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The Upside-Down Kingdom

Divorce On The Mind

Rev. Philip Miller | February 20, 2022

Selected highlights from this sermon

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches in the Sermon on the Mount, does He? Coming on the heels of His statements on adultery, Jesus gives us two hard-hitting verses about divorce.   

As Pastor Miller walks us through these two verses, he makes three key observations regarding the grounds for divorce, the hardness of the human heart, and the holiness of marriage.

In a world full of miserable marriages, brutal betrayals, devastating divorces, and alarming abandonments, there is a better way—and it all starts with a new heart that only Jesus can give us.

Jesus isn’t pulling any punches, if you haven’t noticed. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is getting to the very heart of what has gone wrong with humanity. Our news headlines are full of aggression and brutality in this sin-fraught world, or as Robert Barns put it, full of “man’s inhumanity against man [that] makes countless thousands mourn.”

And all that inhumanity, Jesus is telling us, doesn’t spring out of nowhere, it flows from deep within our sinful hearts. The badness in this universe is not contained to just our behaviors and externals. It goes deeper. It goes all the way into our hearts. The behaviors are the symptoms. The real disease lies within in the human heart.

Jesus is telling us that the problem with humanity is not that we’ve simply gone wrong on the outside. No, we’ve gone wrong on the inside as well. Our behavior is like the tip of an iceberg, but the substance of our problems lies well beneath the surface in the depths of our hearts, and that’s where the real change is needed. That’s what we really need. We need a renovation of the heart. We need to be made right on the inside.

As Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees, of course, tried to change from the outside in. They taught everyone to shape up and be good and follow the rules, and they taught a religion of moralism, religiosity, externalism. And Jesus is telling us we need a righteousness that exceeds that kind of outside-in, behavior modification, and sin management. If we are to find welcome in the kingdom of heaven we need a heart on the inside, and inside-out righteousness, a heart-transforming righteousness, a true inner goodness that is just like God Himself. As Jesus will say in Matthew 5:48 (this is a summary): “You must therefore be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

So Jesus is offering us this kind of life. “If you will come to Me, if you will trust in Me, if you will follow Me, I will give you a new heart and an abundant life in the kingdom of heaven. I will be your righteousness. I will be your substitute. I will die in your place and for your sake. I will take all of your sin upon Myself, and in exchange, I will cover you with My perfect righteousness so that you stand righteous before God, accepted and pleasing in His sight. And I will fill you with My Holy Spirit, and I will teach you to walk in true righteousness in obedience so that you become like Me, and one day I will take you home to glory, and I will make you righteous and perfect in every way so that you will be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect in heaven. You will be sons and daughters resembling your Father forever. If you will come to Me and follow Me, I will change you. I will make you new from the inside out, and I will make you righteous all the way through. You will be sons and daughters, perfect forever with your Father.”

Now, we’ve been working our way through the illustrations that Jesus offers us to show us what this kind of perfect righteousness is like, this kind of inner goodness that naturally flows out into our behavior, our righteous heart that is like God Himself. This is the kind of heart God wants to give us, that Jesus is offering to us. It is the kind of heart that is at home in the kingdom of heaven. We’ve seen that it is a heart that does not cultivate anger inside of itself, desecrating the image of God in ourselves and others, but is one that is overflowing with the reconciling peace that resembles our Father who is in heaven.

We’ve also seen that it is a heart that is not dominated by cultivated lust, objectifying and preying on others for our own gratification, but rather overflowing with love and honor and purity, respecting the priceless image bearers, our fellow brothers and sisters, just as our Father does, who is in heaven.

And now today we come to the third illustration of a heart that is made right in the kingdom of heaven. And like I said, Jesus is not pulling any punches. He’s talked about murder and the underlying anger that infects our hearts. He’s talked about adultery and the underlying lust that destroys us from within. And now He’s going to talk about divorce, and the underlying hardness that resides in our hearts.

In this world that is full of miserable marriages and brutal betrayals and devastating divorces and alarming abandonments, Jesus offers us a better way. And it all begins with a new heart.

So grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Matthew 5, verses 31 and 32 this morning. That’s page 810 if you want to use the pew Bible there by your knees in the rack. Eight-ten. Matthew 5:31 to 32. I’m going to read these verses, and then we’ll jump in.

