One of the “benefits” of expository preaching (which is simply preaching through an entire book like we are) is that the text determines your next sermon. This is so preachers are faithful to preach the whole counsel of God and not just hobby horses or particular areas of interest. And so this is where we find ourselves today. If I were to handpick a sermon to preach this morning, it is pretty likely that it would not be a sermon on divorce. And at the same time, I believe that it is absolutely critical for us to understand and apply.
You should also know that there is a great temptation that comes with preaching. When you have the task of declaring the hard truths of God’s word, there is a temptation to somehow make the content more palatable to your hearers. After all, you want to be liked and accepted. Ha! One thing we need to understand at the outset is that if we are going to live a faithful Christian life, it is going to be extremely counter-cultural. This morning’s message will be no different. In fact, this may strike at the center of count-culture. And the more you strike at the heart, the more tempting it is to soften the blow of the Bible’s truth. But, as you know, the preacher has no option but to declare God’s message faithfully. So, here goes…
This morning we are dealing with a sensitive subject. If I were to ask the question, “who here has been somehow influenced by a divorce in their life?” it is likely that a majority of people could answer this with a “yes.” It is possible that you yourself have been through a divorce. Maybe your parents have been divorced. Or maybe someone else in the family or close friends have been divorced. And as you know, this is often a very painful experience. And as I have noted with others, it is perhaps not the best-handled subject by the church. And so we need to do our due diligence and continue to explore the truth of the matter so that we honor God more faithfully.
The sermon this morning will take a bit of a different form because of the topic of the passage. We will explore and see what Mark records regarding divorce. But we will also seek to gain a broader perspective by looking at other Scripture passages to help inform the text as well. We want to ensure that we have a biblical perspective of divorce and remarriage.
Let’s begin by looking at the passage in Mark 10.1-12.
So we see that Jesus and the disciples are on the move. They leave the Galilee region and press on toward Jerusalem. Verse 1 indicates that they went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan – which is likely the area of Perea. (Look at map). And it is here that the crowds again begin to gather. In typical fashion, Jesus looks at the crowds and teaches them. They were more “sheep without a shepherd.” And also in typical fashion, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees. We have seen all along that the Pharisees often engage Jesus with questions. But we know that they were not looking for the correct answers, but only to trap him and produce evidence against him. And so it is here. Mark includes their purpose.
And so they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Now this is significant on a couple of levels. First, if they are indeed in the area of Perea, this is the area under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. “Why is this significant?” you ask. John the Baptist lost his head because of his opposition to Herod’s marriage to Herodias – his brother Philip’s wife. So the implied question could pertain to the illegitimacy of Herod’s divorce to marry Herodias. Perhaps they were hoping that the same fate would meet Jesus as met John the Baptist.
Also, we need to remember that Mark is writing to Christians in Rome. In Rome, divorce had become extremely easy and frequent. This sounds all too familiar to our situation today. And just as it was tempting for Christians in the city of Rome to be caught up in the conventions of their society, so it is for us today. And so this is a timely message for us as it was for them in their culture. The Pharisees appear to have prepared a nice trap for Jesus. And this is our first (and very brief) point: Indictment Attempt.
Like a good teacher, Jesus responds with a question. He asks, “What did Moses command you?” It’s important to watch the words here. The Pharisees would have prided themselves on their understanding of the Torah written by Moses. They probably also had their reply on the tip of their tongue. They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” And they quoted Deuteronomy 24. Hard to argue with this, right?
Well, let’s look more closely at the words. Jesus knew there was no command from Moses. Apparently, so did the Pharisees as indicated in their reply. So what do we make of this? As you peruse the Old Testament, you will find a number of things that were tolerated and yet not God’s ideal. We often are puzzled over tolerated polygamy or slavery. At the time that Moses wrote this in Deuteronomy, divorce in Israel was running rampant. And this was a way to manage the issue of divorce and ensure that the women were cared for. In fact, it was so bad, Moses includes that divorces were happening because men did not find their wives “favourable.” The Pharisees were not identifying the issue as limiting effects of divorce, but as a pretext for divorce.
Moses did not “command” but “allowed.” And this was not part of God’s plan because verse 4 even indicates that at this point, the woman is defiled and is an abomination before the Lord. And then Jesus includes that it was because of the hardness of heart of the people that Moses wrote the command. And this was NOT part of God’s plan.
