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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

Clare Spark’s site is a must-read for anyone interested in historical and social analysis. It is one which gives pause for thought with every post.

I cited one of Clare’s posts in 2011. It links multiculturalism to 18th century German Romanticism.

One of her posts featured an interesting illustration from 1922 called ‘The Descent of the Modernists':

https://yankeedoodlesoc.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/antimodernism1922.jpg?w=400&h=392

No doubt at the time many would have thought this warning over the top.

Yet, look at where we are in 2014, even in the United States, the foremost bastion of Christianity.

What will our beliefs be by 2022?

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.”

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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

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.

Bible kevinroosecomContinuing 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 17:20-27

The Coming of the Kingdom

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”[h]

22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.[i] 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

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The Pharisees had a worldly idea of what the kingdom of God would be and their enquiry of Jesus (verse 20) is a mocking one. How could this humble man before them possibly know anything of the long-awaited kingdom?

Thomas Coke’s commentary explains:

They had very grand notions of the extent of the Messiah’s kingdom, the number of his subjects, the strength of his armies, the pomp and eclat of his court; and were eager to have that glorious empire speedily erected; or, being inveterate enemies of our Lord, they might ask the question in derision, because every thing about Jesus was so unlike to the Messiah whom they expected.

Jesus told them that the kingdom would not manifest itself in these ways. Matthew Henry says that our Lord’s answer was intended more for the disciples than the Pharisees. The disciples were better able to understand it. The Pharisees’ hearts and minds were closed to Jesus and His message.

Jesus also warned against false prophets talking about their own divination and predictions (verse 21). This was an immediate message to the Jews but also to us today to ignore preachers and notionally Christian authors who arrive at a date for the end of the world. No one knows when the Second Coming will occur.

He elaborates on this in the ensuing verses, specifically directed towards the disciples — and us: the dark days of persecution and waning of faith which makes us long for Christ’s return (verse 22); another warning against following false prophets (verse 23); the statement that His return will be accompanied by terrifying circumstances (verse 24).

For now, the kingdom of God is a spiritual one inside each believer. God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are working through us quietly. Henry tells us (emphases mine):

The kingdom of God will not change men’s outward condition, but their hearts and lives. Then it comes when it makes those humble, and serious, and heavenly, that were proud, and vain, and carnal,–when it weans those from the world that were wedded to the world and therefore look for the kingdom of God in the revolutions of the heart, not of the civil government.

Therefore, it is not liberation theology, big government, theonomy or ecological dogmas which are intended to bring about utopia, heaven on earth or the Second Coming.

Jesus says in Matthew 24:

6And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

 7For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

 8All these are the beginning of sorrows.

 9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.

 10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

 11And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

 12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

 13But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.

 14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

Note especially the last verse: that the Gospel will be spread to every corner of the world and then the end comes. We have not reached that point yet, and as one popular Christian online plug-in shows, many remote peoples have still not heard the Good News.

In verse 25, Jesus alludes to His own rejection and death, which must occur before anything else can happen related to the heavenly kingdom. During His ministry, the Jewish establishment actively rejected Him, taunting Him wherever He went.

In verses 26 and 27, He refers to the world in Noah’s time. I posted recently on the biblical account of Noah and his family which gives the background to our Lord’s reference here. God sent the flood because (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.

Jesus says that the Second Coming will take place in similar circumstances. He will come whilst people are going about their daily business with many sinning through revelry, hate and evil.

Daily news reports concern war, crime and atrocities so appalling that it is hard to imagine how much worse things can get. We also live in an increasingly secular Western society. Yet, our Lord calls upon us to stand firm in the faith, as did Noah, regardless of the sin around us.

