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Matthew 19

Rules, Regulations, and Redemptive Relationships

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We study through books of the Bible here at the Village Chapel, and today is no different. If you’d like a paper copy to follow along with, just raise your hand, and someone will get one to you. As Kim was saying, man, it was so great to see you guys Friday night at the potluck. I think we had about 300 people. Raise your hand if you were here. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was glorious. Amazing food, it was like the wedding feast in heaven. It was just amazing. I think we easily gathered 12 baskets full of food at the end of the night.

There was a lot of food left over. We had some solid bingo winners. Oh, my goodness. Chris Parker, who knew what a great bingo caller he is. He did such a good job on that. And we got to send off Ryan Motta and the youth for their retreat. It was such a great night.

Well, this morning we’re going to study through chapter 19 of Matthew’s Gospel. Before I start talking about it, I’m just going to reread the chorus to that last song. Because I just want us to keep that in mind as we go through this chapter, which talks a lot about divorce and then it talks about money.

All of us, each one of us can say this to the Lord no matter what our circumstance, “All my life, God, you have been faithful all my life. You have been so, so good. With every breath that I’m able, I will sing of the goodness of the Lord.”

So Jesus has left Galilee for the last time as we get into chapter 19. He won’t return to Galilee until after the resurrection, where in John’s gospel, we read about how He cooks breakfast for the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

So he’s left Galilee. He’s headed south, ultimately, for Jerusalem and for the cross and the resurrection. And we read that he entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And if you can take a look at our map, this is a rocking new laser pointer we just got. And I’ve been cautioned vehemently not to point it at people. Evidently, we can do cataract surgery or something with it. But look at that. Woo, boy, that is amazing. I know you can’t see it online. And for that, I’m sorry, but bear with us. So up here around the north, the Sea of Galilee, right up there, that’s Capernaum, which was Jesus’ home base during His ministry. And he most likely followed this kind of a route.

And you can’t quite see the Jordan, but it’s right in there. He went east of the Jordan, and then He comes back into Judea somewhere around Jericho. And we know that because in chapter 19 of Luke’s Gospel, he talks about this same route that Jesus is following, and he meets Zacchaeus in Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.

That’s geographically where we are. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. So bear with me, I’m going to do my best to fly high and fly fast. There’s so much in this chapter, I just can’t get to everything I want to talk about. But at least we can get the conversation started, and I hope that it’s a conversation that we can all continue.

Last week, Pastor Jim called his message, How to Pursue Reconciliation, Restoration, and Forgiveness. And I think it is no coincidence, no accident, that after that passage about radical forgiveness in chapter 18, we come up on chapter 19 which is about marriage and divorce. That’s not an accident.

I’d like to call this, in keeping with Jim, he talked a lot about the redemptive community last week. So in keeping with that, I’d like to call this Rules, Regulations, and Redemptive Relationships. And here’s a few things that as we’re flying through this, I’d like for us to keep an eye on. Someone once made the comment that, “If you pull on a thread in the Book of Genesis, man, you can keep pulling. And you find that same thread in the book of Revelation, because the Bible is just one glorious story of God’s covenantal love for us.”

We see that in this passage today. Jesus is going to pull at the threads of Genesis. He’s going to talk a couple of times about, “Well, in the beginning…” And then he’s going to pull that thread and he’s going to talk about Moses and the Ten Commandments. And then he’s going to keep pulling. And even though Revelation hasn’t been written yet, he’s going to make a couple of references at the end of the chapter that fit in with Revelation 21 and 22, the new heavens, the new Earth, the new creation. So we’re going to follow that thread with him.

And then we’re also going to see Jesus giving dignity and worth to both women and children who are, gosh, some of the most insignificant and marginalized people groups in the New Testament. And then we’re also going to see him giving honor and value to those who are single. So pray with me, church, and let’s dive into this:

Lord, we are grateful this morning. Prepare our hearts, bestow upon us, oh, Lord, our God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally rest in you through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

So Matthew chapter 19, I’m reading out the ESV. Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, back to chapter 18, He went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

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 therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Well, they said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” And He said to them, “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 for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Well, the Pharisees were testing Jesus. They really want to trip him up on what constitute legal grounds for divorce. They ask him, “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” And as we’ve said before, you’ve got to remember that back then, boy, a Jewish man, when he woke up in the morning, he’d say this prayer, he’d say, “God, I thank you I’m not a gentile, a dog, or a woman.” Women just did not have much say in anything at that time. The man, rightly or wrongly, had all the say.

