Two great gifts from God

Our readings today are Song of songs 8 and Acts 9:1-31.

If you’ve made it to the end of Song of Songs and are still not sure what to make of it, you’re not alone. It’s interpretation has been discussed over the centuries by scholars and devoted theologians, without really arriving at a generally accepted consensus. Many of the puritan writers considered the book largely allegorical, of Christ and His bride the church. Others have seen only a love poem, or collection of love poems designed to be read together.

I lean more towards it being a description of passionate love, and romantic intimacy as a good gift from God, yet set against a backdrop of God’s love for his people (the constant garden imagery) and Christ’s love for his church.

In this last chapter, that passion culminates after the slow build through this cycle of poems of longing, and declarations of adoration from both the bride and groom. Chapter 8 serves in some way as a conclusion (yet there is no real conclusion as a story – because it’s not a story), so perhaps rather than conclusion we might say a climax. The intensity is clear:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
    jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.

And here there is a hint that this great gift from God can be all-consuming, and wonderful, but also potentially dangerous.

For me they key to this book is not to try to over analyse it, but enjoy it as poetry, and marvel at the great gifts God has given us in desire for relationship with others, love and marriage, and the gift of sex. All good things for us, when experienced under God as He intended.

Moving from poetry to history, in Acts 9, we come to probably the most significant event outside the resurrection of Christ for non-Jewish, or gentile believers. The conversion of Saul. In the space of only a handful of verses we see the most complete and dramatic turn around in history – the conversion to top all conversions. From still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord to preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. A complete and utter transformation that can only have come from meeting the risen Jesus.

Yes – Jesus grabbed Paul’s attention, with blinding light, a heavenly voice and complete loss of sight. The real transformation though was not on the road to Damascus. Saul has had three days, sitting without sight, contemplating his life, his Damascus road experience, and his future, when we read this exchange between Ananias and God who appeared to him in a vision.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

The real transformation in Paul’s live was being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is God who works in us to accept Jesus as Lord and be saved. For us, it is not quite as dramatic, yet it is still God who enables us to respond to His offer of salvation.

The thing that really struck me though as I read this, was the Lord’s response to Ananias’ protest of concern for his safety. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.

I don’t know about you, but if I was preparing someone to be the key person in my grand plan to reach the nations of the world, I’m not sure I’d try to motivate them by showing them how much they would suffer because of it. And yet this was exactly God’s master plan and strategy – to save the world through Paul and others after him, who would empty themselves, so that they might be filled with God. You see it in the anxious longing of Paul’s letters and his single-minded purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, knowing nothing other than Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Today, I thank Jesus for Paul, and his single-minded submission to the suffering God showed he would endure. Paul’s radical conversion was the lighting of a fire that burns still, so that the Word of God could reach you and I, that we might know the saving power of the cross of Jesus.

I thought you might like to conclude your reflection by listening to this song by Brenton Brown about Jesus, the faithful Word of God, whom Paul proclaimed as a great gift from God to the Gentiles.