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Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomRedbird’s Roost has a good post on St Paul’s faith, contrasting it with that of many Christians today.

In ‘Pressing On’ Redbird examines Philippians 3:13-14 wherein the apostle tells his faithful that he has not yet attained perfect faith and sanctification, yet he was determined to

press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Redbird goes on to describe two different types of Christians. The first group are those who say that unless we believe everything they do and live exactly as they do, we are doomed. Redbird observes:

Sometimes our professed maturity and sureness may not be as mature as we would like it to appear. Psychologists tell us that the so-called true believer who appears to be rock hard in his or her faith may be in fact engaging in a cover-up of troubling inner questions and insecurities.

On the other hand, Redbird says, are those who expect Christianity to be an easy life where everything immediately becomes perfect, especially our sanctification and faith:

So we reduce Christianity to some simplistic package that you can accomplish quickly and without effort. We thus imply that the Christian life is something petty and inconsequential.

Once again, this proves the necessity of daily Bible reading so that we understand what Scripture says about leading the Christian life.

May we become more Pauline in our approach to faith and in our relationships.

 

Before seeing Noah, especially with children, it’s worth (re)reading the account of Noah’s life in Genesis.

First, God had His reasons for the flood — also for sparing Noah and his family (Genesis 6:5-8):

5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Then, when the time came (Genesis 7:13):

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.

Afterward, when God told Noah that he and his family could leave the ark (Genesis 8:20-21):

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though[i] every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

God then made a covenant with Noah and his family (Genesis 9:8-11):

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

The Lord added this beautiful reason for rainbows (Genesis 9:12-16) — something to remember and share with young people (emphases mine):

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

The Bible story, taken verbatim, would have made a beautiful film for everyone. Yet, the film does not represent the Genesis account.

Kat Butler unpacks Darren Aronofsky’s film for the family-oriented Movieguide. In ‘What’s Wrong with Noah?’ she notes:

The writers of the movie seem to have turned to the BOOK OF ENOCH to introduce details of the world before the Flood. (Enoch himself is named early on in the movie and referenced by Noah’s grandfather as the story unfolds.)

As for the Watchers, she says:

Understand that the term “Watchers” refers to both the good and fallen angels. Thus, Gabriel is a Watcher, and Uriel, too. The Watchers who have fallen to earth for being sympathetic to Adam and Eve refer to those angels who followed Lucifer in his rise up against God. (These are the fallen angels who ultimately mate with female women and produce the nephilim — the race of giants.)

Incidentally, you can read more about the Nephilim in my post from 2013.

Butler counsels against becoming too empathetic towards the Watchers:

After the fall to earth, the outcast angels are damned. Most importantly, they do not repent. It is in this vein that they continue to “play gods” in the human arena, and defy God all the more by teaching technological advances and all kinds of learning to humankind. (This, too, is referenced overtly in the movie, as it relates to the growth of cities.)

The question arises, then: Why borrow the Watchers and make them Noah’s friendly helpers, who serve him, and (by implication) God, by assisting in the building of the Ark?

The very suggestion that the Fallen Angels are benevolent creatures is misleading. Especially if we realize that one of them, referenced in the movie, is Lucifer himself: Azel/ Azazel the “courageous one” and “arrogant one” who rose up against God

Perhaps the flawed representation of the fallen angels makes its way into NOAH by accident. I’m willing to believe that. The fact remains that it is not good, and that media-wise viewers will do well to educate themselves as to why nursing sympathy for those cast out of the Heavens is dangerous.

She points out that the film is faithful neither to the Bible nor the Book of Enoch — not part of the biblical canon:

At the end of the day, one has to wonder why the fallen angels help Noah at all. It’s not necessary for the storyline. It would have been just as epic for them to side with the fallen men, and for God to save Noah from destruction. It would also have saved the movie from an inherently flawed and dangerously misleading theology.

Aronofsky’s NOAH, in this sense, plays the part of false counsel. Those who leave the movie feeling even remote sympathy for the Watchers and the attempt of such creatures to redeem themselves inadvertently miss the mark; as do those who imagine Noah as a frail man, who wrestled with his decision to follow through on God’s command. The implication at the end is jarring as it leaves room to question whether or not humanity survived because of Noah’s inability to go through with God’s plan (an accident, as it were), or because God knew all along Noah would “choose love.”

Fellow blogger (and reader!) Alex Dekkers details how the film’s narrative differs from the Bible. Please be sure to read ‘Alex’ view– What is wrong with Noah?’ before you or your family see the movie.

He lists several pertinent observations, three of which follow. These illustrate the importance of understanding and familiarising ourselves with the Bible so that we can spot mistakes — intentional or otherwise — in culturally popular depictions (emphasis in the original for the first item — the rest are mine):

  • In the Bible it is very clear that Noah, his wife and his three children with their wives were on the Ark. And what do we see in the movie? Only the oldest son goes on board of the Ark with his wife. What happened to the wives of the other 2? And the oldest gets to girls, implying that somehow the other brothers would eventually make families with these to girls?
  • The grandfather of Noah is Methusalem and in the movie he is made a sort of sorcerer that helps the wife of the oldest son to not be barren anymore. First of all only God can make a wife that is barren to get pregnant. Making him a sort of sorcerer is again an attempt to bring the devil into play as a sort of saviour which he is not!
  • Also Methusalem dies in the flood. So, you would ask, does it matter? Yes it does matter, because his death is very significant. Almost 1.000 years before the flood mankind was warned for this judgement of God, so we as mankind had almost 1.000 years to repent and change! So if people call God a cruel God because of the flood, then they are mistaken and false! The reason that Methusalem is so significant, because his name in Hebrew means: “if I die it starts”. God made sure that he received this name, because on the day Methusalem died, the flood would start. So the devil lied in the movie by letting him die in the flood and not before it!

Noah could have followed the biblical account of a man who loved the Lord and did everything He commanded (Genesis 6:22, 7:5). The Lord rewarded his obedience with a covenant that extends to the end of time.

This could have been such a marvellous film. As it is, it seems to play to humanity’s sin and darker instincts. More’s the pity.

The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the short New Testament book of Philemon.

Philemon might not be well known to some Christians, but, as ‘Refreshing Times of Reconciliation’ explains, it is nonetheless an important letter which St Paul wrote to one of his converts Philemon concerning the man’s slave Onesimus, who also converted.

Philemon is loath to forgive Onesimus for stealing from him then fleeing to Rome. Paul counsels Philemon, encouraging him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

Bright’s post gives us a concise exegesis with concordance of the letter to Philemon in a seven-step route to reconciliation. Here is a brief sampler:

3. There is always a time of refreshing when we humble ourselves in the process of reconciliation… See verse 10 ( I appeal)

4. There is always a time of refreshing when we validate one another…  when we recognize the worth of others… See verse 11

6. There is always a time of refreshing when we see each other clearly… See verse 16; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17 (no longer a slave but a brother)

Then comes this superb observation:

After reading the book of Philemon, we come across the names of God and Christ, but not once is the Holy Spirit mentioned. But, I can tell you, by the time you get through these [']7 refresh my heart challenge[s'] Paul gives to Philemon, you are in for a mighty moving of the Spirit of God. The Spirit will release his presence in ways you’ve never experienced.

If you haven’t read Philemon before, now is the time. Then, read Bright’s post with its encouraging words.

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 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 13:18-21

The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

 18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

 20And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

—————————————————————————————-

In last week’s reading, which immediately precedes today’s verses, Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of synagogue leaders who took issue when, on the Sabbath, He healed a woman who had been bent over for 18 years because of a demon.

In today’s verses Jesus states that the kingdom of God will start out small but grow to the extent that everyone under its influence will benefit (verses 18, 19).