Matthew 5:31, these are the words of Jesus: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

It's very short, just a couple of sentences. But this is where we’re going to spend our time this morning. We’re going to see three things:

  • The Details of the Divorce Debate,
  • The Hardness of Human Hearts, and
  • The Loyalty of Lasting Love.

Okay? Substance this morning: The Details of the Divorce Debate, The Hardness of Human Hearts, and The Loyalty of Lasting Love.

Let’s pray and jump in.

Father, these topics come near to home. They remind us of deep wounds and pain. We all have a story. We thank you that you meet us in the midst of our pain and brokenness, that you are a God Incarnate. You have come to dwell with us, Immanuel, God with us. Would you come and meet us in the tenderness of this subject, for Christ’s sake, Amen. Amen.

First of all, The Details of the Divorce Debate. When Jesus quotes this line here, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce,” and then offers His own teaching in contrast, He is pitting Himself, just like He has in the last couple illustrations, not against the Old Testament Law but against the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. And to understand what Jesus is doing here, we need to familiarize ourselves with the divorce debate that was going on in the minds of Jesus’ audience in the first century. It was a debate between the rabbinical schools of thought over how to interpret the Old Testament Laws concerning divorce.

But before we can do that, we have to go back to look at what they were debating over, which was the Old Testament, and there are two central texts in the Old Testament Law concerning divorce that are very pertinent to us here. And before I read them, let me remind you of the context of the Ancient Near East. This is the world of ancient Babylon and Assyria and Mesopotamia. These were polygamous cultures with very strong patriarchal structures.

And in Ancient Near Eastern culture a man was allowed at that time to walk out on his wife and children for any time and for any reason. He was not obligated to provide any money, or property, or support. And there was no garnishing of wages for child support and that sort of thing. And then, at any point, he could just come back and reclaim his wife and his children, which made it almost impossible for women, once divorced, to ever get remarried because they were vulnerable. They could be...they were almost like property...they could come back...the guy could come back and just take them. And so it was a really miserable situation. And into that very brutal world, Moses comes and he brings the Law of God and it makes things a little bit better.

So Deuteronomy 24:1 is the first text we’re going to look at. It says this. “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if she then finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house…”

Now, there are two major advancements that take place in this Law. Number one, the way Moses lays it out, divorce has to be “with cause.” You see this. There has to be a cause; none of this willy-nilly, you just walk out whenever you want to stuff. That may be how everybody does it in the Ancient Near East, but not my people. God says, “You’re only going to divorce for a cause,” He says, “a cause of indecency” in her. It’s literally, in Hebrew, a cause of nakedness; it’s a euphemism for sexual immorality and adultery, okay? He says, “You can’t just divorce your wives for no reason. You need to have cause, and that cause needs to be sexual immorality or adultery.” This is what Moses is saying.

Secondly, if she is found to be indecent here, she must be given a certificate of divorce. And why does this matter? It means that he’s permanently relinquishing his claim to his wife when he divorces her. He gives her a written document that says, “I am free of this marriage.” He can’t come back and just take her. She’s truly free, which gives her at least a fighting chance of a remarriage with someone else. He can’t come back.

So Moses mandates that a divorce certificate be written up and placed in her hand which made the husbands think about what they were doing. They couldn’t just do this in a fit of anger, and he was really asking the question, “Am I willing to give her up forever?” And it protected her, enabling her to remarry, giving her a chance of a future.

So Moses here is not encouraging divorce, but he is regulating it. Do you see that? He is protecting the vulnerable ones. Genesis 1 and 2 make it abundantly clear that God intends marriage to be a lifetime covenant of mutual, sacrificial, faithful love, but God also understands the realities of this sin-shattered world. And so He regulates divorce proceedings to uphold the dignity and value and worth of the parties involved.

Now, if this were the only passage in the Old Testament on divorce, we would have to conclude that only men were allowed to divorce, because you’ll notice that Deuteronomy 24:1 does not talk about women in particular. It’s simply talking to men. But that would be an inaccurate conclusion because there’s another key passage to speaks to the women’s grounds for divorce. And that’s in Exodus 21, and in this passage we’re going to look at in just a second, Moses is addressing a situation in a polygamist marriage where a husband has a slave wife (kind of messed up, I know), but he has a slave wife, and then marries another woman (polygamy), and perhaps a free one (almost implied) and it creates tension within the polygamist marriage, which we can understand.

