The Main Thing (Pt.1)

Michael Metzger

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is considered one of the greatest messages ever, largely because it had a central governing metaphor, a main image. Do you know what it is?

The gospel is The Greatest Story Ever. Every great story has an outline. The gospel’s is creation, fall, redemption, consummation. But every great story also has a central organizing metaphor. The main thing. Take Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Click this link and read it (takes two minutes). Then answer a question: what is Lincoln’s central governing image?

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It’s rebirth. “Our fathers brought forth… a new nation… conceived in liberty… [but] “any nation so conceived… cannot long endure… live… unless we the living… resolve [to] have a new birth.” Lincoln of course used other metaphors in his address, but rebirth is the main thing. It makes the Gettysburg Address “hang together,” coherent, meaning-full.

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Which brings us to the crucifixion of Christ. There are many metaphors for Christ on the cross—Redeemer, King, Savior. In the first century A.D., the apostle Paul—a former disciple of the Jewish rabbi Gamaliel—saw all of these things. But he also saw something more in the cross of Christ. Paul saw the main thing, the love of a bridegroom for his bride.

Many of us don’t see this, including me for a long time (c.f., last week). We look at the cross and see Jesus as Redeemer or King. Good things, but not the main thing, at least according to Brant Pitre, author of Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

Pitre traces Jewish and Christian thought, revealing why the central image for Christ on the cross is Bridegroom. It’s the Main Thing. But perhaps you’ve never read Pitre, so here’s my Dummies version (I’m good at being a Dummy).

Start with the history of salvation, which from an ancient Jewish perspective, took place on Mount Sinai. Many of us see this event as God giving his people a set of laws—the Ten Commandments. But according to the prophets, the main thing that happened was nothing less than a divine wedding. We see this in the following passages.

“I [God] will allure her [Israel], and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hos.2:14,15) In the exodus, “I [God] spread the edge of my cloak over you, and covered your nakedness: I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became mine.” (Ez.16:8). Long after the exodus, God through the prophet Jeremiah said, “I remember your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness.” (Jer.2:1-2)

But there’s more. The Israelites prepared themselves to meet God as a bride prepares to meet her husband, by “washing” in water and abstaining from sexual relations (Ex.19). Then God appeared atop Mount Sinai and gave his people the Ten Commandments (Ex.20). He entered into a “covenant” (Hebrew berith) with them, a sacred family bond via marriage.

This marriage is established by Moses’s act of throwing the blood of the sacrifices on the altar (symbolizing God) and on the elders (representing the people). It symbolizes that God and the twelve tribes of Israel are now in a “flesh and blood” relationship—marriage.

But there’s more. Once the blood of the covenant sacrifice has been offered, the covenant between God and Israel climaxes in a banquet (as does Christ and the church, c.f., Rev.19:7-10). Moses and Israel’s leaders eat and drink together in God’s presence, embodying how God is not only Creator; he is the Bridegroom (“Your creator is your husband,” Isa.54:5). The twelve tribes of Jacob are not just a people; together they constitute the bride of God.

This means marriage is the main thing. It makes the history of salvation “hang together,” coherent, meaning-full. We see this in what happens next. The newlywed bride is caught in an act of adultery—Israel’s worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai. It’s the first in a long history of idolatry. But from the prophets’ perspective, this is not merely the breaking of divine law. It is adultery, the breaking of the covenant of marriage between God and Israel.

For instance, consider what God said to Hosea: “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord.” (Hos.1:2-3) “Jerusalem has become a harlot.” (Isa.1:4,21) “As a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you [Israel] been faithless to me [God].” (Jer.2:32; 3:20)

But there’s more. Israel also takes all of the wedding gifts given to her by the Lord to show her love for him—fine garments for the construction of the Tabernacle, gold and silver for the adornment of the sanctuary, and food and drink for sacrificial offerings—and gives them instead to her other “husbands,” to other gods. By means of such sins, she becomes an “adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband.” (Ezek.16:32)

Are you beginning to see how divine marriage between God and his people makes the gospel, salvation, the cross, “hang together,” meaning-full? I hope so.

But there’s more. In fact, we’re just getting underway. But there’s a rule in writing: never write beyond than readers can endure to read in one sitting. We’re at that point. So next week we’ll keep making the main thing the main thing.

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