It is the topic we would probably never want to teach if we had crowds coming to us. We have seen crowds follow Jesus everywhere he goes in the book of Mark. Rather than encouraging greater crowds through easy, popular teachings, we have seen Jesus teach the high cost of discipleship. As Jesus shows his glory to the world, he is teaching people that there is a cost to following him and that those who desire to follow him need to count that cost. The cost of following Jesus includes understanding God’s marriage law. Turn to Mark 10 and let us look at what Jesus teaches.
The Marriage Problem (10:1-5)
As we mentioned earlier, we see it happening again as we begin in Mark 10 that crowds are gathering to Jesus as he passes through to Judea. It is important to note that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is Jesus’ journey to the cross. So when the crowds come to him, Jesus teaches them (10:1). The Pharisees are going to take this opportunity to test Jesus. Now that Jesus is back in the region of Judea, the opponents of Jesus are going to take another chance to challenge him. So they ask Jesus this question in order to test him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10:2). It is interesting that just as this question was a test in the first century it is still a test question in the 21st century. The question will never go away because of the sinfulness of our hearts: is divorce acceptable?
It is important for us to consider the way the question is asked because it will help us see how Jesus answers the question. The question is not, “What does God say about marriage?” They come at the law asking, “What does it allow me to do?” Or to state it more bluntly, “What can I get away with?” They are interested in their own rights, not their responsibilities to marriage. There is no concern for the implications of divorce, what divorce means for the wife, or what divorce means for the children. The concern is selfish. Can I divorce?
Jesus’ response is very simple. “What did Moses command you?” Essentially, what does the Law of Moses say about it. This is the right answer for any biblical question we have. What does God say? What does the word of God say? Now the answer of the Pharisees is interesting. They say, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away” (10:4). This was their understanding of Deuteronomy 24. I do not have time nor the purpose to explore all of Deuteronomy 24 in this lesson. But I want us to consider a couple of things that are wrong with the answer the Pharisees give. First, Jesus asks what did Moses command. Did Moses command divorce? The answer is no. Jesus asks a question to try to lead them in the right direction which they fail to see. What did Moses command about divorcing your wife? The answer is nothing. Moses did not command for a person to divorce. Second, Deuteronomy 24 did not command divorce nor does the passage set out legitimate grounds for divorce. The purpose of Deuteronomy 24 was very simple: to forbid a husband from remarrying his wife after he had divorced her and she remarried. There is no other authorization in that text.
This is the point Jesus makes to them in verse 5. The law in Deuteronomy 24 came in because of your sinfulness. What was given was not a new law but was dealing with the sinfulness of the people. The law was given to curtail the evil that the people were committing. The husbands were apparently being evil toward their wives. They were showing themselves to have hard hearts toward them. The point is not that people were not obeying God’s marriage law so God changed it. God does not alter his laws for being hardhearted toward him. Rather, God added this law to keep his people from hurting each other because they were behaving wickedly with each other. It is so shameful that there can be so much wickedness in a marriage. It is so shameful that the greatest hardness of hearts can exist in marriage, between a husband and wife where God commanded love and respect.
The Marriage Law (10:6-8)
Jesus’ point is that they have not stated God’s marriage law but something given because of their hardness of heart. God’s law for marriage is found in the very beginning. God made them male and female (10:6). God did not make a third option. It is unbelievable that we have to teach this but there are only two genders and God makes you one or the other. You do not choose what you are. God makes you male or God makes you female. Then Jesus expresses the definition of marriage. A man leaves his parents and joins to his wife and the two become one flesh. Notice that the definition of marriage is not two people of the same gender. A man joins to a woman, not a man to a man or a woman to a woman. Marriage is a man joining to a woman and the two becoming one. These two lives are now joined as one. There is to be such unity and such a working together that two individuals are now functioning as one. Marriage is not two people living two separate lives. Living separate lives but being roommates is a sin for it violates the very definition of the marriage covenant. Further, sexual relations only belong in marriage. The two become one in marriage, not before marriage. Sex before marriage is a violation of God’s law and a defilement of the beauty of marriage. This is the marriage law.
The Answer For Marriage (10:9)
Now Jesus draws the conclusion that answers the question that the Pharisees have brought to Jesus to test him. Look at verse 9. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” God joins the marriage together. We need to know this. We do not join the marriage. God rules over marriage. Therefore, unlawful marriages are not approved by God because God is the joiner in marriage. Further, we have no right to severe a marriage because God joined the two together. This must be the understanding of marriage. Too often the focus is on how to get out of marriage. The answer is that you do not get out of marriage. The word translated “separate” is the same thing as divorce because it was a word common used in Greek for divorce. Jesus’ point is that divorce is not to happen. The Pharisees ask if it is lawful to divorce and Jesus’ answer is no. When Jesus asked them what Moses said, the Pharisees should have responded that it is not lawful to divorce.
