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

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

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

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

Luke 18:31-34

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

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

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

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

Luke 9 contains His second fortelling of suffering and death:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the state of the Church, Henry adds:

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

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

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

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

Psalm 22

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

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

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

Isaiah 53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A believer will be ever mindful of those facts.

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Luke 18:35-43

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:24-30

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

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

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

Matthew 19:23-30

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

Mark 10:23-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains the history of the saying:

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

He also discounts the alternative explanations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a difference.

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

Next time: Luke 18:31-34

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

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

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

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

Luke 18:18-23

The Rich Ruler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 19:16-22

The Rich Young Man

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

Mark 10:17-22

The Rich Young Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives the ruler the benefit of the doubt:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

It isn’t easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him

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

Next time: Luke 18:24-30

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.”

——————————————————————————-

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

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

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

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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.

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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

Bible oldContinuing 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 16:14-17

The Law and the Kingdom of God

 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

 16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.[a] 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

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The first 13 verses of Luke 16 concern the Parable of the Dishonest Manager which ends with this verse:

13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

The servant was unfaithful to his master, wasting his possessions and/or stealing his money. Jesus’s parable is an analogy for our wasting or misusing God’s gifts. It is also a warning to those who value money and possessions above God.

John MacArthur has sermons discussing this parable, referencing other Bible verses. One of the sermons says (emphases mine):

… we have a right to money. It comes from God; He gives it to whom He will, sovereignly, in varying amounts. We are told to work for it, to save for it, to plan for it. God will give us all that we need. Everything that we have we manage for Him. If we manage it faithfully it will increase and it will grown and we will be blessed both here and throughout eternity and there will be friends there to welcome us when we arrive who are there because the gospel went to them when we supported it and we’ll find that having been faithful over whatever we had here, we’ll be given much to enjoy there. And having served God not money here, we will enter into the joy of our Lord there.

Another says:

He intends some basic things to occur with whatever it is that we possess. One, support your needs. God knows that you have to survive; you have to live. You’re not supposed to be a charity case. You’re supposed to take care of yourself. The Bible says if a man doesn’t work he doesn’t eat, so you’re given the priority responsibility for you as an individual to take care of our own needs. That is why God has given you what He has given you in terms of resources and talent and opportunity, so you can engage yourself in such a way as to take of yourself, always recognizing that the source of everything is God and using what God has given to meet your needs in a reasonable way.

Secondly then to support your family. And to support your family, would mean if you’re a husband your children and your wife. If you’re a family member and somebody in your extended family has a need you, of course, then become responsible for that extended family as I Timothy 5 says …

A third and very important thing to think about is this: support your nation. The Bible is crystal clear on the fact that we are to pay our taxes, that we are to be good citizens, and we are to render to the government what is due to the government, tax to whom is tax is due, Romans 13, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom is due …

Moving a little bit beyond that as you use your money for your personal needs, your family needs, and as you pay your taxes, I think it’s reasonable to say that God expects you to enjoy sensible comforts with a worshipping heart. I don’t think we’re supposed to take a vow of poverty and go around in dirty clothes, eating brown bread, and drinking water for the rest of our lives. I don’t think God filled this planet with the richness that He did for us to ignore it and live in some level of destitution. I think we can enjoy a measure, a reasonable comfort with a worshipping and grateful heart.

Matthew 6 has more on this subject, especially the spirit of giving to our place of worship and to the poor.

In today’s verses from Luke, we read that the Pharisees — ‘lovers of money’ — heard Jesus’s parable with derision (verse 14). MacArthur explains that everything they did was for status and public display:

[Matthew 6] Verse 2, “When you do your alms, give your alms, don’t sound a trumpet.” Can you imagine what those Pharisees did? On the way in to give there were thirteen trumped shaped receptacles around the court of women and they would drop money in, they would blow a trumpet to announce their arrival. Look folks, I’m giving, this is how much I’m giving. These are the hypocrites. They did it in the synagogues too. They would give in the synagogues, the local synagogues in the same public way. They do it in the streets, he says in verse 2, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you they have their reward in full. Their full reward is they were honored by men. No reward from God. You don’t want to give that way, so when you give your alms, this is an interesting way, this is kind of hyperbole, over the top, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Be so secret that one side of you doesn’t even know what the other side is doing. Not only do the people around you not know, but it’s that secret. Let your alms be done in secret, and then your father who sees in secret will repay you, believe me in an open way in heaven to come. So your giving is to be secret and humble.

Jesus told the Pharisees that what they did they did for men’s admiration, which God found abominable (verse 15). They did nothing for His glory, despite all their outward appearances.

The condemning words here are ‘those who justify yourselves before men’. Their hearts were spiritually dead, yet they made it look as if all their works meant they were obeying God’s laws. They were all about external style and no spiritual substance. Even worse, they lorded their status over the people. They demanded excessive obedience to the Law, whilst creating loopholes for themselves. This is where the lawyers — theologians — came in to the picture. The lawyers devised the loopholes. They also demanded money from widows and rejected sacrifices brought to the temple because they were not purchased there. They ignored everyone who was not in their elitist circle.

Jesus told them that John the Baptist’s ministry hailed the coming abolition of ceremonial law of what we know as the Old Testament (verse 16). This is because John the Baptist announced the coming of Christ. Jesus referred to Himself and John with the words ‘since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached’.

Then we have Jesus’s statement about everyone forcing themselves into the divine kingdom. Matthew Henry interprets this in the following ways. First, our Lord’s Gospel message is irresistible. Second, it isn’t just for the Jewish people anymore but for the whole world. Third, because it is open to everyone, the relationship between God, our Lord and us is an intensely personal one. Fourth, those who take it to heart might have to struggle against the world for their heavenly reward:

“But,” saith Christ, “now that the gospel is preached the eyes of the people are opened, and as they cannot now have a veneration for the Pharisees, as they have had, so they cannot content themselves with such an indifferency in religion as they have been trained up in, but they press with a holy violence into the kingdom of God.” Note, Those that would go to heaven must take pains, must strive against the stream, must press against the crowd that are going the contrary way.

Jesus concludes by saying that it would be easier for the universe to end than for the law to be invalidated (verse 17). Henry explains:

The moral law is confirmed and ratified, and not one tittle of that fails; the duties enjoined by it are duties still; the sins forbidden by it are sins still. Nay, the precepts of it are explained and enforced by the gospel, and made to appear more spiritual.

We are enjoined to obey the Ten Commandments, which encompass loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves. In light of the Gospels, we are able to understand them and obey them all the more with our knowledge of Christ, through God’s grace.

Next time: Luke 16:18

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomContinuing 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 14:34-35

Salt Without Taste Is Worthless

 34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

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Our Lord has given strong warnings about belief and condemnation throughout Luke 12, Luke 13 and Luke 14.

Some of those warnings featured in Forbidden Bible Verses, which is why I wonder if the clergy really want us to know what the Bible says. So often, the Lectionary for public worship omits many — although not all — meaty verses which describe the true nature of Christianity and God’s purpose, which Jesus discusses.

For new subscribers or those who have missed some of the past three chapters of Luke, the following are among those excluded from the Lectionary readings:

Luke 12:1-3 – Jesus, leaven of Pharisees, faith, disbelief, false teaching, hypocrisy, secrets

Luke 12:4-7 – Jesus, sparrows, Hell, God’s omniscience, fear of God

Luke 12:8-12 – Jesus, Holy Spirit, blasphemy, unbelief, persecution

Luke 12:22-31 – Jesus, anxiety, worry, material cares, temporal cares

Luke 12:41-48 – Jesus, parable, master and servant, punishment, condemnation

Luke 12:57-59 – Jesus, judgment, examination of conscience

Luke 13:10-17 – Jesus, miracle, healing, bent over woman, mercy, disabling spirit, Satan, hypocrisy, sin, repentance

