As you turn there in Mark 10, I have two things I want to mention to you very quickly. And one is, as you’ve heard, there has been a letter sent out by Alan Sherer, chairman of the Elders, updating us on service times that are going to change at the end of the month. So, if you don’t get the church email, you might want to sign up for that, or check Need2Know, or check on your church app over the next couple of weeks, because as of the end of the month, June 27, our service times will change.
Also, some of you may see one of these little fliers in the seat back near you. And you might want to grab that if you live in the Taylors area. We can get you many more. If you’re watching online, you live in the Taylors area, we can get you these. Tremendous opportunity down at Brook Glenn to reach out to your neighbors, invite them. The information is there.
So, several weeks ago, we encountered the hinge of Mark. Jesus shifts from who he is to what he’s come to do. And between chapters 8 through 10, we get these three explicit statements of Jesus’ death and resurrection — Mark 8:31, 9:30, 10:32. And sprinkled throughout these, Jesus helps us understand what his death has to do with our lives. What does it mean for us to live a life shaped by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?
Jesus made it super clear in 8:34, we are being called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. What does that mean? And especially when it comes to areas that are controversial. Or areas where we tend to be a bit defensive. I can think of two. I can’t think of two areas where we have become more defensive than the two areas Jesus is going to address in Mark 10 — family and finances. And by family, I’m including singleness, marriage, divorce, sexuality, gender, all of that. And finances, most people don’t like to just open up their budget and let other people poke around and critique, right? You want to get people mad, you talk about how they’re parenting, family issues, marriage issues, singleness, gender issues. Have a multigenerational conversation about gender right now. That will be fun. Or finances. So, this week, family. Next week, finances.
So, let me give you two examples about this shift that’s occurring in our country in the area of family. You noticed one major shift recently hit the news when Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce. That became major news across our country. And part of the reason is they represent a growing trend. Between 1990 and 2012, middle-aged adults and older experienced divorce twice as often as previously. In other words, divorce rates among middle aged adults doubled between 1990 and 2012, all while divorce rates among other demographics declined. Isn’t that interesting? So, the couples you would think would be least likely to get divorced are becoming divorced more often during the same period that couples you would think would be more likely are tending toward divorce less often. Major shift.
Second example of a major shift within family dynamics is that regarding gender. Previous to 2012, the scientific literature on gender dysphoria — do you know what that is? Extreme discomfort between your psychology and biology regarding gender. Gender dysphoria for adolescent girls was virtually non-existent, virtually nonexistent before 2012, as if it didn’t occur. From 2012 to now, girls ages 11 to 21, fastest growing population experiencing gender dysphoria. Now, where did that come from? Is that biological, medical, psychological? No. That’s sociological. That’s a trend that’s exploding online and in schools. So, Jesus speaks into this, and it’s vital that we hear what he says. So, let’s pray and ask for his help and then brace ourselves.
Jesus, you said if we have your commandments, we keep them. It is he who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved of my father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. And that’s our prayer for today. That as we hear your words — hard words about denying self and taking up cross and following you in the area of family and sexuality and marriage — that Father, you would give us ears to hear your words, to love your words, and that you would manifest yourself to us. That we would experience your presence among us, convicting, encouraging, enlightening, helping us understand things we might not understand previously. Help us now, we pray, by the power of your Spirit through your Word in Jesus name, amen.
So, Jesus in Mark 10 is traveling with his disciples from Capernaum to Judea, out around beyond the Jordan to a region called Perea. And the crowds are gathering, he’s teaching. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus taught. But Mark jumps in during the Q&A. When the Pharisees decide to test Jesus, verse 2. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” And implied here is for any cause. No one was debating at that time whether it was lawful to divorce. They were debating whether it was lawful to divorce for any cause. And Jesus wisely responds to the Pharisees with a question.
But before we see that, why is this such a “gotcha” question? Why is this such a controversial question? Two reasons. One reason is political. They are in the region run by Herod Antipas. Remember, Herod Antipas was the ruler who took John the Baptist’s head for his position on marriage. And so, the Pharisees are thinking, “Hey, all we have to do is get Jesus to say something against divorce, and then Herod will take Jesus out like he took out John the Baptist. So, part of it’s political.