Well, at that time there were three schools of thought on divorce. There was one that was so liberal, a man could divorce his wife if she burned his food. If she burned the biscuits, he could divorce her. And there was another rabbi that said, “A man could divorce his wife, if he just saw someone that was fairer than she, prettier.” And then there was a conservative school of thought that that said, “Divorce was permitted only on grounds of sexual immorality.”

And don’t you love Jesus’ response? They asked him about divorce, and he asked them about marriage. I just love that. He says, “Haven’t you read? Don’t you know? Before you talk about divorce, boy, let’s go back to the beginning and see what God has to say about how we were designed for marriage.” And then the Pharisees respond to him kind of a little snarky. They say in verse seven, “Well, yeah, then why did Moses command us to write a certificate of divorce, and send her away”? Thinking, “Well, we got him there.”

And Jesus answers them in two ways. He points out that it’s the sinful response of man, the hardness of heart, that’s the issue. And he says, “That’s why God provided divorce as a solution, as an option.” God is acknowledging man’s hardness of heart. It’s not an endorsement of divorce by God. It’s an acknowledgement of our sin, and the need for a gracious solution. And then he correctly restates the word, they say, “Why did Moses command us…?” And he says, “No, no, no, no, no. Moses allowed it. He permitted it. He suffers you to do this, because of your sinfulness.”

And lastly, in these first couple of verses, man, Jesus raises a very high bar for divorce and remarriage, doesn’t he? He’s saying, “No, no, no, you can’t just write a certificate of divorce because your wife burned the biscuits.” He says, “Unless a man divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and then he remarries, he’s the one that’s committing adultery.” Jesus is setting the bar really high here. He is elevating marriage back to where it was intended to be. And then He’s also giving women dignity and worth in this process. He’s saying, “Boy, you are so much more than somebody that’s just disposable, and should be cast aside at every whim of their husband.”

Verse 10, after Jesus has said this, the disciples say to him, “Well, if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been made so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Well, the disciples, man, they are astonished. They’ve heard Jesus set this bar for marriage and the limited allowance for permitting divorce. And, boy, their response is, “Oh, maybe it’s just better not to get married.” I love how Jesus responds to this, this next little section that he talks about. He’s giving value to being single. He’s giving value to being celibate, whether it’s by circumstance or by choice. And he’s not saying that it’s better to be single, but he’s saying, “If you are single, you’re equally significant in the kingdom.” That’s no small thing.

Verse 13, Well then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Yet, again, children were so insignificant and overlooked in this culture. And the disciples want to shoo them away. And instead Jesus takes the time to bless them. And he reminds the disciples that humble, childlike faith, that’s the key to entering the kingdom. Well, and here comes the rich young ruler.

Verse 16, and behold, a man came up to him saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments. And he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The young man said to Him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” And Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, complete, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” And when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

I think this guy was a young, successful wheeler dealer. I think he had a checklist of stuff. He was about doing things, making business, making the sale, closing the deal. And on this list was like, “Wow, what do I have to do to get into heaven?” So he comes to Jesus and he says, “Teacher, what’s that one thing I have to do in order to get to heaven? What’s that one rule that I can keep? And, boy, you tell me that rule, I’ll keep that rule and 10 others. And I’m a shoo-in for heaven. I’m guaranteed.”

And again, Jesus’ answer is so good. He’s like, “Why are you asking about a list? There’s only one who is good, and that is God almighty. But if it’s a list you want, keep the commandments.” And you can see this guy, he’s writing down this little checklist. He’s like, “Okay, okay, list of commandments. Got it.” And then he looks up and goes, “Okay, which one?” Well, Jesus gives him the five commandments, which we would call kind of the second tablet of Commandments, if you will. Those that are dealing on the horizontal plane with our neighbors, with how we treat people.

