Summary: Matthew 5:31-32 What God has joined together
Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-10
What God has joined together
Well today we have finally arrived, for some, the most anticipated sermon of the year, delayed by one week because of volcanic ash-cloud! Yes, today we have arrived at the famous verse in Matthew 5 about divorce and remarriage. And I’ve had lots of you anticipating this sermon and asking me questions about it, before I’ve even preached it! And because of the nature of this sermon we will be talking about the birds and bees, so please take your younger children down to the movie we will be running downstairs which will be supervised. Today we have just two verses to look at in Matthew 5 - verses 31-32, but because Jesus talks about marriage and divorce elsewhere in Matthew, in chapter 19, we will also look at those verses and we will also look at what Paul has to say about in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15.
Marriage. Divorce. Remarriage. These are hot topics today. Why? The main reason these are hot topics today is because people want to know a number of things. First, some want to know how they can get out of their current marriages and are looking for a biblical reason or loophole that would allow them to divorce their current spouse. Others have already divorced or left their spouse and have remarried, and want to know if that is okay. Others are divorced or separated and not remarried, and want to know if they can get remarried again, and if so, under what circumstances or conditions. And then there are those us who are happily married, but wouldn’t mind knowing our options just in case something goes wrong, or we find someone more attractive sometime down the track… And then there are those who have never been married, and would like to know what they are getting in for when they are married. That’s why this topic is such a hot topic today.
But I want to tell you that it’s not just today that it is a hot topic. It was a hot topic in Jesus’ day, in Paul’s day. That’s why Jesus talks about it in Matthew and why Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians. And to understand what Jesus is saying, we first need to understand the context in which Jesus lived and the attitudes and rules about divorce in those times. In Matthew 5:31, Jesus says,
Matthew 531 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’”
Now where does it say that, that whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce? Well it comes from Deuternomony 24:1 which says:
24 “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 then it goes to talk about a situation where a man divorces his first wife, then his second wife and wants to go back to his first wife! And we can see that the main thing this passage in Deutonomy is talking about is not commanding a man to give a certificate of divorce to his ex-wife but something else, and as an aside, it mentions that when he divorces his wife, then he would give her a certificate of divorce. Now Deuternomony had been written over a 1000 years before Jesus’ time and in that time a whole lot of misunderstanding had developed about that verse in Deuteronomy. And in the popular thought of Jesus’s day, people had twisted these few words mentioning a certificate of divorce to mean that Moses, who wrote Deutonomony, had actually commanded a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away. We read that in Matthew 19:7 when the Pharisees challenge Jesus with:
Matt 197 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”
If you look at Deutonomy 24, it doesn’t say that Moses commanded people to divorce their wives, but rather that Moses allowed for real life – what actually happens, and then regulates that. And Jesus corrects this misunderstanding in verse 8 when He says:
Matt 198 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives.
So why do I say all this? Because we see that by Jesus’ time, people had used a passing reference to divorce in Deuteronomy 24 to construct a whole theology justifying divorce in all sorts of circumstances. And we can see that in Matt 19:3 when we see the Pharisee’s initial question to Jesus: