Marriage and divorce
The Pharisees yet again come to test Jesus on a hot issue. If you think Christianity is counter cultural now, it was just as revolutionary when Jesus was on the earth in the flesh. Their aim is to trap Jesus in front of the huge crowds following Him.
Judaism has a high view of marriage, as Christians do even more so now. Marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for His bride, the church, where husbands are called to lay down their life for their wives, as Christ did for us. The Jews knew that divorce, though, was a sad fact of life. There were two Jewish schools of thought on the issue of what is lawful grounds for divorce. ‘Shammai’ interpreted that as adultery and ‘Hillel’ many more less serious issues. So the Pharisees want Jesus to show which side He is on and make a pronouncement, or even law on the issue.
As ever Jesus refuses to be drawn – so He takes a step back from divorce to the purpose of marriage, for which we can see He makes six points.
- Designed by God – “The creator said” ascribed the Genesis 2:24 quote about marriage to God. God designed marriage.
- Complementary – marriage is complementary between man and woman. Marriage between two people of the same gender may now be legal, but all it has done is changed a dictionary definition. Actually civil partnerships gave the same equal rights under civil law that married couples enjoy, so it was an unnecessary step.
- Two become one flesh – marriage is designed to be permanent. The word is literally ‘glues’, affirming the goodness of sex as originally designed by God and to be enjoyed within the marriage of a man and woman. That is why extra-marital sex is so damaging – you are pulling two people apart and sticking to someone else.
- Exclusive – a man is united to his wife, just one!
- Marriage is nuclear – a new nuclear family is created as the two leave parents and cleave together. Allegiances are transferred from parents to spouse as the marriage is formed.
- It is not for everyone (v.10-12) – marriage is a gift for God, not a right. Some are unable to get married for physical reasons and others by choice for the kingdom. Celibacy is indeed a high calling and gift.
God hates divorce, but it happens. Jesus pronounces on questions of what makes a legal divorce, by talking about the purpose of marriage. He is giving an ideal and a goal. Jesus’ thrust is against legalism in what He teaches, so He answered a hostile question looking for law, with an ideal and a goal. So would Jesus permit remarriage after divorce? That’s hard to say. As one commentator puts it,
“What is manifest is that he is in principle against divorce and remarriage, and would be appalled at the ease and frequency with which it takes place today. One of the most powerful Christian witnesses possible these days is the eloquent example of a warm, forgiving, hospitable, united and happy Christian home.”
When we fall short of God’s ideal, we can come and find grace and go and sin no more.