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MARK 10:1-16
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Thirty

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 25, 2018

Before we come to Mark 10 we need to make sure we’re on the same page with the big idea of what Mark has recorded for us.  The title of today’s message is what?  “It’s not about divorce…”


So, no matter how much it may seem that what we’re looking at is about divorce… it’s not about divorce.  So if it’s not about divorce what is “it” about?


The big picture:  It’s not about divorce,  It’s about... Jesus.  The Christ.  What it means to follow Jesus.


If you’re able please join me in standing as we come before God’s word and let’s read together Mark 10:1-16.


And He left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to Him again.  And again, as was His custom, He taught them.


And Pharisees came up and in order to test Him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”


He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”


They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”


And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”


And in the house the disciples asked Him again about this matter.  And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”


And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.


Verse 1 is the Where And Why of where all this takes place.  Real people real places real time real issues.  This all really happened.


Looking at the map.  Verse 1 tells us that Jesus left there.  There is where?


Capernaum - north shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Where Jesus has had His ministry headquarters.  Where Jesus has been teaching and reaching out to the region of the Galilee to the Jews - and to the Greeks and Romans of Tyre and Sidon and the Decapolis - Caesarea Philippi.

Verse 1 tells us that Jesus left there and went to the region of Judea - specifically where Judea borders the region beyond the Jordan.


Beyond the Jordan meaning that Jesus is in an area called Perea.  Which was the area where Jesus was baptized.  Meaning that after completing His ministry in the north - all that needed to be done there has been done -  Jesus has come full circle to where His ministry began.  Probably to the area just east of Jericho.


The where and why of that is hugely significant.  This is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry. 


Jesus - Who has been ministering in the villages and towns of the outback of northern Israel is now moving towards Judea and Jerusalem - to the capitol and the cross.  To what will be His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem - and His rejection - sacrificial death - and then 3 days later, His resurrection. 


This is the pause before the passion.  What takes place just before Jesus crosses the Jordan.  In that pause crowds gather.  And again as Jesus has done many times before - as the crowds gather - Jesus begins to teach them.


Mark records that in that crowd there were Pharisees who came to Jesus with The Question:  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”


Let’s remember - no matter how much this question looks like a question about divorce…  it’s not about divorce.


Mark even tells us that the reason they asked the question was to... “test Him” - to test Jesus. 


The Greek word translated “to test” - back in chapter 1 - is translated “to tempt” - describing what Satan did to Jesus during those 40 days in the wilderness.  Same motivation.  Destroy Jesus and His ministry.


The Pharisees are not interested in Jesus’ understanding of divorce and what’s legal or lawful or permissible.  Jesus has already taught about divorce.  They already know His position.


The question is about destroying Jesus and His ministry.  Trapping Jesus - discrediting Jesus - stopping Jesus before He crosses the Jordan River and gets to Jerusalem.


The choice of the topic - divorce - is significant because of the controversy of the topic and the location of where they’re asking the question.


We need to understand that:  Why this topic in this place?  Why is this so controversial and such a potential trap for Jesus.


In 1st century Judea divorce was a formal process.  Much like today.  Jews back then married by legal agreement and they were divorced by legal agreement.  The certificate of divorce - that legal agreement - had to address the terms of the marriage contract in order to severe it.


At the time of Jesus just about everyone agreed that divorce was permitted.  The question was on what grounds was divorce permitted.  What are the justified grounds for issuing a certificate of divorce?  What is lawful?


There were two schools of thought - two different basic interpretations of what Moses had commanded back in Deuteronomy - about what Moses gave as legal grounds for being able to issue a certificate of divorce.  And because there were two interpretations there was controversy.


So - a quick review to get us up to speed with what Moses said - Deuteronomy 24:1-4 - the law in question.  Moses gave this instruction:  “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds not favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of the house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.  And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.”


The controversy centered on the word “indecency.”  The Hebrew word is “arah”.  Which literally means “to be naked” and therefore indecent or shameful.  But what exactly did Moses mean by that?


One interpretation - one group followed the teaching of Rabbi Shammai.  They believed that Moses meant some kind of immorality - like adultery.  So they interpreted the law as giving a very specific and limited grounds for divorce.


The other interpretation - which was the more widely held view - the other group followed Rabbi Hillel and understood Moses as meaning any indecent or shameful behavior.  Meaning if the husband found “any” indecency in her.


