Thursday, April 14, 2011

Costly Marriage

Our pastor has been preaching through the Old Testament book of Ruth, a beautifully-spun narrative about how the light of God's active providence and steadfast love dawned upon the darkness of two insignificant widows. In chapter 4, the story comes to a head as the young Moabite widow Ruth finds a husband who is willing to marry her despite the financial burden it will bring upon him in losing part of his inheritance to Ruth's children. (Under Jewish law, a kinsman was to marry his relative's widowed wife and produce children for her. However, the children would be reckoned as belonging to the deceased husband, and they would be required to receive a separate inheritance.) Boaz, Ruth's redeemer and a "man of great wealth" (2:1 NASB), acted out a love that was not only perhaps romantic, but also sought out her good even at his own cost. In binding himself to Ruth all his gain would become hers, her offspring's, and her mother-in-law's--the cure to their poverty--but he would also take on her baggage. He'd lose part of his inheritance. He'd have to deal with the emotional pain of a widowed bride who probably often longed for her previous husband, even if only in memories. As a Moabite, he would have to train her in the faith of Yahweh. He was taking on a lot by binding himself to her and her to himself. Martin Luther reminds us that our Boaz--our redeeming husband--is Jesus Christ, who, "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). At the cost of his own humiliation, scourging, mockery, and agonizing crucifixion he bought us for himself, to make his people, the church, his radiant bride (see Eph. 5:25-32; Rev.19:6-10). (Please bear with this; though lengthy, it's some of Luther's best.)

The . . . incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom [1]. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31-32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage--indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage--it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see the inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ's, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul's; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride's and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers?

Here we have a most pleasing vision not only of communion but of a blessed struggle and victory and salvation and redemption. Christ is God and man in one person. He has neither sinned nor died, and is not condemned, and he cannot sin, die, or be condemned; his righteousness, life, and salvation are unconquerable, eternal, omnipotent. By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride's. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell [2]. Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride, "without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word" [cf. Eph. 5:26-27] of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way he marries her in faithfulness, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2[:19-20] says.

Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, "If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his," as the bride in the Song of Solomon [2:16] says, "My beloved is mine and I am his." This is what Paul means when he says in 1 Cor. 15[:57], "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," that is, the victory over sin and death, as he also says there, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" [1 Cor. 15:56].

-- On Christian Liberty (Augsburg Fortress, 2003), pp. 18-22

____________________ 1. It appears that Luther is using "soul" here as a sort of generic, gender-neutral pronoun. He was no gnostic who saw sin only on a spiritual plane. 2. Notice how Luther relies on the Christus Victor model of Athanasius, Chrysostom, and other church fathers (that by virtue of the Incarnation, Jesus' God-life destroyed and overcame all that afflicted mankind, to whom his deity was united). But he employs this model as part of the way Jesus bore our sins to carry out on a vicarious, substitutionary atonement that bore the condeming wrath of God due to sinners. They are not mutually exclusive perspectives on the atonement.

No comments: