The Bride and the Bridegroom

Ephesians 5:22-33, Song of Songs 2:3-13

28 July 2013

Bradfield Methodist Church

Morning Service


I'm going to be focusing on our reading from Ephesians this morning; if you are able to it would be good to have the passage to hand. From this passage, you'd probably think that I will be talking about marriage. And in a sense, I will. But I'm not really going to focus on earthly marriage this morning—that's a whole different sermon. What I'm going to focus on is one particular marriage: the original, definitive marriage. The marriage between Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, and his church, the Bride.

You see, the way the passage works is like this. Paul, the writer, wants to talk about earthly Christian marriages, but in doing so he keeps referring back to the relationship between Christ and the Church. So, in verse 23 the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the churchref. Verse 25, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the churchref. And verse 29, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the churchref.

Recently, I heard a surprisingly interesting radio programme about Trading Standards. What they were talking about was, when you go to the supermarket and weigh out a kilogramme of potatoes how do you know you are actually getting a kilo of potatoes? Have you ever though about that?

What I learnt was that, in weights and measures, the weight of a kilogramme is defined solely and exclusively by a single block of platinum-iridium alloy—stay with me here—which is held in a lab in Paris and almost never handled. There are six direct copies of it which are compared with it every fifty years. Then each country has a copy of a copy, and so on. And each set of scales is calibrated by using a test weight that can be traced as a true copy all the way back to the original, definitive kilogramme sitting in Paris.

In a similar sort of way, Paul is saying that all Christian marriages should be true copies, patterned on one single, original, definitive marriage: the marriage between Jesus Christ and his church. This is an extraordinary truth, that each earthly marriage reflects a deeper more fundamental marriage. A perfect, eternal marriage exists—the marriage between Jesus and his Church.

And it is that original, eternal marriage I want to look at this morning.

We're going to see that, first, Jesus is head of the church, second, Jesus loves the church, and third, Jesus is united with his church.

Jesus, head of the Church

So, let's start with Jesus, Head of the Church.

This is from verse 23, For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the churchref. Now, the idea that the husband is head of the wife is a bit controversial in today's society, isn't it. Leaving that aside for now, what is not in the least bit controversial is that Jesus Christ is head of the church.

Because of this, verse 24, the church submits to Christref.

This is a great reminder to us that when we gather, our main thing is submission to Jesus, voluntarily offered. This is our worship. We express it in our singing, in our prayers, in our confession and repentance, in our listening to his word, and our obedience to his word, in our giving, in our service of one another. Joyful submission!

Fundamentally, Church is not about us and our gripes and problems and grumbles. It's about us, and believers worldwide, gathered in worshipful submission to our Head, "casting our crowns before him" (if I may quote Charles Wesley in this setting!), "Lost in wonder, love, and praise".

So, that's the first thing, Jesus, head of the church.

Jesus, lover of the church

I've called the next section, Jesus, lover of the church. This is from verses 25 to 27. And what we see in these verses is that the relationship of Jesus with the church is a love story.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus' suffering and death is sometimes called his "Passion", as in the film, "The Passion of the Christ"? It's seems a peculiar use of the word, doesn't it? It turns out that our word "passion" is derived from the Latin word passio, meaning to suffer. To be passionate about something is to endure a kind of suffering for it.

And we see Jesus' passion for the Church in verse 25, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holyref. Jesus laid down his life for the Church, utterly giving himself up for her—the ultimate expression of love.

This is how Jesus brought the Church into being. Without his death, there would be no Church. Every one of the hundreds of millions of believers across the world and across the ages is declared holy before God and united into the Church, the Bride of Christ by that one, single act: the death of Jesus on a cross; dying our death; bearing our sin.

Similarly, anyone who is not trusting in that death to make them right before God is not part of the Church. I mean, you may be physically in a church building, you may even technically be a member of a church. But, the true Church is made up only of those who have trusted in Jesus' death in their place.

So, Jesus demonstrated his love for the Church in giving himself up to save her.

