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Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Hebrews 6:9-12

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

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Last week’s entry was about the author’s warning to the Hebrews of figuratively crucifying Christ all over again through apostasy. A chilling statement, to be sure, but one that puts our modern day relaxed attitude towards Christianity into sharp relief.

While the Book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who began to have doubts as to whether they should have converted to belief in Christ as well as to those who intellectually but not spiritually accepted the promises of the New Covenant, there is much we can learn from this book today.

After the warnings about apostasy, covered last week (emphases mine) …

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

… the author offers reassurance and encouragement to the ‘beloved’, saying that s/he hopes for better from and for them (verse 9). Those hopes involve that which relates to salvation.

The words ‘Though we speak in this way’ following the crucifixion warning is a manner of saying that it does not pertain to all those hearing the author’s letter to them.

Both of our commentators, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur, point out that a preacher must address everyone present in the congregation, even though some of his statements are intended for certain people there present, not all of them.

MacArthur explains:

And so, whenever the Holy Spirit is writing to the congregation, he says, “I’m saying it to you all,” because the writer, in his own mind, wouldn’t pick them out by name not knowing them. He sets a pattern for all of us. I preached these messages for the last several weeks on this particular theme. And I say it to all of you, and yet I know that it doesn’t apply to all of you. But I’m not sure to whom it does apply. Therefore, I preach it as the whole counsel of God and let the Spirit of God do the applying. And that’s all he’s saying, “Beloved, I’ve said it, not because it applies to you directly, but because it applies to all of your congregation; and so, I speak to you all.”

The author addresses the believers in verse 10: God will not forget the fruits of faith they were displaying by serving others in His Name.

Then in verses 11 and 12 the author turns to the unbelievers, those who have not yet committed themselves to Christ. The author hopes that they, too, will come to that same faith, displaying those same fruits, by turning away from sluggishness — dullness of hearing.

John MacArthur sums up these verses with the following explanation, which also pertains to us:

And so, we come to the close of this warning. It’s a simple warning. It doesn’t have to be confusing. It’s a warning that we can give to every person who is here tonight, either for his own life or to pass on to someone else, because of its urgency.

If you’ve come all the way to the edge of decision to receive Jesus Christ, and you’re standing on the edge, and you’ve never made that decision, you’re going to find the longer you reject, the longer you neglect, the harder your heart becomes, and you’re in danger, as He said in an earlier warning of falling away, having an evil heart of unbelief and departing from the living God. You’re in danger, as He said here, of becoming spiritually stupid and then not understanding anything. And then finding that you’ve lost a grip on the basics, and you can’t handle any of the truths that the Spirit of God would want to teach you to bring you to Christ. And then you’re in danger of falling away and never being able to be redeemed again because you rejected against full light, and God can’t give you any more revelation.

But in a compassionate appeal at the end, He says, “Oh, to you Christians, don’t you fear. God won’t forget you.” And then to the rest, “Look at those true ones. Pattern your life after them. Be mimics. Follow them. Beloved it, that lays it at our feet, doesn’t it? If you’re a Christian here tonight, are you the kind of a Christian of whom the Holy Spirit could say, “I want to set you up as an example for others to mimic”? If you’re not a Christian, I pray God that somehow tonight the Spirit of God will bring conviction on your heart, and you’ll not reject the Lord Jesus Christ a moment longer.

Verses 11 and 12 send powerful spiritual messages about perseverance — ‘patience’ — as well as assurance and hope. Matthew Henry offers this:

Full assurance is attainable by great diligence and perseverance to the end.

The road is not always easy. These Jews were being shunned by their friends and family. They were being urged to go back to Judaism. The author of Hebrews was advising them to move on from the Old Covenant to the promises of the New Covenant, from milk to meat. They had heard all the explanations previously, now they had to move on from preparation to maturity in the promises of that truth, in the same way a child moves on from the parental home and schooling to creating his own family and building a career.

This is the spiritual move that the author deeply hopes the noncommittal will make, before it is too late.

Henry gives us this analysis:

He proceeds to set before them caution and counsel how to attain this full assurance of hope to the end. 1. That they should not be slothful. Slothfulness will clothe a man with rags: they must not love their ease, nor lose their opportunities. 2. That they would follow the good examples of those who had gone before, Hebrews 6:12. Here learn, (1.) There are some who from assurance have gone to inherit the promises. They believed them before, now they inherit them; they have got safely to heaven. (2.) The way by which they came to the inheritance was that of faith and patience. These graces were implanted in their souls, and drawn forth into act and exercise in their lives. If we ever expect to inherit as they do, we must follow them in the way of faith and patience; and those who do thus follow them in the way shall overtake them at the end, and be partakers of the same blessedness.

I daresay that faith and patience are in short supply these days, which makes the Book of Hebrews all that more pertinent in the 21st century.

Faith has become an offensive word, one that ‘triggers’, so to speak.

Patience went by the wayside several years ago with seemingly instantaneous delivery of everything from food to other consumables. You want it now? You can have it now — or so we are told.

We have so little faith.

We have so little patience.

I hope that sorry state of affairs changes in the years to come.

Returning to the Book of Hebrews, the author, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, goes on to review the revelations that God gave to Abraham and the order of the priesthood he gave to Melchizedek. These are the meatier subjects he wanted to delve into earlier but saw a correction needed to be made first about the dullness of hearing among some Hebrews.

