Joined to God in Childlike Faith!
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. S. D. Spencer
2 The Pharisees came and asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" testing Him. 3 And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her." 5 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 "But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.' 7 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 'and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." 10 In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. 11 So He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. 12 "And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." 13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16 And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Pharisees are at it again. They want to trap Jesus. So they bring up the sticky subject of marriage and divorce. “Is it permitted for a man to divorce his wife?” It’s a trick question, designed to pull Jesus into an age-old debate. The conservative rabbis say divorce is only allowed due to unfaithfulness. The liberal rabbis say divorce for any reason. Which side will Jesus take? If He sides with the conservatives the liberals will be against Him? If He sides with the liberals the conservatives will be against Him. Either way, He loses. People like to take sides.
Imagine someone coming up and asking you that question: “Is it alright to divorce?” I’ve heard it, “Pastor, is it ok to divorce?” And you better not answer too quickly. Better ask, who’s asking and why? Otherwise someone will later say “Pastor said it was alright for us to divorce”.
Jesus responds in an interesting way. Rather than saying, this is what I believe or my opinion is this He says, “What did Moses command you?” The Torah says quite a bit about marriage. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture”. Don’t lean to your own understanding that only messes you up. Instead what does God’s Word say? St. Augustine and Martin Luther called this Sola Scriptura. God’s Word alone gives understanding to God’s Word and will. “What did Moses command you?”
The Pharisees chide back “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away,” But, not exactly. Deuteronomy 24 says that if a man gets married and finds something “indecent” about his wife he can write a bill of divorce and send her away. If she goes and marries another man and her new husband likewise divorces her or dies, then she can’t go back to the first husband. That would be an abomination to the Lord. In other words, Moses was regulating divorce and remarriage, not permitting it. The Pharisees figured as long as you had your paperwork in order before kicking your wife out, then everything was ok with God.
The Pharisees were looking for loopholes in God’s Word. They wanted lawful ways to get rid of their wives without God having a problem with it.
But Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter. “For your hardness of heart Moses wrote you this commandment.” Divorce is a matter of the heart, not loopholes. Hardness of heart made the law necessary. Hard hearts are another way of saying uncircumcised hearts. Hard hearts are calloused hearts, hardened against the spouse, and hardened against God and His Word. Hard hearts are unbelieving hearts, refusing God’s gifts, looking for loopholes to justify, seeking ways to get rid of one another.
Jesus says: “It was not so from the beginning.” In the beginning before sin fouled God’s very good work. When God made man out of the mud and made a woman out of the side of man and brought her to the man as a gift. Adam said, “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman’ for she was taken from man.”
God’s giving and man’s receiving is the basis for marriage. “A man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” That’s more than simply a figure of speech. “One flesh” expresses a deep and profound reality between husband and wife. Jesus repeats it for emphasis. “They are no longer two but one flesh.”
Marriage is the closest communion that can possibly exist between two people. It is the complete and committed union of a man and a woman into one - physical, emotional, spiritual union. And it’s a closed communion - no one is permitted to drive a wedge between a husband and a wife.
Marriage is the only proper and healthy place for sexual love. Only within marriage can two people be “naked and without shame” before one another. Marriage is intended to be lifelong union. Only within a lifelong union can two people be completely open to each other without fear of one or the other leaving. No other human relationship comes close to this “one flesh” relationship of husband and wife. It is completely unique. The only thing closer is the relationship between Christ and the Church, between Christ and the believer.
We are privileged in this congregation to have a few couples who have been united as one flesh for fifty or sixty years or more. They can teach us what it means to be one flesh. They would probably tell us that it isn’t always easy, that it takes much forgiveness, prayer, and the Word of God. We would do well to take the time and learn from these wise couples whose youthful love has grown over the years into a mature union.
This one flesh union of marriage is God’s doing; His gift. We may choose our spouses; we may plan our weddings, but not always with the Word and will of God foremost in our minds. We may make our vows, rent the hall, hire the entertainment, and do whatever else goes into a wedding. But God Himself joins husband and wife together by His creating Word and calls them one flesh. And “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” This all happens by God’s Word alone by Sola Scriptura.
The Pharisees were looking for loopholes. Jesus instead holds up the gift of God’s Word and His will for husband and wife. They are one flesh by God’s Word. And anyone who dares to get between them is answerable to God. In the end, Jesus never answered the Pharisees’ question. He didn’t have to. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Why would you even ask?
Jesus’ disciples heard all of this. And they had questions too. They waited until they were in the house alone with Jesus. And they ask Jesus about this again. This time Jesus delivers it straight and to the point, as He always does when He is alone with His disciples: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
These are tough words from Jesus. They are hard on our ears. He speaks them in private with His disciples. Only those who have heard His call to discipleship can hear these words. To divorce a spouse and marry another is to commit adultery. End of discussion. In Matthew, Jesus makes an exception where adultery has already occurred. People have tried to mess around with this text to soften it up a bit. They have strained with a Pharisee’s magnifying glass trying to find a loophole. But God’s law doesn’t have loopholes. God’s will for marriage is that this one flesh relationship of husband and wife is “until death parts us.” Anything short of that falls short of God’s perfect will.
