In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7–8a; Eph 5:31). Just a few weeks ago, you heard this statement read from the Word of God, from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Now we have heard it again today, first from its source, as recorded by Moses in Genesis, then from the lips of Jesus, as recorded by St. Mark. St. Matthew also records these words of Jesus in His Gospel account. To be sure, everything in Holy Scripture is valuable and important, being the very Word of God, as it is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word coming from the Mouth of the Lord God” (Mt 4:4; Dt 8:3b). Yet it may also be held as a good rule of thumb that, when the Scripture repeats something, especially word-for-word (or nearly so), in different places, it’s something very important. It is God the Holy Spirit who has seen fit to have multiple authors repeat it, so He really wants us to pay attention.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” Ephesians 5:31. If you were listening closely, you noticed that St. Paul’s version is slightly different from what we heard in Genesis and Mark: “the two” instead of “they” “shall become one flesh.” The Apostle is simply quoting Genesis from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, for his Greek-speaking Ephesian readers and hearers. When we hear this Word of the Lord through Moses, it is God’s foundational statement about marriage, as part of the account of His institution and blessing of marriage in Eden, in the Creation, before humanity’s fall into sin. When Jesus speaks this Word in today’s Gospel reading, He is answering a question about something that sometimes happens in marriage because of our fall into sin: divorce.
This is not to say that being divorced makes you a sinner, or beyond redemption. (Maybe you were the one sinned against.) Having been conceived and born in original sin as a member of this fallen human race is what makes you a sinner, under the condemnation of God’s holy Law—but by no means beyond redemption! “You were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20a; 7:23a), “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pe 1:19).
It is Jesus’ interrogators, some Pharisees, who bring up Moses’ provision of “a certificate of divorce.” Remember, they were up to no good; their purpose was “in order to test Jesus,” to catch Him in a trap—that He would either permit more than the Law of Moses allowed or condemn the Law. Jesus tells them that this provision was a concession to their sinful stubbornness—the sinful stubbornness common to us all: “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (Mk 2:5). God knows you’re going to sin and break your marital vows, just as sinners do with other promises they make. So in His mercy He will stem some of the harmful effects. The certificate was a legal document which the divorcing husband was commanded to give to his wife for her legal protection, lest he accuse her of adultery after she married another man, and those two would face being stoned to death. Make no mistake, all of this breaks and even destroys God’s original, good design and intent for us, His human creatures, as does all sin. Sexual sins and violations of marriage are unbelief and breaking of God’s holy Word. Within the bonds of marriage, as within the bonds of Christ’s Church, other sins—bitterness, complaining about one another, shunning of one another, accusation, and unforgiveness—can and do lead to separation, sending away, and divorce. Just as surely, though, in His great love for us God sent His only-begotten Son to take away the sin of the world, “and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (Jn 3:16; 1 Jn 1:7b).
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The Apostle Paul surrounds this Word from Genesis with what sounds like “practical” advice for husbands and wives, yet it’s all drawn from this foundational Word of the Lord in Genesis. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church” (Eph 5:25a). What he has to say to wives is rather brief, while what he says to husbands is more extensive, and more challenging. “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church” (vv 28–29). “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (v 25b). Husbands, that is how much you are to love your wives, “as Christ loved the Church.” How well do we do that? How many times can we give our lives for our wives? Only once—but how many times can we set aside our selves, our wants, our desires, for the sake of our wives? The Lord calls husbands to do that daily; but, we don’t do as we should. Likewise, wives, how much do you submit to your husband “as to the Lord”? What does that mean? He calls wives to do that daily; and you don’t do as you should.
“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” (Mk 10:7–9). The Lord Jesus goes back to Moses and the Book of Genesis because that is where the He, Lord God, first sets forth His design for marriage within the Creation; what it means for all of us and for each of us, whether married or unmarried; it’s where we learn what went wrong, and why; and where God first declared what He would do about it, to cover sin and its shame, and to heal the brokenness in us, in marriage, and in all of family and society built on the marital foundation. Hear St. Paul as he follows his Lord and Master, Christ Jesus, in going back to Genesis: “‘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” (Eph 5:32). In the Order of Holy Matrimony, in the Matrimonial Address, it says, “In marriage we see a picture of the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church.” One of the matrimonial collects begins, “Almighty God, You created man and woman and joined them together in holy matrimony, thereby reflecting the mystical union between Christ and His bride, the Church.” Earthly marriage between man and woman, male and female, mirrors the heavenly marriage between Christ and the Church. Christ and the Church are the original, after which the marriage of man and woman is patterned. How can this be, if the Church consists of all believers in Christ? This is, as Paul says, a mystery most profound, beyond our understanding. What it means for you, though, is that you are part of a marriage, The Marriage, the one eternal marriage. Whether married, single, widowed, divorced, too young to marry, you, dearly beloved believer, are a member of Christ’s bride, the Church.
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. To provide the man a corresponding, comparable helper, He caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. By the way, the woman’s role of “helper” should by no means be denigrated as inferior. The Lord bestows on her one of His own divine titles and offices, as the Psalms declare, “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life; The Lord is on my side as my helper” (Pss 54:4; 118:7a). After the Lord God put the man into a deep sleep, He “wounded” the man, taking a piece from his side, which the Lord God then “built into a woman” (Gen 2:22), like a master craftsman, with the finest skill! And what joy the man expresses to receive this fine and most beautiful gift from the Lord God! By God the Father’s will, the Lord Jesus Christ entered the deepest sleep, the sleep of death. His side was wounded, pierced by the spear, and from His side flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34). The water, Holy Baptism, the Sacrament or Mystery in which His bride is first brought to new life; and the blood, Holy Communion, the Mystery by which He nourishes and sustains her life. From the Bridegroom’s wounded side His beloved Bride comes to life. Christ also says that upon the Truth of His being the Son of God, the God-Man, “I will build My Church,” My Bride (Mt 16:18).
All of the problems in the world began, in a sense, with marital problems. The man did not love his wife as himself, and let her eat of the fruit which the Lord had said not to eat. The woman did not respect her husband, from whom she heard the Word of God, but did not heed it. Christ the perfect Bridegroom does love His bride as Himself—more than Himself, laying down His life to wash away her every sinful blemish, and then taking it up again! The true Church is holy, the pure heavenly Bride, submitting perfectly to her Bridegroom’s Word, His love and care. Luther says that though the world sees her as poor, oppressed, and dressed in rags, she is in truth the Queen of heaven, robed in her Bridegroom’s purity and righteousness, possessing all riches. Here is a foretaste of the Marriage Feast of Christ the Lamb and Bridegroom—the Feast of the Kingdom that has no end! “Soul, adorn yourself with gladness, Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness” (LSB 636, st. 1). Leave the haunts of your sin and brokenness, and come, “Come into the daylight’s splendor,” the splendor of Him who is the Daylight from on high, Christ your Bridegroom. Behold the light of His countenance lifted upon you, hear His Word of love to you, and taste the goodness of His flesh and blood, given for you, (talk about becoming “one flesh” with Him!) for your forgiveness, your salvation, and life eternal with Him.
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.