Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 26, 2015
1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you:whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it. 13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.
— Matthew 19:1-15, ESV
Francis Scott Key wrote the first national anthem in 1814. Tammy Wynette sang the second in 1968:
Our D-I-V-O-R-C-E; becomes final today,
Me and little J-O-E will be going away,
I love you both and this will be pure H-E double L for me,
Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
As that song climbed the country music charts, no-fault divorce rose from being legal in one state to being routinely practiced in all fifty. The national epidemics frequently criticized by conservative Christians — sexual immorality, homosexuality, illegal drug use, and underage use of alcohol — can largely be traced by the chalk outline of families killed with the weapon of divorce.
Spouting divorce statistics and the social ills it causes in the modern era will not surprise you. What may surprise you, though, is to learn that divorce is not merely a modern malady. It was a serious problem in Jesus’ day, too, being practiced wholesale by everyone from the liberal elite of the Roman Empire to the most conservative sect of Judaism. John the Baptist’s critique of the former earned him an execution, and Jesus’ confrontation with the latter was about to secure His.
The sin of divorce is not the sole reason Jesus died on the cross. However, this text in context teaches it was a contributing factor. It is a tale of Bible-thumping hypocrites, straight talk on the sanctity of marriage, and the blessings and forgiveness offered by the husband of the church.
Jesus’ popularity had waned in the last year of His public ministry, but this episode begins with a short-lived rise in the polls. As the Lord approached Jerusalem for the last time, crowds gathered, people clamored, and miracles were performed. If the religious rulers did not step in, the people might try to make Jesus their King, instead of calling for His crucifixion.
What weapon would work best against the wonderful messages and miracles of Jesus? How about the Bible! Though not meant to be a weapon, it becomes a very destructive device in the hands of a hardened hypocrite. The Pharisees fit this bill, and the bullet they fired at Jesus can still be found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, one of the few Old Testament passage offering any regulation regarding divorce.
Many of the Pharisees, as hypocrites often do, had taken a biblical text out of context to justify their sin and castigate those who dared to disagree with them. As we will elaborate upon in a moment, God clearly hates divorce because of the pain and suffering it inflicts upon His people, and only permits it in extreme cases of sexual sin and serial abandonment. However, the Bible-thumpers had interpreted “indecency” in Deuteronomy 24:1 as “anything” and used it to divorce their wives for any and every reason, including literally the burning of toast.
Furthermore, the Pharisees knew that Jesus would oppose this frivolous, chauvinistic gateway for free love, and that their many followers would oppose Jesus for opposing it. So, they fired away. Jesus fired back, and the fires of bigotry and hatred that fueled the cross were lit.
Through the years, religious hypocrites have used Holy Scripture to justify their divorces, their misogyny, their racial prejudices, and other mutations of their pride, greed, and lust. A leather covered Bible can provide a good cover for sin. It can also be used as a good weapon to attack another person, and in this case the Pharisees used it to attack the person and work of Christ. Sadly, they succeeded, but not before Jesus had His say on the sanctity of marriage.
The Sanctity of Marriage
The sanctity of marriage is to be kept by sanctified people. What Jesus had to say would not work on the Pharisees, for their hypocritical hearts were too hard. What Jesus has to say will really not work on any form of unbelief, and it is not the duty of Christian people to force Christian principles upon non-Christian populations. If the Mormons want to marry a dozen other Mormons, if homosexuals want to marry one of their own kind, if non-professing pagans and non-practicing nominal Christians want to marry and divorce and remarry for any and every reason, like the Pharisees, and if the laws of the land allow it, we the church must let it go.
But we the church must hold one another to a higher standard (see previous paragraph on church discipline), and the standard and sanctity of marriage is a perfect place to start. We must look at all the texts in context, we must carefully listen to the words of Christ on the subject, and we must love and obey the entirety of the word of God. So let’s begin here and break down what Jesus said.
