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Bible boy_reading_bibleContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 18:35-43

Jesus Heals a Blind Beggar

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

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Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem for Passover and His final days before the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Recall that in the verses immediately preceding this miracle, our Lord told them a third time that He would be ‘delivered over to the Gentiles’ and killed, although He would rise again on the third day.

Jericho was on the way to Jerusalem. John MacArthur tells us it was a beautiful city with a warm climate and an abundance of beneficial plant life (emphases mine):

It was the city of palms, that’s what it was called, about a six hour walk and it’s straight up. And to go up to Jerusalem you had to go that way, that was the path. Well known, by the way, in New Testament times, south end of the Jordan Valley, six miles north of the Dead Sea. And in those days the city was fed by springs. There were springs all around it. And when they weren’t near to the city, the water was piped into reservoirs to use in the city and also used to irrigate and make the area productive and so it was a flourishing area for certain crops. It was filled with date palms, that’s how it got its name and fruit trees were everywhere. There was a plant called balsam which was a bush that produced the juice that was used for medicinal applications and found only there. The climate was warm in the winter and really hot in the summer, some of you know. Josephus says if you’re going to live in Jericho, you only need linen clothes because even when there’s snow fifteen miles up in Jerusalem, it can be very warm in Jericho. Mark tells us that in Jerusalem during Passion Week on the Mount of Olives, Mark says in Mark 11:13, it was not yet the season for figs. But it would have been the season for figs down in Jericho, so they would have been ripening everywhere on those palms. Almonds, by the way, also grew there and flourished there as well as rose plants which are very old in the history of the world, by the way, making it a lovely place, a kind of an agricultural garden. In fact, it was such a magnificent place with the Dead Sea nearby that Marc Antony gave the city to Cleopatra. That’s a pretty good gift, according to Josephus. It was also the place that Herod loved, so much he built a fortress there, he built a palace there and he went there to die.

In order to better understand the last of Jesus’s healing miracles, it is useful to read the other two accounts. I have highlighted differences between them and Luke’s:

Mark 10:46-52

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Matthew 20:29-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[e] have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

Jews of the ancient world considered the blind and those afflicted with other disabilities to be the lowest of the low. Even the able-bodied lowlife ranked higher in social status. This was because they considered disability to be a curse from God for sin, either parental or individual. For that reason, even the parents of such children disowned them and wanted them out of the house — permanently. The disabled had no choice but live on the streets depending on charity from passersby.

This belief in God’s judgment on the disabled crops up in the first verses of John 9. Jesus explains that there is no curse, rather God’s sovereignty manifested:

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

As the account of the miracle opens, Luke says Jesus and the crowd are nearing Jericho (verse 35). Mark’s version agrees. MacArthur says that it does not matter that Matthew’s has them leaving; the point is that all agree this took place in the outskirts of Jericho.

The blind man could only hear the roar of the crowd and asked what was going on (verse 36). The people tell him that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by (verse 37). It is significant that ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ translates in the blind man’s mind as ‘Jesus, Son of David’ (verse 38). This indicates that he believes that Jesus is the Messiah, as ‘Son of David’ is the appellation given Him in the Old Testament. It is apparent that God’s grace and the Holy Spirit were at work, giving him faith.

We note the disdain of the crowd towards the blind man (verse 39) and many of us are no doubt silently applauding his intensity in continuing to call out to our Lord. MacArthur translates the verbs the Gospel accounts use:

“called out,” bawao (??), to literally call out loud, Matthew uses krazo which means to scream. This verb, krazo, used by Matthew, is used of the insane of epileptics, of demon-possessed people and women in childbirth in the Bible. We’re talking about really yelling…very strong word.

Matthew Henry draws a lesson from this for us today with regard to determined fervency in prayer:

Those who are in good earnest for Christ’s favours and blessings will not be put by from the pursuit of them, though they meet with opposition and rebuke … Those who would speed in prayer must be importunate in prayer. This history, in the close of the chapter, intimates the same thing with the parable in the beginning of the chapter, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.

Hearing the man’s cries — or screams — Jesus asks for him to approach (verse 40). Note that Mark’s account shows a slight change of mind in the crowd as they tell Bartimaeus: ‘Take heart …’ Mark also records the man as throwing off his cloak — no doubt it doubled as a blanket at night — and springing up to go to Jesus.

The man asks for his sight to be recovered (verse 41). From this we deduce that he had it at one point then lost this faculty at some point during his life. In Matthew’s account involving two men, they ask that their eyes be opened. We can apply this request to ourselves in a spiritual way: Lord, open our eyes that we may have more faith via more grace.

Jesus responds by saying to Luke’s blind man that his sight is recovered; his faith has made him well (verse 42). He does not add, as is recorded after some miracles, ‘Go and sin no more’. This is another indication that God has granted him faith.

Verse 43 tells us that the man glorifies God in gratitude, as does the crowd. Henry has this to say:

Note, We must give praise to God for his mercies to others as well as for mercies to ourselves.

Also of note, instead of going home, the man follows Jesus. We do not know if he stayed on past our Lord’s Passion, but it seems he might have, if only because Mark names him and his father. This could have been Mark’s saying, ‘And this is Bartimaeus’s story of faith and healing!’ I also like that Matthew includes Bartimaeus’s friend in the story and that, he, too, followed our Lord.

Once again, and for the final time, we see His infinite mercy and healing at work. This is more than an account from His ministry. We should feel free to pray to Jesus for whatever we need in life. He does hear our prayers and, even if He does not respond exactly the way we wish, He will grant us a better blessing and solution to our problems.

MacArthur notes the difference between the crowd and the blind man. He asks if we consider ourselves ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ people or ‘Jesus, Son of David’ people. Many today, even regular churchgoers, are ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ types.

Are you lining the church aisles here, or are you just sitting along the edge as Jesus passes by Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday in all His glory and His majesty and you see His miracle power and you hear His profound teaching and you think it’s nice and it’s good and it’s interesting and it might be compelling? And maybe you rise to sing the hymn and to celebrate. But when it comes down to reality, you’re really on the side of the crucifiers because you will not give Him your life. Is that your people? Or are the two blind guys your people? Are those your people? Do you identify with people who threw off everything, whether all it was was a cloak or whether it was all that the world had to offer, whether it was riches incalculable? Do you understand the self-denial, the taking up of the cross, the following Jesus? Are you one of the followers and one of the worshipers? Are the blind guys your people? This is a most important thing you’ll ever determine. Are you going to be with the many or the few? Who are your people?

I agree in him in his hope that we would align ourselves with the blind man of faith.

Next time: Luke 19:11-19

Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 18:31-34

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

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Jesus had been telling His Apostles that His death was imminent. Luke 17 records Him saying:

25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Luke 9 contains His second fortelling of suffering and death:

44“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”

However, the Apostles did not understand what He was saying. Luke 9 says that they were too afraid to ask Him for an explanation.

Today’s reading — His third fortelling of His own death — has its parallel in Mark 10:32-34.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells them that Scripture will be fulfilled (verse 31). The King James Version has more impact; the word ‘behold’ is used instead of ‘see’. ‘Behold’ is an emphatic word by which Jesus wanted to impress upon the Apostles that the end of His ministry was near. We might say today, ‘Look here’ or ‘See here’ to imply that the listener should pay close attention.

Jesus was making it clear what would occur (verses 32, 33). He also stated that He would rise from the dead on the third day.

Once again, the Apostles understood none of it (verse 34). This is because the Jewish understanding was that the Messiah would vanquish their enemies. Their understanding was a temporal, not a spiritual, one.

The Jews ignored biblical prophecies that the Messiah would suffer and die at the hands of men. Matthew Henry explains with a warning for us (emphases in bold mine):

… they had read the Old Testament many a time, but they could never see any thing in it that would be accomplished in the disgrace and death of this Messiah. They were so intent upon those prophecies that spoke of his glory that they overlooked those that spoke of his sufferings, which the scribes and doctors of the law should have directed them to take notice of, and should have brought into their creeds and catechisms, as well as the other but they did not suit their scheme, and therefore were laid aside. Note, Therefore it is that people run into mistakes, because they read their Bibles by the halves, and are as partial in the prophets as they are in the law. They are only for the smooth things, Isaiah 30:10.

We make the same mistakes today, especially by speaking of an all-embracing Jesus — as if He never warned us that certain sins would condemn us eternally if we do not repent in this life.

As for the state of the Church, Henry adds:

Thus now we are too apt, in reading the prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled, to have our expectations raised of the glorious state of the church in the latter days. But we overlook its wilderness sackcloth state, and are willing to fancy that is over, and nothing is reserved for us but the halcyon days and then, when tribulation and persecution arise, we do not understand it, neither know we the things that are done, though we are told as plainly as can be that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.

Henry lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. His statement was true in his time and still true in ours.

Returning to Jesus’s imminent suffering and crucifixion, it is essential to bear in mind two things: first, He knew all along what would happen to Him and, secondly, the Old Testament points to this in several places.

John MacArthur gives us some of the Old Testament prophecies and references to the Messiah’s suffering. These include Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53:

Psalm 22

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet[b]
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men;
    a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

MacArthur describes in detail what our Lord truly suffered. Excerpts of his sermon follow:

the first thing we could look at in considering the range of His suffering would be disloyalty. He was betrayed. He was betrayed at the most intimate level. He was betrayed by one of His own in whom He had invested His life.

The second category that we could even consider is the suffering of rejection. Certainly betrayal is included in rejection, but it’s the more overt kind of thing that I’m talking about. He was, according to Mark 10:33, delivered to the chief priests and scribes. And they constituted the Sanhedrin, the court of Israel, and they basically were the ones who made the decision for the nation and their decision was to reject Jesus. They put Him on trial. They trumped up false charges.

There’s a third component, I think, in the agony that bursts out in the garden and that’s humiliation … It all led to that. I think when He got to the garden it was the disloyalty, the rejection, the humiliation that He was suffering as the exalted second member of the Trinity that was more than His human body could bear, and that’s why He sweat, as it were, great drops of blood. That’s why He agonized in the garden. And that’s why He said, “Father, if there’s any way that this can pass from Me, please let it.” Already the suffering was beyond comprehension. But the humiliation went beyond that and I think you would have to put in the category of humiliation verse 32, that He will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon and scourged. Scourged, maybe, we’ll leave out. Mocked, mistreated, spit upon, designed purposely to humiliate, purposely to belittle, demean.

That leads to a fifth feature in the proportion of His sufferings, let’s just call it injury … Scourged and ultimately killed. His scourging we’re familiar with because we understand the history of scourging. We know what it was. They made a whip with many thongs, some say three, some say as many as seven, some say more than that. At the end of those thongs were bits of glass, bone, rock, even metal used to lacerate, rip and tear and shred down to the veins, the internal organs. Psalm 22 describes this. Isaiah 53 describes this. Even crucifixion is described in Zechariah 12:10, the one who will be pierced. It was a common Jewish punishment. They were to give 40 lashes. They gave 39 because they didn’t want to overstep the law, so they gave three sets of 13 moving around the body the person hanging, suspended at a pole, so that his body was taut. And the lashes were given by two men so that they weren’t diminished in ferocity and strength until his entrails and his organs would appear. Many people died. Little wonder that Simon had to carry His cross.

A believer will be ever mindful of those facts.

However, as we know, there are many who discount our Lord’s intense, immense suffering: those who deny His resurrection or say He was unsure He would die.

MacArthur tells us that this falsehood began during the German Enlightenment:

One of the heroes of the German critics and liberal scholarship … said, “We simply do not know what Jesus thought about His death.” Well we do not know if we don’t believe the Bible. He said, “Possibly He broke down completely in His faith, His faith being shattered, He was left to cry out with a loud moan and die.” That’s the liberal line and it’s generated children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in a liberal scholarship that keeps espousing. Another one of the Germans, Kaspar(??) said, “He knew He might die, He knew because of the intense opposition He generated that He could end up with the same bloody fate as His friend, John the Baptist, but He certainly wouldn’t have known any specifics.” Well how did he know this? Well this passage is a post-Easter gloss…this is a post-resurrection edition. It is not historical, it was never spoken by Jesus because that would confirm His deity and we can’t let that happen. And so by their own self-deception, they damn themselves.

Jesus knew every single element about the conspiracy, every element carried out by Jews and Gentiles. He knew every feature of His cross and resurrection. They were all precisely in the plan from eternity past.

The Bible — in both the Old and New Testaments — tells us all we need to know about our Lord’s life and death. May we read it thoroughly and, with God’s grace, understand and believe what it says.