Henry’s commentary discusses the waxing and waning of the Church:

This looks forward to his disciples in after-ages they must expect much disappointment the gospel will not be always preached with equal liberty and success. Ministers and churches will sometimes be under outward restraints. Teachers will be removed into corners, and solemn assemblies scattered. Then they will wish to see such days of opportunity as they have formerly enjoyed, sabbath days, sacrament days, preaching days, praying days[:] these are days of the Son of man, in which we hear from him, and converse with him. The time may come when we may in vain wish for such days. God teaches us to know the worth of such mercies by the want of them. It concerns us, while they are continued, to improve them, and in the years of plenty to lay up in store for the years of famine. Sometimes they will be under inward restraints, will not have such tokens of the presence of the Son of man with them as they have had. The Spirit is withdrawn from them they see not their signs the angel comes not down to stir the waters there is a great stupidity among the children of men, and a great lukewarmness among the children of God then they shall wish to see such victorious triumphant days of the Son of man as they have sometimes seen, when he has ridden forth with his bow and his crown, conquering and to conquer, but they will not see them. Note, We must not think that Christ’s church and cause are lost because not always alike visible and prevailing

The most important things we can do are to pray for more grace and wisdom during these trying times — and to know what God expects of us. May we take this opportunity and use it wisely, especially where our children are concerned. They, especially, will need to know how to conduct themselves in the years ahead during difficult times among sinful people.

Next week’s entry continues our Lord’s discourse on His Second Coming.

Next time: Luke 17:28-37

The Adulterous Woman (Lorenzo Lotto, circa 1527-1529) One of the most unusual aspects of being a Christian in the 21st century is reading what seems to be a constant barrage of biblical reinterpretation by modern ‘experts’.

The Puritan Board forum has lively discussions on Scripture. A recent one concerned the verses John 7:53 (‘They each went to his own house’) through to John 8:11, about which I wrote in 2011.

Bibles often have a notation saying that these verses were not in early editions of the New Testament. I’ll explore that below.

However, in general, it is galling to run across so many modern ‘expert’ opinions on the Bible, as if everyone from the early doctors of the Church to, say, clergy of the mid-20th century were talking out of their collective hat. Atheists often make good use of this modern ‘research’ to discredit Christianity.

In reading through the aforementioned Puritan Board forum thread, I nearly applauded when I read this comment by the Revd Bruce G Buchanan of the ChainOLakes Presbyterian Church in Central Lake, Michigan (emphases mine):

I, for one, will not abdicate my mature discernment to the opinions of “experts,” many of whom are not even believers (no matter how practically reliable their overall ability, or pure their intention). Why should a group of modern scholars–them[selves] not especially cognizant of standing in a long historic line of men equally dedicated to accuracy in transmission–determine for me that I should begin with suspicion of Jn.7:53-8:11 as coming from the Spirit of Christ; when 40-50 generations of my fathers heard Him very well in those same words? Perhaps even decline to share that testimony with me?

A Puritan Board entry from 2007 on the same passage explores these concerns. Admittedly, some ‘modern’ scholarship is actually quite old. That said, it has only been circulated widely in recent years.

As Steve ‘Jerusalem Blade’ Rafalsky, member of a Presbyterian church in Queens, NY, says:

This is a case in point, the destruction and confusion engendered by the secular antichristian criticism that came out of Germany (and Rome as well) some centuries ago. Now even genuine believers are in doubt as to what belongs and what does not belong in their Bibles!

And it will not get better, but worse as the years – and generations, should the Lord tarry a while – pass. Better a sure Bible with some antiquated words than an unsure one. It comes down to this, we have a “Critics’ Bible” and a “believers’ Bible”, the former torn to shreds by a methodology alien to faith, and the latter intact, though suffering ill-repute due to a concerted attack of slander. She remains pure nonetheless.

Rafalsky has spent years studying the Bible and the scholarship connected with it.

The contentious passage from John’s Gospel under discussion contains the story of Jesus forgiving the adulteress, telling her to go and sin no more.

Theologically, the passage is known as the pericope de adultera.

In supporting the pericope de adultera Rafalsky cites Edward F Hills’ The King James Version Defended, 4th Edition (Des Moines: Christian Research Press, 1984).  Excerpts follow:

The story of the woman taken in adultery (called the pericope de adultera) has been rather harshly treated by the modern English versions. The R.V. and the A.S.V. put it in brackets; the R.S.V. relegates it to the footnotes; the N.E.B. follows Westcott and Hort in removing it from its customary place altogether and printing it at the end of the Gospel of John as an independent fragment of unknown origin. The N.E.B. even gives this familiar narrative a new name, to wit, An Incident In the Temple. But as [John William] Burgon has reminded us long ago [1896], this general rejection of these precious verses is unjustifiable.

(a) Ancient Testimony Concerning the Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11)

The story of the woman taken in adultery was a problem also in ancient times. Early Christians had trouble with this passage. The forgiveness which Christ vouchsafed to the adulteress was contrary to their conviction that the punishment for adultery ought to be very severe. As late as the time of Ambrose (c. 374), bishop of Milan, there were still many Christians who felt such scruples against this portion of John’s Gospel. This is clear from the remarks which Ambrose makes in a sermon on David’s sin. “In the same way also the Gospel lesson which has been read, may have caused no small offense to the unskilled, in which you have noticed that an adulteress was brought to Christ and dismissed without condemnation . . . Did Christ err that He did not judge righteously? It is not right that such a thought should come to our minds etc.” (32)

According to Augustine (c. 400), it was this moralistic objection to the pericope de adultera which was responsible for its omission in some of the New Testament manuscripts known to him. “Certain persons of little faith,” he wrote, “or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if He who had said ‘sin no more’ had granted permission to sin.” (33) Also, in the 10th century a Greek named Nikon accused the Armenians of “casting out the account which teaches us how the adulteress was taken to Jesus . . . saying that it was harmful for most persons to listen to such things.” (34)

That early Greek manuscripts contained this pericope de adultera is proved by the presence of it in the 5th-century Greek manuscript D. That early Latin manuscripts also contained it is indicated by its actual appearance in the Old Latin codices b and e. And both these conclusions are confirmed by the statement of Jerome (c. 415) that “in the Gospel according to John in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin, is found the story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord.” (35) There is no reason to question the accuracy of Jerome’s statement, especially since another statement of his concerning an addition made to the ending of Mark has been proved to have been correct by the actual discovery of the additional material in W. And that Jerome personally accepted the pericope de adultera as genuine is shown by the fact that he included it in the Latin Vulgate.

Rafalsky also cites John William Burgon’s The Causes of the Corruption of the Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, by John William Burgon, Edward Miller, ed. (London: George Bell And Sons, 1896), pages 247-249.

Here is a brief excerpt from Burgon demonstrating how widely the early Doctors of the Church cited this passage:

We are thus carried back to the second century of our era: beyond which, testimony does not reach. The pericope is observed to stand in situ [in the same place] in Codd. [Codexes] b c e ff g h j. Jerome (A.D. 385), after a careful survey of older Greek copies, did not hesitate to retain it in the Vulgate. It is freely referred to and commented on by himself in Palestine: while Ambrose at Milan (374) quotes it at least nine times; as well as Augustine in North Africa (396) about twice as often. It is quoted besides by Pacian, in the north of Spain,—by Faustus the African (400),—by Rufinus at Aquileia (400),—by Chrysologus at Ravenna (433),—by Sedulius a Scot (434). The unknown authors of two famous treatises written at the same period, largely quote this portion of the narrative. It is referred to by Victorius or Victorinus (457),—by Vigilius of Tapsus (484) in North Africa,—by Gelasius, bp. of Rome (492),—by Cassiodorus in Southern Italy,—by Gregory the Great, and by other Fathers of the Western Church.

Today’s revisionism regarding this passage and other reinterpretations of the Bible is some of the Devil’s finest work. We would do well to ignore it and read Holy Scripture as it is, being assured that it is the inspired work of the Holy Spirit.