Jesus’ words should make us stop and ponder. They should make us think twice before getting married. Marriage is a holy estate and an institution of God. It’s not ours to play around with as we please. You ought to know the person you’re marrying, and you ought to know the family you’re marrying into. You ought to share the same faith in Jesus Christ and be able to pray and worship and commune together at the same altar. We need all the help we can get when it comes to marriage. These words of Jesus ought to make us very selective about the person we choose to marry.
These words of Jesus should make us think very hard before divorcing our spouses. God hates divorce. Divorce is radical surgery with a blunt instrument. It’s never pretty, never clean. It always leaves wounds and scars. Divorce is painful. It’s second only to death in terms of grief and loss. It truly is a kind of a death, when sin has had its way with God’s gift and one flesh is torn in two. Some of you know this pain first hand.
Divorce happens. We aren’t Adam and Eve. This isn’t Paradise. Sin and death have their way with marriage. We live in a divorce-oriented world. If the car is broken we get another one. If the house is broken we move. If the congregation is broken we go to another. If the marriage is broken we leave. Divorce has become alarmingly acceptable in our lives. Divorce happens! It happens to Christians. We need to be honest about it. We need to talk truthfully. Most of all we need to confess it and be forgiven. Whenever divorce happens sin is involved. If there were no sin between husband and wife, there would be no divorce. The danger is that hardened hearts tend to become calloused toward God and His Word. I’ve never met anyone who goes through a divorce who wasn’t affected spiritually. Loopholes in the Law don’t help the hurt, either. They just contribute to the hardening.
All that we can do is what a little child does when he breaks something of great value. There’s no use hiding it or making excuses or blaming someone else. The little child picks up the broken pieces and with tears in their eyes and a runny nose, they set the broken pieces at the feet of their father and mother and say, “I broke it, I’m sorry.”
If you’re troubled by these words of Jesus, bring it to confession. That’s what believers in Christ do with the brokenness of their lives, including their broken marriages and their divorces. They gather up the broken pieces and set them at the feet of their heavenly Father and humbly say, “I’m sorry. I broke it.” No excuses. No finger pointing. No loopholes in the law. Confess it before God and His Church, bury at the cross, drown it in Baptism, receive Christ’s forgiveness and live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. God is gracious to His children. He rests his hand on our head and says, “I forgive you for my Son’s sake.”
Jesus gave His life for us all - the married, the single, the divorced, the little children. He reached out in mercy to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, five times married and living with number six because she was no longer permitted to marry. He defended a woman caught in adultery from her stone-throwing accusers and He absolved her. He bore our adulteries on the cross. He became the adulterer in our place so that in Him we might become His righteousness.
If you are married, let Jesus be the center of your marriage. He is the Source of forgiveness between husband and wife. Only through Jesus can we forgive one another. Only through Jesus can husbands and wives receive each other as gifts from God. Only through Jesus can two become one flesh.
The text this morning is really about more than marriage and divorce though. It’s about receiving things in the way of a little child.
The only ones who get things right in the 10th chapter of Mark are the little children. People were bringing little children to Jesus so that He could touch them and bless them. And the disciples became annoyed because all these little kids were crawling around disturbing their quiet time with Jesus. Jesus rebuked the disciples. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And Jesus took the little ones in his arms, and he laid his hands on them and blessed them.
Only the little ones get blessed by Jesus. They don’t come to Him looking for legalistic loopholes. They don’t try to trap Him in His own words. They don’t split hairs over the hardness of His teaching. They don’t come boasting about their commandment-keeping lives. They can’t even come on their own. They have to be brought, like a tiny little baby is brought to Baptism. And Jesus says, “Look at these little ones. That’s the way of the kingdom of God.” It’s the way of a little child being blessed by Jesus.”
In the way of a little child we receive everything as a gift from God: salvation through the washing of Holy Baptism; the forgiving words of Absolution; the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, the very Word of God which gives eternal life, salvation, forgiveness, and peace.
And in the same way of childlike trust in the One who gives good gifts to His children, we receive the gift of our spouses, those with whom we are one flesh, “for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us” and we so are yoked likewise with the Lord forever.
You have God’s Word on it. So with Jesus and the reformers like Augustine and Luther we boldly proclaim Sola Scriptura – By Scripture alone we know the truth, we know God’s Love, we know His will and His way.
Therefore what God has joined together let no man, put asunder. You are joined in Jesus, in marriage and in this church. In Jesus name, amen and amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN