Sermon 10-17-2021: “The Discipleship of Christian Marriage”

October 28, 2021

Scripture: Mark 10:1-16

Last week, before Josh preached his powerful sermon on confirmation Sunday, he asked me about whether or not he should say this, or that or the other thing… He was trying to be very careful. He wanted us in the congregation to feel challenged by Jesus’ words, but, he said, “he didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” I said, “Don’t worry about it! People like being challenged in sermons. People ought to be challenged in sermons.”

I worry that I spoke too soon.

Because I spoke those words without remembering what scripture I would be preaching on the following week… today’s scripture from Mark 10, including Jesus’ hard teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. “Well, good thing there’s no danger of stepping on anyone’s toes with today’s scripture… No-sir-ree!

But I’m apprehensive preaching today’s scripture because I know—I’m well aware—that nearly everyone I’m preaching to has been touched by divorce in some way: either you’ve gotten divorced, or your parents have gotten divorced, or your family and friends have gotten divorced. So I realize how fraught today’s scripture is. I really don’t want to step on toes…

Or I should say, if there is any “stepping on of toes,” I want Jesus to be the one doing it—and not me! 

To make sense of what Jesus is saying here, let’s look at what he says in context. Mark tells us, for example, that the Pharisees are asking Jesus about divorce for one reason and one reason only—and it’s not because they sincerely want to learn something about God’s Word from the greatest Bible teacher ever… No, they’re asking, Mark says in verse 2, “in order to test him.” In other words, it’s a trap… as Jesus well knows. 

He knows that the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to say something that could very possibly get him arrested and killed. And Jesus knows that it’s not yet time for him to get arrested and killed. His Father has more work for him to do first.

Now, why would Jesus worry about being arrested and killed… Because that’s what happened recently to his cousin John the Baptist—which you can read about in Mark chapter 6, verses 14 through 29. John was arrested because he was publicly criticizing the recent marriage of King Herod Antipas. King Herod had recently married his brother Philip’s wife. Her name was Herodias. In order for Herod to marry Herodias, she had to first divorce her husband. Which she did. The Bible prohibited a marriage under those circumstances.

And as a result… Some Jews were saying that Herod’s marriage disqualified him from being the king over the Jews living in Judea. Well, John the Baptist was one of those being publicly critical of Herod’s marriage. So Herod arrested John for treason against the king. And as most of us know, John’s head was served on silver platter, literally—because of Herodias’s anger and Herod’s foolishness.

Again, read all about that in Mark 6.

The point is, this recent event involving John was in the news… And the Pharisees thought they could use Jesus’ answer against him—“Oh, so you’re saying that Herodias shouldn’t have gotten divorced and King Herod shouldn’t have married her!” And suppose Herod heard about it and arrested Jesus too!

So that’s the political trap Jesus has to avoid. But there’s also a religious trap. Undoubtedly the Pharisees wanted to harm Jesus’ reputation in the eyes of the people who were following him, and the best way to do that was to accuse Jesus of not believing the Law of Moses. After all, this isn’t the first time Jesus addresses the subject of divorce and remarriage… See Matthew 5:32. So they already think Jesus doesn’t believe the Bible—and they aim to prove it!

So Jesus does what he usually does when his enemies ask a question to trap him, he asks a question in return. They ask, in verse 2, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” And he asks in return an interesting question: “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

Please notice, however, that the Pharisees don’t quite answer Jesus’ question. He asked what the Bible commanded, they merely said what the Bible permitted or allowed under certain circumstances—as Jesus says in verse 5, “because of the hardness of their hearts.” 

In other words the Law of Moses offers a concession for divorce… in limited circumstances, because of our fallen, sinful human nature… 

Consider for a moment what the Law of Moses would be like if it prohibited divorce under all circumstances: The only way to dissolve a marriage contract would be death… So you allow spouses to have multiple affairs with impunity, or to physically abuse their spouses, or to abandon their spouses… or even to commit murder to nullify the marriage! 

Is that what God wants? Of course not!