Which is the infamous “She burned the toast” clause.


If the wife spoiled the dinner by shamefully putting too much garlic in the hummus then the husband had justified grounds for divorce.  At the time of Jesus some were going even further to suggest that if the husband found a prettier women he could divorce his wife and marry the prettier woman.


Meaning that just about anything counted as being “indecency.”


The more things change… the more they stay the same.


There was “not so easy divorce” and there was “easy divorce” and there was “really easy divorce” and the rabbis were deeply entrenched in their positions on all that - endlessly and pointlessly arguing over all that.  So the question isn’t about the Rabbis seeking to learn something from Jesus and somehow they might change their minds.


The test question - it’s not about... divorce.  But about Jesus - and who Jesus is going to side with in the controversy - or not.  It’s about backing Jesus into a corner and destroying Him.


Perea - the area beyond the Jordan -  which is… east of the Jordan River.  Perea is under the control of Herod Antipas.  Ground zero for the territory that Herod Antipas ruled over.


Remember Herod Antipas?  From back in chapter 6?  Herod Antipas was in this incestuous marriage with his sister-in-law Herodias - who used to be married to Herod Antipas’ brother Philip. 


The last person who said something negative about their marriage was who?  John the Baptist.  John the Baptist who’d ticked off Herodias by telling them that what they were doing violated God’s law.  John who’d been beheaded.  John who’d had his head served up on a platter.


It’s not about divorce.  It’s about Jesus.  Who they know is in alignment with John.


The Pharisees are trying to back Jesus into a corner where no matter what answer He comes up with Jesus is going to tick someone off - maybe even with fatal consequences.  Test Him.  Discredit Him.  Trip Him up.  Stop Him before He crosses the river - before He gets to Jerusalem.


Jesus - absolutely brilliant in His response - as Jesus often does - Jesus answers their question with a question - that pushes them back to Moses and what Moses’ original intent was in giving the law.  The big picture context of what Moses was addressing.

“What did Moses command you?”


The Pharisees response - verse 4:  “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”


That response exposes where their hearts are at.  Focusing on the first part of Deuteronomy 24 - the “indecency clause” - and choosing to bypass the rest of what Moses said.


What we just read.  Which was what Moses actually said.  Which was Moses’ creating a legal barrier to men sinning as they pleased.  What would have amounted to some kind elaborate wife swapping scheme.


Rather than giving permission for divorce, Moses’ command is intended to restrict the easiness in which divorce could take place.  In part, to protect women who would have been helpless otherwise. 


The Pharisees - focusing on the “indecency clause” had twisted that restriction around into and opportunity for easy divorce.  They’d interpreted the restriction as a license giving permission.  Like God actually approved of divorce.


Their hearts are totally out of alignment with Moses and God.


What the Pharisees are totally missing is the greater context of what Moses is actually focused on - which is the heart of God - as God speaks through Moses to His people about the sanctity and permanence of the marriage covenant and more so what it means to have a covenant relationship with God.

Verse 5 brings us to
Jesus’ Interpretation of what Moses actually commanded.


Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he [Moses] wrote you this commandment. 


We’re grabbing the brilliance of Jesus?  He’s not falling into their trap.  He’s not siding with any of them.  He’s pushing back at the bottom line of their debate.  The issue that’s the source of their interpretation.


God permitted divorce because His people were hard hearted - stone cold towards God and each other.  The word and wisdom of God wasn’t penetrating down to the heart level of how they lived.  Meaning the reason you Pharisees are missing the point is because you guys are missing what God has been trying to say to you.  Your hearts are stone cold hard towards God.


Then Jesus goes on the offensive - pushing back big time - Jesus teaching about marriage and God’s original intent of marriage.  Jesus takes them back to Genesis 1.


But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’   ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”


Creation Day 6:  God created Adam and Eve.  Created them in His image.  Created them for His purposes and for His glory.

It’s God Who instituted marriage.  God Who created marriage and God Who established its boundaries - what marriage is to be.  One man and one woman leaving their families of origin to be joined together as “one flesh.”


Which is more than sex.  More than who’s got the finer looking wife  More than who’s wife makes the best kebab.


God’s design - God’s intent for marriage - is for an indivisible insoluble covenant union of one man and one women brought together by God for life.


