On Adultery & Divorce
Sunday, October 15th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again. 2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
Father, Your Word is a sword that cuts to the heart. And when we consider the high standards of Your Law, and the loose and low standards of ourselves, we are cut, we are convicted, we are laid low. And so we cling to the promise that where sin has abounded, grace can abound all the more. And so we ask for that grace now, in Jesus name, Amen.
According to the 2020 US Census, 23% of children in the United States live in a single-parent household. That 23%, which represents 18.5 million children (for reference the total population of Washington State is just 7.7 million) is higher than any other nation in the world. The UK is a close second to us at 21%, and the world average is way down at 7%. So in America right now, almost 1 out of every 4 children is growing up without both father and mother in the home.
- There are many factors that have contributed to this destruction of the family, but chief among our sins are divorce and sex outside of marriage.
- In America the divorce rate is roughly 44%, and 50% of second marriages also end in divorce.
- As for sex outside of marriage (what the Bible calls fornication), studies have shown that by the age of 44, 95% of Americans have had sex outside of marriage. 95%!
- So if you make it to your wedding night as a virgin, you are now in a small minority of the American population. And if you make it to the age of 44 without having sex outside of marriage, you are in an even smaller minority, 5% of the entire population.
- These numbers are staggering, and they reveal to us why it is that places like Planned Parenthood are still in business.
- Because as Jesus said, we are an evil and adulterous generation. We are a nation of fornicators, murderers, and covenant breakers, and unless we repent (unless we make confession and truly renounce this sexual anarchy), we will die in our sins.
- Our text this morning is a very sober and pointed rejection of American views (and laws) regarding marriage and divorce. Whereas our nation has embraced no-fault divorce, and by and large has decriminalized adultery (adultery is not a crime in Washington state, and in that so called conservative state of Idaho, it was decriminalized last year), the law of God remains unchanged. And no matter how creative ancient or modern Pharisees might be, Jesus upholds and reaffirms what Scripture has always taught. And it is to that teaching that we turn now.
Remember the context of these verses is Jesus teaching his disciples what it means to follow Him. He has already said that “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). And while we might pay lip service to that idea of denying ourselves, Jesus is not playing around. And he begins to poke us and prod us in all the places that we are not actually following him.
- Last week, Jesus rebuked his disciples for wanting to be great in the eyes of the world. He told them that if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven, they must become as children. He said that if we want to avoid the eternal punishment of hell, then we must be willing to cut off hand, foot, and eye, or anything else that causes us to sin.
- In the next section, he will rebuke for us our low view of children and their ability to come to Him, but before that, he is going to rebuke us for our low views of marriage and the marriage covenant.
- So, by all means, let us receive this rebuke.
And he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.
- Jesus is still a very popular teacher, crowds continue to follow him, and we are told that he is now in the coasts of Judea by the farther side of the Jordan. This is an important detail because if we trace Jesus’ journey, we see that he has now entered into the territory of Herod Antipas.
- Back in Mark 6 we saw that Herod Antipas had put John the Baptist to death, under pressure from his wife Herodias, and do you remember the reason why Herodias did not like John the Baptist?
- Mark 6:18 says, “For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.”
- Herodias (Herod’s wife) had committed adultery, she had unlawfully divorced her first husband Phillip, and was now living in an adulterous marriage with Herod.And because Phillip was Herod’s half-brother, this was also an incestuous marriage as well.
- So John the Baptist was executed because he preached the righteous law of God to Herod. No matter what the divorce and remarriage laws were in that region, John declared God’s unchangeable moral law to him. And when God’s law and man’s law come into conflict the rule for the Christian is, “We must obey God, rather than man.”
- And so we see in verse 2, that the Pharisees are going to try to use this change in location/jurisdiction to their advantage. If they can get Jesus to run afoul of Herod like John did (by taking a strong stance against Herod’s marriage), perhaps Herod will kill him too. Or if they can get Jesus to capitulate in his views of marriage to save his skin, they can discredit him as a prophet. Either way, it’s a win-win for them, or so they hope.