Luke 13:18-21 – Jesus, parables, mustard seed, leaven, kingdom of heaven

Luke 14:2-6 – Jesus, miracle, man with dropsy, edema, Pharisees

Luke 14:15-24 – parable, Parable of the Great Banquet, Jesus

Fortunately, the Lectionary includes hard-hitting verses such as these (emphases mine):

Not Peace, but Division

 49I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)

The Narrow Door

 22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)

Lament over Jerusalem

 31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 33Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 35Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (Luke 13:31-35)

The Cost of Discipleship

 25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33)

One cannot help but wonder what would happen if Jesus preached in our churches today. What would our reaction be? If He were to say any of the above, it is likely many in the congregation would complain of being offended and/or walk out. ‘Where’s all-loving, all-forgiving Jesus? I didn’t sign up to this!’ People would no doubt ring the local news outlets and send countless outraged tweets.

In The Cost of Discipleship — the last passage which immediately precedes today’s two verses — Jesus is saying that we mustn’t start what we cannot finish (the tower in verses 28-30). We also have to be prepared to lose our families, even our lives, if we follow Him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a bolt-on extra in our lives.

Yet, over the past decade, Christians — Catholic and Protestant — have succumbed to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, or comfy Christianity

Fading ‘memory’ of Christianity, the Divine Butler and false teaching

Forbidden Bible Verses: John 6:16-23

God and His Son have become divine fixers. We pay them heed only when we need something in our lives and often make outrageous promises such as, ‘O Lord, if only you sort out this crisis for me I promise to go to church every Sunday and honour You forever!’ Once pulled out of the mire, we quickly forget about what we promised. The Almighty goes back into our cupboard until the next time we need to call on His services.

We also have parents who decline to raise their children in the faith at home. ‘That’s why I’m sending them to a Christian school. That’s the teachers’ job, not mine.’

Above the laity, however, are the clergy. Evangelicals often come under fire for their conversion practices. Yet, longstanding denominations (e.g. Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic) get involved in making social justice pronouncements or run socio-political programmes and collections in their congregations. Marxist community organisers are connected with a number of urban Catholic parishes in large American cities. Senior Anglican clergy comment publicly on anything under the sun — Sharia, the finance industry and social justice — rather than the Gospel; anyone would think they were writing for The Guardian. Episcopal clergy embrace New Age practices and turn a blind eye to sinful practices. A few years ago Lutheran clergy in the ELCA banded together to promote the idea of climate change; yes, carrying a hessian (burlap) bag to the shops really will guarantee eternal salvation. Some more conservative Lutheran denominations in the United States have embraced an unbiblical quasi-universalism called Universal Objective Justification; congregants speaking out against this can find — and have found — themselves excommunicated. Left-leaning PCUSA has been making more public pronouncements against Israel than about the Gospel.

Then there are the seminaries. Most are an abomination. Anything goes. Let’s reinterpret Holy Scripture. All are saved. Jesus came to redress society’s problems. Jesus’s words support liberation theology. We should honour nature and Gaia. And so on.

REALLY?

All of these aberrations from laity and clergy blind us to the Gospel message, elaborated on in the Epistles.

Is it any wonder that Jesus warns that many who notionally serve in His name will not be admitted to God’s heavenly kingdom?

Then we have Church Growth programmes. All right, let’s look at how well Jesus’s ministry worked out with the spiritually blind and hard of heart. One of the most instructive chapters in the Gospels is John 6, which describes what happened after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The people return for another miracle. Jesus rebukes them for asking for another divine meal and explains that He is the bread they should be seeking:

58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[a] the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59Jesus[b] said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

The Words of Eternal Life

 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

Returning to Luke’s Gospel, this is why Jesus told people to weigh up the cost of following Him. Don’t do it if you cannot finish the course. Don’t be a fair-weather disciple.