Next time: Luke 18:35-43

Bible ancient-futurenetContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 18:24-30

24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” 29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers[a] or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”

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Today’s reading is a continuation of last week’s story of the young ruler, a synagogue leader who was unwilling to give up all he had to follow Christ. This man would also have been a Pharisee, although not one of the mocking types haranguing Him.

What follows are the corresponding verses in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels which help to bring a fuller understanding of the story (emphases mine):

Matthew 19:23-30

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have? 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world,[a] when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold[b] and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Mark 10:23-31

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is[a] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,[b] “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

The young ruler left, downcast and sad. He was unable to leave behind his trusteeship of his estate and synagogue leadership. As I explained last week, his congregation chose him as their leader because the Jews connected wealth with divine blessings. If you pleased God, He blessed you materially, they believed. Therefore, they also saw him as having the best morals, because, otherwise, God would not have blessed him so greatly with riches, land and livestock.

Consequently, the man was unable to turn away from this manmade adulation, sell everything for the benefit of the poor and follow our Lord. His family would have disowned him and his congregation would have been excommunicated him — very serious.

This is why Jesus said that it is so difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (verse 23). There’s too much at stake for them in this world. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

If this ruler had had but as little of the world as Peter, and James, and John had, in all probability he would have left it, to follow Christ, as they did but, having a great estate, it had a great influence upon him, and he chose rather to take his leave of Christ than to lay himself under an obligation to dispose of his estate in charitable uses.

Jesus then uses a saying from the ancient world to describe this difficulty: the ease by which a camel could pass through a needle (verse 26). This logistical impossibility has more of a chance of succeeding than a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven.

MacArthur explains the history of the saying:

This is proverbial, by the way, and probably was a relatively common statement. We have statements like it that are found in the Talmud. One rabbi named Nowmonie(???), he uses an elephant and when talking about something that is impossible says, “It would be easier to put an elephant through the eye of a needle,” an elephant being the largest animal in Mesopotamia. In Israel the largest animal was a camel. It was a way to express something that couldn’t happen. And it was hyperbole. It was vast exaggeration.

He also discounts the alternative explanations:

But some people have struggled with that and they’ve said, “Well wait a minute, then you’re saying it’s impossible to be saved. How can you say it’s impossible for a rich person to be saved? I know a few rich people that are saved. How can it be? So maybe it means something else.” So even … the early fathers, Origen, and Cyril of Alexandria many years ago, maybe the fifth century said, “Kamelos should be kamilos,” and some scribe wrote down kamelos, camel, instead of kamilos, cord. And he was really saying cord meaning a thread and it’s easier to thread a needle than to get a rich man into heaven. It takes a little work and a little effort but it can be done.

No, that can’t be right because we have the proverbial usage of an elephant through the eye of a needle as a way in the Middle East in ancient times to express something that was absolutely impossible. And they were saying it because it was impossible. Others have suggested it’s talking about a Needle Gate, that in the side of the city wall in Jerusalem there’s a little tiny needle gate, they call it a needle gate because it’s small and people used to stuff their camels through the needle gate. Now you tell me why anybody would stuff his camel through a needle gate when he could walk about ten yards to the big gate and walk the thing through? And there is no needle gate, no one’s ever found a needle gate anywhere in the history of the walls of Jerusalem.

We see in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts that the disciples were ‘astonished’ and ‘amazed’ at this statement. This is because of the ancient Jewish link of blessings with wealth. Therefore, it is natural that the disciples ask (verse 26) who, then — implying ‘if not rich people’ — can be saved?

Jesus clarifies personal regeneration and salvation in verse 27: essentially, what man is incapable of accomplishing, God can. The young ruler could not be saved through works righteousness. Only God’s grace granting him faith could bring him to eternal life. The same is true for us, whatever our circumstances.

Peter then points out that he and the disciples have left everything behind to follow Jesus (verse 28). Jesus affirms that anyone who leaves behind family or possessions — encumbrances — to follow Him will receive not only many blessings in this life but are assured of eternal life in heaven (verses 29, 30).

We would do well to note Mark 10:30, which adds ‘persecutions’ to the list of temporal blessings. Christianity does not guarantee a trouble-free life. However, should we be persecuted, we will be given divine grace and fortitude to withstand our trials, even death.

Then we have Mark 10:31, the famous ‘many who are first will be last, and the last first’. God will exalt the lowly holy among us in the next life. Many others, who were exalted in this life, will stand behind them.

This raises a question. Do we follow the instructions of preachers who tell us to sell our possessions and live in penury? No. MacArthur explains Jesus’s words in this regard:

Jesus doesn’t ask everybody to do that. He doesn’t ask most people to do that. But He asks everybody to be willing to do that.

There is a difference.

It would also be erroneous to think that all rich people are fiends and all poor people are saints. We are all sinners and it does none of us any good to think we are better than others.

Next time: Luke 18:31-34

bible-wornContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons cited below).

Luke 18:18-23

The Rich Ruler

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

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From the latter half of Luke 17 through much of Luke 18, our Lord discusses what must happen to Him, His coming again and the kingdom of God.

Three passages from Luke 17 and 18 — excluded from the Lectionary but covered here — are as follows:

Luke 17:20-27 – God’s kingdom, Jesus’s death, the future, false teachers, Noah, carnality, sin

Luke 17:28-37 – Jesus, Sodom, Second Coming, death, salvation, condemnation, materialism, too much love of temporal life as in the wife of Lot

Luke 18:15-17 – Jesus, children, kingdom of God

Today’s verses concern the young ruler. It is covered in the other two Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark. The Lectionary uses Mark’s account.

These accounts are as follows. I have highlighted differences to Luke’s account in bold:

Matthew 19:16-22

The Rich Young Man

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack? 21 Jesus said to him, If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Mark 10:17-22

The Rich Young Man

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The New Testament refers to this person as the Rich Young Man. Only Luke’s account refers to him as ‘a ruler’ (verse 18). What does this mean? John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

That would…I don’t know…[make him]24 to 25 to 40 young by their standards. Luke tells us also here he was a ruler, arche…arche, likely the ruler of a synagogue. That same term is used in Matthew 9:18 to refer to that. So here is a guy who is young and he is really influential. You might think that it was his money that made him influential, that might play a role in it because he was very, very rich, extremely rich, verse 23 says. But the only way you could ever be the ruler in a synagogue would be if you were THE most spiritually, morally and religiously impressive man in the synagogue. And that was an often in many cases, often connected to your wealth because if you could give you could purchase more from God. There was that belief that the more money you gave, the more blessing you purchased from God. So being rich and being blessed by God were sort of synonymous, so they saw the man as moral, spiritual, religious, blessed by God, that’s why he was wealthy, and he had achieved prestige, prominence, power, authority, respect and he was elevated to be the ruler in the synagogue in a very legalistic society which would only put a person in that position who in the eyes of everybody had attained a higher level of spirituality than they.

