What Jesus Really Said About Divorce (Part 1)

Matthew 5:31-32

Tom Pennington  •  June 24, 2012
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Today we come in our ongoing study of the Sermon on the Mount to a section on the issue of divorce. In the nine years that I've been at Countryside, we have never come across a passage on Sunday morning that deals with this difficult and obviously hotly debated issue. And so as I thought about it and prayed about it, although I dealt with this issue at length on Sunday night about a year and a half ago as we worked our way through Mark 10, I'm going to take two or three weeks to work through this issue of divorce at length. Now why? Why would I do that? Well, it's because this issue affects every single one of us.

Jamie Dean, in World Magazine in an article called Putting Asunder, wrote this: "During a ten month period, an estimated 1.8 million couples got married in the United States. During the same period, nearly 800,000 couples divorced." 1.8 married. Same period - 800,000 divorced. Article goes on to say there are a total of more than 56 million married couples in the United States according to the latest census figures. As many as 24 million of those 56 million couples could end up divorced if the nation's divorce rate continues to hover between 35 and 45 percent.

This issue is huge in its reach. It's also a very personal issue. Perhaps, as I speak this morning, you have been through a very difficult divorce. Perhaps you grew up or are now growing up in a home where the parents are divorced. Even if there's no divorce in your immediate family, sociologists tell us that eight out of ten of us have been affected by divorce in our extended families or our close friends. I think actually that's probably a low statistic. I expect it's closer to ten of ten.

This is also an appropriate issue for us to discuss regardless of your current marital status. If, right now you are married, you need to know what the Bible teaches about this crucial issue. If you're not married right now but you want to be, you hope to be at some point in the future, you too need to know what the Bible says about this issue. If you're not married and you frankly have no desire to be married in the future, you will still have to interact with friends and family who are struggling with this issue. And so regardless of your current situation, this is absolutely appropriate for every single one of us because of its impact.

But there's another reason that we should care what the Bible says about this issue and that's because, as we will see together, the issues of marriage and divorce matter to our Lord. Sadly, like so much of what our Lord taught, His teaching on marriage and divorce and remarriage has been badly abused and misinterpreted.

So over the next three weeks or so, I want to consider what Jesus really said about divorce. Hopefully by the time we're done, we will have looked at all of the major passages on this issue in both the Old and the New Testaments, but we want to center our study on what Jesus Himself taught. And we come to that, we're introduced to that, here in Matthew chapter 5 in the Sermon on the Mount.

Now again, just to remind you of the context, Jesus began this sermon by describing the character of those who are truly His disciples. We call those character qualities the beatitudes, but it is really a description of what those who are true believers are actually like. And after He describes them, He then comes to the body of His sermon, which begins in Matthew 5:17, and He sets out to show that those who have truly become His disciples are committed to a life of obedience to the Scripture.

But Jesus actually goes a step farther. In verse 20, He said that His disciples manifest a kind of obedience to Scripture, a kind of righteousness, that far surpasses the scribes and Pharisees. You see, we do not come into a right relationship to God, we do not come into Jesus' spiritual kingdom by our works of obedience of any kind. In fact, the way we start is by acknowledging we have none. The first beatitude: "Blessed are (the what?) the poor in spirit" - the spiritually bankrupt who know they're spiritually bankrupt, who acknowledge that they're absolutely broken spiritually and have nothing to offer God. So we get into Jesus' spiritual kingdom by acknowledging that we have no right to enter, that we have nothing to gain us entrance, and our only hope is to throw ourselves on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. So we enter Jesus' spiritual kingdom by faith alone in Christ alone. But once that faith has been expressed, once we actually enter Jesus' kingdom, faith does not remain alone. It is followed, if it's true saving faith, by a life of obedience, a life that longs to obey the Scripture and to do so, according to verse 20, in a way that is beyond external conformity like the scribes and Pharisees, but is obedience from the heart and in the heart.

Now our Lord uses six illustrations to make that point. And in each of the illustrations, He first confronts the scribes' misunderstanding of the Old Testament Scripture and then He lays down His own authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament. So far, we've examined just the first two of these six illustrations. In verses 21 to 26, Jesus taught us that His disciples must not only refuse to break the sixth commandment against murder by committing an act of murder, but they must not break it by tolerating even the sinful anger in the heart, or in the words, or in actions from which murder eventually comes. In verses 27 to 30, that we finished looking at last time, Jesus taught us that His disciples must not only avoid breaking the seventh commandment by committing the act of adultery, (we're not to commit an act of sexual sin) but moreover His true disciples must not break it even by allowing lust in their hearts.

Now today, we come to the third illustration that Jesus uses of how our righteousness as His disciples surpasses that of the scribes. But it's closely related to the second illustration, because in the third illustration, Jesus continues to deal with the seventh commandment: "You shall not commit adultery." And in these verses, He closes yet another loophole that the scribes had made in the seventh commandment. Let's look at these two verses together. Matthew 5:31-32. Our Lord says this:

"It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Now there are a lot of difficult things in this passage and we'll look at them together in the coming two or three weeks, but the point of this passage is very clear and that is that true disciples of Jesus must keep their marriage covenant. Jesus' point is this: there are multiple ways to break the seventh commandment. You can break the seventh commandment by engaging in a physical, sexual relationship outside of marriage. You can break the seventh commandment, according to the verses we looked at last week, by allowing lust in your heart – lusting after a sexual relationship with someone. But here, He tells us we can break the seventh commandment by pursuing a divorce without biblical grounds

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So let's look at this passage together. And I want us to begin today by looking at the serious distortion of the Old Testament teaching on divorce. And of course, this came out of what the scribes taught. Verse 31, look at it again: "It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce…'" Jesus here is not directly quoting the Old Testament as I'll show you in a moment; instead, He is quoting what the scribes taught about the passage that He's quoting. They had reduced what the Old Testament teaches about divorce to this simple statement: "Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce." As we've seen in other cases, the scribes distorted the Old Testament when they quoted it. They had a real knack for quoting the Old Testament, but quoting it in such a way as to completely distort the divine intention and they did this with the issue of divorce as well.

Now you'll notice in verse 31 that, in the New American Standard anyway, it's in all caps: "Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce." But here's what you need to know. While those two parts of that expression do come from the Old Testament, this is not a direct quote. Instead, what the scribes have done is they have taken two comments that appear in a particular passage and they've joined them together themselves in order to make them a command about divorce. In the context, it's not a command. They have taken two comments from different places in one passage, joined them together, and made them a command when in the original they're not a command. So they have distorted the original meaning. They borrowed these two phrases from Deuteronomy 24:1. And we'll look later at Deuteronomy 24. But they had distorted them.

Now the basic ideas of what they believed about divorce are all contained in that statement. But to really see what they believed, to see it in its fullness, you have to look at an exchange with Jesus, between the Pharisees and Jesus, that took place about a year after the Sermon on the Mount - probably in the winter of 30 A.D.- just a few months before His crucifixion. Now that exchange that's later than this one is recorded in two places in the New Testament. It's recorded in Matthew 19:1-12, and it's recorded in Mark 10:1-12. Both of those are the same situation.

I want us to look at Mark 10 because it's the fuller of the two explanations. Now again, keep in mind the context. This is about a year after the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is in Perea. Perea is that region that is on the east side of the Jordan River (that's the non-Mediterranean side of the Jordan River) on the north end of the Dead Sea. That's Perea. And Jesus is journeying south from Galilee. He has come from Galilee with a huge crowd of pilgrims headed to what will be His final Passover. And as He's journeying with this crowd, notice what verse 1 says: "Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan (that's Perea, that's the other side of the Jordan); crowds gathered around Him again, and according to His custom, He once more began to teach them." Now these crowds were both the residents of the towns in that area of Perea as well as the huge crowd of pilgrims that were coming from Galilee down for the feast of Passover. They were required, you remember, all male Israelites were required to come to Jerusalem for great three feasts every year. One of those was Passover, and so all those who were faithful came. So this was a huge crowd. Matthew tells us that on the way, Jesus performed many acts of healing, miracles, on the way to Jerusalem. But Mark here tells us at the end of verse 1, that the focus of Jesus' ministry was His teaching.

Now in that context, verse 2: "Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him (about divorce)." Now why would they choose that issue? What was in the back of their minds to bring up this issue of divorce? To understand that, you have to go back from this incident, which is just before Jesus' death, to about five months before in late November/early December, Jesus had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, what we call today Hanukkah. And while He was there, He had a number of run-ins with the Pharisees. The most notable of those run-ins are recorded in Luke's gospel.

