Sermon 20 September 2020


The Bride of Christ

20/09/20

 

Reading – Ephesians 5:21-33

 

Understanding that the Universal Church is the Bride of Christ, is a difficult concept to get our heads and hearts around – because our understanding of modern marriage, is so distorted, scarred and broken; much as it was in Paul’s day!

So, let’s begin at the beginning. We often get things back to front. Imagine, someone watches a good film, like ‘Lord of the Rings’, or, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, and then asks if anyone has ever thought of writing a book of the film! How, silly, is that?

 

We can be just as silly, when we treat God the Father, Jesus the Son, and Jesus the Bridegroom, as clever human metaphors. We get things the wrong way round, when we think that God, looked at human fathers, sons, husbands and wives, and decided, that He was so impressed, that He would use them, as a picture of His character, towards us!

Not at all. The very reason why He made humans, to be made male and female, parents and children, was so that we would reflect, what He is like to the world!

That’s what Paul means when he calls God, literally in Ephesians 3:14, 15, “….the Father, from whom His whole family, in heaven and earth derives, its name.”

Genesis 1:26, makes it clear – God created humans, to be male and female, so that they would reflect His character. The Devil, loves to blur, these gender distinctions – which is why these truths are so unpopular today.

If we believe, that we can choose which gender we would like to be, we remove God from the creation process completely – in effect, putting the film, before the Book!

God’s Word, the Bible, always comes first!

Ephesians 5:21- 33, makes little sense, without the key verse, v 21:

“Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.”

Paul is telling everybody in Christian families, to submit to one another.

It’s clear, from what follows, that he isn’t saying, that husbands are the same as wives, or that parents are the same as children. They are all equal before God, but they have different roles, and the extent to which they submit to Jesus as Lord, can be seen, from the way they submit to one another, in these God-given roles.

Paul makes it clear – this is not just about our ‘church’ life. Singing loudly, on Sundays – or not, in this Covid Climate – about God the Father, Jesus the Son, and Jesus the Bridegroom, is easy. Far more costly worship, is reflecting those aspects of God’s character, in the home, as parents, children, husbands and wives!

What does it mean to submit? Tudor reminded us a few weeks ago, that the nearest and most challenging definition of Biblical submission is Luke 9:23,24 – “Then Jesus said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me, will save it”.

I like the way Luke emphasises, “taking up his cross – daily!”

For as we all know, in the family home, we gain no bonus points to carry over! We begin again, every morning - every day, is a new day, and we must ‘submit’ to one another, all over again!

We cower back, from such a hard word. Self-fulfilment, self-satisfaction, and self-actualisation, touch our ears gently.

Self-seeking, self-serving, and self-indulgence, is a caress to our pride and vanity!

Self-denial, cuts to the quick, of our feeling, and our conscience, and challenges us, at the core of our being.

Shelves of books, on self-assertion and ‘winning through intimidation’, have championed the philosophy of ‘getting ahead, and exercising personal power, for selfish gain.’

Jesus knew, and Paul echoes this truth – real self-fulfilment, always involves, self-denial!

If God has truly made His home with us, it will be obvious in our homes!

As I said before, Paul, in these verses, isn’t saying that husbands are the same as wives, or parents the same as children. They are all equal before God, but they have different roles.

Father’s should exercise their leadership, for the sake of their wives and children; mothers should exercise their leadership, for the sake of their husbands and children. Children should honour their parents for the sake of Jesus.

Now, here’s the thing – each statement Paul makes, is bonded to Jesus’ right relationship with His Church. Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is Saviour.

“Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her -

to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies….just as Christ does the Church – for we are members of His body; I am talking about Christ and the Church.”

Paul says a lot of unpopular things in this passage. Some people hate it because they think it endorses universal oppression of women, (it doesn’t, because Paul makes it clear in Galatians 3:28, that men and women, are equals before God!)

Other people hate it, because they think it teaches that all women, must submit to all men, (it doesn’t, because Paul makes it clear, in Ephesians 5:22, that a Christian woman, need only submit to her own husband.)

Pauls braves society’s and often our own reaction, because he cares more for God’s creation plan, than he does about our approval.

He insists, that marriage is a pairing of equals, in which the husband carries ultimate responsibility, leading his wife, in the same way that Jesus leads the church. He gives His life, and as part of this, he also gives her a clear lead.

Paul tells wives that the extent to which they follow their husband’s lead, is the extent to which they follow Jesus, as Lord.

Paul tells husbands to love their wives, with the same love, that Jesus has towards His church.

John 4:10, suggests that when Pauls says that Jesus purifies His church through “the washing of water through the word”, He is not referring to baptism, which is but a symbol, but the Holy Spirit, as the ‘living water’.

Christian leadership is never self-serving ; it always involves sacrifice.

Paul’s quotation from Genesis 2:24 in v 31, is to remind us that marriage is a divine idea, rather than a human one. We can’t redefine it or dissolve it – we can only reject it, or submit to it!