And maybe this young man was so, he was so intent on making the deal, on closing the deal that he tended to forget about the people on the other end. And he forgot the value that had been placed on them. And in doing so, he forgot about the God who gave the people their value.

Well, so he does respond to Jesus. He said, “Well, I’ve kept all these. What do I still have to lack?” And in this perfectly, poetic turn, Jesus closes the deal here, and he says, “Ah, if you want to be complete, perfect, living up to what God wants you to be, man, sell all your stuff, bro. Give it away. You’ll have treasure in heaven. Come, follow me.” Man, the guy, he’s almost there, isn’t he? And he is just like, “I just can’t do it.” And he goes away sorrowful, because he has all this stuff.

Well, and then Jesus turns to his disciples, verse 23. He says, “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And by the way, there’s this romantic little story about somewhere outside of Jerusalem, this gate that’s called the eye of the needle. And for a camel to get into it carrying all its merchandise, it has to kneel down and go through. And that’s really not based in history. Sadly, it’s a great story, but it’s not based on anything.

Well, when the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.” What insight Jesus is giving us here. First he says to the disciples, “Guys, it’s just difficult for people with a lot of material wealth to get into the kingdom, because wealth can be such a snare.” And then he goes to this great, almost absurd observation, the largest land animal that they would’ve known of at the time, the camel, trying to fit through the eye of a needle, this little tiny thing from a household. And he’s saying, “Look, frankly, it’s easier for that to happen than for most wealthy people to get into heaven.”

The disciples’ minds are blown yet, again. And they say, “Well, how can this be?” And Jesus reminds them, “Guys, with men, it’s impossible, with God, it’s possible.” All things are possible. Even enabling a wealthy man to lay down his treasures at the feet of Jesus.

Verse 27, Peter said in reply, “See, we’ve left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” And Jesus said to them, and here’s his pulling at Revelation, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the son of man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my namesake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Peter asked that question, “God, we’ve given up everything. What about us?” And Jesus is saying, “Boy, I know discipleship is hard. I know discipleship requires sacrifice. But trust me, what you are gaining in eternity, it’s going to be at least a 100 times better than anything you sacrifice, for my sake.”

What a passage. Woo. Okay, well there’s four points that have just kind of been coming up for me while I’ve been studying through this passage, and I’d like to share them.

The first point is:

  1. We are designed with purpose.

Genesis, the first two chapters, man, they have so much fundamental information about who we are and why we’re made. At our recent Greenhouse, I think all of us that we’re teaching, kept coming back again and again to these chapters because they’re so fundamental for who we are as humans, what it means to be a person.

Here’s some of these fundamentals. We’re created in God’s image. I know we say it all the time, but that is not insignificant. And we are the only creatures in all of creation, not the sun, not the moon, not the stars, not the oceans, only humankind is made in God’s image. That is something. We’re created male and female. It’s always been that way. And yet these days, that seems like a core foundational truth to hang onto, doesn’t it? And we’re created for relationship, all of us. Every relationship reflects the relationship of the trinity, even marriage.

So what did God originally intend when he created marriage? Genesis chapters one and two, they tell us that marriage is one man, one woman, in an intimate and permanent union, under God’s authority. That’s a high bar, isn’t it? And yet, that is how we’re made. That is how we’re designed.

And in our passage, Jesus quotes these chapters, and He points out we’re created male and female. Then He points out that we’re meant to leave our parents and join with our spouse in creating a new family, a new family unit. And then the next thing, in verse six, he makes this comment, “So they are no longer two but one flesh.” Every marriage creates this unique mathematical equation in God’s kingdom, one plus one equals three. One man, one woman, in an intimate and permanent union under God’s authority, that creates this new one flesh. Both individuals still exist, but there’s also a new person in the mix.

The one flesh person. In our house, Matt exists, Kristen exists, but there’s also a Matt and Kristin person in the house that exists. Matt and Kristen together, that’s a different person than Matt separately and Kristen separately. In marriage, we’re less like paint, and this is a slight reference to a CS Lewis quote that’s not a quote for the board, but, “In marriage we’re less like paint, which just lies on the surface of the canvas. Were a lot more like stain or dye, which sinks into the surface, and it becomes part of the structure.”

