“Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” – Isaiah 44:22

About this time last year, I became friends with the sweetest couple from Bangladesh. Now fast forward to this past weekend. I was hanging out with them, their one year old boy, and a few other friends, when all of a sudden they hand me a gift bag. Inside the bag was a miniature replica of Christ The Redeemer, the giant statue of Jesus with his outstretched arms that sits on a mountaintop guarding Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This incredibly caring couple, although not Christians themselves, knew how important my faith is to me, and because of that gifted me this mini Redeemer that now sits perched on a bookshelf guarding my bedroom. I can’t overstate how kind this little family is. Interestingly, I’ve found this to be the case with so many of my international friends. That’s a blog for another time though. When it comes to this family, you probably wouldn’t realize they were from a south Asian country if it were not for their accents. They are, by most measures, a fairly Western family. That is, except for one detail. 

One day this summer I found myself sitting criss-cross applesauce on their living room floor watching their little boy play with his toys while we ate pizza. As our conversation went on, and I realized just how inflexible I really am, we began to discuss families and parents, siblings and significant others. I asked a simple question, but one that often leads to unexpected answers, especially when asked to people from other cultures. “How did you two meet?”. With that they replied that their marriage had been semi-arranged. That was the exception I mentioned earlier. I was very intrigued. I have a few other friends that have taken part in fully arranged marriages, as this is still a relatively common practice in many parts of the world, but this was the first semi-arranged marriage I had heard of. Well, kind of.

“Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods” – Hosea 3:1

After they told me this, I replied, “That’s so interesting! I know a story of another semi-arranged marriage, can I share it with you?”. Now they were the intrigued ones and invited me to share. From there I went on to share a story about a son whose father commanded him to marry a prostitute, and out of love for his father he obeyed that command. The son’s love for the father soon translates to love for his new wife, who he unconditionally chooses and loves even after she runs away and sells herself back into prostitution. That’s one of my favorite stories. It’s a story from the Old Testament, the story of Hosea, that I don’t think we talk about enough today. 

After I finished telling the story to my friends, they both asked, “Is that a real story?”, to which I responded, “It is, and it’s also a story that points to a greater story. Do you know what story it’s pointing to?”. They didn’t have an answer and asked me to explain. At that point I was able to share that this story foreshadows the story of Jesus. The son (Jesus) follows the father’s command (God) to marry the prostitute (us). Like the woman in the story, we have individually and collectively run away from God and chosen to sell ourselves back into prostitution. However, Jesus, out of love for his Father and love for us, his Bride, chooses to love and pursue us in our rebellious prostitution anyway. To buy us back. To redeem us. That’s what it means to redeem. To buy back from what wasn’t part of the original intention. To restore to the way things were originally intended. That’s what the son in the story did for the woman. That’s what Jesus has done for us. 

“Is everything sad going to come untrue?” – Samwise Gamgee

One of my favorite things to ask people is the story behind their tattoo. They can be highly personal and extremely revealing. It’s always a doorway into deeper conversation. I don’t have any tattoos, but if I had to get one I have an idea for it. It would be on the inside part of my right ring finger. In small print would be the Hebrew spelling for “shalom”. In English shalom translates to “peace”, but that just doesn’t do it justice. The Hebrew understanding of shalom wasn’t “peace” as in the absence of conflict. It was “peace” as in the presence of wholeness. Of completeness. Shalom meant that God had restored things to the way they were originally intended to be. There was shalom “in the beginning”. And God’s promise is that one day he will bring about complete shalom on the Earth again. He will restore the world to how it was originally meant to be. He will redeem the world from all of its unintended brokenness. That’s God’s promise for the future, but it’s also his promise for the present. Through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection, God offers us personal shalom with him now. Through faith in Jesus, through trusting in what Jesus has done for us, not trusting in ourselves, we can enter into that shalom. It’s both a present and a future promise. It’s both an individual and societal promise. 

In our cultural we commonly wear wedding rings on our left ring finger. If you’ve ever been to a wedding you probably remember that the ring symbolizes a promise one spouse makes to the other. That’s why I would get this tattooed on my right ring finger. Just as a wedding ring on the left ring finger symbolizes a promise between a husband and wife, this tattoo on my right ring finger would symbolize God’s promise to me individually, and to our world collectively, that he has promised wholeness. Completeness. Shalom. A reminder that he is a restorer and a redeemer. A reminder that he buys the rebellious back from their prostitution. A reminder that he is the redeemer that sits on the mountaintop and guards the city below.

Author | Jake Stephens





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