God’s law for marriage has not changed today. Divorce is not to happen. It is not lawful to divorce. This must be our repeated answer to the question. Why is this case? Why is marriage for life such a big deal? The reason is that our marriages are supposed to be the reflection of the love relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31–33 ESV)
Our marriages are supposed to be showing Christ to the world. Our marriages are supposed to show the faithfulness between Christ and the church. This is another reason why the marriage covenant is serious to God.
Consequences For Divorce (10:10-12)
In verse 10 we see that when the disciples come into the house they ask him more about this matter. So Jesus explains even further in verses 11-12.
And he 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.” (Mark 10:11–12 ESV)
This is a very simple teaching. Not only is divorce contrary to the purpose of God for marriage, but divorcing and marrying another is committing adultery. Jesus shows that the first one flesh union is still in force even after the divorce because he says that marrying another person would be to commit adultery. The logic is clear: the first marriage is permanent because God joined the two together. Therefore, the remarriage is equivalent to adultery. The rule is divorce is not to happen ever. The exception should never come into our minds. The exception is not the way to get out of a marriage. The exception is given because of human sinfulness and is not God’s purpose for marriage. Being with other people violates the marriage covenant and is given as the only God approved reason for divorce (Matthew 5:32).
However, because of human sinfulness there is an exception — sexual immorality (cf. Matthew 5:32).
But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32 ESV)
But you will notice that Mark does not record this exception. I believe there are two reasons for this. First, it is of implied necessity that sexual immorality dissolves the marriage covenant. Genesis 2 says that the two are to be one flesh. There is not to be another person in the marriage bond. Also, God had represented that to Israel throughout the ages. Infidelity to the covenant violates the covenant. Even logic tells us that the marriage covenant is violated when a person goes to another than one’s spouse.
Second, I believe Mark does not record this exception because divorce is not the rule. Jesus is attacking the casual attitude so often approached regarding marriage and divorce. Jesus endeavors to recover God’s will for marriage, not to argue about what are the ways to get out of marriage. Marriage is for your whole life. You are choosing to be with the other person no matter what. We should never be looking at how we can get a divorce or how we can get out of a marriage. We are to be fully devoted to the marriage. Marriage is only to be dissolved because one person has decided to be with other people and not remain faithful to the marriage covenant.
Jesus does not play the games the Pharisees wanted to play. Jesus wants us to see the beautiful true nature of marriage and the hardness of hearts that leads to divorce. Marriage is a holy covenant between God, a man, and a woman, loving each other and sacrificing for the good of each other. Marriage is to be a reflection of God’s relationship with us. Divorce, therefore, is to be inconceivable and not part of our vocabulary. Divorce happens because of human sinfulness, not because it is God’s will. Divorce is a tragedy and a sadness, not something we would ever hope for or plan for. Divorce should be seen as a horror. It is not for our good. It is not for the children’s good.
Let me offer some counsel in these final words of this lesson. What should we do if we are in an unlawful marriage, committing adultery as Jesus described? I hope you will let the weight of what Jesus says rest on your hearts as you think about what you need to do to be right with God. We cannot continue in sin and think that grace will abound (Romans 6:1). We cannot sin deliberately and think that there is a sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 12:26). If you are in the situation, please meet with the shepherds here so that we can help you determine what steps you may need to take to show repentance and no longer be in adultery.
What if you are in a bad marriage? Often we want to justify divorce because God wants us to be happy or God does not want us to be unhappy. But God wants you to be happy in the marriage you are in, not in trying to find another person or in living alone. You cannot change the other person but you can change you. Look at what you can do to change the situation and improve the marriage problems that you currently face. Nothing is hopeless. Look at what you have done to damage the marriage and what you can do move the marriage to the picture that God gives for us of Christ and the church. Your hope in life cannot be in your marriage but in God. Maybe God is causing you to go through this so you will rely more on him and less on yourself and less on others. Human selfishness is either directly or indirectly the cause of marital discord and divorce.
Finally, sexual relations are reserved for marriage. If you are not married and you are having sexual relations with a person or people, you are sinning against God and against those people you are with. Please remember Jesus’ message in the last paragraph. Hell is not worth it. Losing your soul is just not worth it. Jesus gives this teaching and Mark records this teaching right here in this account because this is part of the counting the cost to follow Jesus. Will we follow Jesus when it comes to our sexual desires and our desires for marriage? Will we live as God has called us to live or are we going to live for ourselves and do what we want? We need to count the cost to follow Jesus.