Bible GenevaContinuing 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 (sermons cited below).

Luke 17:1-4

Temptations to Sin

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin[a] are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.[b] Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

——————————————————————————–

These first four verses of Luke 17 give us important lessons about sin, forgiveness and humility.

Jesus urged His disciples to disregard the Pharisees’ system of legalism and hypocrisy. The Pharisees talked about divine law and imposed an onerous burden on ordinary Jews, however, with the help of their colleagues the religious lawyers, found numerous loopholes for their own religious observance. Their elitist system allowed them to ignore the spiritual health of what they might have called ‘the lesser orders’ and possibly caused countless souls to be condemned for eternity.

Yet, as John MacArthur tells us, even the Old Testament pointed to salvation through imputed righteousness not meritorious works. He explains (emphases mine):

Genesis 15:6. Abraham or Abram believed God, and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Because he believed, God credited His own righteousness, completely alien to all of us, to Abraham. Psalm 103:17, “The loving kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…listen to this…and His righteousness to children’s children.” He just keeps giving His righteousness to every generation of people who believe in Him.

How were you saved in the Old Testament? You were saved in the Old Testament by believing in God as sovereign Creator, all-holy Judge, understanding, therefore, your own sinfulness and repenting of it before God. Acknowledging the fact that salvation could come only on the basis of sovereign grace, because it couldn’t be earned. Embracing the fact that God is a forgiving God by nature. You come to Him offering nothing but your faith, no works whatsoever, realizing that if you were ever to enter into the presence of God and be considered righteous, it’s going to have to be because some alien righteousness is credited to your account. God will accept you on that basis until He can make you fully righteous in His presence.

Furthermore, as God forgives our sins, our responsibility is to forgive others. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) says:

forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In the first verse of Luke 17, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees’ condemnation of Him and His ministry. It is also a warning to unbelievers and believers today. If we cause others to disregard Christ as our Saviour through our words and actions, we, too, will be condemned.

That can include all manner of sin which detracts from the Christian message. MacArthur says that the Greek word used there was skandalon, from which we get ‘scandal’, which originally referred to a baited trap:

When the animal grabs the bait, the stick is released, the trap is closed, the animal is caught. That’s a skandalon, it’s a trap. We know we live in a world of traps. We know we live in a world where people are going to be offended. God’s little ones, God’s children, believers, are going to be offended. And by offended, trapped, harmed, hindered. That’s what it’s talking about. The world is full of stumbling blocks. They’re all over the place, to seduce us directly into error, to seduce us into heresy and false understanding of the Scriptures, false understanding of God and Christ, to seduce us in false understandings of how we are to live our Christian lives. And there are scandalous temptations laid out there to directly or indirectly drive us toward sin. There are all kinds of bad examples and there are all kinds of things that lead us away from righteousness. The world is just filled with them and we, of all generations, are exposed to them in a way that prior generations have not been. There was a time, you know, in the world when you had to see the sinner do the sin to see sin. And now you can see the sinner sin at home pumped into your house on your TV. You can read the ugly details of the sinner and his sin in a book or a magazine or a paper or other media exposure. But there was a time when you had to see the sinner sin to know the sin occurred, but now you can experience it constantly in a barrage of images. It’s a different world and there are all kinds of seductions to evil. It’s inevitable that they come.

Our Lord tells us that it would be better to be drowned with a heavy stone around our neck than to cause others to sin (verse 2). Divine punishment will be that severe. MacArthur explains:

The one who sets the offense in motion is guilty before God…guilty before God. It’s a serious thing and God considers it a serious thing … It’s better to stop him now by an execution than to let him keep doing this because if he is a non-believer, he is only going to incur greater damnation, a hotter hell. If he’s a believer, he is only inviting greater chastening and forfeiture of eternal reward. Better that he be dead. Better that he die a horrific death now than to continue to offend and therefore accumulate ongoing damnation.