For those who attend churches with liturgical prayers, phrases such as ‘Abraham, our father in faith’ and ‘the priesthood, according to the order of Melchizedek’ will become clearer as we study more of Hebrews.

Next time — Hebrews 6:13-19

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What follows are the readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity — the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — October 13, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Jeremiah continue. False teachers who had denounced the prophet had been taken into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem. Others had also been taken captive, including the rulers, carpenters and blacksmiths. Jeremiah sends them a message from the Lord, advising them to make the best of a very bad situation, which would last 70 years.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

29:1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

29:4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

29:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

29:6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Psalm

This is a general Psalm of thanksgiving. We have much for which to be grateful in this life, therefore, God deserves our praise.

Psalm 66:1-12

66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;

66:2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.

66:3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.

66:4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah

66:5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.

66:6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,

66:7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah

66:8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,

66:9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

66:10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

66:11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

66:12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

First reading – alternate

Reluctantly following Elisha’s instructions, the mighty warrior Naaman is cured of leprosy. God’s ways are not always our ways. We had this reading previously on the Third Sunday after Trinity this year.

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

5:2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.

5:3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

5:7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

5:8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.

5:10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

5:11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.

5:13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

5:15c Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Psalm – alternate

This Psalm, which David wrote, is another that is full of praise for the Lord, to whom we owe our obedience and thanksgiving.

Psalm 111

111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.

111:3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

111:5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

111:8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Epistle

Readings from Paul’s letter to Timothy continue. The Apostle advises him to focus on endurance in the faith and to quell petty quarrels among the believers.

2 Timothy 2:8-15

2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel,

2:9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.

2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

2:11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us;

2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.

2:14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Gospel

Luke tells us of another time when Jesus encountered a grateful Gentile, signalling that He also came to save those who were not Jewish.

Luke 17:11-19

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

That Gospel story always amazes me. Lepers were the ultimate outcasts. Our Lord healed ten of them, fully and instantly. Yet, only one returned to give Him thanks.

The Psalms tie in particularly well with this reading. May we always remember to thank the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — for our many blessings, great and small.

The following graphic comes from elsewhere on WordPress, but it is a timely reminder from the Book of Revelation about those headed for damnation.

‘Who’s Who in Hell’ comes courtesy of K B McGee, and posted elsewhere:

Our first death is our departure from this mortal coil.

The second death is eternal death.

I pray we all avoid it.

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Hebrews 6:1-8

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings,[a] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

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Last week’s entry discussed the author’s warning against apostasy (Hebrews 5:11-14), in which s/he chided those who were still on the spiritual milk of Christianity when they should have been partaking of meat in their religious journey.

John MacArthur rightly termed such stasis as ‘spiritual stupidity’.

To put it another way, imagine a youngster still being in primary school at the age of 17, when he should be ready to graduate and enter university. What a waste of so many years of education.

Yet, that is what is going on here with Hebrews a) who have converted but are still stuck in the rituals of Mosaic law and b) who have heard the Good News but cannot commit to living a life in Christ.

Our commentators Matthew Henry and John MacArthur differ in their interpretations as to the identity of the target audience in this passage. Henry says the audience is those who have matured spiritually. MacArthur says these verses are intended for those who have not committed their hearts and minds to Christ.

Both are sound interpretations, but I lean towards Henry’s perspective, as the first clause of verse 1 says that the author will now progress to the subject of maturity in Christ.

Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Why did the apostle resolve to set strong meat before the Hebrews, when he knew they were but babes? Answer. 1. Though some of them were but weak, yet others of them had gained more strength; and they must be provided for suitably. And, as those who are grown Christians must be willing to hear the plainest truths preached for the sake of the weak, so the weak must be willing to hear the more difficult and mysterious truths preached for the sake of those who are strong. 2. He hoped they would be growing in their spiritual strength and stature, and so be able to digest stronger meat.

Henry says that the author did not intend to go through basic Christian doctrine once more, as that should be well established already in both the babes as well as the more mature among them:

neither his time nor theirs must be spent in laying these foundations over and over again.

Henry says the following six principles are essential to Christian doctrine:

These are the great foundation-principles which ministers should clearly and convincingly unfold, and closely apply. In these the people should be well instructed and established, and from these they must never depart; without these, the other parts of religion have no foundation to support them.

1/ Repentance from ‘dead works’ towards works based in faith towards God (verse 1):

Observe here, (1.) The sins of persons unconverted are dead works; they proceed from persons spiritually dead, and they tend to death eternal. (2.) Repentance for dead works, if it be right, is repentance from dead works, a universal change of heart and life. (3.) Repentance for and from dead works is a foundation-principle, which must not be laid again, though we must renew our repentance daily.

2/ Faith towards God — and the works that emanate from it — involves a belief in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We must actively believe in the nature of the Holy Trinity — the Triune God — as well as what Holy Scripture teaches us:

Observe, (1.) Repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, are connected, and always go together; they are inseparable twins, the one cannot live without the other. (2.) Both of these are foundation-principles, which should be once well laid, but never pulled up, so as to need to be laid over again; we must not relapse into infidelity.