Now keep your finger here in Mark 10 and go back with me about five months before Mark 10 to Luke 16. Why would they bring up this issue of divorce? Here's why. Because in Luke 16, in late November/early December, Jesus directly confronted the Pharisees about their love of wealth and He essentially tells them they are going to hell. But notice one of the issues that He raises with them in this context. Luke 16:14:

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. (because He taught about you can only serve either God or money, you can't serve both) And He said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.' (And then He makes the familiar statement we've seen in the Sermon on the Mount) The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Understand, except you, you have no interest. And then He says) But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.'"

Now notice verse 18. It just seems to be artificially sandwiched in here:

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery. Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. . .(and so forth)

He goes on to tell the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Now you have to understand that because they loved money, they had justified it this way. They had said, 'If you're wealthy, that means God is pleased with you in this life. That means He has blessed you because you are righteous. That means you're going to heaven when you die.' And Jesus tells a story in which the beggar lying at the rich man's gate goes to heaven and the rich man goes to hell – not because all rich men will be in hell, but because riches in and of themselves don't determine whether or not you're right with God, nor does poverty. And so the point is, Jesus tells them, 'You, like this rich man, are going to die and go to hell.'

But in the middle of that, He inserts this comment about divorce. Why? Well, it's because Jesus is here directly confronting the Pharisees about their lax view of divorce. He's saying, 'One of those sins that shows who you really are is how you deal with the issue of divorce in your personal life.' He directly confronts this issue. When we think of the Pharisees, we think of those who are fastidiously legalistic in every way including being faithful to their marriages, but that was not true at all. In fact, as we'll see in a moment, the Pharisees were terrible about divorce and remarriage. And Jesus just throws it right in their face and confronts them for this sin. Now that was five months before Mark 10.

Go back to Mark 10.

Now you understand why they bring this issue up again. But Mark says they do it to test Him. They want to catch Jesus. Now what are they hoping to accomplish? I mean, they already knew Jesus' strong position on divorce and remarriage. They knew it based on the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5. They knew it based on Luke 16 just five months before. And they probably hoped to show that Jesus was at odds with Moses in the key Old Testament text, Deuteronomy 24. They may have also hoped to undermine Jesus' popularity with the Jewish male population because the view Jesus took was far and away the minority position in that culture.

They may have also hoped to get Jesus arrested. Remember, Jesus was in Perea when they asked Him this question. Why is that important? Well, that was the region over which Herod Antipas ruled. Do you remember why Herod had John the Baptist arrested? Because of his confrontation of Herod on the issue of divorce and remarriage. And so they bring it up. Jesus is teaching at this point very near the actual city where John had been imprisoned and executed and where Herod held one of his palaces. So they are hoping that Jesus will say something that riles Herod, gets Jesus arrested just like John.

So Mark 10:2 goes on: "Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him, began to question Him (notice this) whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife." Now at first glance, that looks like an honest question, but listen to Matthew's version, Matthew 19:3. Listen to what they really asked: "Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?'" Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all–doesn't matter what it is – is that acceptable? You see, the rabbis agreed on the possibility of divorce. What they disagreed about was the legitimate ground on which divorce could take place. In fact, there was this huge debate. They all assumed that Deuteronomy 24 was the definitive Old Testament teaching on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Listen to Deuteronomy 24:1 – "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, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house…"

Now the key sticking point in that verse was the phrase "some indecency in her". That's a very difficult phrase in the Hebrew. In fact, translated from the Hebrew text, it says 'because he has found the nakedness of a thing in her'. What does that mean? Well, that's the reason for the debate.

You can see this debate and the different sides the rabbis took in the Jewish Mishnah. Listen to this famous passage. There were two rabbis behind whom everybody lined up. First of all, "the school of Shammai (that's the first rabbi) says, 'A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her (unfaithfulness in her) for it is written, 'because he has found in her indecency in anything.'" Here's the other school. "The school of Hillel says that he may divorce her even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, 'because he has found in her indecency in anything.' Rabbi Akiba says, 'Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, 'And it shall be if she find no favor in his eyes.'"

So you can see how this lined up behind these two rabbis. And can you take a guess as to which position was the most popular? You guessed. The followers of Hillel found many possible reasons that a man may want to divorce his wife, including, (and I am not making these up, these are written in the writings of the rabbis) if she accidentally served food to him that was burned, if at home she talked so loud that the neighbors could hear her, if she walked around town with her hair down, if she spoke disrespectfully about her husband's parents. I guess there were no mother-in-law jokes in the first century. One rabbi put it even this way: "If she does not accept your control, divorce her and send her away." You can see how that liberal view of Deuteronomy 24 and that expression 'the nakedness of a thing' or 'some indecency in her' became this huge loophole through which you could drive a truck.

