The Servant King Speaks on Marriage and Divorce – Mark 10:1-16
Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher, is known to have given this advice on marriage: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” I’m guessing that’s what’s happened to him?
We are living in a time where people have a low view of marriage. Maybe you have heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce andmost of the other 50% are probably in miserable marriages? Or maybe you have heard that this percentage is the same among Christians?
But is this true? While it is true that just 30 percent of all marriages end in divorce, by far the greatest percentage of those divorces happen to those who marry before the age of eighteen, who have dropped out of high school, and who have had a baby together before marrying. Do you know that pretty much all surveys tell us that the number of married people who say they are “very happy” in their marriages is high— about 61– 62 percent— and there has been little decrease in this figure during the last decade?
According to Harvard trained researcher Shaunti Feldhan, “the rate of divorce in the church is 25 to 50 percent lower than among those who don’t attend worship services, and those who prioritize their faith and/ or pray together are dramatically happier and more connected.”
I don’t want to just throw stats at you, but I share this because if you are single today or even married and believe these false assumptions, it is easy to live in fear to either ever get married or to be pessimistic about your marriage, since you are assuming it is headed for destruction like everybody else’s. I know I have scared many of you, especially in pre-marital counseling, when I said that marriage is hard work. But just because marriage is hard work doesn’t mean it’s always hard!
At the same time, I know some of our marriages here are struggling. I don’t want to minimize your deep pain and struggle that some of you have been feeling for so many years now. I know you feel lost, like in some unsolvable maze. Maybe some of us have given up on our marriages and you are in it only because the cost of divorce is too much, especially in the Christian circles, but if you were honest, if things were different, you could see yourself taking the ticket outfaster than you ever imagined when you first got married. Maybe you are single and have so many fears about marriage while at the same time wondering if God has marriage in the works for you. Maybe you are a child of divorce or you have close loved ones who have divorced or are close to divorcing. Or maybe you are doing well in your married state or single state and ready to tune out in this message. Wherever you are right now, God’s Word today shows us His heart toward marriage.
If you are visiting this morning and wondering why we are talking about divorce and marriage, don’t freak out. Nothing is going on at Living Hope. This is just the next section in our verse-by-verse study in the Gospel of Mark. We are following the Servant King and learning what it means to be His disciple in all areas of our lives and today, marriage. First:
I.The Hardened Heart of Man Against God (vv.1-5)
Jesus leaves Capernaum and “from this point forward the narrative moves swiftly and relentlessly toward its inevitable climax in Jerusalem.”This region was part of the territory of Herod Antipas and where John the Baptist had conducted his ministry and had suffered imprisonment and martyrdom. This connection will be significant to us in a second.
Lo and behold, as usual, whenever Jesus does some public teaching, here come the Pharisees. These are certain representatives of the Pharisees from the area named Perea.Notice Mark tells us their motive: to test him. This is not a sincere question, but a trap.
They are very sneaky here because Herod, while he was married,started to fall in love with his half-niece Herodias who was also married at the time to his half-brother Phillip. Both Herod and Herodias divorced their first spouses and got married to each other. They had a kid named Salome. All kinds of messed-up going on up in here. It sounds like some kind of daytime talk show. John the Baptist called him out on it (Mark 6:18) and got beheaded.
So the Pharisees are hoping for a similar result here by asking Jesus what He thinks of divorce right in Herod’s backyard. They ask a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Matt. 19:3 adds, “For every cause, is it lawful for a man to divorce a wife?” Let’s talk about prohibitions, Jesus. Let’s talk about what we can’t do. This is Satan in the Garden (Gen. 3). Don’t look at all of God’s provision for you, no, let’s minimize that and let’s magnify God’s prohibition, about what He doesn’t allow because He’s one big fat meanie.
Divorce was permitted and practiced freely by the Jews, including the leaders, but the grounds on which one can divorce were debated.
The passage that was a hot topic on divorce was from Deut. 24:1-4. Moses wrote the first five books of the OT and this passage says if there was “indecency” in a wife, the husband can give her a certificate of divorce and send her away. There were two camps of thought on what exactly “indecency” actually meant. There was a conservative Rabbi and his group said, indecency means adultery. But the liberal Rabbi and his group said, “For any reason, unload that woman.” Divorce her for things from burning your dinner, for making a negative comment about your mother, or for finding someone else that you preferred.
Guess which view everyone preferred? The liberal view of course.They surely knew Jesus was against divorce. To get Jesus to say that again in Herod’s territory is to get Herod and the crowd to go against him. How will He answer?
“What did Moses command you?” In other words, forget Rabbi-so-and-so. He discards their tradition, He discards every rabbi who ever weighed in on the subject and goes right back to Scripture. What does God say through Moses who wrote the Pentateuch?
They summarize Deut. 24:1-4. Noticethe verbs in this opening exchange: Jesus asks about commands, but they reply in terms of permission.So Deut. 24 does not encourage divorce, but gives a regulation for what to do after it happens. In other words, in Deut. 24:1 divorce is tolerated and permitted, but not authorized or sanctioned.
David Garland explains the reason this way,“The legislation on divorce certificates protected wives from brutal abandonment. It freed a wife from the accusation of adultery when she, out of necessity, remarried; and it prevented the first husband from destroying her new marriage by trying to reclaim her. It deterred anything that might look like wife-swapping.” That was the heart of that passage.But of course, they are out to find loopholes and technicalities in God’s Word. It reminds me when we ask things like, “How close can I get without falling over? Where’s the line? How close is too close? How much is too much?”
Jesus talks about the hardness of people’s hearts against Godas the reason for the commandment. In other words, because people’s hearts were hardened and rebellious against God’s plan for mankind in marriage due to the Fall, we now have to come up with safeguards to limit the sinfulness. So this is a concession text, but not an intention text.
Eve was God’s gift to Adam (Gen. 1:22).She was a gift of grace. He didn’t ask for her, he didn’t give God any specs for what he wanted and the moment she was brought to him, the dude busts out like Barry White with the first poetry in the Bible, which is a love song (Gen. 1:23). He didn’t know what he needed until God brought Eve. He celebrated God’s gift to him. But the moment sin enters, God confronts Adam and what does he say, “It was the WOMAN YOU GAVE ME” (Gen. 3:12). I was fine, God, hanging out with the animals and it’s your fault because you brought this thing into my life and now our marriage is now in trouble. Forget the joy, forget the grace, forget everything. God’s great gift is thrown back into His face. It was hardheartedness against God. It is a heart that is ungrateful and shifts blame on God. If we want to see God moving in our marriages, we must own up to our own sin. We must confess that we don’t know what is good for us. Thankfully God redeemed Adam and Eve’s marriage too. They are intimate again in Gen. 4, though they end up losing both of their sons, one to murder and the other to banishment. Yet they persevere and have Seth. God’s grace even overcomes even the worst of situations and the worst hardheartedness.
But instead of focusing on reasons for why we should divorce, Jesus flips the conversation to talk about why God is for marriage. So let’s do that as well. Let’s look at:
II.God’s heart for marriage (vv.6-16)
Instead of talking about what to do if the plane crashes, Jesus decides to talk about the joys of flying the plane. So He goes back to the first page of the first book of the Bible in Genesis. He gives four aspects of God’s heart for marriage.
a) Marriage is His plan and provision
The emphasis here in v.6 is that this is God’s plan and provision (cf. Gen. 1:27).Jesus understands marriage to be a God-ordained union between one male and one female.He made us similar but different from the get-go. He then says, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28),
Keller notes, “But, obviously, this wonderful gift of creating new human life is something we can only carry out together. Neither sex has all the characteristics necessary— only in complementary union can we do it. These verses suggest strongly that the sexes, while equal in dignity and worth, are complementary.”Both are equally made in the image of God, equally blessed, and equally given “dominion” over the earth, but having to work together like a ballroom dance. One leads, the other follows.Remember when Adam sings, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”? What is he saying? He’s saying, “Love you? I am you! I finally feel like myself! You bring out in me and make up what’s lacking in me.”
