1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: 12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”
13 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.
In our day and age, this is one of the most controversial passages in the Gospels, if not the whole Bible. It is a passage you are likely to be censored on various social media sites if you read it out loud. It should not be so controversial, but it is.
Jesus and No-Fault Divorce (v. 1-9)
Jesus leaves Galilee and makes His way to Judea. He is leaving flyover country for the big city, the center of political, economic, and religious power. Jesus is marching toward His own death, He is marching toward His great final battle in this great campaign. If Matthew’s Gospel shows us Jesus re-living Israel’s History, with His baptism in the Jordan as the crossing of the Red Sea, battling Satan as the 40 years in the wilderness, His giving the Sermon on the Mount as the giving of the Law on Sinai, His parables of the kingdom as Solomon’s wisdom, His ministry in Galilee as the ministry of Elijah in the Northern Kingdom, now He has come to be Isaiah and Jeremiah, ministering in Judah in the final days before the exile.
Jesus is now doing what the prophets did, He has come to plead the suit the Lord brings against His wayward bride, Israel. This is what the prophets did before Yahweh divorced Israel and sent her away into exile (before taking her back 70 years later). Their prophesying was the judicial case of divorcing an unfaithful wife.
Jesus in the next few chapters is pursuing an identical suit against Israel. Israel has been a lascivious, unfaithful bride yet again. And this time God has finally sent His Son to plead His case. And rather than listen to His Son, Israel murders Him.
So it is absolutely no coincidence that the moment Jesus steps foot in Judea, the very first thing the Pharisees confront Him on is the issue of divorce. Divorce was a controversial subject in their day as it is today. There were different schools among the religious leaders of Israel, and they wanted Jesus to pick a side (so they could more easily set enemies against Him). The school that held the most sway basically allowed for no fault divorce for any reason. A man could just end his marriage at the drop of a hat without giving a single reason why. Sounds pretty familiar to today, doesn’t it. The only real difference is that rather than men having 100% of the power to divorce at will, today, in our country 70% of the divorces are initiated by women. Nevertheless, the low view of marriage is something that reaches across the millennia between us and wicked, First Century Israel.
So how does Jesus answer these guys? He goes right to Genesis. He tells them “Have you guys really not read your Bibles? What does Genesis say? He made them in the beginning ‘male and female’ and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ What God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not throw out the Old Testament, He relies on it. He relies on it because it is His Word. And marriage is something created from the very beginning, before Adam had fallen into sin. That union between man and wife is something that exists before sin even entered the world. It is something good and holy.
In our day, the culture imposed upon us not only despises marriage intensely, it rejects that it is a union between male and female. And not only that, the culture that is imposed upon us is actively blurring the lines between male and female. It is somehow even more deranged, even more corrupt, even more twisted than the generation of Israel that killed Jesus and persecuted His church. They only wanted no-fault divorce, although the things Paul accuses them of in Romans 1, are all the same stops we are currently on along the slippery slope.
But despite Jesus laying out very clearly God’s intention for marriage, the Pharisees have an objection. If this is the way it is, why did Moses allow for divorce in Deuteronomy? How does Jesus answer that? Does He say that the Law is bad? That might be how a lot of Christians today might answer this question “oh yeah, well that is the law and we are not under law we are under grace.” Their answer to the Pharisees’ lawlessness is antinomian lawlessness of their own. No, Jesus answers in a different way. He affirms that the Law is good, and it was given because God is patient with us in our sinful condition. The Law of God is, contrary to what people make it out to be, not something that is hard to follow. Our adherence to it is not something that saves us, which is a point the Apostle Paul makes abundantly clear, but his point was not that it is some impossible standard. The Law was easy to follow because it is was given by a long-suffering, patient God who recognized our weakness and our sin. Moses allowed divorce because of this. But this was not the way God set up marriage prior to Adam’s fall into sin. And so with that in mind, Jesus sets up the standard for marriage, it is the one flesh union of Genesis 2. Any violation of that one flesh union is adultery. If a man divorces his wife without cause, he is violating that one-flesh union. In order to survive, she would likely have to remarry, which would result in that one-flesh union being formally violated by another union. The guilt for the violation of that union would be on the man who put his wife away without just cause. It is not her fault the union is violated, nor her new husband’s. The only cause Jesus gives for divorce is that one-flesh union being violated through adultery. If a man’s wife commits harlotry, the one-flesh union is violated and the marriage covenant is broken.
Now consider Israel at the end of her kingdom. What was the charge the prophets consistently levied against her? She was adulterous, she whored herself, she committed fornication. The one-flesh union between Yahweh and Israel had been violated by Israel. And what did God do? He did exactly what He said He would in the Law. If Israel commits adultery against Yahweh, He would divorce her and send her into exile. The things that Jesus is about to preach over the next few chapters are this same lawsuit, that Israel has committed fornication, she has once again violated the one-flesh union and God is formally declaring her to be an unfaithful bride.
Two Options: Marriage or Eunuchhood (v. 10-15)
The disciples are shocked by Jesus’s teaching. “If you cannot get out of a bad marriage, it is better to not be married” is their attitude. Instead of arguing His point further, Jesus takes a totally different angle: He starts talking about eunuchs, castrated men. “Some men are born with birth defects that make them eunuchs, some men are captured and have been castrated, and others make themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake.” What is Jesus talking about here? He is explaining to them, despite marriage being the normal goal for most people, celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is a gift. This turns the ancient world’s view of manliness on its head. In the ancient world, the more your male parts worked, the more children you sired, the more of a manly man you were. In the eyes of the ancient world, Solomon, with his hundreds of wives and children was as manly as it gets. You were truly blessed if you got to live like that. But in Jesus’ estimation, the eunuch for the sake of the kingdom is just as blessed.
The culture that has been imposed upon us badly wants to take Jesus’s words here to mean “singleness—when you can narcissistically live for your own pleasure, enjoy as much entertainment as you like, do whatever you want, go wherever you want, have no responsibilities or duties to anyone” is this gift of celibacy Jesus is talking about here. If you go to a Christian bookstore or read much on mainstream Christian websites, “the gift of singleness” is on everyone’s lips. I cannot stress enough this is absolutely not what Jesus is talking about here. Being a eunuch for the kingdom means willingly bearing the shame and indignity of being a eunuch or being a barren woman. It means laying down those things for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, devoting yourself to it in every way. It does not mean watching Netflix and going on vacation whenever you like. It means fruitfulness through service to Christ’s Kingdom rather than fruitfulness through your loins.
It is no coincidence that Jesus, the prototypical Eunuch for the Kingdom’s Sake, immediately has little children brought to Him after saying this. Children in the ancient world were not important, especially to men. Once they came of age, they were to be included with the men, but little children would normally be excluded from most things men did. Children were women’s work. So here is this man, emasculated for the sake of the kingdom having children brought to Him. This is why the disciples rebuked those who brought the children. Not because they hate children, but because this was not the children’s place. It wasn’t appropriate. But Jesus defies this convention. He says the children are to come to Him for such is the kingdom of heaven. The children belong to the Kingdom. Don’t forbid them. Let them come to Him. He did not make them recite the catechism or explain their conversion story to Him. Their believing parents brought them to Jesus, and He received them and laid hands on them. This is how we should be receiving children as well. As freely and as gladly as Jesus does.
The application of this passage to us today is fairly straightforward. We should fight back against a culture that has been imposed upon us. We should highly esteem marriage. We should not so easily throw it away as our culture does and as First Century Israel did. Sin happens, hardness of heart happens, but it is the exception, not the rule. The rule is marriages that last a lifetime, where man and woman are joined into one flesh and man does not separate what God has put together. Holding up our marriages, giving our lives for the other person, forgiving them of sin, and being forgiven by them constantly is a light to a very, very dark world. A world that despises the order that God has made and the good gifts He gives. The charge to you is this: enjoy the gifts God has given you before a watching world. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!