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Chapter 19


Marriage and Divorce

19:1 Now when Jesus finished these sayings, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan River.


After he had taught his disciples about forgiveness, Jesus again left Galilee and crossed the River Jordan into Judea.


19:2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.


News of Jesus’ ministry, and particularly of his healing ministry, had spread rapidly until almost everywhere he went large crowds gathered to him. They came for healing and he healed them all.


19:3 Then some Pharisees came to him in order to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?"


Some of the religious rulers who belonged to the strict sect of Pharisees also came to Jesus, but they sought neither healing nor blessing. They wanted to catch him in his words so that they might discredit his ministry among the people. Their question was about a point of Jewish law, given by Moses. Did the law of Moses permit divorce, and if so under what circumstances?"


19:4-6 He answered, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."


Jesus replied with reference to God’s original act of creation. Marriage was ordained of God from the beginning, for God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. So he made man a helper comparable to him, and she was his wife. In this way marriage was ordained for mutual fellowship. It was ordained by the wisdom of God that when a man reached the age when he wished to leave father and mother, that he should marry a wife, and be united sexually with her. In this way marriage was ordained for the procreation of children, and as a pure way of fulfilling the sexual desires which come as the natural result of the creator “making them male and female”. Having been joined together, they would no more be two but one flesh. Since it is God who has joined man and woman together as one, no man has the authority (for it would necessarily have to be greater than God’s) to separate them. Man cannot undo a union formed by his creator.


19:7 They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?"


Still wishing to test Jesus, the Pharisees demanded to know why it was, if God opposed divorce, that Moses gave instructions relating to legal divorce and permitted the issuing of divorce certificates.


19:8 Jesus said to them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way.


Jesus explained how Moses realised that some marital situations were untenable, and so since the hearts of men were hardened to any other solution, he permitted separation as the lesser of two evils. Such a law might at least provide a measure of restraint against the tide of fornication and adultery. But this action was permitted rather than desired, and Jesus makes clear that it was certainly not God's will from the beginning. Rather, it was to curtail the spread of sin and immorality that this law was introduced.


19:9 Now I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery."


Here is a greater authority than Moses. What Christ says applies to all throughout the Christian dispensation. Whoever divorces his wife except for immorality commits adultery in the sight of God, no matter what the law of the land or the policy of the church may be. Hence Jesus permits divorce only when one partner has been unfaithful (i.e. has committed adultery).

What about the issue of re-marriage after divorce. Jesus makes clear in Matt. 5:32 that the divorced woman is not to remarry, since this is adultery. It would be fair, then to suppose that such is also the case for the divorced man. Paul made clear that he believed that separation should not be seen as the precursor to remarriage (1 Cor. 7:11). This teaching has serious consequences for modern practise. For if a divorcee remarrying whilst their first spouse still lives is to be considered adultery, then in such a case any minister of the gospel who conducts the marriage service will be condoning adultery, undermining the sacredness of marriage and is being a partaker in other people's sins.


There is a great variety of positions within the Christian church regarding this subject, most of them based on what ought to be considered as exceptions to this rule. It is worth considering, however, that if the Lord (who knows every situation that can possibly arise) had meant there to be exceptions, why did he not say so?


19:10 The disciples said to him, "If this is the case of a husband with a wife, it is better not to marry!"


The disciples, many of whom were married men, thought that if the situation between a husband and a wife was so bad that they were actively seeking a divorce, then it would have been better for them never to have married in the first place! Divorce is as bad as it gets; God refers to it as an act of violence, tearing apart rather than healing and reconciling (Mal. 2:16).


19:11-12 He said to them, "Not everyone can accept this statement, except those to whom it has been given. For there are some eunuchs who were that way from birth, and some who were made eunuchs by others, and some who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who is able to accept this should accept it."


Jesus realized that men and women marry because of the real needs which they have as the result of creation. Specifically, most men and women need the satisfaction of a sexual relationship, and that relationship has been provided for by God within marriage (Heb. 13:4). However, Jesus (who knows all) knew also that some people were able to live perfectly happily without a sexual partner.

Some of these were born that way (eunuchs from birth), and are happy to remain single all their lives. Jesus is saying that this is the right course, if it is the natural course for them. Something in their make-up makes it less necessary for them to have a sexual partner. Others, says Jesus, were made eunuchs by men, that is (understand that Jesus said this in the days of slaves) they have been castrated, and so no longer have any sexual desires at all. Likewise, some have heard the call of God in such a way that they are completely abandoned to him, and have made up their minds not to get married, for the sake of giving their time fully to the work of God. They are gifted with enough self-control to channel their energies into the work of God. Paul expands on this theme in 1 Corinthians 7, where he makes plain that the man or woman who is able to refrain from marriage is gifted by God in this respect, and should use this gift well, for it is better to remain unmarried. But for those who feel a sexual desire, it is better to marry than to burn with lust, resulting in immorality. As a result of the fall, marriage will never be perfect, but it is still an estate ordained by God, and is regarded as a means of avoiding immorality.


Little Children

19:13 Then little children were brought to him for him to lay his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded those who brought them.


The result of the marriage union will be children. Every caring parent wants the best for their child, and what could be better than to seek the lord of glory that he might bless our children? Mothers and fathers brought their children to Jesus for this reason. But the over-wrought disciples rebuked them, for they thought their master was too busy for children; implying that they thought children less important than adults.


19:14-15 But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. And he placed his hands on them and went on his way.


Here is one of the few places in the New Testament where Jesus is angered. To him, each child was a precious human being with a living soul, loved by God every bit as much as his father or mother. What is more, every child is capable of receiving spiritual blessing, and many were already old enough to receive spiritual instruction; in particular, the kind of instruction which comes by participation. If they could not learn much from Jesus’ preaching, yet they could learn much from his love and his welcome. By refusing to welcome them, the disciples were in danger of misrepresenting God to the children. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these – that is, each one could be saved and receive God's eternal blessings.


Modern surveys suggest that most people who become Christians do so before their sixteenth birthday. Children's ministry is not a second rate ministry, it is on the cutting edge. A church without an active children’s ministry is a lopsided church, is out of touch with the heart of God for children, and will be extinct within a generation. Jesus’ heart always reached out to children; may we do the same.





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