January 18, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
The estate of marriage is not as highly honored as it once was. Christianity’s influence on Western culture from the time of Emperor Constantine down to our present day meant that civil views on marriage were pretty much aligned with the biblical teaching on marriage—a man and a woman in a lifelong union, joined together by God for mutual companionship, a curb against lust, and for the raising of children. But times have changed. We are in a post-Constantinian era. That is to say that Christianity is no longer the accepted or preferred religion and it has little to no influence upon the culture at large. It presents a new challenge—society has God’s institution of marriage, but has emptied it of everything God has said about it and changed it into something that is absolutely foreign to what God intended when He presented Eve to Adam.
Although, we tend to look at history through rose-colored glasses. We think of the good ole days when women were proper and tended the home with perfectly coifed hair and a new dress every day and men were men and wore hats and suits to respectable jobs and kids got into mischief here and there but at least had intact families to discipline them properly and make contributing members of society.
But the Preacher preaches in Ecclesiastes, What has been will be, and what has been done will be done. There is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything about which you can say, “Look, this is new?” It has been there already long before us (Ecc 1:9-10). There is nothing new about the dishonoring of marriage. Moses allowed certificates of divorce because the Israelites’ hearts were hard, but in the beginning it was not so (Mk 10:4-6). The only thing new about dishonoring marriage is that people find inventive ways of expressing their dishonor.
I’m a realist. It may be too late for our society to reclaim the estate of marriage as it once was. But just because the estate of marriage is lost among the godless and heathen doesn’t mean that it should be lost among us. The reason why marriage is honored still among us is because we still have Jesus. And
Jesus Honors Marriage Because He Honors the Church
There is yet honor for marriage. But it’s not going to be found in politician’s offices or ballot boxes or on 24 hour news talk shows. Marriage is honored wherever Christ is. If Christ is absent from the marriage conversation, then marriage can be nothing more than a human tradition. But with Jesus, marriage is more than a tradition—it’s an estate worthy of honor. Jesus honors the estate of marriage by performing His first sign to manifest His glory at a wedding.
The source of dishonoring marriage is what theologians call incurvatus in se. It means that we are naturally curved in upon ourselves—focused inwardly. It’s why Bridezilla exists. It’s why mothers of the bride can be so unbearable. And it’s why preachers would rather perform a hundred funerals to one wedding. There is an overwhelming gravitational pull by the sinful heart that desires to make everything about me. We all do it to some extent.
But it’s not so much about making the wedding about yourself. Every little girl dreams of being treated like a princess on her wedding day, and if you’re paying big bucks for one big party, you should get things the way you want it (incidentally, that’s part of the reason I don’t charge to do weddings—the Gospel doesn’t come with a price tag). The problem is when the entire marriage is built upon being incurvatus in se, when marriage is, “What can you do for me?”
Then marriage is reduced to a public expression of personal feelings. Have you ever been to a wedding where the couple wrote their own vows? Probably had a lot to do with how the other person makes me feel. And if marriage is simply a public expression of personal feelings, then there’s nothing to prevent two men from getting married, or two women, or more than two people. And when the other person ceases to provide those feelings, simply dissolve the marriage. You see why we’re at the place where we’re at with marriage.
But Jesus does not treat marriage that way. When His mother comes to Him to tell Him that the wedding feast has run out of wine, He responds, “What of me and you, woman?” (v4). That’s the literal translation, which doesn’t quite mean, “Leave it to me.” It’s a Hebraic expression that has an analogy in a request make to the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 3. It essentially means, “I understand your problem, why are you asking me?” So Jesus’ response is, “This isn’t My party, I’m a guest here.” He further emphasizes it by saying, “My hour has not yet come” (v 4). In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ hour is always the hour of His crucifixion. That’s His party, that’s when He’s front and center.
Nevertheless, this is a wedding, and Jesus honors marriage. He honors it first with His presence. But He also goes a step further and honors it with His first sign. He directs the servants to fill up the purification jugs and then serve the water to the steward. By the time the water reaches the steward’s lips, it’s become wine. Jesus extends the party, and so honors it with celebration. He manifested His glory, John says, and He did so by His Word and command.
And that’s the third honor. Jesus puts His Word to this wedding and manifests His glory. And His disciples believed in Him (v 12). The Word of Jesus and this miracle revealed to faith who He is. He is the One who honors marriage. And without Him, marriage is without honor.
There is something more that Jesus reveals about Himself when He honors marriage. It’s not just that He’s sentimental. It’s because He Himself honors His own marriage, His own Bride. Jesus honors the Church with His own body.
There is a union of two into one flesh that is stronger than any marriage here on earth. It’s the union of the divine and human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. From the foundation of the world, it was God’s plan to unite Himself to His creation in the Incarnation. The estate of marriage was created in the beginning in order to provide a flesh and blood family for Christ to enter into as a human being. He marries Himself to human flesh.
And it’s His love for the Church that defines marital love. It’s not a love built upon what you can do for me, about how you make me feel. It’s about what I can do for you, how I can give of myself for the sake of another. That’s what St. Paul explains to the Ephesians. The vocations of husband and wife are built upon self-sacrifice.
For Christ gave Himself up for His Bride by allowing the punishment of mankind to fall upon Himself. Where Adam passed the buck to his wife when he was caught red handed with forbidden fruit on his lips, Jesus takes all the guilt—though He had none of His own. Jesus does what Adam failed to do as a husband, and He does it not for one woman, but for all the sons and daughters of the first woman.
It’s Christ who makes the wedding all about His Bride. He washes Her with water and the Word. That’s Baptism. By that wonderful sacrament, He puts a clean, white dress on His Bride, prepares Her and presents Her to the world.
And the Church recognizes this unique vocation of Her Husband. He can be called The One Who Gives Himself Up For Her. No one else in the world has done what He has done. Her submission is to recognize Him for who He is and that God has given Him and no other. For there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved. The name of Jesus, the Bridegroom.
It’s because of Christ that marriage has any meaning. He is the Bridegroom who forms all husbands. He prepares His Bride, the Church, in whose image all brides are prepared.
At Cana in Galilee, Jesus manifested His glory by adding His Word to a wedding (and making the water wine). In all marriages, Jesus also manifests His glory by adding His Word to it (and making it something more than it was). When Christ’s Word is added to a marriage, that is, when husband and wife both live under the Word of God, the marriage is transformed. No longer is it two people looking for what they can get out of a marriage, but two people who look to give to each other, to sacrifice for each other, wives submitting and husbands giving themselves up for them.
Let’s not say that marriage has lost its honor just yet. What we lament about marriage in our society is not what makes marriage. Marriage will remain because Christ remains and shall remain to eternity. And He will always love and never forsake His Bride.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard