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The readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — traditionally known as Spy Wednesday — can be found here.

The following posts might also be of interest:

Gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week — John 13:21-32 (2016)

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

Today’s post looks at the Epistle — Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphases mine below):

Hebrews 12:1-3

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The author of Hebrews was writing for a predominantly Jewish audience: mostly converts to Christianity along with some who had not yet come to believe in Christ as Saviour.

Most of these people were still clinging to Mosaic law. They found it difficult to accept that the New Covenant had abolished it. They were looking for something more: their old legalism.

Therefore, the author asks them, with such a great cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament, to lay aside ‘every weight and the sin that clings so closely’ in order to ‘run with perseverance the race’ set before them (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains, drawing on his own experience of having been on his school’s track team during his youth:

Well, here they were, trying to run this race of faith with weights of legalism hanging all over them: Still being attached to the temple, still being hung up on – on the ritual of the ceremonialism of Judaism, still being attached to the priesthood and all this kind of stuff. They were trying to run a race of faith, dragging weights, like a guy trying to run down the track with a ball and chain on both feet. Dead works is dead weight, folks. And they were trying to run with dead works. Legalism.

Now, our Lord calls them to a life of faith. And all they are is a whole lot of great big, fat blobs with super sweat suits on and weights all over their feet, trying to run a race. And He says, “Get rid of all that legalism. Strip down.” And it’s amazing what had happened to them. They were so big and blobby, with so much bulk and so much weight, that they ran a step and collapsed in a pile of legalistic sweat. Panting to death, hanging on to Judaism, wouldn’t let go. You can’t run the race of faith weighted down by self-righteousness. Did you know that? You can’t run the race of faith weighted down and bogged down by your own works, trying to please God and earn His favor. That’s just like dead weight. The race is run, beloved, by faith plus nothing, just believing God, and He’ll produce the fruits of that faith within you.

“Works is a way to please God.” Don’t speed you up; they slow you down. “Well, I’m going to do some works for God, and work for God, and that’ll please Him, and that’ll please Him,” and that’ll just drag you down. Unload Judaism. Drop all of the old covenant stuff and go.

MacArthur thinks that the sin the author of Hebrews is talking about is mostly one of unbelief, although all sin would apply in general:

“The sin that doth so easily beset us.” The word “beset” is interesting. It’s very graphic. I’m not going to tell you the word, because it’s kind of a complicated word; it doesn’t really matter anyway, but it comes from a verb that means to surround periistēmi. It means to surround or stand around. And this is – this is the picture of a guy running through race in a Harris Tweed overcoat. See? Just some huge, big thing, and he’s flopping along in it. Something that just surrounds him. And it is the sin which doth so easily surround us and encumber us.

Now, that’s not too – perhaps it’s a general thought. Perhaps He’s talking about any sin. And sin is certainly a hindrance, but I think He’s talking about something specific. He says here, “The sin which doth so easily beset us.” Now, if you’re trying to run – watch this – a race of faith, what would be the biggest hindrance? Unbelief. I think that’s obviously implied right there. The thing that they were running into was doubting God. Do you see? Doubting God, combine that thing, get the fat man running in his sweat suit, and then put an overcoat on him, and you’ve got the picture of them trying to run the race, and they’re just sitting there, big blobs in the middle of the track.

And you know there’s a lot of Christians like that today. As I say, you know, the people who are moving have got to also be hurdlers, because they’ve got to keep jumping over all of the – all of the piles of people who are sitting in the track. Believe me, that’s true, friends. I mean in the body of Christ, if the body doesn’t function, we got to jump over the non-functioning members. And they’re often in the way, believe me.

A lot of us, myself included, think that being a Christian is a time to relax. Christ’s blood redeemed us. His resurrection opened the gates of eternal life to us. Yet, it is actually a struggle against temptation. Most of us would also like more faith. Therefore, we need to be spiritually fit so that we are ready for the endurance of the race.

MacArthur says of the intention of the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Let us run with patience the race” – and the word “patience,” hupomonē is endurance. Some Christians are in the race, but they’re not running the race. So, I think we can safely say that the term “let us,” used in the primary sense that it’s used in the book of Hebrews is used for the intellectually convinced, but it also has direct implication to the believer in at least one other passage, and very likely we would say it does here as well.

So, what He’s saying then is two things – all that to say this: if you’re not a Christian, get in the race because there’s only one way to live and that’s by faith; and if you are a Christian, and you’re in the race, run the race with endurance. So, really, the statement is general.

Now, it’s sad to say that most Christians aren’t running. A for example are jogging, we’ll admit that. Some are trotting. A lot of them are walking. Most of them are crawling or sitting, going nowhere; and some of them are going backwards. But the Christian life is not a trot; the Christian life is not your morning constitutional. The Christian life is not a loaf; the Christian life is a race. There it is; look at it. Let us run with patience the race. The Greek word for race agōn from which we get agony. This is a race where you’ve got to put out a little bit. It’s not even a sprint, either; it’s not a dash; it’s a marathon kind of race. It is to be run with endurance. And like any good runner must train and follow rigid kind of standards if he’s going to effectively run, so must the Christian. To effectively run, there must be self-denial, discipline, tremendous exertion. The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxury.

In this race, we are to look up to Jesus at all times — ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ — who suffered so much for our sakes and endured the shame of the Cross only to reap the ‘joy’ of taking His seat at the right hand of God the Father (verse 2).

Matthew Henry explains:

2.) What trials Christ met with in his race and course. [1.] He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself (Hebrews 12:3) he bore the opposition that they made to him, both in their words and behaviour. They were continually contradicting him, and crossing in upon his great designs and though he could easily have both confuted and confounded them, and sometimes gave them a specimen of his power, yet he endured their evil manners with great patience. Their contradictions were levelled against Christ himself, against his person as God-man, against his authority, against his preaching, and yet he endured all. [2.] He endured the cross–all those sufferings that he met with in the world for he took up his cross betimes, and was at length nailed to it, and endured a painful, ignominious, and accursed death, in which he was numbered with the transgressors, the vilest malefactors yet all this he endured with invincible patience and resolution. [3.] He despised the shame. All the reproaches that were cast upon him, both in his life and at his death, he despised he was infinitely above them he knew his own innocency and excellency, and despised the ignorance and malice of his despisers.

(3.) What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honour and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

(4.) The reward of his suffering: he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Christ, as Mediator, is exalted to a station of the highest honour, of the greatest power and influence he is at the right hand of the Father. Nothing passes between heaven and earth but by him he does all that is done he ever lives to make intercession for his people.

Therefore, we must look upon Him as our only Mediator and Advocate:

We must, [1.] Look unto him that is, we must set him continually before us as our example, and our great encouragement we must look to him for direction, for assistance, and for acceptance, in all our sufferings. [2.] We must consider him, meditate much upon him, and reason with ourselves from his case to our own. We must analogize, as the word is compare Christ’s sufferings and ours and we shall find that as his sufferings far exceeded ours, in the nature and measure of them, so his patience far excels ours, and is a perfect pattern for us to imitate.

