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The Permanency of Marriage

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Michael Cloete
The Permanency of Marriage ()

Reading:

“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “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.”” (, NIV84)

Introduction

We come this morning to one of those hot topics that quite easily becomes a source of contention. But it is a matter that we would do well to carefully bring our attention to. If we consider that family life and a solid family structure is critical to the wellbeing of society in general (which according to God’s word and secular studies is the case) then we need to pay careful attention to what God has to say on this matter of marriage and divorce.
Sadly, in our day, because our expectations of marriage are rarely met, because of the hardness of our hearts and our wrong perspective, divorce is now one of the expectations that many people have for marriage. The reality that you’ll be married multiple times is simply excepted today as the way it might be.
The same was true in Jesus’ day. Divorce was simply a way of life. It wasn’t surprising that Jesus called them “an adulterous generation."
To the Secular Community of our day, there is not too much disapproval regarding the issue of divorce. If your needs aren’t getting met in your marriage, divorce is simply one of the options, if not option number one.
The same was true in Jesus’ day. In contemporary Roman culture, not only could a man divorce his wife for any reason, but a wife could also divorce her husband, something that was taboo until that time.
BUT, to the Spiritual Community of our day, this is a matter of extreme importance. What we will consider this morning is God’s ideal and His plan. The exhortation from that will be to develop within our own minds and hearts an attitude of submission to God’s will, even when that may not be so easy.

1. Context (v.1)

As we begin our study of this text, the first thing that we need to consider is the “Context”, and this is conveyed for us in Mark by verse 1. He writes:
“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan.
Jesus leaves the area of Galilee that he had been ministering, and he heads South towards the region of Judea. This territory was properly the “Land of the Jews.” It is the region in which the city of Jerusalem itself is situated.
One more point of note that we should keep in our mind concerning this region of Judea is that Herod was the Roman-appointed king of that province.
And so, as Jesus moves into this area, we find that…
Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” (, NIV84)
It is while Jesus is busy teaching that we find a confrontation that occurs. And that leads us to our second point of consideration this morning from verse 2.

2. Confrontation (v.2)

And that is this “Confrontation” that comes from the side of the Pharisees:
“Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”” (, NIV84)
As the Pharisees approached Jesus here, it was as usual not with a desire to learn. They didn’t come to Jesus to pose a question to him that they had become baffled with, and thus needed clarification on from someone they looked up to.
Furthermore, when we read as we do in Mark’s text that they came to test him, this was not a test to see whether or not he was holding to some orthodox position. It was also not a test directed at seeing whether they should welcome him into their ranks as a recognized teacher.
No!!
The sole reason that they tested him was to trap him! They wanted to catch him out, and thus tarnish his reputation, or have some harm befall him. They wanted to discredit him.
Recall that back in , after Jesus had healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day in the synagogue, the Pharisees were up in arms about this. And in verse 6 of that chapter, we read:
“Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (, NIV84)
As we looked at that chapter, we noted the unlikely partnership that this was – Pharisees and Herodians. The Herodians were those who were in some way linked with or aligned with Herod. And Herod was no friend of the Jews.
With Jesus now back in Judea, Herod’s territory, we find the Pharisees continuing their onslaught on Jesus, as they will seek to bring a test against him.
And the question that the Pharisees bring to Jesus is one concerning divorce. They ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Now we need to ask, what precisely was the nature of their “test.” In other words, how was it that this question was going to cause a problem for Christ when he answered it.
There are a couple of ways in which this could have caused some difficulty for Christ.
In the first place, there was a strong distinction amongst the Jewish Rabbis in terms of what was permitted when it came to divorce. There were two broad schools of thought.
The first school of thought was with the Shammai Jews. They were the conservatives. They believed that divorce was only permissible for adultery and infidelity – when there had been some form of unfaithfulness.
Then there was the liberal school of thought, which had come into place through the influence of a man named “Hillel”. The Hillel Jews believed that divorce could be effected for any reason, from indecency, to any kind of unhappiness of a husband towards his wife, even for burning the food etc.
So, these were the two schools of thought, and they dominated the Jewish mind. And the way Jesus answered here would no doubt have caused division between the different Jews.
If you go across to Matthew’s account of this incident, he adds the detail there that the question the Pharisees asked was not only “Is divorce permissible,” but they in fact asked, “Is divorce permissible for any reason?” So, they were fishing for the reason that Christ would state that divorce is permissible.
But we need to recognize that there was probably a bigger reason that they introduced this topic of divorce, and that was because of the region they were in, and the possible repercussions it would have had for Christ himself.
You will recall that earlier on in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 6:14ff) Mark had recounted the situation regarding the beheading of John the Baptist. John had been placed in prison by Herod because he had spoken out about the unlawful marriage between Herod and Herodias (I won’t go into the details again here, but it was a very twisted set of circumstances). But precisely because John the Baptist spoke out about the unlawful divorce and remarriage that took place, he was put in prison, and eventually beheaded.
Well what a perfect opportunity for the Pharisees. If they could get Jesus to say the wrong things in this territory of Herod, perhaps they would have the joy of Jesus also being arrested, and even beheaded.
So, the Pharisees come to Jesus, and they confront him. They test Him. They want to see how they can catch him out.

