This time of year, perhaps more than any other, is a time when we celebrate the love that God has given us through that special one. I suppose that for many, it’s a time to look forward to with dread—A time some wish never existed. A time to be reminded of ones singleness—the loneliness of having never had one to truly love, or perhaps worse, to have loved and lost. So as we explore the beauty of love, I don’t want to be insensitive to those for whom this is a time of pain. And I hope that by the time this message is over, that each one of us will come to sense more deeply, the beauty of God’s love for each one of us.
It was a typical January day, in 2007. Although I’d been back home from from Africa for several months, and hadn’t quite adjusted to the cold climate again. I was getting back into the swing of things, with my classes at community college, homework, and building a freelance computer business. But things were different now, than they had been before. Despite the dreary days, the world seemed brighter, the cold crisper, and the birds seemed to chirp a bit more merrily. Love was on the air, I thought. If only…
If only… If only I could manage to tell her. You see, I loved her desperately—in fact, I’d been wanting to tell her for quite some time now, but I couldn’t quite get the courage to say it. If you’d known me as a kid, you’d say I was the shyest kid on the block. My shyness was wearing off by then, all except for this.
Oh, it’s not liked we’d never talked. In fact, we’d talk almost every day now for quite a while. I knew we were in love, and I figured she knew it, too, but we’d never said it, and I just couldn’t quite figure out how. What would she say? Did she really like me as much as I thought she did—or was I just kidding myself?
I sat down with my Spanish textbook and started sounding out the words in my homework assignment. (OK, yes, I took Spanish in college, but don’t ask me if I can speak it now—I couldn’t then and I still can’t!)
“tengo hambre” “estoy sediento”
I heard a little bell on my computer. Kristina was online. “Hi Meadowlark” I typed in the chat box. We chatted a bit. I told her I had to do homework. But I started typing Spanish phrases into the chat box, for fun. She knows about as much Spanish as me, so she had to keep looking them up as I sent them to her.
“estoy cansado” “estoy enfermado”
Hmm. “Estoy enamorado” I didn’t send that one to her. There was a better one.
“Te quiero” I typed in the chat box. That’s “I love you” in Spanish. I hit enter before I could take it back.
I waited. I held my breath. Silence. More silence. The seconds seemed like hours.
Finally a reply came back. “Is this what you mean?” she wrote. Then she put a link to the google translation: “I love you”.
“Yes” I wrote back. “That’s what I mean. Why shouldn’t I?”
It wasn’t long and she called me on the phone. We talked. We laughed. I guess that was kind of mean of me, to tell her that on chat—but it was the only way I was going to get up the courage to say it!
Finally—I’d done it! A few weeks later was Valentine’s day, and I asked her if she’d be my Valentine. She said “yes.” Just over a year later, I flew to Washington State to ask her to be my wife, and another year later we were married.
This week, I asked her again–and she said yes again–to be my Valentine! This makes the 13th time, and I hope and pray many more to come…
I supposed I’ve bored you all enough with our little story, but it’s special to us, and we still laugh as we look back at those days. You know, these days, it seems that we here so much negative when it comes to marriage and relationships. Sure, we’ve had our bad days and our hard times, but through it all I’ve come to love and appreciate the relationship God has given us all the more! There is no doubt an element of character development that comes with marriage, but even more than that, I believe God has given this relationship to humankind to help us better understand His character of eternal love.
Our society today tells us that marriage is a social construction – a development that humans made for themselves, to subjugate people in society to defined roles and to restrict our freedoms. Society tells us that marriage is old fashioned—we celebrate “freedom” in “open relationships,” new and diverse “sexual identities,” and in every kind of pleasure-seeking.
But sadly, it seems that humankind have not found the freedom we’ve been searching for. The rates of depression and suicide are higher than ever, and seem to be highest among those who have found the greatest “freedoms” in modern society. Something isn’t adding up.
20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.
21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
Here is marriage, according to the Bible. Perhaps the only perfect marriage ever recorded. Two perfect people, freshly created by God’s hand, and brought together in perfect harmony.
Mrs. Ellen G. White, in commenting on this passage, wrote: Eve was created from a rib taken from the side of Adam, signifying that she was not to control him as the head, nor to be trampled under his feet as an inferior, but to stand by his side as an equal, to be loved and protected by him. A part of man, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh, she was his second self, showing the close union and the affectionate attachment that should exist in this relation. “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it.” Ephesians 5:29 (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 46)
v. 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
But sadly, no sooner had sin entered this world, than God’s perfect marriage was marred. Adam started blaming Eve, and Eve started blaming God, and from that day on, there has not been another perfect marriage.