2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
- Mark tells us up front that this was not an honest question, but rather a malicious attempt to entrap Jesus. Although it is possible to ask this question honestly, it is a dangerous question to ask. What are the motives behind such a question?
- The Pharisees ask, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” And if you know the law of God well, you know this is a trick question.
- If Jesus answers with a simple “No,” they will say He has contradicted the Law of God which clearly regulates divorce (Deut. 24:1-4).
- If Jesus answers with a simple, “Yes,” they will say He is a libertine, and has relaxed the law of God, making him a false prophet.
- This is one of those questions that is so nuanced in its answer, that attempting to give an immediate response, on the spot, with a hostile interlocutor, and the crowd watching is no easy task. How many of us would stumble if this same question were placed before us?
- And thus we see in the next verse the genius and wisdom of Jesus Christ in how he answers this question.
And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
- When someone asks an honest question in order to learn, and we know the answer, we should tell them the truth right away.
- But what is the best response to those who ask us questions in order to then slander us? How do you answer a dishonest question?
- The best response according to Jesus’ example, is to make them to say what their own position is, and press them to be consistent (or to to show themselves inconsistent) with whatever authority they claim to abide by.
- And so to do this Jesus responds with a question, What did Moses command you?
- This also is a kind of trick question from Jesus, because Moses never commanded divorce. And Jesus is going to make them acknowledge this.
And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
- This word suffer (ἐπιτρέπω) means to allow or permit. So they grant Jesus point that there is no positive command in the law for a man to divorce his wife. There is only this regulation in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where a woman is prevented from remarrying her first husband, after a second marriage. And this was hotly debate passage in the 1st century and even until today.
- Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (ESV) says, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no 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 his 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.”
- This is tough text, and the Jews themselves disagreed over its interpretation.
- But by choosing this as their proof text, the Pharisees have unknowingly done two things (they’ve fallen into the trap they set for Jesus):
- 1. By bringing this forward as their proof text, they convict themselves as being adulterers at heart.By choosing Deuteronomy 24 as their proof text for divorce, they reveal their own interpretation of it, which is that God’s regulation of an already sinful circumstance is actually a license to commit that sin. Corrupt hearts produce corrupt interpretation of Scripture.
- 2. They fail to actually answer Jesus’ question. Because what did Moses command? There are many other texts they could have brought forth and did not. And so Jesus is going to answer his own question in the following verses.
5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8 And they two shall be one flesh: so then they are no more two, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
- What does Jesus do? First, Jesus refutes their corruption of Deuteronomy 24. He explains that it is only because of the hardness of their hearts that Godgave them that command.
- We see something similar with how God regulates polygamy. Just because God commands that if a man takes a second wife, he must not diminish the food, clothing, and marriage duty of his first wife (Ex. 21:10), does not mean he condones or approves of getting a second wife. The law is simply mitigating the bad effects of an already sinful situation.
- Likewise with slavery. Just because God regulates how and when certain slaves are to be released, does not mean we should all become slave traders.
- And yet this is exactly what the Pharisees were doing, taking the regulation of divorce in Deuteronomy 24, and turning it into a justification for divorce.
- Jesus’ response is that this precept was only given because of the hardness of their hearts. In other words, if husbands and wives had soft hearts, there would never be an occasion for divorce, and therefore there would be no need for God to regulate it in His Word.
- So having refuted their corruption of God’s law, Jesus then proceeds to set before them what God has always required. And the two witnesses he brings forth are Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24.
- Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
- Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
- With these two quotations, Jesus reaffirms that marriage is a Divine institution. And in marriage one man and one woman are united in a one-flesh union for life. Therefore, what God has brought together in marriage, no man is to break apart.
- This teaching comes as a surprise to the disciples who ask Jesus about it later.
- In Matthew’s version of this same scene the disciples say, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10).
- So the disciples feel that if fornication (πορνεία) is the only lawful grounds wherein a divorce might be permitted (as Jesus teaches in Matt. 19:9) then it’s better to just stay single.
- They rightly recognize the seriousness of Jesus teaching about what happens in marriage. God brings man and woman together, and therefore nothing should break it apart.
