“Marriage in a World of Divorce”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'” (Mark 10:2, ESV) What a text for a wedding! You’re not thinking about divorce. You’re thinking about marriage. You’re thinking about how you cannot wait to begin this stage of your life together and how great it’s going to be. You’ve got visions and dreams and ideas and plans, and you can’t wait to get started. It’s going to be great. And then the Gospel lesson, which you chose, mind you!, comes along and the first question is, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” I know that you are not thinking about that now. Just the opposite. But there may come a day, God forbid, when you ask of the Lord, “Is it lawful?” Can I get out of this? What have I done? This is not the same person I married. (In fact, it’s the very same person; you just don’t know each other today.) Whether or not you will ever ask that question, people all around you are asking. They’re not only asking, they’re giving each other certificates of divorce and they’re sending each other away. Frankly, they’ve all given up asking. We’ve got no-fault divorce, remember? Is it Lawful, as in, in accordance with God’s Law? Who cares? And the consequences be damned. And Jesus said, it is because of the hardness of your hearts that divorce happens.
How has this come about? How have we reached such a hard-hearted state of affairs among people created by God? To understand that, we have to go back to the beginning, when God thought up this seemingly crazy idea called marriage. The Bible tells us in Genesis 2 that God brought all the animals that He had created to Adam to see what he would call them. Not one of them, however, was suitable as a partner for Adam. God then makes a woman out of Adam’s rib and, notice this, God brings Eve to Adam in the same way as He brought the other creatures, but Eve is far different from all the other creatures that Adam has seen. She is his one perfect match, his one perfect partner, his wife. God made Adam and Eve the ideal, prime example of what He intended for all human couples. Gen. 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” In a similar way, God has brought you, Sarah and Chris, together; He has caused you both to leave the loving homes of your parents, and today you will become, in some mysterious, divinely mathematic way, one flesh.
But after Genesis 2 came Genesis 3, and a serpent, and some fruit, and creation-destroying sin, and divorce. And here we are. Because of this some people have decided, whether they would put it this way or not, that marriage is no longer needed. After all, marriages break and fall apart. Men and women who vowed to spend their lives together end up as the bitterest of enemies. G.K. Chesterton wrote: “If Americans can be divorced for ‘incompatibility of temper,’ I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one…For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” So why not pack it all in and forget the marriage business. It’s just a piece of paper, right? A contract between two willing parties? It is that. If you don’t sign the paper, you’re not married in the eyes of the State of Minnesota. But God’s purposes are not usually the state’s, and the state’s purposes are not always God’s. God has some purposes for marriage, and they also have to do with the Fall into sin. There is one purpose that goes against everything in our quickie, Vegas-wedding and equally quick, no-fault divorce culture. It is this: marriage was and is designed by God to mirror His purposes and intentions for us in Jesus Christ.
How can this be? Look at all the problems married couples face today! Sometimes you might make each other so mad that you will wonder what you were thinking when you got married. You may find at some point that your desires and dreams seem to be at odds with the desires and dreams of the other person, and vice-versa. You will go through periods of silence, periods of quarreling, periods of anger, and periods of pain. These are the things that will make you question how your marriage could possibly mirror God’s purposes toward us. But in fact those are the very occasions in which you will have the opportunity to mirror God’s overwhelming love for each one of us. When God sent Christ to reconcile the world to Himself, we didn’t have much use for Him. We were His enemies, every last one of us a sinner, Paul tells us. And yet, Christ overcame our hatred of God by giving in on the cross to the very enemies whom He came to save.
When you are angry and argumentative, when you find it hard to see the good in each other, let the love of Christ compel you to look not at the faults and shortcomings of the other person, but at the new, sinless creatures that God in Christ has made both of you. And in your best, happiest times, you will show this world what the love of Christ for His Church, and the love of the Church for Christ, should look like. Chris, in your best moments, by the grace of God, you will show Sarah and those around you what true love and true sacrifice really look like, to the point of being willing to give your own life for her, as Christ did for the Church (Ephesians 5:25-31). Sarah, in your best moments, by the grace of God, you will show Chris and those around you what true love and true submission really look like, as the Church loves and submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24). It is indeed a great mystery, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:32, but it is perhaps the grandest purpose that God had for marriage when He created it. It can be summed up like this: you are forgiven. Throughout your life together, walk in that forgiveness.
Here is both the burden and the joy of marriage. In bringing you together, God has not brought you together only for yourselves. All of these people gathered here as witnesses are evidence of that. What was not needed in the Garden of Eden and what will not be needed in the resurrection is so deeply needed in this sin-sick world: two people who are willing to show the world, lost in its fascination with adultery, extra-marital sex, pornography, and divorce, that there is a God who has something better in mind. There is a God who has given so deeply of Himself, that it cost Him His only-begotten Son. There is a God who became man in order that we might know how incredibly and unimaginably much He loves His creation, including you. In your most profound struggles as husband and wife, you will show the world by your forgiveness of one another that our stubborn sinfulness can never cause God to stop loving and being willing to forgive us. God will never divorce us. Never. In your happiest and most joyful times, you will show the world by your willing sacrifice and submission to each other, and to Christ above all, that God in Christ willingly submitted to humiliation on a cross and sacrificed Himself on our behalf. As you pray together, read the Word of God together, serve God’s people together, receive Christ’s Body and Blood together, and, God willing, bring children into this world together, God’s immense, never-ending love for you in Christ Jesus will make you, often in spite of yourselves, to be the image of that love that God intends. And, in God’s grace, you will continue to be that image until you both experience that glorious day of resurrection for which we all are waiting. There will be no divorce then. Christ the Bridegroom will permanently unite Himself with His Bride the Church, and nothing can put asunder what God has joined together.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/12/07