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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.

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

Bible croppedThe 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 4:6-11

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed God’s denial of eternal rest to unbelievers, using Psalm 95 as a reference point.

These verses conclude the dissertation by the author of Hebrews on Psalm 95 and the disobedient, wilful Israelites in the desert.

To better understand this in terms of the author’s Jewish audience, John MacArthur lays out the context of the importance of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

this is an important message for the Jew because the Jew prided himself on the fact that he had the information. He figured all I got to do is have the law, and I’m in. I don’t have to worry about obeying as long as I possess it. Which is ridiculous, but in Romans chapter 2, listen to the argument. Verse 25, “For circumcision verily profiteth, if you keep the law.” The Jew would say, “Well, we’re circumcised! Us! Doesn’t that get us automatically in? I mean, we’re circumcised.” He says, “Well, circumcision’s good if you keep the law.” It’s like the guy, you know, who went into the ring and before every fight he made the signs of the cross, you know. And one guy said, “Does it help?” He says, “It does if you can fight.”

it’s like a cop pulling you over to the side of the road and he says, “You just went through three red lights. You were speeding.” And you say, “I’m sorry, officer. You can’t give me a ticket. I have a copy of the California state code of laws. I own one. I own a book on how to drive. I’m sorry, I’ve got all the information. I’m not responsible. You can’t punish me. I know the information.” That doesn’t mean anything. That makes you all the more responsible. And in Romans chapter 2, “Circumcision profiteth if you keep the law, but if you’re a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.” And they were rejoicing over the fact that they possessed the law, figuring that’s all that matters, you know, we’ve got the law.

That said, original audience notwithstanding, as I have written several times before, the Book of Hebrews also has vital messages for Christians:

Some people say, “Well, I go to church.” That doesn’t mean anything. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. That has nothing to do with it. And the whole issue is faith. The whole issue’s not activity. It’s faith. And unless the information is mixed with faith, it profits you nothing and you need to beware because you may come short of rest. But when somebody hears the word of God and believes it, then they’re saved.

In verse 6, the author addresses the Jews who converted to Christianity but were nonetheless torn by clinging to their former faith. Their families were angry with them and civil authorities were persecuting them, too. They were losing heart in their conversions, just as a number of Israelites turned away from God in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, Canaan. Their wilfulness in the desert caused God to desert them, just as they had deserted Him. That is a powerful judgement, and one that lasts forever. This is what the author is warning about.

Hence, the citation of Psalm 95 in verse 7. The word ‘today’ has an urgency about it. If we hear God’s voice today, may we not harden our hearts against Him. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. We have no claim on tomorrow, only God does.

The author then speaks of a Sabbath rest. There was a prescribed day of rest — the Sabbath — for the Israelites to praise and worship God (verses 8,9). The Lord rested on the seventh day after He created the universe (verse 10). We are commanded to follow His example.

There was also the concept of Canaan as a place of rest for those who believed in God and obeyed His commands on the long way there.

Matthew Henry reminds us that part of the Old Testament day of rest was also devoted to praying for God to send the Messiah — our Redeemer — to them:

(1.) From God’s finishing his work of creation, and so entering into his rest (Hebrews 4:3,4), appointing our first parents to rest the seventh day, to rest in God. Now as God finished his work, and then rested from it, and acquiesced in it, so he will cause those who believe to finish their work, and then to enjoy their rest. (2.) From God’s continuing the observance of the sabbath, after the fall, and the revelation of a Redeemer. They were to keep the seventh day a holy sabbath to the Lord, therein praising him who had raised them up out of nothing by creating power, and praying to him that he would create them anew by his Spirit of grace, and direct their faith to the promised Redeemer and restorer of all things, by which faith they find rest in their souls. (3.) From God’s proposing Canaan as a typical rest for the Jews who believed: and as those who did believe, Caleb and Joshua, did actually enter into Canaan; so those who now believe shall enter into rest.