Christ, the Son of God, suffered more at the hands of angry and twisted sinners than we ever will, so we must continually keep His example in mind as we endure our race in this world (verse 3):

Observe, [1.] There is a proneness in the best to grow weary and to faint under their trials and afflictions, especially when they prove heavy and of long continuance: this proceeds from the imperfections of grace and the remains of corruption. [2.] The best way to prevent this is to look unto Jesus, and to consider him. Faith and meditation will fetch in fresh supplies of strength, comfort, and courage for he has assured them, if they suffer with him, they shall also reign with him: and this hope will be their helmet.

MacArthur advises us:

I really believe we need to live by faith. And that’s the only way to take a spiritual diet and get off your sweat suit is start believing God. As soon as you start living by faith, you just start shedding the spiritual pounds. You strip down; you’re ready for action; you unload your overcoat, your sweat suit, and you’re ready to go. And it all happens by faith. Don’t be that kind of overweight, bulky thing in the middle of the track. GO on a spiritual diet and trim down. And a spiritual diet is simply understanding to live by faith. Eliminate all unbelief and self-righteousness, and then you’re stripped down, ready to run.

May we keep our eye on the prize of eternal life by focusing on Christ Jesus alone.

It is Good Friday 2020 and, incredibly, the doors to most of our churches around the world are locked.

The same holds true for other houses of worship.

It happened easily and quickly.

All it took was a pandemic, media panic and speedy draconian emergency legislation.

—————————————

Now on to Good Friday.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it below:

Meditations on the Cross

Here are my past posts, which might be helpful in understanding the Crucifixion:

Readings for Good Friday

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Good Friday: the horror of the Crucifixion (John MacArthur)

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Biblically focussed clergy, such as John MacArthur, often tell us how much God hates sin.

Yet, most of us, myself included, struggle to understand how much God hates sin.

One thing I learned from writing about the Book of Hebrews was that God hates sin so much that, from the beginning, He commanded that blood sacrifices be made for it. Under the Old Covenant, God’s chosen people had to sacrifice animals time and time again. Yet, all of those were insufficient.

Then God sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth for the one, holy and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: past, present and future. The Crucifixion brought about the New Covenant, a ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

In Hebrews 9:16-23, the book’s anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the sacrifices under the Old Covenant were but ‘copies’ of ‘the heavenly’ sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross (emphases mine):

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Hebrews 10 explains the sufficiency of our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us, citing Jeremiah 31:33-34:

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, we should be grateful for Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us, which reconciled us with God once and for all.

We can have assurance in our Christian faith, the promise of which is eternal life:

19 Therefore, brothers,[c] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

You can read more about Hebrews 10 in my post from 2016:

Epistle for Good Friday Year C — Hebrews 10:16-25

May we remember that our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us is the reason that we profess the Christian faith.

He then rose from the dead to bring us to eternal life. We look forward to celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, even though we will be at home alone, instead of with our friends at church.

In closing my series on the Book of Hebrews, the first eight verses of Hebrews 13 are in the Lectionary and are read during Year C (2019) during one of the Sundays after Pentecost.

Thank goodness, because the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a short précis of how to live the Christian life.

Verses 2 and 8 are two exceptionally beautiful and memorable verses:

Hebrews 13:1-8

Sacrifices Pleasing to God

13 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The author exhorts his audience of Christian converts to continue in brotherly love (verse 1). That means obeying the Ten Commandments: loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

We should do no harm to anyone and, beyond that, we should exercise kindness whenever we can, especially to our fellow believers.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christians should always love and live as brethren, and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father the more they will grow in love to one another for his sake.

To put this verse in context with regard to the Hebrew converts of that era, Henry reminds us that conflict brewed, with the potential of driving the converts apart. Their family and friends also persecuted them, so it was not easy. Furthermore, those who know this book understand that many were having second thoughts about having converted to Christianity.

Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

It is here supposed that the Hebrews had this love one for another. Though, at this time, that nation was miserably divided and distracted among themselves, both about matters of religion and the civil state, yet there was true brotherly love left among those of them who believed on Christ; and this appeared in a very eminent manner presently after the shedding forth of the Holy Ghost, when they had all things common, and sold their possessions to make a general fund of subsistence to their brethren … This brotherly love was in danger of being lost, and that in a time of persecution, when it would be most necessary; it was in danger of being lost by those disputes that were among them concerning the respect they ought still to have to the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Disputes about religion too often produce a decay of Christian affection; but this must be guarded against, and all proper means used to preserve brotherly love.

John MacArthur explains why the author of Hebrews made the exhortation to love so simple:

… the law says, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness,’ – that means to lie – ‘don’t covet.’ And if there be any other commandment, he could put them all together in one saying: ‘Thou shalt’ – what? – ‘love thy neighbor as thyself. For love works no ill to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

That’s why, you see, in Hebrews 13 it doesn’t need to list a whole lot of things. All it needs to say is just love, and that’ll take care of the law; that’s right. If a man loves, he won’t kill; for lover never seeks to destroy. And listen to this: love can’t hate. Love will seek to destroy an enemy by making him a friend.

If a man loves, he’ll never steal; for love doesn’t take, what does it do? It gives. And if a man loves, he will never covet; for covetousness – epithumia, which means the uncontrolled, inordinate desire for self-satisfaction. If a man loves, he’ll never covet, because love is not self-centered, it’s selfless, you see.

So love is really all he needs. In fact, Paul says, “Love is the bond of perfection, it ties everything together.” So love is the basic ethic toward others.

It is also worth saying that the love spoken of here is agape — platonic — not an emotional or sexual love, which some churchgoing advocates of polyamory (yes, they exist) insist upon:

you can reduce Christian conduct down to a simple, common denominator. There it is: love people. And before you say, “Well, I just can’t get it worked out,” let me remind you that love is not an emotion, it’s a principle. Don’t ever forget it.

I don’t get emotional about certain people. I don’t say, “Oh, there’s Mr. So-and-So. Oh, love, love,” you know. No, no. Love in the Bible is not necessarily emotional at all, it is a principle; and if you want to know what kind of a principle it is, read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a principle of self-sacrifice.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a Mr. So-and-So, Mr. So-and-So is; you need to condescend to help him, to meet his need, to care for him, to bear his burdens, to pray for him. Those are principles that have handles on them. Those are not ethereal, foggy, pie in the sky, lovey-dovey kind of squashy emotions. Listen, we’re not talking about something that’s just kind of syrupy. Love is a basic principle, and it’s the principle of self-sacrifice based on humility, isn’t it

Verse 2 is not only beautiful, but it also has a biblical basis in fact with regard to ‘entertained angels unawares’, as Henry outlines:

Thereby some have entertained angels unawares; so Abraham did (Genesis 18:1-32), and Lot (Genesis 19:1-38), and one of those that Abraham entertained was the Son of God; and, though we cannot suppose this will ever be our case, yet what we do to strangers, in obedience to him, he will reckon and reward as done to himself. Matthew 25:35, I was a stranger, and you took me in. God has often bestowed honours and favours upon his hospitable servants, beyond all their thoughts, unawares.

