God's Blessing of Marriage

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“‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and 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” (Mark 10:7-9 (ESV).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A teacher asked her students to draw a picture of what they wanted to be. Little hands got busy. Pictures emerged of cowboys, doctors, sports figures, nurses, and so on. As the teacher looked around the room she noticed one little girl just sitting and dreaming. She walked over and asked how the picture was going. The girl responded, “I’m having a hard time drawing what I want to be.”
“What is it you want to be?” asked the teacher.
“I want to be happily married, but I don’t know how to draw that.”
In this day and age, with so few good role models available, it’s no wonder that the little girl was having a hard time. There are so many opinions, such a wide stream of thought, even upon what constitutes a marriage—let alone a happy marriage. And the waters were only muddied up a bit more this last summer when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry and have such marriages legally recognized in all states.  
Let’s be honest, the institution of marriage has been under assault for many years. As unscriptural as same-sex marriage may be, there are other, more socially acceptable arrangements that are at least as harmful. Perhaps the most common is cohabitation, living together without the blessing of marriage. And I’m not talking just about young couples, either. There are quite a few previously married middle-aged couples that choose to cohabitate rather than go through another divorce. There are a number of widowed senior citizens who set up joint housekeeping because they want the companionship but don’t want to lose their retirement benefits.
But it really doesn’t matter the age of the parties or the reasons cited for such an arrangement. Cohabitation is forbidden for Christians. Marriage, with the exercise of the sexual privilege, is ordained by God to be a one-way street, no backing out! Living together is sin. It breaks the Sixth Commandment, violates the love we should give to our neighbor, and tells God that we have a greater wisdom about marital intimacy than He does.
It also happens to be a bad idea from a practical standpoint. While many couples try to justify such living arrangements for economic reasons or as a trial to see if they are compatible, recent statistics show that 80 percent of all marriages begun as cohabitation fail. Why? They fail because there is a lack of moral conviction (which may lead to infidelity), along with a lack of commitment.
Jesus addresses another challenge to marriage in our Gospel. Some Pharisees ask Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Our ESV translation tells us they do this “in order to test Him.” Better translated as “tempting” in the KJV, the Greek verb (peiradzo) occurs only twice in Mark, here and in 1:13 when Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The Pharisees have joined dangerous company when they seek to tempt Jesus. In Bible study, we talked about the difference between testing and tempting. We decided that both terms can refer to the same action, but the real difference is motivation. The purpose of testing is to prove or strengthen. The purpose of temptation is to lead to sin or failure
The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus into something they can use to discredit Him. The divorce question is made to order, since they themselves are not agreed on the proper interpretation of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Those who follow Rabbi Shammai say the only reason for divorce is moral indecency; those who follow Hillel say anything in a wife that does not please the husband is grounds for divorce. They expect Jesus to side with one or the other, and then they will have the opportunity to criticize Him publicly.
But Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce is much more restrictive than either of the prevailing views of the day. Jesus tells the Pharisees that Moses’ regulation was simply a concession to their hardness of heart. It was an attempt to keep reasonable order in society, especially to protect those left most vulnerable by divorce—the women and the children. But it was certainly not a statement whereby God approved of divorce. In fact, the Lord said, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16).
Just as Jesus defeated the temptation of Satan in the wilderness by quoting from the Torah, so Jesus counters the Pharisees’ “test” with Moses’ words: “But 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.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:6-9).
Marriage is not a human arrangement. It is God who created and instituted marriage, who joins husband and wife together. God wants marriage to be “as long as you both shall live,” and “till death us do part.” These Pharisees, who claim to take Scripture so seriously, ought to know this. They ought to be seeking ways to uphold and affirm marriage, rather than looking for loopholes in the Law. Moses’ words are not suggestions; they are the words of God, the one whom they are tempting at that moment in the incarnate flesh of His Son, Jesus Christ.
In His words to the disciples, Jesus repeats what He has already said to the Pharisees, but adds a new element they have not heard before. Jesus describes the one who initiates and obtains the divorce wanting to be joined to someone else. It is the destruction of one union while pursuing another. Even if there is some social custom or thin legality to this, God sees through the act to its selfish motivation. It is adultery in the heart which God sees, as He does with other sins even before they become public acts. More crucial than knowing what Moses allowed is to know what those who seek divorce really want in their hearts.
Jesus’ words should give us pause. They should make us think twice before getting married. Marriage is a holy estate and an institution of God. It is not ours to play around with as we please. It should not be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God. These words of Jesus ought to make us very picky about the kind of persons we choose to marry. You ought to know the person you are marrying, and you ought to know the family into whom you are marrying. You ought to share the same faith in Jesus Christ and be able to pray and worship and commune together at the same altar. We need all the help and support we can get when it comes to marriage.
These words of Jesus should also make us think very hard before divorcing our spouses. God hates divorce. And it’s not just because it goes against His plan; it has very detrimental effects to God’s beloved people as well. C.S. Lewis writes: “All [Christian churches] regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment. What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is simple readjustment of partners to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them ‘falls in love’ with someone else.”
