January 20, 2019
Jesus manifested his glory for the first time at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus chose to reveal his glory for the first time at a wedding. This tells us that God loves marriage.
God doesn’t just love wedding celebrations with good food and wine and fun conversations. He loves that the bride and groom promise before witnesses and to God and to one another to be faithful to each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death parts them and that they ask God’s blessing upon them. God is pleased with marriage itself. He is pleased that a wife submits her own will to her husband’s as the Church does to Christ. He is pleased that a husband cherishes his wife as his own body, that he willingly sacrifices his time, money, pride, even his very life for her sake. God is pleased with the intimacy of marriage, which takes place in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, and which God blesses with children.
God doesn’t find marriage mundane or outdated or superfluous. He is pleased with the work that goes into marriage; the budgeting, the working, the cleaning toilets and changing diapers, the communicating, the repenting and the forgiving. God is pleased when husband and wife pray together and have devotions together. God is pleased when husband and wife trade off their crying child, so that at least one of them can hear the Gospel or sing the hymns with the congregation. All these things that are thought burdensome, ordinary, or unnecessary God enjoys. And he blesses by turning water into wine, so to speak, every day, providing for the needs of husband, wife, and children.
It of course is biblical to emphasize God’s good pleasure toward marriage; however, it is also part of the Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther stressed in his sermons on this very Gospel lesson that God is pleased with marriage. This was because, back in his day the predominate opinion was that celibacy, which is abstaining from marriage and sexual relations all together, was more chaste than marriage. This is a major reason why monks, nuns, and priests took vows of celibacy. They thought these vows of celibacy were better than marriage vows.
Yet, this is not true! Celibacy is not more chaste than marriage. And Jesus teaches that not everyone can receive celibacy, but that it is a gift from God. (Matthew 19:11) This is why St. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 7, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” In his explanation to the Sixth Commandment Luther doesn’t teach us to refrain from marriage, but rather that “husband and wife love and honor each other.”
God is pleased with marriage, because he himself instituted marriage. He determines what it is and that it’s good. God gives three purposes for marriage: Companionship, chastity, and children. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18) And Jesus teaches, “’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 no man separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6) God instituted marriage so that a man and a woman would be life-long companions, never to be separated.
God instituted marriage, so that men and women might live together in holiness and honor and avoid sexual immorality. Sex outside of marriage is a sin, but within marriage it is a holy gift from God. Finally, God instituted marriage for the sake of children. In Genesis one it says that God blessed Adam and Eve and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” And God says in Psalm 127, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” It pleases God when a husband and wife are each other’s companion for life, are faithful to each other, and when they raise the children God gives them to trust in Christ Jesus.
These days few people consider celibacy a greater virtue than marriage. Yet, marriage is abandoned by more and more people nonetheless, especially by my current generation. Many sociologists are studying this phenomenon as it has serious implications culturally, economically, and even politically. They theorize that young people don’t want to get married, because of the risk of divorce and other financial and emotional burdens. And they’re probably right, although you can’t really lump all people who choose not to get married into the same category.
Yet, marriage has become less attractive. For fifty percent of those who enter into it, it is not a life-long companionship. Sex outside of marriage has become socially acceptable, so fewer people are concerned about God’s gift of chastity within marriage. And children are more and more looked at as a commodity and a burden rather than a gift from God. Many western countries are concerned by their nations’ low birth rates and their governments are trying to encourage their citizens to have more babies, so that they can provide for their large aging populations. Yet, even this desire for children is driven by the same materialistic desire that prevented them from having children in the first place.
Marriage has become less attractive because, we human beings are sinners. And whatever we touch tends to get ruined. And this includes marriage. So, what can we do to fix marriage? Well, we certainly can repent where we have failed in our own marriages and where we have accepted the opinions of this fleeting world over the teachings of God in the Bible. Yet, no matter how hard we strive, our marriages will continue to be unattractive and detached from how God intends them to be. What we need to fix our marriages and to fix marriage as a whole, is Jesus.
There were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. Six, the number of days God worked to create the world. Six, the number of days in a week that God gave Israel to work and do all their labor. Six, one less than seven; one less than complete. Stone, as in the stone tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments. The six stone water jars represent the works of the law. No matter how much you labor, you never accomplish what you aim for. These jars were for the Jewish rites of purification. They were for washing the outside of the body, but they could never purify the inside of the body, which is what is needed.
Jesus, after filling up these jars, turns the water into wine. He turns the water, that could not wash the inside of the body into wine, which makes glad the hearts of man. (Psalm 104:15) This is a symbol of what Jesus does for marriage. No matter how hard you work to make your marriage perfect, because of your sinful limitation, you will never succeed. And we’re not going to fix the marriage crisis in our society simply by trying to enforce a bunch of rules. The only one who can fix a broken marriage is Jesus.
Jesus turning the water in the full jars into wine teaches that Jesus fulfills the demands of the law for us and makes us clean on the inside, not just on the outside. Jesus makes us clean on the inside by forgiving our sins.
The forgiveness of sins: it is what every marriage needs. You will sin against your spouse. And you will sin against your God. Sinners cannot please God, as Romans 8:8 states, “Those who are of the flesh cannot please God.” Sinners can’t make themselves holy. They need to be forgiven. You need to be forgiven by Christ. You need to be forgiven for your sins against his holy institution of marriage just as you need to be forgiven for your sins against every other commandment of God. And Jesus freely forgives those, who repent of their sins. St. John writes,
“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9)
God loves marriage so much that he honors it by saying that it refers to Christ and his Church. Jesus Christ, who provides wine for the wedding, is the Bridegroom. The Church is his Bride. Yet, like marriage in this fallen world, the Church doesn’t look splendid, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish. The Church looks broken up and divided, racked with scandal and discord, stained and confused, as the hymn states, “Though with a scornful wonder/ The world sees her oppressed,/ By schisms rent asunder,/ By heresies distressed.”
Yet, the Church is not holy and without blemish because it is filled will holy people who have never done anything wrong. The Church is holy and without blemish, because Christ Jesus her bridegroom laid down his life for his bride, and washed her clean through the water and the word of Baptism, joined inextricably with his blood shed on the cross. The Church is without spot or wrinkle of sin, because Jesus her bridegroom has forgiven her all her sins by virtue of his suffering and death. That is what makes Christ’s marriage to his bride holy. That is what makes you and me holy.
What the Church needs, indeed, what makes the Church the Church, is the forgiveness of sins won by Christ Jesus. She needs the Gospel. That is why we are members of this one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. We are members of the communion of saints, because Christ Jesus has washed us clean with his blood, forgiven our sins, baptized us and clothed us in his own righteousness. And this forgiveness is not confined to the walls of the sanctuary, but we take it with us into our lives.
This forgiveness sanctifies our homes, our marriages, and our families. No matter how much we try to wash our sinful lives clean and fix our marriages with superficial purification, we still remain dirty. But Christ Jesus turns water into wine. He forgives our sins and makes us clean on the inside and outside. When we live as forgiven Christians, God is pleased with us, even if the world can see the spots and wrinkles in our lives, because God can’t. They have been washed clean in Jesus’ blood.
The solution to fixing our marriages and indeed our whole lives is to repent of our sins and turn to him, who turns water into wine, who forgives sins and places his Holy Spirit within us. Jesus makes good wine. The best wine. He fills our cup with his own blood to purify our hearts and wash our sins away. Jesus is our Bridegroom. We are his bride. And through his forgiveness, which we receive through faith, he joins us to himself forever. Amen.