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A look at Mark 10 this week brings an encounter with an incredibly difficult topic: divorce. If you have not dealt with the misery of divorce first-hand, you almost certainly have known someone who has. Do you have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches concerning this issue?
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"And rising up, He went from there to the region of Judea, and beyond the Jordan; and crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. And some Pharisees came up to Him, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, 'What did Moses command of you?'
And they said, 'Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.' But 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. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother [shall cleave to his wife] and the two shall become one flesh; consequently… What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
Shocked at this new standard of commitment, his disciples sat with him alone later. They started to question him in the house alone, and they said, "What do you mean by this?" He answered, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."
Where is the tenderness? Where is the cultural relevance? Where is the awareness of the pain in the American family? Sure, 2,000 years ago some Jew walking around some dusty landscape can make bold statements like that, but what about today? What about the reality of the hell that comes early in relationships? What about the hell that exists between two people who say they love this Lord and their family is anything but a portrait of what they thought it was going to be? What then? What now?
What about those who have been a part of a divorce already? Where do they go? What do they do? What if you sit out there today, and you go, "Well, that's fine. You welcome me, you tell me I can process stuff safely here, and you label me an adulterer before you know my name." Thank you. Welcome.
There are a couple of different routes that the church can go when they deal with this difficult topic called divorce and remarriage. In order to stay away from the difficulty and the complications, they can just raise the bar and elevate it beyond even where the Bible has it and say, "Listen, divorce should never happen, and remarriage is never a possibility. That is always the case, no exceptions." Frankly, the Bible doesn't go there. Jesus just did, and we'll explain that.
When you come across difficult things like this, you can imagine that it's tough to sometimes find just one place in the Scripture you need to go to to get a full understanding of a biblical theology of relationships, specifically covenant relationships, specifically marital relationships where there is strife.
The other route you can go, and frankly, it's the route the church and the society has gone more quickly, is to lower the standard. To say, "Look, we know the reality of life. We know how difficult it is to keep any family together, especially an American family in the year 2000, when kids have all these different activities. Dad has to work, Mom sometimes has to work, and they're lucky if they can still have any kind of conversation together, much less take care of intimacy and work toward oneness. We know there's temptation everywhere like never before.
You can't do your job at work without having banners come up saying, 'Come look at this!' People dress differently now then they ever did. Family units aren't there to support. The accountability of culture is slowly weaned away, where divorce isn't that big of a deal anymore. There's nothing holding us together, so let's just be honest.
We need grace. Let's extend it to one another, and let's move through this awkward thing. Let's just kind of sheepishly not talk about it as much as can. We understand, and, in fact, your struggle makes me feel more entitled to my struggle. Let's just lower the bar. Let's deal with it that way."
I want to tell you; I don't want to go near either one of those extremes this morning. I want to handle a very difficult topic and a very difficult text in a way that appropriately maintains the high view of marriage that God has in his Word. At the same time, I want to make sure I talk about the exception and try to handle that also with input from Scripture and deal with that in a biblical way.
In my job, I get to marry a lot of couples. Many become my friends. I was meeting with some of my friends who are young married guys. We were talking about our walks with Christ and how all of us, whether we're pastors or newlyweds, have a hard time living in our marriages the way that we know we want to live and know we're supposed to live. These guys, married anywhere from a couple of months to almost a year, sat there and talked about how hard it was.
We have other couples in Community Groups, who have been married for six, seven, eight weeks, who have already had the courage to share, "You know what? We can't really stand each other." It's more than just a drama. It's the drama that we're living, isn't it?
Then there are those of you who have been married for 10, 15, 20 years who don't even talk about the struggle anymore. You've settled for something less. You've settled for a marriage of mutual toleration. For whatever reason, divorce won't be an option for you, at least not until the kids are gone.
You're in a culture, probably around some church, where it's not really the in-vogue thing to do. It won't help you professionally. You don't want to look like that much of a rogue, and so you're going to hang in there, but marriage as you dreamt it would be is out and no longer there. You settle in here quietly this morning just accepting what is going to be and what is, never pursuing God's ideal for marriage.
I know how hard it is. I mentioned to you a couple of weeks ago, when we talked about how a central part of what we want to be about here is just being honest… I hope you can see the way we're entering into this text. We're not going to try to skirt over it. We're going to try to put people up here on stage where you go, "Man, I could have said that, and I didn't memorize a script."
We just sent out our Christmas picture, and we all had our best clothes on, and we were smiling. What you don't know is the hell that was wrapped around that 30 minutes when that picture was born. What you don't know is the hell that is wrapped around that relationship that's at the center of that picture, but it's an American family tradition to send out an American family portrait every Christmas. Baby, you'd better do it at church. We don't ever hold hands except for when we walk from that parking lot into this building because that's what you have to do, right?
We prayed this morning for our time together with you as a body, and we realized it is hard to come in here ready for worship. We struggle… We're here since 7 in the morning after setting up all day yesterday. Then the worship team is running through the songs, and we're working through the stuff that's going to allow you to receive God's Word in a way that is instructive and that your heart is open to it.
We realized how hard it is for us to be ready to worship at 10:00, much less going through the battle of finding shoes and kids who say, "I don't like this! Mom, I don't want to wear this! Mom, I want this for breakfast, not that for breakfast!"
At our house this week, word got out that the Wagners are moving out, so we've had several rats who have already moved in. My wife came to me this morning about 10:15, got here a little late, and she goes, "Look at this." I go, "Did the rat get you?" She goes, "No, the trap did."
We've got Arnold Schwarzrat loose in our house. The trap has gone off on this sucker; we got his buddy, but this guy continues to get the peanut butter, the cheese, or whatever else we lay out there and somehow escape. He is the Houdini of rats. The trap goes down, it will break a wife's finger, but it will not get Arnold Schwarzrat.
When you come from that in here ready to worship, or when you get home last night from The Nutcracker, and you have an 8-year-old girl absolutely hysterical because rats are in the house and she won't sleep… I'm mad at them; I have to get some time alone. They're frustrated, and we're all frustrated. Oh, but let's take our Christmas picture tomorrow, shall we?
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we're committed to authenticity, and one of the things I thought about doing was simply saying this: If you are in this room and you have a marriage that has struggle in it, that at times you wonder if it's worth it, what you heard our friends here today say, then just come on up here. Just come up on the stage, and the other three elder men, their wives, and I are going to walk up here and stand before you.
We didn't do it because it was, in a sense, inauthentic. We had talked about the fact that we should and could. I want you to know that we wouldn't be surprised if the whole church stood up here and looked out at empty seats, or at least the singles who were like, "Well, that's encouraging!"
You know what? I hope you are encouraged. There is this misconception out there that I don't struggle to walk with Christ, that it is easy for me. My wife is cute; how couldn't you love her? God blessed us with five great kids. I'm a student of the Word, and there is never anything but the Walton family Christmas at the Wagner house. And so it must be with the other elders, these pinnacles of godliness and greatness.
We want to let you know that if it weren't for the power of Christ working in our lives, our marriages would end up on islands of despair. We would be statistics, just like maybe yours is, was, or soon will be. If that Spirit of God which, in grace, works in and through me and my wife to help us work diligently to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace, and the other elders and other godly leaders and couples in this church, our marriages don't have a chance.
We want to let you know that you can make it. There are some singles out there who are 30, 40, 50 years old, godly in their purity, who are looking at some of the 20-year-olds and saying, "Oh, yeah, it's hard when you're 45 still, but you can do it." If the Spirit of God doesn't work in you like he works in me, then you are going to cave and make bad decision as a single person.
There are people who are doing it and by the grace of God will continue to do it because we understand what is at risk and because God does transform hearts, and God does allow folks to work through what is best for their immediate flesh, for what is best for their family, what is best for themselves, what is best for their community, what is best for their God.
This morning, we're going to talk about what God wants for you. We're going to talk about this very difficult thing. We're going to just peel it back, and we're going to do it quickly. We're going to cover as much as we can, and we'll see where we are in a few short minutes.
Let me start by not losing the first two verses, which we want to rush through when we come to interesting texts like this, by learning something right from the very beginning. In Mark 10:1, it says, "And rising up, He went from there to the region of Judea, and beyond the Jordan; and crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them."
The purpose in reading God's Word is to bring about not just information into our life but transformation. If we say that Christ is our Lord, then his way ought to be our way, we ought to lean not on our own understanding, in all of our ways, we ought to acknowledge him, and we ought to trust him to make our paths straight.
If we find something that is customary in his life, we ought to do more than just read it was his custom to teach, we ought to ask ourselves, "What difference does that verse make in my life? Why is it there?" There are several reasons why it's there. It explains to you the question he's about to be asked, but it also models for you what ought to be customary in my life and in your life if he is your Lord.
Let me give you an application point out of this, right out of the chute. If our customs aren't his customs, then our Lord isn't this Lord. That works for what his custom was whenever he was around a group of people. That works for what his custom was whenever he dealt with folks who wanted to compromise God's Word or lower his standard. That works for how he is committed to oneness in relationships and the example he went to to maintain oneness where there was isolation and brokenness.
