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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.

Matthew 19:3-6

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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Last week’s entry discussed the first two verses of Matthew 19, which introduce Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

He was now in Judea, beyond the Jordan, in a region called Perea.

As last week’s post explained, the crowds continued to gather around Him. Among them were the usual groupings of the Jewish hierarchy.

The Pharisees approached Jesus with a question on the legality of divorce for any cause (verse 3). This question was designed to trap and discredit Him.

There was also another angle. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18.

Briefly, two schools of Jewish thought existed on the matter. Rabbi Shammai said that divorce was strictly forbidden. Rabbi Hillel said that any trivial reason provided grounds for divorce. Not surprisingly, Hillel’s argumentation was the more popular with the Pharisees.

There is also a third aspect regarding not only the institution of marriage but also the location of this confrontation. John MacArthur says that John the Baptist was held prisoner in Perea, at or near Herod Antipas’s summer home in Machaerus. John the Baptist had warned Herod Antipas about his adulterous relationship with Herodias, who grew very angry with his pronouncements. Her daughter was the one who requested the beheading of this last great prophet of the Bible.

Instead of debating the Pharisees on schools of rabbinical thought, Jesus answered by going straight to the creation story (verses 4 – 6). He cited Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

He asked if they had never read those verses before. They, of course, would have done. Therefore, it was time for Him to remind them of their meaning and import. As Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

Note, It will be of great use to us often to think of our creation, how and by whom, what and for what, we were created. He made them male and female, one female for one male so that Adam could not divorce his wife, and take another, for there was no other to take. It likewise intimated an inseparable union between them Eve was a rib out of Adam’s side, so that he could not put her away, but he must put away a piece of himself, and contradict the manifest indications of her creation.

Subsequent formal marriage ceremony rites symbolise the reuniting of man with woman into one, indissoluble body. This makes the bonds of marriage the strongest of family relationships:

a man must leave his parents, to cleave to his wife. See here the power of a divine institution, that the result of it is a union stronger than that which results from the highest obligations of nature.

it is in a manner equivalent to that between one member and another in the natural body. As this is a reason why husbands should love their wives, so it is a reason why they should not put away their wives, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, or cut it off, but nourishes and cherishes it, and does all he can to preserve it. They two shall be one, therefore there must be but one wife, for God made but one Eve for one Adam, Malachi 2:15.

Note that God did not make more than one male and one female. His plan and His purpose in doing this should remind us of the fundamentals of couples and their loving bond.

John MacArthur points out what God did and did not do:

He did not make provision for polygamy.  He did not make provision for divorce by making any spare people

When he made them, he made them a male and a female, and that was it.  Not a male and two females, not four folks who could work it out the best way.  Very basic.  So, in the case of Adam and Eve, divorce was not only wrong, it was inadvisable.  Not only that, it was impossible.  It was absolutely impossible.  There were no alternatives.  There was nowhere to go, no one else to talk to, nothing.  That’s the way God meant it.  If it isn’t you two, it isn’t anything.  This is God’s intended creation, a non-optional, indissoluble union …

And just because spares came along as time went on didn’t change God’s original intention, you understand?  It didn’t change it at all.  And God never intended two people to be married and be poking around seeing if they like somebody better.  That is not an alternative that God ever intended, and that’s obvious by virtue of his creation. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘cleave’:

It means basically “to have a bond that can’t be broken.”  It’s a word that’s used really for glue.  It means “to be stuck”  …  It’s a happy stuck and not a sad stuck.  That’s the idea here.  But you’re stuck.  You are cleaving, the idea of glue.  In fact, there’s a translation … where it even uses the word “glue” in Genesis 2 to refer to this.  “A man should be glued to his wife.” 

There also is inherent in the word another thought that takes it into the heart a little more, and it’s sometimes used to speak of pursuing hard after something.  And so you have the idea then of two people who are stuck together, and are so because they pursue hard after each other.  So you have two hearts diligently and utterly committed to pursuing one another in love … Glued in mind, glued in will, glued in spirit, glued in emotion

Malachi 2:16 is relevant in this context, likening divorce to attacking oneself physically:

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[b] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Henry considers that verse and the Greek word used in the ancient text of Matthew 19:6:

From hence he infers, What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Note, (1.) Husband and wife are of God’s joining together synezeuxenhe hath yoked them together, so the word is, and it is very significant. God himself instituted the relation between husband and wife in the state of innocence. Marriage and the sabbath are the most ancient of divine ordinances. Though marriage be not peculiar to the church, but common to the world, yet, being stamped with a divine institution, and here ratified by our Lord Jesus, it ought to be managed after a godly sort, and sanctified by the word of God, and prayer. A conscientious regard to God in this ordinance would have a good influence upon the duty, and consequently upon the comfort, of the relation. (2.) Husband and wife, being joined together by the ordinance of God, are not to be put asunder by any ordinance of man. Let not man put them asunder not the husband himself, nor any one for him not the magistrate, God never gave him authority to do it. The God of Israel hath said, that he hateth putting away, Malachi 2:16. It is a general rule that man must not go about to put asunder what God hath joined together.

Next week’s entry will explore why divorce came into being during Moses’s time.

For now, perhaps these verses and this type of explanation should be made more a part of courses undertaken in preparation for marriage. We normally think of the marriage ceremony in church as defining the indissoluble character of such a union.

The greater headline to take away is that the ceremony is secondary in importance to the symbolic fusion of husband and wife in the same way that Adam and Eve were bonded together as two people, the rib once again ‘united’ with the rest into one ‘body’, functioning as one entity together in love.

That pertains to secular wedding ceremonies, too, whether those couples believe it or not.

This is why it is so important we make a careful, deliberate decision before undertaking the commitment and consequences of the marital contract.

Next time: Matthew 19:7-9

Wedding bands ehowcomNorman and Joyce Johnson celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary a few days ago in July 2015.

The two grew up in the same area of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and met early in adolescence.

Joyce was quite taken by Norman. When she found out he was attending night school, she, too, enrolled, although they took different courses.

They were married during the Second World War. Norman requested weekend leave. The ceremony took place on Saturday, and Norman returned on Sunday night.

