To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah; a love song.
My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your splendor and majesty!
In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!
Your arrows are sharp
in the heart of the king’s enemies;
the peoples fall under you.
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father’s house,
and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.
The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
the richest of the people.
All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
with her virgin companions following behind her.
With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king.
In place of your fathers shall be your sons;
you will make them princes in all the earth.
I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.
Last week, you might remember, we brought up “Shut Up and Dance with Me” and quoted lines from “All the Things You Are.” I remind you of this only to convey the sad news that in this sermon we won’t be pulling from any pop songs. In fact, this will be an almost 100% theological sermon, with not much application spelled out (though I hope you’ll be able to take away some on your own). In all the accessibility of last week’s sermon, hopefully I earned the right to be a little obscure today!
Some of this sermon probably will fly over your head, but I’ve learned over the years that some sermons will be that way. Yes, some sermons have to feel a little heavy, a little dense; sometimes you have to hear concepts for the first time. Most of our sermons won’t be like this, but some must be to advance in our understanding.
We’ll cover a lot of ground; we’ll need to fly over so many details and a lot of substantiation. We’ll jump from one big idea to another. But take heart, brothers and sisters, over the next years we’ll fill in different points.
Last week we started looking at this psalm, and the first thing that we had to deal with was the strangeness we feel while reading it. A 3000-year-old love poem featuring a King of Israel’s marriage to a foreign bride – what does that have to do with anything today? And so, we discussed some principles to keep in mind while approaching these kinds of difficult texts.
After that general treatment of strangeness, we turned to understanding Psalm 45 in particular, how to approach it. And I said to begin with an overall observation: that this psalm is an extended celebration of a marriage. Thus, it can serve both as an example of and general reminder to simply honor marital love.
Breaking New Ground
Our next step in approaching Psalm 45 (and we’re still approaching!) is to set it within the whole Bible, and then observe that marriage is a recurring topic throughout the Bible.
But much more than that: in the Bible, marriage becomes a primary vehicle to explain God’s relationship to His people – see, for instance, the language at Sinai, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, in many parables of our Lord.
Moreover, marriage becomes a vehicle to explain God’s relationship to all that He’s created.
One could properly say that the marriage of Heaven and Earth is the goal of history. Yes, the great coming together of God’s space and man’s space is what was being pointed toward in the Garden of Eden, in setting apart Israel, in the tabernacle of Israel, in establishing Jerusalem as the Zion where God dwells, in the temple, in the new temple that Ezekiel describes.
And when Jesus appears on the earth, He calls Himself, and is several times called the Bridegroom. Why is that? Well, His incarnation was itself the substantial union of Heaven and earth, God’s realm and the created realm. And in the union of His nature, He then fulfills the role of being the Bridegroom to all creation – all things in heaven and earthunited to God through Him. That’s what God was after all along.
Will you please turn to Ephesians 1? Let’s read vv. 7-10:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
What is Paul saying? Part of God’s graciousness toward those whom he redeems by Christ’s blood is to want to reveal to them what His big plan is, His will that had been hidden for thousands of years, but which now He’s sharing with His people. And what is God’s grand intention? He’s going to unite all things in heaven and earth in Jesus Christ.
Everything – all things – in the cosmos as it were coming down the wedding aisle to be joined to Jesus Christ. The marriage of heaven and earth, and Christ the Bridegroom.
We could say a thousand things about this, but we’ll stick with one: it is not God’s ultimateplan to take His people away from what he created, into some nebulous, non-material place called “heaven.” But rather to bring all things – the rocks, the rills, the fields, the cities and culture of man, the principalities and powers of heaven – to Himself by uniting them to (actually under, the Greek word implies) Christ.
This is what I meant last week when I said marriage is the goal of history. Not human marriage, which is certainly not for everyone, and also not forever. But a much bigger marriage: Christ the Bridegroom and everything joined to Christ.
Everything joined to Christ. So that Psalm 45 stays in view, let’s quickly pause now to remind ourselves that Christ was yet another title for the kings of Israel, the descendants of David, whose lineage would culminate in the ultimate Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the Christ, the Bridegroom, to whom all things will be united.