That is our model, and his custom ought to be our custom. Most specifically, right here at this one verse. If it is not a part of your life to regularly be teaching other people about the kingdom of God, the holiness of God, the putridness of sin, the brokenness which results in lives, the reconciliation and restoration which is available only through Jesus Christ, that there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved, that the kingdom of God is coming, that God will hold men into account, that the Lamb of God has come to take away the sins the world, that the lion of Judah will come to bring men to a purifying fire of destruction if they don't rightly relate themselves to him, then this Lord is not your Lord.
If it is not your pattern in life to further equip yourself and to be equipped by those who are more mature than you, that you might do the work of the ministry, which is the building up of the body of Christ, then this Lord isn't your Lord. I say that not to our guests this morning because we've already established that many of you are here trying to understand more about this God who loves you. We don't expect you to worship him and don't expect your life to look like his life.
Those of us who have taken the name of Jesus, who are members here, who have covenanted with each other to live a life of full devotion with him, is it your custom to be an equipping individual, to get equipped so you can equip? Can you say these things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also? Are you ready to preach in season and out of season?
Are you ready for the conversation that needs to happen tomorrow around the copier or at the coffee table at work during the break, when somebody comes into your office, some event on TV, some event in a newspaper, some worldview that is being skated on Oprah, are you ready to dialogue about that, and, as is customary, teach people about ultimate truth, grace, and the knowledge of God? If not, welcome.
We believe that authentic lives are appropriate and best used by God to introduce other people into a process where they can believe in Christ and then belong to a community that will love them, extend them grace, and spur them on to love and good deeds, that they might be trained in truth. We want to equip you here for the work of the ministry and the building up of the saints of God.
You don't have to be ready to get on Larry King tomorrow night and debate Deepak Chopra. You don't have tomorrow to go downtown and argue with some heretic, but you ought to be ready to take the next step. Make it your custom when you're with people to teach them from God's Word. Let us help you.
Let me give you another observation, right here from verse 2. In verse 2, we have that little statement where it talked about how they came to Jesus to test him. Let me give you a little application point. Look at the perspective of the Pharisees when they came to Christ. They wanted to know this right out of the chute.
They said to him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? We want to know where the law is going to give us an out. What is the minimum that we need to do? What am I required to do so I am free to do no more? What can I do, Jesus, so that I don't get in trouble with this God who you say you know so intimately?"
That's what the legalist always does. The legalist comes to every perspective of truth by asking this question: "What are the demands of the law so I can meet them so that I can get on about my life, doing what I want?" That, folks, is what Jesus is about to respond to in the way that he did. He is not giving pastoral care to divorced persons. He is not addressing those contemplating divorce or those who have been struggling in broken relationships who need encouragement. That is not what we find in Mark 10.
What we find in Mark 10 are a bunch of legalists who are trying to set him up so that he at least alienates himself from some of his followers. Quite possibly, what they are trying to do is get Jesus to do what the one who came before him, John the Baptist, did, which is to speak truthfully to others about God's Word, specifically to the ruler in that region, a man by the name of Herod, who married Herodias, who happened to be previously married to Herod's brother, Phillip.
John the Baptist, being a truth-teller, in a conversation with Herod one day, who was curious about this man who was drawing a lot of attention in his land, had John come in. He was amused by John. He was wanting to be taught by John and learn from this John. He was a powerful communicator.
In the context of one of their conversations, John dropped this bomb on him: "Oh, by the way, Herod, do you want to know more of what God thinks? That woman who you're currently bedding down with, she's not your wife. She's Phillip's wife, and you're an adulterer, and so is she." Now, that didn't fly very really well with the ruler. So John was put in jail, and eventually, because it didn't fly really well with Phillip's wife, who was currently sleeping with Herod, she asked if she could have the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
These men have already sworn their hatred for Christ. What better way to get rid of him than to let Herod get offended once more by another long-haired prophet radically dropping ideas about purity in relationships? So they try and set him up. "When is it lawful for a man to get out of one relationship and into another?" They want to know, "Jesus, can you put your foot in your mouth?" They want to know, "Look, it's been our practice to not debate whether divorce is permissible."
It was a known fact in Israel in this day that you could divorce based on a text in Deuteronomy 24 that God had given Moses to give to the people in the midst of hardheartedness and sin. This is what it says: "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her…" This has been the rule of the day. God didn't say this is what he wanted; he just acknowledged that it was a fact. God, as an accommodation to hardheartedness and human sin, said, "Moses, tell the people to act this way."
Specifically, as a result of sin, we no longer had men who used their headship and their strength to serve women, to partner with women, to cover women, to bless women, to treat them as queens, and to count them as co-heirs, as image-bearers. No, men, in their sin, took their position of headship and they thumbed women down. They treated them as property, much like cattle. When they were sick of that head of cattle, they just got rid of it and brought another one in.
As an accommodation to human sin, to put some boundary on rampant divorce in the sinful society that Moses was leading, God said, "Moses, you command men to when they now turn a woman out and send her away, to give her a piece of paper which simply says, 'I am sending you out through no fault of you own other than that you burnt the toast or salted the potatoes too much, or that, frankly, you're not as cute that 18-year-old Jewish gal that just moved in. Or, you're not as cute as that seductive Canaanite woman whose territory we just moved into, and so I'm done with you. Out you go.'"
It was to provide some level of accountability to these men. Many scholars believe they had to go to the priest and say, "This is why I'm leaving and sending out this wife." It was to protect women so they would not be scorned as an adulteress because the only reason, up to that time, that remarriage was permissible in Jewish society was when your spouse was no longer alive because you did turn her out because she was an adulterer.
Deuteronomy 22 tells us that if a woman or man was caught in adultery, they were to be put to death, which doesn't make whether or not you should stay married to that person much of an issue, because they're dead. Sin had this all perverted. We're going to look at a passage in Malachi that talks about the fact that God hates divorce. It had been so perverted in Israel in that day that that statement had come to mean and was translated in the language of the day, Aramaic, which was spoken by most Jews, "If you hate her, divorce her."
They had taken that clear word from a prophet, "God hates divorce," and made it, "If you hate her, divorce her." That is the culture that Christ speaks to today in Mark 10, and that was the culture that Moses gave this word to. He said, "I have to put a limit on your rampant abuse. If you're going to send a woman out, then you give her papers, and you make it very clear that she's not an adulterer. If you're going to do what you're going to do, and because of sin, you clearly are, then I'm going to protect the woman."
A few men, and the Pharisees were leading the people in this, would run through women, in and out. They would marry them and have their way, and then they'd see somebody else. They'd say, "I'm done with you," and go there. Moses was saying here in Deuteronomy 24, "Listen, guys, before you do that now, you'd better think twice. Once you let that woman go out, we're not going to legalize wife swapping anymore. Because of your sin, I am going to command you that if you're going to behave that way that you are, you will not abuse the woman. If you put that woman out and she marries another, she's not coming back into your tent. It is an abomination for you to send a woman out, take another one, and then go back and take her again."
It was legalized wife swapping. What they'd do so they wouldn't be adulterers is say, "Divorce. Sex. Remarriage." That's the perversion that was going on in Deuteronomy. That was the perversion which continued all the way to Jesus' day, even amongst the religious leaders. What these guys wanted to know, along with having Jesus put his neck on the line, literally was, "Hey, we want to know, big guy. We all know divorce is permissible because Moses told us we could divorce. So what do you think?"
There was one of school that said you could never divorce except in the case of adultery. There was another, more popular school (can you imagine that?) that said you could divorce her if she just didn't look good anymore. If she ate too many matzah balls and carried them around in a way that wasn't attractive to you anymore, if she burnt the matzah…get rid of her. So there was a debate amongst the leadership as to which kind of divorce was right.
This is who Jesus speaks to today. He comes at them, and he says, "Let me just tell you, gentlemen. A legalist always wants to know the minimum he can do to get by, and that is an example of your hard hearts. Somebody who loves me is not looking for the minimum they can do, but they want to know, 'Where is there an opportunity for me to show my love?'"
Let me just show you the kind of teaching Christ was calling people to. In Luke, chapter 6, Jesus introduces an idea that had been out in society. It came in Asia with Confucius. There's this thing that we know today as the Golden Rule. Jesus was not the first person to put some statement related to this out there in the public square. Confucius is one who this statement had been attributed to earlier.
Watch the subtle difference. Read verse 31 as I tell you what Confucius said. He said, "Don't treat other people the way that you don't want them to treat you." Do you see the difference? He said, "You want to know what's appropriate in terms of morality? Just make sure you don't make other people miserable."
Jesus turned that on its head, and he said, "Look, we're not a bunch of legalists who are just skating by so we don't get thrown in jail. We are people who are made in the image of God, who are called to be lovers of people, not just moralists looking for the minimum to get by and not thrown into jail, but looking to be leaders, who, in a relationship of love, treat other people the way we want them to treat us." Now follow on. He says,
"And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
What he's saying is, "Here's the law: Love others. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love you wife as you love yourself. If you love your wife as you love yourself, you're not going to divorce yourself. I'm not asking you how she makes you feel; I'm telling you to stay there and dwell on that land. Cultivate faithfulness. Don't look for a minimum to get out; look for a maximum to give out of love in your relationship with me. Let that love, which you are experiencing from me, overflow into the love you give to her."