He was among those safely evacuated from Dunkirk. In his pocket was a photo of Joyce which he’d wrapped in a 100,000 Deutsche Mark banknote to protect it.

Amazingly, although he had to swim to the rescue boat, the banknote and photo survive to this day.

After the war, Norman worked for the English Steel Corporation. Joyce took in laundry.

They have two daughters, Carol and Sue, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Although they went through the same life experiences as any other couple of their time, Joyce said:

we lived happily ever after.

Norman explained:

the secret to a long and happy marriage was ‘being easy-going with each other’.

He said: “I can honestly say we’ve never fallen out. We’ve been very happy indeed.

“We’ve done very well really.”

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Let’s take a few pages out of their marital notebook!

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was christened at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham on July 5, 2015.

The newest member of Britain’s Royal Family wore a replica of the christening gown Queen Victoria’s daughter the Princess Royal, also named Victoria, had in 1841. The original is too fragile to be worn.

The Duchess of Cambridge borrowed the pram used by Queen Elizabeth for her children.

Prince George was dressed similarly to his father Prince William when the latter was his age: red shorts and a white shirt with red ornamentation across the chest.

The Daily Telegraph has an excellent set of photos from the day.

The paper also has a diary of events and personalities which is well worth reading.

Rain did not deter a huge crowd from gathering on ‘the paddock’ — public area — outside the church. Some had travelled from the United States. Eighty-year old Terry Hutt made a cross-country journey from Somerset to Norfolk for the occasion. He had also camped out at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington (London) awaiting Charlotte’s birth nine weeks ago.

By the time the ceremony began, summer sunshine abounded.

The Lily Font was used for the first time since 1841. It was created for the Princess Royal Victoria that year. A Kensington Palace tweet explained that the decorations on the font — lilies, water lilies and ivy — represent ‘purity and new life’. The Lily Font is part of the Crown Jewels collection at the Tower of London. A matching ewer was also used. It contained water from the River Jordan.

The Telegraph listed the order of service (see 16:30 entry):

Kensington Palace has released details of the order of service.

The Duke and Duchess have chosen two hymns, Praise to the Lord, The Almighty and Come Down, O Love Divine.

The lesson is from Matthew 18, verses 1-5, read by James Meade.

The anthems are I Will Sing With The Spirit and God Be In My Head, both by John Rutter.

Members of The Sandringham Church Choir are singing at the service.

The processional organ music is R. Vaughan Williams’ Prelude on “Rhosymedre”.

The recessional organ music is G. F. Handel’s Overture and Allegro from Concerto VIII in A.

Matthew 18:1-5 reads as follows:

Who Is the Greatest?

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,

The Archbishop of Canterbury, James Welby, performed the baptism — assisted by the Rev Canon Jonathan Riviere, Rector of the Sandringham group of parishes — and gave the sermon (see 17:41 entry). The Archbishop said (in part):

It seems that different forms of ambition are hard wired into almost all of us. At a baptism our ambitions are rightly turned into hopes and prayers for the child, today for Princess Charlotte. Everyone wants something for their children. At our best we seek beauty, not necessarily of form, but of life.

In the reading from Matthew 18, Jesus is trying to turn one kind of ambition, an ambition for place and prestige, into an ambition for a beautiful life. To be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, he tells his very pushy disciples, is not about position but about beauty of life, a life that looks like his, and his example is someone unimportant in those days, a child …

Such beauty of character begins with baptism, and is established in the habits of following and loving Jesus Christ, habits to be learned from parents and God parents, and the whole community of the church.

Let us pray that the Princess grows up to be a model of faith and practice.

A private tea was held afterward at Sandringham. It included the sharing of the top tier of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding cake. This is a heartwarming British tradition. As our wedding cakes are heavy fruit cakes, they keep well, particularly with fondant and royal icing!

Holy Communion stained glass home2romeDepending on where Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans live and where they go to church, the feast of Corpus Christi — ‘Body of Christ’ in Latin — was either Thursday, June 4 or will be Sunday, June 7, 2015.

Traditionally, the feast falls on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday. However, where no weekday church services are held, the observance is on the first Sunday after Trinity.

My 2010 post explains much more about Corpus Christi, the ceremony and the symbolism behind it. It was St Juliana’s wish (as Sister Juliana in the 13th century) that a feast day be dedicated to the Body of Christ. Whilst we commemorate the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the events of Holy Week are so dramatic that she thought a separate day later in the year would be appropriate. The first Corpus Christi observance took place in 1312.

It is, therefore, fitting that we have Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday and the feast of Corpus Christi in that order.

The stained glass window pictured above is symbolic of this feast. The reason that rays of light are shown in this and similar depictions is to symbolise the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood.

Monstrance stisidore-yubacityorgCorpus Christi often includes an outdoor procession in Catholic and High Churches. A monstrance (pictured at right) is used, again with rays proceeding from it.

chalice six scalloped edges homepageeircomnetChalices also have their symbolism. Often, we see them with six points or six scalloped edges. These represent the Six Attributes of the Deity: power, wisdom, majesty, mercy, justice and love.

Many people today baulk at the seeming extravagance of monstrances, chalices and clerical vestments.  It is important to remember that these items are created with such elegance so as to honour God and His Son Jesus Christ.  That may not wash with everyone’s interpretation of Christianity, but for those who hold to Catholic and traditional Anglican or Lutheran teachings, only the most precious metals, aesthetic workmanship and finest fabrics may be used.

The previous post in this series on Christian liturgy looked at Martin Luther’s liturgy in German, which appeared in 1526.

Those who missed the previous instalments on early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages and Mass during the Middle Ages might find them helpful in understanding the services which emerged during the Reformation.

Ulrich-Zwingli-1.jpgToday’s entry examines Ulrich Zwingli’s rite for his churches in and around Zurich.

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Before we go into Maxwell’s text, however, what follows are some facts about Zwingli, some of which demonstrate the influence he has had on Protestant churches to this day.

Zwingli’s theology

Zwingli had the same vehement complaints against the Catholic Church as the other early Refomers: questioning aspects of the Mass, forbidding remembrance of the saints and criticising corrupt clergy.