But once sin entered, “far from being a reign of co-equals over the remainder of God’s creation, the relationship now becomes a fierce dispute, with each party trying to rule the other. The two who once reigned as one attempt to rule each other.”The ballroom dance became a boxing match. Nevertheless, this means, as much as some of you hate to hear this, God in His sovereignty and redemptive purposes in Christ, gave you this gift in yoursinful spouse. Your spouse is not your enemy, but God’s great provision for you.
In our second year of marriage, we were in a dark place and needed counseling. I think the bottom line was that I thought Jenny was my enemy as I started to see more of who I was through our marriage. Marriage doesn’t bring you into confrontation with your spouse. It really brings your into a confrontation with yourself. It’s a giant mirror to show you the real you. Looking back, it was God’s kindness to show me those things through the gift of my wife. If He left me like I was without that and hadn’t used my spouse, who knows where I would be?
This also means that since your spouse is a gift,he/she is not God. You cannot idolize marriage. Itmust be a secondary source of joy, security and significance.If it becomes primary, there is disaster. Marriage and your marriage partner was never meant to bear that much weight. It cannot meet those expectations. If you bring those kinds of expectations to marriage not only will you be frustrated, but you will also crush your partner. They are not up to the task. Nor were they ever meant to be. God must be your primary source of joy.
If you are single, this means that being single is not your identity, but a calling. Just like marriage is not your identity, but a calling. Being single is not second-class. After all, Jesus was a single man on the earth. When some people talk about the gift of singleness, they think it’s a supernatural ability to not want to be married. That’s not what it means. The gift of singleness is to say to the Lord, “Right now in this season Lord I am single. I will offer my singleness as a gift to you and others to serve them and you.” You would say the same to marriage as well.
b) Marriage is priority
Then he moves to Gen. 2:24 in v.7. You are in a family and you leave your parents, the prior family bond, and you create a new family.Jesus declares that a husband’s obligation to his wife surpasses his obligation to his own parents.This doesn’t mean you forsake your parents, but your priority is now your spouse. God didn’t put a parent and child in the Garden, but a husband and wife. The text says leave the parents and be glued toyour wife, not your wife and your mother or father. New family. New priority.
Your #1 priority can’t be your kids or your career. The best thing a kid needs is a good marriage. I have often seen women going into marriage thinking they are going on this journey to discover this amazing man who will be their partner for life and often men going into marriage thinking like a hunter, having claimed his prize, saying, “Good. Glad that’s over. Now it’s time for my career or my Masters degree.” Marriage then gets pushed aside to other things.
Notice the “two shall become one flesh.” There is deep oneness here. The idea is intimacy and closeness. The spouse is to be the deepest friend. The opposite of oneness is isolation. If you are not working and cultivating friendship in your marriage as the top priority for your life, you will automatically drift into isolation.And you can only cultivate friendship with time. Married couples, have you wandered away from the priority of marriage?
I have appreciated my wife sacrificially sitting with me to watch a baseball game with me. She’s gotta die a lot to self to do that. Guys, typically, love less talking and more shoulder-to-shoulder time. Girls, typically, love more talking and more face-to-face time. Put two random girls in a room, they are best friends and crying in 20 minutes. Put two guys in a room? They won’t come out because they probably fell asleep after two minutes. It’s always a work in progress for me to turn off all devices and sit in front of my wife and over-share everything about my day. Each of us has to die to ourselves. Marriage has to be top priority.