Do you see what Jesus is saying right here to a group of men who are coming at him and are looking for a reason to not have to be committed? They want the minimum so they can skate by. This is the context of the response that you're about to get with divorce and remarriage. Let me show you in Mark, chapter 10, again.
In verse 3, after he had been asked the question, "When is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" which is the wrong question. The right question is, "Jesus, how can I love my enemies? How can I love the one who I don't feel love for anymore, the way that I was always told in Hollywood movies?" (Or whatever it was that was affecting their culture in that day.) "How can I love them though I don't feel like loving anymore?" He says, "It's not about how you feel; it's about whose you are, and whose life you're modeling."
He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you to do in your hardness of heart?" They said, "Moses permitted…" Note that honest revelation by them. "…a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." Literally, that word there means to put her out, or to basically pronounce her innocent. It is to acquit her of guilt, and then you put her away and proclaim her free, not bound, and innocent.
Jesus said to them, "Listen, I'm going to tell you why Moses wrote this. Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, that's not the way it was supposed to be. Let me take you back, before Moses, to how God intended it to be, and not deal with your sinful state but call you to a righteous standard.
God made one man and one woman; that was his plan in the beginning. Sin has perverted that to every kind of imaginable indulgence that we could speak. This is what we want, and when that happens, you're no longer two, but you're one. How could you rip apart one and still have it be whole? You cannot. What, therefore, God has joined together…"
"There's your standard men. If you want to walk in holiness with me, you make that your standard. Don't come to me with your minimalistic obedience; you come to me with hearts that are rent, that hate sin like I hate sin, and are committed to holiness like I'm committed to holiness."
The disciples were stunned. They got in a room, and they said, "Listen, Jesus, this is not in our culture." It would be much like me saying to you today, "When you buy a car, you do not sell that car. If you sell that car to another person that drives it, you make them a car thief." Now how would that sail in this room this morning? It would shock you. You would go, "Wait a minute, Todd. Can you explain that to me?"
I would say, "Yes. Don't you know from the very beginning God made one Model T for every man? That's what Henry Ford said, and that's the plan. I want you to love your Model T, and I want you to endure with it. Anybody can love a car that's new, that smells new and drives nice. I want you to love this car and work on it in your garage and make sure that until that thing melts back into the earth, it is your car."
That is what God did. He didn't give us a Model T; he gave us somebody else, created in God's image, that together, we were to display a relationship which was a picture of the divine. God did say something radical. He said, "Listen, your view of marriage has been dumbed down. You need to get it back where it belongs.
You need to know this: There was a permission given to you in the midst of sin, but it is not the standard. Don't come at me with a minimalistic standard. You come to me with hearts that are rent and hearts that are transformed and are made new and say, 'How can I love like you love?'", He'll give you an answer to that.
Let me make it very clear. Divorce never was and never will be part of God's design. Let me say that again. Divorce never was and never will be part of God's design. It is an accommodation to the sin of humanity, and it's necessarily abuse of a destructive force on others.
What is God, then, going to do given sin? Will he maim and destroy, wreak havoc on all lives that are affected by this sin called divorce? Or will he wink at sin and say, "Aw, go ahead. Listen, I have to say this stuff. I'm God; I have to make a big standard, but we all know it's tough. Just go on, and the more you sin, the more my grace abounds, so it'll work out for both of us"?
Neither. What he's going to do is make a merciful provision for those who have been caught in sin and that repent. He is going to very clearly call hard-hearted spouses into account. He's going to let them know that there is a standard out there, and there is a God who takes very seriously the vows that you made, who you are accountable to, and who you'd better prepare yourself to be with.
Let me give you a couple of applications, and we're going to deal with the exceptions. It is very true that God hates divorce, but it is not true that God hates divorced people. It is true that God hates divorce; it is not true that God hates divorced people. Divorce is not the unforgiveable sin in God's eyes, and it should not be in the church. God has made an accommodation for human sin even today, but we don't want to listen to what that accommodation is. We want to pursue his standard and then deal appropriately with the pain, havoc, and destruction sin brings into every relationship.
Marriage, folks, is made for humankind. Humankind is not made for marriage. If you fail at marriage, that doesn't mean you're going to fail at humankind. Humans were made to enjoy God and to glorify him forever. Just because you failed at glorifying God in a pervious marriage doesn't mean that you have to fail at glorifying him forever.
God hates divorce. God hates sin, its symptoms, and its consequences, but he doesn't hate the sinner. He never has. There is a stigma with this sin, just like there's a stigma with homosexuality. We need to make it very clear: there are certain sins that have certain consequences that are greater than other sins, but all sins are sins in God's eyes and enough to separate us from him for eternity.
