. His bride is the Church of all believers. One time during Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees complained that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast like other religious groups. Jesus replied to them,

Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15 ESV).

Another time, Jesus told a parable about ten virgins waiting for a bridegroom to arrive and bring them to the wedding feast. Some of these women were prepared for a wait, while others were not. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the unprepared ones missed their chance to enter the banquet hall.

To understand the whole “Bridegroom” image, you have to understand marriage customs in Jesus’ day. The Jews did things a little different than we do when it comes to marriage.

When a man and a woman were betrothed in ancient Israel, they were legally married. But they didn’t live together right away. The husband went off to prepare a new home for him and his bride. The bride remained in her home, often the home of her parents. Then, when all was ready, the bridegroom would come with his friends on a special marriage walk. They’d knock on the bride’s door and bring her back to the new home. Then they’d have a special wedding celebration that might last as long as a week to celebrate the new family that had been made.
The Son of God became human so that he could be our Bridegroom. Through his suffering and death on the cross he freed us from our sins, and by faith in him, believers are joined – married to Jesus – as his bride.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he ascended back to his heavenly Father’s house. And there he is preparing a place where we can live with him forever. On the Last Day Jesus will return, not just dressed in the fine clothes of a groom, but in the glory of the Father, and surrounded by the angels of heaven. Then he will take his bride, the Church of His believers, home to a great wedding feast. There a great celebration will begin.
While this metaphor looks forward to the time when Jesus will return, the idea of Jesus’ followers being his family also applies to life right now.

Once, when Jesus was teaching a large crowd, his biological mother and brothers came to see him. When they couldn’t get through the crowd of people to speak with Jesus, they sent someone to get him. To this messenger Jesus replied,

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus elaborated on this idea of a larger family built around faith. He said,

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life”(Mark 10:29-30 ESV).

In the New Testament letters, Paul and others are constantly calling their fellow Christians “brothers” or “sisters”. And this isn’t just a cute way to refer to each other. When Jesus gives people the gift of forgiveness through his cross, he calls them to a different life. A life that doesn’t only revolve around marriage vows or biological ties. Connected to Christ through faith, we are adopted into a new family. Instead of sharing a genetic connection, we share a spiritual one.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus had a very special talk with his closest followers. And in this talk he spoke about this new family. He even called his disciples his “children”. He said to them,

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:33-35 ESV).

Just as love ties earthly families together, Jesus’ love for his followers would tie them together. And he instructed his disciples to imitate this love. To love each other as he loved them – not merely in words, or because of emotional bonds, but through actions as well.

One of the disciples who was there on that night later wrote about this love. The apostle John put these words to paper,

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

A group of roommates who simply share the same living arrangement isn’t a family. A family is a group of people who come together in one home, but who also share concern for one another. People who care for each other and take action to help one another. It is this type of family that Jesus has called us to be part of through the Gospel of forgiveness.

Much of the New Testament letters is devoted to teaching new congregations how to live in this new family. How we are to treat each other. Whether it’s how to honor our elders, how to admonish our peers, or how to teach our children. When we were little kids we needed our parents to teach us how to be part of a family. We didn’t automatically know. In the same way God has to teach us how to live in His family, because we don’t automatically know when we come to faith in Christ.

Through the Scriptures, God teaches us how to forgive one another. Because through Christ we have been forgiven. Through the Scriptures, God teaches us to look out for one another, not only looking out for each other’s health, but watching out for bad habits that will lure people away from being productive in God’s Kingdom. Watching out for spiritual traps that will draw our brothers and sisters into unbelief. God teaches us to actually speak up when we see these dangers. To do something about it.

Some families have the bad habit of only talking about things behind the scenes. Never stepping forward to address issues directly. Through the Scriptures, God teaches us to be transparent instead. To speak directly to the danger, and not just behind backs. To speak the truth, but to speak it gently, and in love.

Some families have members who drift away and lose connection to the core. Through the Scriptures, God teaches us to be shepherds of the flock, going out to find the straying sheep and bringing them back to the fold by using God’s law and gospel.

In a world that recommends easy divorce, self-gratification and individualism, God calls us to live differently. To live as the Bride of Christ. To take our lead from the Son of God who gave everything for sinners who did not deserve it, and who did not love him back. God teaches us to imitate Christ, who denied his own rights and laid down his very life to win our eternal forgiveness.
Part of Lent is thinking about our own sins. The sins that made Christ’s sacrifice necessary. And when we think about our roles in our own families, and in our church family, we certainly have a lot of sins to meditate on. But here the idea of being part of God’s family through faith in Christ is supremely comforting. God doesn’t disown us because we’ve failed in our area of responsibility. We’re family. He forgives us instead, because of Christ’s cross, and just goes on teaching us how to do things the right way.

As we continue to travel through Lent, think about yourself in this way, Christ has proposed to you through Gospel and made you his own. You’re part of God’s family now through faith in Jesus. Everything he gave up, he gave up because he loved you, and wanted you to spend eternity with him.

Let’s pray.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for being our salvation. Thank you for giving up the throne of heaven to spend your earthly life, and to pour out your blood to wash our sins away. Thank you also for binding us together with our fellow Christians as your family. Help us to cherish you, and to cherish each other. Help us to learn how to fulfill our roles in your family, and to forgive one another like you forgave us. Teach us to love like you loved, and to reach out to those who have strayed from our fellowship. Bring us together in your grace, for now and into eternity. Amen. 

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