December 18, 2016
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were about 814,000 divorces in the US in 2014, the latest numbers available. But, that only covers the states which count divorces: apparently five states do not, including California. I understand California can’t count that high. That means our country averages about a million divorces per year – one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Which means every year, about a million families are affected by divorce as about two million adults go through the deep emotional pain of marital dissolution.
Here’s a few more numbers for you: in terms of raw 2014 numbers, about 7% of the population got married, and a little over 3% who got divorced. That’s one way to come up with the oft-cited 50% failure rate – that is, half of marriages end in divorce. Statisticians argue about the numbers – as I read several websites, the numbers seem to range between 30 and 50%. Several things were clear: first, the divorce rate goes higher with successive marriages. I guess it gets easier the second time, and so on. Next, 80% of all divorces list “irreconcilable differences” as the contributing factor for breakup. And third, according to George Barna, the numbers inside and outside the evangelical church are basically the same.
Mind-numbing statistics. Again, as I read page after page of stats on the web, I got confused. But, we’re not really interested in raw numbers. The question we have is not, how many, but who? Who gets divorced?
Not only who, but why? Why do people get divorced? The experts tell us there are usually one or more of four factors contributing to divorce. The first is unhappiness (which usually sounds like: we don’t get along, he doesn’t talk to me, she talks too much, I’m not content in the relationship, I don’t love him, I don’t love her any more.) The second factor is financial stress, said to contribute to almost 80% of all marital breakups. The third factor is infidelity, and the fourth is abuse. Verbal, emotional, physical – some kind of abuse.
Who gets divorced? Why do they get divorced? Those are our questions. Not only that, what about Christians? When is it okay for Christians to divorce? What about Jack and Sally, Ralph and Suzy? I know their situations, should they divorce – is it okay?
Let’s bring it a little closer to home. What about my marriage – will it make it? And that’s not really the question for some of you – you’re way past that – I don’t want to make it anymore. It’s too much work, it’s too painful. Most days, I don’t like my wife, I don’t like my husband. For some of you, those days have stretched into months, and years. And so, this is what you want to know: is it okay if I leave him, or her?
It may be those factors are putting tremendous stress on your marriage right now. They’re contributing to your discontent – you feel like you can hardly get out of bed in the morning. You’re a Christian, you don’t want to be a statistic, so you’re keeping it together. But, if it wasn’t for what people would say, if you were like everyone else, if it wasn’t for the kids, you’d get divorced right now. Because you’re unhappy. You put on the happy face – few, if anyone know your misery. And you have the little piece of paper that says your married. I know, I said the words, “till death do us part.” But you have no idea what my life is like. So my only question today is: can I bail? Or do I have to stay in the institution called marriage, which feels like an institution – a marital prison.
Can I call it quits? Mark 10 in our continuing study of this gospel. You know we go verse by verse through books of the Bible, which means I did not select this text on the fourth Sunday of Advent when we lit the love candle. I thought about walking over and blowing it out, but realized how painful that would be for some of you – divorced, or in loveless, teetering marriages.
The temptation today will be to think, I hope so-and-so is here. I hope he, I hope she is listening. I want to encourage us to listen for ourselves – because this morning, we’re going to see what Jesus says about marriage and divorce. Regardless of what the real stats are – divorce is a problem, even in the church of Jesus Christ. Mark 10, let’s read verses 1-12.
Jesus has just finished His almost three year ministry in Galilee. He’d begun telling His disciples the time for His departure is near – He must go to Jerusalem, and be handed over, suffer, put to death, but rise again the third day. Having finished His Galilean ministry, Jesus, with His disciples, made their way south from Galilee toward Judea and Jerusalem. At this point, they cross the Jordan, they’re in Perea – that’ll be important in a moment. Large crowds continue to follow, and He continues to teach. Mark, as usual, doesn’t tell us what.
But at this point, we read some Pharisees came to ask Jesus a question. Now notice – it wasn’t a legitimate question – they didn’t really want an answer – they didn’t care about the answer. They were simply trying to test Him, to trap Him. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Isn’t that the answer we want to know? Can I get out? Well, how would this question trap Jesus? At least a couple reasons:
- First, they were in Perea, and the ruler of Perea is the tetrarch, Herod Antipas. Does that name ring a bell? It was Herod Antipas who seduced Herodias, his sister-in-law. Herodias had been married to Philip I, but she divorced him to marry his brother, Herod Antipas.
