Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage – Mark 10:1-12
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 10:1-12, this morning.
There is a considerable issue here in our text. It is the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. I’m not going to lie, when I first mapped out this sermon series, back in June of last year, this was one of the sermons that I knew was going to be one that I would wrestle with, exceptionally. Not that I haven't wrestled with some of these other passages in Mark, but just that I knew this was going to be a very hard text to preach.
But since my calling is to preach the whole counsel of God, including hard passages of Scripture, though this text is hard and though I would love to preach a softer text for you today, this is what God has placed before us, and it is in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that we come to our text this morning.
I know that this topic is one that touches all of us, in some capacity, whether we know someone who has gone through divorce, or divorce and remarriage, or whether we have gone through this, ourselves. I am aware that there are some here who have or who are experiencing great pain and difficulty in their marriage.
And thankfully, it is not what I say that matters, but what Jesus has already said on this topic that matters. And it’s in this passage that we see the heart of Jesus.
So, I’m just going to read our passage for us, and then we will dive in. Mark 10, beginning in verse 1: “And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ 3 He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ 4 They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ 5 And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” 7 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” Let’s open with a word of prayer…
Heavenly Father, we ask that you would quiet our spirits and open your Word to us, now, that we may encounter your wisdom in the words of Scripture that are before us, and that we may be fed the bread of Life, through Christ, the living Word. This we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
On July 28, 2012, I made the following vow: “I, Brenden, take you, Helena, to be my wedded wife. With deepest joy, I receive you into my life that together we may be one. As is Christ to His Body, the Church, so I will be to you a loving and faithful husband. Always will I perform my headship over you, even as Christ does over me, knowing that His Lordship is one of the holiest desires for my life. I promise you my deepest love, my fullest devotion, my most tender care. I promise that I will live first unto God rather than others or even you. I promise that I will lead our lives into a life of faith and hope in Christ Jesus, ever honouring God’s guidance by His Spirit through the Word. And so, throughout life, no matter what may lie ahead of us, I pledge to you my life as a loving and faithful husband.”
On that day, I made a commitment to Helena, to love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, and faithfully keep myself for her alone, as long as we both lived. Many of you made similar commitments to your spouse, where you promised certain things to each other.
But then, the wedding day eventually comes to an end, and life together begins, and problems start to arise. You know what I'm talking about. And suddenly, the commitments, the promises you made to one another on that day, in front of God and all those witnesses, are going to be put to the test.
And sadly, when problems arise in the marriage, the response of many is to get a divorce. According to Statistics Canada, 38% of Canadian marriages end in divorce. This number is staggering, but it shouldn’t surprise us, with how common and casual divorce has become, even within the church.
I am aware that this is a very delicate topic and that each person’s situation is going to be different. I will not be able to answer all of your questions about divorce and remarriage. All I can do is remain as faithful to the text as I can and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of illumination in our hearts.
But what we are going to see, for our time together, this morning, is that marriage is God’s idea, divorce is not God’s intention, and remarriage should be approached with caution. That’s going to act as our roadmap.
1. And so, the first thing we see in our text is that marriage is God’s idea.
In verse 1, we read that crowds had gathered to Jesus, and Jesus begins to teach them. And in verse 2, the Pharisees come to Jesus with a question “to test him.” And their question is this: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In Matthew 19:3, Matthew records them asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”
Notice that the Pharisees aren’t interested about what Jesus thinks of marriage; they are interested about what Jesus thinks of divorce. And the reason why the Pharisees are so concerned about Jesus’ take on divorce is because in that day there were two competing schools of thought on divorce:
The more conservative school followed Rabbi Shammai, who said that the only ground for divorce was the indecency of adultery. In other words, a man could not divorce his wife unless he had found that she had been sexually immoral. The more liberal school followed Rabbi Hillel, who said divorce could be granted for any indecency. In other words, a man could divorce his wife for any reason, not just adultery. If she was a terrible cook, he could divorce her.
