God, Marriage and Children

Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them. 2 Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. 3 And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away." 5 But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 10 In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. 11 And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; 12 and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." 13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

As we begin this five-Sunday series on God and the family I want to make two points mainly from these verses in Mark 10 and then relate them to each other and apply them to our lives.

1. Marriage is a work of God and gets its meaning from God. And its meaning is mainly the portrayal of the covenant love between Christ and his Church.

2. Children are a work of God and get their meaning from God. And their meaning is mainly that they exist in their uniqueness as children to illustrate how to enter the kingdom of God.

In verse 2 some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him about his views of marriage and the law. They ask if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. He puts the question back to them in verse 3 to draw out a point about Moses' teaching on divorce. They say in verse 4 that Moses permitted divorce if a man would not be cavalier about it but would write a certificate of divorce. To which Jesus responds with words that seem to imply: something greater than Moses is here, and changes are in the offing. He says in verse 5, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment." In other words, the law that you use to justify your divorce and remarriage, testifies not to the desire of God's heart, but to the hardness of your own. God has tolerated and regulated the hardness of your heart in his law.

A New Standard of Faithfulness

But then Jesus calls for a new standard of faithfulness by pointing back to an old design of God. In verse 6 he says, "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female." So he quotes Genesis 1:27 and traces the meaning of marriage back to the very first design of God in creation. The issue of divorce and remarriage, he says, is not mainly about the way God regulated the hardness of heart in the law; it is mainly about the meaning of marriage designed by God in creation. So he takes us back behind the law and says (in verse 6), "God created man male and female." This is the basis of marriage. God's action, and God's design are at stake here, not man's. Marriage is not man's idea.

Then in verses 7 and 8, Jesus makes the explicit connection between God's creation of male and female on the one hand, and marriage on the other hand by quoting Genesis 2:24. He says,

For this reason [because God created man male and female with a design for marriage], a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.

In other words, the leaving of father and mother and the cleaving to each other to form a new family unit, is God's idea rooted in the way he created and designed man as male and female.

Then he gives one of the most important and powerful declarations and commands in the Bible. In verse 9 he says, "Therefore what God has joined together [the declaration], let no man separate [the command]." The declaration is that marriage is the work of God. "What God has joined together . . ." The union of marriage is something that God does. It is not just a human decision. Or a human tradition. This is true even for people who don't believe in God. Marriage is something God does, not just man. Therefore we see that God designed it in Genesis 1:27, and God described it in Genesis 2:24; and God did it the day you got married. Therefore, I say, marriage is a work of God and gets its meaning from God.

Therefore, Jesus ends his answer to the Pharisees, with the powerful command, "Let no man separate [what God joined]." The joining is God's, the separating is to be God's - by death.

"But is it lawful?"

But verse 10 says the disciples want to ask the question again. Is it lawful to divorce and remarry? Jesus answers them in verses 11-12. First he addresses the man who is thinking about leaving his wife to marry another woman:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her." Then in verse 12 he turns it around and focuses on the woman who is thinking about leaving her husband for another man: "And if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.

What's the point of these two verses? Why does Jesus say this? Doesn't he know that in his audience and this audience are people who are divorced and remarried? Parents of people who are divorced and remarried. Children of people who are divorced and remarried. Doesn't he know this will hurt? I think he does know that. I think he cares about that. There are few things that hurt more than the break-up of a marriage. It is far more painful than the death of a spouse. And does much more damage to all concerned. Jesus knows that.

But unlike our day, where not hurting feelings is the essence of love, Jesus thinks the essence of love is helping people to live in sync with reality, namely, God. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn't. But it's always meant for our good, if we will believe him.

I think the aim of Jesus here is prevention, not destruction. He is talking to those who can still turn back. And he is saying: marriage is God's idea: he designed it, he described it, and he does it. It is one of the deepest realities in the world. Deeper than any of us knows. What God joins together he joins deeply together - deeper than feelings, deeper than promises, deeper than sex, deeper than friendship. "One flesh" is a deep, deep mystery. That is exactly what Paul calls it in Ephesians 5:32. And he says it is an image of Christ and the church. The union of husband and wife in marriage is like the union of God and his people. It is an ocean of deep, deep unseen wonders. Yet many people today treat it like a backyard swimming pool for lounging around as long as we feel like it.

