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LSB Proper 22B Sermon – Mark 10:2-16

October 5, 2015

October 4, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’”

Don’t break apart what God has brought together. That’s the main point of Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in response to their question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus’ answer makes people think about what God has instituted: What has He designed? What does He desire? When those questions are answered, then the proper action is understood.

When it comes to the matter of marriage, the LORD has revealed what He has designed and desired. Jesus notes that the LORD’s design and desire has been stated in Moses’ books, as He declares: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” That is read in the book that we call Genesis. You heard that book read this morning: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” The LORD’s desire is to have man and woman be brought together into marriages. He has designed woman to be a helper suitable, corresponding, and fit for man. That leads to the statement which Jesus cites: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This design and desire is foundational to how we are to understand the origin, purpose, makeup of marriage.

So when Jesus is asked about the lawfulness of divorce, He answers that such an action is not in line with the LORD’s design and desire. Jesus’ statement is stark: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus declares that dissolving marriages is not proper. The LORD does not want such a separation to take place. The LORD has not created marriage as an institution that is to be entered and exited. This union is not like your mobile phone service contract or your automobile lease or your cable subscription. It is not established with a contract opt out dates. Rather, it is a commitment that people are meant to enter into voluntarily whereby the LORD creates a bond between them. He yokes the man and woman together. He establishes a new identity for the man and woman, so that they become a corporate individual: no longer two, but one.

But Jesus also acknowledges that Moses gave a commandment that allowed divorce to take place. The Pharisees allude to the Book of Deuteronomy: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” Jesus does not deny that this is so. He knows what had been written. But His commentary reveals why that commandment it was written—not that the LORD desired it, not that the LORD designed it, but because the condition of mankind necessitated it: “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this commandment.” Jesus reveals that divorce was instituted to accommodate or to manage humanity’s sin. When He speaks about the propriety of dissolving marriages in that way, Jesus points out the reality of unrighteousness: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus’ statement about the hardness of heart is devastating to hear. It is a condemning statement. It is an exposing statement. Jesus again speaks the truth about mankind’s heart, just as He has spoken rightly of it before, as you heard weeks ago from Mark’s gospel: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” That’s what’s inside. That’s what breeds within the heart of mankind.

What effect does that have on marriage? It tears down the institution that the LORD established. For when those characteristics manifest themselves, the union between a man and woman is stretched and pulled in ways that were never meant to be. There is a euphemism used to explain why marriages are dissolved: “The couple cited irreconcilable differences.” But when we think beyond that euphemism, we can identify the reasons why marriages are dissolved. They’re listed in that catalogue of vices that Jesus mentioned: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, adultery, deceit, envy, pride, foolishness. Those vices manifest themselves in ugly, brutal ways. And when they do, the result of that sin can include the dissolving of the union that the LORD had created between husband and wife.

Jesus’ stark words should be heard and heeded, even as they point out our faults. This matter of marriage is assailed in so many ways. We have been complicit in the matter, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Where we have contributed to dissolution of marriage—whether by breaking our marriage vows, sinning against our spouses, denigrating the institution by the way we speak and behave, or by acting against the LORD’s design and desire—we must repent. Before we rebuke or correct the ways that others separate what the LORD brought together or tear down what the LORD has designed, we must look to our own guilt. The confession must be made about our hardheartedness. Is such a consideration uncomfortable? Absolutely. But it must be so. For Peter’s exhortation to the Church is correct: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God….” 

But the LORD does not leave us in the hardness of our hearts. No, that call to repentance that comes from the LORD shatters what was concrete, just as He states: “Is not My word like fire, declares the LORD and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” The breaking of rock-hard hearts is meant to bring people to His divine graciousness. Jesus’ statements on marriage in the Gospel Reading didn’t reveal much graciousness at all. But His actions did. And so do the way that the Scriptures speak about Jesus using the prism of marriage.

This past summer, a week before you heard Jesus’ words about the defiled nature of mankind’s heart from Mark’s Gospel, you heard Paul speak about Jesus’ gracious work of cleansing: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Using the image of marriage, the apostle proclaims Jesus’ love for His Bride. There is no putting her away. There is no writing the certificate of divorce and breaking apart what God had united. Instead, there is the complete giving of Himself so that Jesus and His people can be together.

That cleansing has happened for you. It includes absolving your sin. It means that you have been forgiven for what you have done to pull apart what God had joined together. Through Jesus’ sanctifying work, your hard hearts have been worked on, so that you are brought to love what the LORD has designed and desired in all matters, even the matter of marriage. That is what we first receive. And then we are to carry it out into the world, speaking about what the LORD has done, so they also might have their hearts changed and be united to Jesus who gave Himself up for them.

This whole matter of marriage and recognizing its proper origin, purpose, and makeup is a heart thing—but not in a romantic way. We must have our hearts made right by the LORD, so that we can both see what He has designed and desired and recognized it as truly good. We must have our hearts made right by the LORD, so that we can strive to carry out the calling that He has given to us—whether that be as husbands and wives or those who are not in such a relationship. We must have our hearts made right by the LORD, so that we seek Him and His guidance in living according to His will.

The prayers that we offer this day will include several petitions for that to happen. Such asking is not done in vain. For the same LORD who established marriage gives blessing to His people: “Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways!” His graciousness and mercy has been shown to us in the work that His Son has accomplished: “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

The LORD has also issued the promise that what is now flawed in this world will be restored to what He had originally designed. That means that even we who have contributed or endured pulling apart what God has joined together in marriage may have the opportunity to experience what the LORD first made: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” That is what we will experience as we live as the Church forever united to her Bridegroom Jesus who gave Himself up for us. For what He has brought together, He will not separate.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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