In my last two posts I have set out the way someone who is divorced might “remarry” (make Christian promises to another believing Christian) at Holy Trinity. In this post I’ll set out the teaching of Jesus from Mark’s gospel chapters 9:42 – 10:34 which underlies this practice. In these chapters the over-riding concern of Jesus is the kingdom of God and how sinners (those who break God’s law) get there.
In Mark 9:42 -10:34, Jesus teaches different groups of people in five different settings. These settings all work together like scenes in a film. Each scene adds to the plot and we only make sense of all five when we get to the last scene.
Jesus starts by teaching his disciples about the seriousness of sin and the reality of hell. His teaching here is quite disturbing. It is meant to be. Jesus says “it would be better to cut off your hand, foot or gouge out your eyes, if they caused you to sin” because if you sin you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. And, if you can’t enter the Kingdom of God then the alternative is hell and no one wants to go there.
In the next scene, the religious teachers of Jesus’ day try to trick him. They ask if divorce is allowed by the law. Jesus replies with a question, asking the religious teachers what Moses taught. Now, Moses taught two things. When the people of Israel first escaped from Egypt by God’s power and might, God gave Moses the ten commandments where God says clearly, “do not commit adultery”. But, God’s people made an instant mess of things by disobeying the first and second commandments “I am the Lord your God you shall not worship any other gods or make idols”. So, God disciplined them by making them spend 40 years in the wilderness. At the end of their 40 years of wandering, Moses taught them second law, and in Deuteronomy 24.1, he said that a man is allowed to divorce his wife. This was a relaxation of God’s commandments.
In answer to Jesus’ question, the religious leaders quoted the second law. In practice, at that time, they supported a liberal attitude to marriage and divorce. But Jesus gave the religious leaders an answer to their question that they did not want to hear; “Moses allowed you to divorce because your hearts are hard.” According to Jesus, people divorce because they are hard hearted. Hard hearts lead to uncaring, sinful behaviour, which leads to marriage breakdown.
Jesus then reminded the religious leaders that God’s standard for marriage which is one man and one woman for life, quoted from Genesis 2. And then, when he was alone with his disciples, Jesus told them that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Adultery is breaking God’s first law, and breaking the law is sin. Anyone who has had more than one marriage partner is an adulterer in God’s eyes according to the law and Jesus says that they cannot enter the kingdom of God, he or she will end up in hell. The answer to the Pharisees question, “is it lawful”, is “no it is not lawful.”
At this point, church tradition has held that remarriage is sinful, a breach of God’s law, and therefore no-one should remarry. The problem with this ruling is that we need to go on reading Mark’s gospel. We’ve not reached the end of the film. What Jesus teaches his disciples after his discussion with the religious leaders was not really about divorce per se, but about the law and how people get into the Kingdom of God. The religious leaders were strict on religious laws, like having clean hands and following religious traditions, as they thought that by doing these circus tricks that God would accept them into his kingdom. But the religious teachers were relaxed about some moral laws, because they couldn’t keep them. As Jesus said, their hearts were hard. They thought they would get into God’s kingdom, but they couldn’t get there by keeping the law, as Jesus goes onto teach on the next few scenes.
In this next scene, Jesus gives his disciples a furious telling off. He was indignant because his disciples were stopping kids from coming to him. Jesus said “to such as these belongs the Kingdom of God” and “you must receive the Kingdom of God like a child or you will not enter it.”
Here’s the contrast between the religious teachers and Jesus. For the Pharisees, life is all about laws. Do this and you’ll get into the Kingdom of God, don’t to that or you’ll go to hell. Jesus says the kingdom of God is a gift which is received with soft, child-like hearts full of the grace of God and love for Jesus, trust in him and obedience to him.
Jesus makes a second point in this scene; Christian ministers, who are disciples of Christ, or any other disciple of Christ for that matter, must never stop people from coming to Jesus by making up rules. Telling people that their past sin stops them from remarrying because it their past makes them adulterer in the present, is legalistic and so puts obstacles in the way of people coming to Jesus.
And, this is still not the end of the story. Christians are not to condone sin but resist it. A divorcee, or anyone with a second sexual partner, is committing adultery and therefore cannot enter the kingdom of God and will go to hell. So, what are we to do?
In the next scene, a rich young man runs up to Jesus, desperate to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He knows Jesus has the answer.
Jesus tells him that the 10 commandments still stand. The law of God given in Exodus is the way God wants us to live. The man says he has kept all these laws. So Jesus loves him and says, “good going Son, now, go and do some more good; sell all your stuff and give the money to the poor.”
The point Jesus is making here is that it is not possible to do anything to enter the Kingdom of God, because God’s standards are unattainable. God is so holy, so righteous, so self-less, so loving, so kind, that we can never match his standards and so it is impossible to get into the kingdom of God by doing good. It is easier for a camel (the biggest animal in the middle east to go through the eye of a needle (the smallest physical hole in the middle east), than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples can’t take this in, “how can anyone be saved from hell, Jesus? Tell us!”
Jesus’ reply is amazing. It is truly good news. He says it is not possible to enter the kingdom of God by keeping the law, but it is possible for God to get people to heaven. And we get there by following Jesus. His disciples were following him and he said, “you’ll get to the kingdom by following me.”
How do people follow Jesus? How does God make it possible for people to receive eternal life like little children? The answer is in verses 32-34. Jesus said: Mark 10:33-34
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
Jesus knew what his mission was. The final scene of our film reveals the plot. He was going to die for our sin, which is breaking the law, including the law on adultery, and rise again. He is the way to the Kingdom of God. He died to take away the sins of the world. And following Jesus means looking at him as Saviour, just believing that he is the one who saves us from hell, the one who opens the kingdom of God for all sinners. And following him means listening to his teaching, living for the sake of others not for ourselves. It means keeping God’s ten commandments and doing much more, not in order to get to heaven but because we’re going the way of Jesus, to the cross.
The great news of the death of Jesus for sin is that anyone who comes to him for the first time has all his or her sin cleansed, forgiven, washed away, nailed to the cross. The law is not an obstacle to salvation. Those who turn to Christ like a child cannot be adulterers because he has made them brand new. Each new believer has a new status before God. Justified. God makes people new, gives us a fresh start, wipes the slate clean when we turn to him. And that is why I will “marry” some divorcees after a divorce if they have received the Kingdom of God like a child and now follow Christ with their heart.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
For anyone who divorced as a believer please read this other post.