Day 96 – Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-52; Luke 18:35-19:27; John 11:55-12:11

A Contrast of Kingdoms.

Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-52; Luke 18:35-19:27; John 11:55-12:11

The replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT

One of the things that jumps out in the Gospels as we near the end of Jesus earthly life and ministry, is the growing contrast between the views of Jesus and the disciples regarding the coming Kingdom. The story recorded in Matthew and Mark gives us a pretty clear indication that the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up His Kingdom on earth. He would rule and reign from the throne of David right there in Jerusalem. He would defeat the Romans and make the Jews a power to be reckoned with just like they were in the glory days of David and Solomon. The nation of Israel would once again have power, prestige, and experience peace and prosperity. And the disciples saw themselves as playing significant roles in Jesus’ earthly Kingdom, because they had sacrificed everything to follow Him. Remember Peter’s statement to Jesus back in Matthew 19? “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matthew 19:27 NLT). Each of the disciples were hoping to benefit greatly from their relationship with Jesus. They fully expected to be part of His inner circle when He finally quit beating around the bush and established His Kingdom.

But Jesus had a different view of what was going to happen in the days ahead. He knew full well that His mission, as given to Him by God, would first involve a crucifixion, not a coronation. He would have to suffer and die before He could rule and reign. A cross would be His next stop, not a throne. So when James and John take Jesus aside and ask Him to do them a favor and assure them the two top spots in His administration, Jesus has to correct their thinking. Matthew even indicates that they had gotten their mother involved in this whole matter. The ironic thing is that they ask Jesus to let them “sit” on His right and on His left. Jesus breaks the news to them, “You don’t know what you are asking!” They really didn’t want to be on His right or His left when the time came for Him to be “lifted up.” Those two spots were actually reserved for two unnamed, common criminals. Jesus knows what He is about to go through in the not-too-distant future, and He asks them, “Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” (Mark 10:38 NLT). As was so often the case, the two disciples assure Jesus they are fully capable. “We are able!” they exclaim. They still didn’t get it. They were clueless as to what was really about to take place, even though Jesus had told them repeatedly that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

When the other disciples caught wind of what James and John were doing, they were indignant. They were jealous and upset that they hadn’t gone to Jesus first. All of these men were jockeying for position and battling for prime spots in what they believed to be was Jesus upcoming royal administration. So Jesus reminds them that things are slightly different in God’s Kingdom. It will not be about who is the greatest. It will not be a matter of who is first and foremost. No, Jesus tells them, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else” (Mark 10:43-44 NLT). This was not exactly what they wanted to hear. What Jesus was saying made no sense whatsoever. But Jesus assured them that this was the way things were in God’s Kingdom and it even applied to Him. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for man” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

Over in the book of Luke, Jesus tells a parable to the disciples, “to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away” (Luke 19:11 NLT). Jesus was going away. After His death and resurrection, He would be returning to His rightful place at the side of His Father in heaven. And He would be leaving the disciples on earth to accomplish the mission He would be giving them. They would be expected to faithfully use all that He had given them over the last three years, and to steward the gifts that would be provided for them by the Holy Spirit when He came. So that when Jesus returned the next time, they would be found to have been faithful and rewarded in full. “…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given” (Luke 19:26 NLT). There was much to be done before any of the disciples received their rewards or places of prominence in Christ’s Kingdom. And before that could happen, they would have to faithfully complete their assignment, just as Jesus was about to do.

Another compelling reminder that Jesus’ Kingdom was not going to be earthly in nature, was the anointing He received at the hands of Mary, the grateful sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Mary took a 12-ounce jar of very expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiping it off with her hair. Jesus indicates that this was in preparation for His coming burial. In other words, He was not being anointed in preparation for His coming coronation, but His crucifixion and death. So when Jesus told the disciples, “You don’t know what you are asking,” He knew what He was talking about. Neither James or John would want to be on His right or left when Jesus completed His God-given assignment. He would be hanging on a tree, and hanging beside Him, on His right and left, would be two guilty criminals. For the Kingdom of God to be established, the Son of God had to suffer and die. For Jesus to eventually rule and reign, He would have to conquer sin and death.

