The Old Testament often pictures the relationship between God and his people as a marriage. God is shown as a husband seeking out a wife who has gone astray, but whom he still loves and seeks: “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…. for the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isa. 54:5-8).
Jesus took over this teaching and with boldness referred to himself as the Bridegroom. Within the context of a wedding he said, “Can the wedding guests fast when the bridegroom is with them?… the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mk. 2:19-20).
Knowing the Old Testament teaching about God as the bridegroom, Jesus clearly presented himself in the role of God when he said what he did. That shows us once again that you cannot accept Jesus merely as a great moral teacher, you have to accept him or reject him on the basis of who he said he was - God himself.
And it’s this idea that Paul picks up in the well-known verses about marriage in Ephesians chapter 5. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. The same special word - agape - is used of the husbands as of Christ. The word refers to the sacrificial laying down of one’s love in service to others. It’s interesting that Paul uses it to describe the responsibility of the husband only. Maybe it’s just because men need reminding a bit more strongly than women!
In any event, it says something profound about Christian marriage. Christian marriage is to be an earthly reflection of the relationship between Christ and his people. It is the greatest parallel on earth to what our relationship with Christ is. Husband and wife are said to become one flesh, so that the way the man treats his wife is the same way he treats himself.
And marriage, like any relationship, is a process, in which the man and the woman grow more and more together. Eventually, each even knows what the other is thinking. It doesn’t mean we become identical, for the whole genius of marriage is in the joining of the vast differences between male and female into one coherent whole in which the sum of the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.
God chooses a man and a woman to complete one another, so that together they become the people he destined them to be. Apart from each other, they are incomplete. As we grow together over the course of many years, that process will continue. And our love and faithfulness to one another will demonstrate the reality and power of the grace of God at work in our hearts, and show something of what marriage is meant to be to a hurting and broken world.
And in that, we will also show who Christ is, Christ, our lover and our Bridegroom, the one who in his infinite love, grace and mercy sought each one of us out.
If you’re looking for Jesus, watch the couples whose lives and marriages are built on these foundations, and you’ll find him there.