Matthew 19:1-15
Key Verse 19:8

“Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’”

To God’s eyes, a person is great not when the world considers him or her great, but when a person decides to walk in the footsteps of Jesus— in humility and in sacrifice and in servantship. That’s what makes a person great in God’s eyes! If you learn from Jesus how to be humble, when every bone in your body wants you to be prideful and defiant; when you listen to Jesus who wants you to sacrifice something of yourself when every bone in your body wants you to be selfish and self centered; when you understand from Jesus how important it is to serve others, even when you don’t think they deserve it, or would appreciate it, or even when you don’t want to! That’s the way to be great in God’s eyes. A true Christian fully understands this truth, and would genuinely struggle to obey Jesus, because it’s the will of God that you do so! Others never do! [This was the last passage]. In this passage, Jesus has a conversation with those others— some Pharisees— some of the proudest people of his time. They were the Shepherds of the nation who should have set an example with their lives for everyone to follow. But they resisted humility and sacrifice and servantship in every way and grew instead in pride and in self glory. They achieved the best and highest privileges in society and became great in the eyes of men, and a stench to God. In their pride, they came to Jesus with a theological question about divorce. But their question revealed what’s in their hearts. They were unspiritual, wicked and perverted men, who needed to repent! Divorce isn’t a joke! So Jesus gave them a very simple and basic Bible study on the meaning of marriage to help them come to their senses and escape hell.

Jesus’ gospel ministry in Galilee just ended and it was now time for him to go up to Jerusalem to fulfill the will of God. In other words, Jesus was now ready to sacrifice his life on the cross as God had ordained him to do. We would imagine that he needed some privacy to consider the torments of his suffering and cross. It was time for people to leave him alone. But look at verse 2! You’ll see what Jesus did during his final days on earth. “Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.” He never stopped serving the helpless and needy even during his time of anguish. His compassion compelled him to set aside his own suffering in order to alleviate the suffering of others. Jesus is great because he is the Son of God. But he is great also because he didn’t live as the Son of God in luxury and privilege; but he lived humbly as a servant to unworthy sinners like us. This was the example he set for us who follow him; No matter what our circumstances may be, that we should live and die serving God’s purpose in our lives. A true Christian would really understand this truth; and would be eager to repent and to make a decision of faith to devote their lives in the service of God’s suffering flock.

Read verse 3. “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’” Religious men who should be concerned with the things of heaven, with the will of God, with subjects of love and grace, forgiveness and mercy, sacrifice and blessing; they were rather deeply concerned with the subject of divorce. And they were also concerned with how to best get rid of Jesus. Some theological questions stem from a sincere heart, but there was nothing sincere about their question. Their motives were wrong! They were convinced that the Law of Moses gave them every right not only to divorce their wives at will, but to divorce their wives for any and every reason one had. Matthew tells us that they were testing him to see if they agreed with them on the subject of divorce. Of course, Jesus didn’t give them an answer. But he gave them what they really needed— a Genesis Bible study! Jesus figured that if they still had questions about marriage or divorce, or even about courting, then they really needed to go back to the beginning to see what God had to say. They needed a foundation in the word of God. Jesus figured that as long as these people were still debating such questions, they wouldn’t listen to him even if he gave them an answer. Usually such people have their own corrupt ideas about life’s many issues, and no desire to change them or to consider the truth of God. Opinionated people are self righteous. They seem humble in asking questions about life, but in reality they only listen to their own nonsense. Nevertheless, Jesus didn’t shun them. He just gave a beautiful lesson in Genesis.

Read verses 4-6. “’Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’” In the first place, God created them male and female— man and woman— and purposed to join them in marriage to make them one! This was God’s original plan, without any perversion! So, God made them to be inseparable, unbreakable, indivisible! The day comes in a person’s life when he or she must leave their father and mother to be united with their husband or wife in holy marriage. It is natural that a person would want to be independent of his or her parents, to unite with his or her husband or wife that they might begin a family of their own. The Bible says that the two become one, not like one but literally one. Of course, they are still two separate persons. But in God’s eyes, these two are considered as one. To God and in him, they are no longer two, but one. And that’s a mystery in itself. (Ephesians 5:32) A man and his wife may be very different from each other. But no matter how different they are, God who joined them as one wants them to remain and to grow in their oneness. And it doesn’t come naturally, though. They would need to strengthen that oneness through mutual love and respect for each other. Then God solidifies their oneness! And so they are inseparable, unbreakable, indivisible! Life always holds trials and difficulties for a man and his wife. But nothing can drive them apart. Usually difficulties join them together even more tightly in Christ and to his glory. And God’s purpose of course is that when they are tightly bound as one with each other, he would use them to bless others. Clearly these Pharisees never understood the beauty of an inseparable oneness that God intended between husband and wife. They never understood even the most basic meaning or purpose of marriage. Otherwise they would have never thought about divorce, nor even had such disturbing questions about it.

Marriage is also God’s blessing. When God made the world and everything in it, he gave it to his son Adam to be its caretaker. At the time, it was a paradise, the expression of God’s love and blessing for his son Adam. But in order to complete the blessing, God created Eve and brought her to him become his wife. Therefore, marriage was the pinnacle of God’s blessings to them, and the best one yet. Sometimes people think of marriage as a convenience or an inconvenience, perhaps even a socio-economic necessity or even a physical necessity. Some even consider marriage as a way to satisfy their lustful desires. But to give such meanings to marriage distorts God’s original purpose for it. To marry with the wrong reasons, marriage is no longer a blessing but a blight, especially on children who have to grow up wounded because of a failed marriage. A failed marriage isn’t necessarily a broken marriage, just one outside of God’s grace and truth. On the other hand, those who consider marriage from God’s perspective, to them marriage is clearly of God and for God’s holy purpose. When a man or woman know this truth and accept it into their hearts, they then marry not according to emotion but according to faith— the faith that is determined to honor God and to serve his purpose in their family. That marriage is surely a blessing to everyone around.