MacArthur says in another sermon that, like St Paul, this ruler was also a member of the Pharisees.

Note that Mark’s account has the man running up and kneeling before Jesus. Clearly, he was anxious about his spiritual life. It is unlikely he approached Jesus out of curiosity or to mock Him, as his fellow Pharisees did.

Jesus takes issue with the way the ruler addresses Him: only God alone is good (verse 19). Matthew’s account says the man asked about the ‘good deed’ he must do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus mentions several of the Ten Commandments (verse 20). The young ruler says that he has kept all of these from his youth (verse 21). Matthew Henry finds this response typical of the Pharisees:

He knows no more evil of himself than the Pharisee did, Luke 18:11. He boasts that he began early in a course of virtue, that he had continued in it to this day, and that he had not in any instance transgressed. Had he been acquainted with the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law, and with the workings of his own heart,–had he been but Christ’s disciples awhile, and learned of him, he would have said quite the contrary:All these have I broken from my youth up, in thought, word, and deed.”

MacArthur gives the ruler the benefit of the doubt:

Now I think he really believed that he had done that. I don’t think he’s saying, “I have never told a lie. I have never in my entire life dishonored my father or my mother. I have never done anything wrong.” I don’t think he’s saying that. He may not have committed adultery. He may not have murdered. It’s likely that he probably has taken something in his life, stolen something that didn’t belong to him. But I think in the general flow of his life he is saying, “I really have from my youth been at this a long time, this law keeping, I really have worked hard at keeping the Law. I am up to my proverbial neck in this thing and I always have been.”

Little does the ruler know what awaits in Jesus’s response to that. This is what makes following our Lord particularly difficult. He will ask us to make sacrifices which do cut to the quick. In this man’s case, it is to sell his possessions, give them to the poor, leave his family and follow Him (verse 22).

Perhaps it was Jesus’s way of saying, ‘If you are that perfect now, then, spiritually, you can afford to take this next and ultimate step which really will guarantee you eternal life.’

However, the ruler was saddened by His response (verse 23). Matthew and Mark tell us that ‘he went away sorrowful’.

It is possible that the ruler felt he had a great responsibility to his family and to his synagogue congregation. He might have feared their reaction which would have been great disappointment or, perhaps, anger. In any event, it would have been rejection. He would have gone from hero to zero.

MacArthur tells us:

Number one, that would divest you of everything you had. And number two, that would really make your family mad. Right? Whoa… You’ve got to understand that wealth in those days was held by families and the extremely wealthy were wealthy in land and animals and they were wealthy in crops. And that was a family estate and no doubt that estate had developed by being passed down generation from generation to generation to generation. This young man during his life is the trustee of this great family’s wealth. His responsibility is to increase that family wealth and pass it on for the distribution for the next generation. And as a good son who always honored his father and mother by his own confession, he would have had great respect for his parents, great respect for what his parents had passed on to him, great sense of responsibility for being a steward of that, not wanting to steal it, that is to by stealing it to embezzle or diminish it, by not wanting to lie or operate on deceptive basis at all so as to catch himself in traps and diminish his riches, as often happens of people who operate in a dishonest way. He tried to be an honest guy with this. He tried to be honorable in his family. And Jesus is telling him you must right now divest yourself of all of this and give it all to strangers. This would end any relationship he had with his family, right? They would be…they would be incredulous, first of all, they would be irate, secondly, they would disown him.

All this goes back to our Lord’s statements that His followers had to ‘hate’ their families in order to follow Him. In the Hebrew understanding, that doesn’t mean ‘detest’  but to ‘prefer less’. Therefore, our love of Jesus must supercede that of our families and possessions.

In other words, we must lose our former lives to find eternal life with Him.

It isn’t easy.

And, sometimes, in following Him, we find we have personal or material attachments we never thought we had. Those have to go.

This points to the purpose of the Law contained in the Ten Commandments.

The ruler felt exalted by his following the Law. After all, his family put him in charge of the estate. His synagogue elected or appointed him their spiritual leader. All this was manmade.

However, Jesus was telling the ruler that the Law should convict his sinful heart. He was asking him to recognise his brokenness. The Law should be a mirror through which we see our many faults and transgressions and seek divine help.

This is where grace and faith enter the picture. We become dependent on God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to guide us not in the ways of the world but along the path to eternal life.

By contrast, recall how easily — and immediately — the Apostles followed our Lord when called.

Unlike Matthew with his comfortable living as a tax collector and Peter with a wife and family, the ruler was unable to walk away from his relatives and estate to receive even more blessings. Next week’s post continues the story in this context.

The first part of Mark 10:21 is worth noting:

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him

Every time I read this passage, I have hoped for the ruler’s eventual salvation. I would like to think that, in time, he did what our Lord asked and truly followed Him.

Next time: Luke 18:24-30

The Hemet (California) Central Church of Christ has a beautiful site called The True Light!

I am privileged to have The True Light‘s author as one of my readers.

Recently, the site published an outstanding prayer to be used in times of crisis. It includes petitions not only for our own households but for the world at large. It is inspired and could be used by any church or home in praying for ourselves and the world.

Please take a few minutes to read the prayer in full.

A brief excerpt follows:

Dear Father, we ask for comfort and peace in both the world and in our personal lives. We ask for the ability to stand firm in our faith, even when persecution may be rising up and testing us. For no matter what happens to us on this earth, we must not lose our faith. For heaven is our home and we live in this hope each day.

Guide our leaders, Lord God of all, that they may see they have turned away from you. For despite all of their efforts at peace and protection, regardless of whatever means of co-operation they may seek from and among other leaders, nothing will be accomplished unless you are at the very center of the process!

We end this prayer now with the note of hope which you have given us in the book of Hebrews, when you said you will never leave us, nor forsake us. Through everything in life, we have the eternal kingdom of heaven as our promise. Let us keep our hearts and minds on Godly things and look ever forward to the time of Christ’s coming!

