2019-8-11 The Meaning of Marriage

The Meaning of Marriage
Mark 10:1-12
August 8, 2019

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘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.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer of Illumination:

Living and Triune God, help us to hear your holy Word with open hearts so that we may truly understand; and, understanding, that we may believe; and, believing, that we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

We’ve been studying the Gospel According to Mark for the past seven months. We’ve been studying Mark so that we could know who Jesus is. As we’ve said multiple times, we live in a time and place where people re-image who Jesus is and fashion him into whoever they want. As Christians, we want to know the real, historic Jesus. So we’ve been looking at the Gospel of Mark so that we can see who he is and not who culture fashions him into.

As we’ve been studying, Mark has made clear that Jesus is God incarnate; that Jesus is the promised Christ who redeems God’s people. Mark has shown that Jesus is lord over all aspects of creation.

As we have reached the midway point of Mark’s gospel account, we are getting more of Jesus’ teaching. In the last chapter, Jesus taught us about greatness in the kingdom, he taught us that as his disciples we are to be concerned about causing others to sin, and that we need to deal with sin in our own lives. Today as we examine these verses in Mark 10, Jesus will teach us about the meaning of marriage.

Teaching the Word

Jesus and the disciples have left Capernaum and are making their way to Jerusalem. Like most pious Jews of his day, Jesus has crossed the River Jordan and is going south to Jerusalem that way instead of taking the direct route through Samaria. That would put him in the territory of Herod Agrippa. Remember, Herod is the one who beheaded John the Baptist.

And as they are on the eastern side of the River Jordan, the crowds began coming to him. They saw that Jesus was passing through their towns and villages and the people came to him in droves. When they came to him, Jesus began teaching them as had become his custom. Jesus took every opportunity to teach the Word of God to people.

We saw that back in chapter 6. After the disciples had returned from their mission, Jesus had planned for them to get away and debrief a bit, but when they reach their destination a crowd shows up. Instead of turning the crowd away, Jesus taught them. He took every opportunity to teach the people the Word of God.

As the Church, we should take every opportunity to teach the Word. That is my primary job. While I do many things, like counsel and help people in difficult situations, my primary job is to teach the word. Our Book of Order says that the primary responsibility of the pastor is to “preach and expound the Word, to be God’s prophet to the people and to be the people’s priest before God.”[2] That is why I take such pains to teach the Word in worship and in other classes.

When we gather as the visible Church, one of the aspects of our corporate worship is the “reverent and attentive reading of the Scriptures, the sound preaching, and conscientious hearing of the Word”.[3] That is the command given us in Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus called the Church to “make disciple of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” That is why we have reading of Scripture and the preaching of the Word so that we can teach people all that Jesus has commanded us.

As Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees came and asked him a question.

A Misunderstanding About Marriage

The Pharisees asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Matthew adds the words, “for any cause”. That is the sense of the question that the Pharisees are asking Jesus. This is not a sincere question. They are not asking because they want clarification from Jesus on an issue. They are asking to trap him. They want to get him in trouble. They are hoping to either expose Jesus as a fraud or to get him in trouble with Herod. It’s a trap.

Jesus responds by asking “What did Moses command you?” He asks them to think biblically about this question. Remember, Jesus has a high view of Scripture. Scripture to Jesus, and to those who are his disciples, is the very Word of God. It is where God reveals himself to us. Scripture is where he reveals the redemption found only in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ. So when we come to these hard questions about morality and how we should live our lives, we should first turn to Scripture. We should let Scripture speak into those areas. That means we should be reading Scripture on a daily basis so that we know it; so that we can think biblically on tough topics about morality and how live should be lived.

The Pharisees respond by referencing Deuteronomy 24 by saying, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away”. Instead of going to the design for marriage, they go to the passage that is the exception. It’s evident even in the words they use. Jesus said “what did Moses command” and the Pharisees say “Moses allowed”. Instead of going to the passage that talks about the design for marriage and the rule, they go to the exception.

That tells us how they view marriage. Their view of marriage was that it was a disposable contract. One of the most popular Jewish teachers, Hillel, said that if she burned dinner the husband could divorce her. Another popular teacher said that if the man has founded someone prettier, then he is able to divorce his wife for the other woman because she has found no favor in his eyes. Marriage was viewed as a disposable contract.

American culture today has a similar view about marriage. Many people will say that marriage is for individual satisfaction. New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope wrote this:

The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first? Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting … [who] help each of them attain valued goals.[4]

Do you see? That change in view about marriage makes the marriage about individual happiness and satisfaction. It makes the marriage about me. When the marriage no longer benefits me, I can opt out. Marriage has become a disposable contract.

So if that is a misunderstanding of marriage, then what is the correct understanding of marriage? What is the actual meaning of marriage?

The Meaning of Marriage

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘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.”

Jesus tells us that divorce is the exception to the rule because of our hardness of heart. The meaning of marriage, Jesus says, is found all the way back in Genesis 2:24. The meaning of marriage is that one man and one woman become one flesh.

Marriage is not something that was devised by a culture as many people say. Marriage was established at creation. And it was established to be between one man and one woman. This is countercultural. Back then it was countercultural because men thought they could and should have multiple wives. God permitted it but if that was never the design for marriage. It was always supposed to be one man and one woman. Today it’s countercultural because we think that as long as people consent, they can marry. Our culture says if a man and a man want to marry, that’s fine; or a woman and a woman want to marry, that’s fine. But Jesus says marriage is supposed to be between one male and one female.

