[Based on Gen 2, Mark 10, and Heb 1-2.]
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
To listen the sermon PRESS THE ORANGE BUTTON!
This is a very interesting Sunday. At least it appears so to me. For one, we have entered a new stage into our LCA journey, we have a new church-wide bishop and a new assistant bishop. May God our Father bless richly their ministry!
But then also, as you perhaps can image, for us Baikovs as strangers and sojourners in this wonderful country, and probably partly because of my calling, we don’t have exactly too many friends.
But suddenly today we are invited to two weddings… on the same day! And finally, all today’s readings revolve around this great mystery that is the institution of marriage. So, what to preach on, that was my question?
Now let’s do a little Bible quiz. How does the Bible end? We could say that it ends with marriage of the Lamb and His Bride the Church and the eternal wedding feast in New Heavens and New Earth and happily ever after.
Okay. How does the Bible begin? Yes, it also begins with marriage, with marriage of Adam and Eve, or we could say with the introduction of this wonderful gift – marriage. It didn’t continue with happily ever after, though.
Now, how do we read stories? Where do we begin? Yes, usually we begin in the beginning, and then we travel through that journey to the end. And that is how we perceive this life. One thing follows after another and so on and on.
But what if our God has written our story from the end? What if He, the Creator of all things visible and invisible, what if He has planned everything with the certain end in mind? What if He knew from the very beginning what the end result of His creative efforts will look like?
How would He otherwise be able to reveal it to us? How would He otherwise be able to foretell from the very beginning, what He accomplished in Jesus Christ only two millennia ago? Because He knows how everything ends.
Remember, no sparrow falls on the ground without God the Father knowing it. Even all the hair of our heads are numbered. More, even the tiniest elementary particle in the whole Universe and its travels from the beginning of time to the end is accounted for. Our God is the Creator, He is completely in control.
We may be scared, anxious, confused, worried, and so on. Not Him. Our God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, He knows exactly how our story will end, because that is His story, and no one and nothing can mess up His plans.
And He calls you His children, and He has promised that He will never ever abandon you, and unless we run away from Him, He will bring us to that eternal wedding feast with all the countless multitudes of His saints.
Now, let us zoom in on marriage. I believe that usually we think about marriage as something belonging to this age, and mostly it is true. But what we fail to see, what we fail to perceive is the connection between our earthly marriage and the marriage between Christ, the Son of God and His Bride, the Church.
What if the institution of marriage is given to us not only so that we can fulfill the 1st Great Commission “to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over it”? What if the institution of marriage is given to us also for another purpose – to teach us something deep and very important about our relationships with our Triune God? This is what I would like to reflect on today.
First, we will look at how marriage is described in Genesis 2, for that is what Jesus and the apostles quoted. Then we will reflect on what this brief description teaches us about our relationships with the Trinity.
Let’s hear it once more: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) I am always fascinated how much is packed in these few verses in Genesis 1 to 3.
That is amazing! No one can ever grasp all the depth and breadth of it. What does this verse teach about marriage? It reveals three main elements that make marriage a marriage, that define what marriage is.
And the three are – leaving, holding fast, or we could say – cleaving, and becoming one flesh. Let’s unpack what does this mean? First, leaving. Can you tell me what are our most important relationships when we are born?
Yes, those are family relationships with our parents, and they usually remain as the most important until someone else becomes the most important person in our lives, namely – our spouse.
Then those new relationships with our spouse become the most important relationships, the most important allegiance in our lives. There is something else. It is not just that our allegiance naturally changes from parents to spouse, more, it must happen, or that marriage is not going to work. Why?
If either, husband or wife, still holds their ties with their family as more important and with higher priority, if they regard their previous relationships as more significant, that will not lead to good marriage. It just won’t work. According to the Creator’s good and wise design, the relationship with our spouse needs to be our top priority, our ultimate allegiance in this life.
Then comes the next element, that is, holding fast, or cleaving. I say “cleaving” because the word in Ancient Hebrew describes something like gluing two things together, so close and permanent are our relationships in marriage according to our God’s design.
Now, what does this “cleaving” mean? Or we could ask, and this is how I usually ask people in pre-marital counselling: “What will keep your marriage going till the end of your lives?” Can you guess what the usual response is?
Love! Our love. And what is usually understood by it is … this uplifting, wonderful emotional state, this thrill and affection and magnetic attraction to other person… all the beautiful things, all the chemistry that we may be blessed to experience in the early stages of our relationships.
Can you see what is wrong with this? This understanding of love is about emotions, about feelings, and as we all know it too well, those things are not permanent, they come and go, they change, and we are not in control of them.
To embark into long life journey hoping that a fleeting emotion will help to get through all the challenges and trials, is building our house on the sand. You know what happens when the flood of problems comes. Such house collapses.
We need better foundation. And our Lord teaches us just that, if we take His love towards us as an example. His love is defined by His promises to us, by His decision to commit to us, by His covenantal faithfulness.
His attitudes to us are not defined by fuzzy feelings – “O, these lovely people, they are so good, I like them so much”. Not at all, He knows our hearts, He knows what we are like, and despite that – He binds Himself to us.
And so should we in our marital relationships. It should be our promise, solemn vow, commitment of faithfulness that will serve as our foundation for this “cleaving”. That will lead to rich and long-lasting relationships.