This must be an outstanding church with an outstanding congregation.

I did tell the site’s author that if every church had a site such as this, there would be many more faithful Christians in the world.

Every post of theirs is a gem and one to treasure. I have added The True Light! to my blogroll and hope that you find it equally edifying. May God bless the site’s author and the Hemet Central Church of Christ’s ministers in their work for His great glory.

Bible treehuggercomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons cited below).

Luke 18:15-17

Let the Children Come to Me

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

——————————————————————————————

This passage might look familiar to my longstanding readers. I covered Mark’s version of it in 2012: Mark 10:13-16.

That post will help grieving parents who wonder what happens to their babies that die before they are baptised. John MacArthur and Matthew Henry offer several analyses as to why they are part of the kingdom of God.

Today’s passage reinforces that reassuring message.

MacArthur says that a Jesus was addressing a large crowd. Some parents, moved by what they had seen and heard of Him, began bringing their young children to Him for a blessing (verse 15). However, the disciples had words with the parents. No doubt this might occur in some Christian circumstances today for the usual reasons: don’t bother our teacher with children; people are waiting to hear him speak; stop hindering proceedings.

MacArthur says the disciples acted within Jewish traditions. Although children were brought to their synagogues for blessings and certain high day and holiday prayers were said for children, by and large, teaching was seen as being for those who had reached the age of reason.

MacArthur explains:

Even though the synagogue they had training for children, there were certain boundaries for children. And the adult world of theological discussion about the Kingdom of God was not an appropriate place, nor in their view was it appropriate for Jesus to stop what He was doing to pay attention to these little ones who had capacity to understand or to believe. So they strongly protested the parents’ action.

However, Jesus tells the disciples to allow the children to approach Him because, they too, are part of the kingdom of God (verse 16). Both MacArthur and Henry say that they ranged in age from infants to toddlers. Whereas Matthew and Mark use the word paideia (children) in their accounts, Luke the physician refers to them as brephos, children who were receiving their mothers’ milk. MacArthur says that mothers nursed their children for longer in that era, so some would have been two or three years old.

In Mark’s account, Jesus was indignant. MacArthur says that Luke’s account in the original Greek conveys the same strength with regard to the word ‘called':

Literally in the Greek called is summoned them, a sort of official word. He gave them a summons.

Henry’s commentary explains our Lord’s welcome to children:

The promise is to us, and to our seed and therefore he that has the dispensing of promised blessings will bid them welcome to him with us.

MacArthur says that Jesus’s welcome was unique (emphases mine):

This is the only time our Lord ever spoke blessing on non-believers, only time. It therefore puts them in a very unique category…very unique category. Jesus never pronounces blessing on people outside His Kingdom because there is no blessing for them. And certainly He is not obligated to bless them. But here it is right to bless them, it is wrong to prevent them from being blessed and He does bless them. And so in verse 16 He called for them saying, “Permit the children to come to Me and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Permit the children…literally, let them come…let them come. That’s the positive, aphiemi, let them come. Then the negative, “Don’t ever forbid them,” present tense. Let them come now and don’t ever forbid them ...

Nothing is said about the parents faith. Nothing is said about the parents having circumcised the children so that they were then covenant children. Nothing is said about any covenant at all, parental covenant, national covenant. Nothing is said about baptism. There are no caveats. There are no qualifications. The simple statement is the Kingdom of God belongs to these in this category…babies and children. Jesus uses the word children. They brought babies and He expanded the truth to encompass children. Children would simply be the category of those who are unable to believe savingly. They have not reached the condition of personal accountability. Not an age, it’s a condition and it varies from child to child. They belong to the Kingdom and the Kingdom belongs to them because they’re babies. This is wondrous truth. This is rich truth.

Now if Jesus ever wanted to teach covenantal inclusion in the Kingdom, this would have been the place to put it. If He had said, “The Kingdom of God belongs to all the children of faithful Jews who are part of the covenant,” or if He wanted to say, “The Kingdom of God belongs to all circumcised children who have manifest the sign of the covenant,” or if He wanted to say, “All children who are baptized,” or if He wanted to say, “All children who are not Gentiles,” or if He wanted to say, “All children of parents who are faithful to their covenant to God, all children of those who know God,” but there are no such exceptions, or limitations. Babies because they’re babies, children because they’re children belong to the Kingdom and the Kingdom belongs to them.

Therefore, although they are born with Original Sin, they are too innocent to understand what that is. Condemnation to hell would be unjust.

MacArthur tells us that even Calvinists believe this:

Listen to what Calvin said. “Those little children have not yet any understanding to desire His blessing. But when they are presented to Him, He gently and kindly receives them and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing. It would be cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christ those whom He held in His bosom and to shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them at all.”

B.B. Warfield, the Princeton theologian said this … if death in infancy does depend on God’s providence…and it does…it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation. This is but to say that they are unconditionally predestinated to salvation from the foundation of the world,” end quote. Warfield says if babies die, they were elect…they were elect.

This raises an important theological point with regard to Arminianism (free will semi-Pelagianism). MacArthur paraphrases what Warfield went on to say:

If only a single infant dying, a single infant dying is saved, the whole Arminian principle is traversed … any infant that is saved without any works. If all infants dying such as…such are saved, not only the majority of the saved, but doubtless the majority of the human race have entered into heaven by a non-Arminian pathway.

It is important to note that this is a special dispensation for those who are too young — or mentally disabled — to understand.

However, that is no reason to leave it there. Faithful, conscientious, loving parents will want to bring their offspring up to embrace the Gospel message. MacArthur gives them this advice:

So what do you do as a parent to maximize those years to bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Let me just make three suggestions. Teach them … They have limited knowledge, we’ve heard that. They don’t know right from wrong, good from evil. Teach them. They have limited reasoning power. They have virtually no discretion. They must be taught … Teach them the Word of God. Put them in an environment where others are teaching them the Word of God.

Secondly, model the truth that you hold them to. It doesn’t do any good to tell them it’s good for them if it’s not for you. That kind of hypocrisy is counter-productive totally. You tell them this is the truth and then you show them how important it is by living it. You must be aware absolutely the personal value of truth for your own sake, not just for the sake of your children. You can’t expect your children to really believe something is right if you don’t demonstrate that same conviction. Their perceptive spirits will see through your hypocrisy when you’re doing something to engineer or manipulate them to respond in a certain way instead of authentic parenting, instead of authentic godly living according to the truth that allows your children to see the freedom and the joy and the blessing that comes when you walk in God’s truth. You pass the truth on in teaching and you live it.