3/ The washings of the Christian are different to those mandated in Mosaic law, which were ritual cleansings (verse 2). We have the sacrament of Baptism, which operates both outwardly and inwardly and is received only once:

The doctrine of baptisms, that is, of being baptized by a minister of Christ with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as the initiating sign or seal of the covenant of grace, strongly engaging the person so baptized to get acquainted with the new covenant, to adhere to it, and prepare to renew it at the table of the Lord and sincerely to regulate himself according to it, relying upon the truth and faithfulness of God for the blessings contained in it. And the doctrine of an inward baptism, that of the Spirit sprinkling the blood of Christ upon the soul, for justification, and the graces of the Spirit for sanctification. This ordinance of baptism is a foundation to be rightly laid, and daily remembered, but not repeated.

4/ The Christian laying on of hands is no longer that of the Old Testament Jew touching his sacrifice in order to make himself one with it (verse 2), but a renewing gesture used in Ordination and Confirmation so that the Holy Spirit and His many divine gifts would come upon that person. In the case of Confirmation, said gesture signifies full membership in the Church. Again, whether Ordination or Confirmation, this is done only once:

This passing from incomplete to complete church membership was performed by laying on of hands, which was extraordinary conveyance of the gift of the Holy Ghost continued. This, once done, all are obliged to abide by, and not to need another solemn admission, as at first, but to go on, and grow up, in Christ. Or by this may be meant ordination of persons to the ministerial office, who are duly qualified for it and inclined to it; and this by fasting and prayer, with laying on of the hands of the presbytery: and this is to be done but once.

5/ The resurrection of the dead (verse 2), meaning the eventual reunification of body and soul in the afterlife, whether rewarded or punished:

The resurrection of the dead, that is, of dead bodies; and their re-union with their souls, to be eternal companions together in weal or woe, according as their state was towards God when they died, and the course of life they led in this world.

This, as Paul’s testimony indicated during his trials at the end of the Book of Acts, was a belief that ran through the Old Testament and was held to by the Pharisees. Only the Sadducees disregarded it.

6/ Our final reward or punishment is for eternity (verse 2):

Eternal judgment, determining the soul of every one, when it leaves the body at death, and both soul and body at the last day, to their eternal state, every one to his proper society and employment to which they were entitled and fitted here on earth; the wicked to everlasting punishment, the righteous to life eternal.

I daresay we do not hear much about the last two principles, which is why it is important to read and study Scripture independently. Some might be able to find a (dreaded) ‘small group’ to do this, but such a group often requires subscribing to a hive-mind of thought, which might go against what the Bible teaches. This is why I advocate that people do it themselves with good commentaries on hand to illuminate and explain difficult truths.

Verse 3 is interesting. Is the author being self-referential or speaking of the audience? John MacArthur rightly asks us to consider both possibilities:

… interpreting verse 3 is very difficult, even though it’s very brief. Well, let’s just look at it from two angles. The power in verse 3, “And this will we do if God permits.” Now, some people say this refers to the writer of Hebrews. The idea is that the Spirit is saying one – possibly this, that the writer of Hebrews is saying, “I will go on and teach you what I want you to know if God permits Me.” The other interpretation is that He’s saying, “You will go on to maturity if God permits you.”

Now, since there’s no way to be sure which, let’s just take both. For whether you’re talking about salvation or service, it’s all energized by the Holy Spirit. And the writer can say, “I want to go on and say more about this if the Spirit wills, or if God permits, and I want you to come to Jesus Christ, all the way to maturity if God permits.”

You see, really everything revolves around the permission of God. Divine enablement is the issue in every case, and the writer acknowledges that.

In verses 4 through 6, the author gives the Hebrews — and us — another warning about apostasy. If we have heard the Gospel, experienced (‘tasted’) the holy gift that comes from hearing it and have shared in the Holy Spirit, then fall away, God will not restore us to the state where we want to repent.

That is very serious. We know from the Bible that all things are possible with God, yet, God will withdraw His infinite mercy if we persist against Him. This goes back to the discourse by the author of Hebrews about Psalm 95, namely verses 7 and 8:

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

Henry explains that any ability to repent from apostasy must come from God — and that very rarely happens:

The great misery of apostates. [1.] It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. It is extremely hazardous. Very few instances can be given of those who have gone so far and fallen away, and yet ever have been brought to true repentance, such a repentance as is indeed a renovation of the soul. Some have thought this is the sin against the Holy Ghost, but without ground. The sin here mentioned is plainly apostasy both from the truth and the ways of Christ. God can renew them to repentance, but he seldom does it; and with men themselves it is impossible.

The author of Hebrews then makes a chilling statement: apostasy is akin to crucifying Christ all over again (verse 6). Our commentators differ somewhat on the meaning of ‘once again’ in that verse. It is ‘afresh’ in older translations. Henry takes it as figuratively re-committing the act, whereas MacArthur says:

… the word “afresh” is not best there. It’s really put in there because of a preposition that’s connected to the word “crucify,” but it means to crucify up, not afresh. And that simply means to lift up in crucifixion.

However, both men agree that the ultimate meaning is that those who fall away from Christianity, having experienced it, are denying Christ and are no different to those who shouted out for His death and those who crucified Him.

Of apostates, Henry says:

They declare that they approve of what the Jews did in crucifying Christ, and that they would be glad to do the same thing again if it were in their power. They pour the greatest contempt upon the Son of God, and therefore upon God himself, who expects all should reverence his Son, and honour him as they honour the Father. They do what in them lies to represent Christ and Christianity as a shameful thing, and would have him to be a public shame and reproach. This is the nature of apostasy.