And so, the Pharisees have a special interest in Jesus’ take on divorce, because, for the most part, they followed Rabbi Hillel, who said that a man could divorce his wife for any reason, which made divorce really easy, and they wanted it to stay that way. They wanted to know which side was Jesus on.
And look at how Jesus responds to their question, in verse 3. Jesus answered them, “What did Moses command you?” In other words, “What has God already said about this?”
Turn in your Bibles to Genesis 1. Jesus takes us back to where it all started. Back to Genesis. Back to the beginning. Back to Creation. It’s where Jesus starts, and it’s where we should start, as well. Back to where things were always intended to be.
And in Genesis 1:26-27, it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Flip over to Genesis 2, and in verses 18-25, we see how exactly this took place. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
What we see from these two passages of Scripture is that marriage is God’s idea. It’s not man’s idea. Man did not come up with marriage. Marriage is a good gift from God for mankind to enjoy. It’s God’s idea.
And what that means is that mankind cannot redefine marriage. If marriage is not man’s idea, but God’s idea, then mankind cannot redefine the terms. There is no such thing as a homosexual marriage or a polygamous marriage. We see clearly in these passages of Scripture that marriage, as defined by God, is the joining together of one man and one woman for life.
This is exactly what Jesus is pointing to when the Pharisees ask Him about divorce. Jesus points out that, since God joins together one man and one woman into this one-flesh marriage union, “what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” If mankind has not defined the terms, then mankind cannot separate what God has joined together. It’s impossible.
Turn over to Ephesians 5. Since marriage is God’s idea, it is therefore sacred. As we see, in Ephesians 5:22-33, marriage uniquely reflects the spiritual union of Christ and His Church. Here is what Ephesians 5:22-33 says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
“25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
The ultimate meaning of the covenant relationship of marriage between one man and one woman is that it reflects the covenant relationship between Christ and His Church. Husbands are to give their lives for their wives, as Jesus gave His life for His Church, and wives are to submit to their husbands, as the Church submits to Jesus. And as Jesus would never divorce His Church, so also a spouse should never divorce their mate. Marriage is God’s idea.
2. And this brings us to our next point, and that is, divorce is not God’s intention.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question is, “What did Moses command you?” And Jesus isn’t surprised by the Pharisees’ response: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
Turn over to Deuteronomy 24. The Pharisees are appealing to what God had commanded Moses concerning divorce. And in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, we read, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
What does Jesus do with this response? Because it seems like the Pharisees have a valid case. Moses does allow a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away, if he found some indecency in her. It seems like Scriptural evidence for divorce.
But look at Jesus’ response, in verse 5: Jesus says to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” Divorce was never God’s intention from the beginning. It’s not in the Creation narrative. God’s intention, as we saw, is one man and one woman for life. Nowhere in Scripture does God condone divorce. In fact, in Malachi 2:16, God says, “I hate divorce.”
The point that Jesus is making about the commandment of Moses is that divorce is not something God intended, but it is something God has allowed, because of their hardness of heart. The reason divorce exists is not because of God, but because of sin.
God hates divorce, because God hates sin. If there wasn’t sin in the world, there would be no divorce. If Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden, hadn’t disobeyed God and eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, there would be no divorce. God thus allows divorce, but He never condones it.
The Pharisees are essentially asking the wrong question. They’re asking Jesus, “When can we allow people to get a divorce?” And Jesus is saying, “You’re looking at this from the wrong end.”
If you're always looking for exceptions, then you will always end up in trouble. Instead of asking, “What will God allow me to get away with in the matter of this divorce and remarriage thing?” we ought to be asking, “What does God desire of me as one of His creatures?” That’s the better question.
If you already have your exit strategy planned, where you already know who is getting what and where the kids are going and what you’re going to do, if things go south, then you’re already doomed.
Marriage is like a man and a woman arriving together on an island in a boat. And you start learning all of these neat things about each other, and you’re helping each other start a life together on this island, and things are going great. But then, something negative happens. If you look back at that boat and think to yourself, “If I don’t like how things turn out, I can always leave,” then you have the wrong attitude about marriage.
