Marriage is hard and that is precisely why marriage must be seen as holy.
What’s the most traumatic thing that could happen to you? According to research, the most traumatic event a person can go through is the death of a spouse. The 2nd most traumatic event is a divorce – the death of a marriage. The stress of a divorce is worse, according to some research, than bankruptcy, getting married, starting a new job, losing a job, moving, transitioning to adulthood, or chronic illness. I wonder if that stress of a divorce is worse than the stress of staying in a bad marriage….I didn’t see that on any of the lists.
The causes for divorce number one is adultery and then money career advancement etc
this sermon applies to all: those who are remarried biblically and unbiblically, those who are married and thinking about divorce, those who are single, or who are engaged and those who have a great marriage.
That’s why we could argue reducing divorce rates in society boosts mental and emotional health overall. According to research lately maybe that’s something we can celebrate as it seems divorce rates are declining. Apparently we have Millennials to thank for that as they seem to wait longer to get married and then stay married longer.
Our passage today brings us to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, divorce and remarriage. No doubt of interest to all of us as I can’t imagine anyone right now not touched in some way by divorce: whether personally have been divorced, having parents or kids or good friends who’ve gone through one. Divorce has become a household issue.
Now, the sermon title is “Exalting Marriage”, and the reason I gave it this title is because I believe that’s what Jesus was doing in this passage. I think the topic of divorce was discussed in order to exalt Marriage in people’s minds. He was elevating their view of marriage to be closer to the high view He had of it. The strictness of marriage and divorce – and it is strict – is precisely because it is such a vaulted and holy institution of God. The dignity God places on marriage is seen in Malachi 2 when He says, “I hate divorce.” There is a tendency of man to lower things from the high place God puts them. Marriage is one example. But God sees it as exalted and holy, He made it that way, and He commands people see it that way and treat it that way.
Marriage is hard. Everyone who is married or has been married knows this. Those who have never been married don’t know this. Most people enter marriage thinking it will make them happy. If that’s you I want to do your pre-marital counseling. Everyone who is happy in marriage realized at some point that it isn’t marriage that makes you happy, but, you make your marriage happy. That may seem like a cute statement but when it comes to perspective there is a world of difference between the two. Does marriage make you happy, or, do you make your marriage happy? People with happy marriages answer the latter.
And what I love about the Bible is that it is grounded in reality. We know marriage is hard from experience, but, the Bible also is very realistic and it tells us marriage is hard. I’ll give you two examples. First, Paul, himself single, tells the Corinthians “those who do marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” (1 Cor. 7:28). Earlier in the same chapter he urged singleness for those who can live that way and said, “It is good to stay unmarried, as I am.” (v8). Later in the same chapter Paul would say an unmarried man is free to serve Jesus without the distraction of marriage, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs and how he can please the Lord. A married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided.” (v32-34). Single people are not divided between serving the Lord and a family, whereas married people have to care for their spouses and that is time and energy not spent serving the Lord. Paul’s point is not that marriage is wrong, it’s just that it’s hard. And being hard, bad marriages have often done great damage to people’s faith and usefulness in serving Jesus. And that is Paul’s concern: maximizing one’s service to Jesus.
Next I’ll point out that Jesus Himself said marriage is hard. Notice it is two single guys who make these points (and no doubt there are many married people who might choose singleness right now!) In Matthew 19, the companion passage to our text this morning, we find additional comments from jesus to the disciples about marriage, divorce and remarriage. After teaching God’s restrictions on divorce, and basically saying the divorce door out of marriage is very small and very narrow, the disciples said this, “If this is the situation between a husband and a wife it is better not to marry!” They felt the weight of what Jesus was saying. They were overwhelmed with the obligation God put on spouses in their marriages.
