Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22 [b]) October 3, 2021
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.”
13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
In the Name of Jesus.
If there is one thing about marriage that our society will not accept, that this generation’s lawmakers and courts reject, that the press portrays as laughable, it is that marriage is made by God. Not by courts, nor the county clerk, nor even by a man and woman of good intentions, but by God. Mark 10:9:
[Jesus said,] “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Nothing in that about marriage being designed by lawmakers or by judges and courts, or even by a man and woman in love.
Marriage stands—instituted by God, a gift from the Lord. The husband and wife don’t even make their own marriage. Rather, marriage is God’s gift and we enter into it. It’s prepared for man and woman by God who created them; the Lord brings them into this estate, joining them together, one-flesh.
We may think we make marriage. The dating, the pursuit of bride or groom, the arranging, the planning, that all goes on in our conversation, all that goes on with family or friends doing their work of match making—marriage sure looks like something we make. But that’s the Lord using us, using our natural desires, using our God given bodily gifts, using our abilities of planning, conversation, and the rest to bring us into his gift.
Marriage: a gift from the Lord. An estate which the bride and the groom enter. A God-pleasing, God-ordained binding together of a man and a woman as one flesh.
God, after all, is the God of life. He created life—the man and the woman—having first created everything they needed for life, including the water and the ground, the food and the drink, the animals and all around us, including the sky, the stars, the constellations, all for the benefit of man and woman and the bringing forth of life.
The bringing forth of life, that’s what God does. So he creates humans—“male and female created he them,” says Genesis 1. But in creating man and woman as one creation, he did it in such a way that the man and the woman should see their blessing and purpose. He created the male first.
But that was not good. Genesis 2:18: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’”
But what’s not good about a man standing there by himself?
A man by himself brings forth no life. Two men cannot bring forth life. A thousand men cannot bring forth life.
Life is what is good. Therefore, a man alone is not good, for no life will come from that.
Genesis 2:18: [The Lord God said,] “I will make a helper fit for him.” That is, I will make for him not a servant, not a slave, not another animal, but I will make for him that which fits up to him, that which is counterpart to him, that which is the completion of human, that which without, the man is incomplete. Incomplete, because without his counterpart, the man brings forth no life. And God is the God of life.
So God made woman.
“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
We know what happened. Man and woman sinned. Sin, then, went also to their offspring. That’s us. Sin brought death. Sin corrupts this foundational gift of marriage.
Now there is abuse in marriages, there is husband loving self more than wife, wife not respecting husband, there is brokenness, divorce, hatred, there is the tearing apart of one-flesh made by God.
So the Pharisees want to know, how do you have a God-pleasing divorce? Moses gave commands about it, about how you must go about divorce, about how if you do divorce your wife the woman still to be protected.
But the Pharisees want Jesus to say what a God-pleasing divorce would look like. They follow the Law of Moses—at least they say they do. So how should a good Israelite go about it?
They are about the business of trapping Jesus with the Law, of making Jesus into being a good teacher of the Law.
They want Jesus to speak of marriage not as gift of God, but as a set of rules and regulations that you must follow. If they can trap Jesus into speaking of marriage as Law, of marriage according to the rules to be applied, according to the way a man can legally treat a woman, then by putting marriage under the Law, they make Jesus into a teacher of the Law, into, that is, just one more Pharisee.
But Moses didn’t write those rules of marriage because that’s what marriage is. Moses wrote those rules about marriage and about divorce because of what we sinners do to marriage and, therefore, to minimize our damage.
Moses’ rules for marriage and divorce are a mitigation, they are the effort to lessen the damage of our sin against marriage, they are not the goal of marriage. Mark 10:5:
[The Pharisees] said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’”
The Pharisees want to keep marriage under the Law—because they want to keep all men and women under the Law.
So Jesus gives them some real Law. If you want place the Lord’s gifts under Law, then Jesus will hit you with Law harder than you can take.
Because, the Pharisees want to use the Law to make you clean up your life, to give a way to justify yourself. Jesus wants to use the Law to accuse and leave you so far under the Law that you finally have no hope. No hope, except to turn to the Gospel. Which is what Jesus actually wants you to hear.
So listen to Jesus hit the Pharisees with the Law even harder than they were hitting other people with it:
[Jesus] said 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.”
Adultery is a rough word. But what is adultery to Jesus?
[Jesus said,] “Anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
What is adultery to Jesus?
Adultery is anything and everything against the Lord’s institution of husband and wife.
Adultery is cheating on your spouse. Adultery is having lust in your heart for another woman. Adultery is having lust in your heart for anyone not wife if you’re a man, anyone not husband if you’re a woman, including of the same sex. Adultery is divorce. Adultery is physical abuse in marriage. Adultery is mental abuse in the marriage. Adultery is abandonment, mental or physical. Adultery is loving yourself at the expense of spouse. Adultery is anything tearing apart what God has joined together.
By the time Jesus is done with the Law, who, whether married or single, is not guilty of adultery?
Jesus has had his way with the Law. We are all guilty, no escape.
Now Jesus has us ready to hear the Gospel. Not ready to try to prove that we are somehow not guilty of adultery when we all know that we all are, not ready to put others under the Law as if we ourselves are able to live by the Law, but ready to hear the Gospel.
What is the Gospel—the Gospel for the married person, for the single, for the divorced person, for the one struggling with sexual temptation?
The Gospel is, you have a Groom. A holy Groom who makes you holy. The Gospel is that the Lord has put his Name on you in Baptism and gathered you into his Church. And his Church is his Bride. Together, you and me, our families, bound together in the Church so that we are, to Jesus, his beloved Bride. Ephesians 5:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 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.
The Gospel is that we, sinners all, have been gathered into the Church which is the Bride of Christ, and that he is the Groom who sanctifies us, makes us holy, by the cleansing of Baptism, and that he continues to make us holy by making himself one-flesh with his Bride in his Body and Blood given us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Gospel is that in this Church, there is no sin—of adultery, of lust, of self-centeredness, of self-love—there is no sin not cleansed by the blood of Christ, and no sin for us to hold against one another. For our Groom is Jesus.
In the Name of Jesus.