Print This Page Print This Page


Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on April 24, 2016 under 2016 |

Message preached Sunday, April 24, 2016 from Mark 10:1-9

Theme: We respond in the best way to debates about marriage by faithfully declaring God’s authoritative account of the beginning.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We continue our study of the Gospel of Mark this morning. But before we turn to that Gospel, I ask that we first open our Bibles to the very beginning—to just the first few pages. It’s there that we find a very familiar story. But it’s a story that makes all the difference to how we understand what happens in the Gospel of Mark—and indeed, find answers to many of the cultural questions we face today.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I love the Book of Genesis. It’s God’s divinely-inspired book of the origins of all things. It’s the book to go to in order to understand God’s purpose and design for all the important aspects of life that we deal with in this world. It’s even where we ought to go to rightly understand the basics of our very selves as human beings.

Moses—writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit—tells us in the first chapter of Genesis of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth; and of His formation of the habitable world in six days. And on that sixth day—as a crowning act of His creative work—He made “man”. The Hebrew word for “man” or “humankind” is adam; and in some of the most majestic words the human ear could ever hear, the Bible tells us,

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).

The Bible does not treat this as a “mythical” story, by the way—as if it were something merely poetic or symbolic, but fundamentally untrue. Rather, it presents this to us as the real record of the actual beginnings of human life on earth at a point in real history. In everything else that the Bible then goes on to propose to us—in terms of the record of its genealogies, its story of the formation and development of the nations, its historical accounts, its doctrines and theology, its prophecies, its explanation of the purpose and mission of God on earth, and it’s great plan for the redemption for fallen humanity—it assumes throughout the absolute truth of the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, and treats it as literal history in the real time/space universe in which we live.

And what a dramatic difference it makes when we receive this story as the literal, historical record of events that the Bible presents it to be! It stands as the basis of a series of important propositions about humanity—many of which run in utter contradiction to much of contemporary thinking. It declares to us, for example, the immeasurable and immutable value of every human life; because each person born of Adam and Eve—no matter who they are, or what they do, or what stage of life they’re in—bears the image of God. It declares to us the supremacy of human life above all other forms of life on earth; because it was to Adam and Eve, and to their offspring, that dominion was given over all the rest of God’s Creation. It declares to us that humanity is given the responsibility of being good stewards of all that God has made, and to make wise and reverent use of it all to the glory of God and the good of people. It declares to us the intention of God that humanity “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”; and shows us that the spread of humanity on earth is designed by God to be a great good—beneficial to all of His creation.

And notice particularly that it also declares to us the basic nature of humankind as both “male” and “female”. Both genders are distinct from one another, and together are essential to the full definition of humanity. Humankind is not truly understood as ‘man’ unless understood as both male and female; with neither of the two being complete unless complemented by the other. Each is distinct from the other; but both are designed for each other and are dependent upon one another.

And it wasn’t until after this crowning work of Creation—the making of mankind in His own image; the creation of the first man and first woman in distinction, and yet in perfect complementarity—that God looked upon all that He made and declared that “indeed it was very good” (v. 31).

* * * * * * * * * * *

I believe that God not only wanted us to know about the importance of this initial story; but He also wanted us to know that He Himself loves this story! He loves humanity as made by Him in His own image; and He loves the story of humanity’s beginning so much that He chose to tell the story twice. Some people feel as if there are two contradictory stories being told to us in the first two chapters of the Bible. But I don’t believe they are contradictory at all. Rather, I see them as harmonious and united—with the second story giving us more details of God’s creation of human life.

In the second telling of the story, the focus is on the divinely-designed relationship between the first man and the first woman. The Bible tells us that God brought all of the animals that He had made to Adam to see what he would name them; and whatever it was that Adam called them became their name. (There’s a display of Adam’s creative genius in that, by the way. It would take a profound intellect to look at a living creature, study it, understand something of its nature and behavior, and summarize its fundamental characteristics in a single, comprehensive name. Adam, in that respect, was not only the first man but also the first scientist.)

But it may be that God also allowed Adam to examine all the other creatures in order for him to see that none of them was a compatible companion for him. They all, each one, had a mate and were fit partners for one another; but he himself was still alone—and perhaps even felt that loneliness in a profound way. Moses goes on to tell us in Genesis 2:21-23;

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:21-23).

