In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Of all the gifts of creation that God has given to people, marriage is one of the greatest. Isn’t it a little strange, that despite all its problems and difficulties and the incompatibility of men and women, people keep getting married? Christians keep coming before God’s altar to profess their love for each other and to ask for His blessing. They keep giving rings. They keep making vows. They keep buying flowers, and dresses, and cakes; they keep eating and drinking and dancing and celebrating. After the creation itself, marriage is the first and holiest element of human society. But, as can be seen from the evidence everywhere around us, even when marriage is continued, but is no longer seen to be important; when it is no longer between one man and one woman; when it is torn down piece by piece by divorce, fornication, illegitimate children, homosexual imitations, and adultery; the whole society begins to decay. Marriage is first and it is necessary. But marriage is not an eternally necessary thing. Marriage is for the children of this age, those who live in this creation. The children of the next age, those who are counted worthy to be raised from the dead, will neither marry nor be given in marriage.
What this means for sure and what it will look like in the new creation, we do not know. But it does raise the question about what marriage is and is not for in this creation. Of itself, it does not give forgiveness of sins, so it is not a sacrament. It does not exist so that after you die, you can populate your own planet, as Mormons believe. It does not exist so you can live happily ever after with your eHarmony soul-mate. But it does exist so that children can be raised in the fear and worship of the Lord. It does exist to restrain our sinful inclinations. It does exist to teach us how to love other people, even when we know that other person’s deep deficiencies and serious shortcomings.* Most importantly, marriage exists to point us beyond ourselves and itself to the perfect Husband and the perfect Wife.
These unblemished spouses are not like Freud’s father-figure god. No Christian imagined the perfect father and then decided that it was God. No, all fathers come from the imagination of God the Father. Neither did Christians imagine the perfect human marriage, and then decide that that’s how the relationship must be between Christ and His Church, God and His people. No, all marriages come from the imagination of Christ the Bridegroom, God the Husband. And because they come from the imagination of God, they are, for that reason, good. It was God who brought together Adam and Eve in the first human marriage, purely out of His divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in them. But sin changed everything. Sin changed marriage. What before was the free and joyful exchange of love between a man and a woman is now necessary for other reasons. Sin makes the Sixth Commandment necessary: Thou shalt not commit adultery. The burning messenger of God, with his sword of flame, still guards the entrance to that Garden. There is no going back. Sin is the divorce between us and our loving Husband, and death has the power to part us.
In His great mercy, God still blesses us with and in marriage, even though the curse of death has entered His good creation. But marriage does more than serve as a reminder of God’s gifts in this creation; between Christians, it bears witness to the new creation. It is a divine curiosity that marriage in this age points to the reason why there will be no marrying in the age to come. In some way, it is connected to the fact that you will no longer be able to die. You will be fully sons of God because you will be sons of the resurrection. God has burned the divorce papers of sin and married you again. You are the Bride of the resurrected Son, and you will be resurrected like Him, because when He appears you shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). “For if [you] have been united with Him in a death like His, [you] shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:5, ESV). You will be like the angels, who gather around the throne of God and praise Him, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8, ESV). Your eternal place is on the new earth and beneath the new heavens. You have been called into the New Jerusalem, the holy city purified of all sin. She is the fulfillment of the Church, who will finally appear as she really is, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4, ESV). There is no need for marriage in the New Jerusalem, because it is the eternal marriage supper of the Lamb who was slain. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9, ESV), for they have been considered worthy of the resurrection and they are no longer able to die.
As much as human marriage will not be needed in the new creation, it is equally as much needed now. This becomes more obvious as we see the mounting evidence of decay in these latter days, filled with the spirit of lawlessness. Why should we fight for the holiness of the marriage bed and the home? Because we see death all around us, and ours is more and more a culture where death infects decisions about life. So marriage is necessary, like a preservative that keeps diseased maggots from hatching. Marriage points to life: new life where two become one, where a child is the third from the union of two, where fidelity and vows remain even when things are hard, where forgiveness is spoken instead of revenge.
This is not only the way of good marriages; even more, it is the way of God in Jesus Christ. He never breaks His promises and He never divorces His people. In the Household of the Lord, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10, ESV). “[A]s the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5b, ESV). As a loving Husband, “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 splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV). It is as an image of Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church that husbands love their wives as their own bodies. It is as an image of the Church’s humble submission to Christ that wives submit to their husbands. It is as a picture of the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride in eternity that husbands and wives live together faithfully in time.
You are the Bride of Christ! He has wed Himself to you, put His wedding ring of baptism around your finger, wrapped you in the wedding garment of His righteousness. He says, “I will abolish the bow, the sword, the war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:18b-20, ESV). Know the Lord today: He gives you the tokens of His love as you eat and drink His Body and Blood around His altar. He is fitting you for the resurrection, when there will be no marrying and giving in marriage, because you will no longer be able to die. Our modern Sadducees do not believe in this resurrection; we should not be surprised that they see no lasting purpose for marriage!
Marriage is the first of God’s good gifts, but the last gift will be far better than the first. In this age, there is still marrying and giving in marriage, and it is badly needed in an age of death. But in the resurrection, in the New Jerusalem, there will be no marrying and giving in marriage. For the Bridegroom will return in joy for His perfect, holy, unblemished Bride. The marriage of Christ to His Church is the only marriage strong enough to reach beyond the grave. And you, the Bride, will live forever with Christ, your Husband, in undimmed happiness because our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. In the Living One, we find our eternal life. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price….He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:17, 20, ESV)! Let the marriage feast begin!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/2/16
*For more on the purposes of marriage, see Gilbert Meilaender, “The Venture of Marriage,” Logia (Eastertide 1997). Online here: www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=667