The Pharisees try to trap Jesus with the question, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce?" How does Jesus respond to them? And what does His response teach us about divorce?Greensburg Church of the Nazarene
*this is not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript
PART ONE: CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE
Love is a choice. God has gift everyone with the ability to make decisions for ourselves. This ability to choose is what makes love possible. You and I can choose to love God just as He chose to first love us.
Choosing to love is not the only decision we get to make. We also can choose to love another person. It begins as a friendship then develops into something more. The next step is marriage and then happily ever after until the end. Well, at least that is how the story is supposed to go. For many, sometimes the story ends in divorce.
Divorce is a sad reality that is part of our society today. It always leaves those involved broken hearted and families shattered. But what does God think about divorce? Is divorce okay with God? This is the question we are trying to answer as we dig into Mark 10:1-5
1 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. 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It is because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. (NIV)
This is the Word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.
As we begin chapter 10 of Mark, trying to answer the question “is God okay with divorce”, it is important know where we are in the ministry of Jesus. He has been travelling, preaching, healing, and teaching all along the way. Jesus is leaving Galilee for the last time on a path that would ultimately lead Him to the Cross. As that time draws near, Jesus’ enemies are becoming more aggressive in their efforts to trap Him. It is in such a trap that we find Jesus in our passage.
VERSE 1 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. Do you notice what the end of this verse says? It starts by telling us that the crowds gathered around Jesus, again, and what does Jesus do? He teaches them, which was what Jesus always did. I am sure the crowds gathered to witness a healing or be healed, or maybe hoping to be part in another miracle feeding of the thousands. But Jesus always took the moments with the large audience as an opportunity to teach them.
So often when we study Jesus our focus is on healing and miracles. We marvel at the power Jesus displayed as God. However, we do not always stop long enough to dig into His teachings. That is because we do not realize that Christ’s power is not limited a physical touch from Him, or that healing is simply a physical event. Jesus’ healing power goes much deeper than surface level. His blood freed us from sin, and Jesus’ teaching reveals to us His power to heal us from the human condition. Healing comes along with His teachings.
VERSES 2-4 Some Pharisees came and tested Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” “What did Moses command you?” Jesus replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Make no mistake, the Pharisees ask Jesus this question for only one reason. It has nothing to do with His answer, but with the drama that would be created by Jesus answering it. There are two reason why drama would follow His answer.
First, this area was ruled by Herod Antipas. In Mark 6, we read that Herod was confronted by John the Baptist for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. This implies a divorce was involved somewhere. To make a long story short, Herod and Herodias had John the Baptist beheaded. Should Jesus share the same views as John the Baptist and word returned to Herod, who already feared Jesus was John the Baptist re-incarnated, the ruler could have Jesus arrested and killed.
Second, the Jews had competing understanding about divorce in their own teachings. Jesus replies to the Pharisees question with the question, “what did Moses command you?” To which the Pharisees reply, “Moses permitted a man.” They knew the Law and knew Jesus knew the Law, but they wanted Him to pick sides in their own debate to alienate the opposing crowd.
Deuteronomy 24:1 is the command written by Moses. It reads, “If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something indecent in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house.” (NET) One group interpreted this command in a strict sense, believing that divorce was only permissible in the case of moral failure. Another group took a more liberal understanding, that a man could divorce for any reason.
Jesus does not take the bait from the Pharisees. The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Instead of Jesus answering, He asks the Pharisees to answer using the Law written by Moses that He and they both knew. And the answer is, “Moses permitted it as long as man wrote on piece of paper the reason.” Does this mean God is okay with divorce?
VERSE 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote this law,” Jesus replied. After the Pharisees answer their own question, based on the Law written by Moses, Jesus explain why Moses would write such a law. According the Law written by Moses, it was indeed lawful for a man to divorce his wife “because he has found something indecent in her.” But Jesus does not enter into the popular religious debate to interpret the legal parameters.
Instead, Jesus shifts the conversation of the lawfulness of divorce to why it was allowed. He says, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote this law.” This was not a command written by Moses, giving permission to divorce. It was a concession to prevent worse alternatives. Notice only the men had the right to divorce, and men had the power to determine the reason. Because of their own sinful hearts, men wanted to get out of their marriages for all kinds of reasons. If divorce were forbidden, what would have been the outcome? In a society where women were property, with no rights, they would have been murdered, dumped in the middle of nowhere, slandered, and shamed to obtain a husband’s right to be rid of her. Moses writing this Law permitting divorce was an act of social justice, protecting women who had no rights.
Divorce was not the will of God, but the will of sinful man. Men living in sin will stop at nothing to achieve their own happiness. A man wanting to be rid of his wife is already in a dead marriage, all divorce does is legally declare it to be dead. For a marriage to work both the man and the woman must be fully committed to breathing life into it, with out both it will not work. God’s will was not for them to divorce, His will is for a man to leave his family and cling to His wife for life. But a hard heart is not interested in the will of God.
Is God okay with divorce? No. God’s will is for your marriage, my marriage, and all marriages to be a covenant between a man and women for life. His will is that a man and woman breath life into a family through both their full commitment to do so. When one or both stop breathing life into the marriage then the marriage is dead! And while God’s will is for us to stay married, His will is also for us not to be slaves to death. Marriages can die, and if both persons remain chained to it this will rob them of life.
Divorce is the legal declaration of death for a marriage that is already dead. A marriage dies when one or both persons in it stop breathing life into it. A man or woman stops breathing life into a marriage because of sin in their hearts. Whether it is because of adultery, abuse, neglect, or “drifting apart,” those are all symptoms of a heart or hearts chained to sin. For the wages of sin is death, that includes in our marriages.
Death is not the mark of God’s kingdom, nor is it of those who follow Jesus. Jesus came so that we could have life and live to the fullest! Theologian Pheme Perkins wrote, “…the kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus’ ministry does not belong to the hard-hearted, faithless generation…”. God is not okay with divorce because He is not okay with death, and in Jesus you can have life! In your personal life and in your marriage! But this cannot happen if your heart remains hardened. You must make the choice to accept life. You must make the choice to breath life into your marriage.
Season 1 Episode 33, "Most important question." The text for the message is from Mark 8:27-30, part 1 of a series called The Son of Man. The question we are trying to answer is "What is the most important question?"