Jesus and Marriage | Matthew 19:1-12
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 19:1–19:12
Good Morning! We are in our series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account revealing Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series covering Chapters 14-20 has been titled the Revelation of the King. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, in all that he does he is revealing Himself to the world. Jesus is also savior of his people; he will consistently point his people to the height of his mission, the cross. Jesus has revealed and displayed his identity as King, he has continued on his mission of establishing his kingdom, and has been declaring the values of his kingdom and teaching/training disciples how they should be in relationship with each other. Sin should be taken seriously and forgiveness should be radically given as it has been radically received. Chapter 18 ended with Jesus finishing a formal time of teaching and training. Jesus, and his disciples, are now on the move. They’re leaving Galilee, where the majority of Jesus ministry has taken place, for the last time and now all movement is towards Jerusalem and ultimately the cross. While Jesus is clearly on a specific mission he never stops teaching and preparing His disciples for the kingdom life they’re called to live out on the other side of the cross. Today we’ll look at Jesus engaging with and revisiting the central issue of marriage.
Matthew 19:1-12 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Verse 1-3 | Jesus followed, Jesus Questioned
As Jesus is traveling the crowds that have been seeking him and gathering around him, are now following him. As they follow Jesus on his mission, He heals and teaches them where they are at. As the crowds of Jesus followers grows, so does the opposition to Jesus. Pharisees come to Jesus “testing” him, literally seeking to ensnare him specifically about marriage and divorce. In that day was an active and growing controversy around divorce with two distinct parties. One side, led by a teacher named Shammai, held divorce was only “lawful/permissible” if the spouse (specifically the wife) was unfaithful, a high standard. This was the predominant view in the day of Jesus, but there was a rising view/school of thought lead by a teacher named Hillel with a radically liberal interpretation of the law of Moses that a man could divorce his wife for literally any reason that led him to find “no favor in his eyes.” While not as prominent when the Pharisees come to Jesus, historically this interpretation became the cultural norm in the Jewish community in the next generation or two. But with the culture war raging, the Pharisees come to Jesus not seeking champion a God-centered, or even “lawful” view of marriage, but to pin him down to one party in hopes of alienating him with those who may disagree on this issue reducing the size and influence of his ministry.
While, their specific intent was hostility to Jesus, and his authority, the whole debate about divorce was really hostility towards and twisting of the institution of marriage. Any clear “debate”, discussion, or understanding of divorce has to start with a clear understanding of the core nature of marriage, it’s purpose, it’s meaning, and it’s application. We get divorce wrong because we get marriage wrong.
State of Marriage
We live a world and culture that is completely confused about the nature of marriage and even misled about the current state of marriage. Today it is popular to bash marriage and hail it’s decline, while divorce is seen as more common even more desirable than it is. There are literally no current examples in popular culture of marriage as a high value or even path to happiness, radical feminists call it modern slavery, while the gay community has been active and successful in redefining marriage in the minds of many in the culture leading to legal and political changes, fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims practice polygamy “plural marriage”. Evangelical Christians are castigated for having “backwards views” on marriage, sexuality, etc. Statistics of 50% of all marriages end in divorce are discouraging for all while claims Christians have the same rate of divorce are seen as damning for the church. Faithfulness in “modern marriage” is seen as futile while happiness or joy coming from it is almost seen as hopeless.
The problem is it’s not entirely true. Harvard-trained researcher Shaunti Feldhan spent 8 years studying current marriage data and found 72% of people are still married to their first spouse. 28% that are not even includes widows/ers. While those that check “Christian” on a census form do have the divorce rate similar to those that don’t, when factors like regular church participation are accounted for the rate is cut in half. For couples that don’t cohabitate the divorce rates are half those that do. So divorce isn’t common, but what about “happy” marriages. Two thirds of people actually report being happy/very happy in their marriages. Great! What about the other third? Doomed to discontent? No, 2/3 of them go from unhappy to happy in 5 years if they remain married. If you’re not happy today know it is not hopeless.
While there is both wild confusion in the culture and hopeful facts with marriage in general and within the church specifically, we have to acknowledge there are still real challenges and issue with marriage, and divorce we need to address. Many of us still get marriage “wrong” and all the statistics and anecdotes won’t help us when we are face to face with difficulty or even disillusionment. This is because of sin we see the world through a “me”-centered lenses. So when we look at marriage, and by default divorce, it is from the perspective of what does is mean to me or for me? Tim Keller calls this “me-marriage”.
