Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as written and recorded by John Mark. More specifically, today’s selected reading is found in the first sixteen verses of the tenth chapter. When you come to this particular portion of scripture you will find a second accounting of an event that took place within the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ. What is contained in the opening verses of the tenth chapter of this New Testament gospel was actually first written and recorded within the New Testament gospel of Matthew. If you turn and direct your attention to the nineteenth chapter of the gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry of Jesus the Christ as written by the apostle Matthew you will find an eyewitness accounting of this particular showdown and encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees. If you study the gospels of the life and ministry of Jesus you will find that He regularly and almost routinely experienced opposition from the religious system and community which was present during His day. The more I read and the more I consider the four gospels which were written concerning the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ the more I am confronted with and y the fact that Jesus’ greatest opposition never came from the unclean spirits which tormented and oppressed men, women and children. As you study the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ you will find that His greatest source of contention and His greatest source of striving was not with or against the unclean spirits that were present during that day, nor even from the demonic and supernatural realm, but from the religious system and community that were responsible for teaching the people and for instructing them in righteousness. It’s actually quite interesting that those who were responsible for teaching and instructing the people of Israel in matters of the law and obedience to the Law or Moses were actually those who stood in vehement opposition to the Som of God, and even to His disciples. It is absolutely undeniable and unmistakeable when reading the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ that the greatest struggle and conflict Jesus faces and experiences was with and against the religious leaders and the religious system during that day as they not only sought to accuse Him, but also as they attempted to tempt Him by entrapping and ensnaring Him by and with His words.
The more I read and the more I consider the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ the more I can’t help but be drawn to the fact that while it is true that Jesus did in fact contend with and confront the unclean spirits which so tormented and oppressed individuals during those days—the greatest source of pressure and opposition come from those who were essentially guardians of the law. What happens when the guardians of the law are the ones who themselves can not handle Jesus the Christ and seek to engage themselves in many opposition and contention with Jesus? What happens when those who are responsible for teaching and upholding the law or Moses are those who themselves have a quarrel with Jesus the Christ. EMBRACING MOSES YET QUARRELING WITH JESUS! I find it absolutely tremendous that when I read the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Pharisees, the scribes, the chief priests and the elders of Israel embraced Moses and embraced the law which Moses gave and commanded, yet when Jesus came and seemed to disrupt and interrupt that which Moses commanded and instructed they immediately began finding fault with Jesus the Christ. The chief priests, the scribes, the elders of the people of Israel, and the Pharisees and Sadducees each found fault and took offense with Jesus the Christ because that which He was teaching and that which He was preaching flew directly in the face of their traditions—and not only their traditions, but also the law which Moses gave unto the children of Israel. In fact, if you read the four gospels you will find that in an attempt to guard and protect the law of Moses the religious leaders and community found themselves unable to deal with and handle Jesus the Christ and His teaching and doctrine. In their attempt to adhere to and uphold the law of Moses the Wiggins leaders found themselves in staunch opposition to Jesus the Christ being absolutely unable and incapable of handling His teaching and His works. Pause for a moment and consider that reality—the reality that the teachers of the Law and the religious leaders could handle and approve of their traditions and of the law of Moses, yet when it came to the teaching and ministry of Jesus the Christ they found themselves incapable of handling and struggling with the teaching and ministry of Jesus the Christ. In fact, I would dare say that the law of Moses was in fact a hindrance and barrier for the religious system during the days in which Jesus walked and talked upon the earth.
As I sit here this morning considering the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ I can’t help but think about the fact that while the Pharisees, while the Sadducees, while the chief priest, elders and teachers of the Law sought to uphold the Law of Moses together with their traditions, they in turn found themselves at odds with and against Jesus the Christ. While they sought to uphold the Law of Moses, and while embracing the statues, the commands, and the decrees which Moses taught and commanded, the scribes, the elders of Israel, the chief priests, and the entire religious community found themselves unable to handle and deal with Jesus the Christ. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that while they were seeking to uphold the law of Moses, and while seeking to embrace the law of Moses, they found themselves at odds with the teaching and ministry of Jesus the Christ. It’s actually quite interesting and astounding to think about and consider the fact that the teachers of the law of Moses and the religious community had such an intense quarrel and opposition with Jesus the Christ, and could neither handle His teaching, nor could they handle the works which He performed and completed among men during that time. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which Jesus the Christ spoke concerning the Pharisees and the scribes in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel which was written by the apostle Matthew. If you turn and direct your attention to this particular chapter you will find a powerful indictment and denunciation and rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees as Jesus Himself gave a stinging rebuke concerning the scribes and Pharisees which were present during that day. Pause for a moment and consider the words which Jesus the Christ spoke concerning the scribes and Pharisees in this particular passage of Scripture beginning with the first verse of the twenty-third chapter:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; built do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows’ houses, and for a. pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselytizing, and when he is made, ye make him two fold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; abut whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilt. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar the santcifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things therein. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwellth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven sweareth by the throne of God, and by Him that sitteth therein. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mine and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisees, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulcher of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell” (Matthew 23:1-33).
