Adapted from from a sermon preached 22 January 2012.
We read today’s sermon text (John 2:1-12, the Wedding at Cana) and we say: “Well, Jesus certainly attended this marriage ceremony but He didn’t seem to give any advice at all. We’re not aware of any sermon that he gave, or even that He had any words of wisdom that He shared with the bride and groom. As far as Jesus and this particular marriage, it seems all Jesus did was get the bride and groom out of a potentially very embarrassing situation—a lack of wine.
But I would submit that Jesus was saying an awful lot about marriage at this wedding. Just the fact that He was present there says that He approved of the institution of marriage. But even more enlightening was the fact that He performed a great miracle there, and this shows that He was putting His seal of approval on marriage. ... He was giving this and all marriages His divine blessing.
On this basis, then, we say unequivocally that Jesus is the best marriage counselor. He is the best because, first of all, His counsel comes from God Himself, the original designer of marriage. Second, we say that He is the best marriage counselor because He knows better than anyone the human condition and He knows exactly what it takes to have a healthy and happy marriage. He reveals these details about marriage in His Word, the Holy Bible, and that book not only gives many details about marriage but it also tells us of the one who has saved us from our sins—Jesus Christ. Having been redeemed, we are now set free to become the best spouses we can possibly be.
A few weeks ago my wife and I were attending a wedding and the pastor said in his sermon: “Marriage isn’t hard work.” My wife and I sort of got this uncomfortable feeling. “What crazy thing was the minister going to say next?,” we wondered. But then he explained. He said, “when Christ is the head of your marriage, it’s easy.” Well, what did he mean? What he meant was this: if both spouses are willing to let what Christ says be the ultimate authority in their marriage, then it is going to be a marriage where both husband and wife feel loved and respected. Let me give some examples:
One night after the kids go to bed a husband and wife respectfully talk to each other about the best ways to provide a Christian education for their children. When that sort of conversation takes place, my guess is that generally speaking they have a good marriage. Here’s another example: The husband has many late nights at work. He comes home tired and hungry. But instead of turning on the T.V., he thoughtfully engages his wife in conversation and by that he shows her that he loves her. He does his best to love his wife as Christ loved the church. That, I would assume, is going to be a marriage that’s “easy.”
Or, a husband chooses not to follow Christ’s advice regarding marriage and he instead chooses to look at pornography. He knows Jesus’ evaluation: “Whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), but he chooses not to heed that counsel. In his case the marriage isn’t going to go so smoothly. That’s what the pastor meant when he said, “When Christ is the head of your marriage, it’s easy.”
But the tough part about marriage is keeping Jesus Christ the head of it. Everything else would be easy if only we could do that. Really all the troubles in marriage can easily be summed up in one word: selfishness. It’s because we are so selfish that our marriages aren’t easy as they should be. We’re selfish when it comes to how the money is spent. We’re selfish when it comes to our time. Selfishness is also why there’s such a lack of respect for marriage in our day. We don’t want to commit to someone because when it comes down to it, I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. We don’t want there to be any boundaries. But on the other hand, if you are willing to let all that God says about love and respect and submission penetrate your marriage, then it can’t help but be a happy, healthy one.
A few weeks ago there appeared on the internet the most recent statistics concerning marriage in America. The percentage of married American adults has now hit it’s lowest mark in the history of our country. 51%. Think about your friends, family and associates and you will find that only 51% of them are married. A number of reasons were cited for this: one, of course, is the high divorce rate. Death, also, leaves not a few marriage partners now alone who once were married. Another reason is the delay of marriage by many Americans (many now get married for the first time when they are in their 30s). But the biggest factor, this article cited, as to why there are now so few American adults that are married, is the growing percentage of them who are in a relationship and who live together without the benefit of marriage commitment.
May I please take a few moments to remind you of why the Christian church has historically held that living together outside of marriage is wrong and even sinful? Two passages especially come to mind on this topic, though even more could certainly be cited. One is Ephesians 5:3 which says, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” When a couple is living together it certainly gives the appearance that there is some sexual immorality going on. The other passage to bring in here is Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage is to be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” Note what the passage doesn’t say. It doesn’t say: Cohabitation is to be honored by all, it says marriage is to be honored by all.