Instead of casting dispersions on those who struggle with certain sin issues, we need to call them to repentance as we radically deal with areas of repentance in our lives, whether they be arrogance or exaggeration, or slander or gossip or half-truths, or insecurity, and call ourselves to repentance as we call the sinner in divorce, in homosexuality, in heterosexuality, and in more relationships to repent.
I want to remind you of the context we're working in in Mark. Mark just got through talking about how there are some radical demands that are made on disciples. God is calling men and women to follow him, to bear their cross, to love enemies, to love those that hurt them, to be a servant of other people and not look to be served, to prepare themselves to be salted with the purifying fire of persecution.
He says, "If you find something in your life that keeps you from being obedient to Christ, get rid of it." He uses the hyperbolic statement, "If your eye causes you to sin, get rid of it. If your hand causes you to sin, get rid of it. If your foot causes to sin, get rid of it." Jesus is saying that there's nothing too great for a holy God to ask of those who have been won by redemptive grace into a relationship with him. "I'm gong to tell you, die to yourself so that you might live in a way that glorifies me."
He'd always said this kind of thing to his people. Back in Malachi, chapter 2, verse 11, it starts talking about how the nation is an abomination to God. Part of the reason they were an abomination is because they were marrying irresponsibly. They were marrying people who weren't committed to the God of the Scriptures.
In their unions, where they were supposed to have a one-flesh relationship, you had two people coming into that marriage with two different blueprints. He said, "It's going to pervert you. It's going to pull you away from a life that glorifies me and enjoys me. That's an abomination to me." He spells that out.
Then in verse 13, he starts off with another consequence to sin. He says, "And this is another thing you do [that has gotten my attention, that bothers me]: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears.Some people think that means because of your hard-heartedness and sin, there are many women in your land who come and cry over me, saying, 'My husband who told me he would love me has loved me for a moment, only to love another woman. Now I have this stigma on me of being a woman who's been put out. God, in my weakness, in my sex, I have been abused.'"
Many people think that's what this is. I think it's better understood this way. In fact, this is what most folks understand this to mean. When it says, "You cover my altar with tears," it is referring to the fact that the Jewish men, the spiritual leadership, cried out over the altar of God with tears, saying, "God, you don't listen to us anymore. You don't respond to our sacrifices. You don't respond to our worship. More horror comes upon our land. There's no sense of your divine protection and participation with us. Why is it, God, that you are not committed to us as you said you would be to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?"
Those are the tears they are pouring out on the altar. He says in verse 13, "Because you no longer, God, accept our offering with favor from your hand." "You say, 'For what reason do you do this?'" He says, "I'm going to tell you why. Because I'm a witness between you and the wife of your youth. I was there when you said you would love her with an everlasting love."
In this New Testament sense, "I was there when you said you would love her as I loved the church. I was there when you said your relationship is a picture of God's relationship with his people. I was a witness for that, and now I'm a witness for the way you treat her. You've dealt with her treacherously," verse 14 says.
He says in verse 15, "Anybody who does this has no remnant of the Spirit." He finishes that verse by saying, "Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce…" Can he be any more clear? Why? Why does he hate it? Because it destroys the picture that God gave us as image-bearers, this mystery of a plurality of persons who dwelled together in unity.
This picture of people who have different roles but who deal in mutual subjection with one another, not seeking their own self-interest… Even though one might look like the Father and another look like the Son and another look like a Spirit which glorifies both, none of them reign over the other one.
He says, "That is a hard concept to grasp, that I can be one God, yet exist in three persons who eternally are sharing community and submission in love. I'll give you a picture on earth where two persons will cleave together and become as one and will not rule over one another, will not desire to thumb the other down for their own selfish interests because it ruins that picture. It hurts innocents; it devastates children whom I care for. It brings chaos to lives; it corrupts society. Because it embarrasses me and my name, I hate divorce."
He says right there. "The man that covers his garment with wrong is the man that I stand against. So take heed, to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." Let me explain this to you very quickly. In Ruth, chapter 3, you see this picture and again in Ezekiel. When a man would get married, he would take his garment, take it off, and he would cover the wife of his youth with it as a symbol of protection and care. "I'm going to serve you with all of my provisions to make sure you are secure, warm, and valued."
He said, "That woman who you, publicly, before me, said that you were going to love in that way, what you have done is cover her with a garment of violence. You have beaten her, abused her, and bloodied that garment. You have assaulted her. The one who you said you would care for, you have battered and bruised, and I hate that, especially when you say this is a picture of my relationship with people."
God hates divorce, but he doesn't hate the divorced person. Unfortunately, and I want to make this observation, there is more pressure in our society for you to get married once you're engaged than there is going to be to stay married once you get in there. I tell my engaged friends that all the time.
