Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
And in the house the disciples asked Him again about this matter. 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.”
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.” And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:2-16)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Jesus’ reputation was well-established by this time. His miracles attested to His power, His teaching to His gracious wisdom. People flocked to see Him wherever He went. His popularity had increased among the people of Israel, but so had the opposition and hatred of the religious establishment—the scribes and the Pharisees. The Pharisees followed Jesus and tried again and again to challenge Him and His work.
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” This question of the Pharisees was not a sincere one. They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use to discredit Him. Translated as “tempting” in the King James Version, the verb “to test” occurs only twice in Mark, here and 1:13 when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. The Pharisees had joined dangerous company when they sought to tempt Jesus.
The divorce question seemed made to order to the Pharisees’ purposes, since they themselves were not agreed on the proper interpretation of Moses’ words (see Deuteronomy 24:1). Those who followed Rabbi Shammai said the only reason for divorce was moral indecency. Those who followed Hillel said anything in a wife that did not please her husband was grounds for divorce. The Pharisees seemed to expect Jesus to side with one or the other, and then they would have the opportunity to criticize Him publicly.
Just as Jesus defeated the temptation of Satan in the desert by quoting the Old Testament (Matthew 4:4-10), so He counters the Pharisees with Moses’ words: “What did Moses command you?” It was also a reminder that they ought to already know this answer. Moses’ words are not suggestions, nor a mere foundation for their attempts to manipulate Jesus. They are the words of God, the words of the One whom they are trying to tempt.
Jesus told the Pharisees that Moses’ regulation that “allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away” was simply a concession to their hardness of heart. It was an attempt to keep reasonable order in society and not at all a statement whereby God approved of divorce. This commandment is a painful allowance for the fallen nature. It is not a license for easy separation and the causing of more pain. This permission for divorce does not cause separation but recognizes a desertion and separation by the spouse that’s already fractured the marriage.
While the Pharisees might have claimed Deuteronomy 24:1 as their authority, Jesus went further back in the biblical record. Moses’ allowance for divorce dealt with the needs of a sinful world, but Jesus’ answer rested on God’s plan and the original perfection of creation in Genesis 1. It was a clash between “Moses allowed” and “God made.”
Jesus referred back to creation and the principles God established for marriage: “‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-8a). Then Jesus gave His judgment, based on those principles. “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:8b-9).
Marriage is not a human arrangement. It was God who instituted it. It is God who joins husband and wife together. The Greek word for joined means “yoked together as a team.” God wants marriage to be “till death us do part.” Marriage is not just a temporary convenience but a lifelong commitment.
At this point, the questioning Pharisees move off the scene. Jesus didn’t merely escape their trap. He dismantled it and handed them the broken pieces.
In His words to the disciples, Jesus repeated what He had already said to the Pharisees but added a new element, something even the disciples had not heard until then. Christ said that a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against his wife. Then He said the same about a woman who divorces her husband and marries another man. Thus, He placed men and women in this matter in the same category—adulterers. In those days. Men who divorced their wives simply did not think they were doing anything wrong or displeasing to God, and women likewise. Human nature has not changed. Divorce is still a problem the Church of today must face.
Jesus teaches that God wants a man and a woman in marriage to be exclusively committed to each other for life. Attempts to avoid God’s good intentions bring condemnation, not greater liberty. God has inseparably joined Himself to us in His love and this is a model of inseparable love for every marriage. Thoughtfully and prayerfully embrace God’s ways. What He establishes is for our good and stems from His love and grace. And sadly, we see the devastation within families and society when the sanctity of marriage is not upheld.
Man and woman were created to be each other’s helper, companion. God blesses their union, and to some has granted the opportunity to be stewards of additional gifts. Part of this stewardship is in the unity of the home into which these gifts are bestowed. By God’s design, this union often results in more gifts. In a natural progression, marriage often leads to children. God not only loves husbands and wives, but that He loves the products of these marriages, their children. They are indeed beloved by God, and they are important to our Lord!