- Like many of us, the disciples have imbibed their evil generation’s ideas about easy divorce and remarriage. And so it is a shock to the system to hear Jesus restating this creational command and applying it as he does.
- In verses 10-12 the disciples ask Jesus about this and receive additional instruction about constitutes adultery.
10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
- Here, Jesus teaches that an unlawful divorce is itself adultery, a breaking of the seventh commandment.
- An unlawful divorce is any divorce that takes place on grounds other than fornication (πορνεία).
- Jesus says in Matthew 19:9, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
- So according to Jesus, any unlawful divorce is itself an act of adultery, and under the law of God, adultery is considered a capital offense, it can warrant the death penalty.
- Leviticus 20:10 says, “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
- Deuteronomy 22:22 says, “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.”
- So whereas 1st century Jews (and 21st century Americans) think of adultery only in terms of a married person having sex outside of marriage, Jesus clarifies that an unlawful divorce, such as the divorces the Pharisees were seeking to justify, those also constitute adultery.
- In both cases, the man or the woman is breaking the one flesh union that God made, either by joining their bodies to someone who is not their spouse, or by severing their spouse from themselves by an unlawfully grounded divorce.
- Jesus says, unlawful divorce is adultery, and therefore as with adultery, the adulterer and the adulteress deserve to die. Under the law of God, these are not merely venial sins that can be forgiven at the altar, they are criminal acts that deserve criminal punishment.
So that’s the exposition of our text. And these are hard words for an adulterous generation to hear. Next week I am going to give a second/extra sermon this topic of divorce and remarriage, but I want to close with some practical applications for a few different groups of people.
- First, to the young and unmarried who hope to be married one day:
- You are growing up in a world that has normalized what God has criminalized. Whether that be sodomy, homosexuality, abortion, divorce, or adultery, you are living in a lawless culture that is weighed down by bloodguilt.
- And so heed the words of 1 John 2:15-16 which says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
- If you would make it to your wedding day as a pure and holy man or woman, you will bring great honor to God and be a great blessing to your spouse. And so pursue the purity, chastity, and holiness that God requires all of us to pursue.
- As Paul says to Timothy, “Flee youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
- Second, to those are presently married:
- Keep your marriage vows. Remember what you swore to do before the Lord and witnesses.
- Remember the words of Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”
- Before a man or a woman ever commits the physical act of adultery, they have already committed countless acts of adultery of the heart. And so confess those sins of your imagination, those adulteries of the heart, to the Lord (kill the sin there). And then plead with Him to keep you from temptation and the evil one.
- Third, to those who have committed adultery, or who are presently entangled in an adulterous marriage:
- Sin makes life complicated. And there are times when you simply cannot unscramble the egg. But God has given us in His Word clear directions for how to deal with sin. Next week I will address this in greater detail.
- But for now, the place to start is with confession and true repentance. If you have committed adultery, you can thank God that although you deserve to die, you are still living. And it just so happens that there is a Psalm written by a fellow adulterer and murderer that can guide you in your repentance. It’s one we recite a portion of every Sunday, that is Psalm 51.
- We read in the heading it says, “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
- For David, because he repented, his adultery was forgiven, God put away his sin so that he was not executed, but for the rest of his life he suffered the consequences of that sin, and those consequences were devastating, children died, civil war ensued, and David lost the moral authority he once had.
- And so if you have committed adultery, know that God can forgive your sins, and use Psalm 51 as a guide to show you how to repent.
- And second, come and talk to myself or one of the elders, if you need help knowing what to do next.
- There are few issues more difficult than untangling unlawful and adulterous marriages, but with God’s help, you can live before Him with a good and clear conscience. God has not left us without instructions in this area, but it takes great wisdom and prudence to apply His Word to each situation. And that is our job as your elders.
Jesus died for sinners. He did not come for the healthy, he came for the sick. And the whole story of Scripture is God making a way for his adulterous/idolatrous people, to be reunited to Him as a spotless bride. And so whatever mess you are in, Christ commands you to give that mess to him. He is anxious to forgive you, he is bursting with love for you, and if you come to him with a broken and contrite spirit, he will by no means cast you out.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.