October 7, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’”
The Lord God’s design is clear. He desires that all should have a companion that corresponded to them. It was so from the very beginning. Looking at His creation, the Lord God said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” Being alone was not meant to be. The Lord God was not going to have that occur within the creation that He Himself calls good. Though the Man created could give names to every living creature, “for Adam there was a not a helper fit for him.” So the Lord God goes about perfecting and fulfilling His creation, making it precisely what He desired it to be.
The Lord God’s design is the reason why He performs the unique act of creating a helper fit and suitable for Adam: “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man.” This is the divine will enacted and executed. Receiving this helper, Adam rejoices: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Receiving this one who is corresponding and proper, man enters into the relationship with woman that the Lord God established: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
This is the establishment of marriage. It is from the very beginning, part of the Lord God’s perfect design for His creation. Marriage has been part of mankind’s identity, what man and woman have been created to participate in. But since sin has entered creation, as the same helper made for man ate of the forbidden fruit and the man ate as well, the Lord God’s design is left unfulfilled. It is not that the design is flawed. Rather, those who are meant to be directed by that design are.
This is what we experience in this world. Sin drives us away from and keeps us from fulfilling what the Creator has established for us. It manifests itself in different ways: (a) people refuse to believe that the divine design is that woman is the helper fit for man, but seek a helper that is not proper; (b) others refuse to find their husband or wife as a good gift from above, showing hatred and disgust instead; (c) others see their husband or wife not as a helper or partner, but something to be mistreated or coerced; (d) still others break the bond that the Lord God has established. Each of these acts and more leave the Lord God’s design unfulfilled.
This is the stark truth that Jesus puts right in front of the Pharisees who confronted Him. You heard this confrontation in the Gospel Reading: “Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’” They seek Jesus’ statement on the matter: Will He say that it is permissible for a man to rid himself of the fit helper that was given to him? But the answer that Jesus gives shows the problem that such an act brings: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’” And when Jesus speaks to His disciples privately, He doubles-down on the position: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Jesus’ statements show that divorce is antithetical to the Lord God’s design. It is not meant to be. This was never part of what had been established. The commentary given about what the creation of woman as a helper fit for man accomplished makes this clear: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Divorce brings a tearing apart, a rending of the one flesh that had been created through marriage. It is sinful, a failure to complete and fulfill what the Lord God commands, institutes, and establishes. But that judgment is not leveled against divorce only, it applies to all the other matters that stand opposite of the divine design: marital infidelity; spousal abuse or exploitation; dishonor and strife; seeking a partner that the Lord God did not create as proper or suitable. These are all sins that flow from the hardness of human hearts, our hearts. They are all violations of what the Lord God established. They are numbered among the “every transgression or disobedience” which “received a just retribution.”
But where sin entered His creation, the Lord God does not stand idly by. No, He comes with an answer to it. This is what Jesus accomplishes. Mankind violates the divine commands, but a Redeemer is given for them: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Atonement for the guilt of transgressing the Law of God, even the laws concerning the institution of marriage—that is what Jesus provides.
Because of what Jesus provides, a new institution is established. The Man, the Perfect Man, the Man who is exactly as the Lord God designed, takes for Himself a wife. A helper fit for Jesus is not created for Him; rather, by being a Helper fit for humanity, Jesus creates by Himself the Church. From His side, His side pierced in crucifixion, the Church is created. Jesus binds Himself to her, a bond that is not broken. Through Baptism, people are united to Jesus in a way that surpasses even the most faithful vow-keeping by husband and wife.
What is seen in Jesus’ acts of redemption is the exact opposite of “writing a certificate of divorce and sending [a wife] away.” There is plenty of indecency to be found among us, not only in what we do to the institution of marriage, but to all of the Lord God’s design for life, property, reputation, even faith and worship. There are innumerable grounds for each of us to be put away. But what does Jesus do? “[He] 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 holy and without blemish.” Jesus has no thought of severing Himself from the Bride He has. Instead, everything is done to keep the bond together. Jesus gives absolution for those who had transgressed and disobeyed the Divine Law. It is even for those who have dared to separate what God had brought together.
The Father acts in a corresponding way toward His Creation. Despite the shambles that we make of what the Lord God has established and all our efforts that leave everything unfulfilled, He still grants us access to them. He acts according to His character, that which we professed in the Collect of the Day: “Merciful Father, Your patience and loving-kindness toward us have no end.” Though the first man and woman—and we ourselves—violated the divine commandments, the Lord God still grants men and women to enter into marriage. What was established at the beginning continues to happen: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Not only does the Lord God permit individuals to be joined together, His promises concerning His institution remain. They are for those who have been united to Him through Jesus’ redemptive work and strive to fulfill His divine design for them. The words of the psalm prayed at innumerable weddings of the Lord God’s people speak of that blessing: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”
You who are redeemed by Jesus have again heard His words concerning marriage. Recognize all the sinful schisms that have taken place within marriages. Recognize where you yourselves have failed to fulfill the divine design. Then ask again for help to be faithful and obedient: “Grant that by Your Holy Spirit we may always think and do those things that are pleasing in Your sight.” Receive the assistance that He gives when you are tempted to be anything but what you are designed to be. Receive the absolution that Jesus, the Faithful Husband to you, has earned by being the propitiation for your sins. Then hear again the blessing pronounced when you were bound together: “The almighty and gracious God abundantly grant you His favor and sanctify and bless you with the blessing given to Adam and Eve in Paradise, that you may please Him in both body and soul and live together in holy love until your life’s end.” For Jesus “helps the offspring of Abraham,” including you who have become one flesh with Him for eternity.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.