Many have observed—and rightly, I believe—that God did not make Eve from Adam’s foot so that she would be lower than him, or from his head that so she would be above him, but rather from his side so that she would be a full partner with him in the grace of life. And those scholars who understand the original language tell us that, when Adam spoke those words at his first sight of her, the grammar suggests that he was speaking emphatically and enthusiastically. I like to imagine that when Adam woke from his sleep, God said, “Good morning, Adam. I made something for you while you were napping. You got a name left over for this—?” And when Adam took one look at her, and shouted, “Whoa! Man!” . . . well . . . the name stuck.

This foundational story stands as the basis of God’s institution of marriage. Moses makes this clear by his use of the word “Therefore”; when he then goes on to say,

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

And just as the first telling of the creation story in Genesis 1 establishes the basic principles for the nature of mankind, this second telling of the story in Genesis 2 establishes the basic principles for the nature of marriage. A marriage—as God designed it—is to be constituted of only one man and only one woman. It is commenced by the man making a full and complete departure from the care and nurture of father and mother, and by being joined to his wife in an intentional, indissoluble, official and exclusive union of all that they are and have; and from that day forward, the two of them become one flesh—in body, in heart—for the rest of their lives.

And personally, I believe that our very best response to all of that should be worship! May God truly be praised for His creative work, His wise design for life, and His goodness to the human family that He has made and loves.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; the reason I felt that it was important for us to take the time this morning to review that story is because it stands as the basis for what we read in the Gospel of Mark. You might say that I have economized my preaching time by telling that story first. I ask you to now turn with me to Mark 10; and to the story of a controversy that was brought before the Lord Jesus. Let’s look at this story point by point; and as we do, I believe you’ll see the practical value of what it is that we have just done.

Mark 10 tells of a very important transition point in the story of the Lord Jesus’ earthly ministry. If you were to examine the other Gospels and compare the stories, you’d find that there were a lot of events that occurred between the end of Chapter 9 and the beginning of Chapter 10—events that the Holy Spirit did not lead Mark toto include in his Gospel account.

Look carefully at how Mark 10 begins. He writes;

Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan . . . (v. 1a).

Apparently, Mark wanted to summarize many months of travel and ministry into this brief statement, and to highlight where Jesus now was. This was because it’s in Mark 10 that Jesus begins His final journey to Jerusalem—and to the cross where He would die for our sins. If you want to understand why these words at the beginning of verse 1 are important, simply look ahead to what Jesus said to His disciples in verses 33-34;

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” (vv. 33-34).

But it wasn’t all just strictly a matter of traveling. Jesus also ministered to people along the way. Mark tells us in the rest of verse 1;

And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again (v. 1b).

And I love that; don’t you? Isn’t that just like our Savior? Wherever He went, crowds of people couldn’t help but gather to Him—again and again. And whenever they gathered together, He couldn’t help but teach them—again and again.

Now; it was at that time in His journey on the way to the cross—and perhaps even while He was in the midst of teaching and ministering to the crowd—that our Lord was confronted with a ‘cultural controversy’ about marriage. And specifically, it was on the sad subject of divorce. Mark tells us;

The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him (v. 2).

To appreciate what was happening here, you need to know a little of the background. At that time, there had come to be two very distinct schools of thought on the subject of divorce in the Jewish culture. On the one hand, there were those who had followed the teaching of a famous rabbi named Shammai. He had taught that divorce was allowable according to the Law given by Moses; but only in the case of the wife being proven to be guilty of infidelity. You might say that the school of Shammai represented the more conservative position. The less conservative position was held by those who followed the teaching of another rabbi named Hillel. He taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all—even very trivial reasons such as if she had burned his dinner, or if she was no longer attractive to him. People were often divided on this controversial matter over whether they were of the school of thought represented by Shammi or of that represented by Hillel.

But there was another thing going on in the culture that made the matter even more controversial—and even risky. And that had to do with the king. King Herod Antipas had divorced his wife in order to marry the wife of his brother Philip. It was a scandalous act; and if there had been tabloids in that day, their pictures would have been on the covers. John the Baptist, you might remember, very boldly confronted the king about this. He told the king, “It is not lawful for you to have her!”; and as a result, John was arrested for having declared the truth of what God said about marriage and was thrown into prison—and was later beheaded. Divorce was a very controversial issue—and people were a little afraid to get too public about which side of the debate they were on; lest they should suffer for doing so! Speaking out about marriage, in that day, could get you into serious trouble.

So; when the Pharisees came and asked Jesus—very publicly it would seem—whether it was “lawful” for a man to divorce his wife”, they were stirring up a proverbial hornet’s nest. And do you notice what we find at the end of verse 2? We’re told very clearly that the Pharisees asked this question of Jesus, not because they wanted to know the answer, but because they were “testing Him”. They were trying to get Jesus to pick a side in a controversial cultural issue so that they could have an accusation to make against Him, and thus discredit Him and divide the people over Him. They may even have hoped that another “John the Baptist” incident could be made to happen to Him.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I believe our Lord knew that a trap was being set for Him; but He did not shy away from the question. He didn’t simply say, “No comment.” Instead, He responded to it and faced the challenge. But it’s very important to notice how He did so.

Look carefully at what He did. Instead of simply giving what could have been interpreted as His own ‘opinion’ (which was what they were hoping for, because that would have given them an opportunity to accuse Him), He instead turned their attention to the authority of God’s word—to which even they as Pharisees would have had to confessed devotion. In verse three, we read,

And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” (v. 3).

I hope I don’t sound irreverent in saying this; but that’s brilliant! Jesus asked them a question in response; and His question put the responsibility right back on them. I think that in similar controversies—especially ones in which our own opinions couldn’t help but get us into trouble—that’s what you and I ought to do. We should simply respond by asking, “Well; what does the Bible say? What does God’s authoritative word teach on this matter?” So often, people seek to settle controversial questions by looking first to their own thoughts, or opinions, or feelings, or experiences; and then subjecting God’s word to the judgment of their thoughts or opinions or feelings or experience. Instead, we should turn that around. We should make it our consistent policy to look first to what God has clearly said; and then subject our thoughts or opinions or feelings or experiences to the judgment of God’s word! People won’t like it when we do that, of course; but what a difference it makes when we do so!

So; the Pharisees answered what they thought Moses had said to the matter:

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her” (v. 4).

They were quoting here from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. But the interesting thing is that this passage is not talking so much about “permission” to divorce as it was about “prohibitions” against remarrying afterward. In that passage, Moses—speaking in the authority of God to the Jewish people—said;

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

They took Moses’ words about ‘writing a certificate of divorce, putting it in a wife’s hand, and sending her out of the house’ as if it meant that God approved of them doing so. But that’s not what was meant by that passage at all! It wasn’t about a permission to divorce. It was about the prohibition against remarrying that same woman a second time.

And by forcing them back to the authority of God’s word, and causing them to declare what God said, Jesus revealed the real condition of their heart toward God and His word.

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept . . .” (v. 5).

That was the real problem; wasn’t it? They had a hard heart—certainly toward their wives, and certainly toward God’s institution of marriage; but ultimately toward the God who had created marriage and had established its rules.

And that’s when Jesus did for them back then what we did at the beginning of our time together this morning. He dealt with the controversy by going back to the beginning, and reexamining God’s original design and intention for marriage. He quoted the very words that God had given Moses and said;

But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh (vv. 6-7).

In a time of utter moral confusion and sinful rebellion, it’s amazing how much it clears things up when we simply go back to the beginning and reexamine the foundations that God has already established!

Now; that, of course, doesn’t mean that doing so will change everyone’s mind. When hearts are hard toward God and His word, they won’t submit to His design or listen to what He said. But in the end, it doesn’t make any difference whether they will or not. The words of God our Creator still stand unchanged—whether man the creature accepts them or not. I believe that’s—at the heart—what Jesus meant by what He said in verse 9:

Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate (v. 9).

It’s not for man to change things. It’s for man to simply submit to what God said and obey. The creature cannot alter what the Creator has established without bringing about confusion and trouble. As Jesus said elsewhere, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17).

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; there’s more to this story. Mark goes on to tell us;

In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:10-12).

The application of Jesus’ teaching on divorce is a very tender matter. And just as Jesus saw fit to explain it in greater detail to His disciples, I feel it would be best for us to deal with this subject—the Lord willing—next Sunday. That way, we can give it the kind of careful attention that it deserves.

But for now, let’s take to heart the lesson to be learned from the example of our Lord’s conversation with the Pharisees. It’s a lesson that has application in all kinds of different areas that we may encounter in an unbelieving culture such as ours. It may be with respect to controversies over divorce, or over the nature of marriage itself, or about questions of sexual identity and gender; or even about such things as human dignity and the value of human life, or over the treatment of the environment, or over the problem of racism. Almost every ‘cultural controversy’ we face today has its ultimate resolve in answering this question: “What has God said from the beginning?”

May God help us to answer the questions and challenges of our day by faithfully doing so—just as our Lord Jesus Himself did.

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.