Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 19.
When I talk with my non-Christian friends about my job as a Bible teacher, I often describe my task as something like that of a historian. My job is to understand and to teach what the church has taught about this book since the beginning of the church and for the last 2000 years. My job is not to find some exciting new understanding that has been hidden throughout the ages, but rather uncover for you what has always been understood. Having done that, then, another important part of my task is to show you the relevance of that ancient understanding for today. In other words, to help us understand how to properly apply these ancient truths to our lives.
Sometimes, that job involves bringing up the fact that certain texts have been debated for millennia, as was the case with the Revelation series we just finished. In which case my task is to inform you of the debate, the options, the outcomes of each option, and sometimes when fitting to explain to you my opinion on the matter as far as that goes. Today’s text is not like that. There has been no debate about the teaching contained in today’s chapter in the history of the church.
Today we are going to look at Jesus’s teaching on human sexuality. And as I set out to do this, I want to recognize the sensitivity of this issue, especially as this sermon will go out over the ether and on to the internet where it will be seen by God knows who. And this is such a hot-button topic in our culture, and one which I believe the church largely has not handled well. So I’d like us to be praying as we go along this morning, that you would have patience as I unfold the historic understanding and talk about its relevance for us today. And that those who are listening, coming from a default place of disagreement, who are expecting me to say something hateful and hurtful, would put down their prejudice, and give this whole sermon a hearing before dismissing.
My goal this morning is to treat this topic with the truth and love that Christ taught us. That charity, Christlikeness and kindness would pervade as we lay out a teaching that our culture has decided is anathema: cursed. Hateful. Which couldn’t be more untrue. Jesus calls out to every human, every one of us radically affected by our sinfulness, with mercy and grace and love and truth that will set us free to live the most satisfyingly fully human lives possible. The one we’re pursuing. The one we’re hoping for. He shows us the way to find it. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
You see, unlike the debate over the precise meaning of Revelation and identity and timing of all the symbolic language, for 2000 years, and still to this day, the Christian church has consensus on The Bible’s clear teaching on the matter of human sexuality. But for the first time in the history of Christianity, for the first time in 2000 years, for the past mere 50 or so years there has been an attempt by some to say that the Bible is not clear on this matter. Those that say it is not clear on this area, or further, those that say that the Bible is actually saying something different from what the church has held in common for 2000 years are not Christian. The Bible has a word for these teachers: false teachers. Wolves.
Part of my job as a shepherd of the flock of God in the church here is to defend the sheep from wolves. This semester, both our campus ministry and our youth group have been through teaching series (different lessons, but they covered the same passages), on Biblical sexuality, and I thought it would be good to bring some of this to Sunday morning, especially on the heels of the Revelation series. Revelation, like many of the prophets in the Old Testament use “sexual immorality” as a catch-all term, a metaphor of sorts, that encompasses unfaithfulness to God. Using the imagery of an adulterous wife to a faithful husband, humanity is described as unfaithful to humanity’s marriage bond to their creator God. This image encompasses all kinds of sin that are listed in many places throughout scripture, but sexual sin is pervasive in humanity.
This is a massive question in our culture today. In fact it is not too big a stretch to call this topic a primary religion of our secular world. Absolute freedom, without restriction, on human sexual expression, in whatever form an individual desires. The goal is to be able to express this freedom without any consequence, and there are only two heresies in this way of thinking: the first heresy is that any sexual expression must be done with absolute and continual consent, which could be withdrawn at any moment. (This “doctrine” by the way is a massived hypocrisy, imposing absolute boundaries on another on a whim.) The second heresy is failure to absolutely affirm, and not just affirm but celebrate, every individual’s chosen sexual identity.
By contrast, the Bible is clear about the created design of human sexuality: that it is to be expressed only within the covenant bonds of marriage between one man and one woman for one lifetime. And further – perhaps more controversially – that there are only two options for gender: male and female, that you are created by God to be one or the other, and that this gender is organically identical to your biological sex.
In other words: gender and sexual identity are not something that we choose, but rather something we are created by God with.
The Bible is also clear that ever since the fall of Adam and Even into sin in the garden, this created design has been under attack, that mankind has rebelled against God in this area in many ways, and that this rebellion has always to confusion, suffering and destruction, especially for the vulnerable in society: notably women and children.
Defining some terms.
As we get started here, it is important to briefly define some terms so that we know how the arguments of our culture work, and we can see how Jesus clearly and concisely addresses each of these areas of contention with truth and love.
I also want to highlight the recent innovation of all of these concepts. In an attempt to legitimize deviations for God’s created design, researchers have been attempting to give normalizing labels and explanations to things the Bible addresses simply as “immorality”. The attempt with these definitions is to say that somehow in recent years we have become enlightened in this area. There is an attempt to redefine and complicate in order to self-justify and not have to deal with the root issue at play in each of these areas.
- Gender identity – A person’s innate sense of their gender. Building off of work in the 1930s that began articulating gender roles as a social construct, researches in the late 1960s began an attempt at normalizing the separation of “biological sex” and “psychosocial gender”.