Then the author leads on from temporal rest to eternal rest. Again, the author warns against disobedience in this life, because eternal rest is only for the faithful (verse 11). On that day, our earthly duties to God and to our neighbour come to an end.

Henry explains:

(4.) From the certainty of another rest besides that seventh day of rest instituted and observed both before and after the fall, and besides that typical Canaan-rest which most of the Jews fell short of by unbelief; for the Psalmist has spoken of another day and another rest, whence it is evident that there is a more spiritual and excellent sabbath remaining for the people of God than that into which Joshua led the Jews (Hebrews 4:6-9), and this rest remaining, [1.] A rest of grace, and comfort, and holiness, in the gospel state. This is the rest wherewith the Lord Jesus, our Joshua, causes weary souls and awakened consciences to rest, and this is the refreshing. [2.] A rest in glory, the everlasting sabbatism of heaven, which is the repose and perfection of nature and grace too, where the people of God shall enjoy the end of their faith and the object of all their desires. (5.) This is further proved from the glorious forerunners who have actually taken possession of this rest–God and Christ. It is certain that God, after the creating of the world in six days, entered into his rest; and it is certain that Christ, when he had finished the work of our redemption, entered into his rest; and these were not only examples, but earnests, that believers shall enter into their rest: He that hath entered into rest hath also ceased from his own works as God did from his, Hebrews 4:10. Every true believer hath ceased from his own works of righteousness, and from the burdensome works of the law, as God and Christ have ceased from their works of creation and redemption.

The gravity and import of this cannot be overemphasised.

John MacArthur says that the whole of the Bible is about restoring mankind to the beautiful rest that Adam had in the Garden of Eden before Original Sin. Adam did not have to do anything but enjoy God and His creation. He was at rest with God. Then, the serpent tempted Eve with a false promise of knowledge. Ever after, Adam had to work. Eve knew the physical pain of childbirth which, no doubt, would have been a breeze had she not fallen into sin.

This is what MacArthur says about God’s wish to reconcile mankind with Him — in rest. He started with Adam and progresses to the present day:

God said, “It’s done, and I’ve made a wonderful world for man. And I’ve plopped him down there, and I’ve given him a wife, and now everything is set. And I’m going to let him enjoy his relationship with me.” And Adam was walking and talking with God. He was at rest. He was in God’s rest. He leaned on God. He had no anxieties. He had no worries. He had the complete freedom, the fellowship with God. He was living in God’s rest. God had finished his work, and God rested. That’s what it says in verse 3 at the end. “Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world, for He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way,” – and this certain place is Genesis 2, 1 and 2 – “And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.”

Now, stay with me on this. You’re going to have to use your brain for a minute. “My rest,” – verse 3, right? – “My rest,” – right in the middle of verse 3 – “Is defined as the rest which began when God finished his works and rested on the seventh day.” That it. It’s right there, a definition. God’s rest began right after the sixth day of creation. God was satisfied. He was infinitely satisfied and He rested, and He said, “Well, man, you can enter into my rest. I’ve made you a lovely world. You and I are going to get along. It’s just fellowship from here on out. You’re going to enjoy my rest.”

And there was only one condition. What’s always the condition for God’s rest? One word; what is it? Faith. Believe. What happened? Did Adam and Eve believe God or did they believe Satan? They believed Satan’s lies, didn’t they? Satan came down and started impugning the Word of God, and pretty soon Eve thought, “Hmm, I don’t know about this. Sure looks good. Maybe God’s, I don’t know – I’d like to be smart like that too and know good and evil.” And Satan kept working on her, and she disobeyed. And what happened? Immediately, unbelief forfeited what? Rest.

And you know what happened, Adam was restless. No longer did he walk and talk in the cool of the day. He started making clothes and hiding behind trees, didn’t he? Sneaking around with Eve, trying to stay out of the sight of God. You see what happened immediately, unbelief brought the forfeiting of rest and it was over with. And God’s great rest that he’d provided for His creation, man, was lost. You know what the history of the Bible is and the history of men? It’s the effort of God’s part to try to get man to get back into His rest.

