here and here and here.) Lately, I've been pondering God's picture to us of unity in marriage. I'm compelled to probe God's call to be united to him and I'm intrigued by the "profound mystery" that he communicates to us about unity in marriage. Let me begin by telling a story:
Once upon a time a good man; a man of character and fortune, a man of excellent reputation and wisdom, a man of authority, of royalty, asked a common, shamed, foreign woman to marry him. Her response was an affectionate but flighty, “Yes. But only on my own terms, I want to keep my old habits, my own hours and friends, dirty up the mansion, remain unrefined and by the way keep a few boy friends on the side.” She was the worst kind of fool. He set his terms; an exclusive relationship. She refused. But he was patient; he overcame her fears and payed off her debts. Eventually she came to love him and realize the worth he was offering to her. She woke up from her stupor, realized her pitiful state, and embraced the love of her generous suitor, too thankful to be ashamed.
Will we embrace the proposal of such a groom as Jesus or in return for his gracious payment of our sin debt will we flaunt our sin and other lovers in his face? God offers his church transformation, to be made into a radiant bride. A commoner turned princess couldn't undergo a more complete makeover and yet so often we as people and churches insist on remaining a filthy tramp as long as we can get our hands on some of the good stuff like grace, mercy, forgiveness, and oh yeah, love. The problem is the bride is operating under a lie; mercy doesn't come without repentance, or grace without humility.
And the most shocking thing of all? The bride has missed out on the greatest of the wedding gifts, union. The Prince has offered to make her in every reality one with himself, sharing his title, his status, his power, authority and wealth in every way. He's willing to hand over the signet ring for her to use in his name. Love, mercy, and grace aren't an end in themselves they are a means to an end, they are the nature and method in which complete union takes place. But these are the terms; the tramp must transform into a princess. He's willing to pay for the transformation, but she has to agree to it.
God has, from the moment of creation, gifted us with the picture of unity through marriage. The image of a bride and her Husband has been painted from Genesis to Revelation. Understanding the significance of being united with God illuminates the high value of marriage, likewise the union of marriage points back to the gracious gift of Jesus' union with the church. God structured a man and woman's relationship with each other to best reflect his character to us.
Thankfully purity is not a prerequisite of our union with Jesus, but it is a hallmark of it. Jesus knows exactly who he is offering himself to be united to; sinners. He's not shocked and his love is not overwhelmed. He offers himself to make his chosen one pure. His blood, his own righteousness, is the purifying agent. Jesus draws his bride to himself and away from other lovers, making her holy, which essentially means set apart for his own purpose. But then, once she is clean and has accepted the terms of his marriage proposal, he expects purity. And he should, it's only fitting.
Why is the picture of marriage so sacred? Because nothing on earth depicts the union of Jesus to his beloved bride, the church, like a husband and wife do. Unity is the crux of the gospel and I wonder if we regularly miss the significance of that. I know I have. At the heart of God, at the heart of humanity, at the heart of relationship, at the heart of the gospel, at the heart of the bible, at the heart of the New Heaven and the New Earth (our eternal home, Rev. 21) is unity. At the fall unity with God and each other was broken, at the cross it was restored, in heaven it's consummated. "He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment —to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ." Ephesians 1:9-10
One day Jesus will sit down to feast with his bride at his wedding banquet. To have the Creator of the universe, the holy eternal God willingly offer to make us one with him is a scandalous grace. But he never said we could come on our terms, he expects full and total surrender. His love is a willingness to transform and redeem at a high cost to himself. His gift is generous beyond comprehension and available if we are willing to die to our own glory and live for his alone. What a joyful people we should be, united to our Beloved, loved beyond what we can even comprehend!
Let's consider how we can honor our marriages as the holy picture of divine unity that they are. Our hungry, fainting world needs the hope such truth can provide.