And then thirdly, let me suggest that you love your children. What do I mean by that? Let them know your heart is on them. Be affectionate, tender, compassionate, sensitive, sacrificial, generous. Weep with them, laugh with them, sacrifice for them. Protect them from all the avenues of harm that can come into their lives. Don’t provoke them. Don’t exasperate them. Be utterly unselfish. Serve your children. Show them by your actions that the things that matter to them matter to you and sometimes the things that matter to them matter more to you than the things that are important in your world. Reward them when they do well. Make your home a joyful place. Do fun things with them. Love them.

Jesus concludes by pointing out that those who do not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not share it (verse 17).

What does this mean?

It’s that same innocent pleasure toddlers show when we present them with a treat — a toy or sweets. Their faces light up instantly. They express their thanks with a beaming smile.

Our Lord says that we, too, are called — perhaps summoned — to enjoy the promise of salvation in the same way, as Henry says:

with humility and thankfulness, not pretending to merit them as the Pharisee did …

May we express this same delight every day of our lives.

Next time: Luke 18:18-23

First, my thanks go to James Higham for bringing the following news story to our attention. He also sent me the link to yesterday’s post on the Bishop of London.

Most of us know that the Church of England has been in deep trouble for decades. The less our clergy believe, the emptier our Anglican churches become.

As every sheep follows his shepherd, the English instinctively know that what they hear from many of our pulpits does not come from dyed-in-the-wool Christians. Hence, they flee, rightly abandoning aberrant preaching.

Although we do not have eyes into the soul of our clergy, some really do not inspire confidence that they are men and women of profound, unshakeable faith.

The Guardian recently carried a report of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s — Justin Welby’s — interview with Lucy Tegg of BBC Bristol. I’ve read the article several times and am deeply disappointed with — although not totally unsurprised by — what he said. (Incidentally, this is the same man who in July 2014 told the paper we are ‘too hysterical’ about radical Islam and again mentioned the usual tiny minority — ‘extraordinarily small’ — engaging in it.)

If we are going to persuade people to follow Christ, then, may we never miss an opportunity to do so.

The Archbishop told Ms Tegg that he sometimes doubts — his word — if God ‘is there’. Welby then mentioned Psalm 88 as being one of doubt. Actually, it expresses a feeling of abandonment.

Perhaps that is what Welby meant to say. Perhaps not.

Before going to Let us look at definitions of the two words from the Collins English Dictionary (emphasis in the original below):

doubt:

  1. uncertainty about the truth, fact, or existence of something (esp in the phrases in doubt, without doubt, beyond a shadow of doubt, etc)
  2. (often plural) lack of belief in or conviction about something   ⇒ all his doubts about the project disappeared
  3. an unresolved difficulty, point, etc
  4. (philosophy) the methodical device, esp in the philosophy of Descartes, of identifying certain knowledge as the residue after rejecting any proposition which might, however improbably, be false
  5. (obsolete) fear;

abandonment:

  1. desertion, leaving behind   ⇒ her father’s complete abandonment of her   ⇒ his abandonment by his mother   ⇒ Childhood experiences can leave behind intense feelings of anger or abandonment.
  2. cessation, discontinuation   ⇒ Constant rain forced the abandonment of the next day’s competitions.
  3. giving up, relinquishment   ⇒ the government’s abandonment of the policy

Psalm 88 was written by Heman and is a song of the Sons of Korah. The Sons of Korah wrote laments which express abandonment but then move towards hope and redemption. The first set encompasses Psalms 42 to 49. The next group of Sons of Korah songs are Psalms 84, 85 and 87. Nathan Albright has excellent explanations of the Sons of Korah psalms.

He also has a marvellous commentary on Psalm 88, which I would commend to the Archbishop and to all my readers, especially those who are suffering from depression and feeling very alone. It says, in part (emphases mine below):

In Psalm 88:10-12, Heman asks a series of (seemingly) rhetorical questions about God working wonders for the deadThough the questions appear to presume a negative answer within the psalm itself (given its grim and deeply frustrated mood), the whole context of the Bible provides a positive answer to these six questions.  God will work wonders for the dead (Ezekiel 37, I Corinthians 15).  The dead will arise and praise God (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  The lovingkindness of God will be declared in the Grave (Revelation 20:11-13).  The faithfulness of God will be declared in the place of destruction (Isaiah 58:12, 61:4).  The wonders of God will be known in the dark.  The righteousness of God will be known in the land of forgetfullness.  This is not only true for death and literal ruins, but also figurative ruins.  As our body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), the restoration of our spirits and bodies, our thoughts and our emotions, is itself rebuilding the ruins.  It is not only waste places and destroyed towns and cities, but also shattered lives, broken hearts, and wounded souls that need to be healed.  Heman is far from alone in his plight, or his anguished longings to be made whole once again (or perhaps for the first time).

It would have been salutary if the Archbishop had mentioned some of these aspects of Psalm 88 in light of the fact he took the time to specify it in his interview.

Fair enough, he did say this:

It is not about feelings, it is about the fact that God is faithful and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful when we are not.

He then went on to discuss his faith in Jesus Christ:

Asked what he did when life got challenging, Welby said: “I keep going and call to Jesus to help me, and he picks me up.”

For many of us, our belief in Christ makes us ever more convinced that God is everywhere and with each one of us every day, regardless of whether we choose to acknowledge it. Why would this not be true for the Archbishop?

The Gospels record Jesus telling His audiences that horrible things will happen in the world before His coming again in glory: Matthew 24:1-36 and Mark 13:3-13.

Perhaps the Archbishop could have mentioned those passages, because many secularists ask the same question: why do so many bad things happen and why doesn’t God put an end to them?

Perhaps the Archbishop thought that his more encouraging words about his own personal faith would make the headlines. Sadly not.

It would have been better for him to have said that, like anyone else, he sometimes feels abandoned but that, even during those times, he believes that God will work everything to His divine plan and for a divine purpose.

If we are evangelising for Christ, let us measure our words carefully and put forward a positive, biblical case for Him, the Church and God the Father of us all.