Rabbis and theologians and Pharisees and judges and scribes and pastors and whoever can come up with whatever definition of marriage they want to and whatever interpretations suit their understanding of marriage and divorce and whatever laws they want and they can write all the certificates of marriage and divorce that they have papyrus to write on.


But all that changes nothing of what God intends for marriage to be.  Changes nothing - nada - if God considers the couple married.


The Pharisees wanted to test Jesus with divorce.  To use the controversy of divorce as a weapon to destroy Jesus.  But Jesus insisted on teaching about marriage.


The Pharisees are interested in seeing how far they can stretch the law with escape clauses motivated by selfish hearts closed off to the gracious and merciful and loving heart of God.


God Who sets boundaries to protect us from the worst effects of our sin.  God Who uses the covenant of marriage to sanctify and conform us to His image.  God Who uses the covenant of marriage to reveal His heart to us.


Jesus is interested in restoring husbands and wives to the quality of marriage covenant that they are created for.  To the gift of relationship that only comes from God.


Then - verse 10 - Jesus Is In The House.  What house?  We don’t know.  The house.  Emphasis:  Jesus is now with the disciples - probably away from the Pharisees.  A moment of private instruction.


If the Pharisees were stunned, the disciples were astounded.  To their credit - they asked legitimate questions.  What questions?  We don’t know. 


However, Matthew’s account of the same event - Matthew’s account suggests that the disciples thought Jesus’ standards were unreasonable - impossible.  Matthew 19:10:  “The disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”


Which is where so many people are today.  Even Christians.  Maybe deep down we wonder if we’re really capable of that kind of depth of long term commitment.


Most marriages today end in divorce.  So, why deal with the pain of all that?  Why not just skip marriage and just live together?


Marriage is outdated anyway.  It just doesn’t make sense in today’s world. 

And if marriage is impossible why not indulge our passions along the way?  Which is one significant reason our society is so over saturated with sex without commitment.  We want the self-serving pleasure of a relationship without the responsibility that comes with it. 


The culture the disciples are living in - that had influenced their thinking on marriage and divorce - the culture that had come up with the “indecency clause” - and what the disciples were struggling to process - all that is way too close to home.  Devastatingly close even for Christians.


If we just look around where we do life we get where they were coming from and what they struggled with.


Matthew records what Jesus had taught about marriage and divorce - different place and different teaching opportunity - Matthew 5:32 - the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew records Jesus teaching that a husband may pursue divorce on the grounds of “sexual immorality.”


The Greek word translated “sexual immorality” is “pornea” which covers a wide range of sexual sin - not just adultery.  It also covers homosexuality and incest and bestiality and child molestation and prostitution and even spiritual idolatry - worshipping idols not God.  Same word we get “pornography” from.


Paul - teaching on divorce - 1 Corinthians 7:15 - Paul writes concerning blatant desertion by an unbelieving spouse.  In such cases a Christian can act as if his or her spouse were dead so they’re not bound by the marriage covenant.


But those exceptions simply recognize the reality of sin and the pain involved when a marriage is crashing.  And while they underline the serious depth of the marriage covenant and of marital sin they don’t excuse the sin.


Meaning that - as God sees marriage and divorce - given a very specific set of circumstances - a couple may choose divorce.  Emphasis “may.”  But they don’t have to choose divorce.  And, by God’s grace and for His glory may actually choose to pursue healing in their marriage and not divorce.


Which is the total opposite of an “indecency escape clause” and what opens up to us the heart of God and His desire for His people.


Jesus doesn’t waver.  In the house - out of the public eye - He’s not backing up.  He’s not changing where He’s coming from.  Jesus is unwavering on God’s standard for marriage:  “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”


William Hendriksen - in his commentary on this passage - Hendriksen says this:  “Thus by means of a few simple words, Jesus discourages divorce, refutes the rabbinical misinterpretation of the law, reaffirms the law’s true meaning, censures the guilty party, defends the innocent, and throughout it all upholds the sacredness and inviolability of the marriage bond as ordained by God.”  (1)


While the Pharisees are endlessly arguing over what Moses meant by “indecency” Jesus condemns them all as adulterers.  Because it’s not their standard that counts.  It’s God’s.  Jesus is unwavering in upholding God’s holy standards which we all have fallen short of.


And by focusing on “the beginning of creation” and “your hardness of heart” Jesus is bringing the discussion back to what is not about divorce and is way more than a discussion about the morals and ethics of marriage and our gutting it out and trying to uphold all that - even if there is adultery involved.


