Sunday, February 18, 2024

“What God Has Joined Together" [Matt's Messages]

“What God Has Joined Together”
Marriage - God’s Divine Design
February 18, 2024 :: Matthew 19:1-12

“What God Has Joined Together.”

Those words are how our Lord Jesus describes marriage in Matthew chapter 19, verse 6.

The chief reason for our detour into the Gospel of Matthew this morning is that a number of you have asked me to share more about what we had studied last week at the EFCA Theology Conference in the Chicagoland area.

The theme of the national theology conference was “Marriage: God’s Divine Design – Protology/Teleology, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology.” Three guesses who came up with that subtitle, and the first two don’t count! Yes, it was Greg Strand! Typically big words and typically rich and robust theology. 

At the conference, Isaac and I listened to six major lectures on the theology of marriage and a number of breakout workshops, as well. I’m so thankful to belong to an association of churches that takes sound biblical theology so seriously.

And what an important topic for today, is it not? Just as Keith Hurley is teaching the teens about these things at “Chasing Love” on Sunday evenings, our theology of marriage touches all of us in some way in today’s culture. There is a lot of confusion about marriage, not just out in society but within the church, as well. The whole first lecture at the conference by a Christian sociologist from Grove City College was all about the state of marriage, changes and challenges, how we’ve gotten to where we are. [All of the messages are now online.]

And as we’ve been focusing here this month on LOVE, especially God’s love, vast as the ocean, and our being God’s people exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, the first aspect of which is LOVE as Joel taught us last Sunday, it seemed to me like it might be good for us to meditate on marriage today.


“What God Has Joined Together.”

There are many married people in this room. Some of you have been married for a long long time. Heather and I are coming up on 30 years this June. We’ve celebrated a lot of Valentine’s Days together. Some of you have seen many more! I think the Kepharts have been married for 66 years! There are also many unmarried people in this room. Some of you have recently had to bury a spouse. Some of you had to do that years ago. Some of you have been divorced. Some of you have never married. Some of you will soon marry--Reece and Hannah!. Some of you will never marry. Some of you will marry down the line. I doubt that anybody coming to Snack and Yack today with Heather and me is engaged yet!

We’re all in different places, but we all need to have a good theology of marriage in place no matter where we are at in life. 

And Matthew 19 is a great place to start building one.  Matthew 19 marks the beginning of a new section in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus has finished teaching in Galilee in the north and is now headed south towards Jerusalem. It’s a little bit further into the story than we are right now in the Gospel of John. And on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus runs into some Pharisees, and they have a test for Jesus on His theology of marriage. How do you think that’s going to go?

Here’s a life-hack for you. A pro-tip for living: Never try to lay a trap for Jesus. 

Unless you like falling into your own traps! Let me read the first two verses.

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

Jesus is marching towards Jerusalem. You and I know what is going to happen there. And Jesus knows what’s going to happen there. It’s what we focus on this time of year. Jesus is headed towards the Cross. He’s going to be abandoned there as He pays for our sins, but right now the crowds are still following Him and He’s healing the sick among them.

And then in verse 3, some Pharisees come, and they see the good work that Jesus is doing, and they see how the crowds are following Him, and they are convinced by His words that He is the Messiah, and they bow before Him and lead the nation to follow Him themselves.

Just kidding. LOL. That’s not at all what they do! That’s what they should do, but it’s not what they do. No, they come to Jesus and try to trap Him. V.3

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

“Let’s give Jesus a theological test and see if He passes.” They are not sincere. They are not asking this question to find out the truth. They have an agenda with this question. They want to trap Jesus.

How does that work? Well, there was a big debate during this time about the theology of divorce. There were two major schools of thought. The school of Rabbi Shammai and the school of Rabbi Hillel. We learned about this in the third main message at the conference from the author of this book: Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers.

Rabbi Shammai said that God requires divorce only in the case of adultery. But Rabbi Hillel said that God allows divorce any time a man is unhappy with his wife. Even if she burns dinner or her eyebrows get too bushy. And the Pharisees think that they can trap Jesus with this question: Which side are you on?”

“If you side with Rabbi Hillel, and anything goes, doesn’t that contradict what you said at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:32? And where does it all end?