I say, "Right now is the time for you to be doing some serious evaluation. You'd better educate yourself as to what marriage is, but you need to know this. Now that she's wearing a ring, once you have a few showers, once Aunt Edna buys a non-refundable plane ticket to come to Dallas, once you have deposits at the DoubleTree, at this florist, at that tux shop, once those hideous bridesmaid dresses are bought and cut, once the wedding consultant has been booked, God forbid, the invitations have been mailed out, good luck trying to back out of this gig."
People say, "Hey, everybody gets cold feet. I've been there; you're going to do fine." But you take those same friends who are going to say, "Look, man, that's a big step to back out of this thing." In two or three years, folks are going, "No one deserves that kind of pain. No one ought to carry that kind of cross. God doesn't want you to feel that way. Get out. Get on with your life. Start over. There's someone better. This isn't what you looked for." I'm gong to tell you something: that spirit that whispers that is not the Holy Spirit. It is not the Spirit who spoke to Malachi, and it is not the Spirit who speaks today. He hates divorce.
Let me make this observation: divorce is the ordeal, but staying married is not the ideal. I'm going to make this my last point today, and then we're going to come back next week and talk about the exceptions, the accommodations for sin, and what God says to us who are in the midst of marriages right now, what God says to those of us who have made a decision or who have been a victim of a decision that others have made.
Let me just remind you that God doesn't go to either extreme. He doesn't maim, destroy, and wreak havoc on those who have done certain things, and he doesn't just wink at sin. He makes merciful provision and calls hard-hearted spouses into account. He acknowledges that sin still exists in the church and out.
Divorce is the ordeal, but staying married is not the ideal. Let me just make this very clear. Some of you all are not married biblically; you're just undivorced. It's just as much of a shame to your Lord as your friend who went through. God is not concerned with when the legal documents are filed or the niceties of some timing. He is concerned with the attitude of your heart.
There are all kinds of statements about marriage and how difficult it is; we all know, right? That one deal: there's the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and then the…what? The suffer-ring, right? I wanted the ideal; I got an ordeal, so now I want a new deal.
There's a story about a guy sitting there, and there's a dietician talking about all of the things we put into our stomach which cause us problems. How Chinese food has too much MSG, that red meat is awful for us, soft drinks corrode the stomach lining, vegetables can be disastrous… None of us realizes the long-term harm caused by some of the germs that exist in our drinking water.
This dietician giving this presentation said, "Do you know what the most dangerous food of everything we can eat is?" There was some 75-year-old guy in the back who raised his hand and said, "Yeah, wedding cake." The guy that says that is obviously, after 50 years, maybe not divorced, but he has settled for a marriage of mutual toleration that is not a glory to the Father.
God wants us to pursue oneness, and isolation is the enemy of oneness. Genesis 2:24… You've memorized this verse without ever trying. People who have never been to church know this verse. Look what God's ideal for marriage is: that you leave, that you cleave, and this is marriage, that you become one flesh.
If you sit out there today, let me tell you, this is my prayer. I want to speak grace and truth, I want to speak pastorally, into the lives of those who have been hurt in relationships. We're going to do that. Do you understand Jesus' words today, who they were addressed to? I want to speak pastorally into the lives of those of us who are like my wife and me, who have taken divorce out of our vocabulary.
We have a long list of words, and the list gets longer. Jerk is out; she can't use it. Witch is out; I can't use it. There are about 20 to 25 others. Divorce is one that from the very beginning we said we weren't going to use, but can I tell you something? We could commit to never using divorce, and we could go through life like this and be just as much of a shame to our God as some of our friends who have caved to the pressures of a failed marriage.
Staying married is not what God wants his children to pursue. He wants to see you radically committed to oneness. He wants to see you die to your flesh. He wants to see you depend upon the Holy Spirit and the community of the saints, to say, "We will fight to maintain oneness." I tell people all the time, I sometimes think my name is Todd "I'm Sorry" Wagner. This is my wife, Alex "Yes, I Forgive You" Wagner.
I work all the time. I have a wife who is a completer, who calls me on the carpet, in love. Sometimes, not so much, but she gets me there and says, "Todd, listen. I believe your heart. I believe that you are a man who wants to honor God, and you don't want to play games. But the way that you're treating me right now, or the tone or the indifference, is not godly. I will not stand for it, or I will fail you as a wife."
I do the same with her. I go to her, and I say, "Sweetie, it's not enough to just say we're never going to divorce. We have to work hard to maintain unity. We can't just go through the motions in our marriage because if we do, we won't go through the motions of the physical love we both enjoy together. We won't glorify our Lord. We have to pursue that with a tenacity and an honesty that is God's ideal."
