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On Divorce - The Gospel of Mark
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Mark 10:1-12
May 24, 2020

Please note: This transcript is of the message only. 

Even our best friends can be jerks sometimes. Let's say you get a bad grade in a class and your snarky friend says: 'Have you stopped cheating on tests?'

Of course, you probably wouldn't say 'no,' which would imply you cheated on your most recent test. But if you were to simply answer 'yes,' you would be implying that you've most likely cheated on tests in the past.

No matter what you say, it sounds like you've been cheating

There are lots of questions like that.  Questions which will make you look bad no matter how you answer them.

Here are a few examples:

Have you always been an alcoholic?

Have you stopped beating your wife?

Is gambling anonymous helping with your problem?

Are you still having issues with your drug habit?

Did you forget to take your meds today?

Questions for which there is no good answer.

In some ways I feel as though I’ve been asked such a question when I come to Mark 10.

Because Mark 10 is a passage which talks about divorce.  And in our present society, talking about divorce is not really popular.  Because divorce has touched just about everyone.  We all know someone who is divorced.  And we all know someone who has married again after divorce.

And we also know, in basic terms at least, what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage.

In short, God hates divorce. 

At least that is how many Bibles translate Malachi 2:16

Not only does God hate divorce, but Jesus has some very strong words about what happens when you divorce and remarry.

And that subject is the topic of our text for this morning.

It is a loaded topic.  And it comes up in our text  as the Pharisees ask Jesus a loaded question.

A question, not about getting married after a divorce, but about divorce itself.

Let’s read the text – Mark 10:1-16

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.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 

They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 

But 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.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 

What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 

And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,  and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

This is the word of the Lord.

The loaded question they asked of Jesus is in verse 2

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

The Pharisees weren’t really interested in Jesus’ answer, they asked it in order to put him in a no win situation.

And I imagine that any preacher who encounters this text feels that they have been put in a no win situation as well.

What will we say about divorce?

And how will we say it without offending half of our congregation?

In some ways it is an impossible topic. 

It is easier to just avoid it, because in our society divorce is rampant.  And unfortunately, the church is included in our society.

It is not as though there is a different divorce rate for believers than unbelievers.

Religious people seem to get divorced at roughly the same rate as non-religious people.

Humanity has a tough time keeping our commitments to one another.

And balancing the writings of scripture with the actions of humankind has always been problematic.

At times it has created some very serious repercussions.

History records many famous or infamous break-ups

Six-time husband King Henry VII didn’t invent divorce, he just sort of abused it.  And started the church of England so he could trade wives almost at a whim.

Divorce has been around in various forms for a much of human history.

Researchers have found divorce statements from the Tang Dynasty in China (an era which started in 618 AD) and "divorce contracts" from ancient Egypt.

Both the ancient Greek and Roman societies offered methods to easily get out of marriages — in fact, Romans seem to have basically invented no-fault divorce.

And of course divorce is mentioned not only in our text for this morning but in the writings of Moses.

Twice in Deuteronomy 22 we read that there are conditions where if a man besmirches a woman’s reputation “he may not divorce her all his days.”

Then in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we read this:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

This is the word of God.

I’ll summarize that for you.  A woman gets married and her husband doesn’t like her anymore, so he divorces her.  She gets married to another man and the same thing happens.  Then the first husband can’t take her back. 

And it is this passage which sets the stage for the question the Pharisees ask Jesus.

But it was a loaded question because Jesus is now in the region ruled by Herod Antipas.

You remember Herod Antipas.  He put John the Baptist to death in large part because of his stand on divorce.

The Pharisees did believe it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife – they just weren’t in agreement as to the rationale for doing so.

Some believed that adultery had to be involved while others believed burnt toast (not that they had toasters back then) was sufficient.

They already believed it was lawful to get a divorce.

But they probably thought it likely that Jesus wouldn’t leave it at that – Just as John the Baptist didn’t leave it at that.

Perhaps they hoped Jesus would take a strong stance against divorce and this come into Herod Antipas’ radar.

Which in turn would lead Jesus to a fate similar to that of John the Baptist.

The Pharisees were not interested in what Jesus had to say about divorce unless they could use it to trap him.

That is what Mark tells us in verse 2. They asked the question to test Jesus.

So, it wasn't the fact that they needed to hear some new teaching on marriage and divorce but that they were doing their best to set Jesus up with their question.

They probably knew that John the Baptist was right – the divorce and remarriage of Herodias was wrong.

Now, what would Jesus say?  How would he respond?

Not surprisingly Jesus also takes a strong stand concerning divorce.

To summarize, it was never God’s intention that a couple joined together in marriage should ever divorce.

Jesus has the Pharisees look back to the writings of Moses to see what he had to say, and he allowed it.

But Jesus goes back to the order of creation and tells the Pharisees that divorce is only given as an option because of the hardness of heart so often found in mankind.

And there he ends his public discussion.

The text then picks up after the disciples have returned with Jesus to the privacy of the house.

And that is when the disciples ask for clarification and Jesus brings adultery into the equation.

And this is where pastors want to avoid the discussion if at all possible.

With divorce touching nearly every family, how can I handle this text?