MacArthur examines the issue from the perspective of the Hebrews who had converted but were backsliding or those who had heard the Good News but refused to commit to a belief in Christ as the Messiah. Both were spiritually dangerous places to be:

As far as they’re concerned, the Son of God deserves to be crucified. That’s what it’s all about.

In other words, here’s the point: they came all the way up to the edge of faith. They heard it all; they got all the revelation; they turned, went back to Judaism, which had been guilty of killing Jesus Christ. They took their stand with the crucifiers. They said, “That’s the same verdict that we give.”

And consequently, according to them, Jesus should be crucified. Do you see? They are declaring that they have made a trial of Jesus Christ with all the evidence possible and found Him no true Messiah, turned around, gone back to Judaism. Said, “Jesus is an imposter and deceiver, and He got exactly what was coming.” That’s what that means. They agree with those who killed Jesus, that He was a fake. And they put Him to an open guilt. The word “shame” means guilt. They declare openly that Jesus is guilty.

Now, you can imagine what would happen. Take a Jew that came all the way up here. His friends were persecuting him, really rapping him for this. He turns around, forsakes Christ, goes right back to Judaism. He has declared for all time and for everybody around, “With all the evidence in, friends, Jesus is a fake; I’m going back to Judaism.”

As for Christians in that same dire spiritual state, MacArthur says to those who might have been in his church:

If you come to this place tonight, and you hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you turn your back on Christ, and you walk away, you have done exactly that. You have said, “I’ve heard the evidence. My verdict is the crowd that killed Him was right. I stand with the crucifiers.”

Jesus said, “A man is either for Me, or he’s” – what? – “against Me.” Salvation to that apostate then becomes impossible, for he rejects against full light, and that is incurable. And reserved for such a one is the hottest hell. Everything in this passage could be said of Judas, and his hell must be the hottest of all.

Hebrews 10:29, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing?”

And that’s what an apostate does, comes all the way up and says, “It’s a lot of baloney. Jesus was a fake, and His blood isn’t holy,” turn around and walk back.

You say, “I’d never do that. I’m tolerant. I’ll just kind of stay on the edge for a while.” My friend, if you don’t come to Jesus Christ, eventually you’ll go away from Him. And when you go away from Him in full light, you step into the possibility of impossibility.

In verse 7, the author of Hebrews describes the state of spiritual maturity, as if one’s soul were a field of crops continually refreshed by blessed rain, growing and becoming fruitful in the Lord.

Then he describes the opposite state: the field that is filled with thorns and thistles, fit only for burning (verse 8).

Henry tells us:

God will concern himself no more about such wicked apostates; he will let them alone, and cast them out of his care; he will command the clouds that they rain no more upon them. Divine influences shall be restrained; and that is not all, but such ground is nigh unto cursing; so far is it from receiving the blessing, that a dreadful curse hangs over it, though as yet, through the patience of God, the curse is not fully executed. Lastly, Its end is to be burned. Apostasy will be punished with everlasting burnings, the fire that shall never be quenched. This is the sad end to which apostasy leads, and therefore Christians should go on and grow in grace, lest, if they do not go forward, they should go backward, till they bring matters to this woeful extremity of sin and misery.

MacArthur’s sermon ends with this:

You see, God’s grace falls, but some men bring forth fruit. Others bring forth thorns. I pray God that when the rain of the Gospel of Jesus Christ falls on you, that you’ll issue forth in herbs fit for use.

That, too, is my prayer for all of us.

The exhortation to active faith continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 6:9-12

What follows are the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost — October 6, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

One of the following readings from Lamentations may be read.

Jeremiah wrote Lamentations as a poetic description of what happened during the Chaldeans’ destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The Babylonian exile followed. Jeremiah, in the eponymous book, prophesied this. Lamentations lays out what happened, as Jeremiah and his fellow Jews experienced it. The prophet intended for this five-chapter book to be memorised, and it is still read today during the Jewish Festivals of the Lord.

In the first selection, Jeremiah’s description of an empty Jerusalem shows that what God increases, He can also devastate.

Lamentations 1:1-6

1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

1:2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

1:3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

1:4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.

1:5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

1:6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

By the third chapter, Jeremiah has hope that the Lord will show mercy to His people. This passage can also be seen as analogous to Christ weeping over Jerusalem.

Lamentations 3:19-26

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

3:24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.

3:26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Psalm

Jeremiah wrote this Psalm, one of the ones written near the end of the days of the Old Covenant, recalling Babylonian captivity. It, too, is a lamentation. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this Psalm is also suitable for the Church in times of persecution. Verse 1 is very familiar to us, recalling a famous 1970s Jamaican song.

Psalm 137

137:1 By the rivers of Babylon– there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

137:2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.

137:3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

137:4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

137:6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

137:7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”

137:8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

137:9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

First reading – alternate

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah’s. He, too, warned that the Chaldeans, God’s chosen instruments of judgement, would conquer Jerusalem. Habakkuk’s prophecy dates from 600 BC. In the first part of today’s reading, the prophet laments what he sees as evil winning over good, but, in the second half, the Lord answers Habakkuk by saying that He ends trials at the appointed time, therefore, we are not to lose heart in our suffering.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm – alternate

This Psalm of David’s — a maschil, or teaching Psalm — tells us we must learn the ways of Providence and be patient in waiting for the end of our trials and tribulations.

Psalm 37:1-9

37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,

37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.

37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.

37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.

37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

Epistle

Paul advises young Timothy, the son of Eunice and grandson of Lois (Acts 16), on his ministry by describing his own.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

1:2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

1:3 I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did–when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

1:4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.

1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

1:7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

1:8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,

1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

1:10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

1:11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,

1:12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.

1:13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

1:14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Gospel

Another famous saying of Jesus follows (verse 6). May we pray for divine grace that increases our faith.

Luke 17:5-10

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

17:6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

17:7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

What an excellent lesson in humility. As Matthew Henry’s commentary points out:

God is happy without us, but we are undone without him.

Something to ponder in the week ahead, unpopular though it might be in our egotistical world.

The following video was made in 2014, but I saw it for the first time last week.

Leonora Hamill filmed this stag, named Chambord, in the Church of Saint-Eustache in Paris, which held Easter Day services for the parishioners of Notre-Dame Cathedral, which was devastated by fire during Holy Week on April 15, 2019.

Look how beautifully the stag blends into its surroundings:

It has a respectful look round the altar before leaving.

This is a sublime blending of God’s creation and His gift of aesthetics to mankind.

Some who have seen it recall the pagan deer deity Cernunnos, but, according to the YouTube comments, Ms Hamill filmed it to promote the Church of Saint-Eustache, located near Les Halles in the French capital. It is a church, by the way, and not a cathedral.

It is no coincidence that she chose a deer, as Saint Eustache — or Eustace, in English — was a Roman general named Placidus who saw a vision of a crucifix between a deer’s antlers. This was in the second century AD.

Upon seeing the vision of the deer with the crucifix between his antlers, Placidus changed his name to Eustace, which means ‘upstanding’ and ‘steadfast’.

Eustace wasted no time in converting his family and all were baptised.

Then, they underwent a series of dramatic trials of faith that were reminiscent of Job’s. According to Wikipedia (emphases mine):

A series of calamities followed to test his faith: his wealth was stolen; his servants died of a plague; when the family took a sea-voyage, the ship’s captain kidnapped Eustace’s wife Theopista; and as Eustace crossed a river with his two sons Agapius and Theopistus, the children were taken away by a wolf and a lion. Like Job, Eustace lamented but did not lose his faith.

Although God restored his social standing and reunited him with his family, he died as a martyr for the faith in 118, when he refused to offer a pagan sacrifice:

There is a tradition that when he demonstrated his new faith by refusing to make a pagan sacrifice, the emperor Hadrian condemned Eustace, his wife, and his sons to be roasted to death inside a bronze statue of a bull or an ox,[5] in the year AD 118.

He was part of the General Roman Calendar of saints until 1970, when he was removed from the list, presumably because his life’s story could not be fully authenticated.

Nonetheless, after his death he was venerated in many countries across Europe. He still is today in several of them and, fortunately, remains listed in the Roman Martyrology.

St Eustace is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, as is St Blaise. The list of the Fourteen Holy Helpers was devised in Germany during the Black Death in the 14th century. People sought their intercession in times of need. St Eustace was the healer of family troubles. The Catholic Church unceremoniously dumped several of the individual feasts of the Fourteen Holy Helpers in 1969, although Catherine of Alexandria’s optional feast day of November 25 was reinstated in 2004, possibly because Joan of Arc was said to have heard the saint’s voice.

Other individual feasts days of the Fourteen Holy Helpers were dropped, such as those of Saints Christopher, Barbara and Margaret of Antioch.

Back now to Eustace, who is also the patron saint of hunters, firefighters and anyone facing adversity. His feast day is September 20.

There was another saint who had a similar vision of a deer. His name was Hubertus, or Hubert. He lived near Liège and was the eldest son of Bertrand, the Duke of Aquitaine. Hubert was born in 656. Although he was an agreeable character, he loved hunting. He loved it so much that, one Good Friday morning, while everyone went to church, he went hunting.

According to the legend, recounted by Wikipedia:

As he was pursuing a magnificent stag or hart, the animal turned and, as the pious legend narrates, he was astounded at perceiving a crucifix standing between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: “Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell”. Hubert dismounted, prostrated himself and said, “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?” He received the answer, “Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you.”

Lambert was the Bishop of Maastricht at the time. Lambert was later canonised, as was Hubert.

Lambert became Hubert’s spiritual director, and the young nobleman renounced his title, gave his worldly goods to the poor, studied for ordination and made his younger brother Odo guardian of his infant son Floribert.

Sadly, Lambert was assassinated and died as a martyr. Hubert brought his mentor’s remains to Liège in great ecclesiastical pomp and circumstance.

One could say that Hubert put Liège on the world map. It was only a small village when he had Lambert’s remains brought there. Not long afterwards, it grew in prominence. Today, it is a renowned city. St Lambert is its patron and St Hubert is considered its founder and was its first bishop.

St Hubert’s feast day is May 30. He died on that day in 727 or 728.

His legacy, in addition to increasing Liège’s prominence, involves God. Hubert evangelised passionately to the pagans of the Ardennes region at the time. He also developed a set of ethics for hunting animals humanely, standards which are still used today among French huntsmen, who venerate him annually during a special ceremony.

His feast day is November 3. He is one of the Four Holy Marshals, another group of saints that also was venerated in the Rhineland. He is the patron saint of those involved in hunting as well as forest workers, trappers, mathematicans, metal workers and smelters. A few ancient chivalrous orders also bear his name.

In closing, those familiar with the German digestif Jägermeister should know that the drink’s logo refers to Eustace and Hubert’s respective visions:

I wonder if that label has ever converted anyone. It would be nice to think so.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Hebrews 5:11-14

Warning Against Apostasy

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

———————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading was the end of the discourse by the unknown author of Hebrews on Psalm 95’s exhortation to not harden one’s heart against God’s voice.

The author then begins a discourse on Jesus as the Great High Priest, which continues into Hebrews 5. The following is in two Year B readings in the three-year Lectionary. Note how the author emphasises that Jesus Christ was called by God the Father to be our Great High Priest, just as Melchizedek was (emphases mine):

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus[a] offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Then the author breaks off to reprove the Hebrews. He wants to continue his discourse on the comparison between Jesus and Melchizedek but says he cannot do so because the Hebrews have dulled their hearing towards what they have learned (verse 11). They stopped taking in the lessons of Scripture, which require acting on said instruction by faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Dull hearers make the preaching of the gospel a difficult thing, and even many who have some faith are but dull hearers, dull of understanding and slow to believe; the understanding is weak, and does not apprehend these spiritual things; the memory is weak, and does not retain them.

Eventually, this becomes sinful behaviour — a wilful rejection of Scripture, Christ and, by extension, God the Father:

He insists upon the faultiness of this infirmity of theirs. It was not a mere natural infirmity, but it was a sinful infirmity, and more in them than others, by reason of the singular advantages they had enjoyed for improving in the knowledge of Christ

He further chides them by saying that, at this point, they should be teaching about Jesus as the Messiah. Instead, they need to go back to the beginning and relearn what they have forgotten. They need milk again, just as a baby does (verse 12).

He goes on to say that someone who needs milk is a child, and a child lacks the knowledge and the wherewithal to function independently (verse 13).

The author concludes by saying only an adult can handle solid food, and so it is with the spiritually mature, who sharpen their discernment, ‘trained by constant practice’ (verse 14).

Henry says that we Christians have the same — if not more — responsibility to develop spiritually:

1. What proficiency might have been reasonably expected from these Hebrews–that they might have been so well instructed in the doctrine of the gospel as to have been teachers of others. Hence learn, (1.) God takes notice of the time and helps we have for gaining scripture-knowledge. (2.) From those to whom much is given much is expected. (3.) Those who have a good understanding in the gospel should be teachers of other, if not in a public, yet in a private station. (4.) None should take upon them to be teachers of others, but those who have made a good improvement in spiritual knowledge themselves.

2. Observe the sad disappointment of those just expectations: You have need that one should teach you again, &c. Here note, (1.) In the oracles of God there are some first principles, plain to be understood and necessary to be learned. (2.) There are also deep and sublime mysteries, which those should search into who have learned the first principles, that so they may stand complete in the whole will of God. (3.) Some persons, instead of going forward in Christian knowledge, forget the very first principles that they had learned long ago; and indeed those that are not improving under the means of grace will be losing. (4.) It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding.

Whilst it is essential to know the basic doctrine that studying the Bible affords, we then need to go to the next stage and begin to understand the holy mysteries. We also need to deepen our relationship with Christ by acting upon what we read and hear in Scripture:

Observe, (1.) There have been always in the Christian state children, young men, and fathers. (2.) Every true Christian, having received a principle of spiritual life from God, stands in need of nourishment to preserve that life. (3.) The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby. (4.) It is the wisdom of ministers rightly to divide the word of truth, and to give to every one his portion–milk to babes, and strong meat to those of full age. (5.) There are spiritual senses as well as those that are natural. There is a spiritual eye, a spiritual appetite, a spiritual taste; the soul has its sensations as well as the body; these are much depraved and lost by sin, but they are recovered by grace. (6.) It is by use and exercise that these senses are improved, made more quick and strong to taste the sweetness of what is good and true, and the bitterness of what is false and evil. Not only reason and faith, but spiritual sense, will teach men to distinguish between what is pleasing and what is provoking to God, between what is helpful and what is hurtful to our own souls.

To those who say, ‘I read the Bible once. I’ve done that’, I say, ‘Keep reading it’. A Bible scholar makes a lifetime vocation out of studying Scripture. There are new insights for us to discover every time we open the Good Book, as it used to be known not so long ago.

John MacArthur gives us a good analysis of this principle and how it relates to the Hebrews. We would do well to note this, too:

There are those who have come up, and they have all the information. They have all the facts, but they’ve never committed their lives to Jesus ChristAnd so there are really these two groups in view, and then in third distant view in the writing of Hebrews is a group of uncommitted Jews who are just being exposed to the new covenant altogether. So the theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. To the saved Jews, he is saying, “You’ve done the right thing. You don’t need to go back. You don’t need any of the trappings.” To the intellectually convinced Jews who have not received Christ, he is saying, “Come on. Don’t stand there in neglect. Don’t let yourself get hard. Come on and receive Jesus Christ. Come all the way to salvation. Don’t just…don’t just get up to the edge and think it’s right and believe it. Commit yourself to it.” And to the third group, he’s simply sharing with them the facts of the new covenant, that they might be exposed to the truth. Now, as we study Hebrews from chapter to chapter, from passage to passage, from text to text, we must keep this in mind, that it is a contrast between Christianity and Judaism, or we will fall into error in our interpretation. We find that the Biblical writers, if we study the books carefully, have a basic idea. Remember in John, we saw that everywhere Jesus was presented as God, that was John’s point; and you could look at any passage; and you could see, now, what in here is John trying to say concerning the deity of Christ. As we come to this passage, we will say the same thing. What is it that the writer of Hebrews is saying regarding the superiority of Christianity over Judaism? That’s the issue all the way through the Book of Hebrews. This is the key that unlocks every section of Hebrews, and to use any other key is forced entry. Now mark this in your minds. The Holy Spirit is not contrasting two kinds of Christianity in Hebrews. He is contrasting Judaism to Christianity. He is not contrasting an immature Christian with a mature Christian. He is contrasting an unsaved Jew in Judaism with a redeemed Jew in the new covenant. That’s the basic principle of hermeneutics. He is contrasting the substance against the shadow, the pattern against the reality, the visible against the invisible, the facsimile against the genuine, the type against the anti-type, the picture against the actual. And if you’ve been here in any of our studies, you know that the Old Testament are all pictures and types of what is fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament; and all the way through Hebrews, this is the contrast that is made, and this is the only basic hermeneutic…that word means principle of interpretation…that you need in Hebrews to see an overview. So the contrasts are between Christianity and Judaism.

There is also a deeper principle here of divine judgement in the afterlife for falling away or not committing:

… periodically through the book, he gives very pointed warnings to those who’ve come all the way up in intellectual belief and never committed themselves. In the first warning, for example, he simply said, “How shall we escape if we…what?…neglect so great salvation?” If you don’t come, you’re not gonna escape judgment. And then he said in the second warning, which was in chapter 3, he said, “Don’t harden your hearts. You’ve come all the way up there. Now don’t stop there and get a hard heart and depart from the living God with an evil heart of unbelief. You’ve come this far, come on all the way.” So he’s speaking to the intellectually convinced Jews. Now, I believe there is no reason in the world to assume that the third warning won’t follow the very same pattern as all the others. The beginning in chapter 5 verse 11, he is again speaking to the same group of individuals, only this time he is saying, “You better grow up to the mature truths of the new covenant. You better not fool around any longer with the ABCs of the old covenant, for you are in danger…verse 4 of chapter 6… of falling away after you’ve once been enlightened; and, if you do that, you can be lost eternally. Don’t do that. You’ve come all the way up.”

We haven’t got to Hebrews 6 yet, but the theme of spiritual maturity in Jesus Christ will continue:

In 5:11 through 6:3, the Holy Spirit says, “Grow up from the…the ABCs of Judaism, and come all the way to maturity. Leave the milk of the Old Testament. Come to the solid food of the new covenant. Come to Christ. Leave Judaism.” That’s exactly what he’s saying. Then in 6:4, he says, “If you don’t, you’re in serious danger of coming all the way up, hearing all of the truth, then falling away, and being lost forever.” Because, my friends, if a man hears all the truth of Jesus Christ, considers it carefully, and walks away, he’s hopeless. What else can God do once he’s known the truth?

MacArthur says the malaise of dull hearing can affect clerics, too:

I’ve met liberal theologians who knew the Scriptures. They knew where everything was located. They knew the theology of Paul in and out. That…I’ve read books from one end to the other teaching the doctrines that Paul taught, and, yet, those men who write those books have no relationship with Jesus Christ whatever. For the time and study, they oughta be teachers of the Word of God. They don’t even know Jesus Christ; and you heard an illustration night after night last week of people who’ve got all kinds of Bible verses, who’ve heard all kinds of truth, who’ve read it over and over again, but haven’t got the faintest idea what it all means. For the time, they oughta be teachers, but they don’t even know the truth themselves…

He gives us other Christian examples of dull hearing. The first one, involving a 14-year-old pastor’s daughter, is particularly sad. It took place in 1972:

I had an illustration of this. This is earlier this week. I spoke at a convention up in the Oakland area, the Christian Missionary Alliance Churches for the United States, their conference. After speaking to the young people on one occasion in the afternoon, a young girl came up to me and sat on the steps of this huge auditorium. She said to me, she said…I had talked about a Christian, the Christian young person’s relationship to another Christian young person in terms of choosing the right life partner and sex and all of these things; and, after I got done, she came up, and she said, “Well, my boyfriend says whatever you do is all right. He said, ‘Sex is like baseball, and the whole object is to make a home run.'”…That’s what she said.

I said, “Well, that’s interesting. How old’s your boyfriend?” “Twenty-one.” “How old are you?” “Fourteen.” Oh, uh-huh. Well, lemme tell you about your boyfriend. She said, after that opening statement, I said…I explained to her what God thought of that attitude. She said she was…dropped her head, and she said, “I know that,” and she said, “You know what I need?” she said, “I need to be saved.” So we sat down on the steps of this huge auditorium while all these people were coming in, and I said to her, “Well,” I said, “been raised in the church?” Said, “Yes, my father’s a pastor.” I said, “All your life he’s been the pastor?” “Yes.” I said, “Then you know how to be saved, don’t you?” She said, “No.” I said, “Does he ever preach on how to be saved?” She says, “Yeah, but I don’t understand any of it.”

