So that we may better appreciate the meaning of their ceremony today, the bride and groom have requested that I take the time to explain for you all the “good news” of Jesus Christ and how this message defines marriage – for them and for us.

The apostle Paul writes about all this in Eph. 5:22-33 –

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church –  30 for we are members of his body.  31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  32 This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.  33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

A Story of Rescue

The Bible is a wonderful story of God come to the rescue of his rebellious creatures, restoring them to himself in love at enormous cost to himself. God created humanity in his own image, and it was God’s designed intent for us to reflect him and his rule in the world. This created dignity was forfeited, of course, when Adam rebelled against his Creator, transgressing his law. And so God came in judgment, pronouncing a curse on the entire created order – a curse from which humanity has been reeling ever since. And yet in the midst of that judgment God also made a promise: he would send a champion who at some cost to himself would defeat the adversary – the implication being that in his work this champion’s would remedy the problem of sin and its devastating consequences. He was, very simply, humanity’s hope.

This promise was reaffirmed over and again throughout the centuries and comes to glorious fulfillment, finally, in the arrival of Jesus Christ, God the Son, incarnate. The means by which he would win our rescue was a surprise to all: he would conquer Satan and win our release not by his own sword but by offering himself to God in our place, and at the hands of evil men suffer the judgment of God in our place, bearing our curse, the judgment of our sin.

The apostle Paul sums this up for us in verse 25, where he tells us that our Lord “loved the church, and gave himself up for her.” It is the language of substitution and of sacrifice. He took our place before God the judge and willingly bore the judgment of divine wrath due us because of our sin. His goal in it all was redemptive: “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” (verses 26-27).

A Story of Love

The Bible captures this great story with the word, Love. Scripture gives us glimpses of the great love of God, first of all, among the Persons of the Godhead himself – the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father. It was perfect love of Father, Son, and Spirit – perfect love perfectly expressed, perfectly received, perfectly requited, and perfectly enjoyed in the fully satisfied fellowship of the Triune God eternally. And the amazing thing is this God opened himself up to fallen sinners to bring us into the joy of this love also. And so the Bible tells us of the love of the Father in choosing to save us and in sending his Son to our rescue, of the love of the Son in coming and willingly offering himself in sacrifice in our place, and of the love of the Holy Spirit in pursuing us, drawing us to faith in our Redeemer, and jealously yearning after us throughout the time of our pilgrimage. It’s a wonderful love indeed.

A Story of Marriage

In fact, one of the dominant metaphors used to carry the story of the Bible is Marriage. You’ve noticed it most notably in the Prophets. Israel had entered into covenant relation with God and at Sinai had taken her vows of fidelity. God was a husband to Israel and provided for her accordingly, even though Israel so often forsook her covenant vows and strayed after false Gods. When we get to the New Testament we likewise read of the church as the bride of Christ – Christ the Bridegroom and his church his bride. All of this comes to a climax in the book of Revelation when at our Lord’s return the church at last reaches the day of consummate union of Christ and his bride.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:6-8).

It has been observed often that the Bible begins with a marriage – Adam & Eve – and ends with a marriage – Christ and his church. This is one metaphor that characterizes the entire story. At the outset God brought the first woman to the first man with a view to what he would do in rescuing his fallen creatures. She was taken from him and from his side. She was created for him and to serve him. And he was to be her guard, protector, and provider. The apostle echoes this in verses 26-27:

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.

The really striking thing about this story is the kind of love displayed in it all.

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

This is the God who made us, the God against whom we have sinned. Yet his love is such that he came to our rescue, and this at cost only to himself. He gave himself up in sacrifice for us to secure our pardon, to restore us, to purify us, and to provide for us all that God required of us. And all this is “good news” because this rescue comes to us freely – by faith alone we receive all the benefits of the work done for us in Christ.

A Marriage Model

The apostle Paul tells us in verse 32 that marriage was designed to portray all this. Marriage is intended to portray the gospel. Marriage is first of all not about our love but about Christ’s love. And it is this, Christ’s love for the church, that sets the standard for our love and serves to shape our marriages. Right up front, at the very outset of human history, God gives us this beautiful picture – in bringing that first woman to that first man and pronouncing them husband and wife, God was saying, “Here’s what I will do for my own fallen creatures. I will bring them to myself in love.”

We must not get this backwards. We should not think that marriage is the model after which we can understand God’s love for us. It’s the other way around. It is the love of Christ for the church that serves as the model after which we are to understand marriage. Our marriage is but a reflection of the great love of Christ for his church.

And so in this wedding ceremony today, and in every marriage, we are reminded of God and his people. We are sinners, undeserving of his favor. But God in love has come to our rescue. And having rescued, redeemed us to himself, a relationship of love is forever established. God takes his people into covenant relationship with himself, and he loves them. And they, in turn, live for him and obey him.

He calls us his bride. He loves his bride deeply, and there is nothing he would not do for us – he has already given himself for us! And his purpose is to keep us safe and to purify us until finally on that great day of wedding festivities he will present us to himself before the Father a pure church, spotless, and without any fault.

And for our part, as the bride for whom the Lord Jesus gave himself, we give ourselves to him in love and obedience, in willing submission to our beloved and adoring Bridegroom. And as we eagerly await that glorious day of his return we live for him, we serve him, and we keep ourselves pure and for him only. There is nothing we would not do for him.

It is a beautiful picture indeed. Christ the Bridegroom, passionately in love with his bride, providing for her every need at any cost. His bride, the church, passionately in love with her Bridegroom, willingly living in service for him.

And this, in turn, is given in Scripture to define our roles in marriage.

“Wives, submit to your own husbands in the Lord…. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

The inspired apostle tells us, in effect, that this is how we are to think on wedding days like today. This day, beautiful in itself and for its own reasons, is the more beautiful as we see in it a reflection of the mutual love of Christ and his church. Here today in this ceremony we have a man and a woman brought together in love. He pledges to her his undying and selfless love – “as Christ loved the church.” And for her part, she pledges to him her love, her faithfulness, and her submission. The original model of marital bliss restored as marriage is patterned after the gospel.

The Gospel on Marriage Display

So, Ben and Elizabeth, your marriage is to be a picture of the gospel. And as God brings children to this union those children are to learn the gospel first from you – they are to see it on display in your relationship. And they ought, in turn, to be able to point to you as an illustration of the gospel. If their friends should ask, “What is it you guys believe?” they should be able to point back to you. “Do you see how my dad loves my mom? You see how he loves her and gives himself for her? You see how there is nothing he would not do for her? That’s what we believe. The Lord Jesus Christ loves us and gave himself for us. And do you see how my mom loves my dad? You see how she responds to his love and gives herself entirely to him? You see how there is just nothing she would not do for him? That’s what we believe. For his saving love to us we love the Lord Jesus and serve him. There is nothing we would not do for him.”

The union formed here today is to be a picture of the gospel, Christ and his church. And I must remind you, Ben, and you, Elizabeth – and do not ever forget this! – that only insofar as this model is reflected in your marriage will your relationship bring honor to God, and only in this way will you yourselves find the happiness and blessing and fulfillment you have dreamed of.

Fred G. Zaspel is one of the pastors at Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA, and the Executive Editor at Books At a Glance.