Jesus makes this statement because, as Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Many perhaps were prejudiced against the gospel, and loth to come in to the obedience of it, because its beginning was so small they were ready to say of Christ, Can this man save us? And of his gospel, Is this likely ever to come to any thing? Now Christ would remove this prejudice, by assuring them that though its beginning was small its latter end should greatly increase so that many should come, should come upon the wing, should fly like a cloud, to lodge in the branches of it with more safety and satisfaction than in the branches of Nebuchadnezzar’s tree, Daniel 4:21.

In order to explain His ministry and the sowing of the seed of His bride the Church, he uses the analogy of the mustard seed which grows into a huge, sturdy bush. Everyone in His audience knew how tiny these seeds were.

John MacArthur says that the mustard seed was the smallest seed in that part of the world in those days. The only seed which approximates it in size is the tobacco seed, which is the size of a full stop (‘period’ to my American readers) seen on this page. However, tobacco was an American plant exported to Europe only in the 16th century.

MacArthur elaborates on the size of a mustard seed bush:

Now a mustard seed produced a bush. Typically it could grow to eight feet high and 15 feet in diameter. That is a big plant. As far as garden plants go, that is the biggest garden plant that they new anything about …

And it grew to be a tree it says, it’s not a timber tree, but a large shrub is in view here. In fact, this thing is so large it says that birds of the air nested in its branches. And the word nested here is permanent dwelling. They set up their home, they put their nests there. It’s branches were big enough and broad enough to build permanent nests in. A little unusual for a garden plant. That’s the picture. They get so big and so sturdy and so strong that the birds find it a good place to put their permanent home. We’re not talking about lighting on it and flying away. We’re talking about building a nest and staying.

Jesus’s ministry produced relatively small results at the time because of unbelief often driven by hypocrisy of the religious hierarchy, hence, His allusion to the mustard seed. Yet, it would continue to grow and spread throughout the world. Civilisation under the influence of Christian belief would come to provide a good, secure life for all. Certainly, there have been exceptions throughout history; nothing is perfect. Civilisation has had to evolve over two millennia. And we all wonder about the world today, including Western society.

Despite that, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

And you know, as the kingdom grows in its external visible form as Christianity develops, what comes with it? The greatest civilization, the most advanced civilization, the greatest comforts, the finest medicine, the best education, the best harnessing of human resources and the resources in the earth. Christianity is the one that brought along all of the graces that grace this otherwise pagan world.

And just like 1 Corinthians 7:14 says, “That an unsaved spouse is sanctified by being married to a Christian.” So unregenerate people are sanctified by being around the influence of the growing kingdom of God. I mean, we who live in America should understand that, right? Don’t call America a Christian nation. It isn’t. But Christians have been such a dominating force in this nation’s history as to have provided the best possible life on the planet for all the non-Christians that nest in the tree of Christianity. So the Lord shows by simple power…a simple parable, don’t underestimate the power, the external growth of this kingdom. Christianity, as we speak today, in name is the largest religion in the world; in the world. And it came from such a small and obscure beginning. Just as Jesus said it would. And nesting in the tree are many nations throughout the history of the world benefiting from the blessing of the growth of the kingdom. That’s the external.

Note his mention that this analogy represents the external Church.

In the next two verses (20, 21) Jesus describes the internal growth of the believer. He compares it to the woman who leavened flour. MacArthur says she would have done this with sour dough culture:

when a young Hebrew girl married, her mother would give her some things as mothers do when girls get married, but one of the things that a mother gave a Hebrew girl was some fermented sour dough. That was a wedding present and she took it to start her first batch of bread in her new family. And it symbolized the wonderful continuity from her family into that new family. There are some things you want to leave behind, like the wretchedness of Egypt. There are some things you want to take with you like the love of a family.

And so this idea of leaven symbolized all kinds of influences. And He is saying so it is with the kingdom.

Jesus is saying that faith transforms one person at a time, just as a relatively small amount of raising agent transforms flour into dough from which one can make bread.