That’s why Jesus gave the Pharisees a Genesis Bible study to teach them that marriage in God’s sight is holy and cannot be broken. For this reason, they should not entertain such questions and thoughts on divorce; for the two are one and cannot be separated! So they really needed to do what God wanted them to do when faced with their sin— to repent. Repentance for them meant to purify their hearts of their worldly ideas of marriage then offer their marriage to God in faith. But as we said before, people who ask such questions usually have corrupted opinions. These Pharisees weren’t interested in God’s truth about marriage, but only interested in looking for another wife; and because of that they had no problem twisting the word of God.

So they asked Jesus in verse 7: “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” In a sense they were accusing Jesus of contradicting Moses who allowed them divorce. Their question had an evil twist to it. But Jesus patiently answered them. Read our key verse 8. “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it wasn’t this way from the beginning.’” Actually Moses never commanded them to divorce their wives. They had misrepresented and abused his original words on divorce and interpreted them in their own way to satisfy their own evil desires. Jesus knew that Moses had permitted divorce. Moses was a man of God’s law, upholding the word of God absolutely. But when he permitted them to divorce, he was in fact stopping the spread of the poison of divorce among the community of God’s people. How so? Many men were used to disposing of their wives to make room for other women to come into their lives. They were like animals, enjoying their wives as well as other women as well. And women were helpless to do anything except to quietly suffer. In order to protect these women, Moses gave laws of divorce to curb the cruelty of these men. Men who were used to simply and easily sending their wives away, now had to go through investigation and difficult legal procedure before being allowed to divorce. More than that, divorce was never permitted by Moses for any and every reason as they had wanted. Divorce was granted only on condition of marital unfaithfulness. But these terrible people found a way around this tight law. They interpreted the “unfaithfulness” of a wife to mean such things as poor cooking skills or other human flaws. If a wife got sick and said to her husband, “I’m sick,” and her husband thought she was faking illness, he could call it “marital unfaithfulness” and divorce her!

These Pharisees made use of the law to cover what’s in their hearts. Their hearts were full of adultery and wickedness, like the hearts of those who always interpret the word of God in their own way to their own advantage! It is God’s will that men and women be pure at heart. It is his will that men and women keep their body pure before marriage. But today’s Pharisees have questions like this: “if we intend to marry anyway, what’s the problem with flirting or enjoying one another?” If they do not know what’s wrong with that, it’s like they never even studied the word of God nor studied it intending to obey it. The Pharisees were God’s own people, chosen to set an example for everyone. They were chosen to hold the Bible teaching up on a pedestal so that everyone might honor and obey its words. It wasn’t easy to do so! To do that, they needed to deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Christ. To do that, they needed to control their sinful urges. Their lives needed to inspire others towards purity of heart. But they were like devils who carried the Bible in one hand, and committed sin with the other. They were guilty of twisting God’s word to satisfy their own sinful urges. There are also many religious devils today as well, who ask many questions just to cover up some godless behavior.

Here’s an interesting thought. When Jesus’ disciples learned the true meaning of marriage from Jesus, look at what they said! Read verse 10. “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry.’” It’s so strange that they would say that. But they were very much part of that corrupt culture! They lived in a time where women had no rights. Even the disciples were comfortable with the idea that if a wife doesn’t fulfill her duties to her husband, it wasn’t hard to divorce her and get another. We can say that even the disciples’ idea about marriage was threatened by Jesus’ teaching! They were his disciples, but they weren’t angels. They fully understood from Jesus’ teaching that they were forbidden from treating women like objects of pleasure to be put away for any and every reason! So now they were terrified of the prospect of marrying the wrong woman! What if they married a quiet woman and later found out that she was hiding a big mouth, were they to tolerate her the rest of their lives? What if she wanted to study Bible instead of cooking them regular meals; or what if she didn’t want to be a baby factory but only wanted two and the half kids? So here’s what they said, “It is better not to marry.” They really didn’t understand the true meaning of marriage, that marriage is established for God’s own glory. They didn’t understand the oneness that is too holy to break apart, especially when a marriage is blessed by God. No wonder, then, that Jesus’ teaching on marriage was too hard for them to accept. Nevertheless, Jesus taught them that they should accept whatever grace God gives them by faith. (11) He assured them that whether they marry or not, whatever their decision may be, it should first and foremost glorify God. (12)

Verse 13 is like a light shining on Jesus’ disciples to reveal their worldly view of women and children. Read verse 13. “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.” Apparently the disciples didn’t think much of women and children. They thought that these unimportant people— women and children— were a nuisance to Jesus. So they rebuked them, “Go away, you annoying women; shoo you rowdy kids!” But Jesus wouldn’t let them do that. Read verse 14. “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” Jesus was really broken-hearted because of his ignorant disciples. Jesus so much wanted them to accept these little children in their hearts so that they themselves might have a taste of the kingdom of heaven. He wanted them to be humble and to welcome humble people in Jesus’ name.

Jesus more than anything wanted his people of all time to receive the blessing of marriage and godly family, so that the family established by God might serve God. And Jesus teaches us how to receive that blessing, whether we are married or not, whether our family is together or not, whether we have failed or not. All these things do not matter if we know the secret of receiving the blessings newly from Jesus. Jesus is able to mend anything and everything, even broken hearts, even broken homes and a nation broken by divorces and godless marriages. Jesus teaches the way to such blessing. He says: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” This is the way it was in the beginning. The way of blessing is to humbly come to Jesus like little children in order to receive God’s blessing.

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