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Matthew 19:1-19:12
Key Verse: 19:4-6

Thank God for helping us to study the words of Jesus precious promise. We may firmly believe the promise, “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father” and experience more and more in our lives that this promise is true. Through the study of Matthew 18, we learn that a Christian community needs humbleness, servant-ship, a spiritual vessel, prayer and forgiveness. Today we want to think about marriage based on Jesus’ own words. Family is the first building block of society and a vital unit in a Christian community as well as in the society. May God enlighten our hearts through this study.

Look at verses 1, 2. “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.” Jesus’ Galilean ministry was closed. Jesus was coming to the South to reach the final destination Jerusalem. He went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan, known as Perea. In that area also large crowd followed him, and Jesus healed them. Jesus did a significant amount of healing work there. In Mark, it is written “…as was his custom, he taught them” (Mk 10:1). We see that Matthew paid attention to Jesus’ healing but that does not mean that, to Matthew, Jesus’ healing work was more important than his teaching. As we have studied, Matthew wrote Jesus’ great teachings in his gospel beginning with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. At the same time Matthew was very mindful of Jesus’ healing which was the expression of his mercy and compassion for mankind. This was the third time Jesus healed among the large crowds (14:14; 15:30). Healing is really beautiful and graceful.

Then what followed this graceful work? Look at verse 3. “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’” This is really something graceful. Some Pharisees came to him to test him, not to be taught or healed. At that time Pharisees were known as elites (privileged minority) in the society. They asserted that they were experts in the Scriptures, especially in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). But they were sick with crooked heart and sophisticated mind. In Matthew’s gospel it was the third time for the Pharisees to come to Jesus for questions to trap him (12:1-2, 15:1). They came to Jesus to test him and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” They did not say in their question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for a proper reason” How come they said, “…any and every reason?” Normally a man should strive to keep the marriage and family for any and every reason, not to divorce for any and every reason. Their question showed that they went far away from the norm. Malachi 2:16 says, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel…”

No nation has ever had a higher view of marriage than the Jews. However, the leading Pharisees of Jesus’ day debated the grounds for divorce that Moses established. Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife if he “finds something indecent about her.” Deuteronomy 24:1 says, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house.” The matter was how to interpret “indecent.” As for the more conservative school of Shammai it meant “unchastity.” But for the more liberal school of Hillel it meant that “he may divorce her even if she spoiled a dish for him.” Later on, it could mean, “Even if he found another fairer than she…” The Pharisees wanted to induce Jesus into such a controversy through their question.

How did Jesus respond to them? Look at verses 4. “‘Haven’t you read,’ Jesus replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator made “them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus questioned back, citing the words from Genesis. In fact Jesus rebuked them for their neglecting the basic thing, saying, “Haven’t you read…?” not to mention “studied.” His rebuking question was like this, “Haven’t you read even Genesis chapters 1 and 2?” though you claimed you were experts in the Law of Moses?” It was a sort of humiliation to them. Yet, Jesus wanted to heal their sick souls with the words of God in the Scriptures. Here we learn two fundamental truths of God for life and marriage.

First, the Created them male and female. To everyone the beginning which is the origin is very important. Without knowing the origin life can go anywhere and everywhere, that means nowhere. In replying to their question about divorce, Jesus did not give them a direct answer right away. He had to go back to the creation. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Jesus combined these two verses and said, “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female.” Most importantly Jesus mentioned Creator. There is the Creator. It makes the fundamental difference in life whether one recognizes the Creator. He created all things including mankind. Human life came from him. We are his creation. As his creatures we need to thank and praise him for his creation ever day and forevermore.

And then the Creator made them male and female. Suppose God made them only male or female. How monotonous the world would be and we, bored! But in fact God in his wisdom made them male and female and the world is beautiful and harmonious. It is a joyful thing to see men and women alike in the world. Yet, why is it so significant to believe that God made them male and female? People must know that male are male and female are female. Male and female are different. Male are to be male, not to be female and female are to be female, not to be male. There are men who do not like their being masculine, and women, being feminine. Of course it was not their choice. But each one must accept each one’s gender as God’s blessing. It is not by mistake but God’s decisive choice, which is the best.

When people accept that God made them male and female, there will be mutual respect between men and women. At Jesus’ time woman was treated, not as a person but a thing or one’s property that could be bought or sold. One Rabbi thanked God that he was not born as a woman. Generally the Jews thought that being born as a man was God’s blessing but born as a woman was not. As we studied in Matthew’s gospel, we read the description, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Mt 14:21) and “the number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children” (Mt 15:38). It was written two times. It was obvious that there was a discrimination between men and women in that society. At that time there was no way for men and women to be treated equality. In their social custom there was no equality and no mutual respect between man and woman. In our times the voice of feminism seems to be strong as the expression of the need to secure rights and opportunities for women equal to those of men. All these stemmed from not truly accepting the creation truth that ‘God made them male and female. Then conversely, when this truth of God is accepted, the problems mentioned above will be resolved. Men can respect women and women, men with faith in God’s creation. Men can find their roles and position in God and women, their roles and positions, specific and unique in God. Men can have their own attractiveness; women, their own attraction. God purposely made men and women.

