1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“You have come here to be united in marriage, which consists in your mutual consent, sincerely and freely given. You are now invited to declare this intent in the presence of God and these witnesses.”
You will hear these words again today right before the exchange of your wedding vows. This is a concise definition of what a marriage is. Of course, there is much more to marriage than public promises about a lifelong commitment but the legal definition of marriage is this public exchange of vows before witnesses who will then sign an official document which will be registered in the county in which the wedding has taken place. It is based on this official document that certain rights and privileges are protected and enforced.
The document itself is important. It must be filled out correctly, signed correctly (in black ink by those over 18 years old), and filed in a timely manner. I sometimes tell those getting married that performing a wedding is one of the riskiest things I do as a pastor. I could go to jail! (If I don’t send in the license within three days.) The government considers following the correct procedures in getting married to be important.
More important is that you understand how important making these vows to each other really is. You are promising to commit yourselves wholeheartedly to each other and only each other through thick and thin regardless of the circumstances as long as you both shall live.
Historically, not everyone has agreed with this. The Pharisees asked Jesus if it were permitted for a man to write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away because this was all too common and had been made legal under Mosaic law. Note well in Jesus’ response his emphasis on God’s intention for marriage and the importance of commitment in marriage. Entering marriage should involve a sincere promise (sacred vow) to be completely committed to each other.
This is not to be taken lightly but only after careful thought and mutual agreement. It is hard to do for several reasons:
You are sinners who don’t always keep your promises.
You are promising to do something which involves an uncertain future.
There may be those who will try to have you break your promises.
Nevertheless, we can have hope that you will be able to sustain your marriage according to the promises that you will be making. There are many reasons for this hope but I want to emphasize one reason based on our faith in God who forgives our sins, who will be with us in the future, and who is faithful to his promises.
You are sinners who don’t always keep your promises.
Josh, I don’t know you personally but I do know Gillian somewhat having had her in confirmation class and from reading her public posts on Facebook. When you were confirmed at Salem a number of years ago, you made some weighty promises about your faithfulness to the Lord and to our congregation. I cannot read your heart about your faithfulness to the Lord, but I do know you have broken your confirmation vows many times over the years. This is common, not unexpected, and yet it saddens me. It is an example of how God’s people have not always been faithful to keeping there promises. Note how Joshua questioned the Israelites promise to be faithful because he knew how hard it is to keep our promises.
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
In your marriage, Josh and Gillian, it is common, not unexpected, and yet sad when you will in the future most likely sin against each other and not keep your wedding vows perfectly. When that happens, confess your sins to each other, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgives his unfaithful children.
In your marriage, Josh and Gillian, it common, not unexpected, and yet sad when you will in the future most likely sin against each other and not keep your wedding vows perfectly. When that happens, confess your sins to each other, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgives his unfaithful children.
2. You are promising to do something which involves an uncertain future.
In our lives we make promises which are open pronouncements of what we will or will not do in the future. Some of those promises are based on circumstances. “I will . . . if (cite one or two). Marriage is different. “I will . . . no matter what.” (cite one or two)
But you don’t know what the future will hold. In biblical times some people tried to hedge on their marriage promises. “I will be married to you unless I find something displeasing in you.” Strict - adultery. Lax - bad cook, yells at me, I find someone more attractive.
Your promise given today should be taken on the strict side. (cite vows)
3. There may be those who will try to have you break your promises.
Worst case - another lover. More common — friends who counsel you to leave him or her. Your own self because you are a sinner. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
4. God, who is faithful, is able to strengthen his children and we can hope on him to be with us in an uncertain future.
God has shown his commitment to us in a most profound way. When mankind broke their vows to him through sin, he did not abandon us but immediately afterwards promises to send a Savior. Throughout history he renewed and expanded on his promises to send his Son, Jesus, who would keep God’s covenant for us and died on the cross to pay for our sins including the sins of breaking our vows. His resurrection from the dead confirms that we are forgiven. That same Jesus promises to be with us throughout life to help us in our struggles. He was tempted to not follow through on commitments but never gave in. Hebrews tells us that he can help us remain faithful.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Conclusion: In just a few minutes you will be making your vows to each other. We pray that our God will be with you as he has promised and that he will give you the strength to keep your wedding vows.