Last week, my pastor preached a sermon out of Luke 16. It was well-thought out, well-delivered and offered a critique of the modern Christian refusing to live a Christ-centered life. Some interesting parts of the passage sparked questions in my mind, however. Why does Jesus seem to randomly throw in that bit about divorce in verse 18? One key to understanding this passage is knowing where it begins. It does not begin with the telling of the story. It actually begins in verse 1!
In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a parable of a steward who wastes what his master has given him. The steward devises an intelligent way of recovering as much money as he can, and in the end the unjust steward is commended by the master (v. 8). Jesus makes the application (to his disciples) in verse 11: “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [money], who will commit to your trust the true riches?” Just a few sentences later, Jesus adds, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
Evidently, the Pharisees were listening in. They were quite offended, being “covetous.” So they snapped some snarky remarks in the Lord’s direction (v. 14). It is here Jesus responds. Pay careful attention to his opening remarks. God knows the heart, and what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination to God. The major context is riches, and the story Jesus is about to tell involves a man who trusts in his riches. He trusts in them so much, that, just as the Pharisees, he seeks to justify himself before God with them. Verse 16, however, is what God demands we trust in: “The law and the prophets were until John [the Baptist]: since that time the
is preached, and every man presseth into it.” kingdom of God
It is about this time, right before the story, that Jesus mentions verse 18: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” This seemingly random teaching should not be “divorced” from its context! Let’s look at the story itself to find out why this was said here. As my pastor rightly pointed out, the rich man was obviously familiar with Abraham and Judaism. He begged for a messenger (Lazarus, the poor man) to be sent to his brothers, back from the dead. Abraham, knowing they were Jews, said, “they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (v. 29)
The rich man knew that would not work; they were not listening to the prophets now! So Abraham replies if they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they won’t accept the message of true riches (cf. v. 11), even if someone rose from the dead (foreshadowing, anyone?) (v. 31). Think about the application for the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the epitome of followers of the Law, and they revered the Prophets. Combine this with Jesus’ story and Luke’s editorial comment that they were covetous and derided Jesus, and we see the rich man was clearly representing the Pharisees. In effect, Jesus was saying, “so long as you seek to justify yourselves, not only do you reject me, but you reject the Law and the Prophets as well.” This is why Jesus linked his message with theirs in verse 16!
The point in verse 18 is that if the Law and Prophets and Jesus’ message were linked, and indeed identical in its source, then if one had received the first covenant (the Jews) but rejected the second, he is committing adultery (in a spiritual sense). If such a Jew were to trust in riches, he would be putting away his wife (God with the Law and Prophets) and taking another (riches). If one is seeking to justify himself, he will not be accepted by God (cf. v. 15), and hence if he is not accepted (put away) yet links himself with riches to trust in is also committing spiritual adultery!
This was not some random teaching Jesus decided to discuss in the middle of a story. He was rather making a forceful point. You cannot separate Jesus from the Law and the Prophets. You cannot truly accept one and not the other. Trusting in riches is spiritual adultery, and if one will not accept the message of God, he will be in the terrible position of being ultimately rejected by him.
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