Jesus and the Right Side of History
The Supreme Court could make history this summer with a ruling regarding same-sex marriage. Some—like Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune—even predict a 9-0 decision from the Justices affirming the ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. If this ruling happens, current polls show that the majority of Americans will celebrate marriage equality and those who hold to a more old-fashioned or traditional understanding of marriage will be seen as those who are “on the wrong side of history.”
To be quite honest, history has shown that the church has been wrong on a number of important issues. For centuries, the prominent interpretation regarding the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20) had been viewed as a command given only to the Apostles, exempting all Christians who came afterwards. But in the late 18th century, God raised up William Carey to correct the church’s thinking on the Great Commission. Carey, a Baptist missionary to India, taught himself Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. Being a skilled linguist and writer, Carey translated portions of the Bible into many languages and founded the Baptist Missionary Society. He was convinced it was the church’s responsibility to take the Gospel to the nations. Carey’s obedience, no doubt, influenced Baptist luminaries like Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon, and countless others who followed in their footsteps. So yes, the church had been wrong concerning the interpretation of the Great Commission and, by God’s grace, had changed.
And what about the issue of slavery? It’s true that Christians—especially in the South—adamantly defended slavery and conveniently looked the other way while insidious brutality was directed on those who were “owned” by another, even using the Bible to justify their (wrong) cause. Unlike slavery, the church has always been convinced that homosexual behavior is sinful and there are no biblical texts that would suggest otherwise. There are, however, plenty of passages that describe the freeing of slaves (Philemon 15-16) and condemn capturing another human being and selling him into slavery (1 Tim 1:8-10). To make it sound like the Word of God is plainly for slavery in the same way it is plainly against homosexuality is a twisting of the Scriptures, reminiscent of the Serpent’s tactics in the first Garden (Gen 3).
But what about the issue of marriage? Could it be—as history has shown—that the church is once again “on the wrong side of history?” What if the majority of Americans are right concerning marriage equality? Many have asked why Jesus remained silent on this issue if homosexuality is so heinous. Jesus spoke against adultery, idolatry, theft, and even murder—just to name a few—but not one word is recorded of Him addressing the topic of homosexuality. Jesus never addressed this subject. Or did he?
The Pharisees—known as the religious leaders of their day—sought opportunities to trap Jesus by asking him questions regarding divorce (Matt 19:3, 7). Jesus answered their questions but not in the way that you and I would expect. Jesus began by asking them, “Have you not read…?” (Matt 19:4), referring to the Old Testament book of Genesis. Of course they had read Genesis, but Jesus’ response is both brilliant and beautiful as He goes to the Scriptures for answers.
The verse Jesus quotes is from Genesis 2:24, a passage so familiar to us that many have missed the amazing statement Jesus makes concerning marriage and the authorship of Scripture. In the original text these words are simply part of the narration and not attributed to any particular speaker. But when Jesus quotes this exact passage in the New Testament saying, “[H]e who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said…the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19:4-5), Jesus is attributing God as the speaker, not simply as an unknown narrator. Do you see the significance? The implication could not be clearer: for Jesus, what Scripture says, God says. This is precisely why Jesus can battle the Evil One in the wilderness saying, “It is written” (Matt 4:4, 7, 10), and why he can claim—without hesitation—that the Creator of the universe wrote Genesis. For Jesus, Scripture is powerful and authoritative because it is nothing less than the Word of God. It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus attributes God alone as the architect, designer, and creator of all things, including marriage. In these verses, Jesus clearly defines marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman and thus eliminates the possibility of homosexuality, polygamy, bestiality, and every other sexual sin that is outside the covenant of marriage.
Think of the arrogance one possesses to re-define what God has created. God is the One who has created marriage as a one-flesh union between a man and a woman in a life-long, covenantal relationship. Yes, the State has the task of keeping orderly records of marital unions, but it has no right to re-define the rules for marriage. Only God has this prerogative and His Word must be the starting point for any discussion regarding marriage.
This is precisely Paul’s argument when he describes marriage as a “profound mystery” pointing to “Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). From the beginning, Paul asserts, God’s plan has always been for Jesus Christ and His church. That is, Jesus would call and redeem a people for Himself and would “give them eternal life” (John 10:28). As others have pointed out, if it were possible to see God’s blue prints for the creation of the universe, the first thing we’d notice is not Adam in the Garden but instead, Jesus in the Gospels. This is God’s plan before the foundation of the world. God creates a universe, bringing together Adam and Eve in the covenant of marriage in order to picture God’s redemptive plan of Jesus Christ and His church. This mystery had been hidden throughout the ages. Now do you see the significance of marriage? Our marriages matter because they point beyond us to a future reality—Jesus Christ and His Church. In other words, marriage is a picture of the Gospel. This picture is fully displayed when a man and a woman are joined together in holy matrimony. Any other picture—two men, two women, one man and five women—distorts the Gospel.
Public opinion has undergone a generational shift on the issue of same-sex marriage. Christians who believe in the sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures will continue to be labeled as those “on the wrong side of history.” Individually, we’ve been wrong about many things, and admittedly, our local congregations and entire denominations have been wrong as well. But to suggest—as those arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality must do—that the whole church has always been wrong is an audacious claim.
To oppose same-sex marriage is likely to bring persecution. Rejoice and be glad (Matt 5:12). Following Jesus—no matter the cost—will ensure that we are indeed “on the right side of history.”