Zwingli:

1/ Was the first to use and develop lectio continua, which consisted of preaching on one book of the Bible at a time, disregarding the Church calendar. In 1519, during his early ministry, he began with Matthew’s Gospel — still pre-eminent at the time — then did the same with Acts, the Epistles and the Old Testament. This continuity provided the congregation with a greater understanding of the Bible. A number of independent churches do this today. My Forbidden Bible Verses series follows this format, too.

2/ Vehemently opposed Lenten fasting and food restrictions. On the first Sunday of Lent in 1522, he and a dozen followers cut up two smoked sausages and distributed the meat in Zurich. This is known as the Affair of the Sausages, considered to be the beginning of the Reformation in Switzerland. Zwingli also maintained that there was no scriptural support for food restriction of any kind at any time.

3/ He opposed celibacy on the part of clergy. In fact, he had secretly married widow Anna Reinhard in 1522, after the Affair of the Sausages. They were publicly married in 1524, three months before the birth of their first child.

4/Believed the Sacrament and the Liturgy of the Upper Room were symbolic of Christ’s body and blood and the Last Supper. He did not believe in the Real Presence, arguing that Christ gave His greatest sacrifice for us once and for all time. Therefore, it must not be re-enacted in a sacrificial or mystical way but in the manner of a memorial.

5/ Took issue with Anabaptists, radical reformers who did not believe in paedobaptism and did not hesitate to rebaptise people they felt had not received this sacrament properly as Catholics or Protestants. It was Zwingli and the Zurich City Council — not John Calvin — who condemned Felix Manz, the first Anabaptist martyr, to death by drowning.

Now to Maxwell’s chapter on the Zwinglian rite, developed in 1525, at the same time Luther was devising his service in Germany.

Communion policy

Because Zwingli held that the Sacrament was but a memorial, he said that his followers should be able to receive it only four times a year: Easter, Pentecost, one Sunday in the autumn and Christmas (p. 84).

Although Luther and Calvin promoted weekly Communion, as their denominations and other Protestant churches evolved, people received Communion only a few times a year. A shortage of clergy accounted for this as did the requirement for communicants to meet with the celebrant the week before the Communion service. That said, even at four times a year, these Protestants probably received the Sacrament more frequently than Catholics; it was only in 1905 when Pius X encouraged Catholics to receive Communion at every Mass.

Zwingli’s communicants sat together in church, and deacons brought the elements to them. The communicants remained seated during this time.

The paten — plate for the bread — and cup were made out of wood to avoid any ostentation.

Public confession of sin

Zwingli’s was the second liturgical rite to incorporate a public confession of sin. The first was Diebold Schwarz (Theobaldus Niger, in Latin) who modified the Confiteor for Protestants in Strasbourg in 1524, one year before Zwingli’s services began (p. 88).

This came after the sermon (p. 84).

Today, nearly every church — including the Catholic Church — has incorporated a public confession of sin into its liturgy.

Characteristics of the Zwinglian rite

Although Zwingli’s rite of 1525 differed from Martin Luther’s, it was equally as pared down.

Zwingli rearranged aspects of the Liturgy of the Word. It was a combination of Mattins and the Prone, a Catholic service without Communion, spoken largely in local language. The Prone was popular in Germany and France.

The main characteristics were as follows (pp. 84 – 86):

– The sermon was given in the first part of the Liturgy of the Word during the Mattins part of the service;

– The Offertory — preparation of the elements — occurred after the public confession of sins;

– The Invocation — prayers of the people — followed the Offertory;

– After the Offertory came the readings for that Sunday: the Epistle and the Gospel. In between the two, the congregation — men on one side, women on the other — recited the Gloria antiphonally.

– The Apostles Creed concluded the Liturgy of the Word;

– During the Liturgy of the Upper Room, the minister and deacons faced the people and prayers were said audibly so that everyone could hear them. Zwingli’s deacons had an active participation in line with early Christian liturgies;

– Although Zwingli considered the Sacrament to be a memorial, his fencing of the table made it clear that no one unworthy was to receive it;

– The congregation then knelt for the celebrant’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer;

– Zwingli might have been the first Reformer to write a prayer of humble access — expressing man’s unworthiness and giving thanks for the Sacrament — which the celebrant said. The congregation also knelt for this prayer.

– The congregation then sat whilst the minister briefly consecrated the elements;

– The deacons allowed people to take the unleavened bread from the paten and to take the cup in their own hands;

– The service concluded with a psalm, a collect and a brief blessing.

– Zwingli did not allow any music initially, although he relented a few decades later.

Maxwell’s verdict

Maxwell thought that Zwingli’s rite was ‘the least adequate of all the Reformation liturgies’ (p. 87), accusing it of:

– lack of content;

– no sense of communion or continuity with the Church ‘on earth and in heaven’;

– the separation of the Lord’s Supper from the Lord’s Day.

Yet, albeit unintentionally, Zwinglian principles entered into other Protestant denominations to the point where present day Reformed pastors and elders wonder whether their congregations think of the Supper as a mere memorial, symbolic in content and nature.

j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

Stained glass pitcher christtheservantsc Lutheran Church Conway SCThe trial Church of England (CofE) baptismal rite — running from now to Easter Sunday 2014 — omits any reference to Satan.

In any other Catholic or Protestant denomination, one of the principles of this holy sacrament, the first Christians (should) receive, is to actively renounce Satan and his works.

Today’s rites

In the latest CofE prayerbook (first used in 2000) — Common Worship — the part of the text called The Decision reads as follows (‘president’ refers to the priest):

A large candle may be lit. The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors

In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?

I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?

I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?

I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?

I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?

I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?

I come to Christ.

Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the alternative form of the Decision (page 168) may be used

The Alternative Form of the Decision — reads as follows:

Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the following may be used in place of the Decision in the service of Holy Baptism and at other Initiation services.

The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors

Therefore I ask:

Do you turn to Christ?

I turn to Christ.

Do you repent of your sins?

I repent of my sins.

Do you renounce evil?

I renounce evil.

These rites have been in place for several years and are nothing new. Some revisions were made in 2000 and others in 2005.