God joined this

Jesus says: God joined this. God joined this. God joined this! The charge of adultery (in verses 11 and 12) is far deeper than we think. Marriage is an image of the covenant commitment between Christ and the church for whom he died. To walk away from marriage for another relationship is not just about marriage, but about Christ, and about God. What God has joined together in man and woman, in Christ and church, do not separate. God will never separate Christ and his church. Let your marriage tell the truth about that. Don't lie to the world about the covenant between Christ and the Church. God joined this. Don't separate it - even an image of it.

(And just in passing, so that you know where I stand - though I don't have the time to develop it - that is one of the reasons I would not counsel you to end your second marriage. Repent if you should. And start where you are to honor
the vows you have made and, cost what it may, fulfill your calling to live out the rock-solid relationship of Christ and his Church.)

That's point one: marriage is a work of God and gets its meaning from God. And its meaning is mainly the portrayal of the covenant love between Christ and his Church.

2. Children are a work of God and get their meaning from God. They display in their dependence the way into the kingdom of God.

I don't believe it is coincidental that a story about children follows a teaching on marriage. There's a connection. The story begins in verse 13:

And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

Why do we invest so much in children?

Why do we invest so much in children? Why do we stress the home as crucial for their health and wholeness? Why do we call David and Sally Michael to pour their lives into parenting and children? Why do we have so many programs for kids? Why do we produce curriculum and fighter verses, even for two-year-olds? Why are we spending the entire month of March on parents and children?

Well the answer that Jesus gives is surprising. Why should the children not be hindered, but rather brought to him for his blessing? He gives the answer in verse 14b: "Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; [why?] for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Why not hinder them? Or to put it positively, Why should we help them and minister to them? His answer is that they stand for something; they represent something. Don't hinder them, "because to such as these, belongs the kingdom of God."

He did not say, "Don't hinder them because to these belong the kingdom." He said, "Don't hinder them because to such as these belong the kingdom." Don't hinder them - help them, lead them to me for blessing, because they represent the kind of people who will inherit the kingdom.

Well who are they? Who are the "such as these"? The next verse (15) gives the answer: "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." People who receive the kingdom - the wise and
gracious rule of God over their lives - as a child receives the provision and guidance it needs, will enter the kingdom and live with Christ forever.

So don't hinder children from coming to Jesus for blessing; help them, because to such as these - to people who receive the kingdom in a childlike way - to these the kingdom belongs.

Why did God Ordain that there be children?

This is a surprising way of arguing for children's ministries. What is he saying? I think he is saying something like this: have you ever asked why God designed the world so that the human race multiplies by having babies that take years to become adults? Why didn't God design the human race so that we multiply like earthworms: one adult splits to become another adult? He could have done it that way or any number of ways. Why did God ordain that there be children? And not just adults?

At the heart of the answer is this: children stand for something. They point to something. They represent something. They signify something bigger than themselves. They stand for the kind of dependence and helplessness and need and insufficiency and faith that is required of adults to enter the kingdom of God. To "such as these" (verse 14) belongs the kingdom. That's the meaning of their unique existence. They point the way to salvation: to such as these belongs the kingdom.

So marriage is a work of God and gets its meaning from God, namely, to display the covenant love between Christ and his Church. And point number two:

Children are a work of God and get their meaning from God, namely, to display by their dependence the way into the kingdom of God - such as these enter the kingdom.

What's the Connection?

Now what's the connection between the two? Let me only mention this: verse 9 is one way to obey verse 15. Verse 15 says that we should receive the kingdom like a child. Well, in verse 9 the King comes to us and says: The design of my kingdom is that marriages not be broken. Will you receive my kingship and care and protection as your sovereign? Will you have me as your king in marriage? Will you submit to my design for your life, or will you reject my kingship and design your own life? Will you be a child toward me and depend on me and trust me and obey me?

If you will, two wonderful things happen for children: 1) by your humility and dependence and faith, you honor their unique reason for being, namely, to show the way to heaven: childlike dependence on the grace of God. 2) You will
preserve and honor the God-designed haven of marriage where, generation after generation, children are brought to Jesus for blessing.

So "don't separate what God has joined." Tough it out, talk it out, pray it out, fast it out, cry it out, wait it out, and when you are at the end of your resources, remember: like a child, like a helpless, insufficient, needy, trusting child, receive the kingdom; receive the King's help. But don't break it up.

He comes to us all this morning and says, "I am an all-providing, all-loving King. If you will receive my kingly design for your marriage (even if you must do it by yourself), I will be there to help you. With man it is impossible (hence the demand for childlikeness), but with God all things are possible (hence the command not to put asunder what God has joined)."

Lord, do it - for our marriages, for the children, for your glory. Amen.

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