Matthew & Maranatha Chapman were married in 1988. They consciously purposed to offer their lives and wedding as a demonstration of their understanding of the relationship of the Lord Jesus and His bride. For them, being made ready themselves for the Lord as members of His bride, and helping other Christians in doing the same, is what they believe their calling in life and ministry to the body of Christ to be, and they wanted this expressed and demonstrated in the way they approached their marriage.
Although their unique story illustrates many of the betrothal principles discussed in this book, until more recently neither of them had ever heard of such a thing as “courtship” and certainly while they were still single they were largely unaware of the dangers and fallacies of dating. By the grace of God, however, and with Maranatha’s father’s help, they purposed to pattern their marriage as a testimony and symbol of God’s design. Thus they were blessed to lay a scriptural foundation for their relationship from the very beginning.
According to his own confession, Matthew was anything but a model youth a father would want to marry his daughter. But the Lord gloriously saved Matthew when he was 19 years old. He soon determined to devote the rest of His life to the Lord’s work. He soon enrolled in a ministerial program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. During those years, he preached at numerous churches and revival meetings, and was active in street evangelism. Upon graduating, he began a one-year staff position as a ministerial intern at Highland Baptist Church, a large congregation in Waco.
The Lord used Matthew’s time at Highland to reveal and deal with various of his most significant weaknesses. The Lord had already regenerated him, but his selfish motivations still needed to be dealt with. Matthew grew disturbed, lacking understanding of God’s design for pruning and chastening those He loves. As his confusion and discouragement with the Holy Spirit’s purging and breaking process became increasingly apparent, others began to be worried about him as well. His fellow intern and roommate suggested that he ought to seek counsel from Stan Owen, a godly man at Highland known for his unusual wisdom. After initial resistance, Matthew conceded his need for guidance and went to see Stan.
What began as an initial appointment turned into a long-term discipleship relationship that was extremely fruitful for Matthew. Stan gradually became a spiritual father to Matthew. With his help Matthew was able to recognize and cooperate with the painful refining process the Lord was using to correct many flaws that would have undermined later fruitfulness for the Lord. During this time Matthew also began to pursue and develop his trade as a finish carpenter.
Over the next few years the Lord steadily continued to work deeply in Matthew’s life as he was living in this discipleship father-son relationship with Stan. Meantime the Lord was opening doors for his speaking ministry, and often the two of them would minister together. Matthew was intent on pursuing God without allowing any distraction. He had particularly struggled with the distraction of Romance and had purposed to give this whole matter to the Lord.
At one point as Stan was spending time with the Lord in prayer he felt impressed that his daughter Maranatha was to one day become Matthew’s wife. Because there was a significant age difference between them, he doubted this idea was from the Lord, but as he prayed about this, he became increasingly certain that God was making His will known. Eventually, as he prayed over this matter, in his own heart Stan gave Maranatha to the Lord and to Matthew. He wisely said nothing to either of them, though, waiting to see how the Lord would bring this about.
One evening, not long after this, as Matthew and Stan were traveling to a speaking engagement, Matthew confided a distraction that was troubling him. “I have a confession to make,” he told Stan. “Something is wrong with me. No matter how hard I try to avoid thinking about it, I find your daughter, Maranatha, very attractive. I don’t know what to do about it.”
Matthew was certain this attraction could not be right since Maranatha was so much younger than he. Thus he was shocked when Stan responded, “Have you ever considered that this may be a good thing? How do you know this isn’t from the Lord?” As he pondered this Matthew’s hopes began to rise. But Mr. Owen quickly began putting on the brakes. While he acknowledged the possibility of the Lord’s direction in this, he sternly warned Matthew not to touch Maranatha, nor speak with her about the matter without his consent. He specifically cautioned Matthew to be careful to avoid doing anything to draw Maranatha’s heart to himself. She wasn’t ready for marriage and romance, and her father had purposed to specially guide and protect her.