Now, as time goes on, these Biblical passages, I’m sure, are going to seem more and more out of date. However, they are only as out of date as the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself is out of date. And if that ever goes out of date, you and I are in a world of hurt.
Now the theme for the second Sunday after Epiphany is really Marriage and Family. So now I want to spend a few moments talking about the family part. When I was a student and then later a resident assistant at college, I did my own sort of unscientific survey. I didn’t take any data or anything, it was just through normal conversations. I was interested to know why it was that some of my classmates were very faithful in chapel attendance and Sunday morning church attendance and others were not. What I found was that it was not what school one had gone to: whether they had gone to public schools, were home-schooled, or went to Lutheran high schools. That didn’t seem to make much difference. It also didn’t seem to matter how much the parents went to church—some students didn’t go to chapel and slept right on through church on Sunday morning even if their parents were very faithful church attendees. What seemed to make the greatest difference, in my own unscientific research was: did the student come from a family where they had regular, family devotions? Where parents were actively engaged in leading devotions and talking about the Bible at home, there was an unmistakable correlation between those homes and college students who were actively hearing God’s Word publicly proclaimed and receiving the Sacrament on a regular basis.
There is nothing greater or more beneficial that parents can do for their children than that. So then, let’s heed Jesus’ advice who said: “Fathers, bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Now, up to this point in the sermon I’ve quoted a number of Bible passages and I hope and pray I’ve encouraged you to want to be faithful husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. It’s all been biblical but it’s all been law. Now I want to give you the power for change, the Gospel.
You see, besides his advice and counsel there’s another factor that makes Jesus the best marriage counselor, and, that is the wondrous help He gives—forgiveness, forgiveness that all couples need. For, no matter what some may say to the contrary, no marriage on earth is perfect. Selfishness rears its ugly head even in the best of marriages and families. At Cana in Galilee, at that wedding, Jesus came to give marvelous help.
Yet far more wondrous is the fact that this same Jesus, now risen and glorified, is still available to couples in trouble. By His perfect life, by His keeping all the Commandments, including the Sixth, perfectly, and by His innocent death on the cross He has given the help that all couples need.
In a certain community there was an awakened interest in soul-winning, and several church members became concerned for two young people in their neighborhood who were married but estranged—with a divorce suit pending. Neither one was a Christian. One evening, however, their neighbors succeeded in getting them to church and had the joy of hearing them express the desire to know more of Christ. This wish was fulfilled in further discussions and studies with the pastor, and it wasn’t long before both declared their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Humbly confessing also their marital sins to Him and gratefully receiving His precious, blood-bought forgiveness, they rejoiced to find themselves reconciled not only to God but also to one another.
And isn’t that how it often goes? The more that people see themselves as sinners, the more they turn to Jesus for counsel and help. And the more they turn to Jesus for counsel and help, the more they come to understand the depth of His love and mercy. And the more they come to understand the depth of His love and mercy, the more they want to express that in their love to their spouses and in their love to their children.
That couple discovered, as countless others have, that Jesus not only prevents misunderstandings but also heals estrangements. Still today He is the one who, even in a higher and more miraculous sense, can turn water into wine for needy couples. By His mighty Word and Holy Spirit He can change the bitter waters of selfishness, lovelessness and meanness into the sweet wine of tender care, love and devotion.
Jesus, says this delightful Gospel narrative, was invited, that is, He was wanted and welcome. Evidently a messenger was sent requesting His presence. And such invitations, sincerely given, He never turns down. He comes to bless the bridal pair with both divine counsel and wondrous help. Why, then, should any in our circles hesitate to invite Him to their marriage and welcome Him into their lives, hearts, and homes? Isn’t He unquestionably the very best of all marriage counselors? Amen.
Rev. Matthew Brooks is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Parkersburg, Iowa.