Jesus on Marriage and Children
So when we open the Bible there’s a certain kind of posture we need at the heart-level that’s really foundational to how we read it. It’s pretty simple, but it goes like this: to the extent that we find something strange in the Bible or unacceptable to our modern sentiments — or we could just say: to the extent that we find something in the Bible we don’t like — the problem is not with the Bible, it’s with us.
This means we don’t bend the Bible to fit what we think, but we submit what we think to the Bible — and that’s because the Bible is the word of God, and as the word of God that means the Bible carries the authority of God, and therefore since God is the sovereign ruler of the universe, not us, what he thinks matters more than what we think.
In a word, this is called creatureliness. Or as a virtue, this is called humility. And when it’s lived out by humans like us it simply means that we want to love what God loves, and desire what God desires, and pursue what God pursues, because what God loves and desires and pursues is always good and righteous and true.
And we see this in our passage today, Mark Chapter 10, verses 1–16. On the surface Jesus is simply responding to two different scenrios, but what he’s actually doing is much more than that.
Jesus, in this passage, is holding up for us a moral vision for the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us here what God thinks about marriage and children, and it’s not the way the world thinks. This is a new teaching. Jesus here gives us a new understanding, and it goes back to God’s original design. He says three things:
- God made marriage.
- Children have dignity.
- Children will be blessed.
Let’s pray and we’ll get started.
Father, have mercy on us and lead us now, by your Spirit, as we come humbly to your Word. We ask this in Jesus’s name, amen.
1. God made marriage.
So Jesus in Chapter 10 is now in Judea, and Mark tells us that he’s doing what he normally does when he’s surrounded by a crowd of people: he’s teaching. And as he’s teaching, in verse 2, the Pharisees come up and in order to test him, they ask a question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
And immediately this is controversy.
This is controversial right now and it was controversial back then, and what makes it controversial, at least back then, is what the Pharisees are really asking in this question — they’re asking about what the grounds are for a man to divorce his wife.
Divorce was lawful and common and relatively easy in the First Century world, and it was part of Jewish law — so the question is not about whether divorce can happen, it’s about when and why divorce can happen, and specifically, it’s about when it’s okay for a man to check out on his wife.
And Matthew makes this part clear in his Gospel. Matthew tells this same story that Mark tells, and in Matthew the Pharisees ask, Matthew 19:3: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (italics added). Matthew adds that to help us out.
See, this was a hotly debated topic among the Jews of Jesus’s day, and there were a two different schools of thought among the rabbis, and so the Pharisees use that context as an occasion to trap Jesus.
They had apparently heard that Jesus was against divorce, and so they’re trying to get him in trouble here a couple different ways:
First, if Jesus is against divorce that is politically problematic because Herod, the Roman ruler in this area, had divorced his wife to marry another woman (you guys might remember when Pastor Joe walked through the details about Herod a couple months back — it’s very complicated. And when John the Baptist spoke out against Herod, he lost his head). So the Pharisees could be trying to get Jesus in that same kind of trouble.
Or, maybe, if they had heard Jesus was against divorce, the Pharisees are trying to pin Jesus as being against the Torah. The Torah makes up the first five books of the Old Testament, and in Deuteronomy 24, the Torah allows for divorce, and so if Jesus is not upholding the Torah the Pharisees want people to know about it.
So either way the Pharisees are working on their Jesus smear campaign here. And they say:
Okay, Jesus, is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?
And everyone is waiting for what Jesus is going to say.
Jesus asks them, What did Moses command you?
So see if the Pharisees want to talk Hebrew Scriptures — if they want to play Torah hard ball — what did Moses actually command you?
And the Pharisees reply in verse 4, referring to Deuteronomy 24, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
But that’s the wrong answer, see, because that’s not the whole story. Jesus comes back in verse 5: “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female…’
— and we should stop right here for a minute because what Jesus does here is profound.
Back to the Beginning
When it comes to the topic of divorce, the Pharisees refer back to a permission in Mosaic law, but Jesus refers back even before that to the intention of God in creation. Jesus goes back to Genesis, and he quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24,
God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’
And Jesus then explains:
So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
See the Pharisees want to talk about the how-to’s of divorce; they want to talk about the rules and the details for how men can leave their wives. But Jesus eclipses their question of details by explaining God’s original design for marriage.
