Don't Debate Divorce with God
What do the events in today's text have to do with each other? What do Jesus' words about marriage and divorce have to do with His words about letting children come to Him? Well, the connection is simple. Don't debate divorce with God.
People think they can debate divorce with God. They say in their heart where only God can hear them, "God wants me to be happy. God wouldn't have expected me to live like that. God knows I married too young. I didn't break up a marriage; we never had a marriage to begin with." They lay out in their heart all the reasons why they aren't at fault for their divorce. They build before God such an ironclad case that God Himself has to declare, "You're right; you should have divorced your spouse. You did the right thing for yourself, your kids, and even for your spouse."
Admit it. You've tried to debate divorce with God either your own or someone else's. You're not alone. The disciples in our text did too. They were floored by Jesus' words about divorce not being part of God's plan and that it was one wife till death! When they got back inside the house away from the Pharisees, the text says, "The disciples asked Jesus about this." That word "asked" is better translated, "were badgering." The disciples were agitated by what Jesus said about marriage and divorce and they were badgering or debating Him about it.
Picture them saying, "Come on Jesus! You carry this too far! Divorce can't be that bad! So many people do it! Even Moses permitted it!" If you want to see to what ridiculous lengths the disciples debated Jesus, read Matthew's account. To Jesus' statement that "anyone who divorces his wife and marries again commits adultery," Matthew records the disciples say, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry at all!" The disciples end the debate about divorce by concluding what most people do today. It's better to live together. Then there is no messy divorce if things don't work out. Then you can get out from under Jesus' totally unreasonable demand never to separate what God has joined together.
People try to debate divorce with God, but God doesn't debate it; He hates it. He says very clearly in Malachi 2, "I hate divorce." He doesn't say, "I hate only messy divorces or those involving children." He doesn't say I hate only divorces where adultery isn't involved." No, He hates all divorce. There's no such thing as a good divorce in the eyes of God. Anyone, no exception, who divorces and remarries commits adultery. That's all Jesus says to the disciples in Mark.
God's plan from the beginning wasn't divorce but 1 spouse for life. 2 become 1 in marriage and stay that way till God separates them through death. There's no debate about being compatible, reconcilable, or able to make things work. There is just marriage for life. There is just forsaking all others including mommy and daddy and literally being glued to each other for as long as you both shall live.
I don't know where some of you are trying to hide: behind the exception clauses. But they're not here, are they? They're in Matthew and Paul. You who are contemplating divorce in your heart or defending a divorce in your head know them well: adultery and desertion. If your spouse commits adultery or leaves you, you're free to divorce them. God permits these divorces because adultery and divorce actually break the marriage. The exceptions are not in Scripture to give you something to debate God about divorce with but to recognize what really breaks a marriage.
Besides even the exceptions don't work, do they? Late at night it creeps into your conscience that maybe you did after all have something to do with your spouse's adultery or desertion. Perhaps you're not as innocent as others believe you to be. Maybe the divorce is your fault too, and God says He hates all divorce. God doesn't debate divorce or any other sin. When we try, we lose. We end up convicted of our sins or worse accepting them.
Thanks be to God then that rather than debating divorce or any other sin, God forgives it! You heard right; God doesn't debate divorce; He forgives it. If that's true, do you know what it means? No more straining gnats, no more searching motives, no more debating about your guilt or innocence in your marriage. No more sifting through your marriage trying to find out who's guilty and who's innocent with only the innocent going free. If God doesn't debate divorce but forgives it, then there's no more being troubled by the obvious fact that there is no innocent party in marital difficulties.
But is it true? Does God really forgive divorce? Does God really forgive what He Himself declares He hates? How can this be? Follow the text. Mark tells us, "As was Jesus' custom, He taught them." These people were taught as the Gospel records Jesus had been teaching all along. God forgives sins because the Son of Man came into world to save sinners. The Lamb of God came into the world to carry away the sins of the world. Jesus calls sinners to lay their sins on Him and be free.
