Yesterday I officiated at my niece’s wedding. My brother’s daughter and the man she married are a wonderful couple. During our pre-marriage sessions, we talked a lot about the purpose of marriage, how it’s meant to model God’s perfect and wonderful relationship with us. I talked about that during the ceremony. As the sun pushed back dark, threatening clouds, the outdoor crowd responded in delight as the couple stood in front of an archway framing a beautiful lake set below the valley. I always tell couples before the ceremony to focus on the vows. “You will only do this once,” I encourage, “so listen carefully. Take it all seriously.” I spoke for a moment, saying again, this time before witnesses, that marriage is designed by God to reflect his relationship with us. Paul, in Ephesians 5, calls it a mystery, but not because it’s hard to understand; it’s not that kind of mystery. It’s a mystery in the sense that this is awesome. Full of intrigue and deep with profound truths, and rich parallels. Notice the comparisons between the way Jesus loved us and the way the husband should love his wife. Notice, too, the parallels with how the church responds to that love and how the wife responds to her husband’s love. This is deep and full. A mystery in the sense that the deeper you dig into it the more amazing it is. Look for yourself. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:22-28)
The way the husband shows his love for Jesus is by loving his wife. The claim to love gets legs. The wife, too, shows her love for Jesus by the way she leans on her husband, and responds to his love for her.
It gets better.
Deep in the ground of this mystery is the profound suggestion that marriage, by design, is one of the greatest platforms to show the world what Jesus did for us and how he now relates to us, and wants us to relate to him. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. There is something about the way the husband cherishes his wife that tells another story, a greater truth. When he sacrifices for her, giving up his own desires and impulses, puts her first over his own needs, it’s more than a reminder of what Jesus did by giving up himself for us, his bride. This selfless love, that other-centered devotion, is an infusion of sorts of Jesus and his love for us. The world sees this and can say, “Ah, so that is what Jesus did for me.” When the wife eagerly submits to her husband, the world can say, “Oh, I get it. So that is what Jesus did for his church, and that is how the church should be to him.” Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
We pastors, somewhere in the ceremony, will state that marriage is the most sacred institution created by God. It best displays the harmony in the Trinity, and the nature and character of that relationship with us.
No wonder, then, that it’s the one institution most under attack!
No wonder the enemy tries to blur the lines of distinction between man and woman!
Take away our uniqueness as male and female, and you take away the very thing God meant to model his love for us. Marriage! I said so during the ceremony. “Because marriage is the most sacred institution given to us by God, it will be the one place the devil will most attack. Remove that witness, marriage, and you’ve discarded the one platform meant to most effectively portray the gospel.
I love to encourage couples; relating to each other is more than about good communication and a motivation to get along well. There’s something deeper going on.
Marriage is a stage to rehearse, again, the story of the gospel. Of our Husband, Jesus, going all out to save us from our sin. Seeing our helplessness, he entered this sinful world where we were held captive and set us free, but he did more. He claimed us as his bride. Made us his own and declared his deep love for us and demanded our allegiance for him. And in the background, through the arches of this covenant rests the beautiful view of the cross, more stunning than the lake view in the background of the wedding last week.
Perhaps the greatest way their children will one day understand the redemptive work of Jesus is by watching what goes on between mom and dad.