Now, God had to do one other thing to make it available to man, and what was that? He had to accomplish the taking care of sin. And so the coming of Jesus Christ took care of the sin issue, and through that death of Christ, men may enter back into God’s rest. And even the people who lived before Jesus were saved on the basis of what God was going to do in Christ, right? We who were saved on this side of the Cross are saved on the basis of what God has done in Christ. But Christ bore sins, past and future. So, through Jesus Christ, God’s rest still continues, and men may still enter into His rest, and the history of God’s dealing with men is an attempt on God’s part to get men to enter His rest of which Canaan was a symbol.

And so God finished His perfect work, and man blew it. And man became restless because of unbelief. And verse 5 says, “And in this place again,” – and they’re quoting Psalm 95 – “They shall not enter into my rest.” God says, “Because of unbelief, man can’t enter.” God provided a rest on the seventh day, and it‘s been going on ever since, and the only people who ever enter into it are those who believe.

My friends, I believe in my heart that those people who sinned in the wandering in the wilderness not only forfeited Canaan but unless they exercised personal faith in God sometime through those 40 years, they forfeited eternal life of which Canaan was only a symbol. And so God swears that because of unbelief, men will not enter his rest.

I really hope that we think about that, not only today but also in future.

Speaking of rest, there was a time when shops were closed on Sundays. If they opened, it was in the morning. Everyone had a day of rest.

In the 1970s, shopping malls in the US began to open on Sundays. I can’t criticise that too much, because, after church, we would go to the mall.

In the 1980s, many US states that had ‘blue laws’ — no or limited Sunday openings — rescinded them, leaving shops free to open on the day of rest. I continued to go to the mall after church. By then, it was something one did.

Now, decades later, I wonder why so many of us do not observe a day of rest.

Barring those of us who have to work on Sundays — and I was obliged to do plenty of that in my time — there are seemingly endless Sunday obligations that do not include church. In fact, the timing of sports practice, to give but one example, precludes church attendance in many cases, at least here in the UK.

Do we no longer rest on a Sunday because we no longer attend church? Or do we no longer attend church because we cannot bring ourselves to rest? Or is church that ‘bad’ theologically that we no longer attend?

More and more people no longer attend church — or spend time reading the Bible and praying — yet, more and more people are restless. They cannot bear to a) be alone, b) sit in silence or c) relax.

Many Westerners, I would posit, are not at rest because they are not at rest with God in their daily lives.

Let’s quickly look at the rest of Hebrews 4.

The verses following today’s reading are severe. This is a Year B reading for a Sunday during the season after Pentecost. These verses say that everyone comes under divine scrutiny, if not judgement. This passage clearly disproves what atheists say:

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

That should be engraved on every church.

After that, the author begins a dissertation on Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest. Much of this section, which runs beyond Chapter 4, is in the Lectionary, thankfully.

The author gives an ideal introduction, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealing Christ’s mercy in His divinity and His humanity:

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Absolutely! Would that we recalled that verse more often.

Hebrews is an unsung book, yet, it is one with so many essential lessons for us as Christians. Read it and rejoice, with thanksgiving!

Next week’s reading introduces a warning against apostasy in light of redemption through our Great High Priest.

Next time — Hebrews 5:11-14

What follows are the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 22, 2019.

Readings 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

We return to Jeremiah. Although the prophet knows that God’s judgement on His people is righteous, he is deeply saddened. Matthew Henry’s commentary says, ‘Mercies abused are forfeited, and it is just with God to take the forfeiture’. Gilead was a place not far from them, but even its balm could not heal their spiritual wantonness. Henry says that Christ is our spiritual physician and His blood our balm of Gilead. He came to save sinners, not bring about temporal rescue.

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.

8:19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)

8:20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

8:21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

8:22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!

Psalm

This Psalm was likely written by Asaph or one of his sons. Interestingly, Matthew Henry says that Jeremiah borrowed verses 6 and 7 (Jeremiah 10). We do not know the exact circumstances surrounding the Psalm other than to pray it in times of desperation which call for repentance.

Psalm 79:1-9

79:1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

79:2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.

79:3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

79:4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

79:5 How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?

79:6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.

79:7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

79:8 Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

79:9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.

First reading – alternate

The Lord was angry with His people for their idolatry and for cheating the poor.

Amos 8:4-7

8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

8:5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances,

8:6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

8:7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Psalm – alternate

May we always remember to praise and glorify God, our Maker and giver of all good things in this transitory life.

Psalm 113

113:1 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.

113:2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.

113:3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.

113:4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.

113:5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,

113:6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

113:7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

113:8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

113:9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul explains to Timothy that God desires our prayers for those in authority over us.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,

2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,

2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.

2:7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Gospel

We return to Luke’s Gospel. This parable is much better in the older translations, e.g.:

13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Everything we have in this life is on loan; we are but stewards of it. We cannot rely on them and God. God should always be foremost in our hearts and minds. Matthew Henry has an excellent explanation of the finer details of this parable.

Luke 16:1-13

16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.

16:2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

16:3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

16:5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

16:6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’

16:7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

16:8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

16:10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

I hope that everyone reading this has a blessed Sunday.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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 4:1-5

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.[a] For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry was about the unknown author’s warning about rebellion against God and unbelief leading to eternal condemnation rather than eternal rest.

The same theme continues, again, with the author’s citation of Psalm 95.

Even though we do not know who wrote Hebrews, we can be sure the Holy Spirit was at work.

The contextual background is the Israelites’ rebellion in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The Hebrews author says that, as the Messiah came to Earth, the Jewish audience — most of whom were converts to Christianity — has a greater share of rest and eternal life, therefore, they mustn’t lose it.

John MacArthur sums it up well (emphases mine):

Unbelief forfeits rest. And the word rest used back there in Psalm 95, which is being quoted here, has reference to entering a land of Canaan. Resting from the wanderings and the persecution in Egypt, and so forth and so on. It’s the rest of finally getting into your own land, not being persecuted, not being pressured, not being killed, not being made slaves. It’s rests from all of that. And they never entered into that promised rest because of unbelief. That’s the basic principle of this whole passage. Nobody experiences God’s rest apart from faith. That’s the key to entering into rest.

Now, if you go back to Moses’ situation in Numbers chapter 14, you find in verses 22 and 23 these words, “Because all those men have seen my glory” – this is God talking to Israel in the wilderness – “They’ve seen my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and they have tempted me ten times and have not harked to my voice. Surely they shall not see the land which I swear unto their fathers. Neither shall any of them that provoked me see it.” God said “Because you’ve never believed me but you’ve constantly thought you needed to put me to the test. You’ve never accepted me, you always wanted to prove me. You’ve never believed. You’ll not enter the land.” And the Bible says their carcasses would die in the wilderness.

Now, even under Joshua – of course you realize that was a whole generation that died off. Then the younger generation when into the land. But even when the younger generation went into the land, they did not enjoy the full rest that God had planned for them. And the reason they didn’t enjoy that full rest was simply because when they got into the land, instead of doing what God told them to do and believing God in obedient faith, they rejected God’s information to them. And God said, “Because of that, I’m going to drive you right back out of the land.” And that’s exactly what he did at a later time.

So even the generation that went into the land never experienced full rest. It was a hassle all the time. Fighting against every imaginable group, and they got messed up from beginning to end of their time in the land. So, there was no rest in either Moses’ case or Joshua’s case, the people who died in the wilderness or who entered the land because of unbelief. And may I say this? There is still a rest available. The rest of Canaan pictures a divine spiritual rest that comes by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of salvation rest. And that salvation rest, as we shall see in a moment, is still available. But it is only available to those who believe God, who commit themselves in faith to him.

Israel never entered full rest because of their unbelief, and Moses couldn’t make it happen, and Joshua couldn’t make it happen. But God has a rest far greater than Canaan. God has an eternal rest. It’s available to you by faith in Jesus Christ. And it takes a greater than Moses and a greater than Joshua to make it a reality. And that greater than both is Jesus Himself.

The author warns again against unbelief in Hebrews 4:1: no backsliding, otherwise, God will withdraw the promise of eternal rest.

Note the word ‘fear’ in that verse. That is the fear of God and His fair judgements. He blesses us so abundantly, yet so many of us turn from Him in adversity. This was the situation that the Jewish converts found themselves in. As serious as those were, the persecution and rejection were temporal. Being more concerned over temporal difficulty, as awful as it was for some, they had taken their eyes off the goal — eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Verse 2 is just as crucial for us as it was for the Hebrews of the early Church. We all hear the same Gospel message of the Good News, but it does not meet with faith in all who hear it.

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

We do not mix faith with what we hear; it is faith in the hearer that is the life of the word. Though the preacher believes the gospel, and endeavours to mix faith with his preaching, and to speak as one who has believed and so spoken, yet, if the hearers have not faith in their souls to mix with the word, they will be never the better for it. This faith must mingle with every word, and be in act and exercise while we are hearing; and, when we have heard the word, assenting to the truth of it, approving of it, accepting the mercy offered, applying the word to ourselves with suitable affections, then we shall find great profit and gain by the word preached.

I read online of people who are so subsumed in spiritual doubt that they cannot extricate themselves from it. They spend their time navel gazing over past sins, surely forgiven. That is some of Satan’s finest work: urging someone to navel gaze and wilfully ignore the promise of the Word, Jesus Christ.

I have run across a few personally. I have urged them to pray for more grace and faith. I have encouraged them to read the Bible, over and over. Unfortunately, they ignored my advice at the time. Perhaps their circumstances have improved since then. I certainly hope so.

Pray for more faith. Pray for more grace. God will surely grant it, through His Son.

How does one pray? One begins with the Lord’s Prayer. One also petitions God, through Jesus, for a good day, for help in case a problem arises, for personal safety and health not only of ourselves but also of our loved ones. One works up the frequency of prayer, sometimes reciting prayers from church or Bible verses (e.g. the Psalms).

St Paul prayed unceasingly.

Reading the Bible regularly helps to increase the frequency of prayer. My favourite books, in order, are the Gospel according to John, the Book of Acts and the Book of Hebrews. I cannot recommend them too often. Start with those three. Read the Lectionary readings for each Sunday. Understand how the Old Testament and the Old Covenant promised the New Testament and the New Covenant, respectively. Do this often and soon it becomes part of a daily routine.

In verse 3, the author once again reminds the Hebrew audience of Psalm 95, wherein God withdraws rest from those who have turned away from Him. May that never happen to us. We must continue in a ‘lively faith’, as the old Anglican and Episcopalian liturgies say.

Henry explains the delicate balance of faith, backsliding and unbelief:

Observe, 1. Grace and glory are attainable by all under the gospel: there is an offer, and a promise to those who shall accept the offer. 2. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who may attain them may also fall short. Those who might have attained salvation by faith may fall short by unbelief. 3. It is a dreadful thing so much as to seem to fall short of the gospel salvation, to seem so to themselves, to lose their comfortable hope; and to seem so to others, so losing the honour of their holy profession. But, if it be so dreadful to seem to fall short of this rest, it is much more dreadful really to fall short. Such a disappointment must be fatal. 4. One good means to prevent either our real falling short or seeming to fall short is to maintain a holy and religious fear lest we should fall short. This will make us vigilant and diligent, sincere and serious; this fear will put us upon examining our faith and exercising it; whereas presumption is the high road to ruin.

The author points out that God also rested — on the seventh day (verses 3, 4). Now we enter into the notion of temporal — everyday — rest during our lifetimes. God also commands us to follow His example: keep holy the Sabbath Day. That means a temporal rest from our labours but also contemplation and praise of God for the promise of eternal spiritual rest.

