Summary: In Mark 10 we learn from the Pharisees and from some kids on how we approach Jesus. Do we try to justify ourselves, or be justified by God?
So, usually I like to have my sermons done by Wednesday or so, and I worked very hard to get this one done on Wednesday. I wrote a sermon using the Gospel lesson that talked about marriage and divorce. And after I wrote it, I read through it before I went home and realized it was the worst sermon I had ever written (at least bottom 3). So here it goes… Just kidding, I scrapped it and wrote another one on Friday. Why was it so bad? The main reason is because it wasn’t really supposed to be about marriage and divorce because or Gospel lesson, despite all appearances, isn’t really mainly about marriage and divorce.
It’s certainly not a list of rules for having a healthy marriage, or for when it’s OK to get a divorce. The Bible is very clear that God hates divorce (not say never reason for it, spouse is beating you, or harming the kids, or whatever). But God doesn’t celebrate when something he designed to last for a lifetime breaks apart. And if you have been through a divorce, you know exactly what God means. You feel God’s pain, and heartbreak over something that didn’t turn out the way you had hoped, or prayed, or imagined. And you certainly wouldn’t wish a divorce upon even your worst enemy.
So the sermon today isn’t about keys for a great marriage or anything like that. What we have before us is actually a very basic lesson about 2 different ways of approaching God. That’s what the Gospel lesson is actually about. And to make the point, God shows us two extremes, two groups of people in the ancient Middle East that couldn’t have been more opposite. In verses 2-12 we have the Pharisees, who were known for their brilliance, their wisdom, and their high and pious way of living. Then in verses 13-16 we have kids, small, not yet educated or wise, and totally dependent.
Each of these groups has a way of coming to Jesus. The Pharisees, with man-made way, rules, and knowledge, and impressive skills. And the kids, with a Holy-Spirit led way, totally reliant upon God, with nothing of earthly value to offer to him.
We start with the Pharisees. A group of these learned teaches come out to meet Jesus in Judea. Mark lets us know WHY they are coming, they want to test Jesus, or to trap him. I know what some of you are thinking, “Pastor, didn’t you just recently preach something like this, several times?” The answer is YES! The interaction between the Pharisees and Jesus is talked about all the time in the Gospels, and if the Bible talks about it a lot, I’m going to talk about it a lot too.
So what’s the killer question they have for Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Matthew adds, “For any and every reason”). Now as always, this may seem like a straightforward question, but it isn’t. It is a reference to a well documented debate going on in the Jewish community in Jesus day. There was a huge argument over how to interpret a rather obscure passage in the Old Testament Law in Exodus 24. I won’t read it here but the jist of it is that Moses said if a man gives a certificate of divorce to his wife for something indecent, and she remarries, and either gets divorced again, or the guy dies, she is NOT to go back to her first husband.
And this is the big debate. A Rabbi named Shammai, said that “indecency” should be interpreted to mean infidelity, so divorce should only come about if there was unfaithfulness. A Rabbi named Hillel said that, “indecency” could mean anything, and that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. (He mentions burning supper, not looking so hot, etc).
So we go back the question, and why they thought it was an airtight trap. If Jesus answers according to Shammai, they will come at him with Hillel. If he answers Hillel, they’ll hammer him with Shammai. And if Jesus says, never divorce, they will have the slam dunk case, saying, “Are you going against MOSES!” But these things never quite work out the way the Pharisees picture them working out. Because Jesus messes everything up by answering their question with a question, “What did Moses command you?” And they start to fall back on their heels, they said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
And Jesus leans into them, “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.”