Does that mean being a doormat? No, it does not.

MacArthur explains it as follows:

Back in Genesis 18 Abraham put out a nice spread for three visitors, and found out one of them was God and two of them were angels. Now that isn’t to say get ready because angels are coming to your house; not at all. But that does mean that God sometimes will bring people into your path that you need to be very careful to show love to, because you just don’t know who you have on your hands. And it’s not just for your benefit either; maybe they have a tremendous need, and a word of love from you can turn a life around. You know that? How many times have people said to me, “John, my life was such and such and such, and I met so-and-so, and in just a moment of time my life was changed.”

Verse 3 discusses those ‘in prison’ — ‘in bonds’ in some translations. That might be an actual prison — and we know that from the earliest days of Christianity, people such as Peter and Paul were in chains for preaching the Good News. That has not stopped. There are Christians today who are suffering in prison, sometimes tortured, for their beliefs.

There are also innocent people in prison. There are also criminals who are not only in prison but also have psychological obstacles that act like a prison which caused them to be incarcerated in the first place.

There are other people, walking in perfect freedom, who also live in a psychological prison: addiction, for example.

For all of them, we must be empathetic and at least pray for them.

Note that the author of Hebrews says ‘since you are also in the body’ — the body of humanity or the body of believers.

MacArthur examines the times when Peter and Paul were in prison:

… Verse 3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” Do you know really what sympathy is? To suffer with, literally; empathy to get inside and feel what somebody feels. You have to be a selfless person to do that. If people are in prison, do you feel that, those who suffer adversity as being yourselves also in the flesh? In your own body, do you know what people go through when they go through pain?

Remember this morning, when we studied about the church that prayed for three days, day and night for Peter? They felt what he felt, didn’t they? They were hurting because he was hurting. That’s sympathy.

And, you know, sympathy can be shown in three ways at least, many ways. But here’s three interesting ones in the New Testament: 2 Timothy 1:16, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy in the Lord in that day: and in many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” You know one way to be sympathetic? By your personal presence with somebody in need. That’s sympathy, just being there where they are.

Here’s another way: Not only just in your presence, but in certain deeds that you might do. Philippians chapter 4, Paul needed some sympathy, he was in jail. Philippians 4:14, “Notwithstanding you have well done that you did share with my affliction. Now you Philippians know that in the beginning of the gospel when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving, but you only.” In other words, nobody gave me any money to carry on my ministry. ”For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift; but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. I’m glad you’re giving, not because I get the money, but because when you give, you get blessed.”

Verse 18: “But I have all, and abound; I’m full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of sweet smell, sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” Another way to show sympathy is by deeds of love. Not only your personal presence, but by doing deeds of love.

There’s a third way to show sympathy to somebody and that’s by prayer, praying for them, Colossians 4:18. Paul closes Colossians with these words: “Remember my bonds.” Hey, he says, “Don’t forget I’m in jail; pray for me.” Now this is our basic obligation to other people: to love them with full care and sympathy.

The author of Hebrews moves on from the general to the particular, beginning with a verse warning against sexual immorality and encouraging marital purity (verse 4). He says that God will judge those who have defiled the marital state through adultery or fornication.

God devised marriage as an earthly means of intimate companionship between two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is why traditional Christians hold this institution so closely to their hearts. This is also why it is so important to marry the right person.

Henry says:

It is honourable, for God instituted it for man in paradise, knowing it was not good for him to be alone. He married and blessed the first couple, the first parents of mankind, to direct all to look unto God in that great concern, and to marry in the Lord. Christ honoured marriage with his presence and first miracle. It is honourable as a means to prevent impurity and a defiled bed. It is honourable and happy, when persons come together pure and chaste, and preserve the marriage bed undefiled, not only from unlawful but inordinate affections.

Although MacArthur preached the sermon cited here nearly 40 years ago, the problems with sexual purity were already widespread because of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the late 1960s:

Now the word “sex” has become – you know, there were taboos in the past and, you know, sex was a word that was a taboo many years ago. You just didn’t say that word; it was a terrible word. And now sex is everywhere.

Even if mankind thinks it is fine to engage in all manner of sexual impurity, God does not. Students of the Bible know there are many passages condemning it:

“Let the bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Sexual purity. And we live in a world that’s going crazy over sex. It’s not that people’s desires are any different, it’s just that if society will let them do more things, they’ll do it. And Romans chapter 1 says they get real clever and they invent new things.

People in our society have gone crazy in the area of sexual fulfillment. When two people allow their passions to run away with each other, when two people allow themselves to get caught in a compromising situation sexually, let me tell you something, friends, it is not that they love each other too much, it is that they don’t love each other enough. It is that they love each other too little to respect each other’s purity before God.

And I say to you, if a guy comes to you, girls, and says, “I love you so much; give me what I want,” he doesn’t love you very much at all, believe me. His love hasn’t developed where the most important thing in his life is your beauty and purity and holiness. When he sees you like that, then he really loves you.

Now you say, “And why is this a sin against ourselves?” Well, that’s what Paul said, you see, in 1 Corinthians 6:18. He said, “Flee fornication. For every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he that commiteth fornication” – porneia, sex sin“sins against his own body.” You see, you have to live with this in your own flesh. This is a sin against your own body. The purity of your own body has been defiled. And so God says, “I desire sexual purity.”

The next personal message the author of Hebrews has for his audience is to avoid loving money (verse 5). Money in and of itself is fine, but when we lust after it, it becomes sinful.

MacArthur mentions an interesting observation from Charles Spurgeon on covetousness:

Spurgeon said one time, he said, “In all my life” – he said – “I’ve been in a lot of testimony meetings, and I’ve heard a lot of people share how they have sinned.” And he said, “I’ve had people come to me and make confession of sin. In my life” – he said – “I never had one person confess the sin of covetousness to me.” And I’ve only been around a few years, and I’ve never had anyone confess it to me either.

Wow. That means we’re probably all guilty of covetousness, without even realising it.

MacArthur says:

Be honest: the bigger thing, the better thing, more money, promotion, bigger house, bigger car – this is a temptation for all of us – nicer clothes, all of these things. And it’s a very serious thing. God says, “I want you to be, in a word, satisfied.” Godliness with contentment is really being rich, isn’t it.

Yet, interestingly, as I write this, government restrictions on coronavirus are driving economies around the world into meltdown: ‘Shares may go down, as well as up’.

Both our commentators encourage us to be happy with what we have at the time. I know that is difficult to swallow right now. People are currently losing their jobs: hospitality workers, certain retail workers, self-employed shopkeepers as well as some artisans and tradesmen. The list goes on. They have rent or mortgages to pay and families to support. Life is going to get very difficult for them. Let’s remember to patronise their businesses, have a friendly chat with them and, at home, pray for them.