Emil Schurer, in his multi-volume work History of the Jewish People, writes this: "Divorce was relatively easy in those days and the Pharisees and rabbis intended to keep it so." You see, when we think of the Pharisees, as I've said, we tend to think of these people who wouldn't even consider divorce, who were fastidious in every way. But they had taken Deuteronomy 24 and they had shaped it into the view they wanted so that they could do what they wanted in their marriages. You say, 'Did that happen?' Absolutely. In fact, if you want an example of what a first century Pharisee's marital life looked like, a good example is that of Flavius Josephus. We know him as Josephus. He is a good source for discerning the first century Jewish teaching and practice regarding divorce and remarriage. Josephus was born in 37/38 A.D., somewhere in that ballpark, shortly after our Lord's life and ministry. He was born to a priestly family in Palestine and he was trained as a rabbi. At age nineteen, Josephus became a Pharisee by theological conviction and association. And although he eventually became a historian for Rome, he remained what one author described as a generally faithful Pharisaic Jew. Okay? That's Josephus – a generally faithful Pharisaic Jew. He took his faith seriously.

In Antiquities of the Jews, listen to what Josephus writes: "He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever, and many such cases happen among men, let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife anymore; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given, she is not permitted to do so." So whatever the cause is, just give her the bill of divorcement and everything is fine.

Josephus' own life confirms that lax view of divorce and remarriage. Josephus, a faithful Jewish man, a rabbi, a Pharisee, was married to four different wives throughout his lifetime. In his Life of Flavius Josephus, he writes that while he was a young man, Vespasian ordered him to marry a captive "yet she did not live with me long but was divorced. However, I married another wife at Alexandria." In that same work, he goes on to say: "I divorced my wife also as not pleased with her behavior, though not till she had been the mother of three children. After this, I married a wife who lived at Crete." Josephus is a perfect example of the mindset that was pervasive among the Pharisees of the first century and that was: you can divorce for any reason whatsoever as long as you give your wife a bill of divorce. They emphasized the exceptions to get out of marriage more than they emphasized the institution of marriage itself.

So that was where their truncated quote of Deuteronomy 24 came from and where their question of Jesus comes from in Mark 10. Now look back at Mark 10:3. That's what's behind this question. So what does Jesus say? "He answered and said to them, 'What did Moses command you?'" Jesus asked them, What does the Bible say? Specifically, what does the Mosaic Law say? Jesus is asking these supposed leaders, spiritual leaders of the nation, for a clear, positive instruction in the Old Testament about the issue of marriage and divorce. Where do they go? Verse 4: "They said, 'Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.'" They quote (guess what?) Deuteronomy 24, but they don't quote it verbatim. They take two phrases again and put them together out of context. They are right; Moses did permit divorce. But what's the problem with their view? It's a matter of emphasis and distortion. God had spoken definitively about marriage and its permanence in Genesis 2, but they don't go to Genesis 2. God had allowed for, permitted, divorce for certain reasons and that's where they go. The Pharisees were stressing the exception. In fact, they even saw it as a command. That's why they made it a command in the statement Jesus quotes. Listen to what Matthew writes in Matthew 19:7 – "They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?'" That was their view. This is another example of the Pharisees and frankly, of all legalistic religion, missing the big point. Instead of seeing Deuteronomy 24 in its context, they turned it into a pretext for divorce and remarriage.

So if they're missing the point of Deuteronomy 24, what is the point of Deuteronomy 24? Well, now that you understand what the scribes taught, I want to go back and look at Deuteronomy 24 and what it means in its context. So let's look at what the Old Testament taught. And I don't mean all the Old Testament. We're going to look at that in the next week or so. But I want to look specifically at Deuteronomy 24 and this passage that they kept coming back to as the basis for their understanding. Deuteronomy 24:1. Let me read it to you and then we'll make some observations:

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, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband (the first husband) who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

Now, several observations about what this passage teaches – first of all, did you see that this passage is not primarily teaching the Biblical grounds for divorce? There is a hint here and we'll come back to this passage the next time we look at this issue together, but it's not primarily about biblical grounds for divorce.

A second observation is that this passage does not comment on the morality of divorce. It is simply here tolerated and regulated. As one author puts it, "It was not to make divorce acceptable, but to limit sinfulness and to control its consequences." R.T. France writes, "Deuteronomy 24 was not intended as a statement of God's purpose for marriage, but as a regrettable but necessary means of limiting the damage when that purpose has been abandoned. It is a provision to deal with human hard-heartedness, not a pointer to the way things ought to be."

