Michael and Rachel

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One time the Pharisees came to Jesus in order to test Him, and they made that attempt in a question about marriage and divorce. Is it lawful, they asked, for a man to put away his wife “for every cause”? Christ replied in the negative, as we know, but I would like to draw your attention to a point He made several times in His reply.

“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:4-8).

At the beginning. From the beginning. We need to reflect on this for a few moments. God is the master storyteller, and He is the one who has given us the concept of a beginning, middle, and end. History has chapters. The front cover has been opened, and we will all one day arrive at the back cover. But what separates a novel from a series of short stories? There is a theme from beginning to end. The characters are consistently and identifiably the same characters (even including their transformations and changes and all) from beginning to end. If something is established in the first chapter we expect it to still be there in the last chapter. We therefore see that God is a novelist.

This is what Jesus is assuming in His reply to the Pharisees. When He says “at the beginning” it was this way, He is not expecting His questioners to say something like, “But that was then. This is now.” When He says “from the beginning,” He is talking about something that was established in the first chapter, and was intended to remain that way until the last chapter. That something was the reality of a man leaving his father and mother, taking a wife, and becoming one with her. This practice was to pervade all history—indeed, without it, there would be no history.

In this context, the first marriage between Adam and Eve implies that there will be a last marriage. The marriage in chapter one is a foreshadowing of the marriage that will occur in the last chapter. This last marriage will occur on two levels. First, there will be an ordinary human couple who will have the distinction of “last ones married.” This volume of human history that we inhabit will come to a close, and the glories that will arrive after that point will warrant a new book. But in this volume, there will be a couple who barely made the deadline.

But this is not a trivial point. After all, someone might say, there will also be a last person to have a steak, or scratch his ear, or mow his lawn. Why make a fuss over something like this? Remember the Lord’s words—at the beginning, from the beginning. There were certain things God wanted us to note in the first chapter because He intended to develop them in a glorious way. In other words, this last couple is not just another couple, one more in an endless, meandering line of meaningless marriages; rather, they have the privilege of living right at the crescendo. Not only did the marriage of Adam and Eve set the pattern for all human marriages, the apostle Paul takes this truth as his basis for saying that all human marriages are a foreshadowing of the great marriage, the glorious consummation of all things. At the close of human history, our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be presented with His bride, dressed in white, without any fault, without any blemish, and radiant in beauty.

In order to give us some idea of the glory of this, God gave us far more than just one marriage in the Garden of Eden. He gave us more than just this wedding here today. It was His clear intent to portray something of the glory of this coming wedding by giving us billions of weddings, billions of marriages, right down to that last one. We are therefore not talking about billions of solos, but rather an enormous symphony. As we consider the greatness of marriage, we need to step back and consider the whole. God is doing something beyond all mortal reckoning, but even so, He does want us to have some grasp of how much we cannot grasp. Every time we gather at a wedding, every psalm we sing at one, every toast we give at every reception, is taken by God and added to this symphony, the symphony that we will finally be able to hear in all its glory at the great day that is coming. It is not our part to hear the entirety of the whole thing now. It is our part to be faithful where we are, knowing that God will bring it all together.

Michael, you know well the instruction that Paul gives to the Ephesians when he said that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and as they already loved and cared for their own bodies. This means that you are committing yourself to love Rachel in all things, great and small. But I want to charge you today to pay particular attention to love in the details, love in the small things. Many men want to be selfish and petty in day-to-day affairs, assuming that when a great moment of crisis comes, they will somehow rise to the occasion. That sometimes happens, but it is dangerous to presume upon it because we usually do what we usually do. Love is sacrifice, as Paul teaches, but for Christian husbands, this kind of love needs to be inculcated as a sacrificial habit. And habits, to remain such, need to be reinforced daily. Love Rachel in the details. Give yourself away in the trivial things. Refuse to be petty about anything. I say this because it is the stairway to the greater acts of love. Love in the mundane is the only safe way to heroic love. But there is also another reason, suited to this occasion. You and Rachel are not exactly marrying right out of high school—you are both adults, established in your lives, and in your own ways of doings things. This is a state of affairs that has been known to make older bachelors . . . persnickety. Neither of you are as flexible as you were when you were a bit younger. Paul the apostle says that you are to take the lead in learning the kind of flexibility that makes marriages fruitful and harmonious.

Rachel, you are on the threshold of a significant and blessed challenge. Here is the nature of that three-fold challenge. First, you are about to marry a man, a male. You are therefore about to discover than men are angular and odd, difficult and exasperating. Second, you are about to marry someone who is, like you, a sinner. That complicates things because men sin differently than any of your old roommates did. And last, you are marrying a minister. These three challenges constitute what theologians call a hat trick. Now my exhortation to you is that you answer all such challenges according to Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5. Respect and honor are fitting—God’s way is always the best way. When you respect a man who is somewhat angular, you discover the great blessing that comes from this. A man is a lot like an ox, and Proverbs says that where there is no ox the stall stays clean—just the way you like—but much increase comes from the strength of the ox (Prov. 14:4). And when you respect your husband despite his failings and sins, you will discover that this is the most potent exhortation to holiness that a woman can ever render to a man. And last, you are not only marrying Michael, but you are entering his calling, that of ministry in the gospel. Respect and honor him here for several reasons. One is because his calling—and now your calling—is a high calling, and worthy of all respect. Second, respect him in this to set a pattern and example to others—to your children, to parishioners, and to the outside world. And last, your respect for him in his calling is going to be your contribution to that ministry, and that contribution is highly significant. A minister’s wife who respects her husband in his calling to do is enabling him to become a fearless minister, and if there is anything this generation needs, it is a fearless ministry. You have that opportunity before you now, and it is a high challenge, a high gift.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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