So, today is the day. It is the day we address the topic no one really wants to address; not these days, not in our current cultural milieu. If you had known what we would be focusing on this morning, perhaps you might have found another way to spend a Sunday. In Mark 10 some good-for nothing Pharisees come up to our Lord and ask Him a question. They are seeking to trap him, to get him to either say something which is out of sync with the established traditions, or something that would reduce His perceived popularity. Either way, their question is weighted and seeks to stain the reputation of Jesus. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” That is the question. Is it legal for the people of God to get a divorce? Now, we could get into a historical discussion of how this was understood in the day of our Lord or what the Pharisees were hoping Jesus might say, but our Lord simply directs them back toward the Word of God. “What did Moses command you?” And they say, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” That is the Law. That is what it says in the book of Deuteronomy.
As we hear our Lord’s response to this, we can feel the tension rising in this place too. How does this word of God hit you? I am fairly sure it feels a bit different for each person. For those who have been divorced and are happily remarried this will feel like a condemnation of something that has been a positive, life changing thing, a blessing in their life. For those who have been divorced and still grieve over the loss this will perhaps trap them in their despair. To those who have long enduring difficult marriages this will cause them to turn with judgment on those whose marriages fell apart, not because their marriage is perfect, but that others did not have the strength and resolve to press through like they are. For some this will sound like a call to lament the loss of traditional marriage in our culture as we witness our children and grandchildren suffer from marriages which have been torn by divorce. What I mean is, when our Lord begins to address the whole situation, He speaks things which are no longer even considered reality in our society. Not only about divorce, but He says God created us male and female, that two become one flesh. Such things today are considered hate speech. So, we all wait with bated breath to see what direction the preacher is going to take. What group is he going to alienate the most? What cause will he champion with a text like this?
Well, before we get there, let us simply attend to what our Lord has to say. He says it was, “…because of your hardness of heart [that Moses] wrote you this commandment.” In other words, we must begin with seeing that the legality of divorce equates, therefore, to a path to righteousness. It is something that came about because of sin. The reason this is something Moses allowed was because sin tears and destroys our relationship. Sin breaks down the designs of our Creator. It leaves behind a mess that would simply stall out into a mire of pian and turmoil without any hope. So, it is because of sin, because of the hardness of the hearts of men that he allows for divorce. Divorce allows things to move forward. It allows for new relationships to be made. It even allows for healing in some cases. But none of that erases the sin which caused it in the first place.
The design of the Creator was not divorce. The design of the Creator was the two become one flesh. And He means, the two are one. To divide the two is to tear apart something which was never supposed to be separated. It is to tear one thing apart. So, we find when our Lord speaks about divorce He does not dwell on any just reason for divorce. He does not spend His time focusing on how we marry or remarry. No, the common link in it all is sin. And sin binds us all together. Whether you are divorced or not, married or not, in a relationship or not, over and again you separate what God joins together. You twist His Word, His design, His creation to serve your interests.
You see, when God said concerning Adam in the Garden that, “It is not good for man to be alone,” I think it went far beyond the need for a spouse. In the catechism we learned our God is a God who joins things together. We are better when we are together. So, when we discuss the third article of the Creed we say, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Then we say, “In the same way He calls, gather, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.” This gathering here is a product of the Holy Spirit’s work. To be called by the Gospel, by the promises of forgiveness and life everlasting is to be found in a fellowship.
Divorce then, is all around us. It is not only in our marriages, not only our families as sin tears and cuts at the designs of God. Divorce is in our fellowship, in our life together as the people of God. Over and again, we begin to separate what God has joined together. We create division and classifications among the Body of Christ. Your faith, your trust in the promises of God was not of your will or strength, it was a gift of God. He brings this conversation to your stony hearts and then, as he gathers you to Himself, He gathers you to each other. And what do we do with this fellowship? Do we celebrate it? Do we strengthen it in any way we can? Do we rally around each other and become a place of refuge for the weak and hurting? Or do we go about carving out our little piece? Do we come to get what we can when we can and forget about everyone else? Do we even know the names of the people we sit by every Sunday? Do we invest in their lives, in their struggles? Do we trust anyone else with ours?
We seem bent on separating what God has joined together. Sin separates the designs of God, from our most intimate relationships to our most needed fellowship, sin pulls things apart. And our God looks upon the whole scene with sadness, with anger, with righteous judgment. But one thing he does not do is divorce Himself from us. Oh sure, we deserve it. We repeatedly invite such a separation. But our God who assumed our flesh, who bound Himself to us does not let you go so easily. No, He was born under the Law, born to live the life you could not live. He kept and upheld all the commands of God. He became your substitute, your sacrifice, so you would never be separated from your Creator. He calls you, washes you, holds you, and feeds you. In Christ alone we have hope and encouragement in the midst of divorce and separation and broken relationships all around.
It seems a little abrupt how immediately after this discussion about divorce and man’s inclination to separate what God joins together, we hear about the disciples trying to stop little children from coming to our Lord. But it actually fits quite well with everything we have been discussing these past few weeks. In the midst of an argument regarding who the greatest is, Jesus places a child in their midst and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (9:37). Then, when they were trying to get a guy to stop casting out demons He says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea” (9:42). And now, after the teaching about divorce, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (10:16).
The little children are those most in need of the care and protection and blessings of others. The little children do not stand on their own greatness but must be carried and embraced by others. The little children are those who are the greatest in the Kingdom for they are the broken and hurting sinners who cannot save themselves. The little children are those who sit around you today. They are your brothers and sisters. They are you. In the midst of all the divorce and separation of our day there remains a place where the broken and hurting are gathered up and gathered together. There is forgiveness and hope and salvation for you. Here the Word is still given. Here Jesus gathers the little children and blesses them saying, “You are forgiven all of your sins.”