Second, the two will become one flesh. In this part we will see the deeper purpose and reason for the creation of both men and women. Look at verse 5. “and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” Human beings have two stages of life in God. One stage is to live with the parents and the other, to live with the spouse. In the first stage one should learn to honour his or her father and mother living together. Honouring the parents can be expressed in obedience to them with faith in God. Then after having grown up a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. This is marriage. So the second stage of life is to live together with a spouse and love the specific man or woman, of course along with the children, in God. This is the reason God made male and female and it is the meaning of marriage. It is to be united to his wife or her husband. So this relationship becomes the first priority in all his or her human relationships. In ESV, “be united to his wife” is “hold fast to his wife,” and in MSG, “firmly bonded to his wife.” This shows that the union of two people needs much intentional effort. It cannot be done naturally through human love only. How difficult it will be for two different personalities to be united! It requires much mutual effort and faith. It definitely includes denying oneself and taking up each one’s own cross in Christ.

“The two will become one flesh.” It is a lifetime process for the two to become one flesh meaning one in spirit, heart and mind as well. Physical union is granted to only a married couple. It is exclusive and an expression of mutual commitment for the two becoming one.

The Bible depicts the relationship between Jesus and the church as the model for the relationship between a husband and a wife. Wives are to respect and submit to their husbands in everything as the church submits to Christ, who is the head of the church. Husbands are to love their wives as Jesus loves the church. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this way, husbands ought to love their wives. Apostle Paul wrote this in Ephesians 5 and it says continually, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Here we learn that marriage was designed for a husband and a wife to know the profound mystery of the relationship between Christ and church. In other words, God designed the marriage so that we may know his intimate love for each of his people and have an intimate love relationship with him. No wife or husband wants formal love with no intimacy, love with a distance space between them. All the couples want intimate and affectionate love. So is our God. It is the mystery of all mysteries that Christ Jesus who is God with us is our bridegroom and each of us is his bride. How can it be possible? Yet, it is true. Then what a great and profound meaning marriage has! This is the culmination and the best part of God’s creation. We are to take and bear this blessing.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is the exact quotation from Genesis 2:24 and it is Moses’ account. But according to Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, it is the Creator who said this. These words are solemn, and unchangeable and timeless.

Look at verse 6. “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Jesus confirmed oneness of a husband and wife. Then he concluded, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” God is mighty and powerful. With his mighty power he has joined the two. This cohesive force is the strongest. What happens when you try to separate the two attached by the crazy glue? It becomes torn apart from each other. According to Jesus divorce is to separate what God has joined together. It is dividing one body into two pieces. It is unthinkable. This is Jesus’ crystal clear answer to the Pharisees’ question concerning divorce.

Last Tuesday afternoon there was a 5.8 earthquake near Richmond, Virginia. It affected Toronto which just felt the earth shake. And the following day, Wednesday afternoon, a magnitude 5.0 earthquake hit central Canada, rattling buildings from Sudbury to Quebec City, and as far south as New York City. When there is an earthquake, the ground is shaky and things built on that ground tremble and are to be demolished at any moment. With this analogy we can think that those who ignore this teaching of Jesus that God made them male and female and the two would become one through joining together, their lives will be like ground-shaking. Without this truth of God the ground of a nation becomes shaky with no stability. The nation will be in great danger and is vulnerable to be destruction in a matter of time. These words of Jesus are the foundation stone for marriage and family and a society and nation. These words of Jesus are the healing balms for sick families and societies. The families and nations built on this truth are sound and solid.

Despite the life-giving words of Jesus, the Pharisees asked, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” How did Jesus reply? Look at verse 8. “…Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” At the time of Moses the command was given to restrict random divorce and protect women from the cruel and hardened hearts of men. Again, to Jesus the beginning was important. So Jesus unambiguously says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” It teaches that divorce is not option, but exception. According to Jesus underlying reason for divorce is adulterous desire.

Then suddenly the disciples said to Jesus, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” The disciples’ question does not seem to be easy to understand. Yet, we see that the disciples were also influenced by the divorce common society of that time. They could not understand the utmost blessing of marriage. The disciples felt that marriage was like binding the two forcedly and a torturous obligation. Then it will be wise not to marry and thus avoid the pain of fatefully getting together or divorce.

Jesus did not deny the reality of not marrying. Look at verses 11, 12. “Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Jesus categorized not marrying into three. These are special cases and exceptions. The disciples had to know the utmost of blessing of the marriage in God.

Thank God for the words of God’s truth about his creation and marriage, which our Lord Jesus confirmed. May families in God be established on this truth and each family be built up through the union of a husband and a wife in Christ so that our society and nation may have a solid foundation for his purpose.

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