A third observation we can make is that this passage acknowledges that divorce will occur. In fact, divorce was present in Israel fourteen hundred years before our Lord in the time of Moses when he wrote Deuteronomy 24. That's why in Leviticus 21:7 he says that a priest was not allowed to marry a divorced woman. And in Numbers 30:9, he deals with how a divorced woman's vows are to be handled. So this was a reality.

A fourth observation we can make from this passage is that it deals primarily with a specific circumstance that might happen if in fact there is a divorce. It is a case law about a specific circumstance. Notice verses 1 through 3 are the protasis, the if part of the statement. Verse 4 is the apodosis, the then part of the statement. Verses 1-3 describe the specific circumstance. Verse 4 is the law. So what exactly is the law? Look at verse 4. Let me put it to you this way: a man may not marry for a second time a wife that he had previously divorced and who, after that divorce, had remarried someone else. That's the law. That's what this passage is teaching.

A fifth observation we can make is that a divorce must be accompanied by a written certificate of divorce. Clearly, this passage is making that point. This was a protection. In Jewish society, it was almost always the man who initiated the divorce. In Roman culture, that changed; that's why Mark addresses this issue in his gospel to the Romans in Mark, and he deals with women. But primarily, it was the man. And so this certificate of divorce was a protection for the woman. It required that the one who initiated the divorce provide a written bill of divorce. Why? What were the reasons for this? Well, there were several. First of all, it authenticated that the marriage was in fact done. Secondly, it protected the woman from false accusations. Think about what could happen if there was no written bill of divorce. A man gets angry. He orally tells his wife, 'I'm done. I want you to leave.' She leaves, goes and marries someone else which in that culture she would have had to have done to support herself. And then he says, 'I didn't divorce her. She's committing adultery.' And so it was a protection. It also confirmed that person's freedom to remarry. In fact, the Jewish Mishnah said that that certificate had to include these words: "You are free to marry any man."

A sixth observation that we can make about Deuteronomy 24 is that this passage does leave open the possibility that there might be a legitimate reason for divorce and remarriage. It's hinted at in that expression 'some indecency in her' and we'll look at that next time.

But notice this passage also is a warning to the person who wants to pursue a divorce. It's a warning because it says to the man, 'Listen. You better not be too hasty in this decision because once you've made this decision and she has remarried, there's no going back. So you better think long and hard about this decision.'

But did you notice what Deuteronomy 24 does not teach? It does not command that a man should divorce his wife. There's no command to divorce in this passage. It's not what the Pharisees had made it. Ironically, there is a command about marriage and its permanence in Genesis 2. They ignored that and instead they come to Deuteronomy 24 which permitted divorce in some circumstances.

Also do you see what else isn't in Deuteronomy 24? It is not a blank check. It's not what the Pharisees made it. It's not a blank check to divorce your wife or spouse for any reason at all. The Pharisees had become more interested in the concession for divorce in Deuteronomy 24 than in the institution of marriage in Genesis 2. They enlarged what was a gracious concession by God into this massive loophole in the marriage covenant. They emphasized the exception rather than the rule and the result of that was absolute chaos in their relationships. Because folks, listen - you don't become a good soldier if all you ever do is practice retreating. And you don't build a lasting marriage if all you're doing is looking for what are the legitimate ways out. The Pharisees had magnified the exception until it blinded them to God's true perspective about marriage and divorce and remarriage.

Can I say the same thing happens today? We in Christianity today in America are just as prone to do this as the Pharisees were. What are some of the ways that we do this? Let me give you a few ways I think it happens. I think it happens when Christians downplay the sinfulness of an unbiblical divorce. You see what our Lord says in Matthew chapter 5? We'll see it next time. What He says is this: 'If you divorce your spouse without biblical grounds, you have violated the seventh commandment; you are guilty of adultery before God.' That's what Jesus said. We can believe it or not believe it. You can obey it or you can disobey it, but you can't make it something other than it is. That's what it is.

I think another way that we downplay all of this and we do what the Pharisees did is when we manifest such an eagerness to get a divorce that we manipulate biblical passages like the Pharisees did in order to excuse our decision. And I see this happen all the time among Christians. They want a divorce. They want out. Their situation doesn't rise to the level of the biblical grounds for divorce. And we'll look at those; there are some. But they don't rise to that level. They want out and so they start looking in Scripture somewhere for some loophole. There is a man, a Christian counselor, who has written a book and has hung his shingle right here in Southlake. And he argues on the basis of 1Corinthians 7 and the abandonment by an unbeliever, that that's not just abandonment by an unbeliever; that is emotional abandonment even by a fellow Christian. That's dishonest. It's dishonest with the text of Scripture.