Exodus 21:10 to 11: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food (speaking of the first wife), her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”

Now this is all very foreign to us, but again, this is a man who has two wives. He has his former wife who is a slave, and now he’s taken another wife, perhaps a free woman, and the tendency is for him then to neglect his previous wife, the first wife, the slave wife. And because she’s a slave, she has no options, no recourse. And again, God is protecting the vulnerable.

If you know your Old Testament, you’ll notice something very similar happened with Abraham and Sarah and Hagar. Remember the drama of that whole thing and how God came to defend Hagar in that situation. God is saying, “This isn’t going to happen again in my people.” Okay? This is a twisted mess of abuse and abandonment all rolled up into one, isn’t it? If he abandons his marriage commitments to his first wife, if he diminishes her through the clothing and marital rights, literally conjugal love; if he abuses his role as husband and master, and keeps her enslaved in a marriage that is a sham that he’s abandoned, then Moses says, “She is free to go.” The marriage is dissolved. She’s emancipated both from the marriage and from her slavery bonds. She doesn’t have to purchase her freedom. She owes him nothing. She is free to go, okay? And again, God is protecting the vulnerable. You see that.

So if you put these two texts together, what you have is the Old Testament grounds for divorce, which were adultery (Deuteronomy 24) and the abusive-abandonment situation talked about in Exodus 21. And the rabbis argued, or as they discussed this amongst themselves for a reciprocal set of rights, that both men and women received all the rights that were prescribed to each individual party, so it’s the same basis for grounds for divorce for men and women. The rabbis agreed on that.

The reason this is important is because both of these Old Testament texts formed a backdrop of the New Testament’s teaching on divorce. As we’ll see in just a minute, Jesus interacts extensively with Deuteronomy 24. And it seems that the apostle Paul is referring back to Exodus 21 when he speaks about divorce in 1 Corinthians 7. If you look at 1 Corinthians 7, verses 12 to 13 and 15. This is what we read: “If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him… But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”

And Paul here is writing to Christians in mixed marriages, mixed religion marriages, where one is a believer in Jesus Christ and the other is not. He says, “If your unbelieving spouse is willing to live with you in marriage, you shouldn’t divorce them. But if they leave you, if they separate from you, if they divorce you and abandon you, then let it be so. Don’t fight the divorce. In such cases, a brother or sister is not (what’s the word he uses? enslaved.) Enslaved, which is a clear reference back to Exodus 21, the case law regarding enslavement and abandonment in these situations. And Paul takes the principles from the Old Testament and applies them to this New Testament setting. Okay?

Now, throughout all Jewish history, the rabbis were all agreed on the clear grounds for divorce that we’ve outlined in the Old Testament, that they were adultery (Deuteronomy 24) and abusive-abandonment (Exodus 21), both men and women. These were the grounds for divorce. Everyone agreed. Until the first century B.C., and that’s when the Hillel—Shammai debate over Deuteronomy 24:1 began. Just a reminder, here’s our text:

Deuteronomy 24:1, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found [a cause] of indecency (of nakedness) in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house…”

The debate was over the phrase, “a cause of indecency in her.” That was the debate. Now it’s a little technical in Hebrew but there are two words: cause and indecency. They’re right by each other, and the preposition is inferred. In other words, there’s no preposition there. You have to fill it in. And Rabbi Hillel came up with a really creative argument. He said, “It is a cause orindecency.” So he inserts the word “or.” Rabbi Hillel says “a cause orindecency.” He said, “We’ve read this text wrong for centuries. There are two grounds here, not one. It is a cause or indecency. So everyone agrees the indecency is sexual immorality, adultery, that sort of thing. But he argues there’s something else called a “cause.”

He called this “any cause” divorce. He said famously, “Even if she burns your meal, that’s cause enough.” Wow! And since Deuteronomy 24:1 was available only to men, or spoke only to men, he argued this kind of divorce was only for men. So this created a whole new kind of divorce available only to Jewish men where they could divorce for any cause whatsoever.

On the other side of the debate was Rabbi Shammai. Rabbi Shammai said, “No. It is a cause of indecency,” A cause of indecency. The traditional interpretation is correct. There are not two grounds for divorce here. There’s only one and it is a cause, which is indecency. In other words, the only grounds, as he said it, Deuteronomy 24 provides no cause for divorce, except for the ground of sexual immorality. That’s his famous quote: “No cause for divorce except for the ground of sexual immorality.”

