Pentecost 19 – October 3, 2021

“God Doesn’t Give Up” – Mark 10:2-12


Introduction: Marriage is God’s idea

Our Gospel reading today points quite directly and unashamedly at today’s theme, and the family is front and center, as Jesus deals with a question about divorce, champions and supports marriage, and blesses children. The Old Testament reading from Genesis 2 gives us the very foundation of marriage – as Jesus said “from the beginning of creation.” Marriage is God’s idea, not ours. In the creation account of Genesis 1 we hear the repeated refrain “It was good” after God had created the cosmic lights, the forests and trees, the seas and rivers, the animals, birds and fish. But in Genesis 2, we hear that something was “not good,” and that stands in stark contrast to the “it was good” refrain of chapter 1. What was “not good” was that the man that God had created was alone. God’s solution wasn’t animals, and it wasn’t another man, but a creature drawn from the man, and yet distinct… a woman. Adam receives a bride, and in this wonderful way the concept of marriage and family steps onto the stage of human history: a man and a woman; leaving fathers and mothers; being joined as one flesh; being fruitful and multiplying with children and families. Even the Scripture sentences we used at the start of our worship emphasized the blessing of family: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain… Children are a heritage from the Lord… Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them!”


1. Families and marriages are broken

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to figure out that society is broken with respect to family and marriage. Let me ask a series of questions that will point out some of the aspects of that brokenness:

Why are we having a lively debate about the definition of marriage?

Why has the word “pride” assumed a completely different meaning?

Why do so many younger (and older!) people choose to live together rather than to make a commitment and seek God’s blessing in marriage?

Why is there a huge escalation in divorce rates – as many as 40% of marriages in Canada end in divorce?

Why is pornography one of the biggest industries in the world?

How have we reached the point where casual sexual relations have become widely regarded as a recreational activity to be enjoyed with whoever and whenever and wherever?

How has this casual approach to sex spread down even into elementary schools?

Why do we treat children in the womb as “a person” or “an embryo or fetus” depending on whether or not the mom wishes to bring the child to term?

Why are there so few children in so many families?

Why do married couples who could have children choose not to?

Why are children abandoned, or murdered?

Why do children run away from home?

Yes, a lot of these questions reveal the brokenness of our society when it comes to marriage and family. And we might think that these questions point the finger primarily at others, but there’s one more question that lets us know that we are not immune from attitudes that are rotten at the core: Why do so many in our churches give implied approval to some of those issues by participating in them, and give unspoken approval to many of those issues by… well, not speaking at all?


2. Where did it start?

What is going on? Where did it start? And where is it going?

Yes, where did this demise of marriage and family start? Well, let me tell you. Our Old Testament reading about the blessings of marriage concluded Genesis 2. The very first verse of Genesis 3 records the words of the serpent, Satan: “Did God really say?” That’s where it started! – with the planting of the seeds of uncertainty and doubt about God’s Word, and about His character, and about His “very good” intentions for us. Then the devil proceeded to flat out contradict God’s Word, and his cunning and craftiness led to a broken relationship first with God, but then also between Adam and Eve. The devil’s tactics don’t change. Our society has been seduced first into doubt, and then into disbelief of God’s Word and blessings with regard to family, and marriage and children. All three are special objects of Satan’s hate because all three find their foundation in God’s good, pleasing and perfect will and plan for the human race – to bring us blessing.


3. People want no rules

So, as we consider our 21st century North American society, what do people want? I think that’s pretty plain! People want no restrictive tell-me-what-to-do rules, and that’s not just about the 6th Commandment.

People don’t want restrictive rules about the 8th Commandment – “You shall not lie.” People prefer to lie when it benefits them. That’s why so many people plead “not guilty” in court, even when they know they ARE guilty. They want to cover up the truth / twist the facts to suit them. That’s why the mantra for politicians is “Deny, deny, deny.” That’s why there is so much dishonesty in our world.

