2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
He never stopped loving her. At the beginning, they both loved each other. He was ready to provide everything she needed, to make her feel safe and to show her how much he loved her. She could not believe how well he was able to anticipate all her needs, to listen to her and make her feel at peace. However, as time went on, their relationship took a turn for the worse. He continued providing for her, but she wasn’t satisfied. She turned away from him and chased after another relationship that promised more. For a moment, she thought it would be alright to have both relationships in her life, but it quickly became obvious that it would not work. What she had done ruined what they had and she was afraid that she had lost him, but he never stopped loving her. Their relationship would be different going forward, but he promised to continue to provide everything she needed, to make her feel safe and to show her how much he loved her. These days a love story like this might seem like a teaser for a new hit movie or TV show, but when we read our gospel lesson from Mark 10, we see it is much more than a new hit drama, it is the good news that Jesus Never Stopped Loving Us.
Picking up in Mark 10, we find Jesus making his final approach toward Jerusalem. His three-year ministry was quickly ending and the events of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on Palm Sunday, his last Passover supper and the institution of the Lord’s Supper with his disciples on Maundy Thursday, his betrayal, trial and death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter morning were just ahead of him. As Jesus moved closer to his final goal as our Savior, the Pharisees’ intense hatred toward him only grew stronger. There was no room for the Savior in their law driven lives and they were looking for any way to get rid of Jesus’ proper teaching of Scripture and his influence over the people. When they confronted him in Mark 10, their testing was blatant and only meant to find fault with Jesus, such that they could condemn him.
Jesus was only twenty or thirty miles from Jerusalem on the other side of the Jordan River teaching a large crowd when the Pharisees once again came to test him.
2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
The Pharisees hoped to use this to catch Jesus in contradicting the Scriptures. They were ready to condemn Jesus if he said, “Divorce was not allowed,” because that would contradict Moses in Deuteronomy 24. On the other hand, if Jesus said, “Divorce is allowed,” they would also be able to condemn him because he would be promoting loose morals and going against God’s description of marriage as the once two becoming a complete and final one. Jesus knew the Pharisees’ goal, so he turned their question back on them and said,
3 “What did Moses command you?” … 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
The Pharisees quoted Scripture back to Jesus, but they failed to understand its context. Therefore, Jesus did not let them get away with their faithless fault-finding quest nor their poor choice of a proof passage. Instead, he pointed them back to the Scriptures.
Jesus fully understood what God’s intentions were for marriage, as he is God and was with God the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of the world. The Pharisees needed to be reminded of the perfect creation God had set up in the beginning, which included his design for marriage. Jesus pointed to the beginning chapters of Genesis in order to remind them by quoting the verses
6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ And, 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’
Jesus made it clear that God’s intention for marriage was that a male and a female leave their parents and establish a new family. This union is so intimate that he goes on to say,
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” And, 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus made it clear that God’s intention for marriage was that it not end, but that still doesn’t explain how Moses, the leader of God’s people, about whom God said,
“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend,”
would allow divorce.
God allowed Moses to tell the Israelites that they could write a certificate of divorce because the good of God’s creation had been ruined by sin. When the Pharisees replied to Jesus and said that Moses gave the Israelites permission to divorce, Jesus replied,
5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.”
Jesus knew Moses had written this law, but he did not do it because divorce is a good thing. Rather, again, in the beginning God made everything good, but mankind fell into sin and the good of creation was ruined, including marriage. Practically, this meant that many marriages would end in divorce, not to mention a whole host of other sins would affect marriage. God never wants marriages to end, but for the sake of allowing a person to leave a ruined marriage, God told Moses to allow the people to write a certificate of divorce. It is important to note that the certificate itself does not end the marriage, but officially recognizes it as ended because of a sin or sins that ruined it. The two sins for which the Bible grants permission to end a marriage are from
1 Corinthians 7:15 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. And, Matthew 19:9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
The practical application of these two passages will not be discussed here as each marriage situation past, present or future is more complex than can be covered in a fifteen- or twenty-minute sermon. In any case, the real issue at hand for the Pharisees and for us was not divorce, but hard hearts.