This means singles, if you get married and God calls it top priority, then it is important that you get married to a believer. It is never God’s will for you to marry an unbeliever. If Jesus Christ is the most important thing in your life that means He is the center of your heart, it will be disastrous to not to be able to share that with your spouse. This also means that you should kiss dating hello and find someone you can be friends with since marriage is a deep friendship. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but if the person loves Jesus and one of you has a steady job, and you can be friends with her, stop checking them out forever, waiting for some warm fuzzy feeling, go get her and put a ring on it.
c) Marriage has power
The two becoming one shows us that marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole. I have noticed that if my marriage is struggling, it doesn’t matter to me if everything else is going well. And if my marriage is strong, it doesn’t matter if everything else is going poorly. I love what Keller says:
Marriage is the vortex of your life. First of all, it is because marriage can recreate your self-image. Where does your self-image come from? It comes from your own successes and failures, but mainly from your failures. It comes also from the uneven way in which people have treated you over the years. Now you get married and you will be amazed to find that your spouse has the power in his or her hand to challenge the accumulated authority of all the verdicts that have ever been passed upon you.
What this means is pretty simple. If your spouse says, “You’re ugly,” and everyone else says, “You’re beautiful,” you feel ugly. If your spouse says, “You’re beautiful,” and everybody else says, “You’re ugly,” it doesn’t matter; you feel beautiful. Why? Because marriage has that power.”
As a struggling young preacher, E. V. Hill had trouble earning a living. Money was often tight. He came home one night and found the house dark. When he opened the door, he saw that his wife Jane had prepared a candlelight dinner for two.”What is this?” He asked. “Well,” said Jane, “we’re going to eat by candlelight tonight.”
E.V. thought that was a great idea and went into the bathroom to wash his hands. He tried unsuccessfully to turn on the light. Then he felt his way into the bedroom and flipped another switch. Darkness prevailed. The young pastor went back to the dining room and asked Jane why the electricity was off. She began to cry.”You’ve worked so hard, and we’re trying,” said Jane, “but it’s pretty tough. I didn’t have quite enough money to pay the light bill. I didn’t want you to know about it, so I thought we would just eat by candlelight.”Dr. Hill described his wife’s words with intense emotion: “She could have said, ‘I’ve never been in this situation before. I was reared in the home of Dr. Caruthers, and we never had our lights cut off.’ She could have broken my spirit; she could have ruined me; she could have demoralized me. But instead she said, ‘Somehow or another we’ll get these lights on. But let’s eat tonight by candlelight.'” There is power in this oneness! This sounds scary, but we need to take it seriously how we carelessly we throw around words to our spouses. We have power in our hands that can build up or destroy.
d) Marriage is to be permanent
He repeats the one flesh principle. You can’t divide one. One is the indivisible number. And according to Jesus…it is neither man nor woman who controls marriage, but rather God, who is the lord of marriage: “ ‘what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ Marriage is for life that no one should try to break. It is through this permanence that marriage can grow and you can grow into Christ-likeness.
That word “separate” or “torn asunder” tells you something. Jesus Christ says if you understand marriage as this deep unity, this deep oneness, then you will discover that divorce cannot be like taking off your clothes; divorce is more like taking off your arm. You don’t want a doctor who always prescribes amputation for every arm injury right? That’s malpractice right there. But it can happen. Sometimes you have to amputate. It does happen and you can survive it, though it is costly.
Now the issue of divorce is brought up by Jesus in vv.10-12 when the disciples asked him further about this. Jesus says it’s adultery in God’s eyes when people divorce and remarry. However, in a parallel passage in Matt. 19:9 and 5:32, he does give what is called “the exception clause.” If there is adultery, you have grounds for divorce and remarriage. 1 Cor. 7:15 also says, if an unbelieving spouse abandons the marriage and does not return, that too may call for divorce and remarriage for the abandoned spouse. Obviously the goal is always to reconcile and be redeemed right? But it doesn’t always work out that way.