Then the Pharisees began to test Jesus. They want to trap Him in a Jewish debate about divorce. One group said a man could divorce a woman for any reason, even burning supper, and the other said the husband had to find something indecent in her. Both views assumed divorce was part of God's plan and that it was the husband's prerogative to divorce his wife. They only disagreed as to when a husband could do it. When did a woman do something bad enough to warrant a husband divorcing her?
Jesus turns it around. He shows them that divorce wasn't part of God's plan. "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law about divorce." The divorce question isn't about how bad your wife can act but about how hard your hearts are! It wasn't God's will that men have the right to dump women whenever they felt like it or even whenever they had done something indecent. Divorce was given to protect women from the hardness of men's hearts who would divorce at the drop of a hat leaving a woman without a husband but still technically married.
And see how this touched the hearts of women! Jesus goes inside the house and deals with the disciples who want to continue the debate about divorce where the Pharisees had left off. But the debate is over in the minds of the women. Here is a God who is gracious toward women! They are touched by His forgiveness, and they want their babies to share in it. They're not bashful about bringing their babies to Jesus so He might give the babies by His touch what they had just been given by His Words.
Watch carefully what follows. The disciples, upset with Jesus' words about marriage, "rebuked" the mothers. "Go on; get out of here; quit bothering the Master with your little children. He's got better things to do." But look what Jesus does. He gets indignant. The word means to be so upset you show it in your face and actions. Jesus is fried! "You must let the little children come to me, and do not continue to prevent them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
The words "to such as these" are important. They show Jesus is not just talking about little children age-wise but about all those like little children. What are little children like? They have nothing to offer Jesus. No good works. No faith. No money. They have no good marriage. No faithful marriage. No scriptural divorce to put before Him. They have nothing. And yet the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. It belongs to all those who have absolutely nothing to bring to Jesus.
Those who want to debate sin with God have something to offer Him. Some excuse, some goodness, some reason for Him to accept them. But if you debate your divorce with God, you'll only hear what the Pharisees and disciples heard. No divorce, no exceptions. If you debate any of your sins with God, you will hear the same thing. Your harsh temper is not merely a character flaw. Your lustful eye is not just the way you are.' Your longing for money and more things is not excusable.
Quit debating with God. You may think you win sometimes, but you will lose on your death bed because that's when Satan enters the debate and argues so forcefully on behalf of your excuses that you will put your trust in them. You'll trust your salvation to the fact that you really weren't to blame for your divorce, your bad marriage, your sins. And then my friend you will be lost. Don't debate divorce or any other sin with God. Confess it.
Confess that you are a little child before God with absolutely nothing to offer Him. You don't have a Scriptural divorce, a good marriage, a faithful heart, or a better life than others to offer Him. You have nothing but sin and death to bring. Nothing but a sinful heart that defends divorce and blames a bad marriage on your spouse. Nothing but sin upon sin, excuse upon excuse.
Now the glorious gospel that touched the women can touch you too. Now you can hear God's New Testament to sinners: Not "You do this and then I'll forgive you," but "I will remember your sins no more." Not, "As long as your sins aren't too bad I'll forgive you," but "Though they be crimson I will make them white as snow." Not, "As long as you did your best in your marriage I will forgive your divorce or as long as you've really tried to be a good person I will let your sins go," but, "I've put your sins away from you as far as east is from west."
Friends, when you debate divorce or any other sin with God, you're claiming you can deal with your sins. Is that what little children in the arms of their mothers do? Not at all. They are helpless and passive. Everything in their life must be dealt with by someone else. Be babies when it comes to sin. Stop debating with God what is and what isn't sin, if it should or shouldn't be placed on your account, are you guilty or not guilty. Confess you're a little kid wholly dependent on Jesus to take you up in His arms just as you are and bless you. There can be no debate that this is where He wants you to be because He says, "Let the little children come to Me." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XX (20061022); Mark 10:1-16)