I’m really enjoying our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount – but it’s also really challenging. As many of you will know, I’m suffering with a back injury at the moment, so I’m not able to get out and about much, but the teaching on the Sermon on the Mount has given me lots to think about and reflect on! And I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you.
It can be tempting to be swept up with the idea of Jesus as our friend and comforter, our shepherd, and our saviour – and all of those are true. But the Sermon on the Mount reminds us that we mustn’t forget Jesus the radical teacher and who wants us to change our personal choices and lifestyles. As Duncan has said, the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is a blueprint of how we are to live our Christian lives.
So, I’ve been reflecting a lot on our last two sermons which looked at the issues of adultery (or more accurately all sexual immorality) and divorce. These issues are sensitive as many people in our church family have been touched by the pain caused by sexual immorality or divorce. And it would’ve been the same for the crowd listening to Jesus. Many of them would’ve experienced the pain of sexual immorality or divorce too. But Jesus never shied away from tackling the tough topics.
So, why were sexual immorality and divorce so important to Jesus? Well, sexual immorality and divorce are important to God because marriage is important to God. The foundation of marriage and sex were a central part of God’s creation process. In addition, the Bible consistently speaks of marriage as representing the covenant relationship between God and his people.
In our society and culture, marriage is about the relationship between two people. It’s a way for them to show their love and commitment to one another in a public way, which is recognised by the laws of our land. But in the Bible, marriage is much more than this. Marriage is not just a covenant between two people – a man and a woman – but it’s about a relationship between that man and woman and God. And the importance of marriage is not that it’s legally binding, but that it’s a covenant relationship.
In our culture when we think about legal things and laws, we think about how they’re enforced and whether there are any loopholes. But the biblical idea of covenant is about the working out of a committed relationship. It’s not about whether a law has been broken, but whether we are being faithful or unfaithful to the covenant relationship. And we need to remember that there’s an important difference between being unfaithful to the covenant and the covenant actually being broken.
A covenant relationship is stronger than sin. We see this in the covenant relationship between God and his people. In the Old Testament we see the people of Israel rebel against God time and time again. And we see God faithfully keeping his covenant relationship with his people. When the people repent of their sin God offers forgiveness and restoration.
I’ve always found the story of the prophet Hosea fascinating. It was written at a time in which the people Israel were experiencing prosperity but also moral and spiritual collapse. And it uses the story of the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer to illustrate God’s covenant relationship with his people.
In Hosea 1:2, God tells Hosea to “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”
Hosea obeys God. He marries Gomer, and she bears him a son. She goes on to give birth to a daughter and another son, but Hosea suspects that the children are not his. The Bible doesn’t say when or how; all we know is that eventually Gomer is unfaithful and leaves Hosea for another man.
But God tells Hosea to do the unthinkable – to go and redeem his wife. So, Hosea goes and buys back his wife and brings her home. We’re not told what happens to their relationship after this. The rest of the book of Hosea focuses on God’s relationship with his people. But it doesn’t matter as the message is clear. Gomer, like God’s people, was an unfaithful wife. She didn’t deserve Hosea’s forgiveness or his redemption. But Hosea was a faithful husband. He was faithful to their marriage covenant – even though under biblical law he had grounds for divorce. Likewise, God is a faithful God. God’s people didn’t deserve his forgiveness and mercy, just like we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy. But God is faithful to his covenant relationship with his people. He keeps his promises because of his deep and unfathomable love for us.
Sexual immorality and divorce
It’s clear that what leads to sexual immorality and divorce is sin and evil. They harm our human relationships, but more importantly they harm the witness of marriage as an example of God’s covenant relationship with his people. As Christians we must do everything we can to avoid sexual immorality and divorce. But at the same time, we need to recognise that they are inevitable. We are sinful and broken people, and we live in a sinful and broken world.
What’s even more clear is that God is a God of mercy and grace. No matter what sin we have committed, God loves us and will always remain faithful to us. If we repent of our sins, he will forgive us and reconcile us to him.
As the words of the hymn say,
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace