Here in our reading from Mark, Jesus, as clearly as anywhere in the gospel’s, exposes two things about the Spiritual leaders of Israel: (1) the complete ignorance the Pharisees really had of the law and the word of God and (2) the disregard they had for God’s true heart.
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Interestingly, Matthew, in his account adds the words “for any cause.” Now, before I go any further I want to say that this is not a sermon about divorce. And the Pharisees are not asking this question because they have a pastoral concern for the men and especially women who have gone through the heartache of divorce. In the first century women were regarded so lowly that a man could divorce his wife for burning the dinner.
The Pharisees ask this question because they wanted to trap Jesus as well as justify their own actions.
The trap is clear – Jesus is in the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas – the one whom John The Baptist preached against for taking his brothers wife. The Pharisees are trying to lead Jesus to saying something incriminating against Herod so that Herod might arrest Jesus and cut off his head just like John the Baptist.
Alternatively if Jesus simply affirms the law of Moses in the way the Pharisees want then he will endorse the Pharisees theology of the law.
Jesus reminds the spiritual leaders of Israel that the reason that God gave this law was BECAUSE OF SIN. The basis of their attempt to trap Jesus is from a law which was based on the hardness of people’s hearts.The irony is that Jesus reveals the Pharisees’ true heart. The divorce law was there to protect women from being heartlessly and cruelly discarded for no reason. And almost certainly some of the Pharisees had divorced their wives for no good reason!
What is interesting is that the basis of Jesus’ response comes not from the law, which was the focus of the Pharisees, but from creation. Marriage is a creation ordinance – God decreed it and set it’s boundaries before the law was given. Genesis 2 says “It is not good for man to be alone.” Why is not good for man to be alone? Because man is made in God’s image – and God has never been alone because He has been in perfect relationship with the Trinity for all eternity. Therefore if we are created in god’s image it was simply never an option that man was to be alone. So God creates a partner – women. Jesus then emphasizes what this means – marriage – the joining of a man and woman is so intimate, and so important that what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Notice this – what God has joined together .
Marriage between a man and a woman is a creation ordinance – a holy act, one in which the two individuals become united in an intimate, special, unique way – one flesh.
Now, we know that not all people will get married, or even want to be married. And the Bible clearly tells us that marriage is an earthly state – Matthew 22:30 that there is no marriage in heaven; For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.
The issue is that marriage is a symbol. It is an illustration of something far greater – it points to a more incredible reality – it shows us the primary intimate relationship that humanity is supposed to have is with God. And these religious experts had utterly missed it.
The Pharisees were a self evident example of the hardness of heart that leads to separation.
The symbolism is powerful and somewhat ironic – they are quibbling to Jesus about what constitutes a divorce when they themselves are in the midst of the ultimate divorce – from God himself – and were trying to lead others into the very same place – something which God had expressly forbidden. What God has joined together let no man put asunder does not just relate to marriage but to all God ordained relationships, the greatest of which is the relationship between God and humanity. And when people try and break or damage such a relationship, as the Pharisees were doing, they are disobeying the Lord.
Of course this was not new. The religious leaders of Israel have regularly done this. It was one of the charges that God brings to them through the prophets:
Ezek. 23:37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands; they have committed adultery with their idols.
Jer. 29:23 because they have committed an outrage in Israel by committing adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken a lie in My name, which I did not command them. I am He who knows, and I am a witness.” |This is| the LORD’S declaration.
Marriage has always been an illustration, an image of God’s intended relationship between him and us.
A single person, following the Lord with all their heart can receive the intimacy and fellowship a married person has through their closeness to God. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Equally, many who are married have less intimacy and fellowship because God is not at the center of the marriage.
The message of the gospel is about reconciliation – restoring the relationship between God and us – something we were not able to do – but God did do it by sending Jesus Christ to die for us.
This reconciliation is about intimacy – about a deep and real relationship – a relationship that we were created to be in – each one of us individually and as a whole body being united in Christ. The language of the New Testament is about being one flesh – knowing Jesus is about having the Holy Spirit IN YOU – residing with YOU 24 /7 – until that incredible day when, at the end of time Christ will be married to his bride – the church.
This declaration to the universe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world and that all who trust in him shall have eternal life and be restored / reconciled to the living God in an intimate and unique way ending in the marriage of Christ to the church – this declaration is a message we must pay strong attention to.
This is exactly what our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us to do – to keep this message close to us.
Now, for some of us, we may have heard the gospel decades ago – some years ago, some very recently. Regardless of when we heard the gospel, the writer to the Hebrews warns us that it is too easy to hear and then let the message drift away.
Now when I say drift away I am not necessarily saying that means you lose your salvation. But it does mean that the closeness, peace, intimacy and bless that God offers us is lost.
Relationships require time and effort. We all know this. And just like a marriage or any close relationship we must pay careful attention to this incredible gospel – to the message we have heard.
If we do not take care of this relationship we will drift apart.
I wonder if any of you have heard of Charles Templeton? He was one of the greatest evangelists in America. In the 1940’s, he and Billy Graham toured Europe together. Templeton grew bigger crowds – up to 30,000 people. People regarded him far more gifted than Billy Graham. But Templeton began to drift away – and over time he lost his faith completely. Billy Graham for a short time was called the new Charles Templeton.
This is the writer to the Hebrews point. The readers of this letter had become lazy, slack, passive in their Christian obedience. They had not woken up one morning and decided to reject Jesus – they were not about to make a life-changing decision to abandon Christ – no – but they were drifting and eventually drifting leads to separation – just like in a marriage – until all of sudden, without deliberate intention, you find yourself in the midst of a divorce. Just as the Pharisees were.
Union with Christ is like a marriage. We must pay careful attention to our relationship – spending time with God – keeping the lines of communication open – being honest with him and being obedient to what he asks of us, which may mean sacrificing our own desires and our own ways. Not that God moves away from us – but we can drift away from him.
Things can get tough in life. Living in the world is not easy. Being a Christian today may bring more issues into your life.
And there are many distractions which can cause us to drift away. And God knows this. He knows we will go through seasons of life enduring suffering, pain, the loss of a loved one, disappointment, heartache. In those times God can take us being angry with him, or disappointed with him for not granting a prayer we have prayed, for the loss of a loved one or for a relationship that has failed.
God can take us shouting at him, or being angry with him or even being disappointed with him.
But here’s the thing. If we remain angry, if we remain disappointed or frustrated with him, then we will begin to drift away from him. We will soon forget the promises of God – we will forget that God so longed to have an intimate relationship with us that he died for us.
The writer to the Hebrews says that EVERYTHING is under Christ. God has left NOTHING not subject to Him. But we do not yet see everything subjected to him. The world does not physically show the Lordship of Christ in it ….. yet. But it WILL.
So, I ask you this morning, do not neglect this incredible intimate, relationship which Jesus made possible through his death and resurrection. Do not let go of the promises that God has revealed to us in the Bible. Do not drift away from the very source of life – the one who through his death destroyed the one holding the power of death – Satan to free those in slavery. Do not drift away from the one in whom all things hold together and one day who will return to restore all things under his rule.
Each day, let us remember this glorious gospel – the incredible reconciliation which Christ has won for us on the Cross, so that we can have the intimate relationship we were created to have with God.
And if you have not known this relationship – then this morning the message of salvation is offered to you – Jesus Christ died for your sins that all who come in repentance to him, trusting in Jesus Christ, will receive forgiveness and eternal life – you will be reconciled to God and begin a relationship which will take you through death into eternity.