We are all going to feel the pain in one way or another, just wait. This will not get better for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t a matter of not having enough loo roll or bags of pasta, this is going to be a disaster. That’s not even mentioning civil liberties. But, I digress.

Therefore, we need to commit the end of verse 5 …

for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

… and verse 6 to our hearts and minds:

So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Even though a lot of us will be unable to attend church for the next few weeks, because of coronavirus, we can spend that time reading the Bible and reflecting on our faith in prayer.

Let us also remember our clergy in our prayers, particularly during this time. They, too, have taken difficult decisions in closing churches.

We can reflect on the good example they have shown us and imitate it as best we can (verse 7). That might include praying more, leading a deeper spiritual life, exercising more kindness and patience towards others.

Finally, we come to my favourite verse in the Bible (verse 8):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Jesus had unlimited, boundless love during his earthly ministry, and He shows that same love for us not only today but for eternity. What He considered good in the Gospel stories, He still considers good. What Jesus considered evil during his earthly ministry, He still considers evil. He died for our sins and, sitting at the right hand side of the Father, His redemption continues to hold good, today and forever.

Jesus is our ultimate role model, therefore, let us be Christlike, as MacArthur explains:

Your first group of examples? Men. The supreme example, who? Jesus Christ, who never varies, who never changes. And you notice it uses His earthly name, Jesus. Uses His earthly title, Messiah, Christ. Why? Because it’s presenting an earthly pattern. He says to them – watch – “Follow the men who were your leaders,” but – oh, if you really want to pattern your life, pattern it after the human Jesus.

Let me ask you something. You want to see sustained love? The first ethic we talked about. You want to see sustained love? Who are you going to see it in better than anybody else? John 13, “Jesus having loved them” – loved them what? – “unto the end.” Sustained love. You want to see sympathy? Who you going to see it in? Who you going to see sympathy in? You hear it in John. He goes to the grave of Lazarus, and He begins to do what? To weep. You want to see sexual purity? You’ll see it in Jesus like you’ll never see it anywhere else. As He denounces the vile sin of sexual immorality in John 8 and then cleanses the immoral woman.

You want to see satisfaction? Contentment? You’ll hear it when Jesus says, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.” You’ll hear it when He says, “The foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” That’s satisfaction. You want to hear steadfastness? Listen to Him in Matthew 4, as Satan confronts Him three times, and three times He says no. “I’ll trust God’s Word, I reject yours.” Steadfast. You want to see separation from the world? Listen to His prayer in John 17:16, He said, “Father, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

You want to see sacrifice? Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:2 when he says, “And walk in love as Christ also loved us” – listen – “and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God as a sweet-smelling savor.” Never a greater sacrifice than His. You want to see submission? Listen to Jesus in the garden as He prays, “Not my will” – what? – “Thine be done.” You want to see supplication? Watch Him in the garden as He prays for Himself, for His disciples, and for all the Christians who would ever be born in the world.

My friends, the perfect example, the unchanging-yesterday-today-and-forever example is Jesus Christ. The ethics, great. The example, look at Jesus and mimic Him. And you also will find Him reproduced in the lives of men after whom you can pattern your lives.

I hope that this will give us spiritual encouragement and sustainment now and in future.

I also hope this apologetic explains the tenets of the Christian life we are called to live.

Bible readingThe 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 13:20-25

Benediction

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us[a] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Final Greetings

22 I appeal to you, brothers,[b] bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

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Last week’s post discussed the author’s exhortation to respect those in ministry and his prayer request for himself and Timothy.

These are the final verses of Hebrews. I will be writing separately about the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, as they provide an invaluable guide to the Christian life.

A benediction is a blessing. The author of Hebrews gives a particularly splendid one, mentioning ‘the God of Peace’, the Resurrection, Jesus as the ‘great shepherd’ and ‘the blood of the eternal covenant’ (verse 20).

Matthew Henry has a superb analysis of this verse, which is especially important as we are drawing near to Good Friday and Easter (emphases mine):

He offers up his prayers to God for them, being willing to do for them as he desired they should do for him: Now the God of peace, &c., Hebrews 13:20. In this excellent prayer observe, 1. The title given to God–the God of peace, who was found out a way for peace and reconciliation between himself and sinners, and who loves peace on earth and especially in his churches. 2. The great work ascribed to him: He hath brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, &c. Jesus raised himself by his own power; and yet the Father was concerned in it, attesting thereby that justice was satisfied and the law fulfilled. He rose again for our justification; and that divine power by which he was raised is able to do every thing for us that we stand in need of. 3. The titles given to Christ–our Lord Jesus, our sovereign, our Saviour, and the great shepherd of the sheep, promised in Isaiah 40:11, declared by himself to be so, John 10:14,15. Ministers are under-shepherds, Christ is the great shepherd. This denotes his interest in his people. They are the flock of his pasture, and his care and concern are for them. He feeds them, and leads them, and watches over them. 4. The way and method in which God is reconciled, and Christ raised from the dead: Through the blood of the everlasting covenant. The blood of Christ satisfied divine justice, and so procured Christ’s release from the prison of the grace, as having paid our debt, according to an eternal covenant or agreement between the Father and the Son; and this blood is the sanction and seal of an everlasting covenant between God and his people.

The author prays that, God, author of all these great blessings, equips the Hebrews through Jesus Christ to thereby accomplish His will in everything they do, recognising Christ’s inestimable glory (verse 21). Note that the author says that whatever good they — and we — do comes from God and His Son working through them and us.

Henry continues his analysis:

5. The mercy prayed for: Make you perfect in every good work, &c., Hebrews 13:21. Observe, (1.) The perfection of the saints in every good work is the great thing desired by them and for them, that they may here have a perfection of integrity, a clear mind, a clean heart, lively affections, regular and resolved wills, and suitable strength for every good work to which they are called now, and at length a perfection of degrees to fit them for the employment and felicity of heaven. (2.) The way in which God makes his people perfect; it is by working in them always what is pleasing in his sight, and that through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Observe, [1.] There is no good thing wrought in us but it is the work of God; he works in us, before we are fit for any good work. [2.] No good thing is wrought in us by God, but through Jesus Christ, for his sake and by his Spirit. And therefore, [3.] Eternal glory is due to him, who is the cause of all the good principles wrought in us and all the good works done by us. To this every one should say, Amen.

John MacArthur is equally impressed with the benediction, inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Now the God of peace.” I love that title, don’t you? “The God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” – now watch – “make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. So let it be.”

You want to hear something exciting? He gives you the ethics, He gives you the example, and then He gives you the energy. You say, “What’s the energy?” It’s the power of God. Look what it says, “Now the God of peace” – now jump to verse 21 – “make you perfect, working in you, that which is well pleasing in His sight.” You want to know something? Your Christian growth has nothing to do with your own power, it’s God working in you, right? Boy, what an exciting thing

So he’s simply saying the powerful God, He’s the one who can make you perfect. You can’t function on your own energy. You can’t just whip out your flesh and decide that you’re going to be spiritual. Doesn’t work like that.

