Matthew 19:1-15 A Place for All

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Background Passage

Matthew 19:1-22:46

Lesson Passage: Matthew 19:1-15

Lesson Passage Outline

  1. Married People (Matt. 19:1-6)
  2. Divorced People (Matt. 19:7-9)
  3. Single People (Matt. 19:10-12)
  4. Children (Matt. 19:13-15)

Biblical Truth

A church should teach the biblical ideal for marriage but minister to adults who are married, divorced, remarried, or single as well as to their children.

Life Impact

To help you reach out to people regardless of their marital status or age


"I felt like an outcast in my own church." Though she had been faithful in her marriage, her husband had not. She now had the stunned and tired look common to people in her situation. She had believed her marriage would last forever, only to find it dissolved in infidelity and bitter court proceedings.

Often these people find judgment in the church, the place where they most desperately need ministry. Without question, sometimes they see judgment where it is not present. Perhaps they feel awkward. Their couples' class does not seem to feel right any more.

How has a church reached out to you? How did that impact your understanding of God and affect your growth in Christ?

Throughout this lesson we will emphasize the biblical ideal for marriage but also illustrate that the church is to be a place for all sorts of people in all kinds of situations. The reality of ministry today is that our churches are filled with all kinds of families. We have singles and single parents side by side with empty-nesters and widows. We want to make sure that we do not relegate anyone to a second-class status. God wants to use our churches to reach out to all people regardless of marital status or age.

As you study this passage about different kinds of people and families in the church, focus on ways you can help your class and your church to realize the Life Impact of this lesson by reaching out to people regardless of their marital status or age.

As you continue your personal Bible study, prayerfully read the Background Passage and respond to the Study Questions as well as to the questions in the margins for the November 11 lesson in Explore the Bible: Adult Learner Guide.

The Bible in Context (Matt. 19:1-22:46)

This part of Matthew's Gospel covers four chapters and has five sections of Jesus' teaching and interaction with disciples and opponents. Matthew 19:1-15 is the Lesson Passage and focuses on marriage and family. Jesus ignored no aspect of the human condition and refused to allow the church to do so either.

Matthew 19:16-20:28 consists of Jesus' teaching on eternal life. The question of the rich young ruler concerning how he might inherit eternal life became the occasion for Jesus to illustrate the selfless nature of true discipleship. Possessions, while morally and spiritually neutral, do have the possibility of impeding our progress in God's kingdom.

Jesus further countered our tendency to measure worth by the accumulation of goods with the parable of the vineyard workers. The subject is grace, and the truth is paradoxical that the first shall be last and the last first. After the third prediction of His death, Jesus further taught the disciples about the importance of selflessness.

Portrayals of authority (Matt. 20:29-21:27) opens with the healing of a blind man, thus illustrating Jesus' ability to provide physical and spiritual sight. The triumphal entry and the cleansing of the temple illustrate the shallowness of the crowd's understanding and Jesus' rejection of the corrupt temple worship. The tension continued to mount with the parable of judgment (the barren fig tree) and the direct challenge by the chief priests and elders.

The truth of the kingdom of heaven means some are in and others out. Three parables in Matthew 21:28-22:14 portray this aspect of the gospel: the two sons, the vineyard owner, and the wedding banquet.

Four questions comprise the concluding section of this part of Matthew (22:15-46). First the Pharisees, then the Sadducees, and then the Pharisees again challenged Jesus. This section ends with Jesus asking a question designed to point out His identity.

Married People (Matt. 19:1-6)

1 When Jesus had finished this instruction, He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?"

4 "Haven't you read," He replied, "that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,

5 and He also said: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined 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, man must not separate."

Verse 1. Jesus' journey to Jerusalem dominates the latter part of the three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In his Gospel, John detailed three trips to the capital. The Synoptics focus only on this final journey.

Galilee was the northern half of the country. According to the Synoptics, Jesus spent most of His ministry there. In typical Jewish fashion He entered the region of Judea from east of the Jordan River. The direct route would have been through Samaria, which bisected the middle of the country. Jesus was not trying to avoid the Samaritans, for the Gospels record several times when He intentionally reached out to this displaced people. The major routes of travel, however, as used by the vast majority of the Jewish population, went around Samaria.

Verse 2. Jesus was popular wherever He went, even in Jerusalem initially. The crowds probably followed Him for His ability to heal, but I like to think they also saw in Jesus something that filled their spiritual hunger. They were drawn to Him. Jesus still has that effect today.

Verse 3. Most Pharisees lived in Jerusalem, though some resided outside the city. Usually, opposition to Jesus came from Jerusalem. These Pharisees, since we are not told, could have been from the local  area.

Not every Pharisee opposed Jesus. Nicodemus was sympathetic to Him and even aided in His burial (John 3:1-9; 19:39). By and large, however, they always sought to test Him with the goal of discrediting Him in the eyes of the people.

These Pharisees asked Jesus a question concerning divorce, one that reflected an ongoing discussion of the day. Around the time of Jesus' birth, rabbis Hillel and Shammai represented two opposing schools of rabbinic thought. Hillel was typically broader in his interpretation and application; Shammai, more narrow.