So in Mark 6, someone confronted Antipas about his marriage to Herodias. He called it for what it was – it was unlawful for Antipas to have his brother Philip’s wife. You remember it was John the Baptist, and it cost John his head. You remember the story – John was arrested by Antipas and put in a prison right there in Perea. He was kept for awhile, until one fateful night, Antipas threw a party. During the party, his step-daughter – Salome – Herodias’ daughter from her marriage to Philip – comes in and dances for the men. It pleased stepdad Antipas, and so in his drunken stupor, he promised her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. She ran to mom, what should I ask for? What would any teenage girl ask for? Makeup? New clothes? Keys to the chariot? Why of course, the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And so John was executed – ultimately for speaking out against an unlawful divorce and remarriage, right there in Perea.
And the Pharisees knew it. And they knew Jesus’ position on divorce – He had told them back in Matthew 5 – His first full-length recorded sermon. You divorce your wife and marry another, you cause her to commit adultery, and you commit adultery. So, maybe they could trap Him. Maybe they could get Him to speak against divorce, get Him beheaded like John, and they’d be rid of this Jesus problem.
- A second reason this question would have been a trap was because of what the Pharisees themselves taught, and the people believed. You see, there was some general disagreement between the Pharisees at this time. The Shammai Pharisees had a rather strict view of divorce and taught it was only permissible in the case of adultery. The Hillel Pharisees taught you could divorce your wife for just about anything. Their understanding of divorce was based on a faulty understanding of Deuteronomy 24:1. There, we read a man could divorce his wife if he found some indecency in her, whatever that was.
So, while Deuteronomy doesn’t specify what some indecency was, the Hillel Pharisees decided they knew. They had a whole list of indecencies which would qualify for divorce. Incidentally, it was only permissible for a man to divorce his wife – certainly not the other way around. Some of the reasons went like this:
If she messed up your meal – if she put too much salt on it, if she burned your food – you could divorce her – that’s indecent. Listen to this: some indecency was eventually interpreted to mean if you were looking around one day and saw someone you thought was prettier than your wife – then of course, your wife becomes indecent – and you can divorce her. Then, you’re free to go after the someone prettier. Sounds like today, doesn’t it?
Here’s some more: if she talked to a man in public, you could divorce her. If she spun around in the marketplace so that her dress raised up to show her knees – you could divorce her. If she let down her hair in public, you could divorce her. If she was infertile, didn’t bear children, you could divorce her. If she had children, but didn’t give you a son, like it was her fault – shows how much they knew – you could divorce her. What it all came down to was this – no-fault divorce – just about any reason you could come up with was fine. Not only that, Moses commanded divorce – if she was displeasing to you in any way, you had to send her away – you had to divorce her and give her a certificate of divorce. Just make sure you do it right.
So, you could say the Hillel school allowed for no-fault divorce – you don’t like her anymore – get rid of her. So what do you think, Jesus, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, is the idea. What do you think about no-fault divorce? And by getting Jesus to answer, they thought they could incite Him to alienate His following. Anger Herod, alienate the crowd – this was a great setup.
Which brings us to the heart of what I want to talk about this morning. Please notice, it’s fascinating when asked about divorce, Jesus answers by talking about marriage. Do you see that? He turns the tables on the religious understanding of the day and says, you guys don’t get it. You’re worried about when you can get a divorce – you don’t even understand marriage. Let’s not talk about divorce, let’s talk about marriage. And there are four things He says about marriage I want us to get this morning:
- Verse 6: Marriage is to be an Exclusive Relationship
- Verse 7: Marriage is to be the Primary Relationship
- Verse 8: Marriage is to be a Committed Relationship
- And fourth, verse 9: Marriage is to be a Permanent Relationship – He finally answers their question. But He does so by talking about marriage.
What do you think, Jesus – can we get a divorce? How does Jesus answer? “What did Moses command you?” He answers their question with a question. And again, they quoted but misapplied what Moses said. He told us divorce was permissible, but we just had to do it right. That’s our question, right? I can divorce, I just need to do it right. Find the right loophole. To which Jesus responded, not exactly. Moses allowed the practice because of the hardness of your hearts. You see, divorce was never part of God’s plan. From there, Jesus goes on to talk about, not divorce, but marriage.
The first point He makes is marriage is meant to be an exclusive relationship. Notice He starts by quoting Genesis 1:27, “from the beginning of creation, He made them male and female.” Male and female are in the emphatic. From the beginning, God created them male, and He created them female. He did that on purpose. The idea is one man, for one woman, no options, no spares, no alternatives. Not Adam and Eve and George just in case Adam was a jerk. He could have done that, but He didn’t. Think about it – if you lived in the Garden, just the two of you, you’d never think about divorce. Because, who else is would there be?
