Marriage and Divorce

“But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” ~ Jesus, Mark 10:6-9 (CSB)

Marriage was the first institution of society that God gave to humanity. When there were only two people, Adam and Eve, and no cities, neighborhoods, or governments, God gave us marriage.

God designed marriage to be a source of joy, intimacy, and fellowship between a husband and wife in a lifelong bond. Marriage is such an important aspect of the human story that Paul relates it to the relationship between Jesus and the church in Ephesians 5, and John sees eternity kickoff with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19.

Yet, when Adam and Eve chose sin over God in Genesis 3, it impacted everything, including marriage.

Sin and the hardness of heart is why, Jesus said, Moses permitted divorce papers (Mark 10:5); but now that he had come to deal with sin, Jesus called his followers to a higher ideal—a return to what God designed in creation. We still do not live in a perfect world, so Jesus and Paul allow for a sinless divorce on behalf of the injured party in cases such as adultery or spousal abandonment (Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

Still, our aim is for the ideal. We should enter into marriage with the belief that it will be “until death do we part,” and work to resolve issues with grace and commitment. We should see divorce only as an option in extreme circumstances that we pray we will avoid.

If you’ve been divorced in your past, know that God’s grace is unlimited to those who receive it by faith in Jesus. If necessary, confess to God any sin on your part related to the failed relationship that you have not yet confessed to God. Then let your focus be on your current relationship and strengthening it to be that source of lifelong joy, intimacy, and fellowship that God designed for it.

Killing Sin

Jesus said, “And if your hand causes you to fall away, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell, the unquenchable fire.” ~ Mark 9:43 (CSB)

Sin is a serious matter. The wages of sin is death, Paul wrote in Romans 6:23. A single sin against an infinitely holy God is worthy of death. It is sometimes difficult for us to truly grasp that concept since we have made so many sins acceptable—”What’s the harm, after all, in just a little white lie,” we might say to justify ourselves.

But the curse upon the world in Genesis 3 began with a bite of fruit. It wasn’t the nature of the act itself, but what it declared. Our first parents drew lines. They chose to side with rebellious disobedience than with righteous obedience.

So, we should not look at our own lives and say, “My sin isn’t that big of a deal; I’ll be okay.” Instead, we should understand that all sin is serious and must be dealt with in a serious way. This is why Jesus said what he did in Mark 9 about cutting off your hand or foot if it causes you to sin rather than to spend eternity in hell.

Here, Bible scholars recognize that Jesus spoke in hyperbole—language that is exaggerated to make a point. Neither we nor the original followers of Jesus understood him to mean literal self-mutilation. We do see in Jesus’ words, however, the serious nature of sin and how we must deal with it in serious ways.

If greed is what besets you and you rack up debt, struggling to maintain control over your spending, then you may need to cut up credit cards and let your spouse be in charge over the household income. If pornography traps you time and time again, then you may need to ditch the smart phone, buy accountability software, and/or keep yourself from unsupervised access to the internet. If you can’t control your tongue through what you say on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, then you may need to delete your accounts.

These are the types of serious ways that we deal with sin. To some, these ways might sound extreme, but sin is deadly. Sin results in pain and death, both temporary and eternal. So, as John Owen wrote centuries ago, let us be killing our sin before our sin kills us.

Greatness in Serving

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first he must be last and servant of all.” ~ Mark 9:35

We all have within us a desire to be great. We want to be recognized and first among others. Jesus’ apostles felt the same. While they were traveling, the twelve had an argument amongst themselves: Who is the greatest? They wanted to know who was tops in their group.

Peter could have had a claim to it. After all, he was often seen as the group leader and often was its spokesman. James and John also thought they could be first. Though likely the two youngest, they were among the “inner circle” along with Peter and often got three-with-one time with the Lord. They even once had their mother go to Jesus and ask him to give her sons the places closet to his throne in his kingdom (Matthew 20). Each of the other disciples probably though they had good reason to be considered the greatest, too.

Confronting the pride found in their bickering, Jesus spoke to their ambitions. He didn’t chastise them for wanting to be great, but he told them what it would take—and it was an answer we don’t expect.

If you want to be first, then choose to be last.

It’s one of many examples of how Jesus turns the values of the world on their head. In God’s Kingdom, you don’t get to the front by using people and manipulating situations. You don’t get to be first through education, earnings, or titles. No, in God’s Kingdom, you get to be first by becoming a servant. You intentionally put yourself in the lowest position to build up others.

This is what Jesus did for us. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus reminds us that he came to earth 2000 years ago not to be served but to serve us by giving his life to redeem us from sin. That meant the cross—the lowliest form of execution one could endure.

So, be ambitious! Desire to be first! But realize that to get there you’re going to have to serve. Then set your hope on the way Jesus served you and follow his example and be self-giving for the good of others.

Help My Unbelief

In Mark 9, we encounter another healing at the hands of Jesus. In this case the father of a boy possessed by a demon came looking for help. He took the boy to Jesus’ disciples who attempted to cast the demon out but failed. Jesus had the boy brought to him and then asked the father: “How long has this been happening?” The father replied, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Hearing this man’s words, Jesus answered: “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” The man then cried out: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-24, ESV)

Elsewhere Jesus said that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could say to a mountain: “Get up and move,” and it would. In a world of so many distractions that pull us away from worship, prayer, and God’s word, our faith is often too small. Even if we don’t say the words, often our attitude in prayer is: “God, if you can…”

Jesus reminds us that we must see God as bigger. If a mountain moves, it’s not because we possess power but because the One who created it does. Jesus’ statement to the boy’s father tells us that God has no external limits. If he does big things like speak a universe into existence, then he can take care of our daily needs, spiritual and physical.

So, what do we do with our little faith? What do we do when we doubt? We entrust it to God.

Our prayer to the Father should be like the plea of this boy’s father: “I believe; help my unbelief.” Of our spiritual understanding, Paul wrote: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We don’t always see God as clearly as we should. In fact, we will not see God with perfect clarity until we see him face-to-face in eternal life to come.

Seeds of doubt will be sown into our hearts and minds. Sometimes these will grow large. In the face of them, we run to the One who can answer our doubts and give us greater faith. So, we cry out to our loving Father: “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Mark 9_24

Picture used and modified with permission from pixabay.com

A Glimpse of Glory

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. – Mark 9:2-3 (ESV)

Among the Twelve, Jesus had a smaller group that, on occasion, was able to experience something with Jesus that the others did not. Mark 9 records one of these instances—a time where Peter and the two sons of Zebedee got to see a glimpse of Jesus’ glory.

Glory is a word that speaks to the greatness, goodness, and majesty of God, often represented with brightness and light. The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, once had a vision of Jesus as “a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches…” (Daniel 10:5-6), and John likewise had a similar vision in Revelation 1:13-15.

But while he lived as a man on earth, God the Son muted his glory. Humbly, he took on the life and appearance of a poor carpenter, with nothing particularly striking about his appearance. That is, except for a brief few moments in what we call the “transfiguration.”

There, on a mountain with three of his disciples, Jesus’ glory was on display. Before their eyes he spoke with Moses and Elijah, two of the central figures in the Old Testament. Peter, terrified, stumbled over his words before the Father’s voice echoed from heaven just as it had at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

And then the moment passed, Jesus resumed his normal human form, Moses and Elijah no longer stood there, and the four men walked down the mountain to rejoin the rest.

This is a reminder and foretaste for us as well. It reminds us that the humble carpenter that we call Savior is also our King. He might have humbled himself even to the point of death on the cross for our rebellion against God, but he is also the all-glorious, eternal God who shares every attribute of perfect and eternal deity with the Father and Holy Spirit.

