Love Stronger than Death: A Law-Gospel Wedding Sermon on a special anniversary
Everybody loves a wedding. All the best stories end with weddings: ‘And they got married and lived happily ever after.’ But why do we love weddings so much? Well that’s easy, because they’re all about love. We’ve read about love from the Song of Solomon this morning: ‘Place me like a seal over your heart ... for love is as strong as death ... love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame’ (Cant. 8:6).
Song of Solomon is a love song right in the middle of the Bible. The very first verse of the Song tells us that it’s the Song of Songs which is Solomon’s (Cant. 1:1). Song of Songs – that means the greatest song of all. So the greatest song is a love song!
And this verse that we’ve read, Cant. 8:6, is a conversation between a bride and a bridegroom. The Bride needs to know that she’s loved. She needs to know that it’s not just that she’s quite useful to have around – it’s not a marriage for a political alliance, it’s not a marriage for the financial benefit of the families (like something from Downton Abbey), it’s not because she’s a good cook and he’s hopeless in the kitchen. And it’s certainly not, (as might be most relevant today) because having her around might mean he’ll occasionally manage to turn up somewhere on time. She needs to know that it’s not any of those things, but her bridegroom has to really love her. ‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.’
And this isn’t just some romantic notion, but God’s design for marriage. Eph. 5:25 – ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.’ What sort of love is that? That’s not just a case of ‘I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes.’ It’s Sacrificial Love! Real love isn’t about getting, but about giving.
We’ve also read from Col. 3, and there we learn a wee bit more about love.
Col. 3:12-14 – Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.Tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. Hmmm, that’s a lot more than a romantic feeling. And even if you add all those together, that’s still not up to the standard of love. ‘But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.’ Perfection!
So hang on, what does that mean about us and our great love? Well, first of all, to be truly loving, you need to be tender, merciful, kind, humble, meek, longsuffering and forgiving. Just think through that list. Just think, ask yourself, am I always tender, merciful, kind, humble, meek, longsuffering, and forgiving? If we were all like that all the time, then all our relationships would be perfect. There’d be no bickering, nagging, quarrelling or fighting. But the truth is, none of us are like that. And even if we were, the Bible still says that isn’t enough for love. Love is above all these things. Love goes beyond being tender, merciful, kind, humble, meek, longsuffering and forgiving. Love ‘is the bond of perfection!’ Wow, that’s a bit of a high standard isn’t it? That means even our best attempts are a bit of a failure at love. So what can we do?
Well, let’s go back to that conversation between the bride and groom in Song of Solomon. ‘Love is as strong as death.’ They know that love isn’t just a romantic notion. They know that love is powerful. But hang on! We’ve just seen that true love is a pretty tall order. If we can’t manage all that tenderness, mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, forgiveness, and, oh yeah, perfection in our relationships, then what hope do we have of knowing the power of love? Are this bride and groom in the Song of Solomon just hopeless romantics? Well, if they were, how could it be the greatest song of all?
To sort this out, let me tell you a wee bit more about this bride and groom and about their song. You see, Song of Solomon isn’t just some ancient love song. It’s Scripture. And Jesus tells us what Scripture is all about. On the day He rose from the dead, He went on a walk with two of His followers: ‘And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.’ (Luke 24:27).
Jesus said that He’s the theme of all the Scriptures. Jesus said that the whole of the Old Testament was about Him. And that’s why the Song of Solomon is the greatest song of all. Not just because it’s a good love song. But because it’s a song that tells us about Jesus’ love for His Bride.
That’s why Cant. 8:6 has such confidence in the power of love. Because its confidence is not in our weak, faltering, waxing and waning love, but in Jesus’ perfect, powerful, unfailing love – in Jesus’ saving love.
‘Love is stronger than death.’ Jesus is the great Bridegroom who has come to rescue His bride. Jesus is the One who is always perfectly tender, merciful, kind, humble, meek, longsuffering and forgiving. And in His great love, He came into this world to live as one of us for us, and to offer Himself up to death for our sin on the Cross. On the Cross, He paid the price for our lack of love, for our lack of tenderness, mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering and forgiveness. That’s the love that is stronger than death: Jesus coming in His great love for us to rescue us by taking our death for us.
And through His love stronger than death, He has conquered death and risen victorious from the grave! That’s love stronger than death – a love that dies in our place, destroys death, conquers the grave and rises victorious. That love is Jesus: the Son of God, given for us.
But that’s not the end! Because Jesus doesn’t just act in great love. He also offers Himself to us in love.
Have you ever noticed, the Bible starts with a wedding and ends with a wedding, and the whole way through in-between, the relationship between Jesus and His people is described as a marriage? Jesus is the Great Heavenly Bridegroom and through His Cross & Resurrection He offers Himself to us in love. Just as in the wedding vows, He comes along and says ‘all that I have I share with you.’ And like the great King that He is, He shares His great name, His high honour, and His untold riches with His bride. He shares with us His life and His righteousness.
And as we place our faith in Him – as we trust in Jesus who has died for our sins and risen for our justification – we too come and say to Him, ‘all that I have I share with you’. But what do we have to share with such a loving and generous King? Nothing but our sin and sorrow. Nothing but our shame and misery. Yet, He takes that. And He deals with it, through His death in our place on the Cross. And so His outstretched, nail-pierced hands beckon & welcome us into His perfect embrace of love.
So, Mr & Mrs B., that’s what the Bible has to say about the power of love. And that’s Good News! For when our love falters and fails, we can turn to Him, knowing that His great love stronger than death has paid the price for our lack of love.
But not only that. His love is the true foundation of marriage and renews our love:
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col. 3:14-17)The love you’re called to put on – the love all those who trust in Jesus are called to put on – isn’t your own best efforts at being loving. It’s Christ who is love. It’s Christ who is the peace of God. Love isn’t a feeling; it’s a Person. And that Person is Christ.
And that’s why we’re told to let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly. And that’s why we’re told to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. And that’s why we’re told to give thanks to God the Father through Him. Because Jesus Christ, the love of God, is the foundation for all our love. And it’s Christ in us who enables us to be tender, merciful, kind, humble, meek, longsuffering and forgiving. As we’ve read this morning from Ps 121: ‘My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven & earth … the LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even forevermore.’ The strength and the love of your marriage don’t depend on you being in love, but on Love being in you. It’s Christ, who is Love, in us, who enables us to love.
We’ve been reading about a Bridegroom who sets His Bride as a seal over His heart and as a seal upon His arm. And in a moment we’re going to sing about that great Bridegroom:
A Great High Priest whose name is LoveThis is Jesus, our Great High Priest whose name is Love. And through the wounds of His Cross He has set us as a seal upon His heart and upon His arm – demonstrating the reality of His great love for us. Through His broken body and shed blood, He offers Himself to us – ‘from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, through death and beyond.’
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.
Don’t you just love this Jesus? Are you finding yourself drawn to Him? Well, just as Mr & Mrs B. have said ‘I will’ to each other today, today you can say ‘I will’ to Jesus. Receive Him, and He’s yours, for His love is stronger than death.