However, why they need further watering down is anyone’s guess. To say that Satan is theologically incompatible with 21st century living is farcical.

As is the case for marriage, the vicar or curate should have discussions with the parents of the child being baptised. (Any adult candidate for Baptism would no doubt undergo an interview.)

He — or she — would ask what their understanding of basic Christian teaching is, the way most of us learnt it as children. Where one of the parents (or an adult candidate) says, ‘Well, I don’t believe there is a devil’, then the priest can explain that, scripturally, there is and discuss the theological position.

I find it curious that Religious Education is mandated in England, yet we have so many a) unbelievers and b) churchgoers who are theologically ignorant.

I agree with my Episcopalian reader from across the pond, underground pewster, who writes:

Screwtape is rubbing his hands in glee. His devils have successfully carried out the biggest stunt they ever attempted. They have killed the Devil. To the collective mind of Man there is no more Devil. This accomplishment tops their earlier elimination of the concept of Sin.

The Devil is dead! Long live the king, ME!

“Hee, hee, hee…” – Screwtape.

I pity any clergyman who cannot explain the existence of the Devil as the author of evil.

Why the changes?

Personally, I suspect that England does not have enough confessing — professing, choose as you like — Christians to serve as godfathers and godmothers.

The CofE offers other explanations, these from the Daily Mail (emphases mine):

The Bishop of Wakefield Stephen Platten, who chairs the commission, said repentance was implied in phrases urging people to ‘turn away from evil’, and defended the omission of the devil by saying it was ‘theologically problematic’.

Odd, that. The New Testament has several references to the devil — Satan — and demons, his servants.

And, whilst not agreeing, another prefaced his opposition with this general comment:

… one senior member of the General Synod, who did not wish to be named, said: The trouble is that large parts of the Church of England don’t believe in hell, sin or repentance. They think you can just hold hands and smile and we will all go to Heaven. That is certainly not what Jesus thought

True enough — and to unbelievers’ peril. In fact, the ceremony from Common Worship concludes — after the aforementioned Decision (president’s words first, then the witnesses responding [in bold]):

Do not be ashamed to confess the cross of Christ crucified.

Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.

The revised conclusion of invocation and response for the trial period, reads:

Do not be ashamed of Christ. You are his for ever.

Stand bravely with him. Oppose the power of evil, and remain his faithful disciple to the end of your life.

If one reads John 6, it is unclear whether everyone is His forever. Jesus states the following (John 6:37 — there are more statements in this chapter):

37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

Jesus gladly and graciously accepts those whom His Father sends to Him. That does not, however, necessarily mean everyone.

The older series of invocation and response ended as follows:

Do you believe and trust in God the Father?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.

The ending to the trial version has been reworded:

Do you believe in God the Father, source of all being and life, the one for whom we exist?

I believe and trust in him.

Hmm. Seems as if there is a bit of ‘paid jobs for the guys and gals’ in the CofE, not unlike the editors and compilers of the Lectionary.

Why reword the ceremony invocation and responses at all?

In addition to the aforementioned unbelief prevalent among our population, objections to the old wording, according to those whom the Mail interviewed, have to do with a certain word:

The new text … also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission

Wow. Anyone who has a problem submitting to their only Mediator and Advocate really does have a problem. It seems as if heresy is alive and well within England’s established Church in that so many people seem to believe that Christ was merely human, but not, as all true Christians believe — all human and all divine — one of the holy mysteries which is impossible for us to discern.

The objectors

According to the Mail, many CofE churchmen and synod members agree that this wording is weakening the baptismal vows taken by or on behalf of the candidate:

Alison Ruoff, a lay member of the General Synod from London, said the new version was ‘weak and woolly’ and lacked conviction.

She said: ‘By removing all mention of the devil and rebellion against God, we are left to our own vague understanding of what evil might or might not mean.’

The retired Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote the conclusion to the Mail’s article, pointing out (excerpts below):

Since at least the 1970s there has been a fashion  in the Church of England to minimise depth and mystery in its worship because of the alleged need to make its services ‘accessible’.

The new alternative service for baptism, which has been sent for trial, continues this trend. Instead of explaining what baptism means and what the various parts of the service signify, its solution is to do away with key elements of the service altogether!

From ancient times, the structure of the service has included the renunciation of sin, the world and the devil and the turning to Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The very first baptisms of the Church took place after St Peter’s call at Pentecost to ‘repent and be baptised .  .  . for the forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 2:38).

The Church has always regarded repentance as necessary for beginning the Christian life and, for children, a cleansing, if not from actual sin, then certainly from the sinfulness of the whole race since the original sin.

Because of its anxiety to make everyone feel welcome and its desire not to offend anyone, the new service, almost entirely, does away with sin and the need to repent from its personal and social manifestations and consequences.

Baptism is nothing less than taking part in this story of salvation, no part of which can be sold short.

Rather than the constant ‘dumbing down’ of Christian teaching, whether for baptism, marriage or death, we should be spending time preparing people  for these great rites of passage.

It is best to call a halt to this perhaps well-meant effort before  it further reduces the fullness of the Church’s faith to easily swallowed soundbites.

Conclusion

As Bishop Nazir-Ali says, these periodic rewordings of the baptismal liturgy are not new. Progressively, they have been watered down to the point of ‘easily swallowed soundbites’, rendering the Christian faith meaningless.

If you are seeking the sacrament of Baptism for yourself or your child, I would advise that you seek a discussion with your vicar or curate and also request that s/he use an older liturgy, preferably that from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

What follows are excerpts from the original liturgy for the public baptism of infants in the Church of England:

Then shall the Priest speak unto the Godfathers and Godmothers on this wise [in this way].

Dearly beloved, ye have brought this Child here to be baptized; ye have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive him, to release him of his sins, to sanctify him with the Holy Ghost, to give him the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life. Ye have heard also that our Lord Jesus Christ hath promised in his Gospel, to grant all these things that ye have prayed for: which promise he, for his part, will most surely keep and perform. Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, this Infant must also faithfully, for his part, promise by you that are his sureties, (until he come of age to take it upon himself,) that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God’s holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments.