I searched my Bible to see if I could find another example of a perfect marriage in the human family, but I couldn’t find one. Cain’s descendants soon started taking multiple wives, and this practice of polygamy continued for centuries, and often affected God’s people as well. Noah had a good wife, but sadly her husband had a drinking problem. Abraham had a beautiful marriage, but he took a second wife when Sarah couldn’t have children, and he lied about his wife and allowed a powerful king to take her, to save his own life! Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage started so beautifully—in fact, it would have been perfect, I think, except that Rebekah conspired with her son Jacob to deceive Isaac in his old age—a tragic story that broke the family apart, never to be reunited.
Jacob didn’t start life on a very good note. His name means “supplanter” or “deceiver,” and he had his share of deceiving, and of being deceived.
After the horrible plot to trick his father, Jacob found himself running for his life—running back to Haran, where his mother’s family lived. In his discouragement, God sends him a vision of heavenly angels, walking up and down the ladder between earth and heaven. From this vision, Jacob takes courage, for he knows that God is with him.
We pick up the story in Genesis 29, if you’d like to turn there with me.
1 So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. 2 And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. 3 Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth.
Picture the setting here. As Jacob nears his journey’s end, he approaches the well out of which his mother’s family are accustomed to water their livestock. But instead of watering the flocks and moving back to pasture, the well is closed, and the shepherds seem to be waiting. Already, three flocks of sheep are lying down, waiting for the watering. As Jacob greets the shepherds, his attention is called to Rachel, his cousin, who is also coming towards the well with her flock of sheep.
v. 7 he said, “Look, it is still high day; it is not time for the cattle to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go and feed them.”
v. 8 But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and they have rolled the stone from the well’s mouth; then we water the sheep.”
Already, Jacob is puzzled as to why the shepherds don’t open the well and water their sheep. The time they spend waiting, the sheep could be grazing.
9 Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
Here was Jacob’s chance. He would stand and chat with the other shepherds, but when this beautiful young woman appears, his instinctive chivalry kicks in, and with a flourish he strides down to the well and waters her sheep.
You know, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Rachel is a shepherdess. She, like the men around the well, is tending sheep. You know, I think we have a tendency to think that the women back then were repressed—sheltered at home until the day of marriage, much like some middle-eastern cultures today. But here, Rachel is active, out in public life, doing a work that both men and women can do—tending sheep.
So Jacob waters Rachel’s sheep, and greets her with the traditional kiss of greeting, and then, overcome with emotion, begins to weep. Not so much because of his attraction to her, but just to realize the joyous end of his journey, in finally meeting his mother’s family.
Jacob comes in to the village, and stays with his uncle Laban for a month. It soon becomes apparent to Laban that Jacob is a hard worker—someone he would like to keep around! Laban is a greedy fellow, but he doesn’t want to lose such a hard worker, so he comes to Jacob to strike a bargain.
Jacob, too, has been thinking. He’s been in pretty desperate circumstances. Even though he is the son of Laban’s wealthy sister, and her husband Isaac, because of his hasty flight he has arrived penniless. He’s at the mercy of Laban, and he can’t think of marriage yet, because he has no dowry. But he’s been eyeing Rachel, Laban’s beautiful daughter—so they strike a deal. Jacob will work for seven years in lue of a dowry, so he can marry Laban’s daughter Rachel.
18 Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” 19 And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
This, to me, is a picture of love! I wonder if our marriages today would hold together better, if every groom had to work seven years for his father-in-law, before he could marry his bride? It says those seven years “seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.”
You know, you might say that Kristina and I, and our families, are a bit more old-school. I still like the tradition of the young man asking the brides father for permission to court her. So when I finally got up the courage, I asked Kristina’s dad. He eventually said yes, but it took a long time. During that time, I took an opportunity to come during the summer and actually stay with Kristina’s family, while Kristina was away, and did some work for them on an addition they were building on their house. And while I was working there, I couldn’t help but think of Jacob, working seven years for his bride. Of course, I didn’t have to work for years, but it did make me think of that.
But alas, for Jacob, his longed-for bride would not come so easily. Though Jacob had escaped the wrath of his older brother, the memory of his lie would come back to haunt him in the worst possible way.
Finally, the seven years was up, but Laban didn’t seem to notice. Jacob confronts his uncle, (v 21) “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in to her.” 22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place and made a feast.”