Part of it’s also theological. If we can get him to question what the Law teaches, it will discredit him. Well, Jesus doesn’t fall for that trap. Verse 3, he answers a question with a question. “What did Moses command you?” Verse 4, they said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” The Pharisees here are referring to Numbers 24:1,
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce.”
Now, the debate is around that word “indecency.” There were two schools of thought at the time. The School of Shammai permitted divorce only for an indecency, meaning something immoral. The School of Hillel permitted any kind of indecency as a basis of divorce. And it gives horrible examples like, ruining supper, finding someone prettier. It’s really disgusting. And Jesus refuses to fall for this petty debate. Look at verse 5.
“He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart, he [Moses] wrote you this commandment.’”
So, Jesus explains the result — divorce is always the result of someone having a hard heart, Moses was making a concession in order to protect women, not a provision to discard wives. Jesus goes right for the heart. Divorce is impossible without hardness of heart. Why? Now here is when he makes five extremely controversial in that culture, extremely unthinkable in our culture statements. Our culture has settled things on these. The points Jesus makes — it’s done, you’re not allowed to discuss. You’re not allowed to debate. If you take an alternative position, you’re a bigot. You’re a hater. Conversation over. Discussion done. And Jesus steps right into this with his authority. And it’s important for us as followers of Jesus. By the way, if you’re if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you’re just wondering what Christians are about, we’re having a family discussion, listening to Jesus’ words that might not make sense to you today. But he makes five statements.
Number 1. God created two genders, male and female. Look at verse 6. “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” Now, don’t miss the authority with which Jesus speaks. He is not like the scribes interpreting; he is declaring, pronouncing with authority as one who was there, who created, who rules. Today, in our culture, that statement is deeply offensive. Deeply offensive, it feels to many, like an attack on their person. Because our children are being taught that gender is a spectrum, a galaxy, a rainbow, and if you don’t agree you’re a bigot. You must embrace this new reality. Maybe you’re cisgender, pangender, gender fluid, gender free, gender queer, bigender, gender non-binary. And there are many, many examples of this.
So, what are all these labels getting at that behind those labels are really true? What is true? Let me mention two things that they’re getting at that I think are important to understand. 1. Young people go through confusing stages of development as they try to figure out what it means to be a male or a female. Are we together on that? That’s not new. That’s not a new cultural trend. Young, especially, but also older, but young people go through confusing stages of development. In the past, that was a normal process you walk through with your parents. Today, you walk through that process online with a gender non-binary group that leads you off into utter chaos. That’s one of the big shifts, but the fact that you are uncomfortable with what it means to be a boy or a girl, or a man or a woman is not unusual. But there is help.
Second thing behind these is, no one is 100% male or 100% female in the way they experience social expectations. I’m going to let that sink in, because some of you looking at me like a heretic. No one is 100% male or 100% female in the way they experience social expectations. And as soon as I give you an example, I’ve stepped in it. But I’m stupid enough to do it. So, here are a couple of examples, if you’re a girl, and you want to grow up and work construction, does that automatically mean you’re not a woman? No. That’s ludicrous. If you’re a guy, and you happen to be really in touch with how you feel and are good at expressing that, does that mean you’re not a man? No. The Bible is incredibly flexible in the way we experience our gender within a particular culture and it’s incredibly inflexible in the reality of it. I need to say that again. The Bible is incredibly flexible in the way we experience gender in the cultures we live in, the various cultural expectations we live in, as to what it means to be a guy or girl, but incredibly inflexible in the reality that there is male and that there is female.
Dr. Debra Soh, not a believer, scientist, neuroscientist, writes this in her book, The End of Gender.
“There are only two genders. There. I said it. Not three, not seventy-one, and certainly not an infinite number. Gender is not a spectrum, a continuum, a kaleidoscope, a prism, or any other majestic-sounded metaphor that gender activism has dreamed up. With the number of genders increasing exponentially by the day, it’s hard to stay on top of things. You’ve likely heard that some people identify as both genders or neither, that others have a gender that alternates from when they wake up until they go to sleep. One BBC film used to educate school children during health class suggested there are more than 100. No. There are two: female and male. There is zero scientific evidence to suggest that any other genders exist.”