Henry says:

But you must give it time, wait for the issue of the preaching of the gospel to the world, and you will find it does wonders, and alters the property of the souls of men. By degrees the whole will be leavened, even as many as are, like the meal to the leaven, prepared to receive the savour of it.

MacArthur makes two good points about the influence of Christianity in our fallen world. The first ties in nicely with Henry’s perspective of allowing a lot of time for the Gospel to percolate. It concerns the Tsunami relief work which was going on in 2004 when MacArthur preached the sermon I’ve been citing in this post:

many of the relief workers in South Asia helping with the Tsunami victims are Christians. In fact, this word that I received was that Christians are flocking in there realizing that these nations are anti-Christian, persecute Christians, kill Christians, burn churches, etc. I heard a story this week about a whole seminary that was burned to the ground. They know there’s a window of opportunity and that the relief work is permeated by Christians. The world doesn’t know it. The world doesn’t see it. It can’t be seen. But it’s a way that God advances His kingdom, and it comes down to this, it’s you and it’s me in the sphere of our influence. That’s how it happens. It’s not going to happen in the great capitols of the world. It’s not going to happen through bureaucracies and civil government and authority. It’s going to happen the way it’s always going to happen, hidden as we influence the world. What a glorious calling and what a great ending.

MacArthur’s other point is that the Church continues to grow, believer by believer, even in countries which forbid any exercise of religion:

I read recently that 95% of the world’s population presently have part of the Bible or all of the Bible in their language. It’s working. Ninety percent of all tribes have had an opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. You think about Ethiopia, claims to have something around 35 million “Christians.” Talk about 50 million plus Christians in China. Did you know Cuba has 50 Christian denominations operating there under Fidel Castro? Somebody estimated that about 65,000 people profess to give their lives to Christ daily somewhere in the world.

And about 1,500 new churches start ever week. We don’t need the political power. We don’t need the military power. Christians through the years have gotten that very confused. It happens through influence. And Jesus put it this way, “I will build,” what, “my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And some day He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords. And at that time, let me tell you folks, every eye will see Him as King of kings and Lord of lords and we will be revealed as the glorious manifestation of the children of God becomes evident to the whole world, and we’ll reign with Him in glory for 1,000 years and then on into eternity forever.

May we rejoice every time someone asks us about the Gospel message. That’s the internal influence leading to further external influence of the Church.

Next time: Luke 14:2-6

John F MacArthurOne of the more popular maxims of today’s Church is ‘let go and let God’.

This is a relatively recent saying. Its origin is unclear; regardless, John MacArthur says this equivalent of ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ is unbiblical.

In ‘The Person and Power of God in Your Spiritual Growth’ he explains why. A few excerpts follow, emphases mine below:

The first key to God’s work in our sanctification is His personhood

Most pagan deities are described as impersonal, remote, and indifferent. That is not surprising, because false gods are fabricated by men out of fear and superstition. Even those that have personal characteristics are not portrayed as desiring fellowship with their worshipers. And understandably, their worshipers have no desire to fellowship with them.

The God of Scripture has unimaginable love for fallen, sinful mankind, which has rebelled against Him, blasphemed Him, and vilified Him. He has such great love for them “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

For those who belong to Him, the God of Scripture has even greater love and the closest of personal relationships. Throughout Scripture, God is referred to as His people’s Father—on a national level in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 63:16, 64:8), and individually in the New (cf. Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 9; 23:9). Adam and Eve, Moses, and many other Old Testament saints spoke with God directly. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

The second essential truth emphasized in Philippians 2:13 concerning God’s part in believers’ sanctification is His divine power. Above all else, it is God “who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in the lives of His children. He calls them to obey, and then, through His sovereign power, energizes their obedience. He calls them to His service, and then empowers their service. He calls them to holiness, and then empowers them to pursue holiness.

God Himself is the believer’s supreme and indispensable resource and power. The wonder of all wonders is thatit is God who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in them. Paul summed it up in Colossians 1:29 when he said, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

Note that our relationship with God is intensely personal. No other world faith can offer this one-on-one rapport.

