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“Jesus’ High View of Marriage”

Mar.18/12 Mark 10:2-12


Marriage is an institution ordained by God, honoured by Christ as we see Him attend a wedding in Cana, and bolstered by Scripture. It’s not for everyone; but for many people, it’s a source of profound meaning, comfort, help, emotional connection, and security. However it’s also something we’re not very good at! The selfish, sinful side of our nature can sabotage marriage in a jiffy if we’re not vigilant.
    Unfortunately, marriages break apart far too often in our culture. The effects of divorce can be damaging in a variety of ways. A June 2009 report by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada found that marriage provides protection against child poverty. Research showed that the cost of family breakdown is close to $7 billion annually. Social science literature shows marriage has many benefits beyond the financial: children raised in a married, 2-parent home are less likely to do drugs or drop out of school, and more likely to wait to have sex.
    A December 2010 study from the University of Toronto suggests that children who have lived through their parents’ divorce are twice as likely to suffer a stroke as adults. This was reported in the Montreal Gazette.  Researchers don’t know exactly what the connection is, but it’s apparent parental divorce and stroke are somehow linked.
    Divorce impacts families and communities in many ways. Perhaps your family has been impacted negatively somehow. I was blessed with parents who stayed married ‘til death them did part’; but my wife’s parents divorced not long after their 25th wedding anniversary. I can’t help but wonder if their subsequent lives would have turned out much differently if they’d been able to resolve their differences. And our youngest daughter married a man who was divorced some years earlier; they got reunited with his 9-year-old son at Christmas, but much of the year Davies lives far away from his boy. Finances can be an area of contention for divorced couples: the partner who pays alimony can find it a heavy burden, or a single mom left raising the kids by herself may find it hard to cope if a ‘deadbeat dad’ doesn’t contribute. Then where there’s been remarriage there’s the whole area of relationships in blended families, where rivalry and jealousy can exist between step-siblings and step-parents.
    In today’s passage, Jesus is confronted by His rivals on the subject of divorce. We see in His response He wants to spare us the pain and fallout of broken marriages; He points us back to the Maker’s original plan, so we can learn to ask the right questions and see marriage as it was really intended.


We pick up our story at the beginning of Mark 10. Verse 1 is telling us something very significant about the setting, but it’s kind of between-the-lines. Jesus had gone south into Judea and then crossed the Jordan to the east, entering the region called Perea; this was territory ruled by Herod Antipas. He’s the king (technically ‘tetrarch’) who’d imprisoned John the Baptist - why? Because John had criticized Herod for marrying Herodias, Herod’s brother Philip’s former wife. Actually Herodias had divorced her husband Philip to marry King Herod. Herodias is the one who’d asked for John the Baptist’s head when Herod was pleased by her daughter’s dancing.
    V2, “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"” NLT has that they ‘tried to trap him with this question’... Can you see how the subject of divorce would be politically ‘loaded’ for Jesus to answer? To take a relaxed attitude would put Him in with the Pharisees and against John the Baptist; to take a more conservative line would put him at odds with both the Pharisees and John’s murderer!
    Amongst Jewish circles of the day there were two prevailing schools of thought. Followers of Rabbi Shammai interpreted the law rigidly and permitted a man to divorce his wife only if she was guilty of sexual immorality. But the more popular view was that of Rabbi Hillel, who took a pragmatic approach and permitted a man to divorce his wife indiscriminately – as David McKenna puts it, “including burnt bread or a fairer female.” Imagine the power that gives the man and the insecurity for the woman – “You burn my toast, you’re out the door! And you’d better keep dolled up – I could get rid of you any time for a more attractive model!” Seems very unfair, unjust, biased corruptly to the man’s advantage – yet that was the popular view in that day! Are things much different in secular society today? Do marriages lack a degree of confidence, assurance, and trust because spouses are always looking over their shoulder?
    What was the Pharisees’ question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Stop right there. That’s the WRONG question to be asking when it comes to marriage. “Is it lawful” sounds like, “What can I get away with? What’s my least amount of obligation? What loopholes can I be looking for to justify my running off?” If you go into marriage with the attitude, “Where’s the escape hatch?” you’ll be sure to find the first one that comes along – and the marriage will disintegrate because your attitude’s all wrong.
    Note the verb Jesus uses when He replies, v3: “What did Moses command you?” And contrast the verb they answer with in v4, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Jesus asks about the command; they respond with what was permitted. Quite a difference. They were playing a legalists’ game here, taking a verse and stretching it out of its context to twist it into supporting what they want to read into it.
    The point of the passage in question, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, is not divorce but limitation on remarriage. It says if a man sends his wife away with a certificate of divorce, and she marries another man who then divorces her or dies, the first husband is not allowed to marry her again, for that would be detestable in God’s eyes. That’s the main point of the Deuteronomy 24 passage: it just assumes the practice of divorce, rather than commanding it; the focus is restricting remarriage, it’s not really recommending or commenting on divorce. Also, writing the certificate helped protect the woman from being slandered as disreputable, and made it official that someone could remarry her without concern of disreputable dealings. She was ‘available’ with a clean slate, as it were. She had a right to this; it helped guard against further abuse or degradation from the man.
    Jesus replies in v4 NLT that Moses wrote this “only as a concession to your hard hearts.” He’d asked what Moses commanded, what was God’s instruction or will on the matter; the passage they picked was a stop-gap measure to limit the abuse that might occur if people went around divorcing willy-nilly – someone might decide their first partner wasn’t so bad after all and try to take her back after she’d been sexually involved subsequently in a ‘defiling’ way. They were looking at the issue the wrong way around – asking, “What can I and my fallen selfish nature get away with?” instead of, “What’s God’s plan, God’s will, His best for me and our human race?”
    When Jesus asked what the command was, might He have been expecting some reference to the Ten Commandments? They could have quoted Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery.” But they avoided anything so direct. Later we’ll see Jesus more particularly describing forms of sin that constitute adultery. Hebrews 13:4 counsels us, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”