But if you side with Rabbi Shammai (and I think that’s what they really hope He will do), then you might get into trouble with Herod Antipas.”

Do you remember Herod Antipas from when we studied this gospel together? John the Baptist (Notorious JTB) told “King” Herod Antipas that his divorce and remarriage to his former sister-in-law Herodias was not lawful. Do you remember what happened to John the Baptist because of that? Prison first. And then off with his head. That’s what happens if you side with Rabbi Shammai in those days.

They think they’ve got Jesus. Maybe they’ve even stumped Him. Can Jesus answer this stumper of a question?  What do you think?

The last time I preached this passage, I titled my sermon, “The Lord of Marriage.” Because Jesus does not just have a theology of marriage; His theology flows from His own authority. He is Lord over marriage. 

The Pharisees obviously don’t recognize this or they wouldn’t be asking the question this way, but that’s their mistake. Jesus pushes back. V.4

“‘Haven't you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and 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'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’”

It’s always a sick burn when Jesus says, “Haven’t you read your Bibles?” They think they have Him stumped, and Jesus says, “I think the answer to that one is on the first page of your Bible. Haven’t you read it? I think you’re missing the point. Let’s go back and look.”

And Jesus leads them on a Bible study of Genesis 1 and 2. And that’s what we did at the conference in the second major message. The speaker, a former professor at Trinity, started in Genesis and took us all the way to Revelation, seeing what the Bible says about marriage from cover to cover.

It’s always smart to start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start. Jesus was saying that they are starting in the wrong place with their questions.  We’ll see that they are starting with Deuteronomy 24, but Jesus says, “You’ve got to go back further than that or you’ll be missing the point.”

And speaking of points, I have three points of application for today’s message.

Here’s the first:


That was the title of our conference, “Marriage: God’s Divine Design.” Look at v.4 again.

“‘Haven't you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and 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'? So they are no longer two, but one.” 

Marriage is God’s idea. He designed it. It’s not something that we came up with. It came from (v.4), “the Creator.” The Designer. The Original Lord of Marriage. Marriage is God’s idea, and so we should get our ideas of what marriage should be from Him.  Make sense?

Obviously, this flies in the face of so much of our modern culture, including among professing Christians. We want to define marriage our own way. We want to do what we want to do with it. And we figure that God (if He exists) just has to be okay with that.

But that’s exactly wrong. He is the Lord of Marriage. We need to listen to Him.

Marriage, for Christians, is a matter of discipleship.

This passage (vv.4-6) is very relevant to a whole host of contemporary issues and questions. It addresses marriage and also divorce. It also addresses same-sex marriage and transgenderism, doesn’t it? It has implications for LGBTQ.

Because Jesus says (v.4) that Genesis 1 says that humans are made male and female. Two biological sexes. Different and complementary. Male and female, not interchangeable. Not changeable. And that it was good. It was beautiful. It was God’s good design.

And here’s what marriage is. Jesus says that Genesis 2 says that a man (1 man, this passage addresses bigamy and polygamy, as well, a man) will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife (1 biological woman), and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.

So here’s God’s math for marriage: One plus one equals one. One man and one woman come together to be one flesh. One new thing: a married couple. That’s the design.

Do not believe it if people tell you that Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage.

Jesus said, “I agree with Genesis.”

The Creator has designed marriage, and it is good. In fact, it’s beautiful. God designed marriage to be a thing of beauty. Every faithful marriage is a gorgeous glorious thing for the whole world to behold!

In fact, the Apostle Paul quotes this same passage of Genesis and says that every marriage is designed to be a beautiful picture of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His church! Read Ephesians 5 this afternoon.

And that’s happening in every faithful Christian marriage in this room right now. The marriages here are a thing of beauty that sing about Christ’s love for His bride and His bride’s love for Him.

Well done, you. Keep it up! Don’t stop now. If you're engaged or believe you should be, jump into marriage live this thing of beauty! Be a picture of Christ and His bride that sings!

Trust the Designer to Define Marriage and believe that it is good and beautiful and sacred.

Which also means that abuse within marriage is a terrible, ugly, anti-picture of the gospel. Our fourth main message was all about that, by a Christian counselor who works with victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse. It was probably the most painful and sickening message at the conference. It was also a compelling Bible study of the book of Genesis which does not shy away from recounting ugly intimate partner abuse and how antithetical that is to God’s good design.