Furthermore, the idea that God expects us to be passive or inactive individuals — the way ‘Let go and let God’ is often interpreted — has no foundation in Scripture.

John F MacArthurMany unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.

They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.

Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.

To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.

John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.

The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):

Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”

An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.

Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.

 

Bible croppedContinuing 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 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 13:10-17

A Woman with a Disabling Spirit

 10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

———————————————————————————

Luke 13 is a continuation of Jesus’s calls to repentance in Luke 12.

Last week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post looked at the conclusion to Luke 12, Jesus’s likening the Final Judgement to appearing before a magistrate. He advises ‘settling along the way’ — making amends with God via repentance whilst we are alive, rather than face condemnation in the life to come.

The first story in Luke 13 concerns those who are asking about the spiritual state of the Galilean victims of Pilate’s persecutions and those who perished when the tower of Siloam fell (near the healing pool of Bethesda/Bethsaida in John 5). Jesus tells the people that they had no greater spiritual afflictions than they, therefore, what happened was not a divine punishment. However, Jesus emphasises that those who are wondering about other’s spiritual state should spend that energy examining and improving their own, lest they face condemnation in the next life.

He then relates a parable about a fig tree which has not yet borne fruit. The gardener — vinedresser — advised his boss the landowner to allow him to give it special attention for a year to see if it would bear fruit. If it did not, then he would fell the tree. Jesus’s message here is that God gives us a certain time to repent; if not, we face the consequences of eternal condemnation. We can pray for sinners to be infused with grace and wisdom so to do. However, we cannot pray that God will pardon the unrepentant. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Reprieves may be obtained by the prayers of others for us, but not pardons[;] there must be our own faith, and repentance, and prayers, else no pardon.

Now we come to today’s passage, Jesus’s merciful healing of a disabled woman on the Sabbath. This, too, although a healing miracle, symbolises God’s acceptance of the repentant sinner who believes in Christ.

Jesus was teaching in an unnamed synagogue (verse 10). Among the congregation was a woman who was stooped over and could not stand upright; a demon caused her longstanding condition with which she suffered for 18 years (verse 11).

Keep in mind that in synagogues then — as is true in Orthodox synagogues today — women had to sit separately from women. John MacArthur surmises that, in Jesus’s day, the women sat at the back, so she would have been out of sight from the leaders at the front.

Jesus called the lady to come forward and told her she was healed (verse 12). As He laid His hands upon her, she was able to stand up for the first time in nearly 20 years and praised God (verse 13).

The leader of the synagogue then stood up and denounced our Lord’s healing by saying that He had six other days of the week to do it; work was not permitted on the Sabbath (verse 14).

Jesus expressed His righteous indignation at the synagogue leader’s denunciation by saying that hypocritical Sabbath observers were kinder to their livestock than to a human (verse 15). Furthermore, He added, this lady was a Jew — one of their own (verse 16). In other words, who would deny her this merciful healing miracle? Only a hypocritical legalist.

With that Jesus shamed the legalist synagogue leaders and the people rejoiced at His words (verse 17).

MacArthur unpacks this scene for us (emphases mine):

He endeavors to bring on the head of Jesus a violation of the law of God. But of course, there’s nothing in the law of God that says you can’t help somebody on the Sabbath. Any deed of mercy, any necessity was perfectly acceptable on the Sabbath and their Jewish law even said it. The Mishnah even said that you could do anything for a person or an animal that was necessary or merciful. And Jesus, Himself, in the 12th Chapter of Matthew had told them, you know, you’ve got the whole idea of the law of God wrong. Do you remember when David’s soldiers were hungry and they went into the temple and ate the show bread, because they were hungry. And feeding men who were hungry was more important than the symbolism of the show bread.

