My church are currently going through the Sermon on the Mount. It’s dynamite. If you’re a preacher, I can recommend it. Anger, forgiveness, money, porn, divorce… Ah.
That’s the thing about preaching through the Sermon on the Mount line by line. You can’t dodge the bullets. If Jesus talks about it, we need to talk about it, right?
And so I found myself tasked with preaching on divorce to a room full of people who largely reflect the statistics. While divorce rates are, thankfully, lower in churches, there are plenty of people following Jesus who have also gone through divorce.
Here’s what Jesus actually says: “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32.
Exegetically, there are a few things we could say with the help of Matthew 19:3-9. We could talk about the ‘heart motive’ behind the Pharisees’ question; we could look at the meaning of the word ‘porneia’, usually translated ‘sexual immorality’, and the reasons why this is apparently Jesus’ one concession; we could look at the issue of remarriage, on which the experts’ opinions differ.
Indeed, in my sermon, I touched on all of the above and I’d do so again in a longer or more academic article. But the real question is: what do you say when you’re staring into the faces of 100 people, and a fair few of them have been through all this first-hand? How do we move from interpretation to application for someone who’s wondering whether they got it all wrong, but can’t turn back time?
I think the answer is simply this: nothing is beyond redemption for the God that we believe in.
Consider Joseph, sold into slavery at age 17, then later thrown into a foreign prison without any hope of rescue. That’s not the end of his story. He winds up prime minister of the world’s first superpower, saving thousands from famine.
Remember Peter, an unschooled fisherman personally selected by Jesus, who deserted his master just moments before his hour of greatest need and denied he even knew him? That’s not the end of his story. In the end, he is personally restored by the risen Jesus and lives the rest of his life without ever recanting his faith.
Or how about David, who put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, saw something he shouldn’t and then followed through on his urges, doing the dirty with Bathsheba and being responsible for the murder of her husband? That’s some pretty big moral failing, but that’s not the end of his story. He repents, is forgiven and goes down in history as the greatest King that Israel ever had, until one from among his own line ascends eternally to the throne.
Nothing is beyond redemption for the God that we believe in.
The application of Jesus’ teaching on divorce means many things. It’s a challenge to fight for and celebrate marriage in a culture that often demeans it. It is a call to confess and repent if big ‘un-undoable’ mistakes have been made. It does leave us with potentially more questions than answers if we grapple to see what scripture really says and then try to match up scriptural accuracy with pastoral reality. As we wrestle through all of that, however, I believe the one thing divorced and remarried people need to hear is the over-arching, sweeping message across all of scripture. Nothing is beyond redemption for the God that we believe in.
This article has been edited because of inaccurate statistics. This has now been amended.
 If you want to, you can listen to the sermon at www.holytrinity.stalybridge.org …but if you really want to dig into this, Nicky Gumbel’s The Jesus Lifestyle and John Stott’s The Message of the Sermon on the Mount are, I believe, the best things to get hold of. answer, is that I belong to Jesus Christ. I am his, and he is mine.