We should never be planning our exit strategy. Do you know what we need to do as soon as we get married? We need to burn down the boat. Don’t even let it enter your mind as a possibility, because the moment it becomes a possibility, it becomes a whole lot easier to justify your leaving.
Divorce is not God’s intention. It’s always a tragedy. It’s always painful. I can’t obviously speak to every situation, but I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “clean” divorce.
If I were to glue two pieces of cardboard together, and then try to pull them apart without ripping any part of it, how successful do I think I would be? I wouldn’t be successful at all, right, because what happens when you glue two pieces of cardboard together is that they become one piece of cardboard. And if you attempt to pull those two pieces of cardboard apart into two individual pieces of cardboard again, you will inevitably have rips in both pieces of cardboard.
And church, this a picture of marriage and divorce. When we get married, God is joining us together as one. And when we get divorced, we are pulling ourselves apart, and there are going to be rips and there is going to be pain, because it’s not something God intended for us to experience.
And don’t get me wrong, there are difficult points in every marriage. There are serious challenges that every marriage will experience. And if you think that your marriage is perfect and that you have never had any issues in your marriage, ask your spouse, because they might have a different response. Seriously.
When Helena and I were interning at Garrington, before coming up here, we were apparently going through some hard things in our marriage. I say, apparently, because I didn’t know that things were as bad as they were.
About a year ago, Helena mentioned how things were really bad in our marriage during our internship year. And I was like, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Well, between school and church and family life, things were really bad. We were fighting on a regular basis.” And I said I had no idea things were that bad.
And she reminded of a time when we were meeting some of her family at Swiss Chalet in Red Deer for supper. And on the way, we were fighting about something, neither of us can remember what it was. But apparently, Helena had this thought that I was somehow going to leave her. I had no intention of leaving her. I never said that I was ever going to leave her. But she had this thought.
And she said that the only thing that reassured her in that moment that I was going to stay with her, and that our marriage was going to be OK, was when we were at the restaurant and I squeezed the lemon that came with her water into her water glass.
It’s a thing that her and I have. She doesn’t like touching the lemon, but she wants the lemon juice in her water, so I usually squeeze the lemon into her water for her, so that she doesn’t need to touch it.
And I guess in that moment she was reassured that things were going to be alright, because I squeezed the lemon into her water. Somehow it was an indication to her that I still loved her and that I wasn’t going anywhere.
Now, if I hadn’t already burned down the boat, if I still had me eyes on the possibility that I could still get out of this marriage, I could be just like the Pharisees, twisting Scripture and looking for any indecency to justify divorce.
But do you know something? Mark doesn’t allow for any exceptions. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus gives the exception of sexual immorality. “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” But we don’t see that exception here in Mark. We simply see the heart of Jesus that doesn’t even want us to entertain the thought of divorce.
But we need to see that the reason divorce is even an option is because of sin. He is sinful. She is sinful. We are all sinful. And in marriage, God is joining together a sinful man and a sinful woman, making them one. And the point is not about what will God allow me to get away with, but how can I best reflect the spiritual union of Christ and His Church in my marriage?
3. And this bring us to our third and final point. Marriage is God’s idea. Divorce is not God’s intention. Lastly, remarriage should be approached with caution.
This is where we need to be careful. In Mark 10:10, the disciples ask Jesus privately about this matter, and Jesus says to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Is remarriage permissible after divorce? There are sins and temptations and challenges in every marriage. Divorce isn’t condoned, but it is allowed. Are there biblical grounds for divorce that allow for remarriage? And the answer is, tentatively, yes.
1. When is remarriage permissible? First, remarriage is permissible in the event of the death of a spouse.
Romans 7:2 says, “For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.” 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 says, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.”
Here we see that the death of a spouse is the only instance where remarriage is permitted without going through the process of divorce. But even in this instance, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, says, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Though remarriage after the death of a spouse is permissible, it should be approached with caution.