Yes, Jesus knows what Moses says in Deuteronomy 24 — divorce exists as a concession to sin — but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. To know what it’s supposed to be, we need to go back to the beginning. And when we do, one thing is clear: God made marriage.
Marriage is not the natural evolution of primordial creatures in proximity — social contract theory does not work here.
Instead, marriage is the vision of God in making humans male and female, two complementary sexual beings who become united as one, both physically and spiritually in the act of marriage. These two individuals, a husband and a wife, become no longer two, but one flesh, and together they form an indissoluble union that is the literal embodiment of God’s will in creation, and at the same time, it’s a symbol of the end-time union between Jesus and his church — and out of that, out of all of that wonder, comes life. This is where babies come from.
God made marriage! — and there is nothing more glorious that we humans can do with one another as male and female. This is the ultimate horizontal relationship, but see, the Pharisees don’t understand that.
And we as a society don’t understand it either.
Marriage on the Cultural Rocks
As a society, and even within the church, the common understanding of marriage is light years away from what God intended.
And it’s pretty easy to look around and figure this out: the pervasive understanding of marriage in our society is that marriage is about personal fulfillment. Marriage exists, so says our society, for an individual’s personal happiness, and so marriage actually becomes a contractual agreement toward that goal, so much so that if that goal is not being met — if the marriage is not personally fulfilling to the individual — then that individual should get out it.
And we can see how this works: If marriage is all about your happiness, then just keep trying it out until your happy — and how dare anyone say that somebody can’t get married.
Marriage in our society is viewed simply as the limited exchange of goods and services that we define and then determine as either effective or ineffective toward a goal that we set. Marriage, according to our society, is not a God-ordained institution that preexists the state, but it’s more like an attitude. It’s how you “feel” about someone else. And this is not good.
But it wasn’t any better in Jesus’s day. Because in the historical context of Mark 10, the Pharisees, and a whole school of Jewish thought, took the merciful permission of divorce by Moses as a license to divorce and they went crazy with it.
One school of thought encouraged men to divorce their wives whenever they wanted to, for any reason, even if she just broke a dish, or if the man happened to find another woman he liked better (see Mishnah, Git. 9:10).
So the concession to human sin in Deuteronomy 24 had become an absolute, no-fault, free-for-all left to the human will, and it was, as we could imagine, women who suffered for it. That’s what makes verse 11 so remarkable.
A Radical Vision
The Pharisees had asked Jesus about divorce, and Jesus lays out God’s vision for marriage, but the disciples are still curious, so a little later, when they are alone with Jesus in the house, Mark says “the disciples asked him again about this matter.”
And Jesus says, verse 11, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”
And this was new. There was no concept in this day that a husband could commit adultery against his wife because in the Jewish understanding adultery was like a property offense. If a wife was caught in adultery it was because another man had “stolen” her, as it were, which means that, by definition, adultery could only be committed against a man. Wives were not considered to have any right over their husbands that could be violated.
But Jesus says here that when a man divorces his wife and marries someone else he is sinning against his wife. A wife can be sinned against by her husband, just as, likewise, a husband can be sinned against by his wife.
Which means that Jesus is saying that a husband and wife are two parts who are equally bound to one another. So this is not a hard teaching from Jesus; this is a liberating teaching from Jesus. Nobody in the world had ever said anything like this before.
But then later the apostle Paul thinks the same way in 1 Corinthians 7. He says there that a husband and wife equally share conjugal rights over one another. The wive’s body is not her own, but her husband’s; and the husbands’s body is not his own, but his wife’s (see 1 Corinthians 7:3–4).
Christian marriage, see, has always been counter-cultural. Christian marriage honors men and women —
and Paul ends up raising the stakes even higher because he commands men to love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (see Ephesians 5:25). Which means Christian marriage — marriage held in high honor — leaves absolutely no space for bad men to behave badly . . . and it also leaves no space for decent men to do nothing when bad men behave badly.
Christian marriage protects the vulnerable, and it guards against any spouse using the other for selfish gain. Marriage is God’s design, and it is good and righteous and true.
God made marriage, Jesus explains in Mark 10 — and it is absolutely, beautifully radical compared to the brokenness of this world. God made us male and female for this.
Now what about children?