Unfortunately, these days there is shortage of commitment. People prefer to be free even when considering their most important relationships. “Let’s not cleave to one another just yet, let’s see, maybe someone better comes along.”
Thus, for the sake of false sense of freedom, we sacrifice the very thing that would bring us true fulfillment and satisfaction. We need to share this wisdom with the world, so that we could see more happy people.
Third element was … yes, becoming one flesh. This is about two becoming one. The Bible calls it mystery, and I don’t think we can fully understand it either. It is about sexual intimacy and pleasures, but it is also so much more.
It is about two people becoming one… about this union which has no analogies in this world. It is about sharing everything, knowing one another better than anyone else. It is about this unique, complementary bio-social system.
Which is capable of fulfilling the 1st Great Commission, of being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth; about giving birth, raising, teaching and preparing children for their own independent lives.
This is what marriage is about according to God’s design. The only institution given by God, mysterious and magnificent, wonderful gift – if received and enjoyed properly. It has the power to transform our entire lives, to lift them up or to drag them down. Sadly, but too often we witness the later.
You, too, may be listening to this and feeling guilt or shame mounting up, as you consider your life, what you have done wrong, what you have failed to do, what others have done to you, how you have been treated and so on.
If so then you need to hear this. This is why Jesus Christ came into the world, to relieve you of your guilt, to make your conscience clean again, to cover your shame with His radiant glory, to restore you so that you know that in His eyes, and in the eyes of God the Father you are good, very good, beautiful and loved. Remember this, every day and every minute! You are forgiven, restored and now longed for by all God’s saints in His eternal Kingdom.
I am sorry that we only briefly scratched the surface of what this verse teaches us, as there is so much more, so much more. But we can’t cover it all in one sermon. You may be able to learn much more about this shortly, in a few weeks.
Now, to our second point. How does the institution of marriage teach us about our ultimate relationships with the Triune God? Let’s reflect on the three elements again. What were the three elements of marriage?
Yes, leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh. Leaving our previous most important relationships and entering new ones. This is what our God expects from us and this is … what He has done for us. For you. We don’t know anything about what happened before the beginning.
But we know what happened after. Our God has made us His top priority, His most important relationships. The story of this world from the beginning till the end is about Him and us. We are His own, we are the Bride of Christ.
There is nothing more important to the Triune God than His human creatures. He created this Universe so that we can live here with Him. He guides the whole history of the world to the end which He has revealed to us, towards New Heavens and New Earth where we will reign with Jesus forever.
We are His # 1. And He invites us to respond. He says to you: “This is how precious and significant you are to me. Would you honour me by making your ultimate allegiance to me as I have made to you?” That is His proposal to you.
Then comes cleaving. Remember, it was about the glue that will keep our relationships going till the end. We can learn and only marvel about how our God has glued Himself to us.
He doesn’t owe us anything. We can’t demand anything from Him. We actually don’t deserve anything. But He, He has pledged everlasting faithfulness to us. He has tied Himself to us by His solemn promises.
He has made this covenant with us, signing it with His own blood. He knows we are rebellious, foolish, ungrateful, arrogant bunch, who will turn away from Him as soon as we are tempted with something that our hearts covet. He knows that, He experiences our betrayal every day, and still – He has promised that nothing in this world, visible or invisible will be able to separate us from His love in Jesus Christ. Do whatever you wish, hurt Him whatever deep you can in your sinfulness, He will not give up on you. Ever! He will be cleaving to you till the end, and He invites you to respond with the same. Commit to this God, regardless of the cost, regardless of whatever temptations may come our way.
If you stumble, if you fail, run to Him. For He Himself will help you to keep your promises, He Himself will strengthen you and He Himself will catch you when you fall. He wants you to inherit what He has prepared for you. For it is in Him, where will find answers and fulfillment to all our longings.
The last element was… yes, becoming one flesh. What can we even say?! The Word became flesh. The eternal Son of God became one of us. True God and true man. He united us, humanity with Himself tighter than we can comprehend.
More, as He speaks to us today in His written and spoken Work, He comes to us with His Holy Spirit and He indwells in us. He embraces us with the Father and the Son, in one, holy, eternal, divine followship with Himself and with all those who have responded to His invitation.
Remember how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that we may be one with Him as He is one with the Father? We are one with Him. He has united us with Him. This wonderful union is not accessible to our physical senses yet.
Or we could say that He has made it somewhat accessible to our senses. The water of the Holy Baptism; we can feel it running down our neck. Even more, Jesus’ holy and precious body and blood, given to us with and under the earthy elements of bread and wine. We see it, we feel it, we touch it, we taste it. It becomes part of us as we become one with Jesus and the Triune God.
We are one with Him, we are His beloved Bride, the Church. Sure, in this age her glory is usually hidden from our eyes. She is often mocked, ridiculed and abused. But the day is coming when our God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4)
Then our divine marriage will be consummated. The wedding feast will last forever in divine blessedness and joy. This is what our earthly marriages teach us and remind us. They point to the age to come. To the Ultimate Bridegroom.
To the One who gave Himself us for us. To the Ultimate Marriage with eternal “happily ever after”. May the Spirit of Jesus who dwells in us fill us with gratitude and joy for this incredible, undeserved gift and help us to cherish and keep and guard it till death do bring us face-to-face with our Bridegroom, with glorified and reigning Jesus.