So God put in his Law an escape clause… in Deuteronomy 24:1-4… This is an “in case of emergency” clause. The problem is, this escape clause—this gracious option of last resort—had become in Jesus’ day a pretext for divorce. God’s Word effectively said, “I’ll allow divorce as a last resort under certain circumstances.” But this concession was interpreted as, ‘God is A-OK with divorce; God has no problem with it whatsoever! After all, it’s in the Bible!” 

And that’s a lie, Jesus says. If you want to learn what God intends marriage to be, look at history’s first marriage, between Adam and Eve, before sin entered the world and hardened people’s hearts and made marriage so difficult. That’s what we should aspire to! That’s what we should plan on! That’s what our marriage should look like—one man, one woman, becoming one with each other in a lifelong bond! That’s what God intends marriage to be!

Did y’all hear about what happened to one of my childhood heroes last week? William Shatner, Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek, at age 90, became the oldest person to ever go up in space—he did so on board Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space craft. They went up and came right back down. But I can’t tell you how heartwarming this was to me. 

I’m not superstitious, I promise. But I am a little “stitious,” as Michael Scott on The Office would say. And with that in mind, I was slightly nervous when the Blue Origin people unveiled this picture of Shatner and the crew. Of course, Shatner is in a yellow uniform, matching his Captain Kirk uniform. 

But do you know what colors the other three are wearing? 

Red! You don’t want to be wearing red uniforms in Star Trek. Everybody knows that those are the guys who—nine times out of ten—get killed off! Don’t even joke about that!

Again, I don’t want to be superstitious, but this thought crossed my mind: “Are they planning on something going wrong here?” I mean, if something happened to the three crew people, would Shatner know how to fly the ship? Ay-yi-yi… I was a little worried! Thank God, nothing did go wrong, but still

You don’t want to plan on something going wrong… A general doesn’t learn how to win a war by planning on surrendering. The pilot of a ship doesn’t learn how to navigate the turbulent waters of a storm by planning on using his life boat. And the pilot of a fighter jet doesn’t learn to fly successfully by planning on using his parachute! See what I mean?

When we fly, most of us don’t even pay attention to the flight attendants’ safety instructions before we take off! Why? Because we don’t plan on needing to use our seat as a flotation device!

Divorce—biblically speaking—should be as rare as a crash landing is! “It’s there if you need it, but in the vast majority of cases you shouldn’t need it!”

Needless to say, it’s become something else!

And we’ve heard all the grim statistics about divorce, even among Christians. And now, people tend to get married less often and later in life—in part because they’re afraid of becoming just another divorce statistic. If you’re told often enough that marriage doesn’t work anymore, or marriage is obsolete, or marriage makes you miserable, or marriage will likely end in divorce—and if you’ve seen the devastating effects of parents and friends getting divorced—then it’s no wonder you’re reluctant about getting married in the first place!

If this describes you, I want to encourage you… In that masterpiece of a book by pastor Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, he begins by sharing some surprisingly good news about marriage today, which you probably haven’t heard. This is what the latest research tells us. He writes:

All surveys tell us that the number of married people who say they are “very happy” in their marriages is high—about 61–62 percent—and there has been little decrease in this figure during the last decade. 

In other words, even today most people report being “very happy” in their marriages! And get this: of those who are currently unhappy in their marriages, fully “two-thirds of [these unhappy people] will become happy within five years if [they can just] stay married and do not get divorced. This led University of Chicago sociologist Linda J. Waite to say, “the benefits of divorce have been oversold.”

And here’s some more good news: Married people “show much higher degrees of satisfaction with their lives than those who are single, divorced, or living with a partner.” Married people earn 10 to 40 percent more money than single people working similar jobs, and with similar backgrounds. 

And get this: A married person, who’s never gotten divorced retires with 75 percent more wealth, on average, than single or divorced people. Married people tend to be mentally and emotionally healthier. “Also,” Keller writes, “children who grow up in married, two-parent families have two to three times more positive life outcomes than those who do not. The overwhelming verdict, then, is that being married and growing up with parents who are married are enormous boosts to our well-being.”1

My point in sharing this is, if we’re tempted to think Jesus’ strict teaching about divorce is overly harsh… well, even secular scientific research is demonstrating the wisdom of it!