It is unfortunate that senior Anglican clergy express themselves every bit as poorly as senior Roman Catholic clergy have been since John Paul II’s days.

What are they saying when giving interviews or writing books? Their language is impenetrable. It’s easier to understand French intellectuals than it is these men.

Gentlemen, we are supposed to be winning souls for Christ, not dissuading them.

My thanks to James Higham for alerting me to two Anglican news stories. This is one of them. The second appears in tomorrow’s post.

On Sunday, September 21, 2014, the Independent carried the Bishop of London’s — Richard Chartres’s (pron. ‘Charters’) — perspective on Christianity, taken from Jules Evans’s interview with him on the Philosophy for Life website.

Chartres’s views are such a mixed bag, it’s hard to know where to start or end — or interpret their meaning with any confidence. Some make sense, others do not.

First, rightly, the bishop tells Evans that religious extremism is a dangerous thing indeed:

The great Bishop Butler says to John Wesley: ‘pretending to special revelations of the Holy Ghost[,] Mr Wesley[,] is a very horrid thing. It’s a very horrid thing indeed.’ And it is indeed a very horrid thing.

Then Chartres immediately adds this statement:

Unless it’s held firmly within a community of interpretation, with a shared communal experience of discerning between evil spirits and good spirits, then it’s very dangerous.

Hmm. That will confuse a lot of people, especially those in staunchly experiential charismatic churches (e.g. the snake-handling ones) and those congregations which drum you out if you don’t start speaking in tongues. Both would readily assert that they are on the same page with discernment.

Meanwhile, did Luther or Calvin put forward enthusiastic experiences in their churches? No, they did not. In fact, those Lutheran and Reformed denominations which stay true to their founders’ respective doctrines advise against such religious experiences.

Chartres then goes into an exploration of enthusiasm and mysticism during the Middle Ages — a useful and interesting piece of Church history. No wonder the Reformers didn’t embrace it! More importantly, however, they knew it was unbiblical.

Even the Catholic Church was sceptical of mysticism. Sadly, Chartres says this was because of:

rigid control, bureaucratic church authority, and the over-definition of mystery in the interest of polemics.

Dear me. What does the last phrase in that sentence even mean? He’s probably saying that the Catholic hierarchy just wanted to pick an argument. No, they also saw that Christianity should have sense and balance, because where we have mysticism or unusual experiences, there is often a darker spirit at work masquerading as divine.

In any event, the mystical Christian mediaeval movements resulted in the Holy Ghost (as the Holy Spirit was termed until the late 20th century) being expunged from various denominational liturgies, such as the Book of Common Prayer.

So far, it’s an informative but unbiblical interview. However, that no longer matters to today’s Anglican hierarchy.

Then, Chartres revs up a few gears praising the Charismatic nature of London’s Church of England services.

Even worse, he quotes G K Chesterton. Whether this is accurate, I cannot tell, not being a great reader of Chesterton outside of one Father Brown story in a secondary school English anthology. Did he really say this?

you can’t really be an orthodox Christian without having a charismatic life.

In the next breath, Chartres goes on to deny the ever-present gifts of the Holy Spirit such as wisdom, fortitude and piety (those which Chesterton would have learned when he was converting to Catholicism). Or is Chartres saying something else? It’s difficult to tell:

That doesn’t necessarily mean special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such gifts are given to people at various stages of people in their pilgrimage, for good reason, often to break up the crust of convention which is keeping them imprisoned. Once a real fluency in spiritual matters has been achieved, they’re no longer necessary. It’s very dangerous to hold on to some of these psychic phenomena which often attend growing in the Holy Spirit.

Hmm. I would be highly wary of paying attention to anything this man says, as he concludes by advocating contemplative prayer and mystical experiences, recommending his favourite authors and false teachers.

Does the bishop speak of Christ and Christ crucified for our sins? No, he does not.

He also calls Christ’s Bride — the Church:

just as shallow as the rest of us … lacking in distinction …

Although he does say that the only way to God is through His Son, he says there are other faiths through which one can find ‘a way’, as all have an element of truth in them.

Heresy, like every other deception, also has an element of truth in it. That’s why people find error and damning heresies so easy to accept. It looks as if Chartres could be yet another clergyman taking that route.

A faithful Christian would not read this interview without thinking Bishop Chartres has served the Church or our Lord well in this exchange. One cannot imagine John MacArthur saying any of these things. I’d enjoy seeing the two debate this issue on video or television.

My ever-expanding left-hand column of links has good ones to discernment ministries which debunk mystical and contemplative prayer, which readers might find useful:

Apprising Ministries

Herescope

Sola Sisters

May God bless all of us — and may the Holy Spirit continue to work quietly through us — in finding eternal truth and salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bible ourhomewithgodcomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and Thomas Coke. Coke (1747-1814) was a Welsh lawyer and mayor who later became the first Methodist bishop and Father of Methodist Missions.

Luke 17:28-37

28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32Remember Lot’s wife. 33Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women (J)grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”[a] 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse[b] is, there the vultures[c] will gather.”

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Last week’s post looked at the first part of Jesus’s discourse about the kingdom of God and the Second Coming.

Today’s passage concludes our Lord’s stark lesson on what it will be like. The sinful people of Noah’s time (Luke 17:27) were going about their business when the flood struck. Jesus now mentions another group, those in Sodom, who perished in fire and sulfur (verses 28 and 29).

When Christ returns in glory, there will be a similar dramatic end bringing with it condemnation to sinners (verse 30).

He warns us against being too attached to our worldly goods and our surroundings (verse 31). We mustn’t be like Lot’s wife (verse 32). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

Let them not look back, lest they should be tempted to go back nay, lest that be construed a going back in heart, or an evidence that the heart was left behind. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt, that she might remain a lasting monument of God’s displeasure against apostates, who begin in the spirit and end in the flesh.

