Who Does Marriage Belong To?
Text: Mark 10: 1-12
Proposition: Marriage belongs to the One Who created it, His rules and exceptions apply over all others.
Introduction: Imagine a person who designs and owns a Formula One racing car and then discovers the mechanics are putting used motor oil in the engine in order save money. What if the team driver of this car treats it like a go cart or like a stock car that scrapes along the wall or side swipes others to get ahead? I’d imagine the owner would be pretty upset. They’d have every right to say how it should to be maintained and how it ought to be operated. Now let’s take that same premise but make the owner and designer to be God and the high performance vehicle to be marriage. All the questions around divorce, remarriage, and even around the debates of same sex marriage fail to ask the critical question, ‘Who does marriage belong to? Is it my marriage, our marriage, the public opinion on marriage, does marriage belong to the state that issues the license or does marriage belong to the One who created it? Today’s passage takes us to this question in Mark 10:1-12.
I. The Test, Whose Side Are You On, The Man’s or the Woman’s?
Jesus and His disciples have now travelled south and are on the east side of the Jordan. Here again Jesus not only performs miracles but teaches the people about the way that God intends for their lives. It’s into this setting that the Pharisees now come. The crowds and attention Jesus receives is still an irritant to them and their purpose now is to try to split His popularity. So they ask a question that they know has two ways of being answered, two very different viewpoints. Verse 2 says, “The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him.” There were two main views held by the Jewish people of that day, one originated from Rabbi Hillel, born in Babylon about 100 years BC and who lived until about 10 AD. Rabbi Hillel’s teaching on divorce was very lenient and popular. Essentially it permitted divorce for a wide range of causes and was almost exclusively found to be in the favor of the man in a marriage. The other main view was that of Rabbi Shammai a man born in Israel in about 60BC and whose views regarding divorce were strict and somewhat unpopular. These Rabbi’s though in opposition to each other on a number of things were the central influences on Jewish culture and religion. So when the Pharisees ask, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’, what they are really trying to do is to get Jesus to pick one Rabbi or the other and in the end to split Jesus’s popularity. Jesus deflects their question by asking them what Moses had commanded in the Mosaic Law. He knew that both Rabbi’s took their positions on divorce from the same verse, Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,.” It was all about how to define the word ‘uncleaness’. Hillel took that to mean anything that displeased the husband. Shammai interpreted it as sexual immorality. That’s the background of the two camps of Hillel and Shammai but don’t miss the obvious here. When Moses wrote this in Deuteronomy 24 he was leading the people of Israel in the wilderness for forty years. Divorce had become a national concern and threat to the nation from within. The issue then, which was about 1350 years before the time of either Hillel or Shammai, was that women were being treated like property. The statement of Moses on divorce was to stop or at least slow this abuse by putting restrictions on divorce. Again don’t forget that a woman who was divorced was at high risk of poverty and even greater, a rejection by the community. Nevertheless men were divorcing their wives while in the desert, while Israel was yet without a land, while the nation itself struggled. That utter selfishness is the ‘hardness of heart’ that Jesus refers to. The Pharisees were testing Jesus to see which view on divorce He held to and Jesus perfectly takes the subject of divorce to its source, marriage. Which prompts us with the question, ‘Who owns marriage?’
II. Since God Created Man and Designed Marriage, He Ultimately Owns It.
Jesus references Genesis 2 as the starting point. You can’t answer the questions around divorce until you first recognize Who owns marriage. Verses 7,8. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Perhaps you’re wondering what that phrase, ‘for this reason’ is pointing to. It’s Genesis 2:20, “So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.” That tells us that God designed man with an inherent short coming, man needs woman as his helper in life. And woman just as much but in a different way, needs man. The design of marriage is built upon this intended ‘flaw’ of mankind’s need. All I’m saying here is that God created man and woman with the intrinsic need of each other. He designed their coming together to be stronger than any blood tie, forsaking father and mother. He designed it so that the unity experienced by them would intrinsically be a one flesh state of two people, a man and a woman. Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate”. That term ‘joined’ is a reference to the way God bonds or welds two into one. When there is a breaking of that one flesh state in any marriage it is like part of you being cut off. It’s been said that divorce is like an amputation, sometimes necessary but always a deep and painful wound. It is then not my marriage, not our marriage, not the states registering of our marriage, not the current public opinion of what constitutes a marriage that determines who owns it. It is owned by the One Who created it and designed it and purposes His glory in it. What is intended in every marriage is the opportunity to learn selflessness, to grow in love for the one who knows you intimately, to walk together in parenthood, to learn praise and thankfulness, to discover the worship of God through whom He has given you, to learn trust and transparency. The One who owns marriage designed it for these things and for being the model of a metaphor, a living picture of Christ and His church, an indissoluble union between God and mankind forged in a marriage ceremony called the Cross of Christ. Husbands love your wives like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.
III. The Third Question, ‘What About Remarriage’.
The disciples when they are alone with Jesus ask yet another question, likely it was around the issue of other causes for divorce that would be justified and render a person free to remarry. In the Matthew parallel Jesus says, “…whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery…”. Jesus in saying this describes what Rabbi Shammai had been saying, yet here again there is a broad range of understanding on what sexual immorality means. It’s the Greek word ‘porneia’ and means sexual impropriety of any kind. Later on the Apostle Paul would add another cause in 1 Cor. 7:15, “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.” Abandonment by a spouse breaks the bond of marriage yet the context here is Paul speaking about marriages where one is a Christian and one is not and he exhorts people to stay together as much as it is possible. The only other reason that a person can be remarried is if their former spouse has died. Adultery occurs, says Jesus, when a person who is still bound by marriage to their spouse in God’s eyes then chooses to marry another person. The binding effect of marriage is greater than what our culture would say it is. It’s ironic that the very cause of biblical divorce, sexual immorality, porneia, is what soon takes place after separation. Marriage is about so much more than we ever thought it was, it belongs to God not us and it is His design with His purposes.