Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Is it lawful…?” Isn’t that the question we’re always tempted to ask? Not: “Is it good?” “Is it the best?” “Is it God’s intention and will for His creation?” No, “is it lawful”? Which comes awfully close to, “Can I get away with this?” If the speed limit is 30, “is it lawful” for me to go 35? But, of course, the Pharisees aren’t interested in any of those questions. They’re not even really interested in an answer at all. They are asking this for one reason only: to tempt Jesus, to put Him to the test. They’re not asking questions because they want to know what He really thinks or says about marriage and divorce. They’re asking so that they might get Him to say something that they can later use against Him.
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? So you want to talk about the law? Well, let’s ask the one who gave the law. Since the law came through Moses, what did Moses command you? He permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away. Yes, he did. But why did he do that? Because he thought divorce was a good idea? No, because your hearts were hard. That’s why he gave you that command.
You Pharisees, Jesus says, started at the wrong end of the question. You’re asking about divorce when you should be asking about marriage. Because from the beginning, from creation, God made them male and female, and a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. They are no longer two, but one flesh. What God has joined together, let no one separate.
And when His disciples ask Him about this later, He completely levels the playing field: whether it’s a husband who divorces his wife, or a wife who divorces her husband, and they remarry other people, both are committing adultery against their spouses—the first husband or wife they married.
Don’t we do the same thing: start at the wrong end of the question? We start with all the problems, all the sins, all the destruction in our lives and in our world, and then try to figure our way out of the problem from there. No. The question isn’t, first of all, what to do now that we’ve found ourselves in this situation. The question is, first of all, what did God intend? How did God set things up? How did God design His creation to work? And then it is to recognize that in this situation, the source of our sin is the hardness of our hearts.
Are there reasons why one spouse or the other shouldn’t stay in the same house, or maybe even in the marriage? Yes. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s based on the hardness of hearts. The man—usually—who abuses his wife is doing so because of the hardness of his heart. When husbands or wives commit adultery, they are doing so because of the hardness of their hearts. When husbands or wives divorce each other, they are doing so because of the hardness of their hearts.
This doesn’t apply only to questions of the Sixth Commandment and marriage. All of our sin can be traced back to the hardness of our hearts. And it can be traced back to the same Adam and Eve whom God created to live as husband and wife with each other.
And then we have a section in Mark 10 that, at first, appears to be unconnected. It seems like a totally separate issue when parents are then bringing children to Jesus and the disciples prevent them from coming. Jesus is angry and says, Do not prevent them! Let the little children come to Me, for of such as these is the Reign of God.
These are children, and they are brought by their parents: husbands and wives. And they have been made one flesh, and the visible, literal one flesh is a child. The parents are still two people; the child is one. And no matter what science promises, or what science does, or the lengths that people will go to get around creation, it doesn’t and cannot change the fact that a child is always—always—the result of two parents, a father and a mother.
All of them are the result of two parents except one. The only one in the history of this creation who has only one human parent, who is called the “seed of the woman,” who was created by God in the womb of Mary, as He purified her flesh and made a body for His Son. He entered this world, and He looked around at His scattered, filthy, unclean creation, and He looked on them with love. He gathered them from every place and He became flesh and bone to become one flesh with them. You, He says, are My own dear bride. And He gathered us to present us pure and holy, without blemish, before His Father in heaven. He took them in His arms and put His hands on their heads and blessed them.
Do not hinder them, He says. You don’t have to be a child to enter the Reign of God, but you do have to be like a child. That is, you have to be brought, because you will not bring yourself. The parents bring their children to Jesus. This is, in fact, one of the great goods or purposes of marriage—maybe even the greatest good: that a mother and a father, married to each other, provide a safe and secure place for their children to grow up and be brought to Jesus. The children have nothing to offer. The children are weak and helpless. The children need the blessing of Jesus.
And so it doesn’t matter how old you are, how much you know, how successful you are; you cannot stand before God on your own age, knowledge, or any other merits. Do not hinder the children, but do not hinder anyone else, either. Don’t hinder them from Jesus by telling them that their sin is not sin. That’s telling them that they do not need Jesus. It is not hindering people to call sin sin. If we call it what it is, then we realize why we need the Jesus who gathers the helpless, the weak, the wounded, the sinner to Himself.
You’ve been abused or wounded? You’ve committed adultery? You’ve been divorced? You’ve had a long and happy marriage? You’ve never been married? Jesus says, let them come to Me. He opens His arms to you. And don’t you need a place to rest? A place of rest in a changing world (LWML Sunday theme)? A world that’s not only changing, but a world that has nothing but hatred and mockery for God’s creation, for marriage, for children; in that world, we need a place of rest. And so Jesus opens His arms to you and to me. He gathers us in. He blesses us with His presence and His promise. He puts His hands on our heads and makes the sign of His cross, and writes His eternal Name on our hard hearts, so that they break open in the grip of His mercy.
He has gathered His Church, His Bride, to Himself, and He continues to do so. He sets up His Church as a shining light upon a hill, a witness to this old, sorry, dying, and changing world. And you might say, “But, wait; how can I be a witness since I’ve done this, or done that, been divorced, or committed adultery? How can I be His witness?” But precisely there, in your sin, that you cannot change or undo, you are a witness to His mercy. You’re not witness to Him because you’re pure, but because He is. You’re not a witness to Him because you’re righteous, but because He is. And if you’ve been married a long time, you are just as much a witness to His mercy. After all, He kept you together this long! You’re a picture of the love Christ has for His Church, and the love the Church has for Christ. And if you’ve never been married, you still bear witness, because it’s His marriage to you that defines you, not some future marriage to another sinner.
He alone is our rest in this world. As the psalmist says, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God” (Psalm 62:6-7). The Rock of Ages, cleft for me by a spear on the cross. That Rock, who is Christ, is not ashamed to call you His Bride. He is not ashamed to call you His own dear child. He gathers you to Himself and He blesses you, for your sake, for your children’s sake, and for the sake of your children’s children forever, until we enter in to the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb.
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, 10/5/18