Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:2-16
Dear bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wow! Another Bible passage on marriage! Marriage comes up so much in the Bible you almost have to think that God thinks it’s kind of important. I don’t think there’s a single book of the Bible that doesn’t teach pertaining to marriage. The Bible starts and ends with a marriage. The prophets frequently preached about marriage. Jesus regularly taught concerning marriage and the Epistles continuously bring it up.
This makes sense, because marriage is the most honourable institution on earth. It is honourable because God Himself established it. Marriage was not invented by society to fit a certain need at a certain time. God instituted and established marriage in paradise as a gift for husband and wife. Marriage is God’s institution regardless of what governments think about it; regardless of what judges think about it; and regardless of what we think about it.
Marriage is the basic building block of society. It is for mutual support and encouragement. It is for being fruitful and multiplying, raising up children in a stable environment and in the knowledge of Jesus their Saviour. As our Introit taught from Psalm 127, “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.”
The prophet Malachi writes that God still blesses marriage, even after the Fall. He writes that God is a witness to marriage and that God Himself joins husband and wife together. He makes them one with a portion of His Spirit in their union (Mal. 2:14-15).
Marriage is the most honourable institution on earth. No wonder the devil attacks it so aggressively. Throughout history, marriage has been under attack by those who have said that life-long chastity is the ideal for Christians. Marriage has been under attack by those who have said fornication is the ideal; by those who have said that marriage is not for one man and one woman; by those who have said that marriage ends when I want it to end.
But a Christian must see marriage as God sees it. God created male and female and blessed them saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28) And He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a helper fit for him… Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:18, 24) “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mt. 19:6) This is God’s Word concerning God’s institution.
But “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away,” cry the Pharisees. There were provisions in the law allowing for divorce, so thus divorce is allowed, isn’t it? Jesus responds, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this commandment.” In other words, divorce is never the will of God, but because husbands act like selfish, loveless, uncaring brutes and wives refuse to respect and submit to their husbands, the law allows divorce. Because husbands are cowards who refuse to stand up for their families and wives usurp headship in the home, the law allows divorce. Because husbands and wives refuse to forgive each other as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven them, the law allows divorce.
But from the beginning it was not so. That’s not God’s institution of marriage. God instituted marriage to last for life. What God has joined together, is not to be separated by man, “and whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Let’s face it. We’ve made a mess of marriage. We haven’t treasured God’s gift of marriage – either our own marriages or our children’s or our grandchildren’s. We’ve fallen into the world’s way of looking at marriage – like it’s insignificant, simply a piece of paper, or some superficial government classification. We’ve made a mess of marriage and we cannot fix it. We cannot undo what we have done.
We need to look to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t look at us and say, “Hey, there’s a husband and wife that have such a great marriage full of sacrificial love – they can be part of my Church.” Jesus does not say, “Hey, there’s a marriage that isn’t messed up, they can join me in the Church.” This is exactly backwards.
Jesus took us in our filthy, sinful marriages and washed us. He loved us and gave Himself for us while we were yet sinners. Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Jesus cleansed us by the washing of water with the Word – in our Baptism! Baptism is a cleansing that purifies and washes (1 Cor. 6:11). He washed us, the Church, to be His bride. We cannot cleanse ourselves, but He cleanses us. Jesus cleanses the Church.
He cleanses men from their failures as husbands and fathers. He cleanses women from their failures as wives and mothers. In His Church, Jesus cleanses those who have dishonoured marriage and lived outside of His blessing. He cleanses those who have dishonoured their bodies outside of His design. He cleanses the Church from our failure to act like His bride. That’s the promise of being part of the Church of Christ, of being the bride of Christ. Jesus gives forgiveness to His bride.
Unlike a human marriage where both husband and wife bring something into the relationship, our relationship with Jesus is rather one-sided. We bring nothing in except our sin, but out of His great love for us He continually forgives our sin. He prepares us for the great wedding feast that has no end by washing away all of our sins. He covers us in our wedding garment that covers all of our sin. Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of His bride by giving His life for her on the cross, and He is preparing a wedding banquet to celebrate with us for eternity.
Scripture uses marriage to point to Christ and the Church. We can readily understand the faithfulness that is expected of husband to wife and of wife to husband in marriage. This helps us to understand the enormity of Jesus’ forgiveness to us for our faithlessness towards Him. Even though we have sinned against Him, He does not divorce us. Despite our faithlessness, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Despite the sins we have committed during the week, Jesus calls us to receive Absolution from Him through the mouth of the pastor. Despite the sins we have committed during the week, Jesus gives us His body and blood to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.
Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, widows, widowers, grandparents, godparents, divorcees, adulterers – this communion rail is where forgiveness is given to you. The bridegroom of the Church, Jesus your Saviour, here gives Himself to you. It’s rather one-sided. You bring you sins, and Jesus takes them from you, giving you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Because wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.