Jesus Said It, Not Me.
Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12
He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12 NLT
I’ll be honest. This is not my favorite topic. But if you’re going to read through the Gospels and have committed to blog your thoughts on a daily basis, it was inevitable that I would have to deal with this passage. It comes straight from the lips of Jesus Himself, and so we have to deal with it – like it or not. Jesus was making His way down from the region of Galilee in the north and heading toward Judea. He ended up in the region known as Perea, just east of the Jordan. Jesus’ earthly ministry is quickly coming to an end as He begins to focus His attention on Jerusalem and the coming Passover celebration, when He would be betrayed, tried, and crucified. During these final days, His enemies, the religious leaders would ramp up their efforts to expose Him as a fraud. A steady stream of Pharisees, Saduccees, and other leaders would make their way to Jesus, equipped with questions designed to trap Him and reveal that He was just a common peasant, not the Messiah.
On this occasion, they asked Him a controversial question – even for their day. It involved divorce. “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” they asked. There were two schools of thought at the time. One group held a more liberal view that said divorce was permissible for any reason whatsoever, at least from the male perspective. The other group were the traditionalists who held that divorce was only allowed when the other spouse had been unfaithful. As usual, these men wanted Jesus to choose a side, in order that He might alienate a portion of the crowds that were following Him. But in His typical style, Jesus does not answer their question directly. Instead of talking about divorce, He addresses the issue of marriage, because that is the real heart of the matter. People were not taking marriage seriously. They did not view it with the same intensity and holiness that God did. Instead, they treated their commitments and covenants lightly and flippantly. Divorce had become a quick and easy way to nullify a God-sanctioned covenant, with little or no regret or remorse. Women were treated like property. If a man tired of his wife, he could simply divorce her. He could hand her a piece of paper and send her packing. No stigma involved. No guilt necessary. But Jesus reminds them that marriage was God’s idea, not man’s. It was a God-ordained institution that was based on a concept of unity and oneness. “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Matthew 19:5-6 NLT). Ah, there’s the key phrase: “what God has joined together.” From Jesus’ point of view, marriage was a work of God. God made man as male and female, and He intended for them to be joined together as a single unit. Those two individuals were to become a single unit comprised of two united souls. And NO ONE was to split them apart for any reason. That was God’s original intention.
But the Pharisees brought up a problem passage found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This involved instructions from Moses to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. He had seemingly given them the right to divorce their wives by simply handing them a “written notice of divorce.” Moses wrote, “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes her a letter of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1 NLT). If you look closely, Moses is NOT justifying or sanctioning divorce. He is not providing an outlet from marriage by suggesting that all that is required is a piece of paper. And Jesus makes the meaning of this passage clear when He says, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended” (Matthew 19:8 NLT). Moses was dealing with a predominantly pagan people who had spent their entire lives growing up in the confines of Egypt. They had adapted themselves to the Egyptian culture and had adopted their false gods. Much of Moses’ time was spent attempting to get these people to understand the ways of Yahweh, their true God. Men were treating marriage flippantly, divorcing their wives at the drop of a hat, simply because they didn’t please them. They were free to find anything wrong with their wives. It had become ridiculous. The idea of oneness and unity had been forsaken altogether. Moses knew there was no stopping these people, so he tried to get them to understand the gravity of their decision. In the next three verses, he tells them the ramifications for their choosing to divorce their wives. As soon as a man handed his wife her walking papers, she was free to marry another man. If that man tired of her or found fault with her and divorced her, the first husband was not free to take her back. That door was closed to him. The same was true even if her second husband died. Moses wanted them to understand that divorce was final. He uses a very strong term to make his point. He tells them that “the first husband may not marry her again, for she has been defiled” (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT). The word he uses meant “to become impure or unclean.” Once the decision was made to divorce, there was no going back. This is not a passage that is commending or sanctioning divorce. It is illustrating its devastating repercussions. Moses closes his statement on the subject by saying, “That would be detestable to the Lord. You must not bring guilt upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession” (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT).
Back to Jesus. He closes His remarks by saying, “And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery – unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Mark adds, “And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12 NLT). These were powerful, shocking words coming from the lips of Jesus. There were people standing in the crowd that day who had been through divorce, including some of the religious leaders, more than likely. It was a common practice because it had become so easy to do. Jesus, like Moses, is trying to remind them of the sanctity and holiness of marriage. It is not something to enter into lightly. Even the disciples get that point, because they respond, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). In other words, if you can’t divorce your wife for any reason without being guilty of adultery, then why get married at all? You can hear in their statement just how easy divorce had become and just how difficult they viewed marriage to be. The truth is, marriage is difficult. God is bringing together two individuals with two sin natures and asking them to spend the rest of their lives together. He is asking them to love one another unconditionally. He is demanding that they sacrifice their rights for the good of the other – regardless of each others’ fault and failings. In any marriage, there will always be plenty of things not to like about the other person. Husbands and wives tend to irritate, disappoint, anger, and even embarrass one another. Finding fault in one another is not a problem. Remaining faithful and committed to loving one another through it all is a problem. And only God can make it possible. God never said marriage would be easy. He never promised it would be a bed of roses. The miracle of marriage is that God takes two extremely selfish, self-centered, sinful people and molds them into a single unit. He makes two into one. Bad math, but great theology. Only God can do that kind of math.
I know there are those reading this blog who have been through divorce. In no way do I want to heap guilt on you. That is not my intent. God is forgiving and gracious. He allows new beginnings. He is a God of grace, not guilt. But it is important that we all deal with the holiness of marriage. We must recognize that divorce grieves God. It was never His intent. Divorce is a vivid illustration of the hardness of man’s heart and the devastating presence of sin in our lives. Those who have been through divorce and don’t recognize that reality, run the very real risk of repeating their mistake all over again. The real issue here is marriage, not divorce. If you have been divorced and are now remarried to a wonderful individual, will you make that new marriage a godly marriage? Will you view it through His eyes and not the world’s? Will you remain committed to that new spouse regardless of any and all circumstances? Will you forgive regularly, love unconditionally, sacrifice willingly, die to self daily, and commit to one another permanently? Will you agree with Jesus that the two of you are no longer two, but one, and that you will not allow anyone or anything to split apart what God has joined together?
Father, we talk more about divorce than we do about marriage. We don’t understand or appreciate just how precious marriage is to You. We treat it flippantly and frivolously. We enter into marriage lightly, not weighing the commitment it requires. We don’t value the covenant it requires and the holiness it should represent. We forget that You invented it and that You highly regard it. Give us a new view on marriage. Help us to see it through Your eyes and to value it the way You do. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men