I demand therefore,

Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?

Answer. I renounce them all.

Minister.  Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?
And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord? And that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; that he went down into hell, and also did rise again the third day; that he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; and from thence shall come again at the end of the world, to judge the quick and the dead?
And dost thou believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholick Church; the Communion of Saints; the Remission of sins; the Resurrection of the flesh; and everlasting life after death?

Answer. All this I steadfastly believe.

Minister. Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?

Answer. That is my desire.

Minister. Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?

Answer. I will.

Bible spine dwtx.orgToday’s post continues an examination of the passages from St Luke’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

It becomes part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Luke 3:23-38

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ

 23Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

———————————————————————————–

Luke 3 begins with a summary of John the Baptist’s ministry and ends with the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

Just before giving us His genealogy, Luke tells us that John baptised Jesus. Emphases mine below:

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Some Christians say that it really isn’t necessary to get baptised in order to be saved. In certain circumstances, that is probably true. However, if a supposed believer has spent his entire life with churches nearby, not joining a church and seeking baptism is questionable. If Jesus actively sought baptism when He didn’t need to, who are we to actively reject this sacrament?

Note how Jesus prayed after His baptism. Luke’s is the only account which gives us this detail. Matthew Henry explains:

Notice is here taken of Christ’s praying when he was baptized, which was not in Matthew: being baptized, and praying. He did not confess sin, as others did, for he had none to confess; but he prayed, as others did, for he would thus keep up communion with his Father. Note, The inward and spiritual grace of which sacraments are the outward and visible signs must be fetched in by prayer; and therefore prayer must always accompany them. We have reason to think that Christ now prayed for this manifestation of God’s favour to him which immediately followed; he prayed for the discovery of his Father’s favour to him, and the descent of the Spirit. What was promised to Christ, he must obtain by prayer: Ask of me and I will give thee, etc. Thus he would put an honour upon prayer, would tie us to it, and encourage us in it.

There are plenty of older Christians around who no longer pray. Years ago, one told me, ‘I don’t pray anymore. I’ve said enough prayers in my lifetime.’ Yet, if Jesus Christ prayed, so should we, if we hope to imitate His example.

Of Christ’s baptism, Henry also notes:

Christ would be baptized last, among the common people, and in the rear of them; thus he humbled himself, and made himself of no reputation, as one of the least, nay, as less than the least. He saw what multitudes were hereby prepared to receive him, and then he appeared.

After the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form and a voice from heaven declared Jesus ‘beloved’, Luke proceeds to give us His lineage. All of this is to prove that He was not self-appointed as some ‘theologians’ and atheists put forth. He is the beloved Son of God and He is descended from the House of David. Both are important to establish that Jesus did not emerge from nowhere.

Whereas Matthew gives us Joseph’s family line, Luke gives us Mary’s family history. He is the only Gospel writer to mention the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) and the only one to include the Presentation at the Temple featuring Simeon’s and Anna’s prophecies (Luke 2:22-32). Therefore, Luke is carefully setting forth Jesus’s credentials and legitimacy for us via Mary.

In verse 23, Luke tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when He began His ministry. Thirty years of age was when a man in Jewish society gained credibility and authority. Both of our commentators mention other instances in Scripture where great men of the Old Testament reached 30 and began to fulfil God’s purpose. John MacArthur says:

When Joseph entered into his … rulership of Egypt, according to Genesis 41 … it says that Joseph was 30 years of age. And when David ascended to the throne of Israel, according to 2 Samuel 5:4, it says he was 30 years of age and he ruled for 40 years. And according to Numbers chapter 4, when somebody entered into priestly service, they needed to be 30 years of age. So it was a…it was a common age in the mind of a Jew for a prophet, for a priest, for a ruler and for a king, namely the King David, isn’t that an interesting parallel? David himself was 30 when he entered in to his royal rulership. So Jesus waited until an age when I think there would be an acceptance of his maturity … certainly He would have been capable at the age of 18, or 19 or 20 to engage Himself in the way He did in His ministry, but He waited until an appropriate age which the people would acknowledge as an appropriate age, the age of 30. And He began His ministry.

Verse 23 also contains the qualifying words of Joseph ‘as was supposed’, meaning, as far as everyone else was concerned he was Jesus’s father but we know that in reality he was His earthly, foster father.

The more one reads these accounts of Jesus’s life, the more one realises how God arranged it through His people according to Jewish custom and family norms. Mary could have been a single mother, but she wasn’t. Mary and Joseph could have decided to skip the circumcision, but they did not. The Holy Family could have opted out of Jewish observance but they did not. Jesus could have kept teaching from the time He went missing in the Temple, but He did not. He did not need to be baptised, yet He was. Yet, here we are in the 21st century exempting ourselves from all manner of religious and family responsibilities.

Now on to the rest of the genealogy of Christ Jesus. In verse 23, after the mention of Joseph, we read ‘the son of Heli’ — Eli. This Eli was Mary’s father, according to our commentators. Other Protestant Bible scholars will attest to that.

So, how is it then that Catholics and the Orthodox say that Anne and Joachim were Mary’s parents? The Wikipedia entry on Saint Anne explains:

her name and that of her husband Joachim come only from New Testament apocrypha, of which the Protoevangelium of James, written perhaps around 150, seems to be the earliest that mentions them.

The entry for Joachim says:

the genealogy in Luke is actually the family tree of Mary, and that Heli is her father.[2] To resolve the problem of Joseph having two fathers – one descended from Solomon, one descended from Nathan, son of David, traditions from the 7th century specify that Heli was a first cousin of Joachim.[3]

Furthermore, whereas Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’s lineage to Abraham, Luke takes it further — to Adam (verse 38):

the son of Adam, the son of God.

From this we can better understand later theological references to Jesus as ‘the second Adam’.

Henry offers this analysis:

(1.) Some refer it to Adam; he was in a peculiar manner the son of God, being, more immediately than any of his offspring, the offspring of God by creation. (2.) Others refer it to Christ, and so make the last words of this genealogy to denote his divine and human nature. He was both the Son of Adam and the Son of God that he might be a proper Mediator between God and the sons of Adam, and might bring the sons of Adam to be, through him, the sons of God.