If you are abusing your spouse, you are defying God’s good design for marriage.

And if you are being abused, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and you don’t just have to take it. Get to safety. Find help. There was whole session on responding wisely to domestic abuse, and we are committed here to doing that as a church. Because God’s good design is on the line.

Jesus taught, “[A]t the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and 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'? So they are no longer two, but one.”

Trust the Designer to Define Marriage.

By the way, this passage also addresses co-habitation, doesn’t it? Living together as if you are married when you are not married. We talked about this recently in John chapter 4 with the woman at the well. It's one of the things I'm most concerned about as a pastor as even many professing Christians are falling into this sinful error.

Living together as if you are married when you are not married is not how God designed the one-flesh relationship.

The one flesh relationship is for a husband and a wife. Two people who have de-prioritized all other loyalties and then re-prioritized each other as their number one loyalty on earth so that they have actually formed a new entity, a new family, a new unity. “So they are no longer two, but one.”

That’s what marriage is, and it’s where sex belongs. “One flesh” means more than just sex, but it doesn’t mean less. Two bodies coming together in sexual intimacy is for marriage, by God’s design.

When God made our bodies, He made them for sex. He didn’t make Adam and Eve and then say, “Oh no, what are they doing?!”  No, Genesis says that after He made them male and female, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28 NIVO). He knew what He was doing when He made us sexual creatures.  But He gave us the gift of sex to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage.

Trust the Designer. He knows best!

I know it doesn’t always seem that way.

I do know that some people have same-sex attraction–persistent, unsought same-sex attraction. And they want to marry somebody of the same sex, and it seems like that would be really good to them. But that’s not how the Creator designed marriage. That’s not what marriage is. And the Lord of Marriage is calling us as His people to trust Him to do things His way and be blessed.

And I also know that some people suffer from gender dysphoria. They feel great unease about their own bodies. They would rather be the other sex than what they were given when they were conceived. I empathize with that pain. It must be very great, and I don’t pretend to know the half of it. It’s part of the brokenness of our world. But I do know that my Creator is good and His design for creation is good. And I know that I can trust Him.

And I know that some people are simply wary of marriage. They think it’s just a piece of paper. They have seen the ravages of divorce. They want to make sure that this person they want to be with is the “right person,” and so they want to test drive the relationship and live like they’re married before they are married just to make sure. And there are, unfortunately in some cases, financial benefits to living together instead of getting married. But that’s not how God designed it. That’s going against the grain of the universe. As is polygamy. And, as we’ll see, as is divorce in general.

Jesus is asking us to trust the Designer of Marriage and do it His way.

If you are living together like you are married and you are not married, the Lord of marriage is calling you to repent and to either to marry or to separate. To follow Jesus and do marriage His way.

One of you asked me after the conference if pastors in the EFCA were open to performing or blessing same-sex “weddings.” And the answer is no. And that if we did, we would lose our standing as pastors in the EFCA as would any EFCA church that went down that road.

In June of 2017 the national conference of the EFCA affirmed a resolution that says, “The Evangelical Free Church of America affirms that God created human beings uniquely in His image as male and female, and He has designed marriage to be a covenantal relationship between one man and one woman.” Sounds like Genesis. Sounds like Jesus.

And that was affirmed unanimously. For which I’m grateful. But I’m also grateful that at that very same conference, we followed that unanimous affirmation of God’s good design for marriage, by spending three hours in training each other how to love and serve and care for and relate to people with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria.

Because we have been so loved, we are called to love. There are probably people several people in this room that experience same-sex attraction. I’m so glad you’re here. There may be a few of you who experience gender dysphoria. I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad that we have a single-use restroom back that hallway over there so that everyone can feel comfortable and go to the bathroom in peace. I’m sure that if someone who is trans* or queer or non-binary (or de-transitioning) comes respectfully into our meeting, checking things out, that you all will show the love of Jesus to them with sweet hospitality.

Because we are trying, in God’s power, “to be God’s people in this place, live His goodness, share His grace, proclaim God’s mercy through His Son, be His love to everyone.” (Charles F. Brown)

Without compromise to His truth.