The incident that brought this to light was parents bringing their children to receive a blessing from Jesus. They recognized that Jesus had come not only for them but also for their children. They wanted to have their children receive the blessing and love of the Savior.
But someone didn’t approve of the parents’ action—Jesus’ disciples! We don’t know why, but perhaps they thought Jesus was too busy to be bothered with such actions. The disciples turned them away—but the parents kept trying to bring them to Jesus. This action of the disciples troubled Jesus; indeed, the Gospel recorded that “when Jesus saw it, He was indignant” (v. 14). Only one other time does Mark tell us that Jesus became indignant or angry. That time (Mark 3:5) it was against the Pharisees. Here it was against His own disciples and rightly so. They should have known by this time that Jesus’ blessings are for everyone, regardless of age.
“Let the children come to Me,” Jesus insisted, “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.” And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:14-16).
This is one of the most delightful, most comforting, and at the same time, saddest stories in the synoptic Gospels. We can, of course, try to excuse the disciples by saying they sought to protect Jesus from needless interruptions and thus save His time for more important things. But that’s exactly what is very sad about their action. The disciples, like many in our time, thought that little children were too immature to profit from the Lord’s attention and were not yet in need of a Savior. The disciples failed to understand why Jesus came and what His Kingdom was all about. So Jesus proceeded to teach two important lessons.
First, God’s Kingdom is also for children. Faith is not a matter of the intellect or will, but a matter of trust in Jesus and His promises.
Today there are many obstacles to that faith. How many people today don’t even have a chance to live, because their parents, for the sake of convenience, expedience, or some other reason, determine that it would be best to terminate their life before they’re born? They are God’s creation! How indignant must Jesus be over these who are kept from life?
Then there are the parents who think, “I will give my child his choice of religions when he grows up. I won’t do anything with him now.” Jesus said, “Let the children come!” Bring them to Him—now!—that the Holy Spirit may do as He intends—create faith in that infant’s heart by the washing of regeneration, Holy Baptism. And then this faith must be nurtured. So, too, the faithful Christian parent and the Church seek to nurture the child in the faith. The parent educates the child in the way he or she should go. Teaching and leading by example, bringing the child to God’s house, placing the Word into their hands and hearts—catechizing them, leading them in the way of Christ, so that when they are older they might not stray away from the way of our Lord.
Second, not only are children part of God’s Kingdom through faith in Him, but also, it is precisely that kind of faith that God looks for in all His believers: simple, humble, trusting faith that looks only to Him. By nature, just like little children, we’re unable to save ourselves. We truly are dependent on God. We can’t decide to follow Christ, but the Spirit comes and creates this faith in us. This faith, a gift of God, whatever our age, and it is by this faith that we receive the Kingdom! Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Children need Baptism! Despite what others teach, the truth remains that children are conceived and born in sin like all the rest of us and thus need salvation. Jesus said, “Let them come!” Today, through the water and Word of Holy Baptism, they come. Through Baptism, Jesus gives His gracious forgiveness of sins to even the youngest child. “Let them come!” It is no accident that this passage is included in the Order of Baptism of children.
Jesus told the disciples not to hinder these children. He was indignant, the text says, angry with the disciples, with anyone who would prevent even the youngest child from receiving His blessings. How much righteous anger must He have for those who ignorantly prevent children from receiving His blessings. How much righteous anger must He have for those who ignorantly prevent children from receiving the blessing of Baptism today! That day, thinking ahead to the cross, He proclaimed the preciousness of the life and salvation of these little ones.
This is God’s family plan. He joins together a man and a woman in holy matrimony. He often blesses such one flesh unions with children. Christian parents bring their children to Christ. In Baptism, God graciously welcomes their gifts into His saving faith, bestowing upon them the Holy Spirit. He grants them faith and forgiveness through this gracious water of life. This faith is valid. It is sincere! It is the faith of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (v 15).
“Let the children come!” And you, too, trust in Him as a child—with faith that takes His Word to heart, completely trusting in Him and His love. As your heavenly Father, He desires to bless you every day, and that is exactly what He does. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.