Leave and Cleave

They say, “Christ is the reason for the season,” but that’s a bit vague don’t you think? Yes, today is the day in which Christendom turns special attention to the birth of Christ. And yet the coming of the Son of God as a baby surely wasn’t an end in itself. There’s a reason behind the season.

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Of course, we know that Jesus was born to die for our sins, but even that horrible, wonderful event points to a wider purpose. Scripture gives us the reason for Christ’s birth and for his death from the very beginning in Genesis 2.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 (NIV)

I love Isaiah 7 and 9, but to get the mechanics of “God with us,” we must get to the beginning and what better place to start a story of birth than with a story about marriage. When asking for the reason, we can find no better place to look than verses which begin with “That is why…” If you’ve heard very many sermons on marriage or been to a Christian marriage seminar, you’ve probably always seen this passage as a divine mandate to avoid your in laws. I don’t agree.

There’s more going on here.

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Adam didn’t have parents, so what does the story of his wedding have to do with putting our parents at a distance when we wed? The Jews obviously didn’t interpret their own text in that way since Jewish men of marrying age would build a bridal suite onto their parents’ home and bring their wives to move in.

I think we’ve misunderstood this verse because we’re looking for a precedent where the Bible has placed a prophesy. Look at the verse again, this time in the ESV:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 (ESV – emphasis mine)

The story of Adam and Eve is about “a man.” The Hebrew word here refers specifically to a male human. Who “shall,” at a time future from the perspective of creation. “Leave his father and his mother” is unnecessarily specific. Why doesn’t the text just say, “parents.” In a patriarchal society, it could have just said, “father.” I think the words and even the word order point to this future man who will first leave his father and then leave his mother for the sake of his wife to become one flesh with her.

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I’m sure you see where I’m going with all of this, but maybe you think I’m reaching. If I am, I’m not doing so alone.

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. 

Ephesians 5:29-32 (ESV)

Christ left his Father to be born a man. As a man, he left his grieving mother in the care of his beloved disciple at the cross. Christ was born to die, but he died to take his bride. The reason for the season and for all of creation is our intimate union with the Son of God.

This Christmas, let’s live up to our purpose to reveal God in flesh since we are his body the partakers of his flesh. Let us adore him, our husband. Let us help him, our Lord. Let us represent him in our proactive love for each other and in his mission to the world.

If you’ve yet to accept his proposal of marriage, please consider what he left to betroth himself to you. Accept his offer today and let him be born in you this Christmas.

Blame On!

Watchman Nee, the Chinese house church leader, refused the newly ascended communist regime’s invitation to head their efforts to assimilate Christianity. In retaliation, they published a full page editorial cartoon which depicted a cutaway view of a two story building. On the top story, hapless church members poured their money into a funnel on which was written, “Render Up!” referring to a sermon Brother Nee had given about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Below them, on the first story, sat Watchman in a pile of money, holding a bottle of booze, with a prostitute on his lap.

When his wife saw the cartoon, she exclaimed, “You’ve got to do something!” To which he responded, “When I am praised I am still Watchman Nee. When I am slandered I am still Watchman Nee.”¹

How could he be so nonchalant in the face of such brutal, public defamation? He believed the gospel which taught him two immovable truths: 1. No amount of positive regard could change the fact that his sins had sent Christ to the cross. 2. No accusation could change the fact that he’d been justified by grace.

Every church goer claims to believe the gospel, but faith is like strength – it can only be measured by what it enables a person to do. You can know the degree to which you believe the gospel by how you handle blame. A person who never can say, “I was wrong,” or one who constantly works as their own PR rep is counting on their own merit to save them. They might mentally agree to orthodox Christian creeds, but their hearts have yet to fully receive the truth.

The tendency among “Christians” to retain their personal merit while claiming the blood of Jesus has been so prevalent that we’ve even made it a virtue. I remember church people admonishing me to be careful to “protect my witness,” and by that they meant I shouldn’t hang out with people of ill repute. Could any advice be more opposed to Christ’s call? How could we claim to follow the “friend of sinners” who died a criminal’s death between two criminals by trying to maintain appearances?

If we believe the gospel, what people say about us won’t matter. We’ll be able to fearlessly assess and confess our own failures. We’ll even be able to praise God when we’re lied about.² If we can’t do these things, we need to repent of our self-righteousness and unbelief right now. Go to the cross. Imagine him suffering and dying there. Was that really for your sin? Go to the empty tomb. Meet him in the garden. See his loving smile as his life announces that the sacrifice was enough to save you for good.


  1. Kinnear, Angus. Against the Tide
  2. Matthew 5:11-12

You Only Have One Problem

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I met a homeless man while doing outreach at the park one day. He had agreed to hear the gospel from me and so I began to share. He sat there distracted as I spoke, so I would stop every few minutes to ask for feedback. He didn’t seem to have heard anything I was saying. Instead, he’d tell me about another of his problems.

He had a lot of problems. His baby mama had kicked him out of the house and wouldn’t let him see his kids. He was sleeping on a friend’s couch, but the friend’s landlord had decided to sell the house. He was having trouble finding work because he’d gotten hurt at his last job and couldn’t do much physical labor. There were other things, but those were the big ones. He kept rehearsing these things with the refrain, “I just have a lot of problems right now.”

I felt for him in his circumstances, but I knew that his afflictions were merely symptoms. His “problems” weren’t the problem. I told him, “I know these things are hard, but if you’re not a follower of Christ, they’re not the problem. You just have one problem – you don’t have a relationship with God. As long as you’re preoccupied with all of these other things, your back will be turned to him. I’m asking you to turn away from those concerns for a minute and consider his call on your life. If you’ll do that, he’ll take care of those other things.”

He didn’t have problems plural. He had one problem. It’s the same for every person on the planet.

Here’s the  beauty of the gospel: Because Christ rose from the dead, all of our real problems have already been solved. We need to trust that it is so. Every person’s only problem is that they are at odds with the One in charge of creation and who orchestrates all of history. God has come  in the flesh to fix that problem and with it all others. Consider this passage from Romans:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 NIV)

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that Christ offers a life free from pain, but he will give all of our pain a purpose if we’ll let him.

When we accept Christ as our savior, that means we give him sole custody of our problems. Should we go into problem solving mode after that, we’ve reneged on our original commitment and allowed unbelief to pollute pure devotion to him. The simple thought, “What am I going to do about ______?” is a deviation from the walk of faith. Should be fail to recognize the deviation, we’ll discover in short order that our peace and joy have left us. If we continue in problem solving mode, we’ll eventually experience temptation to engage in dysfunctional behaviors in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by joy and peace. Should we succumb to those temptations, we’ll find that we’ve got a whole other set of problems which we need to solve and so our descent into degradation will have begun in earnest.

Happily, none of that has to happen. We can give our every concern to God in prayer as they arise and trust that he will take them up. Leaving our problems with him, we can resume our task of loving him and others. Should we entertain problem solving thoughts and at some point find ourselves in a far country, restoration won’t require a return journey. We’ll only need to turn again from our problems to him, that is we’ll need to repent of problem solving, and he’ll restore us completely.

I’ve learned these lessons through my own repeated failures at trusting. Maybe you won’t have to make the same mistakes or at least not as much. Trusting God with our real problems each day is the difference between faith and religion.