Dear congregation of Jesus Christ,
According to Bloomberg News, “In the city of Hunan, China, staff members didn’t even have time to drink water” because so many couples lined up to file [for divorce], according to a report in mid-March on the city government website.
In New Zealand, a lawyer stated that there would “be a rise in people wanting to separate because they've spent so much time together…. The only other time where people spend this much time together is at Christmas or over the holidays, which always sees a rise in separation rates. January is a good time for divorce lawyers."
And in South Africa only about six in 10 marriages get to celebrate a 10th anniversary. Since the lockdown divorce attorneys say there has been a rise. As one lawyer states, “So far, the spike has not reached us…. There has, however, been a steady increase in divorce numbers due to the deteriorating economic climate in our country. When the money goes, the love follows suit, or at least becomes a much scarcer commodity.”
And you? How is your marriage? Today? Are you finding that your spouse is making you fall more in love with Jesus? Are you speaking about how you can grow? Asking where you are sinning against each other? Asking the Spirit to convict you? Have you found someone as a couple you trust to walk with you? Don’t think your marriage is near what it is supposed to be. By the grace of God it may be what it is, but the room for growth in Christ is great! That is my prayer that we are growing toward Him and not toward separation and divorce in this time.
But first a few things:
First, to the unmarried, do not think for a minute you can turn off now and think this sermon will have no implications for your life. So please do not shut off till the Amen. This message is for you as much as for the married in our midst, because marriage is not about marriage. Marriage is not the ultimate goal. No, marriage is all about a picture that you and I are all a part of! You were born out of the first marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 and if you believe in Jesus Christ you will participate fully in the second.The Scriptures begin and they end with a marriage. The marriage in the beginning was one of brokenness sin filled. The marriage at the end is one of beauty, purity, faithfulness, and love. And we are all part of this marriage story. It is about a bridegroom pursuing his bride. This is the story of a bride and groom on their wedding day by the glassy sea.
Second, we all know someone who is divorced. Maybe they are a family member, or friend, a church member. This message is not only for them; stop thinking about how they will hear it, and hear it for yourself. I am talking to you. Your life in Christ, and how that informs your marriage.
Third and finally, to those who have been divorced or are experiencing deep pain. Sorrow. Loneliness. Regret. I want you to know that there is a marriage that is true, that is faithful, that will be consummated on the last day. I want you to know that in Him there is forgiveness for all the wrong, and sin that has ever been committed. The call to you is the same as to us all today: Humble yourself before the Lord, repent and turn. Find your refuge in Him. There is forgiveness also here. I want you to know that in Him you find safety. You can always run to Jesus. Jesus strong and kind.
Intended for Marriage:
1. Marriage laws for a sinful world
2. Jesus’ standard
3. Pointing to the perfect marriage
Marriage laws for a sinful world
There are a number of reasons divorce is on the rise. Every last one of them is related to sin. A lot of it is because we have bought into the cultural idea of love. Shaped by our movies, songs, TV, and celebrity culture. Which is nothing, but an egocentric selfishness. That relationship is all about you and making you happy. That God wants your happiness above all. That marriage is for happiness. This is a lie.
Yes, it is true that a Godly marriage will lead to happiness. But only if that is not the main goal. The main goal is God and his holiness. God made marriage for holiness. Holiness leads to happiness and human flourishing.
Marriage is not supposed to be there to tell you how good you are, but to show you more and more where you can die to yourself and be raised with Christ. So that more and more your spouse becomes more in love with Jesus when he sees you.
Easy divorce is not something unique to our day. In fact, the religious leaders in the days of Jesus were notorious for this. I am guessing they were feeling a little uncomfortable during this sermon, but maybe especially during this section as they were standing there with their second, third, fourth, or fifth wife.
Listen to what He says, “It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” He is probably thinking about the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 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 hands, and send her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.”
There is one school of rabbis that had taken this and ran with it. You could call them the liberals. It was called the Hillel school. It was an open scandal during that time that the religious leaders were known for divorcing. The famous Rabbi Akiba said that a man can divorce his wife even if he found someone prettier. How very modern. How very wicked.
But, you see, Moses did not command divorce, he allowed it. We live in a sinful world, and tragic accidents happen. A car was meant to drive on the road, and not have accidents, but that does not mean the government does not give rules for when it does happen.
The law in Deuteronomy was a response to human failure. An attempt to bring order to an already broken situation caused by sin. Divorce had to be legislated for and still is, but divorce can have no higher ethical status as the lesser evil.
You see, this legislation that the pharisees latched onto in Moses, begins from the perspective of human sinfulness, not from God’s holiness. Jesus in this sermon starts from the opposite. This is a massively high, impossible bar for man to reach. In Matthew 19, after Jesus teaches on marriage, the disciples say, “then it is better not to marry!” And Jesus does not say, O no, marriage is so beautiful, you can take romantic walks, it is bliss, and romance, and all the rest of the lies you get on the average chick flick. No, He starts talking about singleness!
What we do when we get married is more than say, I love. In fact, it is less about what we do and more about what God does! As Jesus Himself says, “What God has united (or glued together), let not man separate.” Marriage is more than a feeling. It is more even then the promises that you make. The foundation of marriage is GOD making you one.
