This is the 20th Sunday after Pentecost as the Church counts time. I recall that on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, the sermon text was Ephesians 5 and we talked about the way that marriage was designed by God to work. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church. Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
Now, just six weeks later, we’re talking about divorce. That didn’t last long, did it? What happened? We were talking about what God had joined together and now we’re talking about what man has rent asunder.
Regardless of whether you believe that the bible is the very word of God or not, you’ve got to appreciate it for its honesty. The bible doesn’t fly so high above the ‘real world’ and our ‘real lives’ that it can’t see the problems and troubles and the mess that constitutes a large portion of our world and our life in this world. When you read the bible, you get the feeling that God has actually entered into our world and our life and sees it all.
It’s as though the author of the bible “shared in our flesh and blood, and he himself partook of the same things” as we do. It’s as though the author were “made like his brothers in every respect.” “He himself has suffered when tempted.” And so “He is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14,17).
And so the author knows what’s going on in this wide world and in your world too. And through His Word He calls out to you, wherever you are. Not only to say, “I understand, I sympathize,” but also to say, “I love you. And I have come to make “all things new, things in heaven and things on earth” and even the “things” in your world.
When we read the bible like that – and not as a guide book for how we can help ourselves or fix our world, but as the very love of God pulling us into Himself where we will find ‘rest for our souls,’ we want to join our voices with the rest of those who read the bible like that and say, “come Lord Jesus.”
The Pharisees never read the bible like that. For them, the Scriptures were a guidebook for how to improve your life so that God will love you. Like a lot of modern day Pharisees, they believed that if you follow the steps as outlined and do what it tells you to do, your life will go just fine and you’ll get to heaven.
Jesus really bothers the Pharisees because He cuts through all their pious baloney. For Him, the only hope that we poor sinners have is that He loves us. And because of His love for us, He’ll be merciful and forgiving and renew us – even while we are still sinners, even while we are still dead in our sins.
To the Pharisees, that made it too easy, too cheap. That’s a religion that could very easily include EVERYONE, because there is no distinction when it comes to life and salvation that’s based solely on mercy and grace to sinners. A religion like that means that all of their hard work and pious living doesn’t advance their standing with God one bit.
A religion like that means that they were no better than the ‘least’ among them and that the ‘least’ among them got all this life and salvation for nothing. They never did a thing to earn it. This is a religion that they wanted no parts of, just as they wanted no parts of anyone who taught a religion like that.
That’s why the Pharisees hit Jesus with another question about the law. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Mark tells us that they weren’t really interested in issue itself. They asked, “in order to test Him.”
Turns out, this encounter took place in the territory of Perea. (Mark 10:1). Which happens to be where John the Baptist had carried out his ministry. And the governor of Perea was Herod. John the Baptist had preached a couple of strong sermons about adultery and divorce and he used the governor as an example and told him to ‘repent.’
John lost his head for preaching like that – which I suppose is one way to tell if anyone is really listening.
Now Jesus is in Perea, Herod’s territory. And the Pharisees raise the question “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” How clever. How cunning. They no doubt asked the question loud enough for any of Herod’s informants who might be nearby to hear.
How willing they are to use the government and politics to accomplish their religious goals. They wanted Jesus to incriminate Himself with Herod – and maybe, just maybe, Jesus would lose His head just like John did, and all their troubles with Jesus would be over.
“Is it lawful?” they ask. That’s a terrible way to ask the question really. Lots of things are ‘lawful.’ Pornography is lawful. Abortion is lawful. Same-sex marriage is lawful. But just because IT’S LAWFUL doesn’t mean that IT’S RIGHT. Just because the government says its legal, just because the majority think that it’s okay, doesn’t mean that it is.
How much different their question would have been if they had asked Jesus if was good, right and salutary for a man to divorce his wife? But they’re not interested in what was ‘good,’ only in what was ‘expedient’ to their own purposes.
But Jesus knows their motives and He answers their question with a question. “Why are you asking me? Moses is the one who brought the Law. What did Moses command you?”
