Let’s imagine that the piano is not there. We won’t mention it or look at it. We will just act as if it wasn’t there at all. No amount of pretending will make it disappear but we can imagine that it is not there. However, what if the piano was on your foot? We might try to pretend it wasn’t there, but the pain in your foot wouldn’t let you forget that it is there.
This morning we look at the pain of broken marriage, the pain of divorce. Like a piano on your foot, we can pretend that it just isn’t there, but it isn’t going to make it go away. Some here this morning have been through a divorce. We all know someone who has been through a divorce. The problem of divorce is very real even if we don’t like to talk about it. The problem is that the church often doesn’t quite know how to respond to divorce. What about divorce in the kingdom? Jesus addresses the issue of divorce in Mark 10:1-12. Let’s read Mark 10:1-12.
I. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is divorce lawful?”
Jesus responds to their question by asking, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away;” they are citing Deuteronomy 24:1 which states: “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, ... he may not marry her again.” The intent of the certificate of divorce in the law was to specifically protect the woman. The certificate was proof of her no longer being married. She would be free to marry again and would not be thought to be an adulteress.
There were two interpretations of the phrase “something indecent.” Some Jewish teachers said it meant sexual infidelity or some other morally shameful act forbidden by Jewish law. Another group of teachers were much more lax in their interpretation. Anything that annoyed her husband was a legitimate ground for divorce. And so for example, if she burned his food, he could divorce her. However, the Jewish leaders saw Deuteronomy 24 as making divorce legitimate. Divorce was perfectly fine as long as you gave a certificate.
But Jesus says this law of Moses was given as a result of man’s hardened heart. It was given by Moses in an effort to control sin, not authorize or encourage it. Jesus says that to really answer the question, you must go back to the beginning before sin entered the world.
However, before we do this, let’s ask the question: Is divorce lawful for us? There are many similarities today compared to Jesus’ day with respect to divorce. As it was then, divorces now are very common and very easy to obtain. In many states, all a person has to do is file for a divorce, and if the two can agree on possessions and custody of children, the marriage is over; that’s it. In many cases, however, the step of divorce is taken much too quickly.
One judge in Ohio wrote this: “To call me a judge is something of a misnomer. I am really a sort of public mortician. In the past eleven years I have presided over the final burial rites of twenty-two thousand dead marriages. The trouble is this: I have buried a lot of live corpses. There was no sure way to discover and resuscitate the spark of life that surely remained in many of them.” A study of divorced couples with preschool children shows that after a year of divorce, 60% of men and 73% of women feel they made a mistake and should have tried harder to make marriage work. Often people have no idea how much anguish divorce causes until afterwards. It is all legal and lawful but also very destructive and painful, and so Jesus’ words are very relevant for today.
II. And so let’s ask the question, “Is divorce what God wants?”
In verses 6-8, Jesus says in effect, “Let’s look at marriage before sin entered the world to find out what is really lawful.” God made male and female when he created the world. The male and female are to leave their homes and become one flesh. They enter a relationship so intimate that they are considered one. Moreover, in verse 9, Jesus says that God joins a man and woman together. God binds them together into one when they are married. And Jesus says it is God’s will that the marriage bond not be broken. And what follows then logically is that if a man breaks apart what God has put together, he is doing something that is against God’s will. And whatever is done against God’s will is sin.
Now what does this say about divorce today? It means that divorce is not what God wants. Malachi 2:16 says, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” God intends marriage to be a permanent bond and divorce negates that. However, let’s make certain that we view this in proper perspective.
Divorce is a sin, but so are so many other things that we all do. We all lie, we all have impure thoughts, we all put others down, we all covet other things and we all put ourselves first out of selfishness. We all sin in very serious ways. What distinguishes divorce from other sins is that it is so public. How would we respond if every time we had an impure thought or did something that was not honest, it was dragged out in public for all to see? Divorce is sin, but so are so many other things we are all guilty of.
Think of the electronic tags attached to clothing and other items for the purpose of deterring shoplifters. If someone tries to steal an item from the store with this device attached, an alarm sounds and the thief is caught in the act of committing the crime. Our sin always sounds an alarm in the ears of God. Nothing escapes His attention. He notes every disobedient thought, word, and deed. Most of our sins are not “heard” by others; however, divorce is a sin that screams out to all around that something has gone terribly wrong.
And so what is vitally important to remember is that whenever there is sin, there is also the possibility of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. If we confess our sins and failings and if we place our faith firmly in Jesus, there is full forgiveness. That is true for all sin, including the sins involved with divorce.
III. So what about remarriage?
In verses 11-12 Jesus teaches the disciples that remarriage after a divorce is adultery. We must also take into consideration Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:9 which contain what is often called “grounds” for divorce. Here Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” And we should also consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:13-15. “And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. If an unbelieving spouse deserts his wife, she is not bound to the marriage and is free to remarry.
What is clear from the Bible is that there are certain circumstances, such as adultery and desertion, which in effect break the marriage bond. Persistent adultery or when a husband or wife deserts means the marriage bond means nothing anymore and then remarriage is permitted.
What about remarriage today? Remarriage after divorce, like divorce, is not really what God wants. Yet there can be forgiveness and a new marriage blessed by God. And in some cases remarriage is not only permissible, but good and healthy. There will be others where remarriage is wrong, not only biblically, but for the people involved. Each case must be evaluated as to its own unique circumstances. Once again, it is the grace of God that we must all commit ourselves to. God will forgive if we believe in Christ and repent of our sins. No matter what it is we have done, God can and will forgive.
IV. So how do we deal with divorce today? How can the church help?
When marriages begin to falter, we need to show our support to everyone involved. That is not always easy to do for it is very risky to get involved in a faltering marriage.
It takes courage to care deeply for those whose marriages are in trouble and who may be going through divorce but it is important to do. We must support both the husband and the wife in words, encouragement and loving actions. And let’s be persistent in our prayer support. Pray for restoration if it is God’s will. Pray for wisdom for those who counsel the couple.
And even when a divorce is final, we must continue with sensitive support. The obvious wound may be gone, but the scars will remain for a long time. Those who have deep hurts like a divorce need a place of healing. What better place than the church? The church can and should be the hands and voice of comfort and support to those who are hurting.
Divorce is not what God wants, but in God’s love and grace there can be forgiveness and healing. We know that from the all the sins we do in our own lives. Are we willing to extend that to the divorced as well and so help them in their healing?