Now there was a perfect illustration of spiritual sluggishness. A person who, for so long had rejected Jesus Christ, even to the time she was 14 years old, that the Gospel was so foggy, she couldn’t even understand it anymore; and so I sat there; and I carefully delineated what the Gospel was; and right there on the steps we were praying together as all these people came in, and she invited Jesus Christ into her life. She said, “All that I can remember is my father’s boring sermons… that made no sense.” And I’m sure that would break her father’s heart to hear her say that; and, yet, because of constant rejection, she became totally indifferent.

I had another person say to me this very week, “I don’t know what I believe or if I believe anymore.” You ever heard anybody talk like that? Sure you have. You get into a state where it’s all kind of a bunch of gop, and you can’t discern it anymore. That’s exactly what’s happened here. I can’t teach you the sharp, clear truths to take you from Judaism to the new covenant, because you’re too spiritually stupid. You’ve been standing there rejecting it so long, you’re getting thick. Thick, thick, thick

That is not a good place to be, whether at age 14 or 50. The Jewish hierarchy of Christ’s time suffered from the same spiritual malaise:

Maturity comes through exercise, being alert, being aware, using your thinking processes, not being sluggish, indifferent, neglecting, and hard in your hearts. Jesus said to the Jews in John 5:39, “I’ll tell you what you do. You go and search the Scriptures. For in there, you’ll find out about me. Get your senses sharp. Go to the Word of God and find the answers.” They were babes by neglect of what they knew. Spiritual stupidity is the issue at this point

In next week’s reading, the author begins giving his audience spiritual milk by going back to the basics.

Next time — Hebrews 6:1-8

What follows are the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 29, 2019.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

There are two choices for the First Reading and Psalm. I have differentiated these by using blue in the headings for the alternative option.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Jeremiah continue. The Lord intervenes for Jeremiah via the prophet’s cousin. Although judgement would fall, it would not be permanent.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

32:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar.

32:2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah,

32:3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

32:6 Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me:

32:7 Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”

32:8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

32:9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver.

32:10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales.

32:11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy;

32:12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard.

32:13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying,

32:14 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.

32:15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm reflects the mercy and protection God gives to His faithful.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

91:1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

91:2 will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

91:3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;

91:4 he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

91:5 You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day,

91:6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

91:14 Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.

91:15 When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.

91:16 With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

First reading – alternate

Readings from Amos continue. Here the prophet warns that those who blithely ignore warnings of the judgement to come will have a rude awakening indeed.

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

6:1a Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.

6:4 Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall;

6:5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music;

6:6 who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

6:7 Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Psalm – alternate

This Psalm has one of my favourite verses. We can trust only God, not mankind, in this life.

Psalm 146

146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

146:4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul writes to young Timothy about his ministry. Note the context surrounding verse 10.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;

6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;

6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

6:9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you

6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

6:15 which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

6:17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,

6:19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Gospel

The parable of Dives (i.e. ‘rich man’) and Lazarus is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The Lazarus here is not Mary and Martha’s brother from Bethany, incidentally. The feast day of this Lazarus is June 21 and that of Lazarus of Bethany is December 17.

Luke 16:19-31

16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–

16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

How true!

Pray for those who mock Scripture; may they come to believe it or suffer eternal judgement.

For all those holding church services in quasi-worship of the environment, a Catholic priest, the Revd Nicholas Gregoris, asks:

Would that these young Christian environmentalists valued life in the womb as much as plants and animals.

However, the priest makes the essential point that obeying the tenets of the Gospel and the Ten Commandments are what Christianity is all about. Failure to uphold those in favour of the world’s trends — e.g. making a religion out of environmentalism — will not win notional believers eternal life.

Repent of the Church of Gaia now or face eternal judgement without eternal God-granted rest.

The Church of Gaia is one of the devil’s best tricks today.

Be a steward of the environment, not an idoliser of it.

Activity in the Church of Gaia continues.

The other day we saw that students at New York’s Union Seminary confess to plants.

Another recent development is the anointment with chrism of Washington DC’s Catholic school students in a pledge to the environment.

Last Friday, September 20, 2019 — Greta Thunberg’s first school strike day of the autumn — some students in the Archdiocese of Washington assembled in churches for Catholic Charities’ Season of Creation Prayer Service:

This included showing Greta’s climate address to the UN — and anointing students’ hands with blessed chrism (sacramental oil):

Chrism is used in Catholic sacramental rites of Baptism, Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying.

Therefore, use of sacramental oil is suspect when used in another context, such as this one.

Furthermore, anointing of the head — not the hands — is the general practice for Baptism and Confirmation. The brain rules what our hands do.

Devout Catholics had this to say about the service which elevates the environment above God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ:

There was more reaction here:

I’ll end with this tweet:

The practice you are depicting is blasphemy and idolatry. Pray for the conversion of all who participate in this sinfulness.

Indeed.

This ceremony is blasphemous and idolatrous. It also opens the door to heresy, elevating God’s creation above God Himself.

These are dangerous days for young Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. Pray that the Holy Spirit works in them, turning them away from error and heresy towards the eternal truth as expressed in Holy Scripture and the Sacraments.

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