In verses 6-9 Jesus counters with God’s original plan that throws into sharp relief our sordid attempts to weasel our way out of an arrangement that is the fundamental connection undergirding the family and indeed all of society. What did God have in mind? V6, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’” PAUSE right there! Jesus takes them back past Rabbinic debates about burnt biscuits, back past Deuteronomy, back past the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden – the original match, the first couple that should have been a template for all of human marriages since. At creation God ‘made them male and female’ (Gen 1:27; 5:2). Now to anyone who’s grown up on a farm, that sounds fairly obvious. Each cell in our bodies is genetically coded with either an XX set of chromosomes (if you’re a woman) or an XY set (if you’re a man). But our provincial government (in particular the Ministry of Education) is trying to ‘inform’ us there are not two genders but six (at least) - male, female, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, etc. This CONFUSION is a symptom of our mixed-up sex-worshipping culture combined with our individual ‘bentness’ as sinners, born with the ‘bents’ and also nurtured or abused into patterns of thinking and behaving that no longer reflect God’s beautiful design for men and women.
    The fact is that from the start, God made male and female very distinct and complementary, made FOR each other (as should be obvious anatomically). In Genesis 2(23) Adam exclaims when the Lord God introduces him to Eve, fashioned from a rib taken from the man, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘for she was taken out of man.” Woman is different from man, very intentionally; the next verse goes on to note that wonderful experience of being ‘one flesh’ that results when a man is united to his wife. Jesus quotes this in Mark 10:7-8, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.” There is FUSION, a welding together; the verb ‘united’ can be translated “to glue to, cleave to, stick to” - the man “shall be cemented to his wife.” Think of contact cement or solder – FUSION not CONFUSION.
    Paul reflects the beauty and mystery of this in Ephesians 5(28), “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.He who loves his wife loves himself.” We are so groomed to think selfishly that we need God’s Spirit to help us repent before we can understand that, even picture that oneness. Similarly, consider 1Corinthians 7:4: “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” That would revolutionize our attitude toward sex if couples adopted that view! “How can I serve you?” instead of “How can I satisfy my passions?”
    Malachi 2:15: “Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his...So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.”