The Lord is calling us to trust the Designer to define marriage.

We don’t look to society to define marriage.
We don’t look to the US government to define marriage.
We don’t look to the Supreme Court to define marriage.

They are all going to do what they are going to do. But we, as Christians, are called to do what the Lord Jesus says we should do.

Now, your struggle with defining marriage might be different from what we’ve talked about already today. I don’t know what everybody here is tempted to do with marriage. But left to our devices, we will always come up with a design flaw, and we need to go back to the drawing board and follow the original design as best we can.

Again, in Matthew 19, the main issue was divorce. And here’s what the designer of marriage said about that. Look at verse 6.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Application point number two (and,, don't worry, they will get shorter as we get towards the end of this message):


“[W]hat God has joined together, let man not separate.’” What has God joined together? He calls it “one flesh.” Now, that’s just a metaphor, but what a picture that is! It’s like one man surgically sewn together with one woman to form a new unity. And after the surgery heals, there’s just one entity there.

And Who is the surgeon? “What GOD has joined together.” Marriage is not just something that two people do to themselves. It’s not even just something that the state does to two people. Jesus says that God puts people together into marriages. So we should be very careful about pulling them apart!

Do you see how this answers the Pharisees’ question? They wanted to know when it was okay to divorce. Jesus says, “Divorce?! Uh. That’s never ‘okay.’ That’s never best. That’s never good. Divorce wasn’t the idea. Divorce wasn’t the design, the intention from the start.”

Don’t do that if you can at all help it. Don’t just amputate what the Lord has stitched together.

Now, I know that this is a painful subject for many us in this room.

We have all been touched by divorce in our families, and many of you have experienced divorces personally. It has come closer in our extended family in recent months than ever before. I know this is painful. For some of you, it’s painful because you didn’t want it, but it happened to you anyway. For some of you, it’s painful because you know you did it wrong, and you feel the weight of that. For some of you, most of you who have been divorced, you feel some degree of shame. Even if you didn’t do anything shameful in the whole process, you still feel shame put on you by others. Even what I’ve said so far this morning might seem to pile it on further.

There is confusion and hurt. When you let someone into your life so that they get all the way to “one-flesh,” and then that relationship breaks and becomes jagged, it’s got to hurt. Being in conflict and estranged and eventually divided from the person who was the closest person to you has got to have lingering effects.

I know that divorces are painful. And so does the Lord.

And divorce, even sinful divorce, is not the unforgivable sin. And not all divorces are sinful (at least on one side) as we’ll see in verse 9. But Jesus is saying that divorce should be avoided if at all possible. We should be extremely reluctant to divorce because what God has joined together is something we should not separate. Marriage wasn’t designed to be temporary. It was supposed to be dissolved only by death.

So the Pharisees have a comeback. They don’t realize that they have already lost. They whip out Deuteronomy 24:1, and think they have answered Jesus. V.7

“‘Why then,’ they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’ [Huh, Jesus? Riddle me that! Answer that one!]

Jesus replied, [You numbskulls] ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

Notice that word “permitted.”

Here’s where Jesus differs from Rabbi Shammai. Shammai thought that if there was adultery, then God required a divorce. “No,” Jesus says, “God through Moses permitted a divorce in those cases because of hard hearts, but He didn’t command them.” You don’t have to divorce even when there has been sexual immorality. That’s not the way it was is in the beginning. The design was for permanence. Marriage was built to last.

Yes, we messed it all up. Hard hearts. Lots of sin. Lots of covenant breaking. Yes, divorce got allowed. (Even polygamy gets allowed for a time.) But that wasn’t the design. Don’t rush out and get a divorce! Make every effort you can to salvage that thing. 

I know that’s not what the world says. The world rushes to divorce. And so do many professing Christians. And again, there are solid reasons to divorce, as we’ll see in verse 9. And if you have divorced for the wrong reasons, there is plenty grace at the Cross for all repentant sinners.

But the Lord of Marriage says, “Don’t rush to amputate what I have sewn together.”

Divorce should be a last resort. If possible, if the conditions are right including the appropriate repentance, then lean towards forgiveness. Because, verse 9: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Now, you hear the exception there. And there is at least one other exception that Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 7, abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. There may be more exceptions when the covenant is broken beyond repair.