So, when we read in Psalm 45 about a wedding, and it’s the wedding of a king of Israel, our heart should beat a little faster, maybe even faster than the one who originally wrote this poem with starstruck eyes. Because we understand that the wedding he described, as lavish as it was, serves as a dim preview of something much bigger, the Great Wedding at the end of History of the Great and Final King of Israel to His Bride.
(Though also, in this Psalm 45 preview, we can gain instruction for today. We’ll get into that next week.)
Now back to Ephesians 1. Note that Paul says that all things would be united in Christ, the Great Wedding would take place, in the fullness of time. Now when would that be?
Well, we don’t have a time to flesh all this out, but really the rest of Ephesians is Paul’s contention that this “fullness of time” has arrived. God has already begun the first stage of uniting all things in Christ.
He’s done that by placing those who were “dead in their trespasses and sins” in Christ. Upon what principle? For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Yes, the Church is the first stage of the overall project that God will accomplish by His wisdom to unite all things in Christ. There’s an old poem describing the present world that includes the lines: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
Well, God’s intention is that, instead of His creation being pulled apart and wrecked by sin and death and chaos, the pillars of earth will hold firm. The cosmos will be saved, renewed, by one day being united under Christ the Life-giving Spirit.
And this salvation, renewal and uniting has already begun, in the persons that together comprise the Church.
The Church is already the Bride of the Bridegroom.
We are betrothed to this Bridegroom and, as it were, walking down the aisle to meet Him. At that meeting the restoration that has begun by faith in our spirits will be completed in our bodies. That meeting is celebrated in Revelation 19 and called the marriage of the Lamb.
And if you wanted to extend the image, the Church is the Bride walking down the aisle, and in her train is the rest of the Cosmos. By the end of the wedding ceremony, the Creation will have been united to Christ the Bridegroom and now His Bride the Church, having been saved and renewed through that union.
The final result of that coming together is what’s mentioned in Revelation 21:2 – And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I’ll quote D.A. Carson here and respectfully make just one small correction: [The vision of Revelation 21] is a powerful way of saying, in effect, ‘The joy, the intimacy, the pleasure, the knitting together of soul and mind and heart and body, which we best know…in a well-ordered marriage, is only an indication of the kind of intimacy and joy [that] will be experience[d] when the [whole creation] is united with Christ, forever.”
So the Church is the Bride of Christ. It is the first stage that will end in all things in heaven and earth being united to Christ. In fact, it is the Church’s great calling among each other to display the happy harmony that comes by being united to Jesus Christ…as a signpost or an advance picture of where everything is going. – Ephesians 3:10
In fact, within that great calling of the Church to display the joy of union with Christ, the primary purpose of a Christian marriage between the man in Christ and woman in Christ is to demonstrate this propitious union between Christ the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride, that will culminate in all things united under Christ.
Ephesians 5: 22-33
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way 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, because we are members of his body. “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. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Just as an earthly marriage is a covenant between man and woman, so Christ entered into a covenant with the Church to become our Husband. Just as the husband is the head of the wife, so Christ is the Head of the Church. Just as the wife is to submit to her husband, so the Church should submit to Christ and to one another.
All of these concepts and directives – covenant, Head, submission – could be cynically understood as frigid, opportunities for oppression, etc. And truly, when outsiders hear about submitting to Christ, about the entire creation one day being bound to and taken up into the life of Jesus Christ, they could be, they are, suspicious.
So, one of the primary goals of Christian marriage is to rescue the word ‘covenant’ from negative and sterile connotations. It is in a Christian marriage where we display what the willing, dignified submission of the Church to Christ looks like, and how attractive and natural that can be. It is in a Christian marriage where we display the healthy, potential-realizing effect of true love. In a Christian marriage we are presenting the story of the Church and Christ, and even hinting at the bigger story of Christ and the Cosmos.
This has been a big plane, which means we had to fly high and could take just a short trip, and now it’s time to land the plane.
