At the Beginning

by LA UBF   08/15/2009     0 reads




Matthew 19:1-15

Key Verse 19:6

“So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Read verses 1-2. Where did Jesus go after he had finished teaching his disciples? What was the crowd’s response? 

Read verses 3-6. What question did some Pharisees ask him? How did Jesus answer them? What does Genesis teach about marriage and divorce? How did Jesus interpret the teaching of Genesis? 

Read verses 7-9. What seeming contradiction in the Bible did they bring up? How did Jesus answer them? Why did Moses allow divorce? Why did he command that a certificate of divorce be given? 

What was the loop-hole God left in the absolute law of marriage? Why is marital unfaithfulness such a terrible sin? 

Read verses 10-12. What was the disciples’ response? What does this show about them? What does Jesus say about marriage? Why is it not a requirement for everyone? 

Read verses 13-15. Why did parents bring their children to Jesus? How did the disciples react? Why? What did Jesus teach and do? What does this show about Jesus? Why does the kingdom belong to child-like people? (Compare 18:1-6) How does this connect with Jesus’ view of marriage?




Matthew 19:1-15
Key Verse 19:4-6

 4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

On the surface of today’s passage we get to learn about Jesus’ teaching on marriage, which is based on the book of Genesis. We get to see how God wanted a marriage couple to be fully united and never to be divided. On a much deeper level we will see how we can accept not only God’s original purpose for marriage but how we can accept his original purpose for every facet of our lives as well.

Look at verses 1 and 2.

1When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 

Here we see Jesus permanently leaving the region of Galilee in his journey to Jerusalem. His final departure was significant because Galilee was Jesus’ home territory where he was brought up and had spent the greatest part of his life. At the Sea of Galilee Jesus called his first disciples and it was in this area where he performed most his miracles.

Outwardly, Galilee was the least of the territories in Israel. It was by God’s grace that such a region would become host to the Son of God and that he would be called a “Galilean” along with them. On account of this grace, most of Jesus’ preaching, teaching and miracles had occurred in Galilee. These people were greatly blessed, but not because they were the best in Israel but because they were the worst. God found the lowest and darkest areas of his nation and there sent his Son to restore them back to himself. Jesus worked from the very bottom of society from among the most sinful people. Outwardly, they seemed like the last people Jesus would be sent to. They were totally unimpressive, unrefined and undisciplined. Many of them were notorious “sinners” or disease stricken outcasts. Others were blind, deaf, mute and sometimes all three! Yet it was Galilee where God had put Jesus’ focus. Jesus hadn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. God’s sovereignty to choose Galilee was based on their brokenness which made them open to needing Jesus. Dually, those who acted confident and seemed to have their life together saw Jesus the least. But the humble, unpretentious people of Galilee saw him often. Therefore, having finished God’s work in Galilee Jesus left. Only after his suffering and resurrection would he return again.

Amazingly though when he left Galilee many people went with him. Verse 2 says, “Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.” Ever the servant and good shepherd Jesus embraced the people who called upon him day and night. Though he was traveling Jesus was ever as willing to heal them.

In contrast to these humble people who came for healing the Pharisees (who were always bitter at Jesus’ popularity) came to Jesus to entrap him.

3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

Like many times before the Pharisees tried to lure Jesus into an argument on the sort of issues in which they had sharpened their own debating skills. This time they were seeing if Jesus would take a side on the controversial topic of divorce.

Divorce was a hot topic. In Judea there were mainly two schools of thought. Each view was based on a controversial Bible passage found in Deuteronomy 24:1 which says,

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…”

The two schools of Pharisaic teachers debated the meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1, in which a man finds something "displeasing” in his wife and hence divorces her. The School of Shammai interpreted Deuteronomy 24 as indicating that a man could divorce his wife for the cause of sexual immorality/unfaithfulness (a strict and unpopular view); the School of Hillel understood the passage to mean that a man could divorce his wife for any cause, even burning his toast (the lax and very popular view).

So in their question, the Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to side with one teaching or the other. If He sides with the lax school of Rabbi Hillel, Jesus can then be classified as being a loose interpreter. If He sides with the strict school of Rabbi Shammai, then Jesus is isolated from the main stream opinion, who generally liked access to an easy divorce. They believed they had caught Jesus on the horns of controversy.

Since the Lord is infinite wisdom Jesus answered them but not on their terms. Look at verses 4-6.

4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Jesus side-stepped, the Pharisee’s trap entirely and circumvents their whole argument based on Deuteronomy 24 by changing the discussion from the topic of having the right to divorce over to God's original desire for husbands and wives to be fully united. Jesus positively addressed their question by using the language of "one flesh" as found in Genesis to show that God not only never had in mind the concept of divorce but he opposes marital disharmony altogether. Indeed, the purpose of the Deuteronomy 24 law itself was probably to check haste in divorce thereby to provide some legal protection for a wife and make a husband think twice before dividing his family.