Jesus’ words are clear. God created two genders, male and female. Number 2. God designed marriage to be an exclusive union between a man and a woman. Verse 7. And in case you’re visiting, and you haven’t been in a service like this, we’re just walking through this passage. Verse 7.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.”
Now, the gender exclusivity in marriage comes out in two ways here. Notice it’s a man, his wife. His father and mother. There’s no room for gender interchangeability. Also, it’s going to make some of us feel uncomfortable. There’s no room for parental clinginess either. Look at how strong, the Hebrew here is very strong. “Leave” could be translated “abandon.” In the sense that when a young couple gets married, their parent-child relationship is no longer primary. You’re leaving and cleaving. And that word in Hebrew is glueing. You ditch and you hitch. That’s what’s happening. You’re leaving and you’re cleaving. Parents, just a word. This is all in the context of “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” And as we parent, we raise our kids to leave and cleave to someone else, not to us. That is the way we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him, applied to parenting. Which is not easy. I had a 14-year-old after the first service say, “See, Mom? Don’t be clingy. She said, “You’re not married yet.” Good stuff.
Number 3. God calls two to die in order to create one new reality in marriage. God calls two to die to themselves in order to create one new reality in marriage. Verse 8.
“And the two shall become one flesh so they are no longer two but one flesh.”
Now, I’m not great at math, but if you take one plus one, and you end up with one, you’ve just added by subtraction. God is calling us to die to parts of ourselves in order to create something better. A new entity, you are dying to having your own way in your own space, in your own time. And even parts of your personality will change. Parts of your personality will expand; others will contract the selfishness of getting your own way. You are dying to that. Your preferences, your independence. But at the very same time, you don’t erase the differences; you actually celebrate and synchronize them. Look what Gary Thomas writes.
“Marriage as an institution is a stroke of genius on God’s part. As sinful humans, all of us lack certain skills, and all of us enter this relationship with myriad limitations and faults. By joining two individuals, God creates a much stronger unit on which he can build a family. It is it truly is a wondrous work: two individuals coming together to fill in where the other lacks. But this dynamic will take place only when we stop using our spouse’s shortcomings as ammunition and instead use them as a call to step up. United in God, we are one …. Marriage thrives spiritually when we die to our singleness and are resurrected to a divine union.”
Now, don’t miss that. This is all in the context of “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” When we disconnect marriage from that call, we don’t experience it as it was intended.
Number 4. God forbids anyone from separating what he has joined together. Verse 9,
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
In most cultures, ancient cultures, fathers arranged their daughters’ marriages. Today, daughters arrange their own marriages. Jesus rejects both of those. Verse 9,
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Now, of course, we seek counsel from parents and pastors. But if you believe you are responsible for constructing your own marriage, you could delusionally believe you are free to deconstruct your own marriage. And for those of us who have walked through seasons of troubled marriage — and I’ve shared sordid details for years, so I will spare you personal testimony at this part — but for those of us who have walked through seasons of troubled marriage and believed what Jesus is saying here, that we didn’t start this, and we’re not free to end this, it led to the faith and humility to believe that God can transform this. I need to say that again. For those of us who have walked through seasons of troubled marriage and believe that we didn’t start this and we don’t we’re not free to end this, it can lead to the humility, the hope, the faith, the courage to believe that God who began this, and we’re not free to end this until he calls us home, he has the power, and he has the desire to transform it from inside out as he changes us, as we deny ourselves, as we take up our cross, as we follow him. It’s a Christian view of marriage.
Number 5. God warns those who pursue another relationship after divorcing unbiblically that they are living in adultery. This part of Jesus’ teaching comes in the house. Verse 10. The disciples asked him again about this matter. So, if some of this is confusing to you, you fit right in with the disciples. They’re like, what in the world are you talking about Jesus? Jesus explains that rather than viewing divorce as a way to solve your marriage problems, you’re actually jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. You’re multiplying sin. Look at verse 11.