At the time of Maranatha’s birth, Stan Owen felt the Lord revealed to him that her life would be a particularly significant demonstration of Christ’s love for His church. He gave her the name “Maranatha,” meaning O Lord, Come. He was certain she had a special purpose to fulfill in demonstrating God’s heart and ways.
Matthew purposed to be very careful in how he related to Maranatha. Following her father’s instructions, as well as his own growing fear of the Lord and the innate recognition that she must be protected, he guarded his mouth and even his eyes from displaying any particular interest in her.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to Matthew, Maranatha had also begun confiding to her father an interest in Matthew. She was completely unaware of his attraction toward her at the time. Mr. Owen purposed to avoid encouraging her interest, but wondered if it might be of the Lord. He challenged Maranatha to keep her heart pure and focused on the Lord. As time went on, however, Maranatha found her attraction for Matthew increasingly distracting. She even began having trouble sleeping at night. She regularly confided her struggles with her father.
Mr. Owen knew Maranatha was not ready for marriage and as he observed her struggle he eventually realized he must step in and relieve her. Knowing that if this relationship was of the Lord, He would resurrect it at the proper time (and such time was not soon), he instructed her that she needed to give this whole matter up to the Lord and truly die to it. He gently directed her to completely give up any hope of ever having Matthew. She was to wholly give herself to the Lord without any lingering desire for Matthew. After a struggle with her own emotions she chose to trust and submit to her father and came to the place of surrender. God gave her the grace to completely give up all interest in Matthew. She entered into rest and, for the first time in quite a while, was able to sleep peacefully.
Still mindful of this principle of necessary death and resurrection, Mr. Owen now encouraged Matthew that he needed to completely give up his interest in Maranatha to the Lord, because she was not ready and he would only be tormenting himself to hold onto any hope. If she was the one God had for him, there was no hurry. If not, dying to this hope would spare him further unnecessary distraction. This was quite a struggle, but, in time, Matthew also saw the wisdom in laying it all down, and he came to the peace of surrender and entered into rest. Shortly thereafter, he was able to focus his attention so completely on the Lord that he rather successfully put Maranatha out of his mind.
One day, about one year later, in the early fall of 1987, as Matthew was driving and communing with the Lord, he was surprised to find his mind focusing on Maranatha. He was somewhat dismayed and immediately began trying to put these thoughts away. As he struggled to put his mind back on the Lord, he suddenly felt that the Lord gave him a specific and surprising word. (He vividly remembers the very time and spot as he was driving over a bridge crossing the Brazos River in Waco, Texas.) He felt the Lord tell him “I am giving you the desire of your heart. Don’t be afraid of it.” Matthew immediately sensed the Lord was referring to Maranatha. He was excited, but wanted to be certain his own imagination wasn’t deceiving him.
At the next opportunity Matthew shared with Stan what he felt the Lord had shown him. Stan took this in thoughtfully and confirmed that it might well be the Lord. As they continued discussing this Matthew proceeded to ask for permission to propose marriage to Maranatha. Mr. Owen promised that he would pray about it and get back to him when he had an answer. He again reminded Matthew to say nothing to Maranatha of the matter, and to be careful that he did nothing to draw her heart unless and until he was authorized to do so. He encouraged Matthew to keep focusing his full attention on the Lord.
During the next several months, Matthew periodically asked Stan if he had heard anything, to which Stan would reply, “Nothing I am ready to share.” Though these conversations were disappointing, Matthew resigned himself to waiting, and respected Stan’s determination to wait for the Lord’s time and design.
Throughout the previous year or so the Lord had been revealing much to both Stan and Matthew concerning the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the church. In light of this, they had spent hours discussing and seeking the Lord about God’s eternal purpose of preparing a bride for His Son. A by-product of these discussions focused on how an earthly marriage might be different from the typical Western experience if it were consciously patterned after the design revealed in scripture–the picture of Christ, the heavenly bridegroom, coming to take his bride, the church.