Jesus answers them, and, its very strict. It’s hard to swallow. And the disciples are wide-eyed and shocked. They blurt out to Jesus: “If this is how difficult the situation is between a man and his wife, it would be better not to marry!” Many married people may be whispering “Amen” to that right now! But what Jesus says next is eye-opening. Notice the similarity to Paul’s words: “Not everyone can accept this word” Which word, Jesus? He’s talking about the demands on marriage to stay married and not divorce and the very limited situations where divorce is allowed. “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” Now watch what He says next, “For some are eunuchs because they are born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” A eunuch is a man who has been castrated. Some are born that way, some are made that way by men – meaning their function in a kings court required they be castrated so as not to fool around with the women they were supposed to care for. And some, jesus says choose to be eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. Now, He’s speaking this way in relation to marriage: some choose not to get married for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, so they can, like Paul, be fully devoted to serving God and the kingdom in this life. A marriage would restrict their full-time service to God and the kingdom in this life.
This is ironic because in Genesis God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone and so God made the woman for man (Gen. 2:18-25). Marriage is God’s intention for people, and, no matter how wrong its done and how often everyone still has the God-given desire for the companionship and intimacy of marriage.
Marriage is hard and that is precisely why marriage must be seen as holy. If it’s about happy, then it’s about you. If its about holiness, then its about God and making your marriage serve Him. And here’s the kicker – if you make it about God and holiness God will bless with happiness.
While Jesus is teaching a group of Pharisees tested him with the question “Is it lawful to divorce?” Jesus answers with a question and asks What did Moses say?” They respond by saying Moses gives us permission to divorce. Jesus counters by saying it was because of their hard hearts that Moses allowed that. (Take note of that – hard hearts are the cause of seeking a divorce. The Bible never says anything good comes from a hard heart.) Then Jesus brings up creation and the nature of marriage: a union God forms between a man and a woman where they become one flesh. He wraps it up with a warning that man is not to tear apart what God has joined together. Mark then takes us behind closed doors to hear what Jesus told the disciples about this matter in private. And it gets even tougher. Jesus says that remarrying after a divorce is adultery. We are going to go through the text under 4 Headings:
- The Command 2) The Creation 3) The Constraint
#1: THE COMMAND (1-5)
In Matthew 19 the same scene is recorded, but, Matthew shows us the Pharisees asked the question this way: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Now that’s quite a question isn’t it? At the time there were two schools of thought on divorce. One was from a guy named Hillel and the other was Shammai.
Hillel was the liberal of the two and said a man could divorce his wife for any and every reason. If there was something – anything – he didn’t like about her he could divorce her and it was acceptable before God. One commentator says, “Hillel taught a man could divorce his wife for the most trivial of reasons, for such things as taking down her hair in public, talking to other men and even for burning the bread or putting too uch salt in the food. For her to speak ill of her mother-in-law or to be infertile were more than sufficient grounds for divorce.” (MacArthur, Matthew 16-23, pg 164).
Shammai, on the other hand, was the conservative school and asserted very tight restrictions on divorce where there were essentially no valid reasons for divorce ever. Set next to each other these two guys seem to represent opposite ends of the spectrum with a middle between them.
Their teachings grew into two schools with followers. Knowing this puts a little light on the Pharisee’s question to Jesus in Matthew 19: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” That’s Hillel thinking right there. The Pharisees may have been seeking to see which school Jesus would have aligned with at the time.
Jesus responds by pointing them to Scripture: “What did Moses command you?”
Who is Moses? Moses was the leader of Israel who led them out of slavery in Egypt and into the wilderness for 40 years. The first five books of the Bible, what the Jews call the Torah, were written by Moses. These include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Dueteronomy. When you read Jesus saying things like “the law and the prophets” he means the Torah when He says Law. God gave the Law to the Israelites through Moses and so the Law and Moses can be used synonymously.
