Mark 10:2-16 (NKJ) … 6 "But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.' 7 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 'and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
Being a Christian—a believer in Jesus as your Savior—isn’t about doing what’s “allowable,” it’s about the struggle to do what is right. A few weeks ago I spoke with a man whose wife was languishing in the nursing home and he was wrestling with how he was going to pay for her care. One piece of legal advice he got was to divorce his wife. Then, she’d qualify for more social services and government programs; and plus, he’d be able to take care of his own needs. He honestly thought about it; but, in the end, the man just couldn’t do it—he couldn’t divorce his wife. As a believer in Jesus Christ, he recognized that his marriage was more than just a legal contract or a living arrangement; it was a gift of God—to himself as well as his wife.
Sadly, that’s not the attitude of every Christian I’ve ever met. Instead of treating marriage as God’s gift, Satan tempts us to treat it like a curse. He attacks us with all kinds of temptations and accusations designed to change our minds about marriage—to make marriage all about me instead of all about we.
Yet the Lord doesn’t leave us to face Satan’s attacks alone. Our heavenly Father has sent forth His Son Jesus Christ to destroy the devil’s work! And part of Jesus’ work on this earth was to defend His gift of marriage—to defend what marriage is and what marriage does.
I. He defends what marriage is.
First of all, Jesus defends what marriage is. When it came to marriage, the Pharisees were experts in what people were allowed to do. They came to Jesus and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (v. 2).
Jesus understood what this was all about. It was a test; they would judge Him based on how He answered. So, He responded with a question of His own: “What did Moses command you?” (v. 3).
The Pharisees, since they were concerned with what a man was allowed to do, went back to the Mosaic law, to an obscure little section in Deuteronomy 24 where it says that men were permitted to write up a certificate of divorce and send away their wives (v. 4). They legalistically used this little divorce regulation as a way to say, “See, God says divorce is OK.”
And that’s where Jesus jumped in. He defended marriage by pointing out the difference between what’s allowed and what’s right. He told them that this divorce regulation was given to them not because God wanted to legitimize divorce, but “because of the hardness of your heart.” Hard-hearted sinners were going to find ways to get rid of their spouses, with or without a legal means to do so. So, God gave a divorce regulation to Israel to protect abandoned spouses from harm.
Divorce is legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. And to prove it Jesus took the Pharisees back to Moses—only this time to the book of Genesis: “But from the beginning, God ‘made them male and female’” (v. 6). God had the gift of marriage in mind already at creation! “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh” (v. 7-8). Jesus defends what marriage is: one man; one woman; joined together by God in a “one flesh” relationship of companionship and fulfillment.
And if that’s what a marriage is—a lifelong union established by God between one man and one woman, Jesus says it this way: “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 9). Later, Jesus explained it to His disciples: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her” (v. 11). Since God brings people together in marriage, no one has the right to mess with a marriage! If you are in a “one flesh” marriage relationship, and then you decide to get a divorce and marry somebody else, then you have violated that “one-flesh” relationship in the eyes of God. The only time that doesn’t happen is when the other person abandons you or is unfaithful (1 Cor 7:14; Mt 5:32). At that point, the marriage bond is already broken. Obtaining a divorce is just putting down on paper what’s already happened in real life.
II. He defends what marriage does.
Yet why is it this way? Why does Jesus take the institution of marriage so seriously to say that divorce is never God’s plan? Because marriage itself is a gift! And more than that, it’s the kind of gift that keeps on giving! Jesus defends His gift of marriage—by defending what marriage does.
It is no coincidence in Mark’s gospel that Jesus talks about marriage and divorce, and then all of a sudden, we see mothers and fathers bring their little children to Jesus to bless them. We tend to think of marriage in terms of the blessings to husband and wife; but it’s also a blessing to the children who are born from that “one flesh” relationship. In Malachi 2:15, the prophet writes, “But did He not make [husband and wife] one… And why one? He seeks godly offspring.” Jesus defends Christian marriage because children who have both a Christian father and a Christian mother will more likely grow up to be faithful believers themselves.
Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” (v. 15). Jesus’ disciples were keeping the children from seeing Jesus and being blessed by Him. And yet how often does that happen with our own children? You fathers, especially, have a tremendous role to play in permitting your kids to come to Jesus. We know now from long term studies that when both parents come to church, the chances of the children continuing to attend church on a regular basis go way up. But what do you think happens to those kids’ spiritual lives if Dad doesn’t come to church? Or if Mom and Dad break up their marriage? Or if Mom or Dad is unfaithful? Or if Mom and Dad don’t put any effort in at resolving their differences? It can pull the rug right out from under their faith in Jesus!
That’s why it’s so important to follow Jesus in defending marriage, no matter your stage of life. If you’re single and want to be married someday, you can defend marriage by praying for and seeking a God-fearing spouse. And don’t move in with that person before you get married! “A man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife”, not his girlfriend.
If you’re married, you can defend marriage by being the best husband or wife that you can be. Don’t let anyone come between the two of you in your marriage, not even for a minute—not your jobs, not your friends, not your parents, and not even your kids! And if you’re struggling, do everything you can to make it work—learn to get along for the sake of the kids.
You can defend marriage even if you’re divorced! If you were the one that caused the divorce, if you were unfaithful, if you were the one who left, you can repent. You can admit to God that what you did was wrong and seek His grace. And you can honor the “one-flesh” union that He established with you and your spouse, and not remarry. And if you did not cause the divorce, if you were the one who was left behind or cheated on—maybe you just can’t get back together. But you can forgive, and if you have children you can make it your life’s work to let those little ones come to Jesus.
It’s not about what’s allowable, it’s about struggling to do what is right. And marriage and family life—it’s a struggle! And when it gets hard, our sinful nature tells us to start looking for those loopholes, to find permission to do what we want. But that self-centered search takes us to a dark place, where we realize that we don’t deserve the blessings of marriage at all.
Yet think of those children whose parents brought them to Jesus. Those kids were sinners, every last one of them. At some point in their lives, each of those children had done things that were worthy of a spanking. They were born in sin and as they grew, they would continue to sin in new and interesting ways all the way into their adulthood. And what did Jesus do with those sinful kids? “He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them” (v. 16).
And that is what He’s done for us too. Jesus defends His gift of marriage—ultimately by saving us. Even though we didn’t deserve it, the Son of God embraced and blessed all of humanity by coming into this world. Instead of taking the easy way out and divorcing us for good, Jesus made the difficult, heartbreaking journey to the cross where He laid down His own life to save us. The blood He shed has paid for every broken marriage, paid for every time we sought the easy way out, paid for every time in the hardness of our hearts we cared more for our own happiness than the happiness of our spouse. He has paid for our sins in full. And with that payment, God has taken us sinners up into His arms and declared us to be His children, holy and forgiven! He has put His Holy Spirit into our hearts and given us that simple, childlike faith that takes Him at His Word!
And that’s why we want to do what’s right when it comes to Jesus’ gift of marriage, even if it is a struggle. Because we know that He’s done more than right by us, blessing us far above and beyond what we deserve. With the blessings of marriage and family in this life—but also with the blessings of being part of an even bigger family, a family that will last forever. May that blessing be upon us and upon our children. Amen.