On Christmas Eve, 1987, Stan gave Matthew a Christmas card that he had made himself. On the front it said, “This year for Christmas, I am going to give you the greatest gift I could ever give you.” When Matthew opened the card, there was a beautiful photograph of Maranatha. Included on the card were some instructions: “On January 1st, you may ask Maranatha to marry you.” As Matthew looked up, Stan said, “On the evening of this coming New Year’s Day, you may propose to Maranatha.”
Mr. Owen went on to articulate further expectations to Matthew. “Don’t you dare kiss her or do anything physically intimate with her, or the whole thing is off!” In addition, Stan informed Matthew that, even though he was allowing him to take this step toward marriage with Maranatha, she was still not completely ready, and he would not give her to him until he was confident she had reached such readiness, which “could be months or even years.”
On New Years Eve, Matthew was visiting with the Owen family and, in her father’s presence, asked Maranatha, rather casually, if she would like to go have some Chinese food with him the next evening. She was surprised and delighted, but puzzled. She immediately glanced at her father questioningly and, receiving his smiling nod of approval, agreed to join Matthew the following evening. She began wondering if perhaps God was, after all, resurrecting the romantic hopes she had put to death. She did not ponder this for too long, however, purposing to keep her heart from getting ahead of her.
That next evening of New Year’s Day 1988, as Maranatha was getting ready to go out to dinner with Matthew, her father asked her to plan on going out for breakfast with him the next morning. This struck her as both unusual and interesting, because she knew her father to be one who seldom initiated going to breakfast unless there was something specific he wanted to talk about.
At the restaurant that evening Maranatha and Matthew chatted about various things of mutual interest. All the while, Maranatha was growing increasingly impatient to find out what was going on. Finally, she told Matthew about her unusual appointment to go out for breakfast the next day with her father. Then she asked, “Do you have any idea what he wants to talk to me about?”
Matthew smiled and answered, “I think I do.”
“Please tell me,” Maranatha pled.
Matthew looked into Maranatha’s eyes and evenly began to explain his attraction to her, his sense of God’s direction, and his desire to marry her.
Maranatha’s countenance lit up with both excitement and astonishment, but she then responded cautiously, “Does my father know you are saying this?” Matthew gently assured her that Mr. Owen had given his blessing on his proposal and that the decision was now up to her. She immediately relaxed in the delight that God was indicating His blessing on this through her father’s protective authorization.
Matthew made it clear that he could not offer her an easy, secure life. He explained God’s claim and call on His life, and that this might include privation and other forms of suffering. He wanted Maranatha to consider seriously the potential cost to her of marrying him. He particularly noted that because of their relatively large age difference, she would likely someday be widowed, with a number of years still left to live on this earth. Finally, he asked her to not give him an answer at least until she had talked with her father about all these considerations.
The next day Stan Owen took his daughter out to breakfast. He assured her of his blessing and they discussed all the benefits and risks of her marrying Matthew. Ultimately all that mattered, though, was an assurance that this was God’s will, which they both believed it was. Later that day Maranatha delightedly communicated her acceptance of Matthew’s proposal.
Matthew and Maranatha agreed with her father that they should save physical affection for one another until they were married. But when would that be?
In the following days the young couple enjoyed discussing and praying about the actual wedding plans with her father. Mr. Owen made known his wishes that he wanted to give Maranatha to Matthew in a fashion that would glorify God and demonstrate the relationship of Christ and His church. Matthew was already prepared for this and wholeheartedly agreed, recognizing, however, that he didn’t know what all that might mean practically. Mr. Owen began sharing more of his vision for a wedding that would reflect the various pictures given in the scriptures of Christ and His bride.