The second point is Divine Design. Jesus does not concede that Deuteronomy is conclusive for permissible divorce. What is the first word in verse 6 of Mark 10?? BUT… contrast. The people were so sinful, so hard of heart, that Moses allowed this. But… But this is not how it was supposed to be. “Pharisees, you know the Torah. Let’s back this argument up a little. In fact, let’s go way back to creation.” But from the beginning of creation… God… not Moses allowed… but God made…
I need to preface my remarks here and make a couple of things clear. In my study of this topic over the last little while, my view on divorce and remarriage has been slightly altered. We have a Divorce Statement here at SBC which was crafted by the elders here before I arrived. And when I came here, it was a document that communicated the position I had on the issue. Like I mentioned, my views have changed slightly as I continued to study. In all churches, everyone does not agree on everything. I know that this is earth shattering for you all! But as leadership we agree to function on the things we can. This is not a primary doctrine like the deity of Christ or justification by faith alone. I hold what is referred to as a “permanence view” of marriage. This is my best understanding of the text and I hope I can communicate it faithfully.
Here is the first ever marriage. God made them male and female. We could take this on a different path. But we won’t. Male and female is God’s design for marriage. What’s the next word? Therefore… What’s it “there for?” God made them male and female so that a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.
Did you ever notice that the bookends of the Bible are pictured as marriage? Here we are at the beginning of all creation. God has just finished creating. And the greatest of his creation are man and woman. They are to become one flesh and populate the earth. Now, what about the end? Do you remember our study in Revelation? Revelation 19.6-9, “6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 21.2, 9 Revelation 21:2 (ESV) “2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” “9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
The word for “hold fast” means to “be faithfully devoted to.” Notice also the picture here. Two become one flesh. You can no longer be separated. You are one. This is why: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” When you marry, you are joined together by God. And in my study, this remains until one of the marriage partners dies.
My third point is Radical Relationship. I know. When you talk about divorce (and particularly remarriage), many Christians will often point out the exception clause from Matthew’s gospel. And we’ll get to this passage. But before we do, consider a few things with me. When you study Scripture, you learn to understand things at “face value.” The clear things taught in Scripture carry more weight than the obscure. In this passage, Jesus is extremely direct when he says that marriage is an act of God that man may not separate. That’s pretty clear, right?? Though Moses in the Old Testament tolerated divorce, Jesus is calling his people back to God’s divine design for marriage. One man… one woman… joined by God… for life. Tell me THAT isn’t counter-cultural today!
Let’s look at a couple other passages that might help us out. Let’s look at a parallel passage in Matthew. Matthew 19:3–8 “3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
Very similar passage. Very clear and straightforward. Matthew records it a bit differently. Notice he introduces the problem of men divorcing wives for any cause. Then Jesus talks about the creation of men and woman and their joining together and becoming one flesh. And then the Pharisees ask Jesus about Moses. And they suggest that it was a command of Moses. Jesus indicates Moses allowed a certificate of divorce. But… contrast… from the beginning it was not so. It was not God’s design.
Scripture will show us that the only break from what God has joined together is death of a spouse. Let’s look at Romans 7 to shed some more light on this. Romans 7:1–2 says, “1 Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.” 1 Corinthians 7:39 (ESV) “39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. This is clear teaching. This is straightforward.
Why do you think this is? When we get married, why do we say the words, “till death do us part?” Recall with me an interaction between the Sadducees and Jesus in Matthew 22:23–30, “23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” There is no marriage in heaven, but it is binding on earth. Till death do us part.
So we see that death breaks the bond of marriage. Is there anything else? Well, you may be familiar with Paul’s words to the Corinthians regarding the marriage between a believer in Jesus Christ and an unbeliever. 1 Corinthians 7:12–16 “12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Some of you live in this world. If you are here, you know it is very difficult. Notice it doesn’t say to the believer who marries an unbeliever. Perhaps this makes for another sermon as well. This seems to be a situation where one of the marriage partners comes to believe in Christ while already being married to the other. This person is then called to remain with the unbeliever so as to be a continual witness to Christ for the other. Verse 15 states that if the unbelieving partner separates, there is not much you can do but to let it be so. Biblically, these are the only two reasons how you can remain faithful to your marriage vows.
