Read Matthew 19
19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
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?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
The Little Children and Jesus
13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
18 “Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Much like the parables of Jesus, the rest of the teachings and interactions that Jesus has with disciples, followers and Pharisees left similar impressions. His words were both immediate and eternal, both simple and open to interpretation, comforting and convicting, and revealed the state of the listener’s heart. In chapter 19, the Pharisees (who continually confronted Jesus throughout the gospels) question Him on divorce.
During the time of Jesus, two opposing views were held on divorce. The school of Hillel argued that a man could leave his wife for a variety of reasons from ceasing to love her to the wife’s bad cooking. The Shammaite school held to a more traditional view that permitted divorce only in the case of unfaithfulness. Rather than siding with one or the other prevailing views, Jesus cuts through this trap of legalism and refers back to Genesis. The rest of creation was created separately, male and female, but for humans only, God made female from male: “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22). This made man and woman the closest of all human relationships, and so this relationship was considered a covenantal union, made between man and woman in the presence of a Holy God. Essentially, Jesus responded to the question of divorce by opening the perspective far beyond the tedium of law by reminding us of God’s original, remarkable, and holy intent of marriage.
Jesus acknowledges that Moses permitted divorce due to the hardness of hearts (Matthew 19:8). While there may be acceptable reasons for divorce, we can also acknowledge that it’s never God’s best and we would advise couples to never make that decision in isolation, but with the counsel of God’s Word, Spirit, and people.
The response of Jesus continues in this manner when the disciples attempt to keep children from approaching Him in verses 13-14. The response of Jesus broke through the Mosaic law that allowed children the privileges of the Jewish church through circumcision, but rather that the pure-heartedness and obedience in children are the standard to enter heaven.
The last encounter we see in this chapter focuses on the rich young man. Jesus says plainly that it is harder for the rich to enter heaven than for “a camel to go through the eye of a needle”, and yet as the disciples engage Him with more questions, Jesus seemingly contradicts himself, saying “with man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Ultimately, we learn that the impossibilities of man are only conditional, as they are ultimately overcome by the transforming work of Christ and in the daily discipline of denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Him.
- What other passages in scripture speak the importance of marriage as a covenant relationship?
- In what ways do we hold onto legalistic worldviews instead of asking God to reveal an eternal one?
- How can we practice daily self-denial in a hyper industrialized world?
By the Way
Many of the encounters we see of Jesus with the rich happen in chastising interactions with Pharisees or authority figures or the young man in this chapter. However, in Luke 19, we see Jesus elevate a rich man through the story of Zacchaeus, who is compelled by his encounter with Christ to give away half of his possessions and to right the wrongs of the people from who he has cheated money: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
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