True Faithfulness

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22)  October 7, 2018

Genesis 2:18-25 / Hebrews 2:1-18 / Mark 10:2-16

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something has gone terribly wrong in our society with regard to marriage and family.  One only needs to read the newspaper, watch the evening news, or for that fact, just about any network or cable television show these days to see the dysfunction paraded in full view.  After hearing the appointed lessons for today, and considering the crazy, upside-down and perverse culture we’re living in, I have no doubt that some of you, if not many of you, are wondering just what in the world is the Deacon going to do with this text for today.  This is not a comfortable subject.

This is nothing new under the sun.  Even in Jesus’ day people were struggling with these issues.  In our text we see the Pharisees coming to Jesus in an attempt to trap Him.  They ask Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  Now there were two schools of thought prevalent at this time: one was the School of Rabbi Shammai who taught that divorce was only acceptable in cases of infidelity; and the other, the School of Rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason; such as burning the roast.  They were hoping to entrap Jesus into one or the other point of view.  It would not matter which position Jesus sided with, the other would pounce.  Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?”  Jesus basically told them to check out God’s Word.  This is good advice.  We should always check God’s Word in order to see what He says on any topic.  If God has spoken, we ought to listen.

The Pharisees, probably those of the camp of Rabbi Hillel, responded, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”  Well, not exactly.  Deuteronomy 24 says that if a man gets married and finds something “indecent” about his wife (and, of course, the rabbis debated about what “indecent” meant), and if he then writes a bill of divorce and sends her out of his house and she goes off and marries another man and now her new husband likewise divorces her, or dies, then she cannot go back to the first husband.  That would be an abomination to the Lord.  Moses was trying to regulate divorce and remarriage, not permit it!

Jesus responds to the Pharisees by again, getting to the heart of the issue, no pun intended.  Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.”  That’s the real issue isn’t it?  Hardness of heart.  In the original text the word that gets translated as ‘hardness of heart’ is pretty graphic…σκληροκαρδιαν.  Scleroderma, which you may have heard of, is the hardening of your skin.  Sclerocardian is the hardening, the petrification, of the heart.  The problem with all of us is the heart.  In Genesis 8 we hear God’s assessment of man’s heart, “…the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  Jesus told us a few weeks ago that it was from “out of the heart of man [that] come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”  That just about covers it for us doesn’t it?  You and I are guilty of at least one, of not all of those sins Jesus lists.  Jesus is basically saying that it is because of our sinfulness that we experience and/or allow divorce.

This isn’t the way God created things to be.  Jesus tells the Pharisees, and us, that God made us male and female.  One for the other.  And when they come together, they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Now we could spend a lot of time on that part of what Jesus says and address the LGBQ, transgender, and gender identity issues of the day; but that’ll have to be a discussion for another time.  The Pharisees were asking about divorce and Jesus goes on to say some profound words that are central to our thoughts today, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  You heard it in the OT reading for today.  Marriage wasn’t Adam’s idea.  Marriage was God’s idea, and His gift to Adam and Eve.  God is the one who joins man and woman together.  He is the actor in marriage.  Adam and Eve’s marriage was perfect…for a while.  Then one day it all changed.

You know the story.  One day Satan came to Eve and said, “Did God really say?”  This is always the first question by which Satan plants the seeds of uncertainty and doubt before he proceeds to flat out contradict God’s Word to you.  His tactics haven’t changed.  He causes you to doubt the gift God has given you.  You begin to wonder if this is really the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.  You may even believe the lie that God has just the right person picked out for you and all you need to do if figure it out.  And if you pick the wrong one, well, just move on and pick another!  My brothers and sisters, this ought not be so!

Now I know what some of you are thinking.  “But you don’t know my story!  I’m the innocent party in this deal!  I didn’t ask for it!”  My dear people, you are now starting to sound like the Pharisees!  Jesus, in our text, is not giving us any wiggle room!  His words are uncompromising, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  Divorce and remarriage is simply adultery and contrary to the will of God expressed in the Sixth Commandment.  And I submit to you that this is also a breaking of the First Commandment in that we have not feared, loved, or trusted God enough to accept the gift He had given us.  We have broken faith by despising the vows we took and we have broken faith/trust in God by despising the gift He gave.  We have been unfaithful.

Now, lest you get all hoity-toity because you haven’t experienced divorce I need to remind you that God doesn’t rank sins.  Sin is sin.  You may still be married to your one and only spouse, but if you’ve ever looked at a person of the opposite sex with lust – you’ve committed adultery in your heart.  You may never have hurt or injured anyone in your life, but if you’ve ever been angry with someone – you’ve committed murder in your heart.  And I could go on.  The point is, we all, every one of us stand guilty of sin before God Almighty and deserve nothing but His temporal and eternal punishment.  We have been unfaithful!

But there is One Who has been faithful!  This very person who in our text today is pointing out the errors of the Pharisees, and our sins; this Jesus is the Faithful One.  Our Lord Jesus, your Lord Jesus, came into the flesh to win a Bride for himself, a Bride to whom He will be faithful forever.  If our problem is a hard heart, God in the flesh, your Jesus, has a tender heart.  As God put Adam to sleep and took from his side that with which He made the woman, so your Lord Jesus sleeps in death on His Cross, and His tender heart is pierced.  Then from that heart flows a fountain of blood and water.  For millennia the Church has seen in the water and blood that flow from the pierced heart of our Lord a picture of both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, by which the Holy Spirit tenderly creates the Bride of Christ, the Church, and sustains her until His coming again.  In your baptism God gave you a new heart.  He made you a member of His Bride, the Church.

Kelsey, from today on, you never have to wonder whether you believe enough, whether you’ve been sincere enough, whether you’ve done enough, whether you ‘really, really meant it.’  Today, God did something for you.  It’s no longer about your faithfulness…it’s about God’s faithfulness.  When Satan speaks into your ear such things as, “Did God really say?” or “You call yourself a Christian and you did that!”  You can brush him aside and say, “Begone, Satan!  I am baptized!  I have been buried with Christ by baptism into death,” as the apostle Paul says, and “if I have been united with Him in a death like His, I shall be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”  Your assurance rests on His faithfulness, not yours.  And that’s the same for all of you, dear saints.

Christ has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven in order to prepare a place for His Bride, the Church, all of you who believe and are baptized.  On the Last Day, He will return and raise all the dead in both body and soul.  Those who believe in Him will join Him in the place He has prepared.  Among those who will be there will be people who sinned against marriage and received the forgiveness that Jesus earned for them on the cross.  People like King David who had an affair with the wife of the most loyal soldier in his army; people like Samson who had an affair with Delilah; people like King Solomon and the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob, who had multiple wives; people like Saint Augustine who lived on the wild side until the Holy Spirit brought him into the family of God; people like you, and people like me.  The history of the Church is full of people who sinned against marriage and received the forgiveness that Jesus earned for them.  Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mk 2.17)  This includes those who sin against marriage.  Dear saints of Redeemer, Jesus is faithful to you, His Bride, the Church.  He is faithful to the End – and beyond.  That is true faithfulness.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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