Why did Jesus choose drowning in this warning? Because it was a Roman import. The Jews were not only terrified of this method of punishment but also considered it as one for Gentiles. Therefore, Jesus’s words have added impact. MacArthur notes:

The Romans did that. The Jews did not do that. In fact, the rabbis taught that drowning was for Gentiles, not for Jews at all.

In verse 3, Jesus says the right thing to do is to call a sinner’s attention to his transgressions. If he acknowledges that he regrets them and turns his behaviour around — repents — then we are to forgive him (or her!). MacArthur says that Jesus speaks of persistent, serious sin:

So we beware of offending and we beware of being indifferent to the sins of others. The Pharisees, they didn’t care about the sinners … We don’t lead people into sin, we lead them out of it. And that starts with rebuke …

Matthew gives the process. The process, is if your brother sins you go to him. If he repents, you gain your brother. It’s over. If he doesn’t repent, you take two or three with you so that you can confront his sin again and confirm his response. If he still doesn’t repent, you tell the church and the whole church goes to call that person back. That’s a concern that holy people have for the debilitating sins that find their way into the lives of the fellowship. This is done out of love. You that are spiritual restore such a one in love…Galatians 6. We don’t sit by and watch some sinner go off into a pattern of sin without caring.

However, MacArthur warns that our Lord did not intend us to turn into nagging busybodies:

Not every sin is to be confronted, please. Love covers a multitude of sins. We don’t want this to go berzerk. It’s those sinful patterns, it’s those sins that are destructive, long-term pattern. It doesn’t mean that every time you say a thoughtless word, or every time you fail to do something you ought to have done, or you have a slip up here or there, somebody has to set confrontation in motion. No … I’ve giving my wife‘s testimony. She couldn’t live with me if she had to confront every failure in my life. This would be a rather dominating feature of life. Love covers. You couldn’t do that with a dear friend, you couldn’t do that even with your children, or children with parents. You couldn’t do that in the fellowship. But there are some sins that effect the life in a turning sense that send it in a new direction and impact the church, and those have to be dealt with. And for those kinds of things, forgiveness becomes conditional. And that’s what he’s talking about. It’s those kinds of sins that you rebuke that must be repented of.

Jesus concludes His brief discourse by saying that if someone sins against us multiple times — even in one day — and says that he repents each time, we are to forgive him each time (verse 4). MacArthur explains that if we do not forgive, God will not completely forgive us, even if we are eternally saved:

Until a believer forgives, he remains in a temporal sense unforgiven. While in an eternal sense we are forgiven, that’s in our justification, in a temporal sense we can be in a condition of being unforgiven in our sanctification. In one sense, all my sins are forgiven because Christ paid the penalty in full. But in another sense, as I go through this world and sin, God will not continually forgive me on a parental level, on a temporal level which opens up blessing and joy to me unless I am forgiving others.

No doubt a number of us have a nemesis in our families or at work or both. They’re draining influences. Our spirits fall a bit every time we encounter them. They might hold grudges against us and we against them. These can last for months or years. Alternatively, we might be angry with a certain institution, e.g. church, employer, political party.

This negative energy, MacArthur says, might well be preventing us from reaching peace of mind in our lives. On this subject, he has an interesting observation, which could well be true:

I think there are Christian people who have had their sins forgiven on an eternal sense, but on a temporal sense, they’re not enjoying the rich fellowship that they should with God and they’re undergoing discipline from Him because they don’t forgive others. They carry around bitterness. I think the emptiness in people’s lives, even those who are Christians, depression, dullness, lack of joy is often due to withheld blessing, withheld forgiveness, guilt and chastening from God.

Offline, I know many churchgoers and clergy who have no end of emotional or psychological problems. My better half often asks, ‘How can a churchgoer or clergyman be clinically depressed?’ MacArthur posits that reason, which seems plausible.