As for the intervening names, Henry says:

Matthew draws the pedigree from Solomon, whose natural line ending in Jechonias, the legal right was transferred to Salathiel, who was of the house of Nathan, another son of David, which line Luke here pursues, and so leaves out all the kings of Judah. It is well for us that our salvation doth not depend upon our being able to solve all these difficulties, nor is the divine authority of the gospels at all weakened by them; for the evangelists are not supposed to write these genealogies either of their own knowledge or by divine inspiration, but to have copied them out of the authentic records of the genealogies among the Jews, the heralds’ books, which therefore they were obliged to follow; and in them they found the pedigree of Jacob, the father of Joseph, to be as it is set down in Matthew; and the pedigree of Heli, the father of Mary, to be as it is set down here in Luke. And this is the meaning of hoµs enomizeto (v. 23), not, as it was supposed, referring only to Joseph, but uti sancitum est legeas it is entered into the books, as we find it upon record; by which is appeared that Jesus was both by father and mother’s side the Son of David

John MacArthur further explains Luke’s wording in Greek:

Why would the writer if he’s going to give an accurate genealogy and he’s going to be consistent with his terms all the way down use tou, leave out “son” in every one except with Joseph use “the”…use “son” and leave out “the”? Why does he do that? Because he is separating Joseph from the genealogy. And if you want to organize the verse, let me suggest that this is how the verse should be read. And it gives you this latitude in the Greek language. The verse reads like this, “Jesus Himself, supposedly Joseph’s Son, was about 30 years old when He began His ministry being a Son of Heli.” That is the way you would read the verse. “Jesus Himself, supposedly Joseph’s Son,” just take that phrase because it’s a completely different structure than all the rest of the phrases in the genealogy. “Jesus Himself, supposedly Joseph’s Son, was about 30 years old when He began His ministry being a Son of Heli.” You just jump to the grandfather which was very often done in genealogies, particularly in Luke’s case where he wants to leave out the name of the women and keep the classic form. The actual genealogy then has to begin with the first male member and Luke has to decide how to do that under the leading of the Holy Spirit since there’s never been anything like this before. But he jumps to the first male member behind Jesus which was His grandfather, the father of Mary. That’s a very important note. So this is Mary’s genealogy.

Not all of the names mentioned appear in the Old Testament; they came from records in the Temple. Only two of the names are the same in Matthew’s account. MacArthur says:

none of those names, except Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, appear in Matthew’s genealogy. So that’s the only place the lines crossed. They’re two distinct lines. One back to Nathan, one back to Solomon. Once you hit David in verse 31, the names become the same in both genealogies from David all the way back to Abraham. Abraham is indicated in verse 34. So when you go from David to Abraham, it’s the same as Matthew’s genealogy. And, of course, Matthew’s genealogy stops at Abraham and so after Abraham you go back, Terah, Nahor, Serug, Reu, you go all the way back, verse 38, Enosh, Seth, Adam, God. And that’s basically the flow of the genealogy.

From Neri to Nathan are names we don’t know anything about. In fact, from Heli back the only names we know or recognize are Zerubbabel and Shealtiel all the way back. But when we hit David, the names are very familiar because the names from David to Abraham are recorded in the Bible so we know those names. They’re very familiar Old Testament names. And when we get back to Abraham, from Abraham to Adam are names in the genealogies of Genesis. So those two are familiar names.

So, Mary’s line goes back through all the essential components, all the way back to David

This is the point of Luke’s history in these verses. Jesus’s family history can be traced all the way back to the beginning from Mary’s side. Matthew documents Joseph’s side showing the same legitimacy.

Jesus is not an unknown from nowhere.

All the more reason to beware of cult leaders and madmen — unknowns — who claim to be Christ or His messenger (e.g. Charles Manson, Jim Jones — past examples).

Next time: Luke 4:33-37

Bible oldToday’s reading is part of that traditionally used for Candlemas, February 2.

In the set of three-year Lectionary readings, this passage is read on the first Sunday after Christmas in Year B.

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

Luke 2:22-32

Jesus Presented at the Temple

 22And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post concluded the story of Zechariah (Zachary), the priestly father of John the Baptist. The Archangel Gabriel struck him deaf and dumb at the altar in the Temple for unbelief that his aged and barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son who would announce the coming of the Lord.

It is important to know that John the Baptist, according to Gabriel’s instruction to Zechariah, became a Nazirite monk (as had Samson and Samuel in the Old Testament), which explains his appearance and diet. In return for taking the Nazirite oaths, God granted these men certain powers — e.g. prophecy or physical strength — which worked to His glory and for His people.

I mentioned last week Matthew Henry’s observation that Zechariah’s silence and deafness, which lasted a little over nine months, signified something greater: the permanent sidelining of the priesthood of Aaron — of which Zechariah was a part — for that of Christ Jesus.

Today’s reading recounts the first part of our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, which many Christians remember on Candlemas Day, February 2.

Candlemas should not be confused with Jesus’s Circumcision, commemorated on January 1, which the Gospel writer mentions in Luke 2:21.

The purification rite of circumcision is a parallel to infant baptism. St Paul made the case for the discarding of circumcision for the embrace of this holy Sacrament. In writing about Luke 2:21, Henry makes the case for infant baptism (emphases mine):

certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

His commentary adds this about the name Jesus:

At his circumcision, according to the custom, he had his name given him; he was called Jesus or Joshua, for he was so named of the angel to his mother Mary before he was conceived in the womb (Lu. 1:31), and to his supposed father Joseph after, Mt. 1:21. [1.] It was a common name among the Jews, as John was (Col. 4:11), and in this he would be made like unto his brethren. [2.] It was the name of two eminent types of him in the Old Testament, Joshua, the successor of Moses, who was commander of Israel, and conqueror of Canaan; and Joshua, the high priest, who was therefore purposely crowned, that he might prefigure Christ as a priest upon his throne, Zec. 6:11, 13. [3.] It was very significant of his undertaking. Jesus signifies a Saviour. He would be denominated, not from the glories of his divine nature, but from his gracious designs as Mediator; he brings salvation.