Jesus said that divorce should be permitted but by no means encouraged. Moses, the credited author of Old Testament law, permitted divorce and Jesus did not deny this. However, it was permitted only for “indecency,” which I think Jesus defines as “sexual immorality” (the Greek word, pornea, broadly defines any serious sexual experiences outside the confines of covenant marriage). In an additional complex argument in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul also addresses abandonment as a grounds for permitting divorce and remarriage. If your spouse breaks faith by engaging in sex with another person or persons, or breaks faith by driving away from the marriage covenant in the convenient vehicle of no-fault divorce, such hard heartedness permits the hurt spouse to divorce and remarry. But that’s it, adultery and abandonment, not the pursuit of happiness or burnt toast.
Jesus said that life-long commitment in marriage is God’s original ideal. The Pharisees wanted to debate the books of Moses, so Jesus took them all the way back to the beginning. Narrow-minded bigots can’t see the big picture of Scripture, but it is here for us to look at today. God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime. As with any other of the plans of God, when we do it His way we are blessed. When we do not, society suffers and people are hurt. If you are a Christian, do your dead level best to stick with God’s plan. Make a commitment and keep it. If it gets broken, seek repentance and reconciliation. Do not be the one to knock Humpty Dumpty off the wall and stand before God with the blood of a broken marriage on your hands.
Jesus said that the just alternative to marriage is not divorce, but singleness and celibacy. The Pharisees’ shots could be heard a mile away, but the disciples response to Jesus’ defense was quietly surprising. If I can’t leave my wife for any and every reason, thought the disciples, maybe I shouldn’t get married at all. That’s right, Jesus said. If you are afraid you cannot keep a marriage commitment, then don’t get married. If you feel you were born with sexual urges that cannot be contained in covenantal, heterosexual marriage, then keep yourself celibate. God can arrange this, or you have the freedom to arrange it with God. But just as Jesus said it would be better for some people to have never been born than to cause sin and strife upon God’s children, so it is better to have never married than to break a marriage and break people’s hearts.
The Blessings of Christ
But broken hearts do abound in the wake of divorce, and these hearts can find repair in the loving and healing hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. In all of God’s revealed disdain against divorce, there is no hint of any disregard of divorced people. God loves the sinners who cause divorce and holds out his hand for repentance and forgiveness. God loves the sinners who are victims of divorces, and points the way to recovery and renewed life. And God especially loves the innocents whose childhood homes and psyches are split when mommy and daddy d-i-v-o-r-c-e.
This is why, at the conclusion of Christ’s controversial teaching on divorce, the Lord Himself seeks out some little children to love and bless. It was a pure outpouring of God’s grace. He could see with omniscient eyes the great havoc that present and future divorce cultures would pour out upon the children. Even today’s secular scientists admit the great harm that divorce decrees upon young children and adolescents. Yet there is no end in sight, except for this picture at the end of the day, when Jesus loves and blesses the children.
If you are a child of God, or would become a child of God, and if you need forgiveness for your divorce, or grace to forgive the one who divorced you, or healing from the pain your parents’ divorced, let me bring you to Jesus right now so He can lay His hands on you and pray. Selah.
I was born in the 60’s, grew up in the 70’s, and became a married adult in the 80’s. In my lifetime, D-I-V-O-R-C-E has truly been our national anthem. It has been an extremely personal and painful issue for me. Too often I’ve seen it play out like a crime for which the victims are punished instead of the perpetrators.
Perhaps if there were tougher laws and stricter penalties there would be less divorce. But laws can’t make people love. And at the end of the day, this is what divorce is, a lack of love for God, for the people God placed in your life, and for the lives of the many other people affected by the culture of divorce. The remedy is not law, but grace.
Grace can reach the hypocrite who used the Bible to justify divorce, or the antinomian who just blew off the Bible to get what they wanted. Grace can heal the broken hearts of the spouses and children who are the victims of divorce. Grace is the answer because grace births faith, faith brings love, and love is what we need to change our current national anthem.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org