MacArthur says:

So, when the Bible says here in Hebrews 3 and 4 that God offers you rest, it means … A new relationship with God that is multi-faceted … It’s full. It’s blessed. It’s sweet. It’s satisfying. It’s peaceful. And this is exactly what God is offering to every man, and this is exactly what was pictured in the Canaan rest that Israel never understood and never entered into because of unbelief.

The author again warns against rejecting God and ending up in a state of unbelief (verse 5). Once that happens, God’s promise of rest is over, because the unbeliever has broken with faith.

Henry explains further:

they shall never enter into this spiritual rest, either of grace here or glory hereafter. This is as certain as the word and oath of God can make it. As sure as God has entered into his rest, so sure it is that obstinate unbelievers shall be excluded. As sure as the unbelieving Jews fell in the wilderness, and never reached the promised land, so sure it is that unbelievers shall fall into destruction, and never reach heaven. As sure as Joshua, the great captain of the Jews, could not give them possession of Canaan because of their unbelief, notwithstanding his eminent valour and conduct, so sure it is that even Jesus himself, and captain of our salvation, notwithstanding all that fulness of grace and strength that dwells in him, will not, cannot, give to final unbelievers either spiritual or eternal rest: it remains only for the people of God; others by their sin abandon themselves to eternal restlessness.

Many theologians throughout history have said and continue to say that all are saved and that Hell is empty. Millions of people believe it. My theory is that such people are trying to make excuses for themselves and others, trying to assuage their own consciences.

However, Scripture does not tell us that all will be saved. It never has, no matter how we try to parse it.

Hebrews is one of the Bible’s greatest books. Studying it will make Christians appreciate our Lord and Saviour even more.

Christianity is an inestimable treasure. Let’s pray for those whose faith is shaky. May we never lose our own faith. May more come to follow Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Hebrews 4:6-11

What follows are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 15, 2019.

This particular day is also known as Holy Cross Sunday. Note in particular the event in the reading from Numbers and our Lord’s citation of it in the Gospel.

Readings follow for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Israelites grow impatient with the way God is leading them, via Moses, to the Promised Land. He has given them everything according to His will, e.g. more than enough manna, but they complain. As a judgement, He sends serpents to bite some of them but gives Moses the antidote via the mounted brass serpent. Those who look at it are healed, perhaps because they need to gaze towards Heaven. Note the Gospel reading wherein Jesus cites this event.

Numbers 21:4b-9

21:4b but the people became impatient on the way.

21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

21:9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Psalm

This beautiful Psalm prophesies the Messiah, God’s only begotten Son. Let us be glad and rejoice of His victory over sin and death for our sakes.

Psalm 98:1-5

98:1 O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.

98:2 The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.

98:3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

98:4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

98:5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

Psalm — alternate

This Psalm recalls the times when the Israelites tried God’s patience to the extreme. Yet, in His mercy, He forgave them.

Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38

78:1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

78:34 When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.

78:35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

78:36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.

78:37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.

78:38 Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.

Epistle

This reading is very apt for our times. I know many unbelievers, most of whom think the Cross implies that Jesus died and that was the end. They do not understand the full import of the Crucifixion, the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. They think believers are stupid. They, wilfully or otherwise, also refuse to accept that He rose from the dead.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Gospel

Speaking of the aforementioned judgement in Numbers (in the first reading) Jesus says that He came to heal sinners. The serpent is sin and Satan. Jesus provides an analogy. His forthcoming death on the Cross will serve for believers as the brass serpent did for the Israelites: deliver them from the ravages of sin and death. On the third day, He rose from the dead. Forty days later, He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father.

John 3:13-17

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I hope that Sunday’s sermons around the world will be powerful ones, as that Gospel reading is essential to Christian belief. May those with hardened hearts read it and meditate carefully on our Lord’s words.

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