Marriage in a broken world
But all this is not to say that divorce cannot happen. It can and does in a sinful world. So, it is not what cannot happen, Jesus Himself gives an exception here, but what must not happen.
“Everyone who divorces his wife except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.” Or in other words stigmatizes her as an adulteress. In those days, if you were a divorced woman, you were stigmatized and placed on the fringes of society, many may have even had to resort to prostitution. It is not much different today, tragically even in the church a divorced woman is stigmatized, even more so dare I say it as the men. This is wrong in the eyes of God.
“And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 says, “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.” The Bible gives room for divorce as the lesser of two evils.
Does that mean adultery is the only reason for divorce? No. 1 Corinthians gives another reason. But the point here is only if the divorce was for sexual sin can the person be remarried.
If there is a divorce on the grounds of adultery you may be remarried, but on any other grounds one should remain unmarried. Why? Because God is able to put any marriage back together again. To remarry is to close the door on reconciliation and in God’s eyes is adultery—unfaithfulness to the covenant you have made.
Sexual faithfulness is the heart of the union according to Genesis. The sacredness of the sexual union is at the forefront here. There is something profound about the two becoming one flesh.
Adam says, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” In other words, woman used to be part of man, and in marriage that original unity is restored. To break that would be like tearing a single body. It is God who has done the cementing, this is not a human invention. This is E-Harmony at its best with E standing for Elohim, the Hebrew word of God.
Pointing to the perfect marriage
“Therefore, the man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and not ashamed.” True love. Bliss. Never shame, never fear of rejection. Never judgement. This is what marriage was supposed to be. That is what it will be between the church and Jesus! He loved us when we hated Him, and were his enemies. He loves us now with all our brokenness, sin and shame. And covers it. And He will love us perfectly. O, that we would even begin to love one other like that.
Adam and Eve turned God’s glory to shame. As Genesis says, they were naked and ashamed. The second Adam undoes the fall and turns our shame into glory. And so He can give these “new commandments” which was actually his will for our lives from the beginning.
Jesus is laying down a challenge to the accepted norm, and He says failure in marriage is not the norm. Because marriage is prophetic of the last marriage between God and his church. Some of you are patting yourself on the back. I have not divorced. That’s good, but marriage is far deeper then avoiding something. Then not doing something. It is a picture of the gospel. It is an absolute, undying, covenant, self sacrificing love. Literally dying to yourself.
So, Jesus speaks strong words here because He cares about us, who we are, and how we live as disciples in the Kingdom. He wants us to know and show how much He cares.
Only in Him is there security, in Him is there the ability to love covenantally, even when the feeling is drained, or when the other person is far from the lovable charming man or woman you married.
Christ suffered for a bride that had run away again and again and again after other gods. And He took her back. A bride that continually gets enticed and wanders off. But He calls her, He woos her back. He pursues her. He did this at the greatest cost to Himself. Death. He hung there for love. Not that great feeling, but a holy love.
Marriage will be hard. It will be a cross. But it is a picture of the coming Kingdom. Of Christ the Bridegroom pursuing his bride. Marriages point us to the future marriage, and those who are single are living the future in the present as being already married to Christ. That is why there will be no marriage in heaven. We won’t have need for the picture, we will experience the real thing.
Jesus is making all things new. And in pointing us back to the original intent for marriage, He also points us to the ultimate goal. If they had only obeyed Genesis 2 there would be no need for Deuteronomy. And that is why it is so important to read this through the eyes of the Man speaking, who came to regain paradise! To die so that we might live in Him as the second Adam who would restore all of life, even marriage, to its intended purpose!
We don’t begin in Deuteronomy, like the people of Jesus’ day; we begin with God’s intention. Not with sin, but with holiness. Those who start in Genesis 1-2 will see any separation of what God has joined together as always, an evil. Circumstances may prove it to be the lesser evil, but that can never make it less a violation of what God intended. He is saying this is not what you were created for.
In Conclusion: For those in broken marriages or in divorced, these words may be hard to hear. For their experience is anything but beautiful. But the reason it is hard to hear is not because they don’t believe marriage can be beautiful, but because they long for a beautiful marriage! Because you and I long for them to be true, but you did not experience it so. O, Dear friend, dear brother or sister, I am here to tell you, they can still be true for you. This marriage is what you were meant for. These words are true of all here: whether married or single! For God has the marriage of all marriage planned for those who believe in Him. For those who have repented from their sins, also their sins against God’s Word here. In Jesus Christ, the way is opened!
Dear Church, if you are struggling and feeling hopeless, do not despair, reach out for help! Don’t wait till the last minute, or you have decided on divorce. All of us should have at least one other person in their life who you are sharing with and praying with. We need to hold each other accountable. We need community. Real family. And real family struggles together. Confesses together. Grow together.
Here again there is hope. God pursues the broken, the destitute, the adulteress, the sinner. God pursues me and you. That is what we are, if we are honest with ourselves. Let’s not judge those that have fallen particularly in this area, as if we are any better. Let us walk with them to the cross of our Lord, and there hear his loving words. You can always run to Jesus. Jesus, strong and kind. The perfect Bridegroom preparing us for the perfect marriage!