So, grudgingly, Laban puts on a wedding feast for Jacob and his daughter. But he’s not done with Jacob quite yet. As the day of feasting drew to a close, Jacob is waiting expectantly for Rachel to be brought, as the custom was, after dark. But his sly uncle Laban takes his oldest daughter, covers her with the customary wedding veil, brings her to Jacob, and they consummate their marriage that night. Only the next morning did Jacob discover the trick—the girl he’d just married wasn’t his beloved Rachel, but her ugly older sister! So a week later, he was able to marry Rachel also, but only on condition that he would work another seven years for her, too!
Fourteen years. Fourteen years—to marry the girl he loved! Sadly, his was far from the perfect marriage, and the bickering between the sisters he’d married was a constant pain to him. But just this one thought—that he would work for his greedy uncle for fourteen years—and joyfully, too—for the girl he loved. It’s a picture of love we don’t often see, today.
And in perhaps a strange way, I believe it’s another picture of God’s love to us. It’s a picture of grace, I believe, unlike any other.
You see, when Eleazar came to find a wife for Isaac, Rebekah came to the well and proved her worth by watering his camels. But when Rachel came to Jacob, she did nothing. She came leading a flock of sheep, and Jacob threw down his pack, opened the well, and watered her sheep.
Years later, Jacob and his family would return to the land of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob would dig another well—one that would last through the centuries, to the time when Jesus Himself walked this earth.
One hot summer day, as Jesus was passing through the land of Samaria, he came to Jacob’s well, and sat down to rest. Then, he saw a woman, coming from the town to draw water from the well. Like Jacob, Jesus had come with nothing in his hand—not even a pitcher to draw water from the well. But as Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, his heart overflowed with God’s love for her, and he offered her a drink, not of this water, but of the living water of Heaven.
Like Rachel, there was nothing this woman could do of herself, to reach this living water. She’d been searching all her life, until her life was now broken in pieces. It was as though a stone covered the well of the water of life, and no man could roll it back.
Until Jesus came. And just as Rachel’s life was forever changed, so in that moment, this Samaritan woman found the One Whom all the world has been searching for—the One Who can roll back the stone, and the One Who can give to her, and to you and me, living water.
When we come into Jesus’ presence, I believe, His heart instantly overflows with love for us. Like Jacob, when he saw Rachel coming, Jesus sees us coming and before we arrive. There’s nothing we can do to earn His favor. But His heart is overflowing with love, and He opens the floodgates of blessings to us:
Song of Solomon 2:4:
He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.
But for Jacob, that was only the beginning. The meeting at the well was only the beginning of years of hard service, before he could claim his bride.
It says of Christ, “I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me.” (Isaiah 63:3)
It wasn’t easy for Jesus to love us. Picture Jacob, slaving away for 7 years for his bride. Yet he was not deterred. Did Jesus have to work for us? Was there a price He had to pay?
5 I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me. (Isaiah 63:5)
7 I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord
And the praises of the Lord,
According to all that the Lord has bestowed on us,
And the great goodness toward the house of Israel,
Which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies,
According to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.
8 For He said, “Surely they are My people,
Children who will not lie.”
So He became their Savior.
9 In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the Angel of His Presence saved them;
In His love and in His pity He redeemed them;
And He bore them and carried them
All the days of old. (Isaiah 63:7-9)
My friends, Jesus paid a price, far more than we can imagine. Look at 1 Peter 1:18-19:
Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
But I wonder if the last part of the story is relevant, too. Just when Jacob was finished—just when he was ready to bring his bride home—he had to start all over again. But you know, it gives me hope—because how many times has Jesus had to start over again with me? How many times has He had to start over with us—How many times, just when we were ready to say, “yes, Jesus, I give you 100% of me,” has the devil come and turned us away, and again Jesus has to draw us back to Himself? How many times will He rescue you from the grasp of Satan? As many times as it takes.
It says of Jacob, that those 7 years seemed like only a few days, “because of the love that He had for her.”
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25-28
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies
So we’ve come full-circle. And you know, I think I have to take back that statement that I made at the beginning. I think there’s one more marriage in the Bible, that ultimately becomes the perfect marriage. Not because of a perfect bride, but because of the perfect Groom. And because of Him, she too—through His grace—can enter into a perfect and eternal marriage—between Christ, and the people He loved and came to save.
Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
My friends, perhaps today you are lonely. Perhaps you’ve loved, and lost. Perhaps you never had that special one in your life that you’ve always longed for. Perhaps you’re married, yes even happily, but like the woman at the well, you find yourself still longing for greater fulfillment.
My friends, look to Jesus. He’s longing for you, more than the longing of a bride and groom for each other. He says:
“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
20 I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the Lord.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.
Jeremiah 31:3 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.