- Homosexual (lesbian, gay), Bisexual. A label given to those who experience romantic or sexual attraction to those of the same biological sex (or both sexes). The term “homosexual” did not even exist until about 1870 (the term heterosexual was also coined at this time), the term bisexual first appeared in 1886 in this context but wasn’t solidified as a concept until the mid 1900s. In giving a label the attempt is to convince that this is a core part of an individuals identity and to give a label other than those that specially called out the sin. The predominate term in the west prior to the coining of these terms was “Sodomite”.
- Transgender – A person who experiences incongruence between their biological sex and their gender identity.
- Gender dysphoria – Psychological distress that some transgender people experience
- Intersex – people who experience atypically development of their sexual anatomy and/or sexual chromosomes. (Physical deformity)
- Transgenderism – an ideology that aims to transoform cultural understandings of sex and gender.
I want to say at this point as well that these struggles are a real part of the human experience. My goal here is not to dismiss these experiences as invalid, but rather to show how Jesus approaches each of these areas of struggle.
Those who want to avoid dealing with the Scriptures clear teaching on these issues will use arguments such as:
- “Jesus never mentions homosexuality.”
- “The Bible never mentions transgenderism.”
- “Sexual orientation was not understood during biblical times, but we have advanced in our understanding. New information and understanding is good cause to reexamine old practices.”
- “Sex is biological, sure, but gender is a social construct”
But as we will see in Matthew 19, Jesus addresses each of these areas very clearly. He is not silent. An area of reflection for my fellow Christians here today, however, is, in our thoughts and responses to homosexuality and transgenderism, do we sound like Jesus? Jesus full of grace and truth, truth and love? Or do we sound fearful, hateful, spiteful, disgusted?
God Created Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality
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, let no one separate.”
“Now hold on, Matt, why are we looking at a passage on divorce to address this question?” Because in this passage Jesus points to God’s creation design for marraige and sexuality. From here we learn many things which will inform our understanding.Matthew 19:3–6 (CSB)
First, we should look at the question Jesus was challenged with. The Pharisees were trying to trap him on a famous debate among rabbis. The proper understanding of Deuteronomy 24:1. Under what circumstances may a man divorce his wife:
“If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, he may write her a divorce certificate…Deuteronomy 24:1 (CSB)
They want to know what constitutes “something indecent” and there are two schools of thought in his day: 1) it could be any reason at all, or 2) it had to be something very indecent. Jesus’s response: “haven’t you read the Bible?” And he points out three truths which are relevant for us today. (This is not a sermon on divorce, there’s a lot more to say about that..)
- God creates and defines our gender
- God created and defines marriage, and joins a man and a woman together
- God created and defines sexual expression to be between that one man and one wife joined in a God-made covenant union.
This is the premise to the Christian teaching on sexuality. These are the grounds of our arguments. Sexuality is created and designed by God. We didn’t come up with it. We don’t define it. We don’t get to decide how it goes.
Our Sin Causes Confusion and Destruction in the area of Sexuality.
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 I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.”Matthew 19:7-9 (CSB)
The continue their argument with Jesus: “But Moses lets us….” Jesus responds with another important truth:
Divorce is always a result of sin and actions/patterns caused by hard-heartedness, and ought not to be that way. Marriage is built in to creation, by God, for the blessing and thriving of humanity, Divorce is a result of the fall.
And sin always causes confusion, heartache, and destruction. This, by the way, is the reason behind the high suicide rate for those that identity as LGBT, etc. The constant internal emotional and spiritual dissonance, trying to live life apart from what they were created to be. Perhaps an oversimplification, but its the center of the target.
There is so much to say on divorce, and again, it is not the topic of today’s sermon, but I wanted to give just one headline: The Bible’s disposition toward divorce: it is always a bad thing. It is a complex thing. It is sometimes an understandable thing. In some cases there is not a better option. But it is never a wonderful happy occasion.
But again, Jesus puts his finger on the center of the problem: our hard-heartedness, our sin. Our rebellion against God’s created way of life intended to bring blessing. In our selfishness, we pursue other things we think will bring us peace, joy, and happiness, and it always ends up harming us. This is the reason divorce happens. It is the reason behind all deviation from God’s created order for marriage.
God Has a Place in the Kingdom for Those Harmed by the Fallout of Sin
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 He responded, “Not everyone can accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given. 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. The one who is able to accept it should accept it.”Matthew 19:10–12 (CSB)
At this point the disciples nervously speak up. They had a selfish, convenience-based understanding of marriage. (And by the way it never ceases to amaze me that the disciples who wrote the gospels self-implicated like this. Matthew didn’t write “and that idiot Peter asked a stupid question” — he lumps himself in with the group. They found Jesus’s teaching very difficult.
And Jesus responds in a very unexpected way. He means something like “you’re right, if your default understanding of marriage is that you have an out if things get tough with that certificate Moses allowed, it would be better for you to not marry. This IS a hard teaching. It requires God’s grace to accept it. And then he gets weirder.