Note how Mary and Joseph faithfully observed Jewish laws. They could have said, ‘Sorry, it doesn’t apply to us. If you only knew how holy our Son is!’ As such, they had Jesus circumcised and presented in the Temple. Jesus would also go on to observe Jewish law during His earthly life — as well as asking John the Baptist to confer the first sacrament on Him. From their example, we should infer that the observance of the Sacraments and life of the Church is necessary for us to follow.

In prefacing the story of the Presentation, Luke employs the words ‘according to the Law of Moses’ (verse 22). He goes on to cite the importance of a firstborn son ‘in the Law of the Lord’ (verse 23).

Henry drew a parallel between Jesus’s blood drawn during His circumcision and the subsequent purification rite with His Crucifixion and the forgiveness of believers’ sins:

our Lord Jesus, though he had no impurity to be cleansed from, yet submitted to it, as he did to circumcision, because he was made sin for us; and that, as by the circumcision of Christ we might be circumcised, in the virtue of our union and communion with him, with a spiritual circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11), so in the purification of Christ we might be spiritually purified from the filthiness and corruption which we brought into the world with us.

Luke mentions the obligatory sacrifices — ‘in the law of the Lord’ (verse 24). Henry says that the usual offering for a firstborn son included five shekels as well as an animal sacrifice. Luke makes no mention of the money but records the animal sacrifice of either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.  Some Bible scholars think that better-off families might have bought a more expensive animal, perhaps a lamb, to sacrifice. The priests knew a family’s financial status and accepted the sacrifice that they could afford.

When reading this account, it is worth taking into account the state of the Jewish religion at this time in history. In one of his sermons, John MacArthur cited a theologian, William Hendrickson, who described the religious and political dissension:

To be sure, conditions were bad, very bad, in Israel at the time of Israel’s birth in Bethlehem. Think of loss of political independence, cruel King Herod, externalization of religion, legalistic scribes and Pharisees and their many followers, worldly-minded Sadducees, the silence of the voice of the prophets. And in the midst of all this darkness, degradation and despair there were men who were hopefully looking forward to and earnestly expecting the consolation of Israel. There were such men and women too, already mentioned were Mary and Elizabeth and in a moment Luke is going to add Anna to the list.

This situation parallels our own in many parts of the world. Our political systems are oppressive and we await a better time. Spritually, many of our churches and theologians are unbelieving or legalistic. There is a small remnant of the faithful who are true believers, despite the more than 1 billion in the world who call themselves ‘Christian’.

Among the remnant of true Jewish believers were Simeon and Anna. We’ll look at Anna’s prophecy next week. Today we’ll come to understand Simeon — Simon.

Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit was moving through Simeon, a devout man who had no time for worldly religion or temporal deliverance. He was, in the traditional Jewish sense of the term, ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, the Messiah. Luke describes Simeon as ‘righteous’, meaning ‘right with God’ (verse 25) — not self-righteous.

Indeed, Simeon was so close to God that the Holy Spirit revealed that he would not die until he saw the Son of God (verse 26). Imagine having so much faith. Would that we all had Simeon’s faith today.

Who was Simeon? Henry writes that we cannot know for sure, although Jewish records say that the great teacher and rabbi, Hillel, had a son named Simeon, known for his prophecy. The Jewish hierarchy gave Simeon the title of Rabban, the highest they could give to a doctor of the faith. If this is the same Simeon, he was made the head of his father’s theological college and the Sanhedrin. Later, Simeon made it clear that he did not believe the Messiah would bring temporal salvation; with that, he was unceremoniously deposed from his posts at the Temple.  As such, Henry says, the Mishna, the Jewish book of traditions, omits his name.

Another aspect of Simeon is his age. For centuries — in writing and artwork — we have understood Simeon to be elderly, on the verge of death. Yet, Henry tells us that some scholars believe that Simeon was not that old and that his father, Hillel, was still alive at the time of the Presentation. Other scholars add that Simeon was the father of Gamaliel, a Pharisee:

One thing objected against this conjecture is that at this time his father Hillel was living, and that he himself lived many years after this, as appears by the Jewish histories; but, as to that, he is not here said to be old; and his saying, Now let thy servant depart intimates that he was willing to die now, but does not conclude that therefore he did die quickly. St. Paul lived many years after he had spoken of his death as near, Acts 20:25. Another thing objected is that the son of Simeon was Gamaliel, a Pharisee, and an enemy to Christianity; but, as to that, it is no new thing for a faithful lover of Christ to have a son a bigoted Pharisee.

As we do not know, let us focus on Simeon as we see him, inspired by the Holy Spirit and in the Temple. Note how he enters the Temple, directed by the Holy Spirit to do so at a particular moment (verse 27).

Verse 28 tells us that Simeon took the Christ Child into his arms. You can imagine what that must have been like for this holy man. He must have embraced Jesus, holding Him close, very close. Think of how you hug your own children or grandchildren. Simeon’s embrace was at least that intense — probably moreso.

Simeon praised God and, in his prayer, cited the Old Testament. In verse 29, acknowledging that he can now depart the world in peace, Simeon refers to Genesis 15:15:

15As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.

From that, it is possible that Simeon lived for many more years. Again, we have no way of knowing.

In verse 30, Simon alludes to Isaiah 52:10:

10 The LORD has bared his holy arm
   before the eyes of all the nations,
    and all the ends of the earth shall see
   the salvation of our God.

In verse 31, he refers to Psalm 98:2:

2The LORD has made known his salvation;
   he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

And in verse 32, to the following — first, Isaiah 42:6:

6“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
   I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
   a light for the nations,

then, Isaiah 49:6:

6he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
   to raise up the tribes of Jacob
   and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
 I will make you as a light for the nations,
   that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 60:3:

3 And nations shall come to your light,
   and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah 45:25:

25In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
   shall be justified and shall glory.”

And Isaiah 46:13:

13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
   and my salvation will not delay;
   I will put salvation in Zion,
   for Israel my glory.”

Simeon’s faith offers an excellent example to us today. The more I read this passage and the commentary, the more marvellous and moving it becomes.

This is a good passage to study with children. Simeon’s profound belief in God and His goodness speaks to all of us, especially to our young.

If Simeon was Hillel’s son, he was no doubt steeped in Scripture from a very early age. Hillel’s instruction would have helped to shore up Simeon’s faith from childhood. As the years passed and with further study and prayer, Simeon’s belief grew ever stronger. Because of this, he also knew discernment, enabling him to reject the false teachings of his peers in a temporal Messiah. This is why confessional clergy stress the importance of children’s learning — and memorising — Christian doctrine and the Bible. These go hand-in-hand with the power of prayer; children do well to memorise simple prayers as soon as they are able; I could say the Lord’s Prayer and others from an early age and recited them regularly, so it is possible.

If we help to shore up the faith of our young from their earliest years, they are more likely to strengthen their faith throughout their lives. Present the Bible and the Church winsomely — as clergy like to say — so that they long for it every day, in the same way that they enjoy their temporal treats.

Don’t wait for Sunday (or private) school to do it; start early at home by demonstrating your own parental good example.

Luke alludes to the importance of religious practice and the young in next week’s passage.

Next time: Luke 2:33-40

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s sermons on Holy Scripture are edifying to read because he has studied the Bible for decades and can provide rich detail which encourages us to stop and look again at the passage.

His 2011 sermon, ‘The New Passover’, lays out what likely took place when Jesus and the Apostles gathered for the Last Supper. The passage is Mark 14:17-26, although MacArthur mentions other Gospel accounts.

What follows are excerpts, emphases mine as are the links to Scripture:

First it began with a prayer of thanks and it was followed by the first cup of red wine, doubly diluted with waterAfter that first cup, which kind of launches it, there was a ceremonial and an actual washing of hands. They actually washed their hands because they ate with their hands and there was a ceremonial significance to it because it symbolized a need for cleansing and a need for holiness.

So the opening cup and then the cleansing after the prayer of thanks. It seems to me that this might be a good place to assume that while they were talking about the need for cleansing, while they were talking about their unholiness, maybe that is where the Lord pointed out a problem with them because Luke 22:24 says, “A dispute arose among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest.” Same ole, same ole, right? It is very likely that at that time as they’re just getting beginning into this and the issue becomes a heart holiness that our Lord confronts that arguing about who is going to be the greatest, that ugly pride, by doing what John 13 says He did. “Jesus rose from supper, laid aside His garments, taking a towel, began to wash the disciples feet. And He gave them a profound lesson on…humility.”

It had to be juxtaposed against their arguing about which of them was the greatest and such an open manifestation of pride. And then He said to them, “I’ve given you an example for you to do as I have done for you.” And then He even said to them, as recorded in Luke 22:25 and 26, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them.” That’s what Gentiles do. “But not so with you.” He went on to say the greatest of you become as the least, as the servant, the slave. So just getting in to the Passover and they’re already demonstrating their sinfulness, the symbol of the washing would have been a perfect time for them to confront that sinfulness. Our Lord perhaps does that at that interval and then washes their feet to give them a lesson on humility.

This was followed then, this washing, by the eating of bitter herbs. This is when the bread would be broken. It would be flat bread, not a big fat loaf, flat bread broken and distributed and then dipped into a paste made from fruit and nuts. And then after that… first course…they would sing the Hallel. The Hallel, from which we get the word Hallelujah, are series of hymns that praise God from Psalm 113 to Psalm 118. And they sang them all at the Passover. Traditionally they would sing Psalm 113 and 114, and then would come the second cup of wine. And then after that cup would be the eating of the lamb, the eating of the meal. That would be the … main course

And after the main course was completed would be the third cup of wine and after that they would sing the rest of the Hallel, Psalm 115, 116, 117 and 118. And then they would have a final sip of wine and one more Psalm and leave. That was the evening.

That could have all been done rather in a brief amount of time, however, it was strung out for many, many hours, being interrupted by all the other things that we talked about going on.

Early in this celebration in this sequence, our Lord says something that I think is important for us to hear in Luke 22:15 and16. “He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.’

The language is very, very strong. Literally He says, “I desire with a desire,” that’s emphatic in the Greek. This is a very strong passion, “I must celebrate this Passover with you before I suffer. This has to happen for all the reasons that I told you.” Not only because it’s right because it’s commanded by God, but because He must make this transition. He must end an era. He must bring to a completion an entire system and launch a new one and He must lay out all the promises upon which every believer through all of redemptive history draws and He must tell them of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and He must confront their sin, and He must give them a lesson on humility and all these things are so compelling. He knows that He can’t die until all of this is clearly delineated to them and the Holy Spirit will bring it back to their memory in the future and they will write it down and it will be inscripturated and we will follow that instruction and cling to those promises. This has to happen before He dies.

He has, like everybody else, lived His whole life seeing animals sacrificed and all of them, He knew, pointed to Him. And now He was eating a meal at which the last legitimate Lamb was sacrificed and would be eaten and in a matter of hours it would be over. And He was the fulfillment of all those sacrifices. And in the view of His imminent suffering, He knows He will die, He knows He will not live to another Passover, He understands the urgency of this hour.

And there’s another component, John 13 begins by saying this, “He loved His own who were in the world, eis telos, to the max, to the limit, to the end. It was not simply a theological demonstration here. What He said to them, what He promised to them, what He pledged to them, and what He called for them to do was all a part of loving instruction.

It was His profound love for them, as well as their profound necessity for the truth He would give them that compelled this to occur. He says in verse 16 of Luke 22, “I say to you, I’ll never again eat this meal with you until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” And with that statement, we have the end of all legitimate Passovers…this was His last meal before the cross, He ate the lamb and then became the Lamb hours later.

Will there ever be another Passover, legitimate one? Will there ever be? There will, He says that, please notice it. This is not going to happen, He says in Luke 22, until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Even Passover has not yet reached its final fulfillment. That’s going to happen in the Kingdom.

Paul says, “We do this until he comes.” Matthew 6:29 talks about the fact that it’s going to occur in the Kingdom…when He returns, He will celebrate the Passover meal with His own redeemed people again. He will.

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