He is your Prince Charming, she is your Princess – gotta be – there’s no one else. The problem we have today is too many choices. If this one doesn’t work out, I’ll find another. But the point Jesus is making is this – think of yourselves in the Garden – one man, one woman – there are to be no other options.
The first principle for marriage is exclusivity: one man, one woman, emphatic – no one else allowed in this relationship. By the way, please notice it was one man, one woman. This is the biblical definition of marriage. So when our society wants to redefine marriage as between two men or two women – that is not marriage, nor was it part of God’s original plan.
But just having a man and a woman doesn’t make a biblical marriage. As I said earlier, some of you are cohabitating and even have a piece of paper that says you’re married, but there is no marriage. You live in the same house, but there is no relationship – you ignore each other, you might even hate each other. But, you’re married. Not with a biblical marriage. Because there are other principles that make a man and woman coming together a marriage.
You see, the second principle is found in verse 7. Jesus says the Marriage Relationship is to be the Primary Relationship. Not your kids, not your parents, not your best friend, not your hobbies, not your health. Speaking of the man, we read that he is to leave his father and mother. In the typical marriage vows you read these words, “forsaking all others for her alone, I will faithfully perform all the duties which a husband owes to a wife, so long as we both shall live.” The “forsaking all others” doesn’t just mean other women. It means forsaking mother and father, and all other relationships to which you were or are cleaving. It is cutting the apron strings and becoming a husband and a father. The same is to be true of the wife. Her husband is to be the primary relationship. The bond between husband and wife can have no rivals. There is a departure from your old family and your old way of life to become committed to your new family – your new wife, and a new way of life. Dependence on father and mother is replaced by a new mutual dependence upon one another.
If you seek your primary human companionship outside of your marriage relationship, you’re looking in the wrong place. Some of you have allowed other relationships at work, your friends, your children, or even the church to be your primary source of companionship. And this morning, you need to look to your spouse and say, you are the one God gave me. I need you. I am thankful God gave you to me. You are first in my life.
So, the first principle is exclusivity. The second principle is primacy. The third principle is found in verse 8, “and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” The principle is this: The Marriage is to be a Committed Relationship. Please notice, He’s building to the answer they want.
In the Matthew account, when Jesus quotes Genesis, he says the man will leave his parents and be joined to or cleave to his wife. The word “joined” or “cleave” speaks of clinging to, adhering to, being bound to, or sticking to. And many of you say, that’s exactly how I feel – stuck in my marriage. The idea is that there is an insoluble bond between you. You stick together – through thick and thin. Again, in the marriage vows, we say it like this, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health.” You’re stuck, and joyfully so. You are joined, you are bound to each other.
And in so doing, the two become one flesh. Speaking consummately of the sexual union, there is also a sense in which the husband and wife, become one in purpose, united in thought and mind through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. While you remain individuals, there is a sense in which, as a married couple, you become one. And one is indivisible.
Which leads to our last principle of marriage: The Marriage is to be a Permanent Relationship. Jesus finally answers the question, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two shall become one flesh, so they are no longer two, but one flesh. [verse 9] What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Remember, Jesus was saying these things in response to the question of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” And Jesus finally answers them in verse 9 – no. Now, many are quick to point out that Jesus and Paul give biblical grounds for divorce, namely infidelity and abandonment because of your faith, but here in Mark, Jesus doesn’t go there. He’s not talking about divorce, He’s talking about marriage. And the original design – what God intended, the creation order, is this: what God has joined together, let no man separate.
You say, wait a minute – God didn’t put this marriage together – I did. I asked, she said yes. We did it – we got married. In fact, I never really even prayed about it. Maybe that’s the problem – it never really was God’s will for us to get married in the first place! Nice try.
How is it God puts marriages together? Does He have one man and one woman in mind – you know, Jack is supposed to marry Sally, and Ralph is supposed to marry Suzy, and no one else. What happens if Jack marries the wrong person – what if he marries Suzy? Then what’s Ralph supposed to do? Jack married his wife. Is that it? Everything’s hopelessly messed up – who knows who I was really supposed to marry? No wonder I’m so unhappy – Jack has my wife.