Jesus goes on to say that the man and the woman are to leave their parents, their primary social bond, and hold fast to one another. Some of the older translations say cleave. The man and the woman are to leave their parents house and unite with one another. And in doing so the two cease to be two and become one. This oneness is designed to last for life.

When people marry, we have them say vows. The vows that we most often have people say are: I take you to be my wife and I promise, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband; in plenty and in want; in joy and in sorrow; in sickness and in health; as long as we both shall live. Did you catch that last phrase? As long as we both shall live. Marriage is a lifelong commitment because it results in a couple, one man and one woman, becoming one.

The reason that God hates divorce is because it rips apart the oneness that results from a marital union. I know that there are several in worship this morning who know this better than anyone else. Some of you have been through the pain of a divorce. And I am sorry for that. I am sorry for the pain that has caused you. And you can attest how true this is. You can attest to the fact that divorce takes one and rips it into two. And that is why God hates divorce.

Now the truth is marriage points to two deeper truths about our relationship to God. First, marriage points to a deeper truth about our relationship to God. We are similar and dissimilar. Male and female are similar, we both are human and bear the image of God. While we are similar, we are also dissimilar. If you need a refresher on that subject, please consult your high school biology text book. Just as we are similar and dissimilar to each other, that is also true about our relationship with God. We are similar to God in that we bear his image. But we are infinitely more dissimilar to God than male is to female. God is all knowing, ever present, and all powerful. We are not. We do not know everything, we are only able to be in one place at one time, and we are far from all powerful. Marriage teaches us that mankind is similar and dissimilar to God.

That is why homosexuality is a serious sin. Homosexuality is a rejection of the other in mankind and ultimately a rejection of the ultimate other in God. That is what Paul tells us in Romans 1. Marriage tells us about our relationship to God.

Second, marriage points us to the deeper truth the Church is the bride of Christ. If you go back and read the Old Testament, you will see that God frequently calls his chosen people his bride. It is all throughout the Old Testament. Song of Songs beautifully describes how the Church is the betrothed of God. When Christ returns, we will marry and be united to him for all eternity. Marriage points us to this deeper truth about our relationship with God. And as we are faith to our husband or to our wife, we reflect the faithfulness of the Church to God. That is why we fence the table. The table is a foretaste of the meal we will eat when Christ returns.

Jesus has told us the meaning of marriage; that in marriage a man and a woman become one flesh and that marriage is a lifelong covenant.

How to Have a Godly Marriage

And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

The disciples hear this teaching and their flabbergasted. Matthew records them saying to Jesus “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”[5] They recognize that this is a high bar. They recognize that marriage is something that requires a lot of work. So how do we have a godly marriage? How do we work to maintain this oneness?

First, husbands and wives need to be living embodiments of repentance and forgiveness. Back in verse 4, Jesus says that divorce was given because of the hardness of our hearts. Because our hearts are hard, we are indifferent and callous to our husband or to our wife. The way that we resolve that is by repenting and forgiving.

When you sin against you husband or your wife repent. Go quickly to them, confess your sin against them and repent of it. Maybe some of you need to do that today. Maybe you need to go to your husband or to your wife and repent of the hurtful things you have done.

Maybe you don’t need to repent of something, maybe you need to forgive your spouse. You spouse has apologize for hurting you and repented of it, but you are still harboring anger and resentment towards him or her. Forgive them. If you’re thinking, “I don’t feel like forgiving him. I don’t feel like forgiving her. When I feel like it, I’ll forgive them.” Forgiveness is not primarily a feeling. Forgiveness is primarily an action. Forgiveness means that you will not hold something over another’s head or throw something back in someone’s face. Forgiveness means that you blot it out. As you practice forgiving, you will feel like forgiving. If you want to a godly marriage, be a living embodiment of repentance and forgiveness.

Second, remember that your husband or your wife is human. No human is perfect. We are being perfected in and through the work of the Holy Spirit but total sinless perfection will not happen this side of Christ’s return. The Spirit will continue to work in us until that day. He will continue to make us aware of our sins, cause us to be repulsed by them, and he will remove them from our lives. But the work will not be completed until Christ returns. As such, even the most godly man or woman sins. Your husband or your wife, no matter how godly, will sin. Don’t expect them to be perfect.

Third, for a godly marriage seek the sanctification of the other. The Apostle Paul says this in Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

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. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband[6]

Paul calls wives to submit to their husband just as the Church submits to Christ. That isn’t always easy. Since the Fall, male and female desires have been contrary to one another. We have been trying to dominate and domineer. But that’s not how it is supposed to be. The husband is supposed to be the head of the family and that means the wife is to submit.

But Paul calls husbands to love their wife as Christ has loved the Church and gave himself up for her. He did that for our sanctification. Husbands, you should be a living embodiment of that. Love your wife. Seek what is best for her. Deny yourself for her good. Build her up in the faith.

Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. It is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman where the two become one. And while it is hard, if we repent, forgive, submit, and love another we will have healthy, godly marriages.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 10:1–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Book of Government 9-5 A. 2

[3] Book of Worship 2-1 A. 1

[4] New York Times, December 31, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/weekinreview/02parkerpope.html

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 19:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 5:22–33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.