Our modern society is an unforgiving one, even though we believers are always talking about peace, unity and reconciliation. (We had more of all three in the old days when we weren’t talking about them all the time.)

Yet, we look in our hearts and are angry.

We are often calm on the outside, but what’s going on inside?

Some Anglicans are angry because we don’t have female bishops in most of the Anglican Communion. Some leftist churchmen are angry because we don’t have a ‘fair and just’ way of life in a fallen world. Traditionalists and modernists scoff or rail at each other’s interpretation of Christianity. Those are just a few church-oriented examples. The list is endless.

We would do well to pray for grace to forgive others and, in turn, be divinely forgiven. This is why I advocate prayer and Bible reading over a primary focus on things that will never be resolved in this world.

That doesn’t mean we should not try to improve the Church and the secular realm. However, if we turn our attention more to our everyday blessings — and learn to forgive others — we would find this task easier.

As Matthew Henry’s commentary for the first few verses of Luke 17 says:

That we have all need to get our faith strengthened, because, as that grace grows, all other graces grow. The more firmly we believe the doctrine of Christ, and the more confidently we rely upon the grace of Christ, the better it will be with us every way

Next time: Luke 17:20-27

h5 style=

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgContinuing 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 16:18

Divorce and Remarriage

 18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

——————————————————————————

Last week’s passage from Luke 16 concluded with:

17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

The context is our Lord’s pointedly rebuking the Pharisees’ hypocrisy.

He takes on divorce because of the way the religious hierarchy approached it, writing their own rules on top of God’s.

John MacArthur tells us that there were many ways in which a man, particularly a highly-placed Pharisee, could divorce his wife. The esteemed Rabbi Hillel devised these and, for those of us who know the name through the Jewish university-oriented charity of the same name, they come as a shock (emphases mine below):

… fortunately for the Pharisees, along came Rabbi Hillel. He lived the last 50 years of B.C. and Rabbi Hillel came up with his very popular interpretation that whatever you decide is uncleanness to you is uncleanness and the point of the passage is when you decide it’s an uncleanness, you have a right to divorce her. They stopped at that point. They didn’t bother with, “and when you remarry you commit adultery,” etc. They had twisted that. Hillel conveniently had worked his machinations with the text to make it a permission to divorce your wife for some uncleanness and go ahead and marry another, total misinterpretation and total misrepresentation and I might just add hastily that false religion is very adept at misinterpretation and unable to make accurate interpretations. And so, by the way, here was Rabbi Hillel’s list. Here are the causes for divorce…burning dinner, lousy food, too much salt, spinning in the street so someone saw her knees, taking her hair down, saying something unkind about her mother-in-law, infertility, not giving you a son, or finding someone prettier makes her in your eyes unclean and then there’s a whole lot of blanks. You can fill in your own, very convenient interpretation, a very happy one for the Pharisees, and they didn’t bother to interpret the rest of it accurately so they were proliferating divorces. When they saw somebody they liked better or somebody that was nicer or they were tired of having lousy food or whatever for any excuse.

The Jewish Encyclopedia says the same thing:

The origin of the Jewish law of divorce is found in the constitution of the patriarchal family. The fundamental principle of its government was the absolute authority of the oldest male ascendent; hence the husband, as the head of the family, divorced the wife at his pleasure. The manner in which Hagar was dismissed by Abraham illustrates the exercise of this authority (Gen. xxi. 9-14). This ancient right of the husband to divorce his wife at his pleasure is the central thought in the entire system of Jewish divorce law. It was not set aside by the Rabbis, though its severity was tempered by numerous restrictive measures. It was not until the eleventh century that the absolute right of the husband to divorce his wife at will was formally abolished.

Both MacArthur and the Jewish Encyclopedia mention Rabbi Shammai, who said that divorce could take place only in the case of sexual infidelity.

