As many of you are probably aware, the reason Michelle, Augie, and I are here because of a planned marriage. It is institution that goes back to the very beginning of human time.
How do we know that? Because of an interesting conversation between our Lord and Savior and some first century religious leaders:
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:3-6).
When two are wedded they are “one flesh”…and the ceremony is so joyous that many are often brought to tears of happiness.
Having said that, as we entered the last week before the scheduled nuptials, Michelle and I also got news about Jim—that the Lord is going to call him home potentially within the next few weeks. I got teary-eyed as I wrote those words in these sermon notes, and I am getting teary-eyed right now…as I suspect is true here of many others who love Jim and Gerry as much as Michelle and I do.
A wedding and a funeral…well, a funeral to soon be…
The promise of a new life together and the temporary separation…and let’s be sure to emphasize the word temporary…of two who shared those blessed vows so many years ago…
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Joy and sadness…
Happiness and pain…
The juxtapositions of life…the juxtapositions of a Christian’s life…
Can seem a bit ironic, can’t they? Or perhaps paradoxical?
As I pondered on the alignment of such polar news, it hit me that when it comes to marriage and death, the Bible also has them paradoxically connected. I don’t know how effective I am going to be taking my jumbled thoughts and emotions and putting them into a coherent sermon, but are you willing to join me in trying? Willing to brave a biblical journey that bounces from place to place?
Have your page-turning fingers stretched and ready to hear God’s words? 🙂
Great! 🙂 Let’s start by turning to Ephesians 5:25-33:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Now, this in not a talk about the relationship a husband and wife should have after the wedding…although there is no question any married couple would do well to heed Paul’s advice in those verses. Instead, how is the “mysterious” relationship between Christ and His church…between our Lord and you and me…analogized in what we just read?
We are the bride and He is the bridegroom. Metaphorically, our relationship with Him is that of a marriage.
And notice, by the way, how Paul also uses “one flesh.” We’ve previously discussed the “one-ness” that we are supposed to have with God and with each other…and this helps emphasize how close Christ’s relationship with the church should be.
This is no civil union so we can have hospital visitation rights.
This is a spiritual union…a spiritual marriage…so close that we become one with each other, and more importantly, one with the One who created everything we see around us.
We are the bride of Christ.
Now this may sound like a rather abrupt segue, but it’s not…hang in there with me. 🙂
A little earlier in this service we had the Lord’s Supper…and a couple/few times I’ve mentioned how, while pursuing my religion degree at Liberty University, I ran into an article that said that communion is basically a marriage covenant.
I also mentioned how I couldn’t find it. 🙂
But, perhaps as a special blessing from the Lord for this occasion, this time I did. I don’t know for sure if it is the original article, but it clearly has the gist of what I remember. I’d like to read a portion of it:
It was a night of destiny. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room. In a few more hours He would be crucified on a cross. Jesus had been warning His disciples concerning His coming death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. The prospect of these events caused the disciples to be greatly disturbed. In order to ease their fears, Jesus made the following comforting promise:
Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3.)
Those who live in the modern western world do not catch the full significance of Jesus’ promise. This is due to the fact that in His promise Jesus was drawing an analogy from Jewish marriage customs in biblical times. Since this is so, those marriage customs must be examined if one is to grasp the significance of the promise.
The first major step in a Jewish marriage was betrothal.1 Betrothal involved the establishment of a marriage covenant. By Jesus’ time it was usual for such a covenant to be established as the result of the prospective bridegroom taking the initiative.2 The prospective bridegroom would travel from his father’s house to the home of the prospective bride. There he would negotiate with the father of the young woman to determine the price (mohar) that he must pay to purchase his bride.3 Once the bridegroom paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was thereby established, and the young man and woman were regarded to be husband and wife.4 From that moment on the bride was declared to be consecrated or sanctified, set apart exclusively for her bridegroom.5 As a symbol of the covenant relationship that had been established, the groom and bride would drink from a cup of wine over which a betrothal benediction had been pronounced.6
After the marriage covenant had been established, the groom would leave the home of the bride and return to his father’s house. There he would remain separate from his bride for a period of twelve months.7 This period of separation afforded the bride time to gather her trousseau and to prepare for married life.8 The groom occupied himself with the preparation of living accommodations in his father’s house to which he could bring his bride.