3. Counter-Question (v.3)

The initial response from Christ is our next observation from this text, and is found in the form of a “counter-question.” We’ve seen…
1. Context.
2. Confrontation
And now we look at the Counter Question by Jesus in verse 3… When the Pharisees ask whether divorce is lawful, he asks them,
“What did Moses command you?”
By asking this question, Jesus turns the issue from a hypothetical debate about some unspecified husband to a command directed to them.
By doing this, Jesus began to expose a fatal flaw in the Pharisees’ whole approach to the law. They come at this particular law asking, “What does it allow me to do?” or, to put it more bluntly, “What can I get away with?” In other words, they were prepared to bring in leniency towards this aspect of divorce because it suited them.
This is something quite fascinating. Consider that the Pharisees were experts at taking the law beyond where it needed to be. They made a host of additional requirements which they then stated were required under the law, but really, they weren’t required.
But when it comes to this aspect of divorce, they are attempting to provide ways out for themselves. They have taken God’s law and attempted to twist it to suit their own selfishness in this area of marriage and divorce.
They seemed in this instance to have a preoccupation with legal loopholes. As they did this, what was really happening was that they were undermining the will of God as He gave his commands. God’s commands were essentially about love for neighbor. The Pharisees were interested in their own rights. They were not so much concerned with their responsibilities to others, to love others deeply. Rather, they were concerned with their own rights and what they could get away with.
They didn’t really care about how what they were doing affected the other person (we’ll see more of this in a moment as we look further at the background to this challenge).
But they were only concerned about the husband’s right to divorce than about the needs of the wife—what divorce would do to her or to their children, whether she has any right to object to a divorce. Jesus’ question uncovers their sinful hearts hidden behind the appearances of wanting to be right.

4. Commandment (v.4)

Well that leads us to our fourth observation from the text, and that is “Commandment” (vv.4-9).
Christ has posed the counter-question to them, and they must now provide an answer to Him. In doing that they state the command that had been given to them through Moses. Their response is in verse 4:
“They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”” (, NIV84)
Just a few small observations from their response.
Firstly, notice that a man was the one with the centre of power in the relationship. He was the one who could write the certificate of divorce. In the Jewish society, a woman didn’t have that freedom. The society was very different to our current day. Women were very much ruled by their husbands, and the decision making, and the centre of power, was entirely with the husband. The rights of the women were not even really spoken of.
Then we must consider where this permission that Moses gave was recorded. The reference that they give can be founded in . Turn there with me in your Bibles and let’s read those verses together.
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (, NIV84)
It is to this rather strange passage that the Jews would refer when speaking about a certificate of divorce. They used this passage to argue that a man could simply write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away if he found some indecency. This “Indecency” was the point that for the Jews was in some dispute.
What we see from the text again is the emphasis on the male’s prerogative to initiate the divorce. This wasn’t a right that was recognised for the woman. I must add that the context into which Mark is writing His Gospel (Roman culture) would have allowed women to initiate a divorce.
What’s very important to note from the piece of legislation in is that it was not written to mandate, or give permission for divorce. It neither requires divorce nor recommends divorce, nor even sanctions divorce.
Its primary aim was not about divorce at all, nor about bills of divorce; but to prevent a man from remarrying a woman he had previously divorced.
To set the broader context of , we need to realise that those verses were set in a set of instructions designed to protect those who were in a position of disadvantage from those who were in an advantaged position. They were protections of those who were vulnerable from those who held power.
So, there are instructions about slaves, and not mistreating slaves etc.
In the context then, it is most likely that the reason this law was given was to protect women from abusive, compulsive husbands.
Note the way in which it is framed. All the “if” clauses in the beginning of the section, and then followed by the word “then.” If such and such and such and such happens, then this is what follows. The text isn't actually condoning the “if” things that happen; they happen, that's the reality of it. It's not speaking about the morals or the ethics behind it, but if that happens, then this is what follows.
The whole design of that passage is simply to forbid the remarriage by a man of a woman that he has formerly divorced, and the Pharisees’ use of this text is completely wrong. They’re misinterpreting the passage. I think that goes a long way in understanding why Jesus answers the way that He does.

