Pentecost 20 – (October 22nd, 2006)
“A Marriage Made in Heaven”
The joining together of a man and a woman, before God and their fellow man – marriage – is a blessed estate established by God himself.
We read in Genesis how God created man from the dust. And though everything else he created God called “good”. He said it was “not good” for man to be alone. So God created woman from the man’s rib. And only when he had made Adam such a suitable companion did God pronounce his creation to be “very good”.
Yet, as we know, creation didn’t stay “very good” for long. When man and woman sinned, they brought the effects of sin down on themselves, the creation under them, and even upon their own marriage. Not only that, but upon all the fruits of their marriage – their children, their children’s children, and all the marriages that would ever be – are now tainted by the same stain of sin. Fruit of the poisoned tree, if you will.
One old joke says that Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage because he didn’t have to hear about her old boyfriends, and she didn’t have to hear about his mother’s cooking. But in reality, there is only one marriage made in heaven. As we consider the estate of marriage today, we find good news in the heavenly union of Christ the bridegroom, and his church the bride. And in this blessed union, we find the promise that God in Christ is restoring his creation, and each of us, to “very good” status for eternity.
Today, many people are talking about marriage. And there doesn’t seem to be much good news. The oft-quoted rate of divorce is a sad fact of the day. Broken homes and families in discord provide obvious evidence of the sin that we’ve inherited, and the sin that we embrace. God’s strong words against the sin of divorce don’t stop people from justifying in their own minds why “this marriage just isn’t working”. Why vows can be broken, and why what God has joined together can be put asunder.
It’s much like in Jesus’ day, when the Pharisees tested Jesus on the law of Moses regarding divorce. But here Jesus is showing how Moses’ concession to divorce in the civil laws of ancient Israel does not trump the moral principle set up at creation. One commentator says about these certificates of divorce: “for without this regulation a harsh man might be inclined to dismiss his wife even without giving her any written evidence that she was now no longer married. But Jesus shows that it was because of sinful, hardened hearts that such a law was even conceivable.
And I am sure many of us have in mind the push for the recognition of so-called “gay marriage”. How some would allow a re-definition of what God has established, and give a societal stamp of approval to this manifest sin of homosexuality. As your pastor, I can point you to the clear words of scripture concerning marriage, and the sin of homosexuality, and leave it to each of you to decide how to enact these values at the polls.
Whatever assaults there are on marriage today, we need to see how our own sin relates to the matter. Perhaps you aren’t married yet, or perhaps your spouse has gone to be with the Lord already. Perhaps you are married with no thoughts of divorce. But let this sermon draw each of us to see our own sin regarding marriage.
You married: Do you treat your spouse with all the love, honor, and cherishing you promised on your wedding day? How well do you keep those vows? Do you commit adultery in your heart? Do you submit to your husband as to Christ? Do you love your wife as Christ loved his church, and died for her?
You unmarried: Do you support the institution of marriage as well as individual marriages and families? Do you speak highly of this gift of God? Do you fall into a sinful complacency - resigned to how things aren’t like they used to be?
Do you who are yet to be married keep yourselves pure in deed and thought? Do you buy into the great lies of our day that sex is ok if you love the person, and that you need to test it out before you make the big commitment anyway?
Or are you divorced, and carrying around the burden of guilt when you read Scriptures like these? Have you justified the unjustifiable in your mind? Even if you were the victim, how did you contribute to the marriage’s demise? No one handles these things perfectly in a sinful world.
When it comes to God’s gracious gift of marriage, there is plenty of sin to go around. We can piously stand and point the finger at those “out there” who are assaulting marriage, but we must first and foremost see God’s law pointing at our own sins and failings in the matter.
As I said there seems little good news when it comes to marriage today, and that is true even when we look at ourselves. But there is a marriage made in heaven. And it is good news for all of us.
There are two human relationships God uses throughout the scriptures to describe his relationship to us. One is parent-child, that he is our “Heavenly Father” and we are his children. This is the one we’re most familiar with. But the other is that of marriage.
God is the husband to his people. In the Old Testament he laments how his people engaged in spiritual adultery by worshipping other gods, even though he “was a husband to them”.
And in the New Testament, the comparison to marriage is emphasized as Christ is seen to be the bridegroom, the husband to his people, the church.
This union of Jesus Christ to his people is the marriage made in heaven. For our bridegroom pursued us. He came from heaven to where we are. He wooed us and loved us with a love that exceeds all earthly romance.
Often love stories describe what the lovers give up in order to be together. Family, wealth, even a royal throne. Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice to win his beloved church. He leaves his heavenly throne. He humbles himself – taking on our human flesh and putting aside his divine glory. He undergoes the temptations common to us all. And finally he goes to the cross to pay the dowry for this mystical marriage.
But all this was not just to give us an example of perfect love. Better, we are united with him in a mystical one-flesh union, in which we too die (to sin) and rise to newness of life. Having become the bride of Christ, the church takes on a new name – the name of our beloved – the triune name of God given us in baptism.
And our heavenly husband provides for our every need. He certainly blesses us with earthly things, but even more with every spiritual blessing. For in this heavenly marriage it’s not “until death do us part”, but it is “death cannot even part us” from his love.
For all our sins, relating to marriage or anything else for that matter, we have forgiveness in Christ the loving bridegroom. And because of that forgiveness, we are blessed beyond belief.
Finally, no earthly marriage seems complete these days without a celebration. One pastor jokes that he simply charges couples 10% of whatever they spend on the reception as a fee for getting married in the church. We have all seen the lavish and outlandish receptions thrown by some couples who spend thousands and thousands on that one special day.
In the heavenly marriage, there is also a feast of celebration. It is the promised consummation of the Lamb (Jesus) and his bride the church. And we look forward to that day when we all join to celebrate at the heavenly banquet table. When Christ comes again, what has been promised will be fulfilled.
Until then, we enjoy a foretaste of the feast to come. As we gather at the altar, we are receiving a down payment on the eternity we will share with the bridegroom. Here at his altar, our bread-winner provides for us a miraculous meal of his own body and blood. Here we receive forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. Here he pledges his eternal love to us anew each time. For today, and forever.
Earthly marriage is a blessing from God. But even though (because of our sin) it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be, it points to the greater marriage – the heavenly union of Christ to his people. All praise and thanks and honor be to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who has loved and honored, cherished and kept us, and always will.
In His Name. Amen.