Whenever we consider the subject of marriage, we naturally turn to the first marriage, the first union of man and woman. The Lord Jesus tells that the union of Adam and Eve was archetypical, which means that there should be many things we can glean by considering what happened in that first marriage.
There are two factors to consider and weigh—one is the creation design, and the other is how much that creation design was altered or affected by how the story unfolded. In other words, we need to consider what sin did to us all.
And we really need to look first at what sin did. If we carelessly skip over that part, in order to imagine what an unfallen marriage was like, we might easily slip into some kind of Victorian sentimentalism, or marriage as exemplified by the average Disney princess. In other words, our notions of paradise turn out to be a modified and cleaned up version of what we have now, with lots of sugar added.
After Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, one of the very first manifestations of their new sinful condition was conflict between husband and wife. The Lord came down and asked what had happened, and the man blamed the woman, and the woman blamed the serpent. Nobody took responsibility for their own actions. The juice of the fruit was still wet on their fingers when those fingers starting pointing somewhere else, anywhere else. Not me.
Because of their disobedience vertically, the first thing that happened horizontally was that crackle and tension was introduced into their relationship. Tempted by the devil, who is fundamentally an accuser, the husband became a devil, an accuser, himself. When his wife was assaulted, although he was appointed to be her defender, he became instead a second dragon.
When the Lord pronounced the consequences of their sin upon them a short time later, one of the things He noted is that this tension between them would continue. There has been – ever since – something fundamentally dislocated in every marriage relationship. There is no marriage unaffected by it. There are some that have been carried away by the problem, into a condition we call “having marriage problems,” and others which have resorted to the grace of God in dealing with it, with a result that we call “having a good marriage.” But no one is in a position where they do not need to deal with it. Good marriages are not those where husband and wife and oblivious to their temptations. No, quite the reverse.
Now this is the backdrop, the context, when the apostle Paul tells husbands in the book of Ephesians to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving Himself up for her.
Conflict between people, including conflict between husband and wife, is a function of striving, envy, grasping, struggling for mastery. That is the very nature of the problem, and it is at the very nature of this problem that the solution aims. The cross is not aimed at an abstract checklist of bad deeds done. The cross is aimed at conflict, the kind of conflict that disrupts and destroys relationships—first with God, and then with our neighbor.
When Jesus died on the cross, He was dying in such a way that all envious accusations were put to death with Him there on the cross. Pilate saw that He was delivered up because of envy. The people who killed Jesus wanted to be like Him. And the law, which was against us, and which was the basis of accusation, was crucified there with Him. When Jesus died, recrimination died. The serpent, represented by the bronze serpent in the wilderness, was impaled on a pole so that anybody who looked at it could be healed. The venom of envious malice was in them, and looking at the cross dealt with it. So when we look at the cross of Jesus rightly, what we should see is impaled reptilian envy, writhing in the death throes of all accusation. Behold, the death of bitterness. Look at the death of malice. Gaze upon the death of snark.
That is what husbands are commanded to imitate. We cannot duplicate it, of course, because only Jesus was capable of bearing the sins of all His people. But we are capable of imitating the one who bore the sins of all His people.
And this means dying. But it doesn’t mean dying in the way a junior high boy in a day-dream might, or dying in some highly artificial and contrived situation. It means dying every day, each day, to that little crackle in the relationship, dying when there is tension, dying when there is a little mutual blaming going on. If your finger is pointing, look down to see if the juice from the forbidden fruit is there.
Brian, the world needs Jesus, and because you are this day becoming a Christian husband, one of your fundamental duties –from this day forward – is that of representing Jesus to a watching world. The first person who needs to see this will be Rachel, and then your kids, and outward. This is not done by means of a smarmy piety. It is not done by means of doctrinal clichés. It is not done by any of our clever workarounds. It is done by imitating Jesus, who laid down His life for His bride, and by not imitating Adam, who didn’t.
Rachel, you are called to reciprocate. The Bible teaches that the woman is the glory of the man, and a related truth is that she is the glorifier of what he brings to her. He doesn’t bring home the bacon. He brings home a paycheck, and you transform it into bacon. You are the one who glorifies his life, his home, his identity. And the crown of it is that you the one who has been given the privilege of glorifying his death. As he imitates the Lord Jesus in laying himself out for you, you imitate the Lord Jesus in what happens after that. You are to imitate the glory of the resurrection. Now, of course, what I said earlier applies to your as well. Brian cannot duplicate the death of Jesus, and you cannot duplicate the resurrection. But you must certainly can imitate it.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.