What about remarriage after divorce?? Let’s look again at Scripture. Remember, don’t shoot the messenger. I hope to communicate what I understand God to be saying here. The first passage we will look at is our text in Mark 10.11-12. “10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” No exceptions. Straightforward statement regarding “whoever” divorces and marries another. Man or woman…
Luke 16:18 (ESV) 18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Now this passage says that the one who divorces and marries commits adultery and the one who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Whether one is the subject of the divorce or marries an object of divorce commits adultery. Matthew 5.32 says that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Romans 7:3 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Because we now know that people are married for life, one cannot remarry while the other is alive. That would result in adultery. However, should one marriage partner die, the other is free to marry and it would not be considered adultery. 1 Corinthians 7.39 reinforces this. “39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”
Let’s go back to verses 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians 7. Remember the admonition that the wife should not separate from husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Because marriage remains for the duration of life, they are still considered to be married in the eyes of God.
But it would also seem as though divorce is inevitable. What do we do with the case between the unbeliever and the deserted believer? Can’t the one that is abandoned be free to remarry? Now, there are many who would suggest that the indication that the deserted party is “not enslaved” or “bound” and thus free to marry. But I really don’t think that this is what the text is saying. This would not make sense coming from the very single, Apostle Paul. He did not view singleness as slavery. Rather, this indicates that the believing partner does not have to fight to keep the marriage together. He or she is to let the other go. And yet, is still not permitted to remarry while the other remains alive. Marriage is ordinance of creation binding on all God’s human creatures – regardless of faith or lack of faith.
So there is an abundance of Scripture pertaining to the issue of divorce and remarriage. Many of these are passages that are very clear and straightforward and do not need a Master’s degree to understand at face value.
But then there is the exception clause that I mentioned earlier. Isn’t there a passage that says if your spouse commits adultery, you are free to divorce? What of it? Let’s have a look at Matthew 19.9 together. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Well, there you go. Plain and simple. Not really… It doesn’t say “adultery,” does it? It says “sexual immorality” which most often means fornication or sex before marriage. The word is “porneia.” If Matthew meant to communicate unfaithfulness in marriage, he would have used the word “moicheia” which means “adultery.” But he didn’t. Why would he use the word for “fornication” and not “adultery?” In fact Matthew has already used the words side by side a few chapters earlier. Matthew 15:19 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” It wasn’t a word that was foreign to him in any way.
You may be wondering how one could “divorce” if they were not married. This is why I think that it is contained in Matthew’s gospel. When a couple was betrothed, it would have been considered “divorce” to break the betrothal. Do you remember the story of Joseph and Mary? Matthew 1:18–19 “18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
I think that Jesus (in the words that Matthew records) has set out to exonerate Joseph. Had Mary committed “porneia” against Joseph, he would have been just to divorce her. He would have been free from the betrothal. In another instance (John 8.41), the Pharisees imply that Jesus was born illegitimately. But Joseph did not divorce his betrothed and is justified. This understanding is known as the “betrothal clause.”
Lastly, the Implications for Today. If this were a topical series, I would have likely set it up by declaring the beauty of God-designed marriages before bombarding you with weighty warnings and admonitions regarding divorce and remarriage. But because that wasn’t how the text was initiated, we had to launch headlong into some heavy issues.
I don’t want you to leave overwhelmed or discouraged. I’ll tell you why. This issue is crucial for the church to grasp biblically. We cannot fumble this any longer. I know that many of you have been through some of this. Perhaps you’ve remarried as well. If you have, I want to reassure you that I don’t think that the Scriptures indicate that you continue in ongoing adultery. Though I think it was wrong to enter into these relationships, it was a one-time thing. Beyond this, your marriage is joined together by God and may not be separated. You should also know that despite my permanence view of marriage (and in light of it), I will now completely support you in this and desire that you glorify God in your relationship.
Perhaps you have been the object of a divorce – the one who was deserted. I cannot pretend to know the pain that you have endured and continue to endure. I hope that we as a church can faithfully come alongside and walk the road with you. You may be overwhelmed at the thought of remaining single throughout the rest of your life.
The disciples, too, were a bit confused over this in the same Matthew passage. Matthew 19:10–12, “10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” In the same way that the Apostle Paul was able to live a single life for the glory of God, I believe that some are called and equipped to do so. From this passage, it would seem that God gives extra grace to live for him – “only to those to whom it is given.” We don’t know the power of the grace of God until we find ourselves in the midst of trial.
You may be wondering where the gospel is in this message. Shouldn’t Jesus be at the center of all preaching?? You better believe it! Do you know why I am thrilled that God has this permanent view of marriage? It is because we as the church are part of a divine marriage. And our earthly marriages somehow communicate it. Look at Ephesians 5 with me.
Until Christ abandons the church, we are unable to separate what God has joined together. And I am thankful that God has a high view of marriage because I know from this that Jesus Christ will never abandon us. It is against his character and his design.
Romans 8:35–39 “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.