But the emphasis here is not on the exception of sexual immorality, the Greek is “porneia” from which we get our word “porn” and it means various kinds of covenant-breaking sexual unfaithfulness.

The emphasis isn’t on the exception. It’s on the fact that if you divorce and remarry for the wrong reasons, you are committing adultery, breaking the 7th commandment. You’re badly amputating what the Lord has sewn together. 

And notice by Whose word this is. V.9 “I tell you...” Don’t miss that! That’s super important. Jesus is laying down the law here Himself. Jesus is the Lord of Marriage! And He’s saying, “Don’t do it. Don’t divorce for the wrong reasons. What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Now, there is an exception here. And it’s a true one. If one spouse falls into marital unfaithfulness (porneia), they are, in that moment, ripping up the surgery themselves and defacing the one-flesh  relationship.  If your spouse has done that to you, you are permitted by the Lord of Marriage to divorce them.

Permitted, not commanded! I’d still say, “Make every effort. Even when it doesn’t feel like it.” Because we know that our marriages are pictures of Christ and the Church. And if we can salvage them, they can still be wonderfully beautiful pictures of Christ and the Church! We should be extremely reluctant to throw away any pictures of Christ and the Church.

But it is permitted, especially if an offending spouse is unrepentant. If they are amputating what the Lord has stitched together, you certainly don’t have to pretend that all is well. But the Lord of Marriage wants us to do everything on our end to uphold it.

Now, the disciples overreact to what Jesus has just taught. V.10

“The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’”

I’m pretty sure that was the Apostle Peter! Sounds like him, doesn’t it? Peter was married already. He knew that marriage was a lot of work. And now Jesus says that it’s “for better, for worse, and for keeps?” 

You might feel trapped in a marriage if it’s for life. A life sentence.

What’s fascinating is that even though that’s a rash overreaction, Jesus basically says, “Yeah, that’s right for some people.” For some people it is better to not marry. V.11

“Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. [There’s three kinds.] For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage [or became eunuchs] because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”

So, surprisingly, our last application point is:


Ironically, the Lord of Marriage says that marriage is not for everyone. Some people are (at least for a time and some for a lifetime) called to celibate singleness. 

And that’s not strange. We think that’s so strange. We think that’s so hard.

“Celibacy is so hard!”

But Jesus says, “Marriage is hard. Celibacy is just a different kind of hard.”

You know what’s hard?

Being born an eunuch. Being celibate because your body came out that way. Being celibate because somebody did that to you. It’s actually much easier to choose to live the celibate lifestyle than to have forced on you.

But what if you choose it for the kingdom? Isn’t that quite a phrase in verse 12, “because of the kingdom of heaven?!” Last time I preached this passage, I was really struck by this quote from Pastor Douglas O’Donnell.

He said, “The kingdom of heaven is so important that it should seem perfectly normal if someone would want to give up marriage for it.”

The remaining major message at the theology conference was by a pastor who has been a single man for his whole life. And he said that there are a bunch of reasons why it can be advantageous for the kingdom for Christians to stay single, at least for a time, and for some a life-time.

And if you are called to that, embrace it. Jesus says, “The one who can accept this should accept this.” 

And those of us who are married should celebrate those who are single right now for the kingdom. I think, all to often, we’ve treated singles as second-class kingdom citizens. But that’s totally wrong. The Apostle Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, as well. Single Christians are first class kingdom citizens if they are living for the Lord. And this church has an awesome history of having wonderful single people in it serving the Lord.

There are many right here in this room today. If you are single right now and serving the Lord, thank you.

Thank you for being celibate.
Thank you for being devoted.
Thank you for using your singleness for the Kingdom.

You are living something beautiful, as well.

You know who you are like? You’re like the Apostle Paul. 

And you’re like the Lord Jesus Christ. Because ironically, the Lord of Marriage never got married Himself.

Or perhaps it’s better to say, He’s still engaged to be married to the Church His Bride, and we await the Wedding Supper of the Lamb when all earthly marriages will be over and we all will have in full what they all pointed to in part, the relationship between the Lord of Marriage and His Church.

What God will join together for eternity.