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Mark XVII: Holding Fast to Marriage - Mark 10:1-12

As we look at today’s text, we see that in response to a question about divorce, Jesus responds by talking about marriage. When Jesus enters Judea into Herod’s territory, the Pharisees ask Him a question about the lawfulness of divorce, starting with a discussion of what Moses said about it in Deut. 24.

In doing this, they’re starting with the exception, not the rule. They’re coming from the wrong direction: Jesus asks for what Moses commanded, they give Him what Moses permitted. When you start there, this is what you get: “decree and depart.” Fill out the paperwork, send her away, and it’s done.

But when you go back farther in the writings of Moses, all the way back to Genesis 1, which is where Jesus starts, you get an entirely different picture. From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, and therefore, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Starting here, we don’t get “decree and depart”. We get “leave and cleave”. And since according to God’s design that cleaving results in a one-flesh union, Jesus declares that what God has joined together, man is not to separate.

But something happens between Genesis 1-2 and Deut. 24 that the Pharisees weren’t taking into account. When the first man and woman sinned, they plunged the whole human race, marriage included, into darkness and death. Marriage was meant to be a representation of heaven; now that same relationship could picture hell. And so in Deut. 24, God gave Moses instructions for how to deliver people from hellish marriages. That’s a necessary place to go as a last resort, but it’s a terrible place to start. Start with Eden, you don’t need divorce. Start with Sinai, everyone wants a divorce!

But the problem isn’t with Sinai. Jesus doesn’t have a problem with Moses. He has a problem with the Pharisees. God’s law is good: it was meant to stop people from destroying their marriages, and God’s provision for divorce was not in any way an encouragement to divorce. Deut. 24 wasn’t meant to make it easy to get a divorce; it was meant to make it hard!

At a very basic level, though, the Pharisees got this right: divorce is lawful. And the strongest proof of that comes in Jer. 3:8, where God Himself enacts Deut. 24 against Israel. God gets a divorce on the basis of adultery. Although God never commands divorce, God allows for divorce in certain circumstances. When Deut. 24 is carried out, man isn’t separating; God is separating.

So then, what did the Pharisees get wrong? Compare Deut 24:1 with Mark 10:4. In Deuteronomy, you have a 3 step process: a finding of indecency, a certificate of divorce, and a sending away. In Mark 10:4, the Pharisees reaffirm steps 2-3, with no mention of step 1. But step 1 is the one that makes all the difference! A divorce is God’s remedy for serious covenant-breaking sin, but until that sin is found, you can’t go on to steps 2-3!

So if you asked the Pharisees, “What is a lawful divorce?” They would say, “If you fill out the paperwork and send your spouse away, that’s lawful.” And that’s the so-called “divorce” that Jesus utterly rejects in verses 11-12. If you’ve fudged on step 1, then it doesn’t matter that you fulfilled steps 2-3 to the letter. Not only does God not authorize that kind of divorce, He doesn’t even recognize it. Such a “divorce” is a lie, which means that any subsequent remarriage involves adultery.

At Sinai, God took divorce out of our hands, and strictly regulated it according to the divine law, because we are a hard-hearted people. But Jesus wants to point us back to Eden, back to God’s original design for marriage, before sin entered the world and before our hard hearts caused marriages to be torn apart.

At the time, the disciples thought that this was an impossible standard, concluding that it was better not to marry at all. We can’t get back to Eden. The law can’t soften our hearts. For sinners to hold fast to marriage, we would have to have new hearts, and there would have to be a new creation, one where sin was overcome!

So remember where Jesus is going. He’s going to Jerusalem to die and rise again, to atone for and overcome sin, to do for us what the law could not do, to begin a new creation, to replace hard hearts with soft ones, a new Adam preparing to win for Himself a pure and spotless bride.

Through His life, death, and resurrection, He is making all things new, even marriage itself, and He is renewing our marriages in the process. His steadfast love for us is the pattern for our marriages, and by faith we become one flesh with Him – He is the head; we are the body of Christ, no longer two, but united with Jesus as one flesh. This is what the gospel means for marriage. In order to hold fast to marriage, we need to hold fast to Jesus.

Posted on Thursday, July 26, 2018 by CJ Bowen