Going to the Chapel of Love

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

This Sunday will be an exciting time at Southern Hills! A couple of months ago, Shepherd Chuck came to me saying that he and Elizabeth wanted to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows. He wanted to know if I’d officiate the ceremony before the church. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity for two reasons. First, I’d never performed a vow renewal and second, I believe legacy marriages should be celebrated and exalted in the church.

The strength of marriage is not sex or compatibility or even love as our culture defines it. The strength of marriage is promise.

Our kids and grandkids need to see that “till death do us part” is not some impossible fantasy but is instead an obtainable reality. They also need to understand that love (as defined by our culture) has almost nothing to do with it. God says that marriage is two people pursuing intimacy—becoming one flesh. There is only one way that can happen—it is called commitment. The KJV uses the word “cleave”. The strength of marriage is not sex or compatibility or even love as our culture defines it. The strength of marriage is promise.

Marriage is two people making a vow before God to commit themselves to each other—to unconditionally love an imperfect person in the face of potentially radical change. No one can predict the future! In a marriage, life shows up bringing joy and trouble. Lost jobs. Debilitating illness. Financial hardship. The pain of death—parents, maybe children, and each other.

In the face of this completely uncontrollable future, we stand at the altar next to a person who is just as much a sinner as we are. We look that person in the eye and say, “No matter what, I’m gonna stay with you.” We make that pledge before our church family and we make it before our God.

Godly marriage is a permanent institution. In Genesis 1:31, God looks at his creation and declares it to be very good. But in Genesis 2:18, he sees Adam alone and says, “This is NOT good.” He puts divine anesthesia on Adam, removes one of his ribs, and forms Eve. Then, just like a daddy walking his daughter down the aisle, God “brings her to the man.” How proud God must’ve been to give his daughter in marriage!

Then God preaches the ceremony! “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” A deeper study of the Hebrew word for cleave reveals a better understanding of what marriage really means. Cleave means “glued to” or “welded to”.

In Matthew 19, Jesus provides a short commentary on this cleaving by saying, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” We need to hear Jesus when he says that the gluing and welding are something God does. It is God who “joins together.” Who are we to undo anything God does?

We must take seriously Jesus’ last statement, “Let no man put asunder.” That’s old language that most of us cannot relate to. But when we consult modern translations, the verse reads, “Let no man separate.” I’m pretty sure Jesus is not pleased with the word separate. The Greek word used there means sever. In other words, undoing God’s marriage glue is not separation, it’s amputation.

God welds two people together in marriage so that they become one flesh. Divine marriage math is: ONE MAN + ONE WOMAN = ONE FLESH. And when you amputate one flesh, what you end up with is a bloody mess… and a whole lot of pain and suffering.

Someone might ask, “What’s Jesus doing offering marital advice? He was a single man his entire life!” Yes, Jesus the Nazarene was a single man until the day he died. But Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, has always been the husband of God’s people.

In Isaiah 62:5, God says to Israel, For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Often in his teaching, Jesus refers to himself as The Bridegroom. Paul latches on to that picture in Ephesians 5:31-32, “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Jesus is qualified to speak about marriage because marriage is this world’s best illustration for how much he loves his church.

And so we celebrate! We exalt those in our number who have lived up to God’s definition of marriage—people who have been welded together by God and kept their promises for so many years.

Marriage is a big deal to God! And it should be a big deal to us, too.

“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” (Revelation 19:7).

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Jim Hays

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