Because of “me-marriage” we think too much about what marriage should be. We lace the idea of marriage with expectations based well beyond reality. We have the concept of “soul mate” which is not necessarily wrong but has been twisted to believe there is someone who is completely and perfectly compatible with who you are right now. They are come prepared to complement your life and your desires, while expecting little to nothing in return. They are “low-maintenance”. They are well adjusted, successful in their endeavors (unless they conflict or take away from yours) intellectually engaging, physically attractive, emotionally supportive, all while requiring or demanding little energy, work, sacrifice on your part. They complete accept all of you without you having to change or grow at all.
Because of “me-marriage” we think too little about what marriage actually is.
We because we don’t see the value of marriage as anything greater than for our own personal happiness and fulfillment we are slow to desire commitment and quick to dismiss it’s real value. We believe wrongly that joy is not possible if our lives are no longer lived exclusively for ourselves, our goals, our happiness. If marriage isn’t about any greater good beyond our individual gratification, it can’t be seen as a means to individual character development, growth of the other spouse, beneficial for the safety and wellbeing of children, or even community or societal stability. We make the same errors the disciples do in hearing Jesus teach because Marriage isn’t all about us and our whims that somehow it’s not worth it. If by God’s common grace we do move beyond ourselves truly do see marriage as a valuable “we” effort where “me+one other=more happiness” we fall short if that’s where it ends. If the new “us” remains only about two “me’s” getting the most out of life we will still see marriage as about ourselves. When real-time felt happiness is no longer there with both “me’s” at the same time its division and divorce.
If you’re married what did you “look for” in a spouse? Why did you decide or want to get married?
Verse 4-6 | Jesus Answers
That “We” is actually bigger than we think. There are actually three people involved. Us, our spouse, and God. God’s role is essential in our marriage. Jesus takes the debate and points everyone back to the origin and root of marriage. Jesus doesn’t argue from tradition or from current laws and practices, or personal experiences, in fact he doesn’t argue at all. Jesus goes back to the beginning of creation to say there is a greater design to be held to. He says, “Look at God’s word.” From the beginning God instituted marriage between one man and one women. It was a covenant from God whereby He says the two will become one flesh. A married couple is in that sense a new creation made by God. Marriage isn’t a civil, cultural, or governmental contract; it is an institution of God by God for His people. It was not good for man to be alone so God made a women, not a harem of wives, not a group of random concubines or conquests, not another man, not a group. God made a women and then God preformed the first wedding. We don’t define marriage, God does, because He created it. Your view of your marriage or marriage in general is irrelevant, God has a view of marriage and that is really the only one that matters. Marriage can’t be defined or redefined by anyone other than who created it that’s why there can’t be modifiers like “plural”, “open” “same-sex” to marriage and still have it be marriage. Whatever the reason you had for getting married, God had a design behind it and was in fact making a new creation. That is why he made marriage to be monogamous, two becoming one flesh, leading to pleasure, joy, and intimacy. It was and is His specific plan for creating new human life and setting up a flourishing society. God cherishes marriage as one of his creations the same way he cherishes us as individuals, so our marriages are to be cherished by all involved. Jesus emphasizes the sanctity of marriage as laid out in scripture and affirms it cannot be dissolved lightly. What God has joined together cannot be torn apart painlessly. Marriage is a creation from God, divorce is an assault on that creation. Sometimes things go badly, and division leads to divorce.
Verse 7-9 | Jesus Clarifies
But Jesus, didn’t Moses command divorce to happen? No. The Pharisees taught divorce is not only available and permissible but somehow was urged because of the provision. Provision doesn’t mean promotion. The law of Moses (really the law of God) NEVER “commands” divorce or even encouraged a man to divorce his wife. What it did do was seek to mitigate the disaster and damage of sin and separation on women. Sin was regulated to be restrained if a man wanted a divorce was he needed to follow this law and issue a divorce certificate. This was allowed by the religious and legal leaders who added traditions and clever interpretation to get around the law leading to terrible injustices to women as they were being divorced and discarded for the most frivolous of reasons. Marriages ended when Men’s individual happiness faded or their lusts grew. They were missing the real meaning of marriage, to glorify God, so they misapplied teaching on divorce to pursue their own happiness apart from God’s will.
Deut 24:1-4 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then 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 of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.