Matthew and Maranatha joined Mr. Owen in committing to having their wedding be a demonstration of Christ’s coming for His bride. For example, in the Bible times apparently neither the bride nor groom knew exactly when the wedding was to happen. The parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) reflects this commonly accepted practice. Jesus seemed to also allude to this in Mark 13:32 when he said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Matthew and Maranatha agreed to allow her father (and his spiritual father) to set the day and hour for their wedding without telling them. When the time approached he would warn them to be ready and give a sense of the nearness of the event so they might focus on final preparations. He promised to give them both, but especially Maranatha, a window of time in which the wedding would occur, so that she could see to it that she was constantly ready for his coming for her during that period of time.
They all recognized that marriage engagements in our day are not considered sacred promises. Even for most Christians the engagement period still offers a final opportunity to consider the seriousness of this life-long commitment to marriage before making the decision final. Thus it is not unheard of for Christian couples to call off an engagement after having publicly announced their intention to marry.
In the Bible, however, this was not true. Prior to a marriage the couple would enter into a betrothal. The betrothal involved a virtually irrevocable covenant. The only way to revoke a betrothal was through a legally recognized divorce! And scripturally, divorce was only allowed because of moral impurity.
Recognizing this reality, Matthew and Maranatha desired to enter into a betrothal and do something that, for American culture, was more than engagement and yet less than full marriage. To accomplish this, on February 22, 1988, Stan took Matthew and Maranatha to a Justice of the Peace and they became legally bound in matrimony. Yet before God and with those whom they had close fellowship, it was understood that the consummation of their marriage, or any intimate physical affection, was not authorized until the actual wedding, which was to take place later. This was their way of implementing the pattern of the irrevocable betrothal as it was practiced in the Bible.
During the betrothal period it was Matthew’s task to prepare a place to take Maranatha to live together after their marriage. This was recognized as symbolic of Christ’s words (John 14:2-3), “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
One of Maranatha’s tasks during this betrothal period was to make for herself a white linen wedding gown. This was a conscious effort to model Revelation 19:7-8, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
Stan Owen’s task was to plan and organize the entire wedding, as portrayed in Matthew 22. Since Matthew and Maranatha did not know “the day or the hour,” it was not incumbent upon them to “carry the ball” for planning and pulling off the wedding, though Stan did periodically ask for their input concerning certain things.
The primary focus of the betrothal time for all concerned, however, was to encourage the knitting together of Matthew’s & Maranatha’s hearts as husband and wife. Their betrothal was recognized as an authorization to communicate the depths of their feelings with one another and to release their emotions to one another, adding to the cautious friendship relationship they already had walked in as brother and sister in the Lord for more than four years.
Mr. Owen still faithfully directed both Matthew and Maranatha to avoid physical affection until their wedding. He particularly cautioned them to guard against impatience. Especially since Maranatha was rather young, their wedding might be quite a long way off yet. Though they hoped that the time would be soon, they nevertheless resigned themselves to the real possibility that the wedding could be a matter of years down the road, much like Jacob’s seven year betrothal to Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). Yet they were both naturally quite motivated and energetically prepared in every way they could, as quickly as they could, just in case the wedding should suddenly be announced.
One evening the following summer Matthew was having dinner with Maranatha’s family. After dinner Mr. Owen abruptly and unexpectedly announced that they would play a game. Matthew had already been coached on what was to transpire. Mr. Owen quickly had Matthew sit on one side of the room and Maranatha on the other, with himself in the middle. First he turned to Matthew and asked, “Do you have anything you want to say to Maranatha?”
Matthew immediately responded, “I love you, Maranatha.”
Then Mr. Owen turned and pointed to Maranatha and asked, “Do you have anything you would like to say in response to Matthew?”
She was puzzled and the only thing she could think of to say was, “I love you too, Matthew.”
Mr. Owen smiled in satisfaction and pointed back to Matthew, saying, “Do you have anything else to say to Maranatha?”
Matthew repeated, “I love you Maranatha.” Then he added, “Be ready for me when I come!”