So this is how I understand the Scriptures: divorce is allowed on grounds of adultery and abandonment, but there are godly people and smarter godly people who agree and who disagree with me on this. Some call for no divorce and no remarriage ever. I just don’t see that. If there is physical abuse, the couple should be separated.
There are lots of scenarios too which I can’t go into here, but let me say this as well: Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. We cannot look down at any divorced person, because in Jeremiah 3:8, in that place, God says, “I divorced Israel.” God has the audacity to call himself a divorced person. If you don’t want to have anything to do with divorced persons, you are in the unenviable position of not having anything to do with God.
I love that as soon as Jesus finishes talking about marriage, he talks about children (vv.15-16). “Be a child to enter the Kingdom.” He says in the first section, “Grow up and be married.” In the second, “Grow backward and be like a child.” How does that work? Well, in God’s economy, you should be aging backwards like Benjamin Button, as you mature in your faith. The older you get in Christ, the more childlike (not childish) you should become. This is the secret to a good marriage I think as well.
I want to offer you two things I am reminded of from having kids that can help your marriage. I have noticed with my young kids that they never keep grudges. They forgive so quickly (for now). I can apologize to them and each and every time they say, “It’s ok.” They never hold anything against us. I wonder what would happen to our marriages if we both spouses desire to be the lead repenters in the marriage? Secondly, I think of dependence. Children are so dependent. You too must have the body of Christ to help you in your marriage. There are no perfect marriages here at Living Hope. We all need each other in the journey.
I was having a conversation with God about this passage. I thought, “What would God say it’s like to be married to Robin Koshy?” I feel like He would be right if He said, “Well, a lot of times you treat our relationship means nothing to you. Very often you don’t want to communicate with me and I find you in the bed of people’s approval instead of mine. You give your heart away to so many other lovers. A lot of times you are too lazy to take care of the precious gifts of your wife and kids that I gave you.” You know, He has every reason to divorce me. I am not a good spouse to Him. I am not faithful at all the way I should.
Pastor Jared Wilson says, “If Jesus were keeping a list of our wrongs, none of us would stand a chance. At any second of any day, even on our best days, Jesus could have the legal grounds to say, ‘Enough of this. I can’t do it any more. You’ve violated my love for the last time.’ The truth is, you’ve never met a wronged spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a disrespected spouse like Jesus. You’ve never met a spouse who more than carried their weight like Jesus.” And you thought your marriage was bad? This is the longest bad marriage in history…his marriage to us. We are the spouse from hell.
So Lord, you have every reason to divorce me. But the Lord says, “But you know something Robin? When I left my Father’s house to come to earth, it was to be glued to you. It was in sickness and in health. It was for better and for worse…for a lot worse. But not even death will not do us part. I came to find you and make you my own. The first Adam blamed his wife. I, the second Adam took my bride’s blame. And when it came time to pay the cost for this marriage gone bad and I had to climb onto the cross, I knew, Robin, all that you have done. I saw you denying me, abandoning me and forsaking me. I saw it all. I saw all the ways you violated this relationship. But there is more love in my heart than sin in yours. My love is an everlasting love. It lasts forever. So I went gladly to pay the price if it meant I would have you to fall into my arms. I decided to stay in my marriage to you on the cross. I stayed.
This relationship is ultimately one sided. He is carrying the whole thing on His back. He stayed, loved ones. So you look at this love, husbands. You look at this love, wives. Soak your heart in it, singles. He loves you like this!So you stay too married couples…stay in your marriage.When the preacher George Matheson was engaged to his fiancée, he learned he was going blind. She returned the ring and said basically, “I can’t be the wife of a blind man.” Later, he penned this hymn:
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
This is the love that will not let us go. This is the marriage that will ultimately fulfill you. He stays in His marriage with you. Keep sitting under this fountain of love until you are drenched and overflowing, so much so, that you have what you need to refresh and revive your own marriage.
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