Now go back to Jesus’ statement. Matthew 5:32, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Which side of the debate does Jesus come down on? Which side? Shammai, right? Obviously. He comes down on the traditional interpretation. Jesus sides with Rabbi Shammai’s interpretation that Deuteronomy 24:1, offers only one ground for divorce and that is sexual immorality. He even uses Shammai’s language, you’ll notice, “except on the ground of sexual immorality.” In other words, Jesus is flatly denouncing Rabbi’s Hillel’s “innovative” any cause divorce as non-scriptural. In fact, He takes it one step further, and says, “If you’ve divorced your wife via this ‘any cause’ divorce, it’s not a legitimate divorce.” Your marriage is still in full force before God, which means any remarriage afterward is, in reality, adultery. You’re sleeping with someone outside of your marriage. This ‘any cause’ divorce, He said, is not valid.

Now we have to realize how radical Jesus is being here. By the time of Jesus, the debate was basically over. Hillel had won the the day, not on the basis of his exegesis, but because this brand of divorce was so wildly popular. “Any cause” divorce was easy, painless, freeing. You didn’t have to make your case or prove any point. You simply had to file and you were done. It’s not that different than our “no fault” divorce laws today, honestly. You just have to claim irreconcilable differences and you get your “get out of marriage free” card. Right?

So while a few divorces met the biblical grounds for divorce, adultery (Deuteronomy 24) and abusive abandonment (Exodus 21), in Jesus’ day, the vast majority of Jewish divorces were “any cause” divorces. And Jesus is calling out every one of those people and saying, “You abandoned your marriages without biblical grounds, and your new marriages are actually full of adultery.” And He said, “This is all symptomatic of the kind of hard hearts that we have in this world.”

Now let’s talk about the hardness of human hearts. The phrase “hardness of heart” comes from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 where Jesus has an extended interaction with the Pharisees on this very subject, the subject of divorce. In Matthew 19:3 (if you have your Bibles you can turn there) Jesus says this, “And the Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’”

Notice it’s a test. They want Him to take a side in the debate. They know which side He’s going to side on, and it’s the unpopular side, so they’re trying to trap Him. Notice the key phrase: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife ‘for any cause’?” They are asking Him specifically, “Is Hillel’s ‘any cause’ divorce lawful? Is it legal? Does it fit what God requires?” And Jesus doesn’t answer the question right away. He’s disgusted by their preoccupation on finding ways to get out of their marriages. Listen to what He says.

Matthew 19:4, “He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?”

So they are no longer two but one flesh. What God therefore has joined together, let not men separate.’”

So Jesus goes all the way back to creation. God made them male and female, this binary pair who come together now in the covenant of marriage and are therefore no longer two, but one flesh. And since they are one flesh joined together by God, God says man should not separate these two. In other words, Jesus is telling us that divorce runs contrary to God’s creative design, His intentions. Divorce is like amputation, like cutting off your own flesh. It’s not what God wants for your marriage.

But notice He doesn’t answer their question directly, so they come at Him again. Matthew 19:7: “They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’” So they bring Him back to the Hillel/Shammai debate, quoting from the very disputed passage in Deuteronomy 24. And they say, “God must have intended for divorce to be a reality because He commanded for these certificates to be given!” And Jesus responds.

“He said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts, because of your hardness of heart, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except (here’s the phrase) for sexuality immorality (He’s taking Shammai’s side), and marries another, commits adultery.’” It’s only because of the hardness of your hearts that God made allowances for divorce like this. He didn’t command you to get divorced. He simply regulated the process. God never meant for the world to be full of divorces and pain. Sin has corrupted this world, and we have hard hearts, unrepentant hearts, sinful, unforgiving, calloused hearts. It’s just like an amputation is sometimes necessary to save a life. You lose the limb to save the body to survive.

Divorce means losing a piece of yourself in order to survive. It is always ghastly. It is always grievous. It is always tragic and sad. Ask any of the kids involved. But you Pharisees have taken what God allowed because of the hardness of human hearts, in a worst case scenario of adultery and abusive abandonment, and you have flipped the script and you have turned it into the wideness of Hillel’s ‘any cause’ divorce. You’ve replaced the sanctity of human marriage with this quick disposal process.

You’re teaching men it’s okay to divorce for any cause. If she burns your toast, if she gains some weight, if she has a headache, if she starts looking her age or nags too much, or if she doesn’t make you happy, you have any cause, and you’re free [to] just throw her to the curb.