This law limited the causes of divorce to “indecency” so nearly all the previous reasons for a man to divorce his wife were now invalid. The law also required a certificate of divorce. A husband could not in anger drive is wife away from the home in shame but then claim she was still his wife so he could save face. This prevented her from being charged with adultery if found with another man. It was a solemn step not to be taken lightly. Man who divorces is NOT allowed to marry her again. She can marry someone else, but their marriage is dead. Seriousness of marriage was emphasized. You can’t walk in and out. The purpose of this law was never to condone or promote divorce but to mitigate its destructive consequences. Divorce might happen but it is not meant to be. Malachi 2:16 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” Divorce is violence, there can be no doubt.
Jesus says, “from the beginning”, before sin, marriage has been for life and for joy. God’s plan for marriage is that the man and the women would “complete on another” bound by Him for intimacy, protection, comfort, and joy. Man’s sin breaks this apart, shattering the covenant, and can lead to divorce. Jesus is raising the standard for divorce well above vague reason of “indecency”. Jesus says there is only one completely legitimate biblical cause for divorce, “sexual immorality/fornication”. Physical, or emotional, unfaithfulness by one or both parties in the marriage effectively destroys the bonds of one flesh enough to violate the covenant. Personal incompatibility, lack of communication, changing socioeconomic status, difficulty in parenting, even different worldviews or religions, are not given as legitimate biblical reasons to dissolve a marriage. He who divorces his wife for a reason less than or different then sexual immorality becomes guilty of adultery when/if he remarries and then drives the women to adultery when she remarries. If you divorce without sexual immorality (breaking the bond) then you are causing the other person to break the bond when/if they remarry. The sin of unfaithfulness in marriage destroys the marriage covenant and can make divorce allowable. Divorce for adultery is legitimate. When legitimate divorce ends a marriage the non-offending spouse is free to remarry. Your relationship to that person is the same as if they were not alive. It sounds complicated, that is because it is. Sin complicates where God has designed simplicity. The big idea is divorce and remarriage are a disruption of God’s ideal for the sexual and relational partnership of men and women. Jesus clarifies, divorce is always deplorable but because of sin may be necessary. Just because you are entitled to a divorce does not always mean you should. God is a God of reconciliation. Adultery is not the unforgivable sin, neither is divorce. It is terrible, but God is gracious. If God can forgive adultery, by His Spirit you can too. Sin of adultery, does not put you outside to boundaries of God’s love or mercy. Repent and realize your sin and go and sin no more.
Verse 10-12 | Self – Denial and fulfillment in the Gospel
We can respond to high standard of marriage and divorce like the disciples and say “it’s too burdensome to be able to sustain a marriage and if there is very few ways to walk away it’s not worth it.” Or we can realize that because God is a good life giving God who loves what He creates we can look to Him to grow care and shape our marriages for His glory and our joy. When Jesus gives a response to concern over the high calling of marriage he points to Eunuchs and a life of self-denial not self-indulgence.
Ephesians 5:25- 32 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Jesus lives a life free from sin, a life of self-denial, to present his bride the church as spotless and clean, in splendor. Marriage at its deepest core is to be a picture of the gospel of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t love us and pursue us because we’re attractive to him, or he hopes we never change. He knows we need to be made clean, we need to be made beautiful. He knows in doing so he making a new creation from something that has been torn apart, namely our relationship with God. God has promised that he will be our God and we will be His people. He says repeatedly throughout scripture. I will not leave you or forsake you. God is in a covenant marriage with His people. Because of sin, we have committed spiritual adultery. In Jeremiah 3 God issues Israel a certificate of divorce. We deserve separation from God, He is just to discard us and yet He does not leave us alone. God cares even more about His glory, His name, His promises, then to let our shamefulness and faithlessness destroy a covenant He made. We should rejoice in that.
God’s character is on the line and He continually displays His trustworthiness to His people. He pursues us even in our unfaithfulness and calls us back to Him. So there is hope for wholeness for singles, there is hope for never ending love for the divorced, there is hope for joy for those despairing in marriage, there is hope for steadfastness and joyful longevity for those “happily married”, all in Jesus who loves His bride the church perfectly. He has succeeded in every way we have failed He is punished in the way we deserve to be punished by God. In the depth of his suffering Jesus cries out “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” God forsakes Jesus on the cross so He doesn’t have to forsake us. Jesus rose again so we could live happily ever after with God. Trust Jesus.