A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.
2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
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.”
The other day I was holding the door for the preschool morning drop-off when our four-year-old hopped out of the van, ran over to give me a big hug, and in an excited voice said, “Good morning Daddy! Mommy told me I should ask you why Satan made God.” I looked at her a bit skeptically and said, “I don’t think you have that quite right, tell Mommy that Satan didn’t make God.” Now it was her turn to give me the stink eye as she replayed her words back in her mind, and then laughed and said, “You’re right, I’m so silly. I was supposed to ask you why God made Satan. Mommy said you would know the answer. So why did he?” Seeing that we had roughly 2 seconds before she needed to head to her classroom, I just patted her on the head and said, “That’s such a great question sweetheart. You can tell Mommy that since she is a children’s minister, she should be able to answer that with no problem.” Somehow satisfied with my total cop-out answer, she said, “Thanks Daddy, I’ll tell her!” and with all sincerity—and a huge smile on her face—she bounded up the stairs to join her friends for the morning.
I have had the privilege of serving on quite a few teaching teams with Dr. Keith Burnett for our pastor’s training courses in the Dominican Republic, and in “survey” style courses we cover fairly large portions of the Bible in a relatively short amount of time. The idea is to understand the big picture of the Bible, things like author, setting, major themes, and how everything fits together. The material is divided up among the different members of the teaching team, and before we switch out, at the end of every section we always allow time for questions. While the courses themselves are invaluable training for those who have never had any sort of formal Biblical education, it is those Q and A sessions that everyone looks forward to.
When the floor is open, hands immediately start shooting up all over the room and questions on pretty much every topic you could think of, some of which were partially covered, but many of which do not even tangentially relate, come flying in. After doing our best to discuss as many questions as possible, inevitably we have to move on. Personally, I enjoy having to think on my feet and especially love getting to see the student’s faces as the lightbulb goes off while they contemplate answers to their questions on the Bible, but when the time is up, or it there is an especially challenging question, I like to say, “That’s a great question for Dr. Keith. Let’s make sure to ask him at the end of the next section.” Perhaps this is why among the fellow teachers this time is affectionately referred to as “Stump the Chump.” Honestly, I almost considered asking Pastor Randy to weigh in on this particular passage of scripture since it can be an extremely sensitive topic to many, but while Jesus’ teaching may be difficult, it is also remarkably clear.
During the period of His life that we identify as His public ministry, Jesus was always surrounded by people looking for answers. Often the question came as a requests for physical healing. Other times the petitioner was looking for honest answers to particularly difficult theological questions. But there were also times, and the gospels record quite a few of these, that the person asking the question was doing so in order to try to trap Jesus into giving an answer that would get Him into trouble.
Mark records one such question of the Pharisees here in chapter 10 as the crowds were surrounding Him once again. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Now, the question did not just come out of the blue, but it was a rather controversial theological debate topic of the day. Although they were interested in Jesus’ answer, it was really a trick, a test. However He responded, they knew that someone would be upset. He would be at risk of alienating a large portion of the crowd, or even better, He could incur the wrath of Herod, like John the Baptist.
In Matthew’s record of this encounter we see that the question actually ended with the clause, “for any cause?” They were not asking Jesus if it was legal to ever get a divorce, but if they could divorce their wives on demand. The root of the debate was how to properly interpret Deuteronomy 24, where Moses allowed men to write certificates of divorce “if she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her.” The liberal school of rabbi Hillel focused on the phrase, “finds no favor in his eyes” and taught that offenses such as serving an overcooked meal, talking so loud the neighbors could hear her, or simply finding a more attractive woman would be just cause for divorce. The more conservative school of the rabbi Shammai instead focused on the word “indecency,” and allowed for divorce only in cases of unchastity and the like.
Digging into the heart of the issue, Jesus responded to their question with a question of His own that exposed their true motives: “What did Moses command you?” They immediately answered, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” The Pharisees, who loved to appear staunchly conservative on so many other issues, such as their belief in a bodily resurrection, were gratuitously liberal on this issue. They followed the school of Hillel, seeing Moses’ command in Deuteronomy as a privilege to be enjoyed. Of course their concern was not about “liberating” women, as some might interpret this today, but rather always having the option to end things at their sole discretion and convenience.
But Jesus knew that divorce was nothing more than a last resort to be used in only the most extreme circumstances. Jesus explained that Moses had allowed for divorce in order to protect women from hard-hearted husbands with wandering eyes. Part of the concession given in Deuteronomy was the instruction that after a husband issued a divorce certificate to his wife he was not allowed to marry his wife again if he changed his mind. Moses, and God, knew that men would be jealous upon seeing their former spouse with another man and wanted him to think long and hard before making the decision to end a marriage.
Jesus explained that in order to truly understand what marriage was about, they must not look to Deuteronomy 24, but to Genesis chapter 1. Jesus reminded them, “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” Marriage was not only a union ordained by God for the purposes of enjoyment and procreation, but it was given to us as a picture of Himself. Throughout the Scriptures we see that God exists both as one God but also in three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the economy of the Trinity, one plus one plus one equals one. In a similar way, in a marriage relationship, God takes one man plus one woman to equal one flesh forever. This, Jesus says, is God’s design, His intention. It was to reflect the beauty, intimacy, and mystery, however imperfectly, found in the relationship of the Godhead.
Jesus knew that divorce is never something to be enjoyed or celebrated. The appropriate response to the end of a marriage is always to grieve, no matter the particulars, because in reality is it not just the end of a relationship, but the death of something sacred. Divorce always hurts because it is destruction, tearing apart the “one flesh” that Jesus tells us God creates when two come together as one.
But just as no one gets car insurance because they intend to wreck their car, God also knew that things would not always be perfect. Because sin runs rampant in our fallen world, bad things happen, mistakes get made, and people get hurt. The good news is that Jesus doesn’t leave us to suffer in silence when we fail. He doesn’t reject us when we turn our backs on Him. He never wags His finger in our faces and says, “I told you so.” Instead, when we are at our worst, His grace is at its best.
When we least deserve it Jesus lavishes us with His grace as we confess our sins and acknowledge our need for Him. For those of us who have been touched by divorce, Jesus still loves us, cares for us, and welcomes us to come to Him. Even in our brokenness He is the loving Father who rejoices in our return and longs to help us pick up the pieces of our lives. And He promises that He will always be with us, no matter what.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the truth of Your word. You not only tell us You love us, but You have proved it through Your life, death, and resurrection. You know that we all wrestle with sin and are nothing without Your grace. Give us the grace and strength we need today, and help us to live each day in light of what you have done for us. In Your perfect name we pray, Amen.