1 And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again. 2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? Tempting him. 3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For 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 cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”

The Lord Jesus was an itinerant Preacher. He did not stay long in any one place, for the whole land of Palestine was His parish, and therefore He would visit every part of it. The Lord was determined to preach the gospel to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He wanted to give instructions to those in the remotest corners of the land.

For this reason, Jesus traveled to Judea, where He crossed the Jordan to be on the eastern side of that body of water. And the people came to Christ. Wherever the Lord was, people gathered after Him in crowds; they came to Christ again, as they had done when He had first been in these parts, and, as Jesus was inclined to do, He taught them again.

Preaching was Christ’s constant practice; it was what He wanted to do. It was what He was under compulsion to do. The Lord longed for the world to know that He had come to seek and to save that which was lost. No other message was more important than the gospel. No other message today is more important than the way of salvation, leading to eternal life.

Not only did Jesus preach the gospel, but, according to Matthew, He healed the sick. What a lovely picture we have here of Christ: teaching and touching. He taught their hearts, He healed their bodies, and showed Himself the complete Saviour.

In as far as the Lord’s teaching, we are told specifically that “He taught them again.” Not all-spiritual truth is learned at once, or the first time. Most Christians have to be taught again. We are like little children in school on a sunny spring day. Our minds are often distracted. We want to be elsewhere than in the divine school, learning the hard lessons of life. We need to be taught again—and in sovereign grace the Lord does just that. “Such is the fullness of the Christian doctrine, that there is still more to be learned; and such our forgetfulness, that we need to be reminded of what we do know” (Matthew Henry).

While the Lord was teaching, some Pharisees who wanted to undermine His authority approached him. The Pharisees, as a ruling religious body, envied the progress of the Lord’s popularity with the people. They did all they could to obstruct and oppose it. The Pharisee tried to divert Christ, to perplex Him, and ultimately to prejudice the people against Him.

One technique the Pharisees used to discredit Christ, was to place Him in opposition to Moses. By loving Moses, and holding him forth as their champion and ultimate authority, the Pharisee thought they could turn the hearts of people away from Christ, and this would have happened too, if Jesus were perceived as questioning the Law. But Moses and Christ are not in competition. They never were, and never will be, reflected in the Mount of Transfiguration where wonderful fellowship took place in glory.

Nevertheless, the Pharisees had a question. It was not going to be a new question, for Christ had already addressed the issue they were concerned about, which was divorce (Mark 10: 2). What the Pharisees wanted to know was whether or not it was lawful for a man to put away his wife? [Matthew, adds the words “for every cause”]. The whole question was this: “Jesus, it is right to divorce a woman for every cause?”

There were three factors compelling the asking of the divorce question.

First, as we have noted, the Pharisees were jealous of the popularity of Christ, and wanted to discredit Him.

Second, the Pharisees were constantly tempting, or testing Christ. They wanted Him to sin. They wanted Him to err. They wanted for Jesus to say, or do, something that would cause Him to be no better than they.

Third, there was a popular religious debate in Jewish society about the matter of divorce. Two leading Rabbis had voiced conflicting opinions, and found many followers. One Rabbi, named Hillel, taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. If she burnt the meal, if she spoke to another man in public, if the wife displeased her husband in any manner, he had freedom to divorce her. Another Rabbi, named Shimei, said that such teaching and practice was wrong. Only for some form of “uncleanness” could a man divorce His wife.

Obviously, the teaching of both Rabbis could not be correct. People were confused. Society was in turmoil. What should be the basis for divorce, if any?

In and of itself, the question the Pharisees asked the Lord that day was a good one. Had the men come to Christ with a humble desire to know the mind of God in this matter, they would have been doing the world a good deed. But their secret motive to hurt the Sovereign made the inquiry sinister. Nevertheless, Jesus decided to answer. They wanted to know about the proper basis for divorce, He would tell them something about marriage.

But first, the Lord would clarify the discussion. To do this, Jesus asked the Pharisees what Moses had said about divorce (Mark 10:3). “What did Moses command you?” And they said quite accurately, “Moses suffered [or permitted] to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.”

With this response, the Pharisee demonstrated a comprehension that Moses did not mandate divorce, but permitted it. It was correctly noted that when the act of separation took place, a certificate of departure was to be given to the woman giving her freedom to remarry.

In as far as they stated what Moses said, the Pharisees were accurate. Moses did instruct that an official document testifying to the separation be handed to the women in person (Deut 24:1-4). However, what was missing in the response by the Pharisees, and their quoting of Moses, was the proper cause for divorce. In other words, the Pharisees said nothing as to the grounds on which a man could divorce his wife.

The Pharisee had asked Jesus on what basis a man could send his wife away and Jesus said in effect, “You tell me!” Rather than do that, the Pharisees simply spoke of the mechanics of marital separation, not the proper basis for the same. And then they were silent.

It was the Lord’s turn to respond, and He does. In His answer, Christ rebuked the Pharisees, and then He took them, and all who are interested in this topic, back to the original intent of creation. Several strong points are made.

God made woman for man, and man for woman. God did not make Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve. “From the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” Our generation needs to remember the divine mandate, because the homosexual community is convincing society that their alternative lifestyle must be accepted. It is very possible, that soon, we will have a President of the United States who is openly sympathetic to the homosexual lifestyle, because it is being practiced in his own household.

It is one thing when an individual does that which is wrong, it is quite a different matter to concede to it, approve it, and openly accept the unspeakable.