It also focuses our minds forward. It reminds us as Jesus said elsewhere: “God is not the God of the dead but the living.” As followers of Jesus, when we pass this life, we will join with Moses and Elijah in enjoying God’s glorious presence forever. And when Jesus comes back and raises our bodies, they will be glorified like his, perfect and without the corruption of sin.

No, we cannot see the full glory of God at this moment with these eyes. But the glimpse we get through God’s word and creation remind us of who we worship and what is to come. And it transforms us to be more like our Savior-King in character and desire (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Call to Follow

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” – Mark 8:34-36 (ESV)

Jesus confronts each of our lives with a call to follow him. We can gain everything the world has to offer, but if we do not have him then we are eternally lost, left with nothing but pain and regret. Jesus offers us something better—joy unending, but the cost is great: Jesus demands our everything.

This is what faith is: Not simply a belief in true things about Jesus, but also a trust that says to him, “Take my life, my all.”

This is why in addition to “follow me,” Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. To deny self is to say, “I lay aside the passing pleasures that my heart chases after to take up the eternal joys that only you give.” To take up our cross is to say, “I no longer count my life my own. I am dead to the ways of sin and to my selfish desires. You, Lord, tell me where to go.”

Lest we think this demand is too great, we must remember that our lives already belong to God. He is our creator and the sovereign King of everything. We all one day will bow, but will we do it joyfully because we choose to do so now or will we do it sorrowfully when we stand before him as Judge in the end?

Lest we think giving our “all” to Jesus is giving too much, we must remember the gain we find. Everything in eternity belongs to Jesus, given to him by God the Father in an act of love. And if we give ourselves over to Jesus in this life, then we are his brothers and sisters, fellow heirs alongside him. We have a share with Jesus in the everything of eternity.

The road we walk today might have its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows. But it will never be more painful than what Jesus suffered on our behalf, taking the wrath of God while on his cross that we might have forgiveness and life. And in eternity, every tear of our eyes will be wiped away and our darkness turned to an eternal morning.

Listen to Jesus’ call. Follow him.

Beware False Teachers

Then Jesus gave them strict orders: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” – Mark 8:15 (CSB)

After Jesus again miraculously fed a large crowd, the Pharisees came to him and demanded a sign from him to prove his authenticity. Jesus refused and then went away with his disciples. While they sailed, Jesus warned them to “watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.”

Matthew, in his gospel account, explains further what was meant: the “leaven” to which Jesus referred was the false teaching and beliefs the leaders of the region and religion promoted (Matthew 16:11-12). The Pharisees, especially, fit Paul’s description in Titus 1:16, “They claim to know God but they deny him by their works.” Often their demands upon people when far beyond God’s actual commands while they also neglected mercy and justice.

In every age of history, there have been people who have promoted lies and half-truths as being truths of God. The most dangerous of these are the teachings that bear much resemblance to what God has said. If we aren’t careful, such error can creep into our hearts and minds and then proceed to grow—just like dough that has been leavened with yeast.

Today, some false teachers say that we must do certain good works to be saved, instead of teaching that good works flow from a salvation that is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10). Some teach that if you have enough faith then you’ll be prosperous and wealthy in this life, as they neglect the Bible’s descriptions of those who suffered much loss because of their faith (Hebrews 11:35-38). Some teach that the Bible’s sexual ethics are archaic and culture-determined, instead of teaching that Scripture gives us the truth of the unchanging God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

How do we know the difference between what is true and what is false? We become intimately familiar with the Bible.

John told us to “test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Such tests include what one says about Jesus (1 John 4:1-3). Luke also praised the Bereans and presented them as an example for us because “they examined the Scriptures daily” to see if even the things Paul taught were true (Acts 17:11).

The more familiar we become with God’s word, the more equipped we will be to sort out the good from the bad. Examine Scripture, test what you hear or read, even what you read here, and make sure what is taught corresponds with the truth that God has revealed.