If you are here today and you're not divorced, let me just tell you something. Speak up if you're struggling. This is a safe place to say, "You know what? I married a sinner, and so did she. We sometimes sin against each other, and when we sin against each other, we isolate ourselves. We don't know what to do, how to communicate, or how to work our way back. Frankly, we've been doing it for 15 years." Or, maybe, "We've been doing it for 15 months." Or, maybe, "We've been doing it for 15 weeks." Or, maybe, you've just been doing it for 15 minutes.
Would you realize that this is a place where God wants to transform sinners' hearts, to equip them that they can be a blessing in their marriage, to understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit, to love your spouse, to die to yourself. Not divorcing is not the standard at Watermark Community Church, because it's not the standard of God's Word. The standard is a marriage that is committed to oneness, that glorifies him.
Singles, if you're out there listening today, can I tell you something? You don't marry somebody that makes some lame profession for Jesus Christ. You'd better find somebody who is radically committed to pursuing him. I tell my single friends, "You don't marry somebody who's not already well-married."
By that I mean if they're not in a covenant relationship with the living God, and in that covenant relationship they have not shown fidelity, faithfulness, and steadfastness, you are naïve to think they are going to show it to you. You find out what a faithful single person looks like, and you see if that's the direction of that spouse's life. Don't look for the fourth person of the Trinity; they're not out there. But you look for somebody who's direction of their life is godliness. You make sure the direction of your life is godliness.
When an ungodly aspect of your life roars its ugly head, you repent. When you see that happening, you have a potential candidate for marriage, but if you marry someone who has a lame relationship with Christ, you can bank on it that they're going to have a lame relationship with you. If they are casual relationship with Christ, you will have a casual marriage, which is not the ideal.
You need to know this: The most miserable people on earth, the loneliest people on earth, are not single people. They are poorly-married people who feel trapped. God doesn't want you to feel trapped in your marriage. He wants you to have the ideal, which is community, submission and love, mutual subjection, and service for his glory and your good. That can't happen without the Spirit of God transforming our hearts on a regular basis, amen? Let's pray.
Father, we just touched on a topic today, and next week, we'll come back, and we'll talk about the exception. We know that you are not in the heavens and you have not forgotten what it's like and the difficulty to be committed. You know that people wrong people, and you know that people hurt people.
Father, I want to pray right now for a couple of folks specifically. I want to pray for the individuals who are out there who are divorced and remarried, and they're wondering, "Well, am I an adulterer? At least for seven days, I have to live with that insecurity."
I pray that they go to your Word, that they study it, that they're diligent to look at what your Word says, they read 1 Corinthians 7, they read Matthew 19 and Matthew 5, they wrestle with your Word. Where they find sin in their lives, that they would repent, and that they would find grace in the midst of their repentance. For a broken heart and contrite spirit, you have yet to deny.
I pray, specifically, for my married friends who are out there who think they are better than the next person because they haven't filed yet, and yet in their life is such inconsistency and such rebellion against you because they have stopped looking to pursue intimacy, oneness, love, subjection, care, and tenderness with their spouse.
They've just laid that down and given up, and there are kids in their household who grow up with a view of marriage that is distorted and perverted, and who think the view of intimacy, even with you, is therefore casual because they see that in their mom and their dad. I pray that those folks would dig deep in their heart and would find conviction and would repent.
I pray for my single friends who are out there, who are saying, "Hey, I don't care how bad marriage is. Just let me in; give me a shot." They're struggling with their covenant relationship with you. I pray that they wouldn't just have a nominal relationship with you, Lord, but they would today take a good, hard look at the fact that they already are married if they know you. They ought to work on that relationship and make sure oneness, intimacy, purity, fidelity, faithfulness, and a desire to grow deeper with you are there, just like they're going to need to do with someone with flesh.
We thank you, Lord, that someone with flesh did come. That's what we're celebrating this Christmas season. The visible image of the invisible God has come to us and deals with all of our sin, no matter what it is, all of our brokenness, no mater what it is. I pray for our guest who's out there today, who's never known that God loves them, that he hates their divorce, he hates their homosexuality, he hates their lying, he hates their arrogance, but he loves them.
I pray, Lord, that they would hear of a Jesus who was so committed to those he created that he modeled for us what we say we need to do in marriage. He died that we might live. I pray this morning there would be somebody out there who'd be so full of need that they'd find that need met in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for their sin, and they would come and they would reconcile with their one Lord and that you would be glorified.
For those of us who know you, we just worship now. We say, "God, we can't be married the way we want to be, we can't stay unified as a body the way that we want to be., and we can't serve our lost friends the way we want to if your Spirit doesn't rain on us." So we pray, would you reign in us? In Christ name, amen.
The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. This volume covers Mark 9:1 through Mark 10:34 and includes the 2-message series "Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: The Ordeal and the Ideal".