Pharisees, how dare you? This is absolutely not the heart of God. Marriage was designed by God to be this beautiful covenant to reflect His self-giving, faithfulness, and enduring love, and you’ve cheapened it and ruined it and soiled it. And Jesus’ problem again is real issues with our hearts. The problem is: your hearts want this kind of easy divorce. That’s the problem. Something’s gone wrong inside when our hearts search for loopholes to find a way out. Our hard hearts search for loopholes to find a way out. We’re looking for them. Who sits around and tries to plan an elective amputation? How do I get an amputation? What’s my way in? How do I make that happen? How do I chop this off?

“What’s wrong with you?” Jesus says. “This jumping in and out of marriage, and this discarding of lifelong covenant promises like it’s no big deal. What’s wrong inside? It’s ruining your souls, your heart, because you’ve consumerized marriage. You see this. You consumerize marriage. Instead of a marriage of mutual love and self-giving and sacrificial love, you’ve twisted it into this consumer relationship that’s all transactional. “I’ll give you what you want as long as you give me what I want, and as soon as that arrangement costs you just a little bit more than what you were expecting, you bounce.” You’ve turned marriage into this thing that’s all about you. What have you done? You’ve productized each other.

When marriage becomes a consumer relationship, then the partners turn into products with features to be marketed. And as long as all those features are top-of-the-line, we’re happy. But as soon as they lose their edge and a newer model comes along, we’re itching to get out of the contract we signed. We get an upgrade and we’re not honoring the image of God, the precious image of God in our spouse. We reduce them to the sum total of their value proposition with their utility in the service of meeting our needs and achieving our own happiness. What have you done?

And you’ve planned for obsolescence. See it’s only a matter of time until your current model loses its shine, and a newer model shows up with better features. And in Jesus’ day, with “any cause” divorce floating around in the culture, or in our day, with “no fault” divorce floating around in our culture, Jesus says, “You are recklessly dumping and switching at alarming rates.”

Something has gone terribly wrong with your hard hearts that are searching for loopholes to find a way out of your marriages, and it’s symptomatic of a heart that is caving inward in selfish, self-gratifying self-absorption. But Jesus is here to give us a new heart and a new way: The Loyalty of Lasting Love, The Loyalty of Lasting Love.

Jesus introduced the sermon with the phrase, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent, change the way you’re thinking and living. The way you’re thinking and operating when it comes to marriage is all wrong. It’s all topsy-turvy and upside down. You are living like marriage is about you, for you, and what you get out of it. It’s all backwards. It’s twisted. It’s small. But come to Me, take My hand. Follow Me into the abundant life of the kingdom of heaven, and I will give you a new heart that will embrace the reality that marriage is for. Happiness yes, but it’s also for holiness. Marriage is about happiness and holiness.

It’s true. Marriage is designed by God for happiness and for companionship and friendship and mutual love and satisfaction. But it’s also about holiness. And just like a precious metal is purified by the fire, or steel is tempered by the flame, marriage is like a furnace that is designed for your holiness to forge the character of Christ deep within your soul. See, most of us get into marriage with one aim, and that’s our own happiness. I want to be loved. I want to be embraced. I want to be fulfilled and enriched and safe and secure and successful. And then reality sets in, doesn’t it? It turns out we married a sinner. Who knew? It turns out they’re never going to meet all of our needs. In fact, it turns out they’ll annoy us, and cross our will, and frustrate us, and hurt us a great amount of the time.

All you single people—this is good news. (laughter) It turns out that marriage is hard and it requires copious amounts of forgiveness and patience and mercy and long-suffering and humility and selflessness and sacrifice. In other words, it requires a heart that is just like our Father who is in heaven. (applause)

The story of the Bible, the story of God is one of a jilted lover in a relentless pursuit of His unfaithful people. This is how you read your Bible. Sometime go read the book of Hosea in the Old Testament—a prophet that God called to live out a kind of enacted parable with his wife, Gomer, who cheated on him again and again and again in horrifically painful ways. And Hosea always took her back. And God said, “That’s a picture of how I am with my people Israel. No matter how far you run, no matter how faithless you are, I will always pursue you. I will never stop loving you. I will be faithful to you, and I will never quit on you.”

That, my friends, is the kind of righteous heart that is perfect, like God, that is at home in the kingdom of heaven. That is the kind of heart that Jesus offers to you and to me. Jesus offers us a heart of covenant faithfulness and love, and again, friends, it comes down to the heart of an orphan versus the heart of a child.