Now Maranatha was getting excited. Mr. Owen then pointed back to her and asked, “Do you have anything else to say to Matthew?”
Maranatha quizzed impatiently, “Does this mean our wedding will be soon?!?” It had only been a little over six months since they had become committed to marrying. During their betrothal they had repeatedly reminded each other of their willingness to wait years. Could their wedding be just around the corner?
Matthew grinned and repeated, “Be ready for me when I come!”
Immediately the other members of her family surrounded Maranatha and quickly led her away out of the house. From that moment until the actual time Matthew went to get her for their wedding, they did not see or talk to one another. Maranatha was taken to stay at the home of a Christian family where she was to wait until Matthew came to claim her as his bride. She was only told that the wedding would be some time within the next three weeks.
Her father did make it somewhat easier for her by assuring her that Matthew would come to take her sometime between 3:00 p.m. and midnight on the appointed wedding day. But Maranatha wasn’t told what day that would be. She was instructed to keep her bags packed, her hair fixed, and her wedding dress on every afternoon and evening until midnight, until Matthew came for her. Day after day passed and Maranatha yearned for her bridegroom. Now that she knew the wedding would be soon it was becoming very difficult to wait peacefully. As she purposed to focus on the Lord in prayer, new insights were opened to her as she found herself longing for the Lord’s return as well.
Matthew was also instructed to be ready to go and pick up his bride the moment her father gave him the word. He looked forward to the day when he would be authorized to claim her fully as his wife. As he waited, he found himself identifying strongly with Christ’s yearning for His bride, the church. Spiritual treasures were opened to him that he had never understood before.
One evening as Maranatha was waiting expectantly for Matthew, her father appeared and told her he wanted to take her to dinner. He assured her this was not the night Matthew would come for her. He wanted to have one last opportunity to prepare her for her imminent marriage. Mr. Owen took her to a very nice restaurant and over dinner began expressing his delight in Maranatha’s servant-hearted trust toward him up until this point. He explained that she would soon be required to transfer her whole-hearted allegiance to Matthew. This might conceivably even require her to follow his leadership in opposition to that of her father’s at some point. Still, he wanted her to fully entrust herself to her husband as her new leader.
This memorable conversation continues to be a cherished memory for both Stan and Maranatha. And Matthew is so grateful for the wise preparation this was for the transition of Maranatha’s loyalty to him. Stan was fully releasing his daughter a heart-wrenching experience. But in so doing he laid the foundation for a much more fulfilling parental relationship with her. Furthermore, rather than losing a daughter, his wise handling of this relationship ensured his acquisition of a loyal, unthreatened son-in-law.
Finally the day came when Stan Owen notified Matthew that everything was ready and it was time for the wedding feast. He also explained that from the time Matthew claimed Maranatha they would be married. He was giving his daughter to his spiritual son/disciple.
Matthew was ready. A “friend of the bridegroom” drove Matthew to the home where Maranatha and her attendant were waiting. Upon arriving, he bounded out of the car and up to the front door. Without knocking he entered the house with a SHOUT (as he had been instructed based on Matthew 25:6 & 1 Thes. 4:16), “Maranatha!! Maranatha!!”
When she heard his voice, Maranatha jumped up from where she was sitting with shock and joy. Matthew once again cried out, “Maranatha!” She hurriedly grabbed her packed suitcase and she and her attendant joined Matthew and “the friend of the bridegroom” in the waiting car. Neither of the newlyweds knew where they were being taken, but that was not their greatest interest at this moment.
The car pulled up to a rented banquet hall in the middle of a park in central Waco. There were approximately 150 friends and family members there waiting for them. As Matthew and Maranatha got out of the car, the guests, who were lining both sides of the walkway leading to the banquet hall, began loudly and joyfully singing a majestic song Stan had written just for this moment:
The bridegroom cometh,
The bridegroom cometh,
To catch his bride away!
The bridegroom cometh!
The bridegroom cometh!
No longer shall he delay!