At the end of the period of separation the groom would come to take his bride to live with him. The taking of the bride usually took place at night. The groom, best man and other male escorts would leave the groom’s father’s house and conduct a torch light procession to the home of the bride.9 Although the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she did not know the exact time of his coming.10 As a result the groom’s arrival would be preceded by a shout.11 This shout would forewarn the bride to be prepared for the coming of the groom. (Emphasis mine.)
Now, that quote was a lot longer than I like reading to people…but I suspect at this point if you are familiar with Scripture you are picking up how much of the gospels align with what you just heard. To save time we won’t go through them…but I do recommend you visit Traditores.org after I get these sermon notes up and follow the link to the article. It will help walk you through the biblical alignment of the Jewish marriage custom in Jesus’ time and Christ’s relationship with the church.
For now, however, has the significance of the Lord’s Supper increased for you? It’s not that the “new covenant” itself isn’t huge…but don’t we all understand the special weight a marriage covenant holds…how, if it is the way it God created it…it is permanent and leads to one flesh?
And how spiritual infidelity is as bad as temporal adultery?
We you partake of the bread and wine you are covenanting to be a faithful, devoted bride…
Wedding Supper of the Lamb
But, following the Jewish custom, the wedding has not happened yet. Instead the bridegroom has gone to prepare a place for you, and you are expectantly awaiting His return. You don’t know when He will arrive, and you need to always be prepared.
But when He comes…
Oh, when he comes…
6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God (Revelation 19:6-9).
When He comes there will be the greatest wedding ever.
And not only that, but a reception like no other.
These are the true words of God.
You are not only invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb…you get to sit at the head table.
You are the bride.
So far…other than my introduction…all of this has been joyous news, hasn’t it?
- That we have entered a marriage covenant with our gracious Lord.
- That He has prepared a place for us.
- That He has promised to return and marry us…and we know He keeps His promises!
- That after the wedding there is going to be the greatest wedding reception ever.
Michelle, do you think they’ll have a vegan option for us? 🙂
So, where is the paradox?
Let’s return to the Lord’s Supper to discover that:
14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:14-20).
I chose Luke’s narrative of the Lord’s supper because it shows that Jesus may be waiting until the marriage supper of the Lamb to “drink of the fruit of the vine”…but, like Matthew and Mark…it shows how intertwined marriage and a funeral…life and death…are intertwined.
When you drink the cup of the Lord’s Supper, it’s not crushed, fermented grapes you are drinking.
It is the blood of Christ poured out for you.
There is no bridegroom preparing a place for you.
There is no bridegroom returning to get you.
There is no marriage.
There is no reception.
If it weren’t for the death…the willing death…of the Son of God.
[ Repeat “There is” section again. ]
The wedding required a funeral.
The death and burial of the greatest Bridegroom ever.
Better than any husband sitting here today.
Better than any other man who has ever lived.
The Other Paradox
However, I would suggest that this isn’t the only paradox we find when it comes to our spiritual marriage to the Lamb.
For the other one, let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 15:50—55:
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
Now, even though I hope that our marriage to the Lamb will happen before I am called home…
Even though I hope that our marriage to the Lamb will happen before Jim is called home…
Reality is that for the vast majority of our brothers and sisters through the age, their arrival at the wedding required something.
The wedding required one funeral…Christ’s…and more often than not has and will require another one…
Yes, some of us in the bride of Christ will be fortunate enough to avoid dying, but even then we must still put on the imperishable and immortal before we can stand beside our Bridegroom.
And whether we did it by death or by the Second coming, what a day that will be!
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13—18).
I hope my words today have encouraged you.
I praise God for the blessed institution of marriage.
I praise God for the fact that even if Jesus doesn’t return before our brother Jim loses his battle with cancer, that Jim’s separation from his beautiful wife Gerry…and from us…is only temporary.
I praise God for the wedding that required a funeral.
1Showers, R. (n.d.). Jewish Marriage Customs. Bible Study Manuals. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from http://www.biblestudymanuals.net/jewish_marriage_customs.htm