Divorce is never pretty, never clean. It always leaves open wounds and scars. Forget those triumphal stories that divorced people tend to tell about how their lives were so much better after they got divorced. They’re not telling you the whole story. Divorce is second only to death in terms of grief and loss. It really is a kind of death, when sin has its way with God’s gift, and one flesh is torn in two.    
I say these things, knowing full well some of you may have been involved in a divorce yourself. If not you personally, you’ve probably got family members who have. I don’t say this to judge you or to make you feel guilty. You already know, better than I, the pain that any divorce brings. I also don’t want you leaving here without reminding you that God’s grace in Christ covers all sins. In His cross, there is forgiveness and healing and new life. But I say this, especially, to remind everyone God’s plan for marriage is to bring blessings.   
Jesus goes all the way back to Genesis to speak about God’s plan for marriage, so we’ll do the same. After each of the first five days of creation, God pronounces it “good.” But in our Old Testament lesson, the Lord God makes a startling pronouncement: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” It is not good. So God proposes His own solution: “I will make a helper suitable for him.” “Helper” means “supporter, enabler.” “Suitable” means “fitting or appropriate.” His strengths will correspond to her weaknesses, and her strengths will correspond to his weaknesses. With the crafting of man’s companion, the “not good” has been rectified. So at the end of the sixth day God is able to look at everything that He has made and pronounce it as “very good.”
But man does not stay in this perfect state for long. Genesis 3 begins the record of the fall into sin. The man and the woman act selfishly—seeking their own gain, attempting to become wise like God. This disobedience causes them to fear, and in a sense, to hate the God who had made everything so good, who gives life. Self-centeredness and fear of God’s judgment corrupt God’s perfect creation and ends the state of peace and happiness in the Garden of Eden.
This diseased condition is inherited by the children and spreads through all creation. Indeed, sin permeates every marriage and family today. We see the evidence of that not only with issues like “same-sex marriage,” cohabitation, divorce, but in day-to-day sins like anger, impatience, disrespect, and selfishness.
Obviously, we aren’t Adam and Eve living in Paradise. Sin and death have had their way with the world and with marriage. We live in a divorce-oriented world. A world that seeks to define its own relationships rather than hold on to the ones set down by the giver. A world that wishes to shed itself of godly boundaries. A world that is so used to brokenness that it has devised its own solutions how to deal with that brokenness. If the car is broken, we trade it off and get a new one. If the house is broken, we move. If the congregation is broken, we go find another one. If the marriage is broken we leave and take up another.
Divorce and cohabitation, even same-sex marriage have become widely accepted. Such things do occur—even among Christians! We need to be honest about this. We need to talk frankly of our failure to uphold the sanctity of marriage. Most of all, we need to confess it and be forgiven. Whenever divorce or cohabitation or same-sex marriage happens there is sin involved—sins of thought, word, and deed, sins of omission and commission. Such sin hardens hearts and hardened hearts tend to become calloused toward God. This affects all of us.  
Fortunately, God has not abandoned His original good and gracious purpose for humankind. He sent His Son to seek a bride and He established the Christian Church here on earth. In Christ, God begins to restore His image to mankind. Through His Word and sacraments, His means of grace, God enables His people to live out His design for marriage. As fast as Satan works to destroy God’s kingdom, the Lord works faster to establish it in our hearts and in our home through His Son, through Jesus’ perfect, life, death, and resurrection.
Come to think of it, there is a picture the little schoolgirl in our opening story could have drawn to picture a happy marriage. It goes like this +. The vertical lines speaks of God’s love in Christ coming to you. The horizontal line speaks of His enabling power to help you love your neighbor as yourself.
God is concerned, first of all, about the relationship we have with Him—our vertical relationship, our fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. But God is also concerned about our horizontal relationship, the richness and fullness of our interpersonal relationships in this world. Foremost among those relationships is marriage, the closest, most intimate, and most important relationship in this life. A relationship so wonderful that God chose to use it as a model to describe His love for us in Christ Jesus. Wives submitting to their husbands as to the Lord. Husbands loving their wives as Christ loves His bride, the Church, and gave Himself up for her. Husbands and wives holding fast to one another, the two now one flesh.
And what about those time you fail?  All you can do is what a little child does when he breaks something of great value. There’s no use hiding it or making excuses or blaming someone else. The little child picks up the broken pieces and with runny nose and tears streaming down his cheeks, he sets the broken pieces at the feet of Mom and Dad and says, “I broke it, and I’m sorry.” They might not be able to fix what is broken, but they can let him know they love and forgive him.
And that is what you can do. If you are troubled by these words of Jesus, bring it to confession. That’s what believers in Christ do with the brokenness of their lives, including their broken marriages and their divorces, their adultery and lust and failure to hold fast to God’s plan. Gather up the broken pieces of your life and set them at the feet of your heavenly Father and humbly say, “I’m sorry. I broke it. Please forgive me.” No excuses. No finger pointing. No leaping through loopholes in the Law. Just confess your sin before God and His Church. Bury it in Jesus’ death. Drown it in Baptism. Receive Christ’s forgiveness and live as one who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Repent and believe this Good News: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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