Don’t miss what Jesus is doing here by pointing them to Moses. He is affirming the divine inspiration of Moses’ writings. He is affirming the Torah is not ultimately from Moses, but, God. That was not shocking to the Jews, but, it is important for us to realize that Jesus was affirming the writings of Moses as divinely inspired and authoritative. If you’re Jewish and watching this then that ought to be of interest to you because you’ve probably been told Jesus was an antisemitic Gentile who started the Catholic religion. He was the truest Jew there ever was and He came to you Jews.
Application: The Bible is our Authority on Everything. Look at how Jesus upholds the Word of God: “What does Moses say? What does the Law say? What does God’s Word say?” When He was tempted by the devil, He referred to and recited the Scriptures. Now, when tempted by these Pharisees, He refers them to the Scriptures. The Incarnate Word of God is pointing men to the written word of God. I really emphasize this because a lot of us Christians today say we believe the Bible but we don’t submit ourselves to the Bible’s teachings in areas we don’t like what it says. Divorce and Remarriage is one of them.
So they ask Jesus a question, and He asks them a question back. And they answer Him. They tell Jesus in verse 4, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” They are referring to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Does this passage teach a man can divorce his wife “for any and every reason”? Let’s read it:
This passage teaches four things:
- first, that if you divorced your wife and she married another man and then that marriage ended you were not allowed to marry her a 2nd time.
- Second, it teaches that remarriage results in defilement of the persons remarrying.
- Third, it teaches that if a man were to remarry his ex-wife after she had married another man then the land would be defiled.
- I would add one more thing it teaches: the second marriage, while it defiled the person, would in fact be a marriage. No passage in Scripture teaches that a 2nd marriage is somehow “less” of a marriage than a 1st marriage. This will be important to keep in mind towards the end of the sermon where I come back to this point.
What this passage does not teach is that a man can divorce his wife for any and every reason. It specifically says “indecent”. Indecent means “nakedness”, so something sexually shameful and disgraceful is definitely in view here and not just adultery. But the same word is used in the previous chapter to refer to going potty outside the camp and covering it up so that the Lord when He looks over the camp doesn’t see anything indecent (Dt 23:12-14) So there are more offensive and obscene behaviors than just striclty sexual. Anything that is indecent is something that should be treated with modesty and concealment but is brought out in plain view.. It’s used in incidents where nakedness is exposed, or uncovered. What should be concealed is revealed. At the Fall our parents covered up because of shame, and, to uncover what is to be covered is shameful.
There must be a clear case of indecency for an Israelite to divorce his wife. The Pharisees who were Hillelians could not make a case for any and all reasons from this passage. Neither can we.
The Heart of the Matter
Now while the Pharisees point out what Moses said, Jesus explains why Moses said it. They said Moses allowed a divorce, Jesus explained why. The answer is “because your hearts were hard, that’s why Moses wrote you this law.” Two things here.
First, divorce was a heart issue. Jesus says their hearts were hard, and He is not saying this as a compliment. A hard heart is a very bad thing. If you have a hard heart you become self-righteous, prideful, self-willed, stubborn, unpersuadable, unresponsive to the teachings of God, insensitive to God’s will, blind to His truth, self-centered, and self-seeking.
- Pharoah had a hard heart towards Moses and God and stubbornly opposed them.
- The Jews to this day are hardened in their hearts and reject Jesus.
- Ephesians 4:18 connects ignorance with hard-hearts, “Gentiles are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ignorance due to hard hearts.
- Hebrews 3:13 warns a hard heart deceives a person, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” A heart that is sinful, unbelieving, turning away from God will be deceived and hardened.
A person with a hard-heart will not carry out the will of God, and doesn’t care to. A hard heart develops from sustained anger that is never surrendered to the Lord.
In a marriage, when that is the condition of someone’s heart, and it is a sinful condition, the only thing that can result is divorce. Jesus didn’t affirm divorce for any and all reasons. Jesus boiled all reasons for divorce down to one reason: a sinfully hard heart.
Maybe you have been divorced, or, are on the verge of divorce. Was your heart hard? Is your heart hard?
