Chuck Swindoll recalls reading the sign in a pawnshop window many years ago, “We Rent Wedding Rings.” Just the other day, a couple of ladies in my office were joking about how they wish marriage vows came with built-in expiration dates.
How do you think Jesus would respond to the sign or to my coworkers’ humor? What are His recorded views on marriage, divorce and children?
When the Pharisees 2,000 years ago asked Jesus about two of these three subjects, they did so hoping to provoke a response that would get Him in trouble with Herod, the ruler of the region. Herod recently had been through his own messy divorce and engaged in a scandalous affair that led to war and the eventual beheading of John the Baptist.
This morning let’s not behave as the Pharisees. Let’s not come at Jesus with an agenda. Instead, let’s consider what He says in Mark 10:1-12 with open minds. God wants us to have healthy and godly families, and Jesus has told us two ways that can happen.
God Wants Marriages to Last
Jesus all but eliminates divorce as an option. The Pharisees were divided on this issue. One school of rabbinical thought taught that divorce should be granted only in cases of adultery. Rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, taught that any cause was justifiable. Jesus weighed in on that debate in Matthew 19, but here in Mark He doesn’t talk about exceptions lest they distract His listeners from the rule. Thus Jesus indicates, to quote Abraham Kuruvilla, “Divorce, a sign of hard-heartedness and of non-adherence to Scripture, is incompatible with discipleship.”
It’s true the Law of Moses offered a concession when it came to divorce (see Deut. 24:1-4). As divorces already were taking place, some means of regulation was needed to protect the vulnerable, primarily women. A bill of divorce protected a woman’s status, serving as proof she wasn’t a loose woman or runaway wife should she be considered by some suitor for remarriage. That was only a concession necessitated by the people’s hardheartedness and unwillingness to forgive certain unspecified indecencies.
The command of Scripture, also found in Moses’ Law, is clear and was as contradictory to popular opinion then as today. According to Genesis 3, God made us male and female that we might enter such unions, no longer being two but one. So joined by God, we never are to be separated.
Marriage is designed to be inviolable. Not even the decision to follow Christ for salvation or in service should be considered an acceptable reason for seeking divorce. When listing those relations one might leave for sake of the gospel, Jesus never includes one’s spouse (Mark 3:33-35; 10:28-35).
If all this sounds harsh, you can understand why Jesus’ own disciples sought clarification from Him later; but Jesus gave no quarter. As He saw it, marriage after divorce was nothing short of adultery.
God Wants Marriage to Protect and Nurture Children
Jesus elevates the significance of children. The disciples apparently thought Jesus was too important, or at least too busy, to be bothered with kids. He was neither too important nor too busy.
Jesus lauded children as model citizens of God’s kingdom. That makes sense really, especially when you recall what He said elsewhere about how narrow and hard the path to eternal life is and how only a few find it. Children haven’t lived long enough really to mess their lives up as some of us have. However, Jesus wasn’t talking about the advantages of a short sin record. Rather, He was praising some particular quality in children that makes entering God’s kingdom possible for us all.
What is that quality? He didn’t specify, but I believe (following on the heels of verses 1-12) that Jesus was referring to humility born from a tender heart. Why was the concession for divorce made in Moses’ day? Hardheartedness (v. 5). What will keep a person out of heaven today? Hardheartedness.
So today, if you can hear His voice, don’t harden your heart. Your home down here and your home there depend on it.