5. Clarification (vv.5-9)

At this point we consider our 5th observation from the text, and that is the “Clarification” that Christ brings concerning the Command. Christ begins with these words in verse 5:
““It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.” (, NIV84)
In other words, the reason that the allowance was given for a certificate of divorce to be given was because of the sorry state of the heart of man. Man’s heart was hard. They had hardened their hearts against the design of God. Man was not loving his neighbour as he loved himself. Quite simply, sin was having its effect on the marriages of the day. And so, this certificate of divorce was just a concession and permission.
Whenever we come to the issue of divorce, and should there be a divorce, we need to keep in mind that we only get to that point because of sin. Sin is the cause of divorce. In perfect humanity, there would be no divorce. If there were no sin in the world, there would be no divorce. So, we need to recognise that divorce is only ever because of sin.
What Christ then does is he goes directly back to the creation of man, the first marriage in the Garden of Eden, a time before sin entered into the world. Notice his words:
““But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. [] “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (, NASB95)
That last quote that Jesus brings in is a quotation from . So two quotes from Genesis – prior to the fall in – that Christ goes to in order to establish his position.
He begins at the beginning. He goes right back to square one. He starts as things are meant to be; not as they are, but as they’re meant to be. Let's start there.
What did God intend for marriage? Yes, there are problems. Yes, there's sin. Yes, there's the Fall. Yes, there is divorce. Yes, there is remarriage. But what were God's intentions from the beginning? Let's start there.
If you’re always looking for the exceptions, if you’re always looking for trouble, then you’ll inevitably end up with difficulty. Jesus goes back to and chapter 2:4: The great Creator “made them male and female” and “for that reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they shall be one flesh”. And then Jesus adds His own words that we find in verse 9:
“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”” (, NIV84)
This is a profound statement.
The first thing that we must understand from Christ’s statement is that a man and woman united in marriage are not united merely as a result of their own will! Jesus says “What GOD has joined together, let man not separate.”
A man and woman united together in marriage are there as a result of God bringing them together. If you are married today, then you are married to the person you are married to because God wanted you married to that person. That’s not a mistake!! Marriages are created in heaven by God – for His own purpose. Ultimately, for His own glory!
Now, if a marriage is something that God has brought together, if this union between two people is by God’s appointment, then the second half is essential – let man not separate it. Who is man to separate what God has joined together.
God has made marriage to be something special and unique. And He has created marriage in order to demonstrate the unbreakable bond between Christ and the church.
Can you imagine Christ suddenly declaring that He no longer loves the church, and He’s going to be leaving the church? It’s impossible. Christ and the church are so intrinsically united together, that they simply cannot be separated. The church without Christ is nothing – it’s meaningless.
““For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (, NIV84)
And so, marriage is designed to put on display this glorious bond between Christ and the church. It simply shouldn’t be separated.
Does that sound far out to you? Does that sound extreme? Perhaps even impossible?
Well, if so, it would appear that you’re not alone in that thought.

6. Confirmation (v.10-12)

As we look at our final observation from our text (which is “Confirmation”) we find that the disciples themselves were struggling to comprehend what was being said here. Did you really just say what you said Jesus? No divorce? Seriously?
Verse 10 of our text:
“When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.” (, NIV84)
The disciples were very clearly quite taken aback at what Christ had just taught. We’re not told precisely what their view was on marriage and divorce, but clearly it was entirely aligned with Christ’s, otherwise they would have had no reason to ask him questions about this. But ask, they did!
And with the question thus posed to Christ by His disciples, he goes on to confirm to them this radical position that he was taking:
“He answered, “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.”” (, NIV84)
Christ very clearly lays out the fact that since a man and a woman who are united together in marriage are one flesh, no longer two, but one, if they should divorce and then unite themselves with another person, they are doing no other than committing adultery.
I don’t suppose I need to go too much into the Scriptures and its teaching on adultery, but quite simply, adultery is seen in a most serious light.
The seventh commandment is quite simply: “You shall not commit adultery.” ()
In the Mosaic law, the punishment that was due to both those caught in adultery was death ().
Further than that, Israel was often spoken of through the prophets as an adulteress – and it was never a compliment!!
The words of the prophet would then well summarise God’s view on divorce itself:
“’For I hate divorce’, says the Lord, the God of Israel…”
The question will arise in our minds – but are there no exceptions?
Biblically, in the broader picture, yes, there are exceptions. But the thrust of the message is the one that Mark conveys here – and he doesn’t include any exceptions as he writes (Matthew does include them).
And I think it’s worthwhile to consider this aspect of marriage, not considering the ways that one can get out of divorce. I really believe that if Christians particularly would develop this mindset in their own minds that divorce really is not an option, and coupled with that an understand that marriage is not something that you enter into primarily in order to get something out of it, then there would be far fewer divorces to begin with.