Part of the issue of having sexual relationships outside of marriage is that when you do that, you’re creating a one flesh entity with someone, and it’s not fully formed, because there’s not the framework of marriage. In essence, it’s like a person without a skeleton that eventually it just folds in on itself. That’s not the intent of the creator.

Well, what happens when a marriage reaches a point of no return, for whatever reason? We know how we’re designed, we’ve just been hearing about it. But because of the fall, our hearts are sinful, in need of grace, and sometimes our relationships fall apart, for so many reasons, more reasons than I can talk about right now. And what I can say is that every divorce, no matter the circumstance, it’s like rendering flesh.

And CS Lewis talks about that very thing in Mere Christianity. He says,

“Churches all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation is so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases.”

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In our next slide, there’s a picture of a tree that I wanted to talk about. So using our pointer, this is a big old walnut tree on our farm. And by the way, if you look right there, you can see our two little miniature donkeys looking at me like, “What in the world are you doing?” Okay, so if you can see there’s a bunch of field fence and barbed wire that’s, originally, it was a fence line and it was right next to this walnut tree. Well, as the walnut tree grew, it grew around the fence, didn’t it?

Now, the fence, the wire and the tree are together. So could I get that wire out of the tree? Yeah, I can. But in order to do it, I’m going to have to take an ax and just rip part of that tree out. I’m going to have to tear chunks of the bark out. And then I’m also going to, most likely, just tear the wire as I’m separating the two. And, frankly, I think that’s what any divorce is like, no matter the circumstance. Man, you are pulling apart one flesh when a marriage dissolves. That’s what’s so hard about it.

  1. We’re reminded how Jesus treats the most vulnerable.

In Matthew chapter 25, which we’ll get to next year, in 25:40, Matthew says,

“The king will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Matthew 25:40

Well, consistently throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New, we see that God’s heart is particularly drawn and aware of the needs of those who are insignificant, vulnerable, marginalized, who are overlooked and considered ‘other’.

And in this passage we see how Jesus treats people who are vulnerable. We see how He treats the women by giving them honor and very, very narrowly defining how it was permissible for a man to seek divorce. We see how Jesus treats children in this passage, how He reminds us that their faith, that’s the key to entering heaven, is to have a childlike faith. We see how Jesus gives honor and value to the unmarried person. Whether it’s from death or divorce or a choice to remain single for the Gospel or any other reason, he’s giving them honor and value.

A single person has a set of needs that is unique to their life circumstance; just like a married person has a set of needs that is unique to their life circumstance; just like a divorced person has a set of needs that is unique to their life circumstance. Michael Green addresses this briefly in The Bible Speaks Today commentary, and he says,

“Difficult though this is, we must remember two things. It is not possible for the ethics of the kingdom to be articulated in anything less than ideal terms. It’s a high bar. And yet the Lord is consistently compassionate to those who fall, repent, and come back to Him for restoration. This passage…”

[meaning 19]

“…follows hard on the heels of one…”

meaning what Pastor Jim talked about last week,

“…that expresses the unbounded mercy and forgiveness of God. So legalistic rigorism is as inappropriate for the Christian community as is casual divorce.”

–Michael Green, The Bible Speaks Today

We need to model our behavior on how Jesus treats the most vulnerable. We cannot honestly read Matthew 25:40 without it affecting the way we treat those in our sphere who are vulnerable. And Kristen ran across this quote from Henri Nouwen this week. It’s so good. It’s such a good prescription for anyone caring for one who is hurting. And I think it would especially apply to those who’ve gone through a divorce. Henri says,

“When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

–Henri J. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life

Lord, help us be that way to each other, and the body.

Well, thirdly, in this passage, and man, I think this could be the, well, part of the crux of it. Every point I’m going to say, “Well, that’s the crux of it.”

  1. We’re invited to follow Jesus, not a set of rules.

Let’s hear an amen to that.

I love Jesus’ simple invitation to Matthew, the tax collector, in the Gospel of Matthew, in 9:9.

So simple, as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed Him.

Matthew 9:9

This from the guy who’s good at keeping the books and keeping detailed notes. He just got up and followed him. Jesus invites us to follow him, not rules.

The Pharisees in this story, they were wanting a clearly defined set of rules, right? Because they wanted to be able to instruct men how and when they could divorce their wives. They were looking for a way to justify their behavior. And the disciples who were, literally, following Jesus, they were just so confused. They were trying so hard to understand how Jesus’ description of the original intent of marriage fit into their understanding of the rules.

And then the rich, young ruler, boy, he was 100% about the rules, wasn’t he? He wanted to know exactly what rule to follow so he could get into heaven. In his book, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, Kyle Idleman says,

“And I want you to know, before we go any further, that Jesus came to free you from religion. To those who have been hauling around a long list of rules. To those who are pretending to be more than they really are. To those who are weighed down with the fear and guilt of religion. To all the fans who are worn out on religion, Jesus invites you to follow him.”

–Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus

Boy, that’s good.

And it’s so easy, isn’t it, to follow the mindset of rule keeping? We bring our long list of rules to Jesus, and we hand it to him and he looks at it and he looks at us and he goes, “Huh, how’s that working out for you?” And then he just says, “Look, let’s just forget the rules and follow me.” That’s Jesus’ approach. And who wouldn’t want that?

  1. We are challenged and encouraged to lay down whatever lies between us and Jesus.

I’ve got to ask, are you carrying something today that is obscuring your view of Jesus, or is causing you to trip and stumble and keep you from following him? Are you focused on a mindset that is so easy to fall into acquiring stuff, of getting something that you want? Is your mindset, “Man, if I can just get this job, things are going to be good,” or, “Man, if they’ll take our bid on that house, we’re going to be happy,” “If I can just get what I want, I’ll be happy”?

Corrie Ten Boom has some wisdom about this. She says,

“The most miserable person in the world is not the person who doesn’t have what he wants, but the person who has what he wants and has found out that it doesn’t make any difference.”

–Corrie Ten Boom

Oof, man, we think things or money or jobs or significant others, or even ministry opportunities, they’re going to make us happy and fulfill us, but they can’t, because they’re not God. They’re just things. It’s just stuff. And sometimes, the better that thing is that we look to, the more we expect it to satisfy us, because it’s a good thing, classic idol worship.

Tim Keller addresses this very thing in his book, Counterfeit Gods, which is an awesome book, and I highly recommend it. He says,

“We think that idols are bad things, but that’s not almost not ever the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.”

–Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters

Friends, Jesus is inviting us to lay down anything and everything that gets in the way of following him. Anything that we’re looking to as our ultimate source of flourishing, that’s not him. And he promises, boy, in the end, any sacrifice you make, it will be worth it. Lastly, in addition to what lies between us and Jesus, I want to ask the question, what lies between us and each other, especially in regards to broken relationships?

Going back to Pastor Jim’s title last week, How Do We Practice Reconciliation, Restoration, Forgiveness? The apostle Paul admonishes us in Ephesians,

“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a mother worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Ephesians 4:1-3

Ah, friends, that is how we’re called to walk, and I encourage us to walk in that way.

I’d like to close with this last quote from Rebecca McLaughlin in her book, Jesus Through the Eyes of Women. I also recommend this book. So as we see Jesus,

“We see Him as the one who heals our hurts and meets our needs. We see Him as the one who takes our sin upon Himself and welcomes us with unimaginable love. We see Him as the one who sees us, even when all others turn away, as the one who welcomes us to learn from Him and pour our meager love out at His feet. We see Him as the one who is the savior of the world and yet knows us each by name, even if we answer to the most common name in town. We see Him as the one who gathers up our broken hearts and bodies in His arms, and as the only one who has the power to make us whole. We see Him as the one who faced the horror of God’s judgments on the cross, so He could turn His face to us and call us into everlasting life.”

–Rebecca McLaughlin, Jesus Through the Eyes of Women

Amen. Let’s pray.

Lord, oh, we’re grateful for the way that you have designed us, grateful that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we thank you that we’re not meant to be alone. God, we are so grateful that we get to follow you and not a set of rules, because we are not very good at keeping the rules. Lord, thank you for meeting us in our deepest need, for forgiving us, for healing us, for restoring us, for loving us. We love you, in Jesus’ name, amen.

(Edited for Reading)

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