Things were not what they seemed. The Kingdom of God would not be what the disciples expected. His Kingdom was of a spiritual nature. It involved suffering, sacrifice and servanthood. It required the sinless Son of God to selflessly give His life so that others might live. The earthly Kingdom of God is coming. Jesus will eventually rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And the disciples will have places of prominence in that Kingdom. But much had to happen first. The enemy Jesus came to defeat was not the Romans, but Satan. The Kingdom He came to establish was not to be temporary, but permanent. And that day is coming.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son to suffer and die. Your plan was not what the disciples expected and it is often not what I would choose. But it is perfect because You are righteous, all-knowing, and good. I am grateful that Jesus sits on a throne even now and that He rules in my heart, when I am willing to allow Him to do so. He is exalted on high and sits at Your right hand, and some day He is coming back. I am grateful that the kingdom the disciples wanted never came about. I am thankful that Your plan is going to be fulfilled in perfection and the ultimate rule and reign of Christ over all the earth is coming. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

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Day 95 – Matthew 20:1-19; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:31-34

A Kingdom and A Cause.

Matthew 20:1-19; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:31-34

“Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?” – Matthew 20:15 NLT

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. His time on earth is coming to a close. His mission is reaching its final conclusion. And as He journeys toward His final destination, He continues to teach His disciples, attempting to prepare them for what they will face when they reach Jerusalem, and to equip them with an understanding of His Kingdom. All of this will be needed when He returns to His Father in heaven, leaving them to continue His ministry as His ambassadors and messengers.

Chapter 20 in Matthew follows nicely after the incident with the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NLT). His view of the Kingdom of God was based on earning and effort, and he was not alone. The disciples held the same view, because it was prevalent among the people of Israel. Their religion had become performance-based and was based on a concept of earning and reward. This young man had come looking for one more thing that he must do to secure eternal life for himself. He was probably wanting assurance that he had already done all that was necessary, and was basing his belief that he was in God’s favor on the fact that he was richly blessed by God in this life with “many possessions.” Therefore, God was surely going to bless him in the next life. But Jesus broke the news to him that all his possessions were useless to him in either this life or the next. He told the young man to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and follow Him instead. But the man walked away sad. The cost was too high. The commitment too great. His wealth had become his savior and security.

Now Jesus tells His disciples a parable that is designed to give them a better understanding of the Kingdom of God. He compares it to a landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. Through the course of the day, at nine o’clock, Noon, three o’clock, and as late as five o’clock in the afternoon, he hired workers and promised to pay them all “whatever was right at the end of the day” (Matthew 20:4 NLT). When he came upon the group, he had asked them why they weren’t working and they replied, “Because no one hired us” (Matthew 20:7 NLT). This is an important point, because it indicates that these individuals wanted to work, but were deemed either unqualified or incapable. But this landowner was willing to put them on his payroll and invited them to join the others in the vineyard.

At the end of the day, he had his foreman call all the workers in and had him pay each of the workers their wages, starting with the ones who he hired last and working up to those who had put in a full-day’s worth of work. To the surprise of the latecomers and the consternation of those who had worked all day, each received the same amount of money. When those who had worked all day saw that the latecomers had received a full-day’s pay, they expected to get a bonus for all their hard work. But their pay was no bigger or smaller. So they complained to the landowner, making sure he understood that they had put in greater effort and therefore, deserved greater pay. The complained of injustice and demanded justice. But the landowner defended his actions and let them know that he was fully in his rights to do with his money as he saw fit. They had received a fair day’s wages for a full day of work. They had not been cheated or treated unfairly. These people had lost sight of the fact that, until that morning, they were unemployed and without any waged, but the landowner had hired them sight unseen and offered them the opportunity to work for him. And they had received the benefits of accepting the landowner’s invitation. It seems that these people thought their pay was based on their effort and the amount of work they had performed for the landowner. In the story, Jesus makes it clear that each was payed, not based on the amount of work done, but based on the grace of the landowner. Remember, this is a story about the Kingdom of God. The issue is effort and earning versus grace and the unmerited favor of God. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and religious leaders thought that their place was secure because they “worked” for God. They believed that their pious lifestyle secured them a place in God’s Kingdom. But Jesus assures the disciples that that is not how things work in God’s economy. His is a grace-based economy. God can and does invite anyone into His Kingdom that He so chooses. It is not based on their worthiness, hard work, status in life, talents, or treasures. It is not based on how gifted they are or how much they can give. It is completely based on grace. Paul reiterated this point when he wrote, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, He was giving His disciples an intensive crash-course in the Kingdom of God. Their views were going to have to change. But it was going to be difficult for them. They were not going to get it at first. In fact, each time Jesus tried to inform them that He was on His way to Jerusalem to be unjustly tried and killed, they didn’t understand. Luke tells us, “The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34 NLT). But in time, they would discover that things in the coming Kingdom were going to be a lot different than they ever expected. Humility would replace pride. The first would be last and the last first. The self-righteous would be left out and the repentant sinners included. God’s Kingdom would be grace-based, and made freely available to all who would simply believe.