What is a Eunuch? Very simply, a eunuch is a castrated man. I’ll let you look up that word later if you need to. In Jesus’s day, this term was used more generally as well to refer to individuals who could not express their God-given sexuality.
Why does Jesus bring this up here? It seems strange for Jesus to suddenly start talking about eunuchs directly on the heels of a conversation about the permissibility of divorce. But Jesus was being asked about Deuteronomy chapter 24, verse 1, and (even though they didn’t have chapter marks back then), the previous chapter (23) contained a restriction against eunuchs entering the assembly of God. So on the same page of the Bible Jesus was intimately familiar with, in complete command of, these two subjects are related.
Note that Jesus brings up that there are different ways someone becomes a “eunuch.” They are either born that way (speaking of physical deformity from birth), made that way by someone else (in that day, typically done to servants of a pagan kings or done to pagan priests), or they chose to live as if they were one.
Jesus’s response to the question of marriage, divorce, and the place of eunuchs is an important component of a Christian response to the LGBT question. Jesus acknowledges that either through a circumstance of birth, something done to someone, or by choice, there are people who cannot express their God-given sexuality.
The other option
And there are people in our day who are in this situation. Our culture puts a lot of pressure on individuals, especially children, to figure out who they are attracted to. The answer that is never really allowed is: possibly no one! And especially if one is not attracted to a member of the opposite sex the message to them is not “ah, perhaps you are in this category of not expressing your sexuality” but rather “then you must be homosexual or something else.” The creation of the category of homosexuality and intersex near the turn of the nineteenth century has introduced so much confusion into what would otherwise be a pretty clear situation.
If you are not able to express your sexuality with a member of the opposite sex, either because you are not in the covenant bond of marriage to them, or because you are physically incapable of it, then your option is to pursue celibacy and focus your life on other pursuits. Jesus explicitly calls this out: “They make themselves this way for the sake of the kingdom.” Talking about the same thing Paul calls out in 1 Corinthians 7: He wishes we would all live this way to secure our undivided devotion to the Lord.
An action not an identity
In answer to the question of the Bible’s supposed silence on gender identity, or the argument that the word homosexuality never occurs in the Bible, apart from the fact that the term didn’t exist until about 130 years ago, is the fact that in the Bible, homosexuality is always spoken in terms of the action, not in terms of an identity.
There’s the culture’s lie: to get you to think of heterosexuality as an identity, and one option of several, rather than the designed condition, with others being active rebellion against the created order. This is why it “seems like” Jesus does not speak about homosexuality. He refers to the root realities. And he goes farther than just the action. He cuts to the internal disposition.
To a same-sex-attracted person, or a trans person, the internal reality does not feel like a choice made in rebellion. It feels like just “what is”. But Jesus here, in the face of the confusion of the Pharisees and even his disciples, calls us back to root realities, the created order, God’s good design which is created to bring blessing.
He reminds that:
- God creates and defines our gender – male and female, and that this is an objective physical, spiritual, and psychological reality
- God created and defines marriage, and joins a man and a woman together, or ordains that some remain single
- God created and defines sexual expression to be between that one man and one wife joined in a God-made covenant union
In doing so, and in commending that some choose to live without expressing their sexuality, for the sake of the kingdom, Jesus reminds us, importantly:
Sexual expression is not the principal function of humanity – devotion to Christ is
Sexual expression is not the primary foundation of our identity – devotion to Christ is
Sexual expression is not the pinnacle of the human experience – devotion to Christ is
Jesus has a place in the kingdom for Eunuchs. Do we?
The Good News
The good news is that no one, no matter how serious their sin, is beyond the hope of salvation by God’s grace, through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on their behalf. Countless Christians have come out of a life of sexual immorality of all types, including homosexuality, and have found the fulfillment they were seeking from sexual pleasure in the worship of their Creator.
We invite everyone who seeks joy and contentment and peace to find what they are looking for in Jesus! For it is found nowhere else. Hear the Apostle Paul’s words to his young protégé Titus, a reminder to the churches in his care, and to us.
1 Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people. 3 For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:1–7 (CSB)
Jesus goes on in Matthew 19 to extend this same invitation. Anyone who would come to him with the simple faith and trust of little children, he will welcome with arms wide open.
13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, “Leave the little children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 After placing his hands on them, he went on from there.Matthew 19:13–15 (CSB)
We can trust Jesus’s teaching in this area, and we can bank on His mercy toward all of us who have sinned sexually, and would turn away from that life to a life of following him! Notice that his followers tried to keep them away, but Jesus corrected them! I wonder if by our attitudes and confusion and misunderstanding we have kept those who would otherwise follow Jesus away from Him. Jesus has a place in His Kingdom for all refugees of the war on our sexuality. Anyone who seeks a full life of joy, contentment, mercy, love, and PEACE, it is found in Jesus!
17 Both the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let anyone who hears, say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.Revelation 22:17 (CSB)
People of God, let them come. Don’t forbid them. Those of you who are tired of the world’s confusing and destructive philosophies, come. Jesus will have you. And be patient with us Christians; we often aren’t very good pictures of our savior Jesus, but we’re trying.