It’s just a guess, but I wonder if Jesus may have been asking the Pharisees to recite the 6th Commandment and Luther’s explanation. “You shall not commit adultery.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life and husband and wife love and honor each other.” (Probably a bad guess for a couple of reasons).
Instead of reciting Luther, they recite Moses. “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
To which Jesus replies, ‘right. That’s what you get when the only thing you’re interested in is what is legal rather than what is ‘right.’ “It was because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.”
The ‘backstory’ to the exception goes like this. There was a time when it was ‘legal’ for a man to abandon his wife for no reason or any reason, which left the woman destitute and unable to ‘remarry’ because ‘legally,’ she’s still married. So, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Now at least she was able to show the certificate of divorce and remarry and have a husband who’ll take care of her.
“Moses ALLOWED…” they said. Allowances are just that – allowances. Allowances are ‘damage control.’ But not the way it’s supposed to be. When you tell your teenager to be home by 10:00pm., and they come home at 10:20pm., they say, ‘come on, can’t you make an allowance?’ And even if you do it doesn’t mean that you approve of coming home 20 minutes late. “Moses ALLOWED,” doesn’t meant that God approves or likes it one bit.
They asked Jesus what is lawful and Jesus answered by telling them what is good and right and good for us. “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 they shall become one flesh.”
God calls the union of a man and a woman in marriage ‘good,’ in fact, “very good.” “Tov Meoth.” It all works together perfectly, just the way it’s supposed to. And not just your marriage or your family. It is very good for the whole community and society and the nation and the world, when marriage is as God instituted marriage to be.
What a difference between Jesus’ law and Moses’ exception. Damage control versus ‘very good.’ But this is what Jesus Christ came into the world to do. He came to make all things new, very good. Not just to keep us from destroying ourselves and others, but to give us real life, abundant life, life the way God created life to be.
And no, we’re not flying so high that we don’t recognize that sin happens and divorce is one of many tragedies of a fallen and sinful world. And we all suffer from it, the divorced, the married, the single, the children, the parents, the friends, the community, society, even the world. And God is not unaware of all of this. Nor is He unmoved by any of this.
In fact, it is because of this that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ into this world where a half of all marriages end in divorce. Jesus came down from His life ‘high above the heavens’ “and made himself lower than the angels.” He entered into our world filled with the pain and suffering that always happens whenever we separate what God has joined together.
And He came not to lecture us, or give us a plan for improving our life. He came to suffer with our suffering and bear our pain. He came to “taste death for everyone.” Not only the death of our body, but also the death of our marriage.
He is the expert in dealing with what is broken – broken marriages, broken homes, broken dreams. He enters our broken world and He’s broken by it so that we who have been broken may enter into Him and be made whole again.
By His death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ has reconciled you to God. Reconciliation is what happens between two people who had a prior relationship that was broken. Reconciliation means the ‘brokenness’ has been overcome and that the relationship been restored.
Paul writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, (think not only of our relationship with God, but also with others) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…” (Col.1:22).
If Jesus is able to reconcile us to the Father in heaven, how much more can He reconcile us to one another, even our ex? The power of Jesus’ forgiveness and life is able to overcome any ‘irreconcilable differences’ that we may have.
And once again we must acknowledge that we do not live in an ideal world – at least not yet. We know that what is possible with God is not always possible with man because of our hardness of heart.
Sometimes, one spouse seeks reconciliation with the other, trusting in the power of Jesus’ forgiveness and life, but the other refuses to hear of it. Sometimes it’s our own hardness of heart that refuses to be reconciled. Sometimes the best that can be done is damage control.
But always, repentance for the forgiveness of our sins and trust in the One who loves us and makes all things new is in order. And always we strive for what is truly good and right and salutary, not for what is merely lawful and legal.
And even when reconciliation does not happen with others with whom a prior relationship has been broken, yet we always live with the confident assurance in the unbreakable promise that God made to us in our baptism, where He joined us together with Jesus Christ, our faithful husband, in whom there is forgiveness and newness of life. And what God has joined together, He will not rend asunder.