(A wedding exhortation I wrote for the marriage of dear friends who allowed me the honor of performing their ceremony)
Marriage In Three Acts
We are gathered here today to celebrate the joining together of the bride and groom in the holy covenant of marriage. Now, if we are to truly understand what a marriage is we must know something of its origins as well as its “telos”, that is, its purpose or goal. Where we come to a most direct knowledge of these things is in God’s Word. Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible is not a book of rules and regulations, nor is it a manual on how to be a better person. It is actually a story, a true story; the greatest story ever in fact; the story that all other stories are merely and echo and shadow of. And so today I’d like to examine marriage within the context of the overarching narrative of God’s story, which is revealed in Scripture in three acts: creation, fall, and redemption.
Act one begins with the Author Himself. In the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth. He adorns the heavens with brilliant light and fills the earth with vegetation and all manner of living creatures. And when it is time for the crowning achievement of His creation God says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And thus God forms the man of dust from the ground, breathes into him the breath of life, and he becomes a living soul. God plants a garden in Eden, a temple if you will, and within this temple God places His image in the form of his Adam
God looks upon all He has made and declares it good until He sees that his image-bearer is alone. So God makes for him a woman, one to be his partner, who bears the same image of God, equal in dignity and worth, and beautiful to his eyes. Eve, as she is called, is Adam’s perfect compliment – emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Adam sings over his new bride and God blesses the couple, commanding them to “Be fruitful and fill the earth…”
So here we have both the origin of marriage as well as its original purpose. Marriage is not merely a social construct or simply a legal agreement. It is an institution established by God Himself, transcending time, culture, and geography. Within the union of marriage, the two become one, not only in a physical sense, but also in a profoundly spiritual one. Indeed, within this truth of plurality in unity we even see shadows of the triune nature of God – who is One but exists eternally as three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.
In regards to purpose we see that marriage is the intended vehicle by which, through physical union, humanity multiplies and fills the earth, expanding the borders of Eden until the glory of the Lord covers the land as the waters cover the sea. However, before even a child is born to our first mother and father, conflict enters the garden and the story takes a tragic turn.
In act two the man and woman do evil by listening to the voice of the serpent over that of the Lord, which leads them to eat of the forbidden fruit. Humanity’s song becomes one of lament as sin enters the world, corrupting God’s good creation and subjecting it to death and decay. Paradise is lost and the relationship between husband and wife becomes strained as they begin a life of pain and toil in a land now cursed by the fall. But even in this darkest hour the faint light of hope is to be found. For in the midst of God’s curses stands a stunning, merciful promise: that a Redeemer will come through the seed of the woman and He will one day crush the head of the serpent and restore what has been lost.
And so begins the arduous journey of primeval history until one day God calls a man named Abram from his homeland. From his lineage He makes for Himself a people who are called Israel; He frees them from the slavery of Egypt through the leadership of Moses, He gives them the Law at Mt. Sinai, brings them into the promised land, and promises an everlasting kingdom through the line of King David. This is Yahweh’s covenant nation, a nation of priests, prophets and kings who, though flawed, foreshadow the One who is to come and bring salvation to the world. Scripture begins applying the metaphor of marriage to the relationship of God to his people. Yahweh is likened to a loving, merciful, and faithful husband to his bride Israel, though her fidelity to Him ebbs and flows due to her many sins. Though judgment comes, even to the point of exile, the Lord does not forsake his idolatrous and adulteress spouse, for even when her love for Him grows cold, His remains a consuming fire.
In this act there is a constant tension of justice and mercy as a perfect and holy God saves and judges a stiff-necked, rebellious people. We must realize that in a fallen world not one of us is without sin, for all have fallen short of the glory of God. Though we retain the dignity of bearing His image, we are broken and imperfect reflections of our Creator. And so to the bride and groom I say: You will not always love her perfectly, and you will not always honor him as you should, but just as God stayed ever faithful to the covenant He made with His people, so also must you stay faithful to the words of promise you speak this day. For you will experience both mountaintop joys as well as sorrows in the valley, and the fire of youthful passion will one day cool with age, but if your faith is rooted in God and His Word you can rejoice in knowing that it is not your love that will sustain this covenant but rather the covenant that will sustain your love and rekindle its flames time and time again.
As we return to the narrative, we find the tension between God’s justice and mercy; His wrath against sin and His love for sinful humanity, is finally resolved in the climax of the third and final act when the hero of God’s story finally appears – the seed of the woman spoken of in the garden of Eden, the promised one, the messiah, who for generations has been veiled in the writings of Israel’s prophets. At long last and at the culmination of the ages, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity, becomes a man, lives a perfect, sinless life, dies a cruel and torturous death upon a cross for the sins of the world, resurrects from the dead in victory over Satan, sin, and death, and ascends back to heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the Father, sovereignly ruling over heaven and earth until the day He comes again to make all things new and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
The word “gospel” means “good news”, and what Jesus accomplishes for us is indeed good news. For upon the cross God in Christ reconciles the world to himself by making Him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. This is the great exchange: Jesus takes our sin and gives us his righteousness so we may stand holy and blameless before God as his redeemed children and inherit eternal life. This is the promise, the free gift of grace, offered to all who would believe and put their trust wholly in Jesus as crucified Savior and risen Lord.
And in this we also find the grand meaning behind what marriage truly is. When the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians about marriage he ends with these enigmatic words: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Why? Because Jesus is the eternal Word who created man and woman and brought them together; He is Yahweh, who stayed the faithful spouse to his people Israel; and He is the husband who loved his bride so much that He died to secure for her an eternal salvation and everlasting life in His joyful presence. All things exist by Jesus and for Jesus.
And so, today your lives become a living, breathing metaphor for God’s entire story. Your covenant will represent the creation of male and female, their becoming one, and their mandate to be fruitful; it will represent the Fall and the struggle of redemptive history as you wrestle with sin and grow in love; and as a couple who are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, your covenant will ultimately represent the glorious and final union of Christ and his bride the church, a union that has no end but will continues forever in perfect splendor, peace, joy and love.
I pray that you feel the gravitas of these truths. I pray that the Father would bless you both according to the riches of his glory and grant you to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that both of you, being rooted and grounded in love, may comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
May this marriage be a light that shines forth the glory of the gospel to all you live among and encounter, so that all who know you may also know the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and the salvation He brings. For blessed are all who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride the church. I pray these things in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.