2. Children have dignity.
This is verses 13–16, and in this second teaching Jesus is responding to a scenario that involved his disciples. Apparently as the crowd was gathered around him, some of the parents, presumably, were bringing their children to Jesus, verse 13 says, so that “he might touch them.” Which means they were looking for some kind of blessing from Jesus for their kids, but the disciples rebuked them. The disciples were turning the children away, they were pushing the kids aside, but then in verse 14:
But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant —
And maybe Jesus was indignant because he just went over this with the disciples in Chapter 9. Pastor Joe talked about this last week. Jesus said that receiving children in his name is like receiving him. We don’t get more of Jesus when we push the kids aside; we get more of Jesus when welcome kids and become like them. And Jesus here has to go over this again. He says:
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Jesus has already surprised us because of what he’s said about marriage, but what he says about children here would have been unthinkable.
Joe mentioned last week that in the ancient world there was a very low view of children, and that doesn’t mean that most people didn’t like children, it means that in the societal mindset of that day, children were not considered persons.
In that day the paragon of human existence was the freeborn, adult male — they had the most value — and everyone else, including women, foreigners, slaves, and children, were pushed out on the fringes. And so no wonder why children are being pushed aside here as they are crowding around Jesus. That’s how the culture worked.
Throughout all of history, children especially have been pushed aside, and it’s a fact about the Greco-Roman world — infanticide was a common practice in this day. Just a few years ago archaeologists in Israel discovered a sewer clogged with the bones of infants dating back to the Roman period. It was culturally acceptable to push children aside.
And we’re still pushing children aside today.
How We View Children Today
But how? That’s an important question. How are we pushing kids aside today because from the looks of things in America, there seems to be a lot of kid-centricity. The biggest consumer market in our country is kid stuff, especially baby stuff, and especially for new parents — because new parents will pretty much buy anything. It’s true.
Here’a test: if you’re a new parent and you bought one of those things that warms the wipes before you change a diaper, they got you, man. You’re in deep. You need help. Let’s talk later.
But if there’s so much kid stuff in America, how are we pushing children aside? Well, it has to do with our view of children, which is very different compared to past generations.
There’s a journalist Jennifer Senior who talks about this in her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. She says that today, in our country, we tend to view children as just another piece in the American Dream puzzle, and therefore, she writes: “we have heightened expectations of what children will do for us, [and we regard] them as sources of existential fulfillment rather than as ordinary parts of our lives.”
In other words, in America, children are valued, but they are valued as commodities. In our society children exist to make adults happy and to boost adult egos. Many Americans today have children because they think children will make their lives better.
And if that’s what children are for, then the implications will be terrible, as they are. Because parenting is a lot harder than it seems to be on Instagram. There are indeed lots of joys, but it’s not all joy, and when many parents in our society find themselves in the hardship of parenting, when their kid-commodities don’t deliver the fulfillment they desire, the children get pushed aside — that’s if they make it out of the womb (because in our country around 3,000 children a day don’t). The thinking goes: “if the children get in the way of my happiness; push them aside.” That’s also a big reason why last year, in our state, 16,600 children were in foster care. Just push them aside.
But Jesus says no. Jesus says let the little children come to me. Children have dignity. They are a gift from God. Children are a blessing from God — they are the only newly created, eternal beings in the universe. Don’t push them aside. Put your hand over your mouth and marvel. Don’t get frustrated that they’re not more like you, but instead understand that unless you become more like them you will not receive the kingdom of God.
It’s radical, what Jesus says. This whole thing. What Jesus is saying — this moral vision of life under his lordship — it is a new world.
And the children will be blessed.
3. Children will be blessed.
We shouldn’t rush past verse 16. We read there, “And [Jesus] took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
After Jesus teaches about the dignity of children — after he speaks a counter-cultural ethic — he bends down on his knees and he picks up the kids up in his arms and he blesses them. The children will be blessed.
Jesus cares for children in his words, and in his deeds. Jesus cares for children both in his position, and by his action.
This Is Not Traditional
This high view of marriage that Jesus has taught us, this high view of children that he shows us here — you might hear all this and think that I’m just talking traditional moralism, but you should know, there’s nothing traditional about this.
When it comes to traditional, when it comes to the long-established way of doing things in this sinful world, traditional is rape culture, and misogyny, and infanticide — traditional is the strong always oppressing the weak.
Traditional is self-indulgence — it’s diving headfirst into the concrete of an empty swimming pool because the two seconds in the air, on your way down, might be fun.