Jesus is focusing on how God desires for us to live together in relationship with Him.  What we continually fall short of and what God - in coming in the flesh and blood of our humanity - what God offers to us in Jesus. 


It’s not about divorce.  It’s about Jesus and what it means to follow Him.


Which is an issue that is way larger than an individual or a couple that comes to exchange marriage vows.  It has to do with what it means to have a soften heart level relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  The heart level reality of life in God’s kingdom that makes possible marriage as God designed it and what ultimately demonstrates what life with God is all about.


Verse 13 - enter The Children.


Probably while Jesus and His disciples are having this discussion in the house - parents - the wording in Greek is masculine - meaning that fathers as well as mothers - were bringing their children to Jesus.  Leading them to Jesus.  Offering them to Jesus.  Children meaning toddlers and older - possibly youths.


Their desire is for Jesus to what?  “touch them”  Which in Greek means they desired for Jesus to… “touch them.”  Jesus laying hands on the child’s head or shoulders and pronouncing God’s blessing on them for their future life.


In the way that Mark writes his gospel account - we need to be impressed that that immediate contrast is intentional - not random.


Mark is bringing us back to the theme that we’ve seen and we’ll see again - what is a core, touching the heart, theme of what it means to follow Jesus.  The kingdom of God is not for the self-entitled and self-righteous but for the weak and helpless who come by faith.


In immediate contrast to the hard heartedness of the Pharisees - with their intrigue and motivations and self-righteous pretense trying to trip up Jesus - in contrast is the soft hearted faith of the parents who bring their children to Jesus desiring God’s blessing. 


The US Centers for Disease Control reported this past week that from 2006 to 2015 - the year of the latest completed survey - the number of per year abortions in the US dropped 24%.  The number of abortions was down to “only” 638,169 unwanted children murdered in the US in 2015. (2)

In the Roman Empire it was legal to leave an unwanted child outside somewhere - exposed to whatever - in order to die.  A practice which was outlawed - finally - in 375 AD after Christianity became the dominant religion.


The Jewish mindset - coming out of Scripture - saw a child as a blessing of God created in the image of God.  Which - in a sense - was the exception to the world view.  And still - even with that exception - a child is still seen as weak and pretty helpless - having potential but not greatness. 


Potential meaning a son has the potential to work in the family business.  Girls are less valued.  Children contribute little in terms of protection and provision.  They’re ranked low on the scale of power and privilege and influence.  Potentially children are a drain on the family resources. 


The disciples rebuke what Jesus blesses.  They rebuke the parents.  Which means that they warned them.  They reprimanded them.  They instructed them to take the children away.  In the eyes of the disciples these children are taking up valuable time that Jesus should be devoting to them - or at least to His ministry.  These children are an annoying distraction.


When Jesus sees the faith of the parents bringing their children and the disciples rebuking them Jesus is indignant.  “Indignant” meaning at the gut level Jesus is grieved - pained - by the attitude of His disciples.


The disciples who are displaying the same hard hearted attitude as the Pharisees.  In their response there’s no understanding of God and His heart of love and grace and mercy and compassion towards His people and what it means to live in relationship with the living God.  What is at the core of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus Who is the kingdom of God at hand.  God entering into the flesh and blood of our humanity.


Jesus - as was His custom - something He regularly did - Jesus uses the children as an illustration of what the disciples - and the Pharisees - had fallen short of.


Jesus tells them:  “Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them - don’t hold them back - for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”


Let them come - not because children are innocent of sin or always such a delight to be around.  They’re children who act like... children.


Let them come because to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Let them come because they illustrate genuine discipleship - what it means to follow Jesus.


They come as they are.  Without hesitation or inhibition.  They haven’t learned yet to be suspicious or to have pride.  They trust completely and they come.


They come empty handed.  They have nothing to offer.  They’re helpless - defenseless - disobedient - unable to keep themselves clean or to dress themselves.  Children are messy.  They can’t even change their own diapers.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Children are completely needy.

They come knowing that they need to reach out to receive help.  They come to receive what they have no right to.  What they haven’t earned.  Couldn’t earn.  But they reach out for it to receive as a gift.


They come - as their parents did - by faith. 


In verse 16 - Jesus - in an act that demonstrates how God’s salvation comes to us - Jesus takes those who have come by faith - takes them in His arms and blesses them as He lays His hands on them.  Blesses them with God’s favor.  The experience of being welcomed and loved by God.