And in verse 26 we see that the work of cleansing and washing continues through the word of Jesus. This is the gospel message as it goes out to the world.

Most brides try to slim down as the big day approaches, don't they, but the Church is getting bigger. As each person hears and believes the word of the gospel, he or she is spiritually washed and joined with the Church, and the Bride of Christ grows ever bigger, and yet more beautiful.

And then in verse 27 we find a future aspect. A wedding day is coming! The Bridegroom's plan is to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blamelessref. A wedding day is coming! And on that day we will be perfect.

Perhaps we look around at the worldwide church today and we see all sorts of distressing things: we see parts of the church worldwide in considerable pain and suffering; we see ugly parts; we see weak and struggling parts; we see sick parts; we see damaged parts; we see sinful parts. And sometimes we see these things in our own congregations too, don't we? It is easy to become discouraged or cynical about the church, isn't it.

Yet, Jesus is never discouraged or cynical about his Bride! Look again at verse 27: radiant; without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish; holy; blameless. On that day, we, the Church, will captivate the attention of the whole of the heavens—infinitely more gorgeous than the most beautiful bride who ever wafted down an aisle on earth. And Jesus will be there waiting for us, himself the most attractive being in the Cosmos. And we will be thrilled with him, and he will be thrilled with us.

That's why I asked for those verses from The Song of Songs to be read. The Song of Songs is the passionate expression of the love between a man and a woman—perhaps a bit too passionate for comfort—but it's sometimes been understood as a picture, a pre-figuring, of the love relationship between Christ and his Church. I like that! It transforms my view of church to know that Jesus is passionate about us!

So to summarise this bit, Jesus loves his Bride, the Church. He demonstrates his love in saving his church. He saved in the past, when he gave his life for the Church; he saves in the present as each person is gathered by the word of the gospel out of the world and into the Church; and he will save in the future when he has finished completely beautifying and perfecting the Church ready for our wedding day with him.

Jesus, united with the Church

The last section is from verse 28, and I've called it, Jesus, united with the Church.

For us, inside time, the marriage between the Bridegroom and Bride is still future. But for Jesus, beyond time, there is a sense in which it is already reality. He is already united with his church just as a married couple are united into one flesh.

Let's read again verses 28 to 32.

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.ref

As a Church, we are members of Christ's body, and Jesus feeds the Church and cares for the Church, just as we feed and clothe and care for our own bodies. In the Marriage ceremony, the groom promises "in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish" the bride, so Christ loves and cherishes his Church.

And he cherishes the Church because the Church is united with him in the deepest possible way.

To explain this, Paul goes right back to the account in Genesis where God describes marriage as a man and a woman being united and becoming, in some profound spiritual sense, one flesh. You remember that the woman, Eve, was originally created from the flesh of the man, Adam. Then the joining in marriage of a man and a woman is a re-unifying of what was previously divided. Which is, of course, why two people of the same sex can never be married.

And this joining together is what Paul says has happened between Christ and his Church: he and the church are "one flesh". In fact, rather extraordinarily, he says in verse 32 that what the Genesis verse was really about was the uniting of Jesus with his church, and only secondarily about marriage!

So, we are united with Jesus, one single body comprising all believers. We, the Church worldwide, are his body, and he cherishes us. We experience this unity only rather dimly today, but it is reality. And one day we will experience that reality completely. Meanwhile we can depend utterly on him him to care for his Church as his own body, knowing that the gates of hell will never overcome us.


I hope that looking at the Big Picture of the Church as Bride of Christ has been encouraging for you this morning.

Sometimes I feel that, as individual people and individual churches, our vision is simply too small. But we are part of something huge! Church goes way beyond our local meetings and our own frustrations and challenges and problems and failures. In Jesus' eyes, the Church is his glorious, beautiful, perfect bride! And we here, a tiny fraction of the millions upon millions of believers across the world and across the ages, are part of that. We may be just a cell in the body, but we are still part of something glorious.

Let me finish with an appropriate prayer taken from a little earlier in Ephesians, chapter 3 verse 17. Let's pray.

I pray that [we], being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.ref