For a healthy body, you need lots of vitamins: Vitamin E helps heal skin cuts (as Yvonne found out after her surgeries); the doctor told us to take Vitamin D during the winter months because our skin’s not making it from the sunshine; we crunch up our flavoured Vitamin C each day; and our multivitamin pills have a whole raft of other vitamins, A, B, and so on. But a marriage can’t be healthy if the G-factor is missing. What’s that?
    Jesus says in v9, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” God is the One who, on a spiritual level, must do the joining together; if two people aren’t on the same page spiritually, if they don’t operate and approach life from a Biblical worldview, listening to the Lord, that’s going to result in them being pulled apart in other areas of life because their priorities and goals will differ. In premarital counselling we use the 3-legged milkstool analogy: he and she are 2 legs of the milkstool, but without God as the 3rd leg, it’s going to tip over. You must have God’s support in your relationship. Without Jesus’ cross at the centre and His abundant love and grace, there’s no ‘well’ of forgiveness to draw from for all the little ways you’re going to wrong or disappoint each other.
    God’s rooting for your marriage to succeed; He opposes that which would separate it. Don’t let humans interfere, mess with what should be a sacred bond. Malachi 2:16 expresses God’s view in strong terms (and perhaps hints at marriages where one partner’s physically abusive): “"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty.So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”


Jesus holds out the ideal of what marriage can and ought to be, with God’s help. His views place him in the school of Rabbi Shammai, who held that only sexual immorality constituted sufficient grounds for a marriage to be dissolved. We see Jesus mention this particularly as an exception in Matthew 5:31f and 19:9. The New Testament includes another case in which believers are not bound to stay married - that is, if an unbelieving spouse is unwilling to continue the relationship (1Cor 7:15).
    Away from the crowds, the disciples ask jesus about this matter; He replies in vv11-12, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Note the implied connection, divorcing in order to marry another - as Herodias had done in order to marry Herod Antipas. To put away your partner for a more attractive or appealing ‘model’ is to “DIS” them - to show them disrespect, disregard, to act in a way that degrades them. Certainly physical abuse would be something similar in its effect.
    Commentator John MacArthur sums up the Biblical view this way: “Remarriage after a divorce - except for legitimate Biblical grounds - proliferates adultery. The innocent party - one whose spouse has committed prolonged, hard-hearted, unrepentant adultery - may remarry without being guilty of adultery, as may a believer whose unbelieving spouse has chosen to leave the marriage.”
    Is there room or need for Christ’s grace in all this? Much! We are broken people, failing at perfection every day. The church needs to ‘be there’ for people in all sorts of married and post-married situations. Where there’s been adultery and divorce, we confess it and repent, and by God’s grace seek to do better with His Spirit’s help. Our denomination does allow re-marriage in certain situations, and where a genuine repentant intent to follow God’s way is evident in those who’ve experienced failure. We who are still on our first marriage equally need forgiveness for all the ways we’ve sinned against our partner, and lusted in our imagination, or been unfaithful in our work patterns or other relationships, for example. But let’s not lower the bar or dismiss the goal just because we’ve come short. He who so clearly shows us the target in glowing colours is ready to soften our hard hearts and renew our ability to love again, in a lasting way.
    I’d like to close with an example from our own family of how marriage can be a beautiful expression of oneness, while it’s also obvious it’s something that has to be worked at, with sacrificial love. This comes from our daughter Emily’s blog this past Tuesday (canvaschild.com).

    he loves me with glasses of strawberry wine and cheese sticks arranged pretty on a plate.
    he loves me by waking early and frying pancakes for the kids, with bacon and strawberries, and making eggs for me, with peppers and onions, even though the onions make him cry.
    he loves me by getting upset when i don't eat the eggs right away because who can eat anything right away with four kids ages four and under?
    he loves me by putting the eggs on a smaller plate and putting that plate in the microwave and then watching me eat them and saying, "they're too runny, aren't they?"
    they're not honey. they're perfect, i say.
    he loves me by pulling me outside when the kids are tucked quiet, piggy-backing me across the lawn and pointing out the places where spring has come. the patches of grass, and "we need to do this every night," he says. "walk outside and see how our world has changed."
    he loves me by dancing in his blue flannels and unloading the dishwasher and bathing the kids and rising in the night to sing aiden back to sleep.
    and he loves me by telling me i'm worth it, i'm worth all of this, when we're lying in bed too exhausted to move for all of the day gone before us.
    and i'm not sure why i got this man, who did that break-dance move that won me over so long ago, but i'm not letting go.
    not in a thousand moons or suns.
Let’s pray.