The crux of the divorce issue was Deuteronomy 24:1, which describes conditions under which a man may divorce his wife. The phrase "some indecency" gave rise to two interpretations. Shammai said it meant adultery only. Hillel claimed that it could be anything that displeased the husband, even as trivial as being a poor cook. Opinions were divided and harsh. The Pharisees were attempting to draw Jesus into the fray by suggesting Hillel's interpretation of any grounds.

Read "Divorce in the First Century" in the Fall 2007 issue of Biblical Illustrator or Biblical Illustrator Plus (CD-ROM).

Verse 4. Instead of answering the question, Jesus challenged the Pharisee's knowledge of Scripture. Haven't you read suggests these religious experts were ignoring important teachings in God's Word.

Jesus took them back to the beginning for a basic understanding of God's intention for marriage. That God made them male and female is the starting point for God's intention for the family.

And Today. Indirectly at least, that God started with male and female undermines claims for the legitimacy of homosexual relationships. God did not begin by making male and male or female and female. He originally intended (and still intends) for marriage to be of a male and a female and for it to be the lasting and supreme human relationship.

Verse 5. For this reason emphasizes God's original intent. The union created by marriage involves two important actions.

And Today. First, a man will leave his mother and father. Letting go of previous family ties does not mean we are to forget all duties to parents. It highlights the priority of the new relationship in marriage. A spouse is to be number one now and for all of life.

Second, the two will become one flesh. This unity is all-encompassing and certainly goes far beyond our culture's fascination with sex. Sex is a wonderful gift from God when used as He intended, but it is only the physical expression of the deeper spiritual bond that is divinely romantic. Two people—a man and a woman—together for life for better or worse is one of the most courageous of human portraits.

The Jewish people elevated marriage perhaps more than any other culture. It was a sacred obligation, and a man was expected to marry by age 20 or so to comply with the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. This high regard for marriage was born in God's heart.

Verse 6. Jesus emphasized unity by stating that the couple was no longer two. Any couple who have successfully navigated decades of marriage will say their unity and love is much deeper now than in the early years of their marriage.

And Today. My wife Leslie and I celebrated 25 years together recently. Without question I can say, like the song title, "I've grown accustomed to her face" and I value her company and regard more than any other. Our union is now much closer, and if something is not quite right between the two of us (an exceedingly rare event!), then I am not quite right. I have gladly given up some independence for the joy of a union that is infinitely more satisfying.

What God has joined underscores marriage as the intention of God for most people. Nearly all of us live two by two. Man must not separate means at the very least that we should never treat marriage in a shallow and irreverent manner. A church is obligated, therefore, to proclaim the biblical standards for marriage and minister to married couples in ways that will strengthen their unions. Unfortunately, as Jesus conceded in the next section, unions do dissolve.

Divorced People (Matt. 19:7-9)

7 "Why then," they asked Him, "did Moses command [us] to give divorce papers and to send her away?"

8 He told them, "Moses permitted you to divorce  your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. 9 And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

In what ways can you demonstrate your commitment to the biblical ideal for marriage?

Verse 7. The divorce question always appeared to be a no-win situation. "God hates divorce" is biblical (Mal. 2:16); yet, as the Pharisees pointed out, Moses described a means for divorce in which a husband was to give divorce papers and send her away. [See Exploration: "Divorce," p. 124.] How can we reconcile this apparent discrepancy?

Verse 8. Hardness of heart is the reason Moses allowed divorce. Thus marriages will dissolve no matter how often the biblical model is held up. The law was intended to manage this failure while protecting the rights of women, who were particularly vulnerable in that society. It was not like that from the beginning makes clear that divorce is not a desirable outcome, nor should it be the default setting at the first sign of trouble.

And Today. The church must maintain a delicate balance in this matter. We must not do anything that appears to render divorce "no big deal." It is. It is painful. It is a failure, and no one is helped by pretending otherwise. We help people become whole by encouraging them in the same way we encourage anyone who has failed: confess any role you have played in the divorce, receive forgiveness, and move on in grace.

Verse 9. This verse is filled with potential pitfalls. The "except clause" is one of the main issues. The parallel passages (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18) do not include any exception for divorce, not even adultery. So is divorce on account of adultery acceptable, or is there no acceptable grounds for divorce? Further compounding the problem is that Paul on the one hand appears to support no cause for divorce (1 Cor. 7:10-11) and then in the same chapter seems to allow divorce in the case of an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:15).

And Today. We can agree without question that Jesus wanted to discourage divorce; it is never desirable. At the very least, we should apply this verse to discourage a "culture of easy divorce" in which this step becomes a familiar and often used option. No one is helped if a society encourages fractured marriages.

Also, Jesus' words here encourage couples to make every effort—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—to salvage their marriages. Too often, one or both of those in a marriage expend too much energy trying to figure out if the other is too aggravating to want to save the relationship. A marriage is often helped when a couple takes the divorce option off the table and have to devise ways to repair their relationship.