It happens when Christians are so eager to seize the first shadow of a reason to get out of their marriages. It's too hard. It's not emotionally satisfying. He's not the person I married, she's not the person I married.' Listen very carefully to me. We will look at them. There are two legitimate biblical grounds for divorce and remarriage. And if you divorce on that basis, you are justified before God and before men. And if you have sinned in an unbiblical divorce – that is, you have pursued a divorce, you have divorced someone unbiblically – you can experience complete and lasting forgiveness at the cross by confessing and repenting of that sin. There's grace. But if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you better not focus all your attention on the biblical grounds for divorce and be looking for a loophole out of your marriage. And you better not presume on God's grace either. You better not say to yourself, and I've counseled people who say this. Well, you know, I know it's wrong. I know it doesn't please the Lord, but I want out so I'm going to go ahead. I'm going to get an unbiblical divorce and then I'll just ask God for forgiveness. Can I say this respectfully? Don't treat God as if He were stupid. He's not going to play those mind games with you. God says marriage matters to Him. In fact, He performed the first marriage in Genesis 2. He brought Adam and Eve together and oversaw the first marriage.

And are you ready for this? He is still involved in every legitimate marriage today.

Look back at Mark 10:7 We're going to look at this passage in more detail in the next week or two, but look at Mark 10:7. Jesus quotes Genesis 2: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh (and then Jesus adds this; so, what that means is) they are no longer two, but one flesh." And then Jesus applies Genesis 2:9: "Therefore (here's the implication, Jesus says) what God has joined together…" Stop there. Read that again: "what God has joined together…" Now remember to whom Jesus is speaking at this point. He is answering a question from whom? The Pharisees. Are the Pharisees believers in the true God? No! They're not true believers. He told them in Luke 16 (we saw it) they're going to hell. But he says to them, Listen. When you got married, God joined you to your wife. Therefore, verse 9, "let no man separate . . ." From God's perspective, no human decision can undo or should undo the permanent union that God creates in every legitimate marriage between a man and a woman. Man is not the lord of his marriage. Woman is not the lord of her marriage. God is, and He intends marriage to be permanent. That's why Calvin and the Reformers called marriage "the sacred knot".

John Murray, in his excellent book on divorce, writes this: "Marriage from its very nature and from the divine nature by which it is constituted is ideally indissoluble. It is not a contract of temporary convenience. It is not a union that may be dissolved at will. Divorce is contrary to the divine institution, contrary to the nature of marriage, and contrary to the divine action by which that union is effected." He goes on to say: "It is precisely here that unbiblical divorce's wickedness becomes singularly apparent. It is the sundering by man of a union God has constituted. Divorce is the breaking of a seal which has been engraven by the hand of God."

Jesus says that true disciples of His must be permanently committed to keeping their marriage covenant. Yes, there are biblical grounds. We'll look at that. Yes, there is grace if you find yourself having violated what our Lord taught. But let the weight of what our Lord is teaching fall on you. Next time, we'll look at Matthew 5:32 and we'll see what Jesus really said about divorce and remarriage. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we confess to You that we are so prone as the Pharisees were, to distort Your Word to get our own way, to do what we want. Father, forgive us. Forgive us and I pray, Father, for those of us who are married that You would give us this sense that You have joined us together with our spouse and You don't intend that any man would separate what You have joined. Father, let that sink into our souls and be a part of who we are. Father, I pray for those who are not married but long to be at some point in the future. May this truth grip their souls today if they are true followers of Jesus Christ.

Father, I do pray as well for those who have sinned in this way. May they open themselves up in genuine confession before You. May they fall on their face and seek Your forgiveness and find, at the cross, full and complete forgiveness for the sin of an unbiblical divorce which is, in reality, adultery before You. And may they find the cleansing power of Jesus Christ to be enough in their lives.

Father, I also pray for the person who's here this morning who doesn't know Christ. May this issue of sinful divorce, unbiblical divorce, confront them about their sin just as our Lord used it with the Pharisees. And may it bring them to a place of true repentance where they fall on their face, acknowledging their sin and crying out for Your forgiveness in Christ. Father, help us to be serious about our marriages. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.