9th May 2023
Read (Matthew 19v1-12)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
If you can remember as far back as Matthew 5 then you will know that the Lord Jesus spoke clearly about the thorny issue of divorce. It would seem however that the Pharisees saw the topic as one that could test Christ and perhaps damage His reputation and ministry (v3). They asked Him “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” (v3).
In the Lord's day the attitude to divorce was varied. Divorce was permitted in the Mosaic Law with Deuteronomy 24v1 stating that a man could divorce his wife if he "found some indecency in her" One school of Jewish thought took this verse to mean moral or sexual indecency. For example if a man discovered his wife to be having an affair then it was permissible for him to divorce her. Another school of thought wasn't as strict and they interpreted Deuteronomy to teach that a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason. Indeed there is evidence to suggest that finding a more beautiful woman was valid grounds to divorce a wife.
So would Jesus prove to be strict or loose or even anti-Moses when it came to divorce? The trap was set. The Lord answered with a reminder of the wonderful nature of marriage. Jesus quoted from Genesis 1v27 and Genesis 2v24 stating “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’ So they are no longer two but one flesh." (v4-6)
Christ couldn't take marriage more seriously. He taught that marriage was between a man and a woman and the relationship would see the two becoming "one flesh" before the Lord. We would do well to meditate on these words. Marriage isn't merely an excuse for a grand day out, nor is it just something couples do until they change their minds. There is something serious that takes place when a man and a woman say "I do." When a husband and wife join together sexually there is a much deeper bond produced than we can possibly imagine. Marriage is a most serious business.
No wonder then that Jesus said "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (v6). We still announce this at weddings as a solemn reminder to everyone that a marriage shouldn't end in three months just because the husband or wife has found a more appealing partner. Why do we take marriage seriously? Why do we stand against modern day redefinitions of marriage? Why don't we promote sex before marriage? Because the Lord takes marriage seriously and so should His people, the Lord defines marriage in the pages of the Bible and the Lord speaks of the "one flesh" dynamic standing against the notion that sexual intercourse is just a bit of fun.
In response the Pharisees asked “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (v7). Christ's teaching had obviously not suited the Pharisees and perhaps they saw an opportunity to denounce Jesus as an opponent of Moses. Jesus answered “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." (v8). According to the Lord, divorce was not the plan in the beginning but it was permitted and regulated in the Mosaic Law because of the hardness of human hearts.
What did Jesus mean? My friends we are not good people. If the sinful human heart sees an opening it always wants to take it. The Lord hates divorce (Malachi 2v16) but He allows it to restrain the very worse motives of sinful humanity. Nevertheless we must stress that divorce is only permissible under specific circumstances.
Jesus said "I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (v9). This is not popular in 2023 but it is the Biblical standard. We confess that there are only two grounds for divorce - sexual immorality and wilful desertion (1 Corinthians 7v15).
What should we do with such teaching? To the married couple I would stress that marriage can be hard and painful but we must be prepared to fight for our marriage. May we protect our hearts from allowing other men or women to capture our thoughts. May we desire only our husband or wife physically and keep the bedroom door locked to all others. May we ponder the "one flesh" dynamic in our marriage and humble ourselves before the Lord in response.
Finally, to those thinking about marriage, dreaming of marriage, waiting for marriage...understand that marriage can sting. Marriage is not always like what you see in the Ulster Tatler. Jim might be handsome but does he love the Lord? Sarah might tick some of your boxes but is she serious about marriage? Are you and your future partner just "having a bit of fun" or are you seriously considering a bond that will make you "one flesh" in the sight of the Lord? Think on these things before you get anywhere near exchanging rings.
Marriage and divorce are to be taken seriously because marriage is about much more than a dress and a venue. Let the Lord speak today and let everyone else listen, He says “'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (Ephesians 5v31-32)
Q41 Where is the moral law summarily comprehended? The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.