The poem marking the marriage of the king of Israel to his foreign-born bride in Psalm 45 is a great celebration in itself. It also becomes a celebration of the great good thing that is marital love. But ultimately, it is also a picture in miniature of the ultimate King of the Jews, the ultimate Christ, married to His Bride the Church, and ultimately, the whole of creation united to Him.
By the way, I think that one of the reasons that romance, love, and marriage have such a pull on us is that we sense that it points to something more fundamental, great, everlasting!
Now that we’ve got all that cleared away, next week we’ll finally get to look at Psalm 45. We’ll get a portrait of what this King is all about, and hear the main exhortation given to his bride.
My concluding application to this lofty theological sermon is as last week’s: Church, make much of marriage. And work at marriage, which plays a such significant part in modeling the great story of Christ and the Cosmos!
Think about marriage Christologically, evangelically!
I saw this week that the golfer, Tom Watson’s, marriage is ending after only three months. His wife wrote on Twitter: “Over the past few months I have been focused singularly on a challenging road through unexpected illness. Tom has been supportive including making sure I have the best possible care. I am beyond grateful to him and blessed that I will make complete and full recovery.”
“Sadly, the inability to launch and build our relationship properly in these early days forces us to terminate our marriage. He will always mean the world to me and our connection is forever.”
How casual all this sounds! We the Church cannot afford to take marriage so lightly, lightly at all! Divorce is not just a moral fault. Or a cultural and political problem. The main problem is not the damage that ensues in the psyche and the family and society. Brothers and sisters, the main problem with divorce is that it puts an end to marriage that is primarily meant to portray the truth of the Triune God and the story of Christ and the Church and the entire Creation coming together!
Obviously, the task of marriage falls on those who are married. But also, for those who are not married, the task of healthy marriages within the church still falls a little on you. We are one Body in Christ, and the interests of everyone becomes the interest of everyone else. So my challenge even to you who are not married is to pray for, and otherwise support the marriages of those within the Church.
- Pray that the wives would submit to their husbands, and that this submission would not look dour or repressive, but agreeable and with a sense of humor. I always say, submission doesn’t have a certain look. My mom is a woman who shares her opinions, and from a distance my mom and dad’s marriage probably appeared to some that my mom, as they say, ‘wore the pants.’ But when you got close enough, you saw that my dad was quietly in charge.
Your point, Colin? Submission doesn’t have to look to an outsider like submission. It doesn’t preclude push-back and vigorous argument. It can include a lot of shared responsibility, delegation, even some delegated leadership. But its genius is that the husband as head of the household is setting the trajectory for the priorities and culture and influences of the house. Anyway, pray that that would happen happily and harmoniously.
- Church, pray for the marriages within the church, that they would not by any means be repressive or stamp out potential, but rather show the truth of Christ and the Church; that in these relationships, potential would be realized. Sometimes wives do too much for their husbands… or vice versa. Sometimes husbands discourage their wives… and vise versa. We’re praying for marriages wherein there’s a true nourishing and thriving of individuals, and the whole family.
- Pray that by the enduring civility and kindness and warmth and forgiveness and good humor between husband and wife there would emerge a type of splendor that demonstrates the good cheer between Christ and His Church.
- Pray that the husbands would not be self-centered and pleasure seeking and lazy, but that they’d get off the couch and their ipads and would sacrifice for their families, especially for their wives. Involve themselves in details. Not be silent. Be part of decision making. Sacrifice as Christ did for the Church.
- Pray that husbands especially would be diligent to keep pollutants out of the home and marriage: a whining spirit, worldliness, slander, fiscal carelessness, a culture of gluttony and disorder, a suffocating privacy etc. As Christ loved His Church by cleansing her, let the husbands love his bride and family by cleaning himself and the family’s environment.
- Pray that husbands would conclude that investing in the good of their wives and families is really the best thing they can do for themselves. That their heart would be in this calling of marriage and fatherhood.
Church, value marriage, love marriage, because in the end its about much more than the marriage of man and woman. We’ve been given the bigger picture, by grace through faith. Amen.
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