It really was the hatred they had for Jesus. He was going to make up a rule that you can’t heal on the Sabbath. There could never be such a rule in Judaism, because nobody could heal anyway. So how would that rule develop? So the Lord answers him in verse 15. The Lord answered him and said, “you hypocrites,” He was direct, as always, you spiritual fraud, “does not each of you on Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him?” Well, He got them, because they did that.

In fact, in the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish rabbinic law, it prescribes that you can do that. You can take your animal if you put no burden on his back and lead him to water or to eat. It even gives you a maximum of 200 cubits that you can go. And they even have some prescription about how wide the well is so you can see how they encumbered these things. But it was perfectly fine to do that. You phonies.

Of course, the crowds that lauded Jesus for His mercy and compassion turned against Him by the time it came for His trial and crucifixion.

That said, not only is this account of Luke’s one of merciful physical restoration but a pointer towards the compassion God has for us sinners. As Matthew Henry puts it:

This cure represents the work of Christ’s grace upon the souls of the people. (1.) In the conversion of sinners. Unsanctified hearts are under this spirit of infirmity they are distorted, the faculties of the soul are quite out of place and order they are bowed down towards things below. O curvæ in terram animæ ! They can in no wise lift up themselves to God and heaven the bent of the soul, in its natural state, is the quite contrary way. Such crooked souls seek not to Christ but he calls them to him, lays the hand of his power and grace upon them, speaks a healing word to them, by which he looses them from their infirmity, makes the soul straight, reduces it to order, raises it above worldly regards, and directs its affections and aims heavenward. Though man cannot make that straight which God has made crooked (Ecclesiastes 7:13), yet the grace of God can make that straight which the sin of man has made crooked. (2.) In the consolation of good people. Many of the children of God are long under a spirit of infirmity, a spirit of bondage through prevailing grief and fear, their souls are cast down and disquieted within them, they are troubled, they are bowed down greatly, they go mourning all the day long, Psalm 38:6. But Christ, by his Spirit of adoption, looses them from this infirmity in due time, and raises them up.

4. The present effect of this cure upon the soul of the patient as well as upon her body. She glorified God, gave him the praise of her cure to whom all praise is due. When crooked souls are made straight, they will show it by their glorifying God.

Therefore, as the psalmist said, let us rejoice and be glad.

Next time: Luke 13:18-21

j0289346Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog recently called his readers to explore the Reformed tradition of exclusive psalmody — psalms sung a cappella rather than hymns accompanied by musical instruments.

Clark points out that psalmody cuts across cultural and national lines. He cites a 1996 article from the Associated Press which puts this ancient biblical tradition into a modern perspective. The AP reporter visited the Selma Reformed Presbyterian Church in Alabama.

Although fewer Reformed congregations are sticking with traditional exclusive psalmody, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, congregations of which are found mainly in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Kansas, still believes psalms are the best songs for worship.

The Reformed Presbyterians came to the US from Scotland in the 17th century and are known as Covenanters. They follow the Westminster Confession of Faith and attempt to make their worship as biblical as possible.

They point out that, unlike hymns, the Psalms are divinely inspired because they are part of the Bible. They add that the New Testament records Jesus as having worshipped in synagogues, therefore, He would have sung them, too.

The Covenanters believe that worship must be God-centred, giving Him glory. They say that hymns focus more on man’s condition and detract from focussing on the Almighty.

At one time, the AP article says, nearly every Protestant congregation sang hymns, an ancient Christian tradition revived during the Reformation.  Then, in the 18th century, Isaac Watts began penning hymns. No doubt the melodies were more pleasing to the ear than the ancient ones used with psalms, because, over the following century, hymns and instrumental accompaniment became more widespread in church. By the early 20th century, most denominations moved towards hymns almost exclusively.

John Delivuk, a librarian at Geneva College near Pittsburgh and an authority on Reformed Presbyterian history, points out that clergy and liturgists are asking the wrong question when they wonder how to attract new members. The issue is not what people want to hear but rather,  ‘How can a congregation best please God in worship?’

