Why Jesus Is My Hero #25 of 52
One of the features of belonging to a large city centre church is that you tend to get invited to a lot of weddings. Every wedding has a Bible reading, and let’s face it, unless you start getting really creative there aren’t a whole lot of appropriate Bible passages to choose from, so you tend to hear fairly similar sermons again and again. One of the downsides of always hearing the same passage used in the wedding context is that its meaning can become somewhat distorted – being applied always just to marriage when it might also be about something else.
Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Ephesians 5:22-33: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church”. Paul uses the marriage relationship as a beautiful illustration of the love that Jesus Christ has for his bride, the church – v32 “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church”. And yet somehow, it still comes as a shock to me when I actually hear it applied that way – it seems to me to be a passage first and foremost about Jesus, and only secondarily about how husbands and wives should relate to one another; yet it’s sadly rare to hear it given that emphasis.
So what does Ephesians 5 have to teach us about Jesus? Well, you don’t have to hunt very far to find some absolutely mind-blowing thoughts: “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 splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”. Wowsers!
Think of the most beautiful bride you have ever seen, how radiant she appeared as she walked down the aisle, all that care and attention poured into getting her ready for that one glorious moment. Well that’s merely a pale imitation of how Christ has poured himself into getting his bride ready – he went so far as to give himself up for her, to die for her. On the last day, the church – all Christians from across the globe and throughout history, united together – well the church is going to be absolutely spotless, without blemish, gloriously beautiful beyond words. And all the credit for that is going to go to Jesus. On our own we are anything but beautiful – wretched sinners, spiritual adulterers who have spent our whole lives cheating on God (even after being betrothed to him!) But Jesus’ death covers our sin and shame – a wedding dress that people will be talking about for all eternity, when Kate Middleton’s will be long forgotten.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues: “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” I find that so encouraging to think about. We are so intimately linked to Christ, united to him as we are by the Spirit, that for him to love and care for us is equivalent to him loving and caring for his own body. It’s in his own interests to look after us and make sure that we hold together and arrive safe and sound in the New Creation.
Just think for a minute about all the lengths you’re willing to go to for your own body. Perhaps you remember a time when you gave up chocolate or passed on the offer of a sticky toffee pudding for the sake of your body. Perhaps you’ve once got up early to go for a miserable jog in the pouring rain. Maybe you’ve missed out on all the fun in order to get to bed and have a good night’s sleep for the sake of your body. We spend our hard-earned cash to clothe our bodies. We buy endless beauty products, we wash regularly, we cut our fingernails – how many hours must all that add up to over the course of a lifetime?!
It’s amazing enough to think of a husband loving his wife to that extent – although it only makes sense, says Paul. She is, after all, like his own flesh. But as you watch a married couple who love and cherish one another, remember that that’s only a tiny glimpse of how Christ cares for us, the church.