Father, I can’t thank You enough that inclusion in Your Kingdom is based on grace and not effort. Because otherwise, I would not be included. I have done nothing to deserve Your good favor. My status as one of Your children is solely based on the work of Christ on the cross, and not on anything I have done or attempted to do for You. All of my works are as filthy rags in Your eyes. But the righteousness of Christ has been credited to my account. His work, done on my behalf, is what secures my relationship with You. And I did nothing to deserve it. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 94 – Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Everything Is Possible.

Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” – Matthew 19:26 NLT

If we keep the verse above within its context, Jesus is addressing the issue of salvation. Of course, we could easily say that it could apply to just about anything. With God, everything really is possible. But Jesus made this statement in answer to a question from His disciples. They had asked, “Then who in the world can be saved?” They were confused over an exchange between Jesus and a young man who had come asking what he must do to have eternal life. His exact question was, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NLT). In other words, he was looking for a task to perform or a deed to do. His was a performance-based mindset where actions resulted in rewards. We learn a little later that he is a wealthy young man “for he had many possession” (Matthew 19:22 NLT). His life had been a testament to earning through effort. Sure, he could have inherited all that he had, but he somehow knew that if he wanted something of even greater value – eternal life – he was going to have to DO something to earn it.

Jesus knew his heart. He knew him to be a type-A, driven individual who would take seriously any word of advice or five-step formula Jesus might give him. So Jesus simply answered, “Keep the commandments.” Being a cut-to-the-chase kind of a guy, the young man asks, “Which ones?” He didn’t want to waste time with any commandments that weren’t going to count in his quest for eternal life. So Jesus lays out a few. “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:18-19 NLT). To which the man proudly replied, “Done that! What else?” Now, let’s be honest. Do we really think this young man had kept all these commandments? I’ll spot him the first two, but I can’t believe he never stole or testified falsely, or that he always honored his father and mother and loved his neighbor selflessly. He may have thought he had kept these commandments, based on his own criteria or standard, but the chances are high that he had not. Jesus’ response to his question, “What else?” is very interesting. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21 NLT). Notice the word, “perfect.” In the Greek it is the word teleios and it means “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” It is the same word used by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount when He said, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). The idea is to be complete, lacking nothing. God is perfect, whole, complete, and lacks nothing. This man had it all from a worldly perspective, but was lacking one thing: Eternal life. He was not perfect. And interestingly, Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor. Jesus challenges him to let go of all the things he had pursued in search of the perfect, complete, whole life and give it away. And He follows that up with an invitation to follow Him. Perfection, completeness and wholeness will never be found in this life short of selling out to follow Jesus. Now, this is not a universal teaching truth from Jesus that every single individual must sell all their possessions and give away their money before they can follow Him. He knew this man’s real problem. He was in love with the world and his wealth. He had spent years seeking perfection and completeness in material things. Giving all that up was not a possibility for this man, and so we’re told “he went away sad.”

Then Jesus makes a statement that shocked the disciples, because it went against all that they had been taught. It contradicted their view of life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:23 NLT). They believed wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Now Jesus was telling them that wealth was actually a deterrent to eternal life. Why? Because wealth or material things can easily become a means by which we seek perfection or completeness. Just one more thing. Just a little bit more money. Just a slightly bigger house in a slightly better neighborhood. Just a little bit newer and nicer car. Just a few more additions to the wardrobe. But back in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT). Jesus was inviting this man to do this same thing. He was challenging him to stop worrying about money and stuff, and to start truly seeking God’s Kingdom, instead of his own.

But when the disciples ask who in the world can be saved, Jesus tells them the most important truth in this entire conversation: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT). Salvation is a work of God, not man. We can’t save ourselves. It is an act of God made possible through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. This man couldn’t earn it or perform some take to merit it. He was going to have to give up all his self-effort and throw aside all that he put his hope in and had based his future on, and turn to Jesus as the only way to eternal life. From a human perspective, salvation is impossible. It is out of our hands and beyond our reach. But God has made it possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son.

Father, thank You that You don’t require us to earn our salvation, because none of us could pull it off. We are incapable of living sinless, perfect lives apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. But Father, there are still so many things that distract us from leaning completely on You. We can still put way too much hope in the things of this world and forget that the most important objective of our lives is holiness, not happiness. Keep us focused on building Your kingdom, not our own. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 93 – Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

Child-Like Faith.