“And he said to them, whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Now notice the respect that Jesus gives women that was often alien to this culture. The man and the woman are both responsible for their choices, free to follow him or not. But living in adultery is not a path to fix marital problems. Now, this point, at the risk of being a tad tedious, I want to read the North Hills Divorce Statement. It is part of a marriage, remarriage, divorce, singleness statement. It’s a big statement. But I want to read just five paragraphs under the section of divorce so that the questions that some of what I’ve just said that are raised, this may help. Ready? NHC Position on Divorce.
“Divorce is the result of sin. As men and women harden their hearts to God’s plan for marriage, divorce is one of the tragic results. Divorce mars the picture of Christ’s relationship with his church and causes indescribable pain to those affected by its tragic consequences. NHC rejects the popular notion that incompatibility constitutes grounds for divorce. The Bible names sexual immorality and abandonment [that’s Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15] as grounds for divorce. Abandonment is not strictly limited to physical desertion. Even while allowed in these cases, divorce is never commanded and should not be pursued hastily. A repentant believer who has violated the marriage covenant through sexual immorality and/or abandonment should make every effort to reconcile their marriage. The aggrieved spouse is called to forgive, just as Christ has forgiven them. Given time when fruits of repentance are evident, the aggrieved spouse may also be moved by the Spirit of Christ to seek restoration of the marriage as well. If a member of NHC pursues an unbiblical divorce, church discipline will be administered with the desire to see genuine repentance, restoration and peace in the family and in the church. As strongly as NHC opposes divorce, we also long to provide the love, acceptance and stability that individuals and families need by the grace of God to rebuild their lives.”
Now, why are these statements of Jesus, these five statements we have just seen, so controversial? Many reasons. Let me just list five. And see if you can locate yourself in any of these.
#1. Some of us would love to be married, and it is painful to watch married couples take for granted what God has given them.
#2. Some of us have seen marriage mangled beyond recognition. If you grew up in an abusive home with an angry or hypocritical father who was one way in public and a different way in private, discussions like this on the sacredness of marriage are painful. Or if you had a manipulative mother, or if you experienced a painful divorce.
#3. Many of us read the Bible outside of its intended context and purpose. I want to use a classic marriage passage to illustrate this in Ephesians 5:22. Wives are called to submit to their husbands as to the Lord
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.”
There are many evangelical pastors who are embarrassed by that. The whole idea of head submit. We’ve all heard stories of quasi-Christian husbands who take passages like that and use them in order to dominate, control, manipulate and crush and get their way. And do you understand that is not in this passage? The whole context of this passage… Look at the next verse, verse 25.
“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
That’s the context. It’s the same context as Mark 10. Deny yourself, take up your cross. And follow me. And a husband who goes to Ephesians 5 in order to dominate, control and get his way, is twisting the Scripture outside of its context and using it in a way that it was not intended. Husbands, the call to headship is the call to die first. It’s the call to humble yourself in an argument first. It’s the call to give away your prerogative and preference and rights, as Christ did for us, and to lay out his life in sacrificial love for the ones he is called to give himself to. That’s what this passage is talking about. And when the world comes to passages like this, all they can read is misogyny and selfishness and manipulative power and control. And they’re yanking it out of its intended purpose. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.
#4 many of us would rather test Jesus than trust Jesus. Do you understand how perverted that is? When the Pharisees in verse 2 came to test him — teachers test students, students don’t test teachers. And in this case, you have the ultimate teacher, the one who designed marriage, who’s being tested by the ones who are called to live it. That is so twisted. And that word “test” appears four times in the book of Mark. Three times it’s the Pharisees testing Jesus. The first time it appears in chapter 1:13, it is Satan testing Jesus, tempting Jesus in the wilderness. So when we test Jesus, when we come to Jesus and say, why can’t I? And how far can I go? And and how do I blend this into the culture? And why am I so embarrassed about what you say? When we do that, we are mirroring, mimicking Satan in testing Jesus rather than trusting him.