Finally, what are we to do with the statement that a divorced man commits adultery if he remarries? Mark added words from Jesus that include the woman (Mark 10:12). Again, Jesus was at least emphasizing the supreme importance of marriage and warning that divorce was a too easily embraced option. In His day divorce was laughably easy (more so than today) and rendered a woman highly vulnerable. Anyone who entered into marriage irreverently and did so repeatedly was making a mockery out of a sacred institution, and in that regard, was tantamount to committing adultery.  The same is still true today.

And Today. When divorced people today repent of any part they played in the divorce and remarry, should they worry about living in perpetual adultery? I don't think so. As I understand it, Jesus was using powerful language to underscore the importance of marriage and the biblical ideal.

Divorce, however, is a reality with which we must deal, and no one is helped by being consistently reminded of such a painful chapter or by being made to feel like second-class citizens. Jesus had an obvious affinity for other supposed second-class citizens, and the church will never do better than to try to be like Jesus.

At the same time the church must not mute its support of marriage for fear it will hurt the feelings of a divorced person. Those who have been through divorce acutely understand its pain. They should and likely do want a church to do everything it can to make sure no one else goes through such pain. Nevertheless, a church must do this sensitively and at the same time embrace and minister to people who have been divorced.

Single People (Matt. 19:10-12)

10 His disciples said to Him, "If the relationship of a man with his wife is like this, it's better not to marry!"

11 But He told them, "Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those it has been given to. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."

Children (Matt. 19:13-15)

How can you help your church minister to divorced people?

Verse 10. Jesus' ideal for marriage was so demanding that the disciples felt it's better not to marry. Jesus appeared to leave no escape from a bad marriage. Was lifelong singleness the only viable option?

Verse 11. Not everyone can accept this saying most likely refers to the disciples' suggestion that they should remain single. Only those it has been given to means some people are created to be single, although certainly not everyone and not even most people. The grammatical construction used here indicates singleness comes as a gift from God.

Verse 12. Jesus described various options of "singleness" using the illustration of eunuchs. Were born that way indicates some people are born without the ability for sexual relations that are a part of marriage. Made by men refers to the practice of castrating males who were to serve in harems or some pagan temples. Made themselves that way probably refers to the voluntary forgoing of marriage in order to remain single. Let anyone accept this who can is an affirmation of singleness especially as it relates to serving God (see 1 Cor. 7:32-34).

And Today. Admittedly, the comparison of eunuchs with singles today is not exact, but the point remains these were unmarried people of whom Jesus took notice. Because of the kingdom of heaven acknowledges the inclusion of unmarried people in the church's ministry. Therefore the passage does speak to Christian singles today.

Too often singles feel they are incomplete, and we make the situation more severe if we present marriage as the only means of complementing a solitary life. God actually is the one who complements a life, and so this fulfillment is available to married and single alike.

As with divorced people, the single person must also take care not to look for offense at every turn. A church's promotion of marriage does not mean it devalues singles, no more than a children's program means senior adults are second-class citizens. A church, however, does have the reasonable obligation to provide ministry to all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances.

How can you encourage your church to reach single people?

13 Then children were brought to Him so He might put His hands on them and pray. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Then Jesus said, "Leave the children alone, and don't try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this." 15 After putting His hands on them, He went on from there.

Verse 13. An earlier passage concerning "these little ones" (Matt. 18:6,10) focused not on children but on the disenfranchised and overlooked adult believers. This passage, however, clearly illustrates Jesus' attitude to children. We may assume their mothers brought the children to Jesus so He might put His hands on them and pray. This was a typical rabbinic method of blessing. Though children in that day were not the recipients of our modern exaggerated attention, Jews valued children much more deeply than most societies.

The disciples certainly do not come off looking very compassionate, as they rebuked them. Perhaps, we may assume they simply were trying to protect their weary Master.

Verse 14. Jesus was not too tired to receive the children, and His words of welcome are a tender declaration that God values children too. Perhaps they are a blessing to Him as they are to us. Do not try to keep them from coming to Me cannot reasonably be pressed to condone infant baptism, but it certainly does allow and encourage the church to evangelize children as they reach an age of accountability.

Children arrive with a natural inclination to trust, and their faith serves as a model for all believers. Their openness and desire to learn of God must be a hallmark of all who enter the kingdom of heaven.

Verse 15. We may assume Jesus performed the blessing with a smile. He turned no one away. He reached out to all.

And Today. Churches must recognize we are in a race for our children's souls. Many parents saturate their children's schedules with activities designed to make them whole and complete. This means a church has fewer opportunities to reach children and students. We must continually sharpen our ministries to these important people.

How can you help your church improve its ministry to children?

Biblical Truths for Spiritual Transformation

  1. We can minister to married couples by upholding the biblical ideal for marriage.
  2. We can minister to divorced people—both those who are single people and those who have remarried.
  3. We can reach out to single people by affirming their value as persons, whether they are unmarried as a result of choice or circumstance.
  4. We can minister to children and students by recognizing their importance, which includes being open to them and making provisions to meet their spiritual needs.

How can you help your church reach one of the groups mentioned in this study?

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