Therefore, we must give Jesus and God the Father all thanks for all good things He has wrought through us:

When He does it, who gets the glory? Jesus Christ. And that’s the way it ought to be. He deserves it, doesn’t He? You remember this verse? I’m sure you do. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to do” – of what? – “His good pleasure.” It’s God. There’s your energy, beloved.

The new covenant’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? But it’s not just free grace and do what you want, there’s some ethics. Beyond the ethics, there’s a living, vital example. Beyond the example, there’s energy, and it’s the power of God in your life.

Now we come to the farewell — ‘Final Greetings’ — in which the author of Hebrews encourages (exhorts) his audience to heed what he has written to them (verse 22).

John MacArthur surmises that the Hebrews would reread the letter. Indeed, new revelations pop out every time I have read it (six times now):

Then he closes with personal notes. “I beseech you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation” – he says I know it’s been hard and heavy, but hang in there – “for I have written a letter unto you in few words.” You say, “Few words? Does he know how long we’ve been in this?” You want to hear something startling? You can read the whole book in less than an hour. It’s been brief, powerful, heavy. He says bear with it. He figures they’re going to read it again.

The author explains more about Timothy, referred to obliquely in verse 18 (last week):

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Timothy has just been released from prison and the author hopes that the two of them can visit the Hebrews soon (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the joy everyone must have felt:

He gives the Hebrews an account of Timothy’s liberty and his hopes of seeing them with him in a little time, Hebrews 13:23. It seems, Timothy had been a prisoner, doubtless for the gospel, but now he was set at liberty. The imprisonment of faithful ministers is an honour to them, and their enlargement is matter of joy to the people. He was pleased with the hopes of not only seeing Timothy, but seeing the Hebrews with him.

The author closes by requesting the Hebrews greet their leaders and their fellow congregants — ‘saints’. He tells them that the Italians also send greetings (verse 24). He ends by praying that God’s grace be upon all of the Hebrews (verse 25).

MacArthur says of the author and the Italians:

He must have been hanging around a group of Italian Christians from Rome at this time.

That is serendipitous, because I will begin writing about Paul’s letters to the Romans next weekend.

Hebrews is a superb book of the Bible, because it answers so many questions about Christianity all in one place, proceeding from the Old Testament to the New Covenant we have in Christ.

This and my prior posts on Hebrews are available on my Essential Bible Verses page, located just above James 1:1-16.

Next time — Romans 1:8-15

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 13:17-19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

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The verses in last week’s post were a final warning against falling into apostasy by following teaching that goes against Scripture and the Good News.

The first verse in today’s selection is a rather substantial one relating to the clergy or, as they were called at the time, overseers (verse 17).

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, counsels his Jewish converts to obey their overseers and submit to them spiritually, because being an overseer is all-consuming work as, at the end of it, he has to give an account to the Lord. Therefore, we should respect their position, the onerous responsibility of that position and allow them to get on with their work without putting obstacles in their way. If a good clergyman leaves as a result of petty obstacles, ultimately, the congregation loses.

Matthew Henry explains the issue impartially — and well (emphases mine):

It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word; and yet it is truly obedience and submission, and that not only to God, but to the authority of the ministerial office, which is of God as certainly, in all things belonging to that office, as the authority of parents or of civil magistrates in the things within their sphere. Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

It is sometimes difficult in our era to submit, especially to clergy who are quasi-agnostics (I have known a few). To them, I have kept my distance beyond civil pleasantries of a greeting and a kind word on Sundays.

As far as clergy are concerned, Henry — who was an Anglican clergyman himself — says that they are not to lord their position over the congregation:

They have the rule over the people; their office, though not magisterial, yet is truly authoritative. They have no authority to lord it over the people, but to lead them in the ways of God, by informing and instructing them, explaining the word of God to them, and applying it to their several cases.

Henry explains the heavy responsibility of a clergyman:

They watch for the souls of the people, not to ensnare them, but to save them; to gain them, not to themselves, but to Christ; to build them up in knowledge, faith, and holiness. They are to watch against every thing that may be hurtful to the souls of men, and to give them warning of dangerous errors, of the devices of Satan, of approaching judgments; they are to watch for all opportunities of helping the souls of men forward in the way to heaven.

After they have exercised their solemn duties on Earth, they will have to give an account to the Lord:

[3.] They must give an account how they have discharged their duty, and what has become of the souls committed to their trust, whether any have been lost through their neglect, and whether any of them have been brought in and built up under their ministry. [4.] They would be glad to give a good account of themselves and their hearers. If they can then give in an account of their own fidelity and success, it will be a joyful day to them; those souls that have been converted and confirmed under their ministry will be their joy, and their crown, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, we should think of our clergy as we would a shepherd busy with his flock or, as John MacArthur says, a triage nurse:

I’ll tell you something, that’s a joy. The sweetest joy that comes into the life of a pastor who’s committed to the things of God is when he sees somebody walking in truth and bearing fruit. Believe me, that’s sweet. And the tragedy of all tragedies in the life of the man of God is when he sees those in whom he invests his life who do not bear fruit, who do not walk in the truth, who stray away. That grieves – worse than anything else. We’re like nurses, you know, with critical care patients. We care for your souls …

It’s a serious thing to be a critical care nurse in the church. It’s a serious thing to be a wakeful shepherd of a flock that has sheep that are forever going astray. And we have to labor as those – and I say this even with a sense of reluctance in my own heart to – to even admit that this is true, that I must give an account to God for the way that I minister to the care of the souls that He entrusts to me. And as I’ve said before, that’s why I’m not real anxious to have more people. I’m not too sure I’m doing the right job with the ones I’ve got.

What humility. He preached this in 1973, and, since then, his team’s ministry has gone international. That said, I bet he still has the same concerns — and rightly so.

MacArthur points out that St Paul had his share of faithful and rebellious congregations. The faithful ones made him joyful and the rebellious ones grieved him:

I think sometimes the saddest group of people, the most grieved group of men, are very often ministers, pastors. And I think sometimes the reason is because of the fact that they are dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people who, because they will not submit, rob them of the joy of their ministry.

The idea of the word “grief” here is groaning, over a thankless task, and there are many men whose ministry is a very thankless thing. And he says you ought to submit, just for the joy of the one who labors with you. You know, the Apostle Paul knew about that joy, apparently especially the Philippians were a submissive bunch. He didn’t express a whole lot of joy over the Corinthians. In fact, they were a pain in the neck as well as the heart. But in Philippians 1:4, he says, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He said to the Philippians, “You make me happy.” And the reason was because they were submissive.

The author of Hebrews then issued a personal message, requesting the converts’ prayers for him and Timothy (verse 18). (I’ll have more on Timothy next week.) The author is sure both have clear consciences as they attempt to act honourably in all their undertakings.

