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“Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. The Pharisees came and asked Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ testing Him.”—Mark 10:1–2 (NKJV)
At this stage of Christ’s ministry, He’s really speaking to two different audiences. There’s the general population of those who are drawn to the refreshingly radical way Jesus explained things pertaining to God. And then there’s the antagonistic sect of religious rulers (Pharisees), threatened by His message and scheming to find a convenient way to get rid of Him.
This “second audience” would often piggy back on the enthusiasm of the first audience and then seek to undermine it by laying some sort of trap to ensnare Jesus. That’s what’s happening here as they interrupt His teaching with the seemingly sincere question, “Is it okay to divorce?” In this cultural context, divorce was a very controversial subject. There were two dominant views on divorce. One was very strict and prohibitive, while the other was extremely open and liberal. Just about everyone fell into either of these two camps. So, by asking this question the Pharisees were trying to box Jesus into giving an answer that would be controversial one way or another, dividing His appeal and effectiveness. Watch what the Master does: “And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her’” (Mark 10:3–4 NKJV).
When posed with a controversial issue, Jesus does the wisest thing possible and points to the Word of God! Rather than give them their either/or answer, He asks them what Moses commanded, thereby placing them under the authority of Scripture instead of making it about Him. With the first audience watching, they’re compelled to respond. And they answer by acknowledging that Moses did permit divorce. Notice what Jesus says next: “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of 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 reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh’” (Mark 10:5–8 NKJV).
The Lord takes things in a direction the Pharisees didn’t anticipate. They gave an answer based on the Scriptures. But Jesus takes them, and all those listening, into deeper waters by expounding on the deeper meaning beneath their answer. He explains that divorce was a provision in God’s law, but only because mankind had deviated from God’s original intent. He then establishes that intent by directing them back past Moses to the very first marriage, which is God’s template for all marriage. Translation: You shouldn’t be focused on man’s ability to divorce, but on God’s heart for marriage!
What should we learn from this masterful response? Simply this: God’s Word is the best response to controversy. When you’re posed with a “gotcha” question, respond by asking, “What does the Bible say?” For that will always matter more than any controversial thought or opinion, and it’s what all audiences ultimately need to know.
Pause: What motivation drove the “second audience” here and how did Jesus respond?
Practice: Pray about ways you can make God’s Word more central to your responses.
Pray: Lord, may I follow the example I see here by making Your Word the basis for my belief and behavior. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.