Application and Conclusion

Let us consider then how we can apply this to ourselves. I really want to just target specific groups of people, and give some words of exhortation and encouragement with regards to marriage.
To Young People / Students
Do you have a biblical view of marriage? Develop that now!! It is essential that you even now begin to establish in your minds and hearts that when you enter into marriage, it is for a lasting relationship. Meaning, enter into marriage with the view that divorce isn’t an option.
In light of God’s view of marriage and divorce, we need to be certain that God’s view is your view. Take some time before you get married, pray and get your mind around this. You need to know why God created marriage. Before you ever do it, you need to ask the Lord to change your heart and give you the view of marriage that He has. Do not take that lightly. The moment you get married, you become a picture of God’s never-ending, unbreakable love for His bride, the Church.
You also need to make certain the person you marry has that same view. It would be probably one of the biggest mistakes of your life to marry someone that doesn’t have God’s view of marriage. A person who doesn’t have the same view will split when the marriage ends up not being what they wanted or when it gets too difficult. They’ll just leave.
To Those who are Married
Are you willing to fight for your marriage? Have you thanked God for your marriage? Do you need to repent or turn from mistrust of God within your marriage?
What if you’re unhappy in your marriage? It’s not turning out the way you thought it would. Perhaps all the dreams you had for marriage are not quite working out the way you had envisaged. Your spouse has not committed adultery, but it’s just not working out. Is it okay to get divorced? You know that God will forgive you.
If that’s your line of thinking let me ask you this: You’re going to intentionally sin because you know God will forgive you? Friends, a believer would never make that statement. A person indwelt with the Spirit of God cannot continually walk in sin. The Spirit won’t let a person do that. His purpose is to glorify Christ. He exalts Jesus, not us. Believers don’t use the blood of Jesus as an excuse and license to sin. The mark of a believer is a person running away from sin, not running to sin.
What I’d encourage you to consider, if this is your situation – Consider that often God does his Best work in the worst situations. It’s often when we come to the end of ourselves that we’re led to complete reliance on the Saviour. There is always hope in every marriage that is in Christ. Because the Gospel is never without hope!!
What if you have the same view of marriage as God and the desire to display His love, but you’re in an abusive marriage? Can you get divorced? I want you to understand that I get that is probably one of the most difficult circumstances that life can offer. But, “if you can get divorced” is probably not the first question you should be asking. In light of what marriage means and represents, a picture of God’s unbreakable, never-ending covenant love for us, you should be asking how you can display that love of Christ in your really bad, abusive relationship. It doesn’t mean you stay in the abusive situation. You absolutely separate and get out of the situation. Get the kids out. Get the church involved. But as you do, you remain abstinent and faithful to that person. You pray that God would restore the marriage and save your spouse.
For Those Divorced
For Divorced: Have you grieved your loss? Have you considered and prayed for restoration of your marriage? In the church I grew up in, there was a couple who got divorced, and remained divorced for many years. And after those many years, God enabled them to be reconciled to one another and they were re-married. Happily so!
That may not be something that could happen with you.
But let me ask this: Are you letting God’s grace and forgiveness heal you? Divorce is painful! Divorce comes with all sorts of feelings of guilt and shame, particularly when you’re familiar with the word of God, and the high importance of marriage.
You might be asking the question if God is angry with you. Maybe you’re wondering if you’ve lost God’s blessing in your life. No. You have not lost His blessing, nor is He angry with you. Thanks to Jesus Christ.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
If you have failed in this area, there is no condemnation for you. God still loves you, values you and cherishes you.
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
To ALL
Are you elevating your view of marriage more and more? Marriage is certainly hard work, a call to self-denial. But it is filled with joy and rewards innumerable! It’s when we get to the end of ourselves that we find true joy!
Let me encourage you today, let us be a people who are delighting ourselves in marriage. Let us be a people who desire above all else, above all selfish motives, to put display the wonderful love between Christ and the church. Unconditional love. Selfless love!
Let us look to Christ as we do that – He is the One who gives us the ability to do that, and the ability to live joy-filled lives in marriage.
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