Second, see how the man of God has some authority from God to give instruction as he sees best even if God did not specifically command something. Moses gave this law concerning divorce Jesus says in verse 5. In one sense it was Moses issuing this law and not the direct command of God. The man of God has some authority and freedom to issue commands on God’s people. We see the same concept playing out with Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. In verse 10 he says, “To the married I give this command (not I but the Lord)….” Paul was relaying a specific command from Jesus to the church. Then in verse 12 Paul says, “To the rest of you I say (I, not the Lord)….” In other words, Paul was saying “This is my instruction to you, it is not specifically from Jesus. But, as an apostle and with the authority I have as an apostle I give you this specific instruction” And Paul had authority and freedom from Christ to do that. Paul’s instruction in that matter was not inconsistent, but, complementary to what Jesus already has stated on the same subject. Moses, likewise
Now, how the Pharisees got from that passage that a man can divorce his wife for any and all reasons is beyond me. But, before we criticize them, lets keep in mind that the plain teachings of Jesus, like we’re studying today, are totally ignored by Christians today. The mishandling of God’s word by the Pharisees in matters of divorce and remarriage are repeated by Christians today. The same question is asked about Christians today: How can they get that from that verse? Jesus is so clear. How could he have been any clearer? The reality is that it isn’t that Jesus is vague on this issue, its that people don’t like what He says.
So this is some heavy teaching. And it is especially heavy in our day where divorce is very common. But it has been common throughout history
A couple of guidelines in approaching this passage today.
- We need to be willing to be convicted and made uncomfortable by the Bible. What I mean is that we have to form our convictions from the Bible, even if its uncomfortable for us. We don’t let our personal experiences, our family or culture form our views on issues the Bible is clear about. What is the basis for your views on marriage, divorce and remarriage?
- We need to be consistent in our approach to the Bible. What I mean is we can’t sit here and denounce same-sex marriage, cohabitating, fornication, and adultery as unbiblical and degrading marriage, if we are going to close our eyes to the clear teachings of divorce and remarriage. Making this the exception means we are inconsistent, apply a self-serving double-standard, and opens us up to accusations of hypocrisy. Like we might say about the Pharisees: “How could they miss that in the Bible, it was so clear!” so people could say that about us if we start cherry picking what we follow and don’t follow. Our integrity, and credibility depends on whether we’ll be consistent or selective in what we follow in God’s word.
Which I find interesting, because, next He’s going to refer to the original creation of man and woman in the beginning, and, I wonder why Jesus didn’t just go there right away. Why bring Moses up at all? We’ll get inot that
There were two schools of thought in Jesus day. And in many ways, these two schools of thought continue today in the church. On one end of the spectrum are people who say divorce is never permitted, while on the other end any and all reasons are permissible. The problem with both is that neither is letting the Scriptures speak.
Jesus clearly says sexual immorality makes divorce permissible. Paul indicates abandonment also makes divorce permissible. A common problem today is that many Christians get divorced for other reasons not allowed in Scripture. If one person’s reason is justifiable even though its not in Scripture than all reasons are justifiable. That person isn’t basing their conviction on Scripture but their own desires. Once they do that, then they cannot criticize any
You can see how these two schools of thought represent opposite ends of a spectrum and are not in the middle of that spectrum. Neither one seems to represent the Bible’s teaching as faithfully as they should. But here is the key for us: if I assert there are reasons for divorce that are valid, then what is my authority for asserting that? What in the Bible can I point to to justify the reasons for divorce I say are acceptable? So any middle ground between these two positions needs to be strictly informed by the Word of God. I say this because so many Christians today appeal to Grace to justify divorce for any and all reasons. But, if the BIble prohibits divorce for your reason, yet you appeal to grace, then what ground do you have to condemn anyone else’s reason for divorce, since they can make the same appeal to grace that you do?
#2: THE CREATION (6-9)
You know why Jesus refers back to creation, and the original design? Because that is where Gods will for marriage is found. Gods will is what true disciples are dedicated to.