2. Remarriage is permissible in the event of desertion by an unbelieving spouse.
1 Corinthians 7:12-16 says, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”
The apostle Paul is addressing the problem of the spouse who is a Christian married to a non-Christian. If the spouse who is not a Christian leaves, there is nothing that the Christian can do to force them to stay. The non-Christian is free to divorce, and the Christian in this instance is free to remarry. But again, this should also be approached with caution, as God’s desire is always for troubled marriages to result in reconciliation.
3. Remarriage is permissible in the event of sexual immorality.
In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
When an adulterous relationship has brought about a divorce, the party who is innocent of adultery has a right to remarry. However, if you are the guilty party in the adulterous relationship that has ended in divorce, then your right to remarriage is denied, and if you do, you will have committed adultery.
This is serious stuff. The conclusion of the disciples, in Matthew 19:10, is right: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Do we see the seriousness of marriage? There is a reason why the Book of Common Prayer says that “Marriage is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God."
When Helena and I were doing our pre-marriage counselling, the pastor who was doing it gave us two assignments: 1. We each had to come up with eight reasons why we loved the other person, and 2. we each had to come up with eight reasons why we should get married now. And if we couldn’t come up with eight, then he said he wouldn’t marry us. Needless to say, we came up with eight, and I have used this tactic in my pre-marriage counselling ever since.
Marriage is a seriousness commitment. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 says, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”
But in the event of divorce that results from sexual immorality, it is permissible for the innocent party to remarry. But even in this instance, we should take caution. It’s not black and white, like, “As soon as there is one instance, I’m out.” There have been many marriages saved from divorce, because the couple sought Christian counselling to help them work through their challenges.
Don’t think that God cannot work in your marriage to restore and reconcile what was broken. That’s the whole point of the gospel. The gospel begins with God creating this perfect world, but then sin enters the world through humanity and things aren’t perfect anymore, but then God sends His Son to redeem humanity through His perfect life and substitutionary death and subsequent resurrection, and who will one day return to fully and finally restore all things.
That’s the gospel. And it is the good news that is offered to each one of us here today, regardless of the sins we have committed, regardless of whether we have been divorced, regardless of whether we have been divorced and remarried, regardless of whether we have been unloving to our wives or disrespectful to our husbands. The gospel is for everyone, and it is what gives us hope for our marriages, even when the unthinkable happens.
Now, what if I don’t fall into one of these permissible categories? What if I got divorced, because we didn’t love each other anymore, or because we discovered that we wanted different things in life? What do I do now that I have been divorced on unbiblical grounds and am remarried to someone else?
This might be your reality. And Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Do you know what you do? You glorify God in your current marriage and be a blessing to your current spouse. Commit to love them, comfort them, honour and keep them, in sickness and in health, and faithfully keep yourself for them alone, as long as you both shall live. Don’t seek out divorce. Don’t look to the boat.
Where there is the sin of adultery and / or unbiblical divorce, seek forgiveness. There is no sin that grace cannot cover. Regardless of what you have done, regardless of how greatly you may have sinned, 1 John 1:9 says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. You are not damaged goods, simply because you are divorced or divorced and remarried. Everyone is equal at the foot of the cross. You are as welcome here as anyone in need of a Saviour. And that’s all of us.
We need to come alongside each other. As a church, we need to rally around those who are single and long to be married, those who are experiencing or have experienced difficulty in their marriage, those who have been divorced, those who have been divorced and remarried. We need to point each other to Jesus.
The reality is that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have committed spiritual adultery against God, where we have sought after other gods and other pleasures. And yet, God, according to His wisdom and pleasure, chose to lavish us with His love, by sending His Son to this world to suffer and die, so that we might live.
If you have not put your trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, then I invite you to do so today. Regardless of who you are or what you’ve done, don’t let another day go by.
We live in a fallen world, where divorce will occur, where pre-marital sex will be encouraged, where marriage will not be viewed highly, and where God will be left out of the issue. And what we need to be reminded of, this morning, is that marriage is God’s idea, divorce is not God’s intention, and remarriage should be approached with caution.
May God give us the grace and the strength to show the world the beauty of marriage as God always intended it to be and what He can do in the midst of our brokenness. Let’s pray…