It is quite clear when reading the words which are found in this passage of Scripture that Jesus had some serious language and words which He spoke concerning the scribes and the Pharisees—those who were responsible for teaching the law of Moses, and those who were responsible for upholding the law of Moses among the people of Israel during that time. Perhaps one of the most stinging rebukes and denunciations concerning the scribes and the Pharisees was how they shut up the kingdom of heaven unto men and themselves would not enter in. So consumed and so concerned were they with the Law of Moses and with their own traditions that not only did they not enter into the kingdom of heaven, but they also shut up the kingdom of heaven to those who would seek to enter into it. The gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ are absolutely incredible and tremendous, for within them we find the greatest source of opposition and strife and contention within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ being that of the scribes, that of the elders, that of the chief priests, and that of the religious sects such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this, for to miss on this particular point would be to miss and lose sight of that which we find in the tenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Mark, as well as the nineteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew. What’s more, is that the more I sit here and consider the scribes, the Pharisees, and the chief priests and elders of the people of Israel, the more I am reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the epistle which was written unto the churches which were in Galatia. If you begin reading with and from the first verse of the third chapter of the epistle you will find the following words written by the apostle Paul:
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? If it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it be the work,s of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, IN thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live by them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hanger on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:1-14).
When you come to the tenth chapter of the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ you will find John Mark writing and recording the account of Jesus and the Pharisees when the Pharisees came unto him seeking to tempt Him with their questions and entrapping and ensnaring Him with His words. As you read this particular portion of Scripture you will find that when the Pharisees came unto Jesus to tempt Him with their questions, they sought to do so in matters of divorce. When the Pharisees came unto Jesus seeking to tempt Him with their questions, they sought to use that which Moses commanded and instructed concerning divorce as means to entrap Jesus in His words, in His doctrine, in His teaching, and in His response. Beginning with the first verse of the tenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Mark you will find the following words written concerning this particular encounter between the Pharisees which came to tempt Jesus with their question, and with Jesus Himself who would respond to them. Consider if you will that which is written and that which is recorded in this particular passage of Scripture beginning with the first verse:
“And He arose from thence, and cometh into the coast of Judaea by the father side of Jordan: and the people resort unto Him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again. And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? Tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they Twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more Twain but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. And in the house His disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committee that adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to one another, she committethy adultery” (Mark 10:1-12).
Now, it would be incredibly easy for me to continue writing and speaking concerning the Pharisees and their attempt to come to Jesus and tempting Him with their questions in order that they might entrap and ensnare Him with their words. The truth of the matter is that as I read this particular passage for the second time now, I find it absolutely necessary and compelling to explore this particular encounter from a different angle. While this passage concerns the Pharisees coming unto Jesu in order that they might tempt Him with their questions, I am convinced there is something much deeper and something much greater that is at work here—namely, that of running away from that which one has made a commitment to. While it is true the Pharisees came unto Jesus tempting Him with their question concerning divorce, I am convinced that what we find within this particular passage of Scripture is actually something much more sinister, and something much darker and more dangerous than simply attempting to tempt Jesus with their question. That which is found and contained within this passage is whether or not it is lawful for a man to abandon his wife—whether or not it is lawful for a man to abandon his wife and to compromise the commitment he made to her before God, and oftentimes in the sight of men. That which is found within this passage of Scripture is essentially a question of whether or not it was permissible to forsake and abandon a covenant that was made before God and in the sight of men with someone who pledged yourself to for the rest of your life. As you read and consider this passage of Scripture it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we understand that what is written and contained within this passage is not merely an attempt to ensnare and entrap Jesus in His words, but also seeking Jesus’ own view of divorce. It was as if the Pharisees were coming unto Jesus and asking Him whether or not He viewed and perceived divorce as being something that was lawful and permissible in the sight of God, as well as in the sight of men. That which the Pharisees were asking Jesus within this particular passage is actually a strong picture of them seeking permission from Jesus to divorce, for it was written in the law of Moses that a man could and should give his wife a bill of divorcement. What’s actually quite interesting about this passage of Scripture is that Jesus’ response is one of straight passion and intensity, for Jesus emphatically declared unto them that Moses wrote unto and gave them this precept because of the hardness of their heart. In other words, that which Jesus was declaring unto the Pharisees was that the only reason why Moses permitted divorce in the first place was because of the hardness of the hearts of the children of Israel. The original intent and the original design of the living God was never for a man to be able to write his wife a bill of divorce and to put her away, for the two were to become one flesh. What’s more, is that the Lord intended marriage to be a lifelong commitment, and not one that could, or even should be easily broken.
As I sit here this morning I can’t help but think how easy it has been to abandon and forsake the covenant we made before the Lord, and even before and within the sight of men. In this particular generation it has not only become the norm, but it has also become quite easy to simply renege on the commitment you made to another, and to forsake and abandon the covenant which you made in the sight of the living God. In this particular generation there is very little stock, and very little worth and value placed on commitment—particularly and especially commitment before and in the sight of the living God. IN this generation men and women are finding it much easier to grow tired, to grow bored, to grow frustrated, and to even grow bitter and resentful in their commitments to those whom they pledged themselves to, and as a direct result of this, have simply chosen to walk away from such a commitment. Oh, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we understand this reality and concept when reading the words which are found within this passage of Scripture, for in this generation commitment is something of a commodity and rarity. We applaud those marriages which have survived and lasted through the thick and the thin, and which have survived all the hurt, all the heartache, all the pain, all the bitterness, all the resentment, all the struggles, all the conflict and the like. We find marriages which truly do last a lifetime being applauded and celebrated, and I can’t help but wonder if what we are truly celebrating is the fact that such a marriage—though it was anything but perfect, has survived through all of the drama, through all the hurt, through all the pain, through all the struggles, through all the wounds, through all the scars, and through all the tension that does in fact come as a result of spending a lifetime with an individual. If I am being honest with you who are reading this writing, there have been times within my own life when I have thought about throwing in the towel in my own marriage, and have thought about simply walking away. There have been times when I have thought about and considered how easy it would be to abandon the commitment I made before God, and the commitment I made to another—a commitment that the Lord has never and will never treat lightly. Regardless of how we try and spin the reality and concept of divorce, we must understand that divorce was never something the Lord condoned nor approve of. Divorce was never anything the Lord permitted, for the Lord places great value on commitment, and particularly and especially commitment which is intended on lasting a lifetime. From the beginning of time the Lord created them male and female, and intended that the two become one flesh and that what He Himself had joined together, no man would or could separate. From the beginning of time the Lord intended on man and women coming together in harmony and unity, and committing themselves one to another in the sight of God and in the sight of men.
When I consider the words which are found and the words which are contained within this passage of Scripture I can’t help but find myself being directly challenged and confronted with the temptation to run from commitment when things get hard and when things get rough. I am sitting here this morning and I am being confronted with the great temptation within our hearts—a temptation which we all face—to forsake and abandon that which we have committed ourselves to when things grow rocky, when things grow tough, and when things become rough and perhaps we find ourselves unable to handle and bear what is before us. There is and there has always been a growing temptation for us to turn tail and run from the commitments we have made to others in order that we might seek shelter and safety away from the situation, or perhaps in the arms and company of others. Please note and please understand that I am not simply speaking of running away from our spouses as it pertains to marriage, but I am also talking about running away from relationships, running away from friendships, running away from jobs, running away from family members, and the like. What I am writing and speaking about is the temptation to throw in the towel and completely and utterly give up when the struggle becomes too difficult and too much for us to handle and bear. There is a strong and growing temptation to abandon the fight instead of keeping the gloves on and going as many rounds as is necessary to gain the victory and to move forward with that which is before us. Pause for a moment and consider how many times you yourself have thought about running away from that which you have committed yourself to, and running away from that which you have given yourself to. Consider if you will how many times you have thought about and considered running away from a spouse, or running away from relationship, or running away from family, or perhaps even running away from church because the challenges become too difficult, and because the struggles become too great. The more I consider the words which are found within this passage of Scripture, the more I am confronted and brought face to face with the tremendous reality that it is incredibly easy to rise up from the place of commitment and to run away from that which we are committed to. Much like Hagar who ran away from Abraham and Sarah—not once, but twice—we find ourselves running away from that which we have found yourselves in the midst of. This is particularly and especially true when we think about and consider the fact that situations become difficult and times become rough, and in all reality it is easier to run. What’s more, is that I can’t help but be reminded of Elijah who ran from the murderous threat of Jezebel when she made a threat against his life after he had not only called down fire from heaven, but had also struck down and killed the prophets of Baal. I am also reminded of Jonah who attempted to run from the will of God, and to run away from the calling which was placed upon his life. When I read the words which are found and contained within this passage of Scripture, I don’t merely see the temptation to run away from commitment, but I also see the temptation to run away from that which we have found ourselves in, that place we have been planted.
