What is Possible? Matthew 19
Matthew 19 is fun. Say that with me, “Matthew 19 is fun.” After all, who doesn’t love a discussion of divorce followed by a statement about eunuchs? Then we see Jesus welcome children (contrary to the adult disciples) and chase off a potential financial backer. The chapter wraps up with Peter asking whether or not the disciples could expect much from following Jesus.
It is necessary, first, to look at the geography of this chapter. Verse 1 tells us that Jesus has departed Galilee and is coming into Judea. It’s His last trip of that nature. The Cross is in sight. Even with so weighty a moment ahead of Jesus, the Pharisees are ready to test Him. (In their defense, they didn’t know about the upcoming Crucifixion. They hadn’t quite hatched that plan.)
So they ask Jesus to side with one or the other of their views on divorce and remarriage. The answer and its application to today are rooted in a fuller understanding of culture, text, and context than I want to undertake here. The short form is that divorce is never a good thing and only happens because of people’s hard hearts. Is it unforgivable? Certainly not. Is it unavoidable? Not always—people are sinners, and people marry sinners. Sometimes, that results in a truly unavoidable situation. But divorce is rarely a good answer. It’s like chemotherapy: you hope it kills the problem before it kills you, and then that you recover from the treatment. So you don’t do it if there’s other options.
We spend a lot of time splitting hairs over this passage that we often lose the view that’s most important: there are no divorces without people. And people need Jesus. Keep the focus on helping people come to Jesus and let the rest sort itself.
The reasoning for this question should be considered. It’s this: the Pharisees had internal conflicts. They wanted Jesus to take a side. Instead, He took His own view. It’s the same thing Joshua encounters in Joshua 5:14. Don’t ask God to take your side. Be sure to take His.
For focus, let us look at Matthew 19:26. The disciples have seen Jesus drive off a good prospect in the Rich Young Ruler. A good prospect? That’s what we would call him in many churches: he’s moral and wealthy! We want him! Jesus, though, tells him to pitch the wealth and come with nothing. He leaves, and the disciples think it is impossible for anyone to be saved.
Jesus reminds them of this truth: “With God, all things are possible.” (see Luke 1:37 for this again) That line centers this chapter. Marriage? The idea that 2 people can live together for life and honor God with their relationship? Impossible!
That eunuchs have a place in the Kingdom? That man can live without marriage? Impossible! That children are the example and the owners of the Kingdom? Impossible! The wealthy can be saved? The poor, the righteous, the ones without will have enough? Impossible!
Yet Jesus highlights that NOTHING! is impossible with God. With people? Plenty of impossiblities. Jesus challenges the disciples to trust that His commands, His will are possible. Because with Him, with God all things are possible.
These days, it feels like everything comes with a disclaimer. Even “With God, all things are possible” needs a disclaimer. Some things of lesser value are impossible for you and me. I cannot run a marathon tomorrow. Neither Mattehw 19:26 or Philippians 4:13 promise that. I have not prepared for it.
These statements on the power of God are about the power of God to enable people to obey Him. Not to do groovy things or to attain earthly success.
So, when we see commands like “love your neighbor” or “go into all the world…” and think they are impossible, we’re right. It’s impossible. The only way to do it is by obeying and trusting God. We start, then, with prayer. We pack the middle with prayer. And then we finish with prayer.
Think of the Big Mac. Bread, stuff, bread, more stuff, and then bread. Obeying God through life is the same way: pray, then do stuff, then pray some more, then do more stuff. Then pray. And repeat.
Never let the impossiblity of the task stop your obedience. Let it only increase your dependence on God.
Nerdstuff: 1. What about marriage? Stick with it. In some cases, survival requires escape. So don’t enter lightly. But the context is a debate between two choices: unrestrained divorce and limited divorce. And the unrestrained was by men chasing new wives whenever they wanted them. Jesus’ answer needs to be seen in that context—it’s just as much adultery to pitch your wife out and marry a new woman as it was to have an affair. And prying a woman from her husband? That makes her a complicit sinner. You can’t make your adultery respectable by shifting paperwork.
2. Be careful provoking Jesus by trying to stop Him doing something. Note that He goes right ahead and lays hands on the children.