Specifically, Jesus destroyed the Pharisee’s approach to Bible controversies on multiple levels. First by asking the question, “Haven’t you read…”. The Pharisees were supposed to be Bible scholars. They had read Genesis chapter 1 and 2 many times but they were not using this scripture to shape their view of marriage. By asking, “Haven’t you read…” Jesus points out that it was if they had not read Genesis 1, 2  since they were not applying it’s truths to their controversy. Although his opponents claimed scripture for their views, Jesus challenged their actual knowledge of scripture by showing that they were looking singularly at a one verse. They needed to see the matter in light of God's whole plan and revealed Word.

The most important point in understanding Jesus’ answer is to notice the time period he has chosen to reference: “at the beginning”. The “beginning” means the time when God first created marriage and before the fall of Adam and Eve; the time before sin came into the world and corrupted God’s purposes of marriage. By going back to the “beginning” Jesus is going to show God’s original plan; one that was long missed and forgotten.

So Jesus said, “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?

God was the Creator, the idea generator. As the creator, God instilled his purpose into his creation. God created marriage as a way for Adam and later Eve to enjoy a meaningful life of purpose. They had a life mission to take care of the garden the LORD had planted. They worked on this as a team and enjoyed the shared purpose immensely. 

God made them “male and female”: one man for one woman with no options. Adam was made for Eve and Eve for Adam without exceptions. 

“The two will become one flesh” signifies the natural fusion of husband and wife. To divide two people fused in marriage is as unholy event. It was never in God’s plan for the inevitable pain and scarring of divorce to occur.

  “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Since God created marriage he has sovereign ownership over marriage. As his creation we must honor his ownership over marriage as well.  

Immediately, the Pharisees shot back at Jesus’ response with scripture from Deuteronomy 24. They said,

 7"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

The Pharisees made a major mistake here. They said that Moses “commanded” that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce. This was an incorrect usage of the word “commanded”. For as Jesus now points out it wasn’t a commandment but merely permission. Jesus corrected them by saying… 

 8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

First, Jesus corrected them about their use of the word “commanded” and clarifies that Moses’ permission was actually a concession. The Israelites who came out of Egypt were so steeped in sin and their hearts were so unwilling to learn that Moses couldn’t address the problem of divorce head on. At that time the Israelites would have rebelled if Moses taught them God’s truth about marriage. They simply didn’t have hearts to learn. So in order to protect a woman from frivolous divorce he permitted divorce but not without a certificate of divorce. This process would make a divorce a little bit harder and would hopefully allow many hot tempered men some time to cool down. It also worked to protect a woman who was being driven away so that she could remarry and find a husband who could help provide for her. All of this being done officially was meant to keep marriages together not break them up. The Pharisees didn’t see this because their hearts were hard to learn God’s truth about marriage.

But the Pharisees and Israelites of long ago weren’t the only group who had a hard time accepting the truth about marriage. The disciples too had strong chauvinistic views as well. When they heard that a man can’t divorce his wife except for marital unfaithfulness they were shocked. It was if Jesus had taken away one of the most sacred rights of the male dominant culture. Look at verse 10.


10The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

For the disciples they were well accustomed to the rights of a man to send his wife away. So what Jesus was teaching was difficult to accept. They were choking on Jesus’ teaching because it was so shocking. The Lord knew when to press and when to release. He knew that eventually these men would be able to accept God’s truth of marriage so Jesus didn’t push the issue any further. Instead he went with their assertion that it is better to be single than to marry. Jesus followed up by saying:  

11Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

The topic of marriage ended there. Jesus did his best to plant the idea of original purpose in  his disciples. He tried to make them think about how things were at the beginning not just how things are in a fallen world. We can see that not only the Pharisees gave push back to this truth but even Jesus’ disciples. It was hard to accept how things were “in the beginning” because they were completely opposite and counter intuitive to their upbringing in Jewish culture. What were the disciples to do? They would have to work on being fast learners, like little children who are not preconditioned. They would have to work at erasing all their old grownup ways and readily accept Jesus’ ways that were grounded in the beginning. They were soon given a chance to do so but failed miserably.

Look at verses 13-15, 

13Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." 15When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Here the disciples were forbidding children to come to Jesus. Why were they doing this? Once again, culturally children were nothing. They were less important than women so there was no way that they were going to let some children bother their important Rabbi. Jesus rebuked them though because their view of children was incorrect. To Jesus the children were immensely important because being so impressionable they could accept the kingdom of God without all the baggage of unbiblical views. They were in many ways better than the disciples, at least in the area of learning. Jesus warned his disciples once again that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. The disciples needed to soften their hearts and accept many new things; they needed to relearn almost everything they had ever known. Jesus came to teach them and restore mankind to how things were at the beginning.

Without a soft heart and a learning mind Jesus cannot restore us back to how it was at the beginning. What causes a heart heart then? A hard heart occurs when a believer is stubborn and incorrigible in an area of their life. Jesus doesn’t twist people’s arms to get them to accept his truth so we need to be open to change in every facet of our life. Only then can we experience Jesus’ restoration work to bring us back to how things were in the beginning.

May God bless us to not only deeply accept God’s purpose for marriage but also to have soft hearts to learn all his ways and truths.

One Word: At the Beginning.