That’s not what He is saying. What Jesus is saying is, when you get married, when you say I do, you are committing to the most significant human relationship on earth – in fact, it is the relationship God designed at creation. Marriage was His idea. And when you said yes to one another, whether you realized it or not, God brought you together – because He designed marriage. And so when you said yes, you have God’s blessing – and you better not dissolve His plan – it’s His.
Literally, Jesus is saying this: to get a divorce is to separate what God has joined – and therefore rebellion against God Himself. I cannot say that strongly enough. Another way to say it: marriage is God’s idea, divorce is man’s idea. Simply, it is not God’s will for you to divorce – it is your will – a rebellious will against the plan and mind of God. And I know you’re wanting me to bring the exceptions. You’re wanting the same question answered as the Pharisees – is it lawful to divorce. But here, Jesus does not talk about divorce, He talks about marriage. So instead of trying to figure out if you can do it right, put as much effort into staying married.
Okay, let’s look at those last two difficult verses when Jesus is alone in the house with His disciples. Jesus said to them, here’s why you don’t get divorced, “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.”
I have heard people say, it’s okay if I get divorced. The problem is not divorce – it’s getting remarried. As long as I don’t want to marry someone else, as long as I stay single, it’s fine. In fact, I don’t want to marry someone else, why would I make the same mistake twice? That is not what Jesus says. I don’t know how He can say it any clearer – what God has joined together, let no one separate. It is to be a permanent union. For life, period.
In fact, notice a couple things about these verses. First, whoever divorces his wife, who breaks the covenantal union designed by God, and marries another commits adultery against her. Who? His first wife – he’s committing adultery against his first wife, the one he divorced. This is very significant. The rabbis at this time taught if a man committed adultery, it wasn’t against his wife. It may be against her husband or against her parents, but not her. Jesus elevates women by this simple statement – making women equal to men. If you commit adultery men, you are sinning against her.
Not only that, if she divorces you and marries another, she also is committing adultery, sinning against you. A woman divorcing a man was unusual, but not unknown. Do that, marry another, and you commit adultery as well. But what if he, what if she committed adultery first? I know, we want to know the loopholes.
But, Jesus was asked about divorce – He talked about marriage. You want to talk about divorce, but let’s see what my Father says about marriage. It is to be an exclusive, primary, committed, permanent relationship. You’re stuck. But it’s a good place. Some of you need to look at your wife, your husband, and say, I’m sorry. I’ve been cleaving to someone, to something other than you. I’ve not appreciated you. I’ve not submitted to the God-ordained understanding of the marriage relationship. By the grace of God, I’m going to become the husband, I’m going to become the wife God wants me to be. I’m glad to be stuck to you. And the next time an argument comes up, and it will, you need to say, let’s not talk about divorce – let’s talk about marriage.
Finally, and we’re out of time of time, but what do you do if you find yourself divorced, and perhaps remarried. Let me offer several pastoral thoughts as we close. You see, I know some of you have been married, divorced, and remarried. It’s not my intent to beat you up with the Scripture today. But, I must faithfully declare truth. There’s really not any wiggle room here. Yes, I believe there are possible exception – infidelity, abandonment because of your faith, but even then, I don’t they should be used as get out of marital jail free cards. And so, I would say the following four things:
- First, if you are not married, enter the covenant of marriage very carefully and seriously. It is God’s design that it be a lifelong covenant. If and when you get married, divorce is not an option.
- Second, if you are married, God intends for you to stay that way. While our society allows for divorce today for any and every reason, that is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Whatever difficulties you are facing – it is God’s intent that you work through the issues to resolution – to remain married, and to bring Him great glory in the process. I want to graciously remind you of the words of Malachi 2 – God hates divorce.
- Third, if you have been divorced, I would strongly encourage you to be reconciled to your spouse, or remain single. You need to understand, according to this passage, without biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage, you will commit adultery by being married to another.
- And finally, if you have been divorced and remarried, God’s grace is sufficient to forgive. Let me make this clear. Some of you sitting here this morning have been divorced, and remarried – and your first marriage dissolved for some very painful reasons. But, you know they were not biblical reasons. And you wonder – am I committing adultery now? Listen, the answer may be, no, if you recognized and confessed your sin for leaving your first spouse, dissolving the one-flesh union God created, and for remarrying without biblical grounds. If you have found repentance, then all is forgiven – it is under the blood of Jesus Christ. If you’re remarried, remain as you are. God can forgive – in fact, He wants to forgive you. Divorce and remarriage is not the end of the line. God’s grace and forgiveness and healing is enough.