As Jesus finished His astonishing teachings about prayer (see Story 151), He moved on from the region in the north and worked His way through Perea. He journeyed as far as the region of Judea, on the far side of the Jordan. Still the crowds gathered around Him, and He went on healing one person after another. Imagine the people as they watched His glorious miracles, the shouts from thrill and amazement as broken people were made whole! Imagine them listening intently to His teaching. Surely nothing like this had been seen in Israel for hundreds of years. Who could this Man be?
In the midst of His bright, beautiful Kingdom work, some Pharisees came to Jesus. They had carefully crafted questions to catch Him in a trap. If they could get Jesus to say something that went against the Law, they would have a good reason to arrest Him.
It might be worthwhile at this point to consider what other choices these leaders had. They could have looked around at all the people who had been healed and rejoiced. They could have asked Jesus questions to help them understand why He was doing things that seemed to violate what they thought God wanted them to do. They could have bowed down in worshipful repentance before Him, just as Peter had done at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (see Story 37). They could have declared to the nation that He was the Messiah and encouraged the people to follow Him. But they didn’t, and that tells us a lot about their hearts.
Instead, they asked Jesus, “‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’” This was a question that the people of their own time argued over. It was difficult because there were different passages of the Old Testament that seemed to give different answers. But Jesus wrote the Old Testament, so it wasn’t a challenge for Him.
“‘Haven’t you read that from 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 no man separate”’”
What a pure and holy ideal! What a beautiful truth! It was straight from the story of Creation. Marriage was designed at the beginning of time to make two souls one. It is part of who we were made to be as humans. In God’s perfect Garden, He brought Adam and Eve together for a perfect love. Imagine being a part of a romance where there is total acceptance and love that never fades. Imagine a marriage where there is no failure, disappointment, or sin. That is what we were created for. That is why it hurts when sin and brokenness damage love…something in us knows that this is not how things were meant to be. The Lord continues to call His children to strive for the goodness of what was meant to be in paradise, and He uses the challenges that our broken souls in this broken world bring to marriage to transform us.
But the Pharisees weren’t interested in pondering the good things of God. They were too busy trying to catch His Son in a mistake. Imagine the crowds of people as they listened to their elite leaders try to stump Jesus once again. “‘Why, then,’” asked the Pharisees, “‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’”
Now they were trying to pit Jesus against Moses! It wasn’t going to work. Jesus said:
“‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”
Once again, the Lord took the twisted words of the Pharisees and made them straight. The Pharisees were talking about Deut. 24:1-4. In that command, Moses said that if a man divorced his wife for being unfaithful and she married another man and then he divorced her, her first husband was not allowed to remarry her. What a twisted possibility, creating confusion for families and children, wreaking havoc on emotional and financial stability, inviting jealousies and division at the very point where we are meant to feel the most united intimacy and security. It was a detestable offense against what God meant marriage to be, so far from the splendor of the Garden!
The Pharisees used the very law that should have pointed the Jewish people away from divorce and towards God’s wonderful hope for marriage to justify divorce. Once again, Jesus held pure light up against the dark compromises of the Curse that were running rampant among God’s people.
Yet the compromises and teachings of the Pharisees ran deep in the Jewish people. Even His disciples were stunned by what Jesus said. Later on, after they had gone away from the crowds and into a house, they talked about it. “‘If this is the situation between a husband and a wife, it is better not to marry!’” they declared. Jesus answered:
“‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the Kingdom of Heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”
Wow. Jesus was issuing quite a challenge. When the disciples said, “It is better not to marry,” Jesus basically said, “You’re right!” In the paradise of the Garden, marriage was God’s ultimate plan to reflect His image. But many things were broken by the Fall. In the age of the Curse, there are many men and women who are called to be the Lord’s special servant warriors. They lay aside the wonderful gifts and treasures of marriage so they can live fully and completely for service to God’s Kingdom. But humans are full of passions and emotions that God created for rich blessing in marriage. We were created for partnership, to become one soul with a husband or wife. Most people will not be able to accept giving up marriage. The power to accept a life apart from marriage is a sacred gift from God. It is part of a high and holy calling. Imagine how it pleases the Lord. Imagine how He blesses these set-apart ones with nearness to Him, the exclusive Lover of their souls. Imagine the way their hearts are being prepared for eternity. It is the richness of God’s Kingdom that the world does not understand.
As we look at the longer story of the lives of Jesus’ apostles, we see what a powerful gift it is. Men like the Apostle Paul had the freedom to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel. When their lives were at risk, as they were beaten and stoned, and as they travelled all over the known world, they had no fear of abandoning a wife or children. They sacrificed many of the delights of this world, counting all things as nothing compared to winning victories for Christ and the greater glory ahead (check out 2 Corinthians 4, Galatians 2:20, and Philippians 1:21-26).
As valuable as the men and women who give up marriage for the sake of the Gospel are to God , this in no way diminishes the goodness of marriage or God’s blessings and strengthening power to bring renewed love between a man and his wife. God hates divorce because He loves marriage.
It is interesting that this story came right after two stories about prayer…one was about praying relentlessly to God for justice, and the other was about praying with genuine humility and repentance over sin. For a man and wife, the desire for justice in the marriage and the challenge of having genuine humility about one’s weaknesses are great obstacles to loving each other for a lifetime. Jesus said that prayer is a powerful way to engage God’s heart and guidance. Surely He will hear the prayers of those who come to Him like the persistent widow on behalf of their marriage.