The bride has made herself ready
Her name, Maranatha, “Lord come!”
The feast is now set before you,
So enter your joy and be one!
The bridegroom cometh!
The bridegroom cometh!
Matthew and Maranatha savored the moments strolling slowly and joyfully to the wedding hall between the assembled witnesses as they sang through this song several times. They were ushered into the beautifully decorated candle-lit hall and seated at an opulently embellished table set for just the two of them. At this point, the wedding feast began! Matthew and Maranatha were served all of their favorite dishes, which were prepared by a sister-in-Christ who is a gourmet cook, and whose husband served as their butler during the meal. All the guests enjoyed a pot-luck dinner and sat at tables which surrounded Matthew and Maranatha’s. As the newlyweds dined they were treated to the delightful music of a harpist playing praises to the Lord, interspersed by other musical presentations by various ones. Then the guests began bringing their gifts to be opened and received one at a time, so that Matthew and Maranatha could share that moment with each individual or family who was giving to them. Matthew and Maranatha felt like a king and queen.
Earlier that day, Matthew had felt the Lord wanted him to pray for a specific amount of money needed for their honeymoon, but he didn’t know how much to pray for. He asked for wisdom and began calculating. He figured $1500 would easily cover the expenses for a nice time alone for a week, as well as for things they would need in the few days immediately following their return. So he prayed for the Lord to confirm His pleasure by supplying $1500 for their honeymoon. At that time, he only had enough to pay for their first night’s hotel stay, but not enough for the rest of the honeymoon trip he had planned. No one else knew about this prayer request which he felt the Lord had initiated. He was a little anxious, but trusted the Lord, not having any idea how the Lord might provide this sum. But at the wedding feast, during the time when people brought their gifts to the newlyweds, in addition to the presents that some gave, cards and envelopes containing money literally began to pile up on the table. Later that night at their hotel room, Matthew and Maranatha counted the monetary gifts. All together they totalled just over $1500.
The ceremonial celebration continued after all the gifts had been presented by the guests, in admittedly untypical, but Biblically instructed order. Everyone began to dance Jewish folk dances around the couple, and in time, Matthew and Maranatha joined in as well. Many there had never done anything like this before, but the dancing turned out beautifully appropriate to everyone’s delight. As they danced they began praising and worshipping the Lord.
Opportunities were provided for various ones, including both Stan and Matthew to share what was on their hearts. Among other things, they explained to all those present the reasons for this betrothal and marriage being conducted in such an unusual manner. They spoke of the Lord Jesus and the bride He has been patiently waiting for, and how Matthew and Maranatha wanted their lives spent to that end. They noted that they desired this wedding to be a picture of, and an intercession for, the Lord accomplishing His purpose and being joined to His bride.
There was a time for those attending to pray for Matthew and Maranatha’s marriage union and the family to come. Another ceremonial highlight was a time of all sharing communion.
Before Matthew and Maranatha publicly articulated their previously prepared vows to one another, she sang the following song, which she and another sister-in-Christ had written together:
You’ve captured me, O Lord.
I’m Your bride Your prize
You’ve called me, and wooed me.
I’m the joy of Your heart!
I wonder that you only ask
That I respond
and unfold My heart with its treasure
To the call of Your love.
My own heart rejoices
And dances before You,
As I watch with amazement
That my love should please you so.
For You sought me. You wanted this.
You pursued me with Your ardent love!
You changed me from a girl into
The bride that You sing of!
After this, Matthew and Maranatha spoke forth their vows to one another, and then everyone began worshipping the Lord together for some time. This wedding had continued on for over four hours, and would have continued on for longer, because the presence of the Lord was so sweet. In fact, it only ended when the hall custodians began flipping the lights on and off to remind them that the celebration had gone longer than the rental agreement called for.
As everyone departed, Matthew and Maranatha went to a nice hotel and began their married lives together kneeling by the bed and committing their marriage to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.