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:17 NLT

Innocence. Vulnerability. Need. Dependence. Honesty. Helplessness. Trust. Those are just a few of the characteristics of most little children. They are inherently trustworthy. They take us at our word. Some would call them gullible and naive, but there is an innocence about them that is refreshing. They are honest, sometimes painfully so. I remember the time I was standing in yet another long grocery store line. I had one of my kids with me. He was sitting contentedly in the seat in the grocery cart, when all of the sudden he blurted out, “Daddy, that lady is really fat!” I was suddenly shocked out of my fascination with the assortment of candy bars in the nearby rack, to see my son pointing at the rather large woman standing right in front of is the line. She was staring angrily back at me. While I didn’t fully appreciate my son’s timing, I had to agree with his assessment. I just wish he would have kept it to himself or shared it with me in the car later. Kids are honest. They say what they think. My son meant no harm and didn’t know he was saying something hurtful. He simply saw, assessed and spoke what was on his mind.

Children are naturally dependent. From the moment they are born, they are reliant on others for their care, feeding, support and protection. They cannot fend for themselves. Unlike most other mammals, whose offspring are up and running in a matter of days, human newborn are totally defenseless for years. They can’t walk, talk, feed themselves, or do anything to meet their own needs. They must depend on others for everything. Even as they grow older, they recognize that mom and dad are there to provide for them. They understand that, when in trouble, they are to run to their parents for help. When they’re scared, they seek out someone bigger and stronger to protect them. They seem to sense their own limitations and are not afraid to turn to others for help.

And children are trusting. At least when they are young. That’s why we have to warn them about strangers. Left to themselves, they would follow anyone just about anywhere. Those who choose to harm children know this fact and use it to their advantage. Children are susceptible to being deceived because they are prone to trust others. The sad fact is that it doesn’t take long for them to lose this attribute. Before we know it, they begin to question everything and everyone. They quickly become distrustful. Their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness can easily turn into doubt and distrust. Some of that is necessary for them to survive in the world, but it is still sad to watch children lose their innocence and trust.

In these three Gospel accounts, we are given a glimpse of Jesus as He interfaces with some little children. Their parents had brought them to Jesus to be blessed by Him. The disciples, illustrating the value that their society put on children, tried to quickly usher them away. They saw no value in them. They even scolded the parents for daring to bother Jesus with such trivial matters. After all, He was the Messiah. He didn’t have time to waste blessing children. But Jesus shocked the disciples by demanding that they let the children come to Him. He placed them on His lap and said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (Luke 18:16 NLT). There was something about those children that resonated with Jesus and represented what He was looking for in His followers. Unlike the religious leaders, the children didn’t doubt and cast dispersions on Jesus’ identity. They simply ran to Him and jumped into His lap. They embraced Him. They viewed Him as someone they could trust. Their parents brought them to Jesus, so they saw no reason NOT to trust Him. These children did not come expecting or demanding anything from Jesus. Their needs were simple. They didn’t come to be blessed, but simply enjoyed being noticed, loved, and cared for. In a society that shunned children and placed little to no value in them, to have Jesus show them love and attention was more than enough for them.

Jesus saw in these children the attitude of dependence He longed for in all His disciples. He wanted those who follow Him to truly recognize their need for Him. He wanted them to trust Him, rely on Him, turn to Him, listen to Him, and rest in Him. While the adults were busy evaluating what they might get out of a relationship with Jesus, these children simply enjoyed the attention and love He showed them. That is what Jesus is looking for in all of us. Do we enjoy spending time with Him? Do we look forward to the attention He wants to show us? The Kingdom of God will not be made up of arrogant, egotistical, self-centered, self-reliant individuals. The self-made man need not apply. But the helpless, hopeless, innocent, defenseless, weak, and willing will always be welcome. A big part of coming to faith in Christ is giving up all faith in yourself. It is recognizing your own insufficiencies and trusting in His all-sufficiency instead. I can’t help but think about the words of Paul when I read these passages. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT). The unwise, the powerless, the poor, the foolish, the despised – these are the ones that God calls and Christ redeems. These are the citizens of God’s Kingdom. Totally dependent. Completely satisfied to rely on God to meet all their needs. Trusting in Jesus to provide for them what they could have never provided for themselves. Willing to rest in the arms of God, benefiting from His grace and His goodness.

Father, thank You for including me in Your Kingdom. And thank You that it wasn’t based on my ability to impress You or accomplish great things for You. But when I was ready to stop trusting in me and start trusting in You, that’s when You included me in Your family. And I am grateful.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 92 – Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

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.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org