Everyone loves Jesus. Even those who reject Christianity will say that he was a good teacher. Yet Jesus said some hard things. So it is in Matthew 19. It contains three challenges to the culture of Jesus’ day, and three equally challenging things to us. He challenges the people’s conception of marriage and divorce. He challenges their view of the insignificant in society, and he confronts their shallow view of what God’s law requires of them.
1) Jesus on Divorce: The Pharisees came to check out his Mosaic law “chops”. Divorce was a tricky topic and continues to be tricky. It is a common solution to marital challenges for us as well as them.
As an aside, I understand that messiness of the topic. I understand the hurt that many have faced and face within the context of a painful marriage. I get why divorce may seem like the best option… Maybe it is. Nevertheless Jesus challenges us just as he challenged the Pharisees.
Jesus doesn’t engage the Pharisees on the turf of the law. Instead he takes them back to Genesis 2. He points out the fundamental structure of marriage as an inseparable union between a husband and a wife. Two become one. Marriage was designed as an unbreakable covenant and the only reason the law allowed for divorce was because of the people’s rebellion and sin. In a word Jesus was saying: You are asking the wrong question. You are asking about contractual loop-holes and you should be asking, “How can I preserve my marriage in the midst of our sin?” Even Jesus’ disciples found this to be a challenging idea. And in our current hook-up cultural this concept of fidelity, commitment, and sacrificial love between a man and a woman is exceedingly rare. Jesus was not abrogating the law. God understood the reality of our sin and brokenness in marriage relationships and the hardness of our hearts and so he permits divorce. Yet divorce is the nuclear option. It is the ratification of a reality that has already happened. So the disciples say, why even marry, this vision is impossible! But, Jesus says, singleness is no easier. Both are immensely difficult. So what is the answer? Where is our hope? We’ll see…
2) Jesus on the insignificant: Jesus rebukes his disciples of their treatment of children. It is so easy for us, especially in ministry, but in many aspects of our life, to prioritize those who seem to be most powerful, most intelligent, most put-together, most like us, or most loveable. Jesus said you’ve got the kingdom backwards. Those who are least… they are what the kingdom is made up of. Jesus at this moment is reminding his disciples of their own position. Who were they but fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners? It’s hard to love and care for those who seem insignificant, but isn’t that what Jesus did for you?
3) Jesus on the requirements of the law: At the heart of this section is this rich young man’s conception of obedience to God’s law. In fact that is what is at the heart of all three of these sections. Each in their own way wanted to delimitate the extent of the law; to know the limits to which the law must be obeyed. But Jesus exposes the problem. The problem is the heart. Oh yes we want God to like us, but on our terms. Jesus says no, you must obey God on his terms. Love him with all your heart mind soul and strength and love others as yourself. When you do that then you can be approved by God. The Rich Young man went away disheartened. The disciples began to despair. The Pharisees hated Jesus. How can one possibly live up to this standard? You can’t. But that is why Jesus came. He said to his disciples. Yes this is impossible for you, but not for me. Not only can I obey, but I can make atonement; I can pay for your sin. And I can cause you to follow me and follow God’s law. Not in your strength but in me and though you are least – I will make you rulers in heaven. Not by your works, but by mine and by my grace.
How do you respond to Jesus’ hard teachings? Does it cause you to fall into despair or rebellion? Or does it cause you fall on your knees in humble hope of his grace? -RG