EDMONTON, Alberta (BP)--Last week, an estimated 2 billion viewers -- about a third of the world's population -- watched the Royal Wedding. As is common in marriage ceremonies, the officiant opened with:

"Dearly Beloved; we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony -- which is an honorable estate, instituted by God Himself, signifying to us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His church...."

I wonder how many observers caught the depth of meaning in those opening words. That one sentence contains some profound, staggering truths about marriage and the meaning of manhood and womanhood and sex. The traditional opening to the marriage ceremony acknowledges that marriage isn't a man-made institution. It was instituted by God Himself. He's the author of marriage, and therefore, He alone defines what marriage is all about.

The Reason God Created Marriage

The opening states that the reason God created male and female and marriage was to "signify" to us "the mystical union between Christ and His church." When God described the work of His Son as the sacrifice of a husband for His bride, He was telling us the ultimate reason why He made us male and female, and why He created marriage and sex. Christ and His bride is the reason.

God created manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex because He wanted us to have symbols, images and language powerful enough to convey the idea of who He is and what a relationship with Him is all about. Without manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex, we would have a tough time understanding concepts such as desire, love, commitment, fidelity, infidelity, loyalty, jealousy, unity, intimacy, marriage, oneness, covenant and family. We would have a tough time understanding God and the Gospel. God gave us these images so that we would have human thoughts, feelings, expernces and language adequate and powerful enough to understand and express deep spiritual truths. The visible symbols display and testify about what is unseen. That's why the symbols are so very important.

Marriage Puts the Gospel on Display

Human sexuality is a parable -- a testimony to the character of God and to His spectacular plan of redemption through Jesus. This spiritual truth is so magnificent that God chose to put it on display permanently. Everywhere. Men were created to reflect the strength, love and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women were created to reflect the grace and beauty of the Bride He redeemed. God created marriage and sex to display the joining of Christ and the church in an indivisible covenant. History started with the covenant wedding and sexual union of a man and woman because it will end with the covenant wedding and spiritual union of Christ and His Bride. Marriage was created to tell the cosmic love story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Marriage is Holy and Honorable

Finally, the introduction to the ceremony identifies matrimony as "a holy and honorable estate." The Lord wants us to respect the deep, holy, sacred meaning of marriage, and uphold the sacredness of the sexual act. God intended that sex "seal the deal" of a marriage covenant. The physical union of a husband and wife illustrates -- in the physical realm -- that a permanent, legal, unbreakable covenant of love has been established in the spiritual realm.

The one-flesh union of husband and wife is to model and mimic cosmic truths about the mystical union between Christ and the church. A covenant must be in place before any union can occur between God and man. The Lord wants us to tell this same story with our sexual conduct. Sex outside of a permanent, one-flesh, legal, heterosexual marriage covenant is a violation of God's design. Hebrews 13:4 says, "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous."

Last week's Royal Wedding was a joyous event. I was so glad to hear the officiant acknowledge -- right up front -- that as splendid as the marriage of William and Kate was, it pales in comparison with that to which it points. The guests in Westminster Cathedral, the millions of spectators on the streets of London, and the billions crouched around TV screens in nations all around the world were all "gathered in the sight of God" to witness the joining of another man and woman in holy matrimony -- which is an honorable estate, instituted by God Himself, signifying to us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.

I wonder how many got the real message.

(c) Baptist Press 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Mary Kassian is an author, speaker and professor of women's studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared on her website, GirlsGoneWISE.com. Born and raised in Canada, she lives with her husband in Edmonton, Alberta.