Traditional is suppression and oppression, it’s enslavement and abuse, it’s lying and stealing and cheating to get whatever you want, whenever you want it.
That is traditional when it comes to this sinful world and its history. But what the gospel brings is different. It’s not traditional values, but it’s radical values. It’s what God designed.
Sex as the glorious expression of the one person union between a husband and wife in covenant with one another for life — to the world, that’s radical. To us, it’s God design.
Embracing and esteeming the glory of women as human beings created in the image of God, full of dignity and honor and uniquely gifted by God with a variety of powers on which humanity depends — to the world, that’s radical. To us, it’s God design.
Receiving and raising children as a blessing from God to be cherished and nurtured by their parents, and to be sharpened like arrows of righteousness for the good of our communities and world — to the culture, that’s radical. To us, it’s God design.
What we’re doing here — what we’re about here as Cities Church in and for the Twin Cities — there’s nothing traditional about it. Compared to the tradition of this world, we are radical to the core. We are like a new world that has invaded the old. It’s like we’re turning the upside-down right side up, like it will be when Jesus comes back. That’s what we’re about. That’s God’s design, God’s vision — and it starts in our families. It starts in our marriages, and among our singles, and with our men and women, and with our children, and from there to our communities.
And one very practical, urgent need in our communities is caring for endangered children.
Seeking the Good of the Cities — in the Care of Children
Last year, in Ramsey County, there were 1,100 children in foster care, and only 600 foster homes. The the numbers are even worse in Hennepin County, where right now there are 1,845 children in foster care, and some of them literally have no where to go. It’s simple: there are too many children in need, and there’s not enough help.
And I know that in our church, so many of you are active in caring for endangered children both in our metro and around the world, and I praise God for that — and I pray that it increases more and more.
Several years ago many of us had the dream of planting this church, which has happened, but planting this church is just the beginning. We want to plant more churches, and it’s always been about what these churches are going to do in seeking the good of these cities for the glory of God. It’s about doing everything we can to advance the gospel of hope into every corner of these cities so that every neighbor meets Jesus — and even if they don’t believe in him, they won’t be able to ignore him. In the Twin Cities, in our Twin Cities, we want Jesus to be impossible to ignore. And one way we get to do that is how we care for children.
So I am asking you to ask the question: In what ways might God be calling me to care for children in need?
It’s not going to be the same for everyone; we’re all in different seasons; but there are so many different ways you can help. Here are two:
Immediately after this service Luke and Bethany DeLong are hosting a short info meeting about their current adoption, which is in process right now. There is a mother in our metro who has chosen life because of people like Luke and Bethany, and they’ve been connected, and God is working a miracle there — and Luke and Bethany need your help. Drop by and hear their story after the commission.
Second, Melissa and I are hosting a little gathering on Sunday night, June 10 for anyone interested in foster care. We will share our story, and provide some information of all kinds of ways you can get involved. If you’re interested, email me.
Because the children will be blessed — not just by words, but by action, both by Jesus in Mark 10, and by Jesus today through his people.
Father, in this season of Pentecost, we ask that your Holy Spirit would do a fresh work of grace. Father, we ask that you breathe into the soul of our church, and give us a heart to care for the most vulnerable among us. Father, ignite in our hearts the kind of love that confuses the world — we’re asking for the radical kind of love that makes no sense apart from Jesus. Do this in us and through us, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
The radical kind of love that Jesus calls us to share is first a radical kind of love that we must experience. And this is the love that God has shown us in the cross. It’s what we remember here at this Table.
Even while we were sinners — when we had rebelled against God, when we were alone and without hope — Jesus, out of his great love for us, died on the cross in our place. He was crucified for our sins, and he took the punishment we deserved; he was abandoned so that we could be brought home as the sons and daughters of God.
That’s what we’re celebrating as we eat and drink this meal. This is kind of like a weekly family reunion, where all of us as brothers and sisters remember what Jesus has done, and then proclaim it to the world. And so if that’s you, if you are united to Jesus by faith, if you are a son or daughter of God, we invite you to enjoy this meal with us.
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Edwards, J. R. The Gospel according to Mark. Pillar New Testament Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002.
Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. New York: HarperCollins, 1996: 347–378.
Rueger, Matthew W. Sexual Morality in a Christless World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.
Pearcey, Nancy R. Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018, 238.
Senior, Jennifer. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting. New York: HarperCollins, 2014.