The crucifixion of Jesus is like a bad dream. And as in bad dreams, things keep happening that seem more and more horrific. First Jesus is being flogged. Then he’s being mocked in a purple robe with a crown of thorns forced onto his head. Then there’s the mob calling for his crucifixion. And Pilate is afraid. The Jews, the very people Jesus came to save, are citing their law in favor of the crucifixion. And then Jesus isn’t even willing to defend himself. Pilate tries to release Jesus, but the Jews say his release would be a betrayal of Caesar, and they insist they have no king but Caesar. And then He is led away and crucified with two others, and the soldiers gamble for his garment, and his mother and aunt are there at the foot of the cross watching it all in agony. And then Jesus dies. It goes too far. It goes way too far.
It seemed at that moment like the most horrific ending to the most hopeful story. Here we are, at the close of the fourth Sunday of Advent, just on the cusp of celebrating Christmas: though there were many hardships that first Christmas, we remember the glory shining through: the angels appearing to the shepherds and coming to find the new born babe.
We remember the angels appearing to Joseph and Mary and Zechariah. We remember the wise men coming to worship the child King. We remember Mary’s song and the Song of Simeon. We remember old Anna declaring to all who would hear that the God was finally and decisively acting to save Israel. And the crowds grew and swelled, but the dark clouds of fear and rumors of treason swirled. And then he was arrested, falsely accused, and the Jewish leaders stirred up the mobs to demand his execution.
Of course this story erupts on that first Easter morning with the women visiting the grave, and Peter and John, grown men, running flat out to see for themselves. And then while some of the disciples still doubt and fear, the living, the living-again Jesus appears alive in flesh and blood with holes in his hands and a great gash in his side where the spear had struck his dead body, and blood and water gushed out.
This story, this gospel story comes in the raw brokenness of this world, full of doubt and fear, full of anguish and pain, full of false accusations and even a massively unjust sentence. The Christian gospel is the announcement that God Himself has entered into all of this. He was born into this. He was born on a trip far from home, without planned lodging.
As a young child, his family was on the run from terrorist thugs, and they spent several years as refugees in a foreign land. He was misunderstood by his parents. He endured patiently their sins, their bumbling attempts to be faithful to God and love their very unique son. He was in the spotlight, in the chaotic white noise of churning human opinion: hated, loved, despised, rumored, gossiped. What a mess. He bore in His body the sins of the world. He endured the tragedies, the pain, the sorrows. He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly, all the way to the cross, all the way to the grave.
A Christian wedding cannot help but hold this story, this ragged, raging, aching story up into the light because this is love. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave Himself for us and for our sins. Love is not a soft, warm glow. Love is not a sweet smile. Love is not an enthusiastic sexual encounter, with everything just right.
Love is a cross. Love is being betrayed by your friend. Love is being hunted by evil men. Love is being falsely accused. Love suffers patiently, bearing with the sins of others. Love is the soft, warm glow — of an old woman in the temple frail from fasting for 84 years. Love is a sweet smile — in a stable, far away from home, hoping you haven’t lost too much blood after the delivery of your firstborn son. Love is falling into bed in a messy house, full of exuberant children, who will be waking up in a few hours hungry for your attention, and giving yourself to your spouse gladly with the last ounces of strength you can muster. That is love.
Love goes too far. Love is death and suffering and pain for the good of others. Human logic says that you must draw lines somewhere. You can’t really give yourself completely away because then you’ll have nothing left to give. But if that were love, we’d all be lost in our sins. If God had drawn the line at reasonable, there’d be no hope for us.
But by His death and resurrection, Jesus made a way through death into resurrection life. And this is the secret of Christian love: you can die and yet still live. You can give beyond what you think you can, and find there’s still more. You can suffer beyond what you think you can bear, and then find that somehow through dying you have begun living more fully than you ever thought possible.
Matt, this is the task of a Christian husband to model in particular. You are to love your wife like this. You must lay your life down for Katy. And this means death, dying, suffering for her, like Christ laid Himself down for us. Paul says in Eph. 5:26 that you are to do this in particular through washing your wife with the water of the Word. This means that sacrificial love is defined by the Word of God and not by how you feel, not by what seems right to you at any given moment. Like Christ, you must be a man under authority, in submission to God in order to know how to lay your life down for your wife. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because He had good intentions. Jesus rose from the dead because He was obedient to death. Godly leadership is sacrificial because it is constantly cut and shaped by the sword of the Word. Your wife will thrive under your love when your love is constantly shaped by Scripture. Leadership apart from the Word of God is arrogance. So this evening the Lord is calling you to love this woman from this day forward, and you are to love her like you have been loved by Christ.
Katy, as a Christian woman, you too are called to imitate the love of Christ for your husband. You must lay your life down for Matt. In the economy of marriage this means submitting to your husband and honoring him as your head. But you are to do this, importantly, in the Lord Jesus. You do not submit to your husband as an inferior human being. You submit to your husband as his complete equal in the Lord, freely, gladly in obedience to the Lord Jesus. This is your sacrificial love. Love is not what feels right, or seems right. Love is obedience to God, rendered gladly. In this is love, not that it was our idea, but that God came and rescued us. He humbled himself to the form of a servant. If the form of a servant was not too humble for Jesus, then it is not too humble for anyone. In fact, in Christ, the humility of service has become a great honor. This evening God calls you to serve your husband, lay your life down for him; in so doing, you will find your life and you will be his glorious crown.
My charge to both of you is to remember this day as the day the Lord specifically set His cross before you to follow Him together. In this life, we always smile through tears. We always dance in a graveyard. The Lord our Shepherd always prepares festal tables in the presence of our enemies. This is because love reaches into the darkness. Love reaches down. Love lays down. Love goes into every bad dream and clings to the promises of God, the faithfulness of God until the Light of Christmas, the Light of Easter shines out in every place in all the world. Remember this day as your solemn commitment to God and one another to walk together in the light of Christ, and remember this love is for the brokenness of this world. It’s the courage to forgive again. It’s the strength to bear with weakness and failure even longer than seems possible. It goes way too far because Christ has gone too far for us.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.