By the making of male and female, God intended for independent homes to be established with the expressed purpose of reproducing. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh” (Mark 10:7).

The purpose of marriage is permanency.  “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9). Because of sin, permission may be granted for the dissolution of the marital relationship, but the divine intent is permanency.

One reason for the intent of the divine permanency in the marital relationship is taught in Ephesians. The Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:25-32).

The state of marriage is designed, in part, to demonstrate a spiritual relationship of Christ’s intimate love for the church.

By giving this threefold response to the Pharisees, the Lord sided with the conservative Rabbi, and said in effect, “A man may not divorce his wife for every cause.”

While we are not surprised that Christ would take the conservative position, the disciples were. In fact, as they thought about the Lord’s teaching someone said, “If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (Matt 19:10). Apparently, the disciples were thinking that if a man did not have any control over the ultimate marital state, if a man could not divorce his wife for any cause, then his authority would be undermined.

Maybe it would be better not to marry. We are not sure who thought such things, and articulated them. It could not have been Peter, for he was already married, but there was a general consensus among the disciples as a group.

Rather than reduce the high standard He had set for the marital state, Jesus added an additional thought. For a man to divorce his wife, apart from a legitimate basis in order to be with another women would be tantamount to committing adultery. And the same would be true if a woman divorced her husband apart from a biblical standard.

What does all this mean?

First, God hates divorce. One of the charges that God leveled against Israel, is that married couples were hurting each other through easy divorces. “Therefore, take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away” (Malachi 2:15, 16).

Second, the Lord, who did not lower His standards for the Pharisees, or the disciples, will not lower them for the present society. Therefore, we must learn well the great principles set forth in this passage.

Third, marriage is for men and women, and not between members of the same sex. Any attempt at a same sex marriage remains an absolute abomination before the Lord. No man can be married in the sight of God to another man. It is a ridiculous thought to think of a homosexual relationship as a marriage in any normal sense. To speak of two homosexuals as being married, or to speak of two lesbians as being married is to make a mockery of language and tradition.

Fourth, marriage is for the purpose of establishing loving homes, where children are welcomed and loved, not molested, or indoctrinated in a lifestyle of perversion.

Fifth, marriage is permanent. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder for every silly cause.

Finally, indiscriminate sexual relationships in which marital partners are freely exchanged are prohibited.

These general principles set forth from this passage can be very disturbing to members of our society.

The temptation comes to make the words of Jesus mean less than what they do. The temptation comes to dismiss the Lord’s ethical teaching in a high-handed manner. The Christian does not want to do either of these. Rather, we want to keep the faith. Gospel faith is kept, and Christ is honored in two ways.

Christ is honored by His people avoiding improper relationships leading to a temptation to do wrong. Many a friendship has gone too far, if the truth were told, leading to regrettable results.

Christ is honored by His people dealing honestly with the past. In a fallen world people do hurt one another in the home. Domestic violence produces alarming statistics each year of bloodshed and beatings. There is verbal abuse, and mental cruelty. And more often than not, marital separation. Sometimes it is justified; often it is not.

The main concern for those who are the product of a broken past is whether or not God will forgive. And the answer is yes, but the past has to be dealt with. Let me suggest four ways to deal with the past.

First, realize that whatever inappropriate relationships have been embraced in the past cannot be reversed. There are some actions in life that cannot be mended.

Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, and plunged all of humanity into sin.
Moses killed an Egyptian, and tried to cover up his crime.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba, and murdered her husband. While his repentance is recorded in Psalm 51, the consequences of his actions are recorded in Hebrew history. David endured a fourfold measure of divine discipline. His acceptance of God’s judgment led to his redemption and restoration to divine favor.
Peter denied the Lord three times.
Saul of Tarsus stood by while a saint was stoned to death.

The point is established. There are some terrible actions that cannot be reversed. If there is to be any personal redemption, it is to be found in the future, not in going back to the past, and trying to undo what has been done. God accepts us where we are, and we go on from there. Christ died at Calvary in order to pardon sin, and give grace to keep His commandments. Matthew Henry notes that “Wisdom and grace, holiness and love, reigning in the heart, will make those commands easy which to the carnal mind may be as a heavy yoke.”

Second, receive the forgiveness that is offered by Jesus Christ. Baptism reflects that divine forgiveness. Peter tells us that figuratively, baptism saves us as it speaks of a good conscience toward God (1 Pet 3:21).

Third, remember the past no more. A sin honestly, openly, and sincerely confessed, will never be used as a basis for future condemnation.

Lest anyone despair, let me hasten to add that I have not addressed all of the biblical bases for divorce. In another setting we could see that there are several reasons for the right to divorce. And, biblically, the right to divorce gave the freedom to remarry. Jesus mentioned one reason for divorce when He spoke of “uncleanness”. Paul addresses the matter of desertion.  The Law of Moses, from which both Jesus and Paul referred, provided three grounds for divorce, according to rabbinical interpretation.

Fourth, rejoice that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.

Today, no matter what our past, God wants us to rejoice, as we embrace a high standard for our hearts and homes.

The conclusion of the matter is this. No Christian should ever object to the grand principles set forth by Christ: marriage is for men and women, marriage is the proper place for expressing intimate love in a natural way, marriage is permanent, and indiscriminate sexual relationships are forbidden.

In as far as we presently commit ourselves to these principles our hearts will be set free from past indiscretions, and our homes will be made secure in Christ. May the Lord grant us grace to enjoy the forgiveness of our failures in the sphere of saving grace, without future compromise of character of conduct. Amen.

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