The Jewish Encyclopedia explains the difference between the two schools of thought. Please note the last sentence:

In the Mishnaic period the theory of the law that the husband could divorce his wife at will was challenged by the school of Shammai. It interpreted the text of Deut. xxiv. 1 in such a manner as to reach the conclusion that the husband could not divorce his wife except for cause, and that the cause must be sexual immorality (Git. ix. 10; Yer. Soṭah i. 1, 16b). The school of Hillel, however, held that the husband need not assign any reason whatever; that any act on her part which displeased him entitled him to give her a bill of divorce (Giṭ. ib.). The opinion of the school of Hillel prevailed. Philo of Alexandria (“Of Special Laws Relating to Adultery,” etc., ch. v.; English ed., ii. 310, 311) and Josephus (“Ant.” iv. 8) held this opinion. Jesus seems to have held the view of the school of Shammai (Matt. xix. 3-9).

MacArthur explains Jesus’s statement, which condemns frivolous divorces:

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” That’s what they believed. That’s what they did and he answered and said, “Didn’t you read in the book of Genesis that He who created them from the beginning and made them male and female and said, ‘For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. The two shall become one flesh. Consequently, they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man separate.'” Marriage is two people coming together constituting now one flesh indivisible for life. That’s the divine pattern ...

And so Jesus is saying, “Look, you’re accusing Me of being a lawbreaker. You’re the lawbreakers. You’re divorcing your wives all over the place for burning your dinner, for putting too much salt on it, because you found somebody you liked better. I’m upholding that law.” And of course, in the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ, God forgives all violations of law to the one who repents. They didn’t understand grace and the gospel and they certainly didn’t adhere to a true interpretation of the law.

Matthew 19 has more on this conversation about divorce:

3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

This is no doubt why some couples separate in situations where a serious issue other than adultery is involved.

MacArthur explains the Old Testament passages to which Jesus referred:

Jesus here is referring back to that Deuteronomic law in Deuteronomy 24 in which there are no exceptions. He’s simply reiterating that law but that has to be taken in comparison with a couple of other passages. Since God in His common grace had allowed the death penalty for adultery to disappear, and it is a kind of common grace; since God graciously had allowed the nations to go their own way sinfully and not punish adultery with death, there was a provision for divorce under one condition …  Jesus is saying this is taking it all the way back to the original law with the one exception that if there is the cause of immorality, unchastity, sexual sin, then there is a granting of the right to a divorce.

the death penalty not being enforced, even back in Moses’ day, there was a concession that you who have been offended by immoral conduct of a spouse can divorce …

We find the same statement in Matthew 5:31-32:

Divorce

 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

These are difficult verses to accept and understand. I struggle with them myself.

On the other hand, for too many couples, divorce is the first thought which comes to mind at the first sign of marital disagreements which could be resolved with care and consideration.

Too many people today also tend to marry because the sex is good and they’re having fun together. When that comes to an end, they look elsewhere. Not so different to the Pharisees, then. Maybe that is a reason why Scripture forbids fornication. As the old saying goes, ‘Kissin’ don’t last, cookin’ do’.

There are also a number of men — I can think of three whom I know personally — who divorced their wives when their sons became teenagers. Being a full-time father seems to have become too much for them. Only one of these men went off with another woman. The others just want to be left alone except on weekends.

Marriage is full of trials and death. It’s not a bed of roses, but a solid friendship between the betrothed enables them as a married couple to survive with a deeper love and affection for each other. God works His grace and blesses an informed choice of spouse. This is why it is important to pray and use discernment when deciding whether to marry.

In closing, Matthew Henry’s commentary has this gem on marriage:

Christ will not allow divorces, for his gospel is intended to strike at the bitter root of men’s corrupt appetites and passions, to kill them, and pluck them up and therefore they must not be so far indulged as that permission did indulge them, for the more they are indulged the more impetuous and headstrong they grow.

Point taken.

Next time: Luke 17:1-4

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