The Pharisees had set out to test Jesus; they were trying to get him to say something that they could use against him and they chose a controversial subject in the sure knowledge that whichever side of the fence Jesus came down on that he would alienate or upset someone.
God made them male and female. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (vs 7-9)
Forced marriages, arranged marriages, celebrity marriages , polygamy, same-sex marriage, civil partnerships, civil marriage, cohabiting, pre-nuptial agreements, messy divorces, divorce settlements and child custody cases all make it into the news on a regular basis for one reason or another. The statistics on divorce are well documented.
Compromises over marriage, in marriage and what marriage is are nothing new, even 2000 years ago Jesus was dealing with some of these issues about marriage and divorce.
When we read those words of Jesus response carefully, we find that marriage creates not just a bond, a partnership or an agreement but an entirely new single entity from the two people. It’s not a legal or social institution, although that’s part of it. Marriage is the joining of two people into one. Do you see why marriage carries such weight? Jesus adds his own voice to his quote from Genesis, he emphasises and draws out the truth from the passage; no longer two but one flesh, united not by man or law but by God. His command is that no one should separate what God has joined.
The concession for divorce Jesus tells us was given because of man’s hard heart. Israel was unable to fulfil the creator’s intention and needed laws that reflected that second-best reality.
Marriage, in it’s purest, biblical form, is a beautiful picture of Christ’s relationship with the church and the picture is clearest in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah:
Abraham, sends his most trusted servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac from his own people many hundreds of miles away. God leads Eliezer to Rebekah; grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor and after he explains his mission to her family he returns and presents Isaac with his bride.
Just as Abraham sent out his most trusted servant to find a bride for his son God the Father has sent his Holy Spirit into the world to take a a bride for Christ a people for his name, chosen with the same particular care and attention.
As the church was chosen in him before the foundation of the world, Rebekah’s marriage was planned long before she knew about it. Like the Christian, God chose to make her a necessary part in bringing about the completion of his purpose. She was to share in the glory of the son, she learned of the son through the emissary of the father, she left everything to go to the son, loving him before she saw him and rejoicing in him. Rebekah journeyed through wilderness to meet him, guided by the servant and she was loved by and finally united to the son.
Isaac, like Christ, was promised long before his coming, finally appeared at the appointed time, was conceived and born miraculously and assigned a name by God before his birth. He was obedient even to death when he obediently followed his father up mount Moriah when Abraham would have sacrificed him, in a way he was brought back from the dead and ultimately would be the head of a great nation to bless all peoples.
God’s Marriage is designed for our, holiness (keep us from sexual sin), happiness (and companionship, to unite us together as one) and procreation but all three have been subverted to a greater or lesser degree. Children are seen as an imposition or worse and Western culture has turned hedonism and sexual sin into an art form.
Explicit sexuality is the energy behind much of our economy, the material for entertainment, the substance of art, the enticement of advertising. Those who believe that sexual intercourse should be limited to marriage are dismissed as moral throw-backs, hopelessly outdated creatures who simply have no clue about the modern world. (Al Mohler)
Above all though marriage is designed for God’s glory. Our main purpose as God’s creation is to glorify him — and marriage is a means of His greater glory. If you take away God’s part in marriage, if you remove that miraculous union of man and woman becoming one flesh then you take away not only the foundation, but it’s real purpose. All you’re left with is the fluff. It becomes selfish and inward looking instead of upward looking.
Jesus lays out plainly his opinion of divorce and it’s consequences for his disciples in case there were any misunderstanding from his words to the Pharisees:
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. (vs 11-12)
The bond of marriage is not made by man but by God and he decrees that it’s a life-time deal. Obtaining a bit of paper to legally separate does not make any difference to that. Waving divorce papers in God’s face is not going to change his mind or change the consequences and yet we have this culture of divorce where a marriage is broken as easily as any other legal contract.
It’s created a cycle of destruction; as it becomes easier to divorce, getting married becomes less of a commitment, after all there’s always a way out.
Those words of Jesus to his disciples in verses 11 and 12 are hard to take in, some might even say they’re uncaring and cruel. There’s an uncountable number of lives that have been damaged, hearts that have been bruised by marriage breakdowns and this strong line of Jesus on the matter appears to condemn and heap yet more distress on to those lives.
But in the very next paragraph Mark reminds us of the real victims of divorce
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (vs 14)
A legal form of divorce is necessary in a fallen world of hard hearts but that doesn’t mean that God has to pretend that it’s OK.