Summary: If you want to live happily ever after with your spouse, then don’t be looking for loopholes or reasons to split up. Instead, look to the Lord and then look only on your spouse. It's more important to BE the right person than to marry the right person.
Ralph and Janice were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and Pastor Jones decided to take advantage of their longevity by using their story as a sermon illustration. He asked Ralph to come on stage and share some insight into how he managed to live with the same woman all those years.
Ralph turned to the congregation and said, “Well, I treated her with respect and spent money on her – but mostly I took her traveling on special occasions.”
The pastor asked, “Trips to where?”
“For our 25th anniversary,” Ralph answered, “I took her to Beijing, China.”
The crowd nodded and murmured in appreciation. When things quieted down, the pastor winked and said: “What a terrific example you are to husbands, Ralph. So, tell us where you're going now for your 50th anniversary?”
Ralph replied, “I'm going to go back and get her.” (Brett Kays, Flat Rock, Michigan; www.PreachingToday.com)
I suppose that’s one way to stay married, especially in a day and age when the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that a couple's odds of reaching their 25th anniversary are below 50% (Houston Chronicle, 09-19-07;). There are a lot of pressures on couples today, pressures that force them apart rather than keep them together.
Even so, there is a way to divorce proof your marriage, whether it’s your first or second marriage. Despite the increased pressures in today’s culture, your marriage can last a lifetime and happily so.
That’s what we’re going to learn from Jesus’ words in the gospel of Mark. You see, Mark wrote his Gospel to an audience much like our own today. He was writing to a Roman audience, who faced the same kind of increased pressures on their marriages that we face.
Now, for the first 520 years of the Roman Republic, there had not been a single recorded divorce. But under the Empire, the time of Christ and beyond, divorce was a matter of impulse. Seneca wrote: “Women were married to be divorced and divorced to be married.” In Rome, the years were identified by the names of the counsels, but it was said that fashionable ladies identified the years by the names of their husbands. Juvenal describes an instance of a woman who had eight husbands in five years. (William Barclay, Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, p.199)
Now, how can any marriage last in a society like that? Well, the Gospel of Mark shows us how where it records Jesus’ comments on divorce. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Mark 10, Mark 10, where we learn how we can live happily ever after with our current mate in a society which doesn’t value marriage at all.
Mark 10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them. (NIV)
Jesus is teaching in Herod Antipas’ territory. According to Mark 6, Herod Antipas was the one who had married his brother, Philip’s, wife. She had divorced Philip to marry Antipas, and John the Baptist told Herod that what he had done was unlawful. Next we hear that John the Baptist is arrested and Herodias asks for his head on a platter.
Let me tell you, preachers learned real quick not to talk about divorce around Herod and Herodias, i.e., if they wanted to keep their heads. The Pharisees knew this, so guess what subject they ask Jesus about before crowds of people in Herod Antipas’ territory. You got it – divorce.
Mark 10:2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (NIV)
They’re not really interested in an answer. They just want Jesus to say something that will get Him killed like John the Baptist. So Jesus has to be very careful with His answer.
Mark 10:3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. (NIV)
Jesus answers their question with a question.
Mark 10:4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” (NIV)
The Pharisees thought they had found a loophole in the law. Actually, the passage in Deuteronomy prohibits a man to remarry his first wife after he has written her a “certificate of divorce” and she marries again. If her second husband would die, the first husband can’t have her back (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
The Law did not permit divorce. It just acknowledged that divorce was taking place and set some boundaries around it. It was actually designed to protect the wife from unscrupulous and abusive husbands.
Well, the Pharisees twisted the words of this passage and used it as a loophole to allow for divorce. In fact, they had a standing argument over what that loophole was. The passage in Deuteronomy speaks of a man writing a “certificate of divorce” for something “indecent” about his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1). The word “indecent” literally means “nakedness” or “shame,” and some Pharisees argued that a man could divorce his wife for any little infraction he might be ashamed about. Maybe she burned his supper or won last night’s argument. That would be grounds for divorce for some Pharisees. Other Pharisees argued that the “indecency” was the shame of adultery and that divorce was permitted in cases of adultery. Whatever it was, they were looking for loopholes in the law to allow for divorce. And just like their predecessors, they were going to stubbornly pursue it no matter what the law really said.