He, like his fellow Reformed Presbyterians (and other smaller Reformed denominations), believe that psalms sung a cappella allow a more focussed and spiritual worship of God.

The Selma Reformed Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page features several sung psalms, such as Psalm 100b:

O Shout for joy unto the LORD
Earth’s people far and near;
With gladness come and serve the LORD,
And bring Him songs of cheer.

Perhaps church music leaders might slip a few psalms — sung without music to ancient (not modern) melodies — in their worship. They might be surprised at the positive reaction from the congregation. They would also avoid the question of what to sing — always a contentious issue when planning the Sunday service.

A post I wrote for Orphans of Liberty today looks at the effect women bishops will have on the popularity and membership of the Church of England (CofE).

What follows is a summary of that post.

First, there is the matter of how the victory was engineered. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that he’d received pressure from the government for the Synod to approve women bishops. Welby was ready to dissolve the Synod and reconvene it for another vote on the matter had it been defeated on July 14, 2014. In other words, keep voting until you get the ‘right’ result.

Second, no scriptural arguments were used, or at least these were not made public. Persuasion revolved around cultural norms and bringing the CofE into line with the 21st century.

Third, a number of Synod members who had voted against women bishops in 2012 changed their minds this year because they feared being deselected from the next Synod or were tired of the grief they received from people in their diocese.

It is clear that the CofE is increasingly moving away from scriptural tenets. The co-founder of Orphans of Liberty — and one of my readers — James Higham has written an excellent essay exploring why and how England’s established (state) church is failing.

Women bishops won’t fix a thing. (Women priests didn’t.) Nor will allowing single-sex church wedding ceremonies, which may well be a topic at the next Synod. Nor will support of euthanasia.

The CofE has become merely another social club which goes along with popular culture — the world — at every turn.

Who wants to get out of bed on a Sunday when one can get the same talking points from the media?

As I said at Orphans of Liberty, a small number of people will continue to go to other denominations or to independent churches which are faithful to the Bible.

Sadly, many more will choose to leave the Church altogether.

The CofE’s USP is its frequent Communion services. However, it is difficult to receive the Sacrament from a priest who embraces the world so fully, as many of our clergy do.

Yet, even there, Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:

… Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

That said, the Anglican Church is expected to depose such clergy. Article XXVI concludes:

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

It should come as no surprise that the CofE considers the Thirty-nine Articles as ancient history to be disregarded.

Much the same way they consider Holy Scripture: old-fashioned and out-of-date.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s blog post of June 30, 2014, ‘Sin and the Work of the Spirit’, warns Christians against easy conversions and describes what conversion really means.

MacArthur takes the epistle 1 John for his primary text and supports it with passages from Paul’s letters and other books of the New Testament.

He explains:

John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation.

Adding:

The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.

Also (italics in the original):

The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process).

MacArthur’s post is a good one for Christians to read and understand, especially if they are new or returning to the faith.

With regard to St John’s epistles — letters — I did a series on them two years ago. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors could not include more in their readings for public worship.

They can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page and are as follows for 1 John. Many of them contain excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermons and reveal John the Divine’s blueprint for Christian living:

1 John 2:3-11 – Commandments, obedience, light, darkness, love of neighbour

1 John 2:12-17 – speaking to converts as they are in sanctification, countering worldliness

1 John 2:18-29 – antichrists, false teachers, belief in Christ

1 John 3:9-13 – sin, love one another, unbelievers, Cain, first murder, hate

1 John 3:14-18 – love one another, hate akin to murder

1 John 3:19-24 – assurance, conscience

1 John 4:1-6 – discernment, antichrist, the world, faith, belief

1 John 4:7-13 – Christian love, Christ as propitiation

1 John 4:14-21 – perfect love, God loved us first

1 John 5:7-13 – Holy Trinity, unbelief, Christ’s blood and water

1 John 5:14-21 – truth of and confidence in Jesus Christ, faith, prayer, sin, Satan and the world, beware of idols

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