People don’t want restrictive rules about the 5th Commandment – “You shall not kill.” When marriages flounder and bring immeasurable and unending emotional pain, the rational solution in some people’s minds is to end your pain by ending the life of the pain-maker – your husband or wife. Sometimes the solution is to end your own pain by ending your own life. And that is not restricted to emotional marriage pain. If my physical pain and suffering are terminal, and too much for my liking, I want the freedom to end it all, to ask for a doctor to help me end my own suffering, and to not be scorned by my family and friends. That’s where our society has evolved – for the better?? – with respect to assisted death. Don’t think that is only someone else’s challenge and temptation! When unbearable pain comes knocking on your door, and when MAID has been around for even longer than now, even Christians will be tempted to snub their noses at God (in whose hands are the issues of life and death), and to choose when to end their own lives. Did God really say we have to endure that terrible pain when another option is available?

People don’t want restrictive rules about covid. I’m not going to expand on this, but I think we have all heard and seen it on the news.

And back to our topic for today, people don’t want restrictive rules about the 6th Commandment – “You shall not commit adultery.” I should have the freedom to look at pornography – it doesn’t hurt anyone. I should have the freedom to have sex with whoever wants to have sex with me.  I should have the freedom to get out of a stifling, loveless marriage. There is “No fault” car insurance. People want “No fault” divorce, where one or both parties can just say “I’m done” or “things have changed” or “I’ve found someone new, someone who makes me feel loved and appreciated” or “I don’t love you anymore,” – thus changing the marriage vow from “as long as we both shall live” to “as long as we both shall love.” People want a divorce that can be finalized in a matter of hours.


4. Mark 10 – divorce

Let’s get back to our Gospel reading, and Jesus’ discussion about divorce, his support of marriage, and His blessing of children. We actually didn’t start at verse 1, but it introduces us to the setting, the geographical detail of where this conversation took place. It was in the territory ruled by Herod Antipas who had divorced his own wife and taken his brother’s wife, despite the warnings of John the Baptist that this was not lawful. John was arrested and eventually beheaded for his criticisms of Herod and Herodias. Now Jesus is back in the same territory and addressing the same topic.

Some Pharisees pose the question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” It was a hypothetical question, to test Jesus. It wasn’t like the question others asked Jesus about stoning a woman caught in adultery. That woman was before Him. What he said might determine her fate. On this occasion, there was no couple present – ready to act on Jesus’ ruling about divorce. Oh, and we should note that, in Jewish society, initiating a divorce was not something a woman could do – only a man was permitted to file for divorce.

Jesus sends his questioners back to Moses, to the Law – “What did Moses say?” They knew what Moses said. They could probably quote chapter and verse, as they responded: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” If we go back to that chapter and verse – Deuteronomy 24:1 – we find the acceptable reasons: “she finds no favour in his eyes,” and “he has found some indecency in her.” That’s pretty vague – kind of like “things have changed” or “I don’t love you anymore.” But he can write up the papers and send her away. It’s ironic that ‘apoluo’ – the Greek word for “send her away” – can also be translated as “release her” or even “forgive her.” But the man chooses not to forgive her – if it even was her fault alone. He doesn’t release her sin, he releases her. He’s done.


5. Mark 10 – marriage

Now, although the Pharisees go back to Deuteronomy and the Law, Jesus goes back even farther, to creation, and to the foundation of marriage itself. Make no mistake about it – the Holy Scriptures reveal God’s plan for the human family. “He created them male and female.” Marriage and family are not a social construct, not something we dreamed up. We don’t get to define them as we choose. We heard it from Genesis 2. Marriage wasn’t Adam’s idea. He didn’t say, “Something seems to be missing here, God. Besides all the garden work, I’d like to have a little fun… you know, a soul-mate. Do you have any imagination left up your creation sleeve?” No, it was God’s initiative. He created the woman from the man, brought her to him, and Adam received her as a gift from a gracious God. This was the Lord’s will, the Lord’s plan: male and female, a man and a woman, given to each other, the nucleus of a new family. After all, when two become one, the Lord often delights to give even more gifts – the gift of children, the blessing of children… as we heard earlier: “Children are a heritage of the Lord… Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”


6. God’s plan interrupted

But you don’t have to read very far into Scriptures to find this benefit and blessing of the Lord under attack. In the early chapters of Genesis you read about polygamy, unfaithfulness, servant girls as sexual partners, family dissensions, sibling rivalry, fights, murder and bloodshed. God’s plan was interrupted by the relentless attacks and assaults of Satan on this good gift of God.

All of that had been going on for thousands of years when the Pharisees came to Jesus to trap Him with regard to the mess God’s people had made of marriage, and divorce. Jesus’ response was simple, and direct: “Moses allowed divorce because of your hardness of heart.” In other words, men wouldn’t settle for anything less than getting out of a marriage and a relationship that they were insistent on discarding.

But Jesus turned from the negative, from the sin, to the positive, to the blessing – male and female, a man and a woman, leaving parents, giving themselves to one another fully, and forming the nucleus of a new family. And if that’s God’s plan and God’s will and God’s action – and it is, for Jesus says, “What GOD has joined together…” – yes, if God is the actor, the doer with respect to bringing a male and a female together and uniting them in the covenant bonds of marriage, then no man or woman has any business ruining it by divorce.

When the disciples ask Jesus about this privately, He uses the word “adultery” in order to anchor the whole discussion solidly in the Sixth Commandment. But interestingly Jesus broadens the scope of the adultery by saying that if a WOMAN divorces her husband and marries another she also commits adultery. In the Greek and Roman culture in which they lived, perhaps the woman also had the right to divorce her husband. Adultery occurs either way, and that would make Herodias as guilty of adultery as her second husband Herod.


7. God doesn’t “get” divorce

So, let’s bring it into our context and culture. I would venture to say that ALL of you know people who are divorced, and situations where divorce simply made sense: he was verbally abusing her; she was cheating on him; he was gambling all their money away; she nagged him incessantly. In any of those cases, divorce is the reasonable thing to do. Even I have been known to say that what the man and the woman are living in couldn’t truthfully be called a marriage, not the way God intended – as a loving, steady, mutually satisfying relationship. Why doesn’t our Lord get that? Why doesn’t Jesus “get” divorce? Why? Because God doesn’t “get” giving up on relationships. That would be contrary to His nature.

God doesn’t “get” divorce. It makes no sense to Him, because in His heart is a divine love that simply is unwilling to let people go, unwilling to lose people, no matter what. So God came to earth in the flesh – the two become one flesh… the divine and the human, in the person of Jesus. He came to win back His bride, His people, who had been stolen by that deceptive, cunning serpent, the devil. He won us back by defeating the devil at his own ‘death-game’ – Jesus dying as any human being, but rising back from death as victorious God. And by His tender heart that was pierced, and by His precious blood that was shed, Jesus divorces our sin from us, sending it away (using one translation of that word ‘apoluo’) and drawing us close in forgiveness (using the other translation of that word ‘apoluo’). You are Jesus’ bride, forgiven, forever.

Paul wrote to Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.” God doesn’t and won’t back off on His promises. They hold. They hold forever.

I want to close today with a true story from Kay Meyer, former Director of Development for  Lutherans for Life. Back in the 1990s, she was the executive director of a national parent/teacher organization. Their board of directors selected Josh and Karen to be their Parents of the Year. They received many wonderful letters recommending them for this special honor. The board of directors expected them to come to the annual convention to receive the award, but they didn’t attend. She later learned that these Parents of the Year had filed for a divorce. The board prayed for them. Later, Kay visited by phone with Karen and told her how sorry they were to hear of the pending divorce.

Months went by. Then unexpectedly she received a card from Karen. Kay called her again, and asked how she was doing. She also inquired about the divorce process. Karen said, “Mrs. Meyer, my husband and I aren’t getting the divorce.”

She then went on to tell how the Lord had helped her and her husband realize that they were in a spiritual battle and that Satan was the enemy. She said, “Up until the time we realized that we were in a spiritual battle, I thought my husband was the enemy. And he thought I was the enemy. As we prayed and learned more about what God’s Word said about spiritual warfare, we began to recognize that Satan would be happy if our marriage ended. So, we began to pray for healing from the Lord for our marriage. Unknown to us at the time, many people in our church and the school were also praying for God to heal our marriage.”

God doesn’t “get” divorce, because God doesn’t give up on marriages and relationships. People might “get” divorce, and get divorced, but God’s plan and will from the beginning has been – a man and a woman, together… joined by God for good, and for blessing. And if that blessing includes children, well, Jesus wants to take those children in His arms and bless them, too, for the kingdom of God belongs to them. May we, like God, honour and treasure that most intimate of all human relationships, and may we all one day enter the Kingdom of God as the Bride of Christ.

Let’s pray…

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