Years ago, I listened to the Valentine’s Day episode of This American Life, a public radio show and podcast, and this episode was all about love and marriage. Ira Glass, the host of the show, interviewed a man named Kurt Braunohler. He said that he and his girlfriend, his high school sweetheart, had been together for 13 years, but they had never gotten married. He said that one thing was holding back their relationship: they had never been with anyone else romantically or intimately. So they thought, “What if there was someone better out there for them?”

So they decided that they would take a month-long break from their relationship. And during that month, they could do whatever they pleased. No consequences. They were completely free. One month turned into many months… until the couple finally decided to break up entirely.

Here’s what Braunohler concluded from this experience. He told Ira Glass, 

I do have a theory now that if I do get married in the future, what I think I would want to do is have an agreement that at the end of seven years we have to get remarried in order for the marriage to continue. But at the end of seven years it ends, and we can agree to get remarried or not get remarried.

Ira Glass told him that he thought that was a disastrous idea: 

If something is messed up in the short-term, there’s the comfort of knowing, like, we made this commitment, and so we’re going to work this out. And, like, even tonight if we’re not getting along, or there’s something between us that doesn’t feel right, you have the comfort of knowing, like, you’ve got time to figure this out… Because you do go through times when you hate each other’s guts. And the “no escape” clause is a bigger comfort to being married than I ever would have thought before I got married.

The Bible agrees with that assessment. 

So… just from a practical point of view, divorce in most cases is an unwise idea. 

But here’s why divorce is often a tragic idea—at least for those of us who are disciples of Jesus: Because of what God revealed about marriage to the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5. Now, I shared this a few months ago when I preached on that scripture. To refresh your memory, in that scripture, Paul—like Jesus in today’s scripture—quotes Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Paul then writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” 2

The word “mystery” doesn’t mean what it means today. It refers to something that God has specifically revealed to Paul. And it’s this: From the beginning of time, when God first created human beings, he intended for marriage to communicate the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ—that is, to communicate what it means to be in a loving, saving relationship with God through faith in Christ.

The Bible says that Christian marriage should teach us about the love that Jesus has for us Christians! As a man leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife, so Jesus Christ left his Father in heaven and did what? He took on flesh so that he could hold fast to us, become one with us, never let go of us! It’s not for nothing that the New Testament calls us Christians the “bride of Christ.”

Therefore, Paul says, what’s true of the relationship between husband and wife is true of the relationship between Christ and his church… you and me… Or at least it ought to be. It’s supposed to be!

Do you see the tragedy now of divorce among Christians? Divorce risks making God out to be a liar!

For example, the gospel says, “Nothing in this world can separate us from God’s love.”3 Divorce says, “No… Many things can separate us from this love!”

The gospel says, “God will forgive all of your sins when you believe in Jesus.” Divorce says, “No… Some sins are unforgivable.”

The gospel says, “You don’t have to do anything to earn or deserve God’s love and grace.” Divorce says, “No… Love has conditions. There are strings attached. There are expectations to live up to and unless you live up to them, I’m letting you go!”

To say the least, Christian marriage shouldn’t tell lies about Jesus Christ and his gospel! 

How desperate Toccoa, Georgia, is to learn the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ! How desperate our world is to see the gospel lived out through marriage! How desperate our world is to see living examples of the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ! Let them see these things even through our own marriages!

Listen, I can testify from personal experience here: Lisa, my wife, has seen me at my absolute worst. And I promise you, she not only loves me, somehow she even likes me… most of the time she does! That’s a fact! Lisa, like Jesus, has “held fast” to me when I hardly had the strength or even the will to hold fast to her. And maybe she could even say the same about me sometimes. I hope.

Regardless, I would happily attest that if you want to learn at least a little about Jesus Christ’s love for us, look at Lisa… and her love for me! That’s a fact.

And this kind of love doesn’t happen simply because Lisa is an unusually patient and compassionate and loving person; it happens because God the Holy Spirit has given her supernatural patience and supernatural compassion and supernatural love. The Holy Spirit wants to do that for each of us! And he can! Pray that he will!

Okay, maybe that encourages us who have never gotten divorced. But what if we have? 

What if we look into our hearts and know that we didn’t come close to living up to this Christian standard of marriage? That we weren’t faithful to Jesus’ teaching on divorce, either? Is there any hope for us?

Of course there is! 

Divorce is a tragedy… And it’s usually a serious sin. But it is never an unforgivable sin. 

Did you hear that? Divorce, even when it falls short of the few conditions for which Jesus and scripture allow it, and even when it’s followed by remarriage, and even when you’ve had multiple divorces… these can never be unforgivable sins! How could they be? Listen to Jesus’ words in Mark 3:28, “I tell you the truth, all sin and blasphemy can be forgiven…”4 All sin and blasphemy. Those words include the sin or sins of biblically unjustifiable divorce and remarriage. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Listen, if our marriage fails, that doesn’t mean that we Christians won’t be forgiven by God… it only means that God has once again proven himself to be far more loving and gracious and patient and merciful to us than we have been to our spouse. It proves we’re not like Jesus!

It means we have failed, once again to be faithful disciples… So we repent, ask forgiveness, and trust that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!

Besides, if you struggle to believe that God will forgive you for your divorce, or your multiple divorces—or any other serious sin—it could be because you’ve failed to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And this is where verses 13 to 16 can prove to be very helpful to us. 

How do we “receive the kingdom of God” and enter God’s kingdom? Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In other words, Jesus is asking how it is we can be saved, how we can become part of God’s family forever, how we can receive his gift of eternal life… How do we receive this gift? 

Like a little child. The Greek word for child means a very young child. Be like that… Do what young children do, Jesus says, when they receive gifts…

And how does a child receive a gift? Think about Christmas… How do little kids receive gifts at Christmas? They just tear into them. Parents have to teach them to have manners, to wait their turn, to be patient, to be grateful, to say “thank you” and all that… Little kids don’t know about that. Because little kids don’t give a thought to how much a gift costs. They don’t care one iota how expensive a gift is… They don’t think, “Gosh, if I get a gift that’s worth this much, then I have to give a gift in return that’s of equal value.” 

No! Little kids don’t think like that! They’re like, “Gimme, gimme, gimme! And give me some more!”

There’s a shamelessness about the way young children receive a gift… Just as there’s a shamelessness to the way these children approach Jesus in verse 13. His disciples think, “This is inappropriate. These children don’t deserve to have Jesus give them his time, his touch, his attention. They’re nobodies. They can’t do anything for Jesus. They can’t earn what Jesus has to give them. They can’t deserve anything that Jesus gives them! When they come to Jesus and want him to bless them, they are completely helpless, completely unworthy, and completely undeserving.

Be like that, Jesus says! If you want to enter God’s kingdom and have eternal life. 

Do you think you can be like that? It doesn’t sound that hard, does it?

Can you come to Jesus and say, “I have nothing to give you, Lord. I am completely helpless. I am completely undeserving. I am completely unworthy. To prove it, look at the mess I’ve made of my marriage… Look at the mess I’ve made of my life… Look at the many ways I’ve failed and sinned and let other people down, and I’ve hurt people I love—time and again.”

The good news is, if you come to Jesus like that, Jesus will say, “You’re right! You’re helpless. You’re undeserving. You’re completely unworthy of what I have to give you. You’re a mess! So it’s a good thing that that’s just the kind of person I’m looking for! Come and enter my kingdom forever! Come and be a part of my family forever! Come and experience this grace through which you’ll find forgiveness and healing for all of your sins. I’m happy to have you!”


  1. Keller, Timothy and Kathy, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Penguin, 2011), Kindle Edition.
  2.  Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV
  3. From Romans 8:38-39
  4. Mark 3:28 NIV

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