Processing all that…


From Genesis to Revelation God uses the covenant of marriage to illustrate for us how God views His relationship with His people.  There are some very powerful and familiar demonstrations of that.


Boaz and Ruth.


Ruth is not Hebrew.  She’s from a pagan family who’s spent most of her life in Moab worshipping a demon god who demanded child sacrifice to earn his favor.  She’s not a virgin.  She’s homeless.  Childless.  A widow.  And she lives with a bitter old angry mother-in-law.


Boaz responds to Ruth by providing for her physical needs.  By providing for her heart level emotional needs.  He publicly redefines her worth in front of those who’d been abusing her.  Boa prays over her a prayer of blessing that invokes the blessing of the God of the Covenant - that God would reward her and bless her.  And He marries her.

No Moabite woman would have had any expectation of ever being treated like that.  And yet, Boaz responds to Ruth and favors her with a quality of love and grace that demonstrates God’s love and grace towards us.  


In the account of Ruth, Boaz is a type of Christ.  Ruth stands as a type of you and me.  We are the outcast widow from Moab.  Boaz is an example to us of what God desires to favor us with in Jesus.


Solomon and the Shulamite woman.


The Shulamite woman is used as slave labor by her family.  She has no time to take care of herself.  Instead she’s outside getting sun burned.  She prunes the vines.  Sets traps for foxes.  Keeps the flocks.  She probably smells a whole lot like sheep.


One day there’s an announcement that King Solomon is coming to visit in all of his regal glory.  The king comes - sweeps her off her feet - takes her back to Jerusalem.  They’re married in the palace.  Then he brings her to the banqueting house - not as a poor abused sun burned girl who smells like sheep - but as his queen.  Proudly displayed before all in regal splendor - breathtakingly beautiful.  


We get this.  The Shulamite women is us.  Solomon is God who comes and brings us into the covenant of marriage and gives to us love and relationship with Him that we could never earn, deserve, or expect.


Hosea and Gomer.


God tells Hosea, “Go marry a prostitute.”  So he marries Gomer. Covenant of marriage.  They have children together.  And when she dumps him for other men God tells Hosea to go buy her back out of prostitution - her adultery - and go on loving her.  She’s your wife.


And so Hosea goes and pays for Gomer - to buy her back.  And he goes on loving her.  Totally undeserved love and grace.


Hosea represents God.  Gomer represents God’s people who live in spiritual “pornea” - spiritual adultery - sin.  Like Hosea, God comes after us and buys us back from our sin - redeems us - through the work of Christ on the cross.  An act of God’s love and grace that we do not deserve. 


Paul - writing to the Ephesian church - Paul compares the marriage of relationship of a husband and wife to the relationship of Jesus and His church.  The intimacy and depth of that relationship - the love of the husband for the wife.  It’s about God and us.


Looking forward into future history Revelation 19:9 says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”


Revelation 19 describes Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom - the Church is His bride - raptured - resurrected - purified - made ready by marriage - brought to the feast.  Until that time we’re separated.  Jesus is in heaven.  We’re on earth.  The marriage supper celebrates our formal union with Christ in our eternal relationship.  From that moment on we will always be together.  (Revelation 19:7-9)


By God’s grace - because of God’s love for us - as believers in Jesus you and I will be there.  What a gathering!  Are you looking forward to being there?


God’s love is given - not because of the merit of the recipient - us.  God’s love is given because God - who is love - chooses to do so.  God chooses - knowing us and the ugliness of our sin - God chooses to place His only Son on the ugliness of the cross - to die in our place to make real the offer of our salvation - our forgiveness - our being set free from bondage to our sins and the ugliness of what we do with our lives - set free to experience life as it is created to be lived - the intimate depth of a made right relationship with God.


In Christ - as a follower of Jesus - God has already brought us to the table of His salvation.  He’s already brought us to the table of fellowship with Him.  He’s already brought us to the table of relationship together as His body.


This is not about divorce and “indecency escape clauses” - but about our heart attitude response to God that Jesus brings the discussion back to - which is the from the heart of God - plan of God for His people - what God offers to us in Jesus - the Christ - as He invites us to come as children and by faith follow Him.






1. William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1975), page 380

2. CNN - 11.21.18 - https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/21/health/abortion-surveillance-cdc-2015-bn/index.html


Series references:

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2:  Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.