As an orphan in the universe, I have to fend for myself. I have to make sure my needs are going to get met because I’m all alone. And so when I have an orphan-like heart it’s easy to make my marriage all about me. Is it making me happy? Are my needs being met? Is this transaction beneficial enough for me? Do I have any better options out there? As soon as it gets too costly, maybe I need to find my way out.

As an orphan, it’s easy to turn my marriage into an idol, expecting my marriage to meet my deep soul needs on the inside for security and significance and satisfaction. I look to my spouse to meet all of those needs, which is a crushing weight of expectations to put on my spouse who will never be enough. And it is a perfect setup for me to be disillusioned, because I’m asking my marriage to be something that only God can ultimately do for my soul. But this is what orphan hearts do. After all, we’re all alone in the universe. But, if in Jesus Christ I am not an orphan, but I am a son and a daughter of the Most High God, and I have the Holy Spirit indwelling me, teaching me to cry out Abba, Father, reminding me that I am a child of God, that I’m not on my own, I don’t have to fend for myself; that, in Christ, I have an infinite supply of resources for my deep soul needs because in Him, I am fully known and fully loved. In Him, I am safe and secure and forever embraced. In Him, I am chosen, I am beloved and I am kept. In Him, I am a beloved son in whom the Father is well pleased. In Him, I am lost in wonder, awe and praise. In Him, I am secure, significant, and satisfied. In Him, I am a child of God! (applause)

And if that is true for you and for me, in Christ, when it gets tough in our marriages, when its costly and hurtful and tired and heavy, we are not alone. We are children of God, and we can drink deeply of the resources of heaven that our ours in Christ, and we can pour ourselves out in forgiveness and mercy and kindness and patience and selflessness and sacrifice and faithfulness.

Friends, if marriage is ultimately a picture of God’s love for His people, of Christ’s love for the church, and if we are the sons and daughters of God who are destined to share in His image and likeness and glory, is it any wonder that Jesus wants to give us a heart that is like our Father in the kingdom of heaven that is full of His loving kindness and mercy? Is it any wonder? Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Now, I know a message like this stirs up all kinds of emotions. It exposes all kinds of wounds. It raises all kinds of questions. Maybe you’re thinking, considering divorce, and the Lord is giving you pause today. Maybe you are divorced and you realize you didn’t have biblical grounds for it, and you feel the conviction of the Lord, and you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do about it. Maybe you’re in a marriage right now and you are enduring the ongoing pain of adultery and abusive abandonment, and you wondering when enough is enough. Maybe you long to forgive for reconciliation, but you’re not even sure to begin. And I just encourage you. Don’t journey alone.

Don’t journey alone. Please talk to one of our pastors, one of our ministry directors, one of our elders or their wives. Talk to a Christian counselor or a wise Christian friend. Don’t go through this alone.

This is one of those times when wise, godly counsel is indispensable. You’re not going to get your best advice from your buddies at the gym or your hairstylist. And you can’t even really trust your own heart because you don’t see things clearly when you are in the middle of pain and struggle. This is why we need each other. We need godly counsel to walk us through these situations and apply the Scriptures and the heart of God with great wisdom and care. There’s not really a “one size fits all” prescription. Remember, Jesus is not laying down a new law. He’s giving us a new heart. His Spirit will lead and guide through the wisdom and instruction of His Word and His people. Each situation is unique, complex and nuanced. And so just don’t do this alone. Would you open up your life, invite godly people in? We’re here for you.

Most of all, I just want to leave you with hope because our God is a great Redeemer, isn’t He? He’s in the business of bringing light into the darkness, bringing beauty from ashes, raising dead people to life, turning sorrow to joy. And with God in the picture, friends, there is always hope breaking through the shadows. And there’s hope for your story. There’s hope for your life. There’s hope for your heart with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven. Won’t you follow Him?

Let’s bow in prayer together.

Father, these are heavy issues. They’re not just issues. They go all the way to our hearts. Father, as we come and recognize that we are a sinful mess and ask you to be our righteousness to lead us and guide us by your Spirit to make us new, we ask that you would have your way in us, that we would make room for you, that we’d stop holding on to our way, that we would embrace the way of Jesus, that we would learn the good and beautiful path that is so hard at first, and yet it’s so full of life. Help us follow you.

The way up is down. The way forward is back. The way to hope is through despair, but you are making all things new so we give you our hearts. We hold nothing back. Change us and make us new for Jesus’ sake we pray, Amen. Amen.


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