Henry says this request came because the Jews hated Paul, wrongly so, but the author and Timothy were taking great pains to not offend anyone unnecessarily:

Many of the Jews had a bad opinion of Paul, because he, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, had cast off the Levitical law and preached up Christ: now he here modestly asserts his own integrity: We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. We trust! he might have said, We know; but he chose to speak in a humble style, to teach us all not to be too confident of ourselves, but to maintain a godly jealousy over our own hearts.

The author asked for their prayers so that he might be with them again that much sooner (verse 19). MacArthur explains:

And so he says, pray for me, I deserve it. Secondly he says, pray for me, I need it. I need it. Verse 19, “I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” I want to get there. You say that guy actually believed that prayer works? Does he believe that if he was going 30 miles an hour and they started praying, he’d go 90 miles an hour to get there? He believed that. Doesn’t sound too much like fatalism to me. Not at all. He knew God heard and answered prayer. There’s no blind fatalism.

Sadly, next week’s verses conclude the Book of Hebrews. However, I will follow up with posts on the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, which explain how to live the Christian life. Fortunately, those verses are in the Lectionary.

Next time — Hebrews 13:20-25

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 13:9-14

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

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Sadly, Hebrews 13 is the last chapter in one of the best books of the Bible.

I hope to discuss the first eight verses of this magnificent chapter in separate posts. Those are read in Year C on one of the Sundays in the Pentecost season. They describe exactly how to live as a Christian.

As today’s post begins with verse 9, here is verse 8 — one of my favourites (emphases mine below):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Therefore, we are not to be led away by false teachings, those that contradict the Gospel story, because Christ fulfilled the law, thereby making food restriction and other rituals obsolete, which were of no salvific benefit to those who observed them. With Christ, we have divine grace for our spiritual strength (verse 9).

That should mean something to us as Christians, to be explained below.

With regard to Jewish audience whom the author of Hebrews addressed, it was a warning against falling back into legalism, which would lead to apostasy.

John MacArthur explains the Jewish legalism of that era, which went far beyond what God commanded in the Old Testament through Mosaic law:

laws to Israel were very, very important and their conduct was based on these principles and was for the purpose of drawing men’s attention ultimately to God.

Now, it’s interesting, too, that they became so absorbed in legalism that they went way, way further than God ever intended. God gave them enough laws to maintain things and they just got real law-happy and went bananas, to put it in the vernacular, and just started inventing laws hand over fist. And they came up with a whole series of laws than they passed on orally. In other words, they would just speak them from generation to generation, and this series of oral laws was known as the Mishnah. And you’re perhaps familiar with that if you know anything about Jewish history.

The word shānāh means to teach or to repeat orally. So, this was orally transmitted, called the Mishnah. Finally, they felt they ought to write it all down and they wrote it all down and they called it the Talmud. And the Jewish Talmud is the codification of all the Jewish laws added to Scripture. And I mean it is massive. It is a monstrous thing. The word Talmud simply means teaching.

There are six parts to the Jewish Talmud, some of you may have seen one. But there are six parts to it. There is a section on agriculture, all the laws regarding what you can do and what you can’t do in agriculture. There is a section on feasts. There is a section on women. There’s a section on civil and ceremonial law, legal matters. There’s a section on sacrifices, a section on unclean things and their purification. Now, all of those sections are loaded with law after law after law for the conduct of the Jew.

During the time of Jesus Christ, if you study the New Testament, you find that the Jews were meticulously concerned with obeying laws, weren’t they? That they got literally in knots when they saw Jesus’ disciples not doing the things that were prescribed by the law. Or when Jesus did something that was not allowed in the law, they had a terrible time handling that issue. Jesus said, “Your only problem is you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” What He meant was you’re all worried about the minutiae of the law and you’re blasting to pieces all of the principles that God really wanted to communicate through the law. You’ve kept the letter of the law and lost the message of it.

But nevertheless, by the time you come to the group of Jews that’s being written to in the book of Hebrews, they are legalists, believe me. They are legalists in the sense that no other nation in the history of the world has been legalists. They live by the law, they function by the law, they know nothing about liberty, only about being attached to a system. They were not free spirits. They were not do-your-own-thingers. They were not libertines. They were staunch, absolute legalists – the only life they knew.

The Jews who had converted to Christianity suffered at the hands of their Jewish families and friends. Some were disowned. Some had been shunned. The joyful confidence they had when they converted had disappeared. They were wondering if they should return to Judaism for a quiet life.

The whole book of Hebrews is about getting them back on track to the supreme sacrifice of Christ, which was all-sufficient for the forgiveness of their sins and truly promised eternal life.

There was also a group of Jews who had been listening to the Good News regularly but had not converted. Parts of the Book of Hebrews are addressed to them. The author wanted everyone to understand — in ways that made sense to a Jew — that Jesus Christ lives and reigns forever more. Only He offers the better — the New — Covenant.

That was the Jewish perspective of the day.

Now let’s turn to what verse 9 is saying to Christians. I firmly believe that if every Christian studied Hebrews, s/he would be lifted up and revitalised in the profession of faith.

The reason why is that so many of us are babes — little children — in the faith, regardless of how long we have been attending church. For the past 50 years or so, very little doctrine has been taught from the pulpit on Sundays or even in classes for First Communion (Catholic) or Confirmation (Protestants). Parents also do rather little, generally speaking. How much Christian doctrine do we actually know? It has been woefully watered down through the decades.

MacArthur explains the danger of the lack of doctrine:

Satan operates in the area of religion. He is an angel of light. He masks himself in religion. He is a false prophet. And so, you see, it is not until you grow up in the Word to the stature of a young man that you literally overcome him.

You know who’s vulnerable to false doctrine? Babes, right? He says, “Young men, the Word abides in you, and you overcome him.” In other words, if I have grown to the level of a young man spiritually, false doctrine is not my problem. The Bible says that when you’re saved, you overcome the world. When you get to be a young man, you overcome the devil. There’s one thing you never overcome, what’s left? The flesh. We wait for the glorification of our bodies to overcome the flesh. But when you go to a certain point in your maturing in the Word of God, false doctrine is no longer a problem. But as long as you’re a baby, it is.

Now, with that in mind, reading again from our passage in Hebrews, let’s see what he is saying, “Be not carried away” – or about – “with various and strange doctrines for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, not with foods, which have not profited them that have been occupied with them.” What’s he been saying? Don’t be babies. Don’t get dragged off into false doctrine. Now, if you’re going to avoid that, what do you have to do? Be nourished up in what? Sound doctrine. And again you come back to the same principle that we have repeated so many times, that the Word of God is the key.

With regard to food, MacArthur rightly says:

Now, you’ll notice that he says here, you know, the Christian life doesn’t revolve around ceremonial law, not meats or foods, and the Jews were so used to food laws and food rituals that it was a tough thing for them to make that kind of a break. There’s an interesting verse, it’s 1 Corinthians 8:8, this is what it says: “But food will not commend us to God.” Pretty simple. God doesn’t care what you eat. Food will not commend us to God. “We are neither the worse if we do not eat nor the better if we do eat.” In other words, God does not care about your religious diet. That’s exactly what he says in verse 9. Let your heart be established with grace, not with ceremony.