Thomas Coke elaborates:

This unfortunate woman had been informed by angels of the destruction of Sodom, and promised deliverance; but was expressly forbidden to look back, on any account, in the time of her flight; because it was proper that they should flee speedily, in the faith of this divine declaration, and perfectly contented, or at least endeavouring to be so, that they had escaped with their lives. Nevertheless, she presumed to entertain doubts concerning the destruction of her wicked acquaintance, because she did not fully believe the angels’ message. Moreover, being inwardly sorry for the loss of her relations and goods, and at the same time not sufficiently valuing the kindness of God who had sent his angels to preserve her, she lingered behind her husband, discontented and vexed, allowing him and his two daughters to enter into Zoar before her, thereby laying a temptation in Lot’s way to took back upon her, on account of the danger to which she was exposing herself. But no sooner had Lot with his children entered the place of their refuge, than God poured out the fulness of his wrath upon the offending cities. The thunder, the shrieking of the inhabitants, the crashing of the houses falling, were heard at a distance. Lot’s wife, not yet in Zoar, was at length convinced that all was lost; and being exceedingly displeased, she despised the gift of her life; for, in contradiction to the angels’ command, she turned about, and looked round at the dreadful devastation; probably also bewailed her perishing kindred and wealth, (Genesis 19:14.) But her infidelity, her disobedience, her ingratitude, and her love of the world, received a just, though severe rebuke. In an instant she was turned into a pillar of salt, being burned up by the flames, out of whose reach she could not fly; and so was made a perpetual monument of God’s displeasure to all posterity. Her looking back, though in itself a thing indifferent, yet as it was done contrary to the divine prohibition, and expressed such a complication of evil dispositions, was so far from being a small sin, that it fully deserved the punishment inflicted on it

Jesus warns us not to be too attached to our own lives (verse 33); when the time comes, we must be willing to die that we might have eternal life.

However, at that time, Jesus was also warning the Jews about the impending destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which took place a few decades later in 70 AD. Coke sees it as an instruction not to venture into the city for safety; the humble countryside would be a better refuge. Henry sees Jesus’s words as a command to leave the Jewish faith and to follow Him.

Our Lord goes on to say that God knows His own. Where a couple are together on the night of reckoning, one will be taken to eternal life and the other left to die, condemned (verse 34). The same will be true of two women at a handmill grinding flour (verse 35).

In verse 37, Jesus concludes His discourse by making a reference to the Roman eagle (the word used in older translations) — the bird of prey ready to feast on rotting carcases. He is alluding to the spiritually dead Jewish hierarchy and their followers who have rejected Him.

The verse has another interpretation, a positive one for those who have accepted Christ — the body (used in older translations). They will flock together, wherever they might be. Henry’s commentary states:

wherever the body is, wherever the gospel is preached and ordinances are ministered, thither will pious souls resort, there they will find Christ, and by faith feast upon him.  

Next time: Luke 18:15-17

John F MacArthurYesterday’s Forbidden Bible Verses examined Luke 17:20-27, wherein Christ discusses the kingdom of God.

In Matthew 24, our Lord explained that the world would endure many travails before that time.

Today, many believers over the age of 50 wonder what happened to our secure Western world where, even when people didn’t attend church often, our societies respected biblical values.

John MacArthur’s monthly letter for September 2014 discusses the Church’s travails today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Perhaps, like me, you grew up in America when there was widespread, cultural Christianity. There was a kind of Christian consensusTo some degree, people understood the church, the Bible, and the gospel.  They accepted the Judeo-Christian ethic.  While most people weren’t genuine Christians, there was still superficial acceptance—or, at least, tolerance—of a cultural Christianity in politics, business, education, and public life.

But where are we today?There is no more cultural Christianity; there is no collective Christian consensus wielding any significant power in this country.  In fact, the more biblically that true Christians speak and live, the more they are being labeled as extremists, homophobic, intolerant, and guilty of hate crimes.  We are now aliens.  And I think we can all foresee a day when being a faithful Christian will cost us or our children dearly, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a decade ago.  I think we’re closer than ever to living in conditions like the people did in the book of Acts.

His letter says that the first Christians, a number of whose experiences feature in Acts, led difficult lives with some dying as martyrs for the faith.

Although many mainstream American clergy would say that Western churchgoers are far from being persecuted, the trend in Europe is towards a continuous denigration of Christianity which started in the last century and ramped up gradually after the Second World War. The same trend is coming to the United States, just at a slower rate of speed.

MacArthur also takes issue with churchgoers who think along extremist lines as well as those who adopt an everyone-is-saved outlook:

For years I’ve been concerned by the church’s pursuit of cultural change through political and social activities.  Large swaths of Christians have placed enormous time, energy, money, and hope in the wrong placesHand in glove with that thinking, superficial, cultural Christianity has blurred the clear lines between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world, and has softened the hard demands of the gospel, making professing Christ easy and without cost.  As a result, churches have been filled with highly religious, superficially moral, self-righteous people who don’t understand the gospel and are self-deceived about their true spiritual state.

We’re in a lot of trouble, certainly.

That said, MacArthur sees a silver lining now that Christianity stands in such sharp relief against an increasingly secular world.

His solution is a simple yet powerful one:

Scripture teaches and church history confirms that the Body of Christ is most potent and most effective when it simply speaks and lives the gospel without equivocation or apology.  With the mask of superficial Christianity gone, I believe the best days for the spread of the true gospel are ahead of us.

The gospel advances by personal testimony to Christ, one soul at a time.  When the church acts like the church; when shepherds preach Scripture and confront error with clarity and boldness; when believers are sanctified, built up, and equipped in truth; people are saved.  And that’s when the culture truly changes—nothing transforms the culture like genuine conversion.

As Christ said (Luke 17:21):

the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

MacArthur echoes this:

Our confidence is in Christ and His perfect, powerful Word.  Nothing brings us greater joy than seeing that confidence spread in and through God’s people, to His glory and honor.

I know a vicar who is determined that his congregation do something ‘big’ and bombastic (in the nicest sense of the word) for their local community. Thankfully, no one has contributed any suggestions as to what this might be. Still, he perseveres because he says that our God is a ‘great, mighty’ God. Therefore, they must do something works-based to show their faith.

So wrong on so many levels!

Isaiah 64:6 says:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

If this vicar and his congregation were to adopt MacArthur’s long-standing approach of preaching and teaching nothing but Christ through Holy Scripture, then they truly would be honouring a great and mighty God. This doesn’t mean giving sermonettes and handing out tracts on street corners, but it does require that believers competently answer questions on what they believe and why they believe it. This involves prayer and regular Bible reading. The latter, in particular, moves us away from error and easy-grace Christianity.

May the wisdom of the Holy Spirit prevail upon them and us to adopt John MacArthur’s decades long — and highly successful — one-soul-at-a-time conversion to biblical Christianity.

May God continue to bless those converts and those who have returned to the faith after a long absence.

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