In order to understand what our hard hearts have done with God’s gift of marriage, we can picture the scenario of a parent giving their teenager the family car to drive. In a perfect world, a parent who offers their teenager the family car to drive would be met with words of thankfulness and questions about how best to take care of the car so that it can be enjoyed while kept in the best possible condition. That would be the case in a perfect world, but we do not live in a perfect world. Instead, when a parent offers their teenager the family car, the teenager often gives an autopilot response of thanks and takes off as quickly as possible to get into as much trouble as they can without being caught, which often leads to the teenager going too far so that they are caught and the family car incurs some irreparable or at least expensive repairs. Now, that might not always be the case with teenage drivers, but you get the point. For many people, marriage has become something they take for granted and ruin, rather than being thankful for it and carrying for it as God intended.
The source of our sinfulness is revealed when you and I fail to honor God’s gift of marriage, our hardened hearts. The Greek word for ‘hard’ that Mark used in his phrase ‘hard hearts,’ literally means dried up and a dried-up heart is a dead heart. His phrase is a Greek version of the Old Testament phrase in Hebrew that referred to circumcision. For Israel, circumcision marked a man and his family as God’s people and as believers. Jesus used the term to show that the Pharisees’ question came from the sinful nature and unbelief. The same sinful nature that filled the hard hearts of the Pharisees is also at war within us. When God brings us to faith, he describes it as a new heart and a new creation, but until we reach heaven, the old sinful nature still remains. It constantly fights against our faith to make us abandon faith in God and return to the sinful lies of the devil. Our sinful nature even works to defend our sinfulness, perhaps most of all in marriage. Husband and wife face the struggle to forgive and support one another, rather than accuse and undermine one another. Each failure, miscommunication, financial struggle, job change, in-law flavored critique and parenting pitfall all open up the door for our hard hearts to attack and keep us from using the healing words of Scripture.
After Jesus faced the test from the Pharisees with the clear words of Scripture, he had to show his own hard-hearted disciples what a heart of love truly looked like.
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Jesus had just finished making his point about hard hearts, then his disciples revealed their own hard hearts. The crowds of people who wanted Jesus to bless their children were being reprimanded by the disciples as if they were doing something wrong. And Jesus was angry with the disciples for their lack of understanding and he stopped them from turning the families away by telling them that those who will be with him are those with a childlike faith.
Jesus took the failure of the disciples and used it to show what it means to trust in Jesus as the Savior. Faith in Jesus means trusting in him alone as our Savior, not clinging to our own ideas of what is right and wrong or coming up with clever arguments to justify our sins. We must rely completely on Jesus alone because without him we are only a dried-up heart destined for death and destruction.
Jesus wanted the disciples to see that Jesus had come to rescue all people. Jesus was eager to bless the children and teach them who he was. The apostle Paul shares the lengths to which Jesus went to rescue us. He wrote,
“25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
All people were condemned to death and hell because of their hard hearts of sin and unbelief. There was no way anyone could make up for all of their sins or make peace with God. The relationship was as broken as two people who sign a certificate of divorce, if not for Jesus. Jesus describes himself as the husband and all of us as his bride. When our sins separated us from him, he gave his life to pay for our sins. And through this sacrifice, our sins are paid for and in the waters of our baptism, we are washed clean from all our sins. So that we have the sure hope of standing before God in heaven cleansed from all sin and radiant, glowing more beautiful than any bride has ever been before.
Jesus endured faithless tests of the Pharisees, the lack of faith in his disciples and the suffering of the cross to save us. He did it all as Paul said in Ephesians 2,
“because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
Even when we were lost, dead and hopeless without any love for God, Jesus saved us and he gave us the wedding vows of his entire Bible to shows us how much he loves us. And as we read all the promises he made and kept for us, the Holy Spirit fills us with faith as Paul wrote in Galatians 5,
“For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.”
We trust in the righteousness Jesus won for us. We trust fully in Jesus like little children trust fully in their parents to care for them just like Jesus said,
15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
He never stopped loving her. At the beginning, they both loved each other, but she turned away from him and chased after another relationship that promised more. That describes the relationship of our first parents Adam and Eve turning from God to follow the lies of the devil in the Garden of Eden. What they did ruined our relationship with God and filled them with fear of his punishment, but he never stopped loving them. God promised to fix the relationship between himself and mankind through the Savior. These days there are lots of love stories that sound too good to be true and lots of marriages that end in divorce, but the good news is that God save us because of his great love for us through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. We are truly blessed to be called his children by faith, faith that Jesus Never Stopped Loving Us. Amen.