The ever-growing trend towards vegetarianism, even partially, and veganism will not bring us favour with God, even notionally for Planet Earth’s sake. This is becoming somewhat of a religion of its own, yet, who among us can out-guess God as to the bounty, not only of food but also natural resources, that He has given us? No one can rightly presume we are in peril, yet, many Christians — including clergy — believe we are in mortal danger of the Earth coming to an end through man’s hands.

We should be far more worried about the state of our souls, but that has long disappeared from our discourse.

Matthew Henry discusses the meaning of verse 9. This can be applied to every present day teaching that diverges from the Bible:

a. They were divers and various (Hebrews 13:9), different from what they had received from their former faithful teachers, and inconsistent with themselves.

b. They were strange doctrines: such as the gospel church was unacquainted with foreign to the gospel.

c. They were of an unsettling, distracting nature, like the wind by which the ship is tossed, and in danger of being driven from its anchor, carried away, and split upon the rocks. They were quite contrary to that grace of God which fixes and establishes the heart, which is an excellent thing. These strange doctrines keep the heart always fluctuating and unsettled.

d. They were mean and low as to their subject. They were about external, little, perishing things, such as meats and drinks, &c.

e. They were unprofitable. Those who were most taken with them, and employed about them, got no real good by them to their own souls. They did not make them more holy, nor more humble, nor more thankful, nor more heavenly.

Verse 10 pertains to the exclusive right that Christians have towards receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. In other words, those who do not believe in Christ should not be partaking of it. Henry puts this verse in context by explaining that, in the early days, Christians did not have altars as the Jews did in the temple. The Jews criticised them for it:

f. They would exclude those who embraced them from the privileges of the Christian altar (Hebrews 13:10): We have an altar. This is an argument of the great weight, and therefore the apostle insists the longer upon it. Observe,

(a.) The Christian church has its altar. It was objected against the primitive Christians that their assemblies were destitute of an altar; but this was not true. We have an altar, not a material altar, but a personal one, and that is Christ; he is both our altar, and our sacrifice; he sanctifies the gift. The altars under the law were types of Christ; the brazen altar of the sacrifice, the golden altar of his intercession.

(b.) This altar furnishes out a feast for true believers, a feast upon the sacrifice, a feast of fat things, spiritual strength and growth, and holy delight and pleasure. The Lord’s table is not our altar, but it is furnished with provision from the altar. Christ our passover is sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), and it follows, therefore let us keep the feast. The Lord’s supper is the feast of the gospel passover.

(c.) Those who adhere to the tabernacle or the Levitical dispensation, or return to it again, exclude themselves from the privileges of this altar, from the benefits purchased by Christ. If they serve the tabernacle, they are resolved to subject themselves to antiquated rites and ceremonies, to renounce their right to the Christian altar; and this part of the argument he first proves and then improves.

The reason a professing Jew cannot — and would not — take Communion is that no part of the Jewish sacrifice was to be consumed and the bodies of the animals were taken outside the camp to be burnt (verses 10, 11):

[a.] He proves that this servile adherence to the Jewish state is a bar to the privileges of the gospel altar; and he argues thus:–Under the Jewish law, no part of the sin-offering was to be eaten, but all must be burnt without the camp while they dwelt in tabernacles, and without the gates when they dwelt in cities: now, if they will still be subject to that law, they cannot eat at the gospel-altar; for that which is eaten there is furnished from Christ, who is the great sin-offering. Not that it is the very sin-offering itself, as the papists affirm; for then it was not to be eaten, but burnt; but the gospel feast is the fruit and procurement of the sacrifice, which those have no right to who do not acknowledge the sacrifice itself.

That would have been an important message to the Hebrews who had converted. The author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is saying in so many words: ‘Okay, then, if you wish to revert to the teachings of Mosaic law and sacrifices, then you can no longer receive the body and blood of Christ, because you no longer believe in His supreme sacrifice. Give up the spiritual nourishment and grace that partaking of the fruits of His sacrifice brings.’

However — and interestingly, because I had not considered this before — the author of Hebrews says that just as sacrificial animals were burnt outside the camp or the city gates, so, too, did Jesus die on the Cross outside the gates of Jerusalem in order to sanctify us through His blood (verse 12).

Henry says:

… it might appear that Christ was really the antitype of the sin-offering, and, as such, might sanctify or cleanse his people with his own blood, he conformed himself to the type, in suffering without the gate. This was a striking specimen of his humiliation, as if he had not been fit either for sacred or civil society! And this shows how sin, which was the meritorious cause of the sufferings of Christ, is a forfeiture of all sacred and civil rights, and the sinner a common plague and nuisance to all society, if God should be strict to mark iniquity. Having thus shown that adherence to the Levitical law would, even according to its own rules, debar men from the Christian altar, he proceeds …

This should amply demonstrate how much God hates sin. John MacArthur makes much of this in his various sermons, but, unless we are directed to the Bible — and the Book of Hebrews has the best passages on it — we do not understand the necessity of God’s mandating a blood sacrifice for sin.

Jesus made the one, sufficient oblation for our sins through His most precious blood.

Anyone who does not believe that, as the author of Hebrews says, does not deserve to partake of the grace-filled fruits of His sacrifice in Holy Communion.

The author goes on to say that, just as Jesus went outside the gate of the city to die, we must also exit the gate of the world and follow Him (verse 13). We must turn our love away from what those of the world hold on to and follow the path to eternal life.

That means rejecting sin, carnal comforts and materialism, which will put us out of the perimeters of the camp and the boundaries of the city.

Henry explains that, because we no longer belong to the camp or the city, the world will hate us for it:

First, Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp; go forth from the ceremonial law, from sin, from the world, from ourselves, our very bodies, when he calls us. Secondly, Let us be willing to bear his reproach, be willing to be accounted the offscouring of all things, not worthy to live, not worthy to die a common death.

However, we do not care, because, this world is only a temporary place for us as believers, as ‘we seek the city that is to come’ (verse 14): the heavenly realm.

Henry says of verse 14:

This was his reproach, and we must submit to it; and we have the more reason because, whether we go forth from this world to Christ or no, we must necessarily go forth in a little time by death; for here we have no continuing city. Sin, sinners, death, will not suffer us to continue long here; and therefore we should go forth now by faith, and seek in Christ the rest and settlement which this world cannot afford us, Hebrews 13:14.

In conclusion, we will all depart this mortal coil, so we would do well, right now, to follow Christ.

The author then tells us what our sacrifices are to be as Christians. Those of us who went to Catholic school remember the nuns discussing ‘making sacrifices’, especially during Lent and Advent. They were not wrong. The following verses from Hebrews 13 are included in the readings for a Sunday in the season of Pentecost in Year C:

15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

So, we have a mandate as Christians to offer sacrifices of love: to God and to those around us.

