1. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The message from God’s Word this morning the 14th Sunday after Pentecost comes from Ephesians 5:22-33. It’s entitled, “A Marriage Made in Heaven,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. In a visit to an art studio in Charleston, South Carolina, a woman saw the lady who owned the studio receive an anniversary gift. The visitor asked, “Which anniversary?” She replied, “Our 53d.” “That’s impressive,” the woman said. “I hope you’re planning some special celebration.” The owner smiled and softly said, “When you have a nice man, it really doesn’t matter.” That’s the kind of love that characterizes a Spirit-filled marriage. With the crisis in relationships today, Paul gives us a practical approach to a Spirit-filled Christian marriage.
3. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re gathered here today in the presence of God to consider his Word. Today he speaks to us about marriage. There’s maybe no set of verses in the Scriptures on the topic of marriage as informative and instructive as this set. There’s also maybe no set of verses on the topic of marriage as dismissed and as countercultural to our times as this set. Almost immediately, we’re brought back to last Sunday’s Gospel, wherein many said, “ ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’ ” (Jn 6:60–61).
4. With open ears and open hearts, hear clearly and hold firmly to what God the Holy Spirit teaches us about a special union. Marriage as it has been instituted by God. God is the author and designer of marriage (Gen 2:20–24). Despite what human courts may decide, the Lord God says that marriage: (a) Is . . . a lifelong union between a man and a woman. (b) Is not . . . simply the functional arrangement between two persons—who may or may not love each other.
5. Men and women are but office-holders who have no authority to refashion marriage into any other shape or form. God gives marriage for these reasons (LSB, p 275): (1) For “the mutual companionship, help, and support” of the husband and wife. (2) So that husband and wife may “find delight in one another.” (3) For “the procreation of children.
6. Since God is the author and designer of marriage, it can’t be redefined by humans. Anyone who would attempt to redefine, amend, abbreviate, or adulterate marriage as the Maker has given it fits Isaiah’s description. Our Old Testament Reading from Is 29:13 says, “13And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” For the Church to teach otherwise would be to reject “the commandment of God in order to establish [our] tradition!” (Gospel, Mk 7:9).
7. We come now more directly to our text, which you may think is chiefly about the topic of marriage. It’s not; at least not in the way one might suppose. It’s about Christ and his Bride, the Church. And only if one understands that foundation can he rightly understand what compels Paul to direct wives and husbands to live toward each other as he does. Most of us are familiar with the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The story is of French origin, written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and first published in 1740. The tale has gone through several revisions and has been adapted for literature, movie, television, and theater several dozen times. You’ll remember that it’s the story of a girl named Belle whose life and family circumstances brought her to cross paths with a beastly figure who dwelt in a distant castle. By his own fault, he had been cursed with a hideous appearance. As the tale goes, Belle came to dwell for a time in the castle of the Beast. As she did, she grew to know him and at length to love him. In the Beast’s most desperate dying hour, the kiss of Belle’s love fell on him, and he was suddenly and gloriously transformed. The curse was lifted, and the Beast appeared in a restored, beautiful, and noble nature.
8. There can be a bit of truth in fairy tales. And, there’s a bit of truth here when we think of our relationship with Jesus Christ. But reverse the roles! Jesus Christ is the beauty; we’re the beast (Eph 5:25–27). While there’s much similarity to Christ and the Church, the roles are reversed! He’s the noble, glorious, compassionate one. We. The Church, are the ones stained by sin, blemished by defect and blame, wrinkled, not at all lovely.
9. There’s clearly nothing to be attracted to, and yet Jesus . . . loved . . . us! He called us his beloved. This is how Paul describes it. This is how Christ loved us! “He handed himself over on her behalf” to suffer her shame, and to save her life. This he did “in order that”: He could set her—us—apart as special, and wash her clean (v 26)! He could present her—us—to himself a glorious Church. That’s how he sees us (v 27)! Picture him standing beside her proudly: “I’m not ashamed to call her mine!” Picture Jesus standing beside her as her advocate. We the church would be holy and without spot of sin, blemish of unfaithfulness, or any such thing. That’s how he sees us! That’s “Love to the loveless shown That they [too] might lovely be” (LSB 430:1)!
10. Our Lord Jesus’ Great Love for Us Generates and Animates Our Love for Him and for One Another. The Gospel: Christ for you! It’s why . . . ! It’s why husbands ought so to love their wives; it’s how you’ve been loved. It’s why they ought not be harsh with them. Has Christ been harsh with you? He nourishes you, not belittling you, but building you up. He cherishes you, caring for you, his own Body. It’s why husbands ought never embarrass their wives, make a spectacle of their flaws; for Christ gave all of himself to present you to himself as glorious. It’s why husbands ought to be entirely self-sacrificing, even to the point of death, if love requires it (V. S. Grieger); for Christ was for you. It’s why wives ought to surrender themselves in all things to their husbands (V. S. Grieger); do so out of reverence for Christ, who desires it. You don’t do it because your husband deserves it, for he deserves it no more than you deserve his entire self-sacrifice. You do it, as he does, because it’s living out the Gospel and honoring Christ.
11. Years ago a husband and wife were celebrating 70 years of marriage. Throughout their marriage they had had some battles on a regular basis. The pastor asked the husband, Lawrence, how they stayed together for 70 years. He, told the pastor that every night, no matter how mad they might be at each other, they would hold hands in bed and pray the Lord’s Prayer. He said that each time they got to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” their anger melted into forgiving love.
12. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, married or not, this text is all about you. It tells us of our Lord Jesus Christ, and how he loves!—us. Therefore, moved by his love and in deepest gratitude to him, we all can honor his institution of marriage, wives and husbands, by living the Gospel toward one another as we ought, and all, married or not, by encouraging husbands and wives to live as our Lord desires, and by honoring marriage in what we say, think, and do. Amen. And now the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.