So here he reminds Christian husbands, that they are united with their wives, and so their wives should feel the benefit of their being united with Christ.

If they love their wives, like Jesus, their wives should not find it hard, to honour and respect them, as part of their reverence towards Jesus, as Lord.

This teaching may not be popular in our modern culture, but our messy marriages and family relationships suggest we need it more than ever!

 

This whole concept, says Paul, “is a profound mystery”. So it is, but I’d like to try to throw a little light on it, if I may! To explain what the true church of Christ is, and why it must be this way; holy, radiant and blameless.

The Church, is the Bride of Christ. Jesus, was a complete man – having all the nature of a man – but He never married. He could have, but He never did – despite the various heresies that say He did, moved to France and had children! So, Jesus never married any woman, though He was a true and complete man. He never married the daughter of a woman, so that He could marry His whole church, the bride.

The true local church, is the Bride of Christ, in miniature. Everything that is in the whole church of Christ, should be found in the local church. The whole church, part of it in heaven, and part of it on earth, is the Bride of Christ.

Jesus, washed His bride, regenerated her, and prepared her. He is coming back to take her – the whole church – as His bride.

From our second reading (Revelation 21:9-14:

“One of the seven angels came and said to me, ’Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down, out of heaven, from God. It shone with the glory of God….”

Paul’s description of husbands and wives is applied, without apology, to Jesus Christ and His church.

Just as a young man would not marry a dirty bride, so Jesus Christ, would not marry a church that has ‘stains and wrinkles or blemishes’. She must be holy and blameless.

Jesus’ desire, is for a glorious church, and He wants to love that church, as a man loves His own bride.

Genesis tells us, that there was a man named Adam, and he was the first bachelor! God told Adam to collect together, all the animals, and name them. According to the Bible, names were given after the nature of the animals.

Adam named the bear, after the bear nature, and the lion, after the lion nature.

Then, there’s this touching comment – “But for Adam, no suitable helper was found”. (Genesis 2:20).

Some people think that just means that there was no woman yet. But what it means, is that God and Adam had not found any nature like Adam’s yet!

Adam had to have someone who was satisfactory for him. Not satisfactory ‘to’ him, but satisfactory ‘for’ him.

In God’s eyes, no one was worthy of Adam. There had to be somebody with his nature. There was no one appropriate, because the rest were, the ‘beasts of the field and the fowls of the air’ – and they didn’t have the same nature as Adam, who was made, uniquely, in the image of God.

 

So, God told Adam to lie down. Adam obeyed and went into a deep sleep. There, in a state of deep anaesthesia, God operated on the man, and took a rib from his chest. God fashioned the rib into a woman, gave her life, and called her Eve – the life-giver, who shall give life, to all the race. When Adam came out of his sleep – he looked up and saw Eve, and she looked great to him!

In Biblical speak – Adam, ‘knew Eve’, she conceived a son, and thus the race – sadly ‘fallen into sin’ by now; thus, the human race began.

But then there was another Adam. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23, tells us about this second Adam, the last Adam, Jesus Christ the Lord. He had a nature that was divine – He was God, in the flesh. Jesus was a perfect and complete man, with no sin – but He married no human woman. He married no daughter of a woman, because there was none, not one, found worthy of Him!

Just as He had done with Adam, God put Jesus on the cross – where, having suffered horrors for our sin, He died, He ‘slept’! God had a soldier, open His side. Out from His side flowed, not a rib, but water and blood. From that water and blood, God is washing, cleansing, preparing a bride, worthy of Jesus.

God, did not create Eve from nothing, as He had Adam, but He did create her from the wounded side of Adam. Even so, the Lord is not creating a new race, that does not yet exist, to be His church. He takes the race, that already exists – the race, that He loves, and is made in His image – not all, but certain members of it – and washes it, in the blood that came from the wounded side of Jesus. By the Holy Spirit He washes them; He gives the nature of Christ, to the Bride, the church, so she will be worthy of Him.

Using the wonderful phrasing of C. S. Lewis, there was not among ‘the daughters of Eve’, one, who was worthy, appropriate and satisfactory, for Jesus.

Therefore, He is preparing Himself, a bride who has His nature, just as Eve had the nature of the husband, out of whose side she came.

As Matthew Henry explains in his great commentary, “that the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

 

That is what the church is – the Bride of Christ!

No wonder Paul called for holy, righteous, godly, behaviour in Christian marriage, and in the local church, where we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

If you and I are members of the true church of Christ, then we are members of the company, that will make up the true bride of Christ, in the New Jerusalem!

In the local church, we are to be a miniature, of the bride of Christ……. separated from the world, with Jesus Christ as our foundation, our strong tower and our centre, in all we do, all we say, and all we believe!

In the Christian home, Jesus is an ever-remembered, though unseen guest. In Christian marriage, the whole relationship, is in the Lord. In Christian marriage, there are not two partners, but three – and the third is Christ!

                                                                                    Amen.

                                                                                                            TCR

 

                                                                       

 

 

 


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