#5. Our culture views marriage and sexuality as a means of self fulfillment, rather than a means of service and worship. Percey Bysshe Shelley embodies this. He was a man whose view of marriage was way ahead of his time. 200 years ago he wrote about how marriage exists for your own immediate personal happiness. Period. Listen to these. These are his notes written explaining his Queen Mab.
“If happiness be the object of morality, of all human unions and disunions; [So marriage and divorce are all about happiness. That’s what defines morality.] if the worthiness of every action is to be estimated by the quantity of pleasurable sensation it is calculated to produce, [in other words, you know something’s worthy, you know something’s moral by the amount of pleasurable sensation it produces] then the connection of the sexes [marriage] is so long sacred as it contributes to the comfort of the parties, and is naturally dissolved when its evils are greater than its benefits. [Evils, meaning lack of pleasurable sensation.] There is nothing immoral in this separation.”
In his short life, Shelley experienced many sexual and marital relationships. His first wife drowned herself when Shelley left her and their child to pursue another relationship so he could be happy. His immediate happiness transcended all else. When the spark dies, according to Shelley, the relationship is over. Are we no different today? Just get with a friend and start talking about how hard your marriage is, and you will be affirmed. God wants you to be happy. Dump him. Dump her. Find someone better who will fulfill you, Jesus casts a far greater and ultimately more satisfying vision.
Then finally, all of us will fail to take Jesus’ words seriously if we think we are capable of following them. If we think we are capable of following Jesus’ words through our own effort… If we can read a passage like Mark 10 and go, check. Got that. Ephesians 5, yeah. That’s me. Sacrificial love. If we think we can do this, we are not listening. We do not understand what he’s saying. The disciples in the parallel passage in Mark 19, when when Jesus was teaching this, they just concluded — I would have loved to see that picture — They just go, it’s better that we not marry. I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re calling us to something that’s impossible. And when you feel that, you’re beginning to understand what he’s saying. We’re going to see the same thing next week about money. Same thing. The disciples look at him and go, “Then it’s impossible.” A rich man can never be saved. It’s impossible. Because we’re thinking it with human logic and human effort and capacity. I’ve got to get a strategy. And that’s why Jesus does this next. Look at verse 13. Mark 10:13.
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”
So, Jesus is saying little children are to be valued, not hindered. Even more, if we don’t receive the kingdom as a child, we will not enter. So, it’s vital to understand, what do these children represent? It’s not cuteness. It’s not innocence. The only way you would believe that is if you’ve never had a child. It is absence. Look what Edwards writes.
“In this story, children are not blessed for their virtues, but for what they lack; they come only as they are — small, powerless, without sophistication, as the overlooked and dispossessed of society. To receive the kingdom of God as a child is to receive it as one who has no credits, no clout, no claims, a little child has absolutely nothing to bring, and whatever a child receives, he or she receives by grace on the basis of sheer neediness rather than by any merit inherent him- or herself. Little children are paradigmatic disciples, [They are examples. They are model disciples.] for only empty hands can be filled.”
And so, in verse 16, Jesus took them in his arms, blessed them, laying his hands on them. We cannot live this vision of marriage, sexuality, singleness, gender. We can’t do it in and of ourselves. We come to the place where we see, Lord, your your view is so countercultural, so contrary to my desires, the way I’m wired, my abilities, my strategies, my capacity. So, we come with empty hands, Lord, if you will, bless me, if you will grace me, I will follow. Are you in? Two heads shake.
Let’s pray. Oh, God, we need you. These are hard words. These are hard words for teenagers and young people to wrestle with. These are hard words for adults and middle aged, those in marriages that have grown cold, the love has grown cold. These are hard words for all of us. But you, Father, call us to deny ourselves. All the voices in our heads, all the messages online to take up our cross so that our identities are shaped by your death, burial, and resurrection, and to follow you because you make known the path of life. In your presence, there’s fullness of joy. At your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. We will experience the kind of joy we could never strategically discover, but you produce it in us as we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow you. We thank you in Jesus’ name, amen.