WHAT ARE YOU RUNNING FROM? WHERE ARE YOU RUNNING TO? WHY ARE YOU RUNNING? I recognize and understand that this particular passage deals specifically and exclusively with divorce, however, there is something found in divorce that is actually a fundamental flaw within the hearts and minds of all men—a temptation to run away from and the temptation to abandon that which we have given ourselves to in commitment to. While this passage does in fact speak of divorce, there is something behind the heart and spirit of divorce that is found within the heart of each and every man, woman and child, and that is simply the tendency to run. There is a tendency and a temptation within earth and every one of us to run away from that which we have given ourselves to, and to run from commitment which we have chosen to deliberately engage ourselves in. This passage does in fact speak of divorce, however, we must recognize and understand that behind every divorce is the same fundamental mindset that haunts and plagues each and every one of us—the temptation to run away from and to flee that which has become too difficult, that which has become too problematic, that which has become too much for us to handle and bear. We would be incredibly naïve to think about and consider the fact only in divorce do we find and see this particular temptation to run, and only in divorce to we find the struggle to run away from that which we have committed ourselves to. I am thoroughly convinced that it is within and through divorce that we find ourselves staring face to face with the tremendous struggle and temptation to run away from and to abandon that which we have given ourselves to, and to even run way from that place we have been planted. More often than not the sole reason for divorce is the temptation and tendency to run, but more often than not it is also about running toward something which we perceive as being better and more acceptable to handle and to bear. I don’t care if this is true of you relationally within your friendship or with your family members. I don’t care if this is true of you professionally as you think about and consider your job and the current role you find yourself in. I don’t care if this is true of you spiritual as you consider not only running away from the church, but perhaps even running away from God. I don’t even care if this is true of you relationally as you think about and consider possibly running away from your marriage and running out on your spouse in order that you might find something and someone that greater meets your needs and satisfies something that is somehow missing and lacking within your life. I would be incredibly naïve to think and consider for one moment that there would be those reading this right now who aren’t facing the temptation to run from something or perhaps even to run from someone. I would be incredibly naïve to think and consider for one moment that there aren’t men and women who right now are like Hagar, who are like Jonah, who are like Elijah, and who are like Onesimus in the days of the apostle Paul—men and women who are running away from situations and circumstances in order to find solace, shelter, safety and the like within their lives. The question that I must ask you is what are you running from. Who are you running away from? What are you running away from? What situation and what circumstance are you running away from?
If there is one thing I can’t help but consider when thinking about each of these examples—the example of Elijah, the example of Hagar, the example of Jonah, and even the example of Oneismus—is that more often than not when we find ourselves wanting and being tempted to run, or whether or not we find ourselves actually running and having gone through with the act, we find ourselves encountering God in such a wonderful and powerful way. With that being said, it is necessary that we recognize and understand that in the case of Elijah, he was instructed to rise from the cave where he had run and to not only return to the place he had come from, but also to anoint his successor and the one who would take and pick up his mantle after he had departed from this earth. In the case of Hagar we find her being instructed by the Lord to return unto her mistress Sarah and to submit herself unto to her. In the case of Jonah, we find Jonah being swallowed by a great fish in the midst of the sea, spending three days and three nights in the midst of that great fish, and finally being spit out upon dry land, and ultimately returning to the will and plan of God. Even in the case of Onesimus who ran away from his master and owner during the days of the apostle Paul, we not only find instruction given to Philemon to embrace this runaway slave as a brother, but also to Onesimus to return to his owner and master once more—this time as a faithful brother in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am convinced that more often than not when we give in to the temptation to run—while it is true we are running away from something, and while it is true that we are running from someone—we are given very specific instruction to return to that place we have run from. This reality and principle was true in the case of Hagar, it was true in the case of Elijah, it was true in the case of Jonah, and it was true in the case of Onesimus. Through divorce we come face to face with the fundamental tendency and temptation to run way from the struggle and to run away from commitment when things become too difficult, or when the situation we have found ourselves in no longer suits our needs and desires. Within divorce we come face to face with the fundamental tendency to run away from people and circumstances when things spiral out of control, and when we no longer have any control over the situation. In all reality, I would dare say that the temptation to run is never as great as it is when we come face to face with the fact that we are no longer in control of the situation or circumstance we are in, and the only thing we are left to do is to run. What’s more, is that I am convinced that when we write and speak about divorce we are contending with two distinct realities which are in fact polar opposites of each other—the tenement year to stay and fight, or the tendency to take flight. The question we must ask ourselves on this particular day is whether or not we will give ourselves to relight, or whether or not we will choose to stand and remain in order that we might continue engaging ourselves in the fight. The question you and I are faced with right now is whether or not we will give up, throw in the towel and take light, or whether we will stand our ground, keep the gloves on and continue to fight.