When He says that the believer will ‘hate’ his family and his own life, He doesn’t mean ‘despise’ but to ‘love less’ or ‘prefer less’. This is what the ancient Jews understood by ‘hate’.

On the discipleship that Jesus desires, John MacArthur explains:

Discipleship has the highest cost. Our Lord made it clear. He never held it back. It’s one thing to tell people the gospel, it’s one thing to give the facts, but when you call people to come to Christ, this is where you have to take them. Are you willing to set aside all your past priorities relationally?

He may take your possessions; He may not. But the point is it doesn’t matter to you because you understand the value of what you’re receiving and you are confessing Him as Lord. Anything less than that, Jesus said, you can’t be My disciple.

In today’s two verses, we read of salt. It can be confusing because few, if any, among us know of salt to lose its flavour. Why would Jesus mention salt?

MacArthur tells us that there was a type of salt which came from the Dead Sea which sometimes had gypsum in it. As such, it was worthless when harvested. However, there was no place to dispose of it:

What do you do with old salt? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, you don’t throw it in the garden. It’ll just kill everything there. They wouldn’t even throw it in a manure pile and that’s a compost heap. That salt is a problem because once it’s useless; it’s really useless … You are the salt of the earth…right? And He even said if salt loses its taste, then what’s its goodness? It has none. So what He’s saying is this. What I’m asking of you is this. Put the past aside, assess the present power and commit to Me for long-term loyalty in the future and I’ll use you for good. I’ll make you a preserving influence for righteousness. You will be the salt of the earth. That’s what He’s asking. Basically, He’s going to change the role you play in society. He’s going to change the role you play in this world. All of the sudden you’re going to be for preservation, for seasoning. Jesus is saying don’t start in letting Me use you unless you intend to be faithful. I’m asking for long-term saltiness. I’m asking for long-term loyalty. And if you are at all corrupted by some spiritual gypsum and you’re going to have a very short span, I’m not interested in those kinds of disciples.

This means that we might lose out on jobs (Christian institutions of higher education listed on a CV are the death knell in the UK), friends (in an increasingly secular, materialistic society), spouses (either potential or present for the same reason). If you want to know what following Jesus is like, come to the UK. Our secular society works on all sorts of misconceptions and incorrect assumptions. Yet, this is what Christians must be prepared for mentally. This is why Jesus says to make very sure you can stay the course.

Of course, there are tragic, extreme examples in the Middle East (Iraq) and Africa (Nigeria), ongoing as I write. Recently, Iraqi Christians had to pay extortionate sums of money in order to leave the country. Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by militant Muslim extremists a few months ago. This is what Jesus meant by being prepared to lose one’s possessions or even one’s life.

Christianity involves serious commitment. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t understand the Gospel. This is why belief in the scriptural doctrine of grace is so essential. It is that divine grace which sustains us.

Of the clergy’s saltiness, Matthew Henry had this to say in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Aberrant preachers existed then, too:

A professor of religion whose mind and manners are depraved is the most insipid animal that can be. If he speaks of the things of God, of which he has had some knowledge, it is so awkwardly that none are the better for it: it is a parable in the mouth of a fool ... Such scandalous professors ought to be cast out of the church, not only because they have forfeited all the honours and privileges of their church-membership, but because there is danger that others will be infected by them.

This is why we have church discipline. Casual Christians and unbelievers think it’s a cruel power-play by senior clergy. It isn’t. Apostate clergy distort their flock’s beliefs and could be sending them to hell in a handcart.

In closing, note Jesus’s last sentence. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear‘ appears several times in the Gospels. He says this whenever He has an essential point to make. (A comparable expression is ‘Selah’, which features often in the Psalms.) It means to pay attention, listen carefully and heed the message.

Jesus wants our whole commitment for His and God’s purposes. Their kingdom, thankfully, is not of this world.

Next time: Luke 16:14-17

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