So the million dollar question is, what’s the big deal about marriage? Why not settle for sappy, syrupy emotion if in the end there is no marriage in heaven? What’s the big deal if marriages end because all marriages will end in heaven? Marriage is a big deal because marriage is a pointer to Christ and his love for the church. A church which he refers to as His bride. Jesus, he’s the Bridegroom. We, the church, are His bride. We are the bride of Christ.
There is something sacred going on during marriage that is not communicated by movies like the Titanic where Leonardo is holding that girl on the front of a ship while the wind is blowing through her hair. Any guy can do that for a few minutes when the emotions are running high. Let me see if Leonardo can do that a few decades later and then I’d be impressed. You know what I mean?
Good marriages are filled with high levels of emotion at times. Especially in the beginning. That’s normal. But marriage is much more than romantic feelings. Marriage points to Christ and his love for the church. Jesus himself redefines what true love is by dying on a cross and humbly sacrificing and laying down his life for the church.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross and displaying to the world the most supreme act of love ever, do you think Jesus was thinking, wow, that church, what a babe! Do you think Jesus was having romantic thoughts regarding his bride, the church? No, of course not. Jesus died while we were mocking him, spitting at him, crucifying him. He loved us while we were still enemies of God. He demonstrated love by laying down his life for sinners.
I don’t think the imagery of being crucified comes to mind when you think of your spouse or your future spouse. Yet, God chose to use marriage to express what true love looks like. In fact, the closest thing that we have in this life that captures a glimpse into this spiritual reality of Christ and His love for us is marriage.
I want to go back to the two become one flesh, one new person. Two chemical substances coming together and forming a completely new compound. This is what happens in marriage–emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually–and it mirrors our union with Christ when we are born again. I don’t think we often conceive of our relationship with Christ in terms of union and two becoming one, but actually, I can’t think of a better metaphor for what happens in the life of a believer.
No follower of Jesus is an isolated entity, living out a solitary, potentially tragic story line. The life story of a disciple is inextricably linked with the life story of Jesus. Each of us is connected to Jesus as a branch is connected to the vine, a body part is connected to the head, or a wife is connected to her husband.
In fact, the truth gets even more shocking. As the Father is in Jesus, and he is in the Father, so are we “in” Christ, and he in us. Col 1:27 describes the glorious mystery of salvation as Christ IN YOU, in me, the hope of glory. The possibility is staggering, that I, a creature, might have my life linked–actually, organically, eternally linked–to the Son of God himself. Like a freight car coupled with an engine, where Jesus goes, I go. What happens to him, happens to me. I follow him and share his life, his character, his suffering, his future, his inheritance, even his reign with the Father.
Being united to Christ is such a foreign concept to us. We don’t understand love. We understand two things quite well. One, we understand power. And two, we understand fairness. Power and fairness. We see these things in Matt chapters 19 and 20.
Why was the rich young man in Matt 19:16-30 so off to the point that when the offer of eternal life was given, when eternity was there staring him right in the face, he walked away sad. Why did he walk away? He had wealth. He was a rich man. He had his youth. He was a young man. And in other parallel texts, we also learn that he had power. He was some type of ruler. Rich, young ruler. Wealth, youth and power. A deadly combination.
This man was powerful and he approached Jesus from a position of power and strength and self-sufficiency. He thinks salvation is a matter of obeying laws. And as a man of wealth, youth and power, he is quite good at obeying laws. His approach to gaining eternal life was, I’m strong, I’m smart, I can get things done, tell me what to do and I’ll do it.
But Jesus doesn’t tell him to obey a law. He says, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Follow me–this is a very relational term. Follow me, live with me, be with me, let’s do life together. But this rich young man couldn’t let go of his wealth. You could say, he was united to his wealth. That’s what idols do to you. The idol becomes inseparable from the person worshiping the idol. The idol becomes you. You become the idol. Your significance, your worth, your self-identity comes from the very thing that you place ultimate significance in. For this rich young ruler, the idol was wealth and he couldn’t part with it. Because wealth is what made him feel powerful. Wealth took on God-like proportions. It defined who he was.
The rich young man wanted eternal life AND at the same time he wanted to remain powerful. He wanted to remain in control. He wanted to remain his own man. He wanted to continue to call the shots. And ultimately, he could not let go of the very thing that gave shape to his sense of power. We can identify with the rich young ruler because we understand power.
Even the mother of two of the disciples, the sons of Zebedee, went to Jesus in Matt 20:20-27 and asked Jesus to allow her sons to sit, one to his right, and the other to his left. In seats of honor and power. The other 10 disciples got wind of this power grab from James and John’s mother and they were indignant. Why is this mom trying to put her sons ahead of us behind our backs. This is how the world operates. It’s who you know and seeing an opportunity and seizing the moment. We understand power quite well.
We also understand fairness. When we read Matthew 20:1-16 about the parable of the workers in the vineyard, something in us shouts, it’s not fair. Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven like a landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. Up front, the landowner sets the terms of the arrangement. You work for me for the day and I will pay you a denarius. So the landowner goes out at various times throughout the day. Some started working first thing in the morning. Others started working around noon. Some at 3pm. And some got hired at the very end of the day. The eleventh hour workers. And because they got hired so late, they only had one hour’s worth of work to do.
And the point of the parable, the most shocking thing is this–whether someone worked for the entire day or just one hour, they all got paid the same amount. One denarius. A day’s wages. Something about this story doesn’t sit well with us.
Like the workers who worked since the beginning of the day, we would grumble if we saw the eleventh hour workers getting the same pay as those who started first thing in the morning. It’s not fair. We think, the more work you put in, the more pay you should get. Everyone needs to be treated fairly. We should get what we deserve. 8 hours of work deserves 8 hours of pay. 1 hour of work deserves 1 hour of pay. That’s fair.
Power and fairness are actually quite related. If you are like the rich young ruler and you are powerful and you have a lot of resources, you are going to tend to view life in terms of what you deserve. Jesus, what can I do to inherit eternal life? He is speaking from a position of strength. He is good at life. He worked and he achieved much and so he applies this same principle to gaining eternal life. Tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it. I deserve eternal life because if you tell me what to do, I’ll do it. I’m powerful. I’m disciplined. When I put my mind to something, I achieve my goals.
Isn’t that how we think of ourselves? You are where you are in life because you think you earned it. You studied hard. You worked hard. You made smart choices. You learned to defer instant gratification. Therefore, you have every right to enjoy the fruit of your labor. It’s fair. Those who are working minimum wage jobs or those who are homeless, it’s their fault. They’re lazy. They don’t want to work. They are getting what they deserve.
In Matt 20:13-16, Jesus responds to the grumblings of unfairness, which stem from thinking that we are not getting what we deserve. Let’s read Jesus’ response together.
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Our conception of power and fairness go out the window when it comes to spiritual life. Power and fairness are not part of the vocabulary of love. The point of this parable is not who should get paid more based on the number of hours worked. The point is, look at how generous this landowner is. Even the last person, the eleventh hour worker, gets paid the same amount as the person who worked all day.
This is a lesson on the love and grace of God. God is so full of love that He saves us by His wondrous grace. And it’s not based on our works. Nor our sense of worthiness. Jesus died on a cross to atone for our sins purely by grace and he saves us and pays the penalty of death so that we can be spared and have eternal life.
In light of this amazing grace, does it make sense that we are arguing about who deserves more? Or arguing about who should be given a seat of honor over others? Or why God should treat me special because I have so much to offer? Power and fairness go out the window. We have to start and end by marveling at the generosity of our Lord Jesus Christ.