Hardness of heart is why God allows divorce

Divorce isn’t God’s plan.

But, the scripture does allow it.

The conditions under which divorce is allowed are at times very clear and at other times somewhat cloudy.

Matthew records Jesus speaking to this issue twice, in Matthew 5 and again in Matthew 19.

In both places Matthew includes the most famous exception rule.

“except on the ground of sexual immorality”

So a man can divorce his wife – and presumably a wife can divorce her husband – if the other one commits some sort of sexual immorality.

Under those circumstances they are free to remarry without committing adultery.

I Corinthians 7 says this:

10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 

11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

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.

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.

Two things are clear – Christians are not to separate from one another – but if they do, they should be reconciled or remain unmarried.

And if you are married to an unbeliever, you should not divorce unless the unbeliever wants out.

So scripture gives two reasons why you are allowed to divorce.  Sexual immorality or an unbelieving spouse who doesn’t want to stay in the marriage.

Divorce isn’t God’s plan, but it is allowed due to our hardness of heart.

Hardness of heart is the deeper issue.

Which Jesus addresses when he answers the Pharisees loaded question.

Is it lawful to get divorced?

Yes, but that isn’t  God’s plan – and that isn’t the real issue we should be looking at.

The real issue has to do with hardness of heart.

And hardness of heart is at the core of many, if not all sins we commit.

God understands the human psyche.

He knows how easy it is to become hard hearted.

And it is a danger lurking at the door of our heart every day.

I’ve watched with dismay over the past few months as people have become hard hearted towards one another.

As a pastor, I received an email from a county official asking me to email our governor to request that Mesa County allow churches to meet at 50% capacity.

In response, another pastor wrote this:

“Absolutely not. I believe this request is unethical and irresponsible. I will not participate or support this action.”

Another wrote this:

I am with you. God is our only hope and we should never have had our Churches and Constitutional freedoms violated in the first place.

In an article on how we will worship after having live services again one pastor is quoted as saying this:

“The speed with which so many have acquiesced to draconian overreach of civil authorities is breathtaking and revealing,”

“It’s as if they have no regard for the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, far worse, the Word of God — which instructs Christ’s church to gather regularly for worship.”

Are we at war with one another or with a virus?

When we see someone without a mask, when the county guidelines clearly tell us that we should be wearing one, what happens to our heart?

We may agree with them – that masks are part of a government overreach and unnecessary- or we may feel the need to protect ourselves because we feel vulnerable.

And our hearts are hardened towards one another.

And then we sin.

We carry grudges towards those who are in the other camp.

We accuse those who wear masks of having no faith.

Of not believing in the constitution.

Or we accuse those without masks of not caring for the most vulnerable of society.

Of disobeying the scriptural mandate to obey those set in authority over you.

And we start to divide.

And it is exactly what happens with divorce.

We start picking on one another.

We start assuming motives.

We start avoiding one another.

And we start only associating with those who are likeminded.

Hardness of heart is the real issue which Jesus brings up in our text.

Which brings me to my third point from this text.

Hardness of heart veils the seriousness of our actions

I find it interesting that Jesus ties divorce to adultery.

He takes a question of the lawfulness of divorce and he points out instead the seriousness of it.

In Matthew 5 Jesus also speaks of divorce, remarriage, adultery and the exception for sexual immorality.

I bring this up because it is in that chapter, which records the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus declares some of the most difficult teachings of his entire ministry.

He taught on anger as being paramount to murder and worthy of judgment.

He taught on lust as equivalent to adultery.

He taught on remarriage after divorce as adultery.

He taught on retaliation as permissible but not desirable.

In each case he brought to light that our actions, our thoughts are far more serious than we generally make them out to be.

We have a tendency to blow divorce way out of proportion to the way scripture treats it.

Yes, it is not Gods’ plan.  But he allows for it.

As far as I can tell it is the only action taken by mankind which is outside of God’s plan which he makes allowances for.

He doesn’t give us any exceptions for when it is okay to lie.

There is no biblical excuse for “sexual immorality, impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, or fits of anger”

 By the way, that list comes directly out of Galatians 5 where Paul lists the deeds of the flesh.

The reality of divorce in our world today and in our church is one which saddens us.

But it shouldn’t sadden us any more than the issues of clearly identified sin.

We must guard our own hearts against becoming hard concerning this issue.

It is not up to us to determine how God views those we know who are divorced and remarried.

Our responsibility is to treat one another with all the love, acceptance and forgiveness with which God treats us.

The deeper issue in our text is the issue of hard hearts.

It's a dangerous thing to become hard hearted. It is a dangerous thing to become "immovable, unaffected and disobedient". It is a dangerous thing for us to become obstinate and calloused. It is a dangerous thing for us to lose our ability to see, understand or hear God's. It is a dangerous thing for us to become a person whose heart is no longer open, receptive, pliable and forgiving.

Jesus says divorce is allowed because of the hardness of our hearts, but it was never God’s plan.

And as we read this text we should check our own hearts rather than look down our noses at those who have been the victims of divorce – or even been responsible for it.

Because none of us dare cast the first stone.

Our hard heartedness veils the seriousness of our actions while emphasizing the actions of others we find objectionable.