In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. And what we have heard, according to the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, is the living voice of God; the Word of God, living and active, through the mouth of Jesus, the Son of God in flesh. “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets; but now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” The Good Shepherd speaks, and His sheep listen. The Good Shepherd speaks, and His sheep know His voice. The Good Shepherd speaks, and gathers His scattered flock from every place, and leads them, and His sheep hear and follow. They will not listen to or follow the voice of another. And how do they know the voice of their Shepherd? Because they listen to it over and over; they hear Him speak again and again and again. Because they know that it does not come naturally to our sinful natures to listen to the voice of God. Our natural, default position is to listen to the voice of the thief and the deceiver, who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. The sheep know that the devil does not often come with all his might and force in obvious ways. But like a lion, he prowls around seeking someone to devour. If you’ve ever watched one of those nature shows with big cats, you know how it works. They don’t attack the strongest in the midst of the herd. They watch and wait patiently for a weaker one, or a sicker one, or a younger one to drift. And then they attack. So we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the other members of the Body of Christ, who may be weak or young or sick at any given moment.
We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away from it. The drift doesn’t usually happen immediately, in an instant. It happens slowly, when we’re comfortable, when things are going well. It happens like falling asleep on a raft close to the shore, and waking up to find that you’ve drifted into the middle of the lake. We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, but not just the easy words. Not just the words that make us feel good, or the words that we like, or the words that we know apply to other people. We also have to pay attention to the hard words; the words that have been made difficult for us by the culture in which we live. Our world and our culture has made it difficult to hear certain words, like the words about gossip and the harm that we can bring to people’s reputations by what we say to someone else. It is hard for us to hear words about the dangers of wealth and riches, because compared to the rest of the world, we are all affluent. It is hard for us to hear words about discerning between false and true teachers in a culture that simply affirms all opinions and ideas as good and valid. It is hard for us to hear Jesus’ words about marriage, as we have them here in Mark 10. But we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
But, oh, we’ve drifted. Our culture has drifted so far that the people around us have no idea, no conception, of what marriage is and is for. The only thing people can think about marriage is that it is where two independent, autonomous individuals come together and make a contract to be with each other for an unspecified period of time, because they like each other’s company—at least until they don’t, or until they find someone they like better. The world certainly has no idea of God joining people together, or of marriage as God’s creation, meant to show the relationship of Christ to the Church. But if the world has drifted, that’s no surprise. They only listen to the Word of God when it suits what they already believe. But Hebrews says that we, the Church, must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Has the Church also drifted? Have our families drifted? Have our hearts drifted? Do we know what marriage is and is for?
The Pharisees had drifted from what they had heard. So they ask a question of Jesus to test—even, to tempt—Him. They ask Him whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. It is not a sincere question. They are not asking because they actually want an answer. Perhaps they want Jesus to disagree with Moses so that they know He is against the Law. Jesus asks them what Moses commanded, and they know immediately where to go: Deuteronomy, where Moses is repeating the Law to the people before they go into the Land of Promise. Moses permitted or allowed us to write a document of divorce and send our wives away. But Jesus says, you didn’t go back far enough. Don’t go to the fourth book of Moses, Deuteronomy, but to the first book, Genesis. Don’t go to the point where Moses is giving sinners the Law so their sin is curbed, and they are exposed as sinners, and so they won’t confuse their own wills with God’s; go to the beginning, before sin and shame and death and the destruction that sinners make of their lives. From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. He made a man and a woman, and it is for this reason that a man will leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they will be one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. And what God has joined together, let no one separate.
Where does divorce come from, out of God’s good creation? Jesus tells us: from the hardness of our hearts. Why did Moses, who wrote down the creation of marriage, allow divorce? Because of hard-heartedness in Israel. This is where all the sins against the Sixth Commandment come from. This is where all the sins against marriage come from. God gives a gift and our hard hearts destroy His gifts. We divorce, we commit adultery, we commit fornication, and homosexuality. But the actions are not all. Jesus also says that anyone who looks with lust at someone to whom he is not married, lusting after someone whom God has not given to you, is as good as if you have committed adultery. There is no one righteous, not even one. Not the married, not the single, not the divorced, not you and not me. So the judgment has already come down. We have set aside the Sixth Commandment in the hardness of our hearts. What, then? We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, to the One whom we have heard, Jesus Himself. He came into our flesh, into our world, into a world filled with hard-hearted sinners, and we did what hard-hearted sinners do: crucified our God in shame and death. And it is exactly there that He has joined Himself to us: flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, one flesh, never to be separated. How many promises we have broken! How far we have drifted! Do not justify, do not excuse; confess. If you are divorced, say, Lord have mercy! If you have committed adultery, say, Lord have mercy! If you have had a sexual relationship outside marriage, heterosexual, homosexual, or simply lusting after someone the Lord has not given, say: Lord, have mercy! And, wonder of wonders, He does. The Lord Christ never breaks His promise, never drifts from His people. This is not the time to drift away, neglecting His Word, His Supper, His presence. It is not the time to say that the Lord does not want you, or cannot forgive you, or will leave you to yourself. No! Now we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard from Christ! His Word of life to an adulterous people. He does not divorce Himself from you; He divorces you from your sin. You are not your own! You have been bought with the price of His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So honor God with your bodies. You are His and He is yours, and if that is so, can there be anything in all creation to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ, your Lord? No. Nothing. Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard from Jesus, lest we drift away from it. So that Christ’s Church bears witness to this drifting and aimless world that Christ’s command is unbreakable and perfect, while His marital love is limitless and unconditional.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/3/15