Jesus answered the Pharisee as to which was the greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40):

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Fortunately, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes those verses at the beginning of the service of Holy Communion. Regular attendance puts them in the memory bank to be remembered the rest of the week.

Next time — Hebrews 13:17-19

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 12:8-11

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

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It occurred to me early last week that I had forgotten to write up these additional verses about discipline from God.

These follow my post on Hebrews 12:4-7.

I realise these verses are hard for some of us to handle. Some reading them will have come from abusive homes. They have my deep empathy and commiserations.

However, while nations are legislating against corporal punishment in the home to prevent abuse, for centuries — in fact, until just recently — it was a mainstay of family and educational life. Many years ago, I read a book about English social history which said that, until the late Middle Ages, students at Oxford and Cambridge were routinely beaten for what we would consider minor infractions. At the time, both were seminaries, so all the students were young men. It is said that St Augustine used to flog his students, also. They, too, were young men, not little boys.

One thing that is becoming clear in 21st century society is that there are so many unhappy young people in this world. Their parents have never been kinder to them physically, yet, they are so miserable and depressed. Are we to draw the conclusion that some sort of punishment would have, paradoxically, made them less depressed? I do not know, but the ones we see in the media at demonstrations and violent protests are shouty navel-gazers of the first water, as if no one ever had ever taken the time to control their childhood impulses.

That said, the subject of corporal punishment aside, the main point of the author of Hebrews discourse is to point out that God corrects our ways through privation to save us from sin — and eternal death.

The author begins by saying that if we do not experience discipline in our lives, that means our fathers never loved us; we might as well have been illegitimate children (verse 8).

Matthew Henry makes the following salient points about earthly fathers and our heavenly Father (emphases mine):

Observe, (1.) The best of God’s children need chastisement. They have their faults and follies, which need to be corrected. (2.) Though God may let others alone in their sins, he will correct sin in his own children; they are of his family, and shall not escape his rebukes when they want them. (3.) In this he acts as becomes a father, and treats them like children; no wise and good father will wink at faults in his own children as he would in others; his relation and his affections oblige him to take more notice of the faults of his own children than those of others. (4.) To be suffered to go on in sin without a rebuke is a sad sign of alienation from God; such are bastards, not sons. They may call him Father, because born in the pale of the church; but they are the spurious offspring of another father, not of God, Hebrews 12:7,8.

The author goes on to say that we respected our fathers who chastised us, therefore, we should be that much more reverential to God who wants us to be with Him forever (verses 9, 10).

Many of us resented correction when we received it, but we grew to be grateful for it as we matured.

Henry explains:

[3.] The fathers of our flesh corrected us for a few days, in our state of childhood, when minors; and, though we were in that weak and peevish state, we owed them reverence, and when we came to maturity we loved and honoured them the more for it. Our whole life here is a state of childhood, minority, and imperfection, and therefore we must submit to the discipline of such a state; when we come to a state of perfection we shall be fully reconciled to all the measures of God’s discipline over us now. [4.] God’s correction is no condemnation. His children may at first fear lest affliction should come upon that dreadful errand, and we cry, Do not condemn me, but show me wherefore thou contendest with me, Job 10:2. But this is so far from being the design of God to his own people that he therefore chastens them now that they may not be condemned with the world, 1 Corinthians 11:32. He does it to prevent the death and destruction of their souls, that they may live to God, and be like God, and for ever with him.

At the time we are receiving correction, it is unpleasant and humiliating. Yet, looking back on it, it taught us the difference between right and wrong and to choose the correct path of behaviour — ‘the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ (verse 11) — that benefits us, our family and others with whom we come in contact. Most of all, through righteousness, we find favour with God.

John MacArthur discusses the joys one receives after privation of certain things has ended — a seeming paradox, to be sure, but one we know well:

I think implied in there is the fullness of life. Really live. You don’t know what living’s all about until you’ve been through some things. You don’t know what victory is until you’ve fought a battle. You don’t know what deliverance has been – is until you’ve been in prison. You don’t know what healing is till you’ve been sick. You don’t know what riches are until you’ve been poor. Right?

Life only is life when you’ve been wretched and miserable.

Second thing, second product is holiness, verse 10, “For they verily, for a few days, chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.”

God wants us to conform to His image. Never feel envious of people who get away with everything bad in life and seem to have it all. They will get their reckoning in the end from the Almighty:

You know, there’s only one kind of holiness – what kind? – His holiness. That’s the only kind. And He wants us to partake of His holiness. That’s just absolutely a fantastic thought, to partake of His holiness.

Ephesians 3:19, “To be filled with all the fulness of God.” What a thought. And the only way that I can ever partake of His holiness and be righteous before Him in a practical sense is when I conform to His image. And to conform to His image, I must take His discipline. You see? Because I’m unruly, and I have sin in me, and I must respond to His discipline.

I want to be a partaker of His holiness. And it’ll only happen as I am disciplined. How are you going to take discipline? You’re going look at it, first of all, and watch those two perils. Don’t treat it lightly, despising it and not seeing the full end of what it is. Look over the wall, over the dark cloud. And you’re not going to faint, get despondent, despairing.

The second thing is you’re going to recognize what it proves. It proves, first of all, His love, and secondly what? Our sonship. And instead of doubting that He’s near, you’re going to thank Him for being near and being a loving Father and teaching what He’s teaching you.

Thirdly, you’re going to recognize the product that He’s trying to get at. Number one, life lived, and lived to its fullest. Number two, He wants you to conform to His holiness practically. Positionally you’re holy; practically, He wants you to be what you are in position …

Welcome, sweet discipline. Discipline designed for my joy. Discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.

Again, as I’ve written and as MacArthur has said, it’s a good idea to regard this as God’s training us for endurance on our Christian journey. He is our divine spiritual coach.

The trials He brings us toughen us up spiritually to resist temptation and sin:

it’s just like spiritual weightlifting. Consider – watch this – consider your troubles not a burden but a weight. And every trouble that comes is spiritual exercise. And when you get exercised by it, you’re building spiritual muscles. The stronger you are, the more you’re going to appreciate what God is doing.

Be glad and be thankful for God’s spiritual discipline. Without it, we could not run the race towards eternal life.

In closing, we suffer nothing compared to what God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, suffered on the Cross for us. God sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus knew it would be the most horrifying torture and death ever. Yet, He obeyed His father in all things.

When we get despondent and navel gaze, let us remember Christ’s example: pray and obey the Father.

I will post again on Hebrews tomorrow — Hebrews 13:9-14 — as stated last week.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 12:12-17

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

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Last week’s post discussed the previous set of verses, difficult to digest in some ways, about discipline from God. I suggested that we liken God to a divine coach, strengthening us through our trials the way an athletics coach would build up his charges’ strength through rigorous exercise.

The author of Hebrews is encouraging the new converts from Judaism to be strong and persevere with the faith, no matter what trials befall them. They lost their families and friends because of their Christian faith. Not surprisingly, they were faltering.

There were also Hebrews who were attending Christian worship services but had not fully committed themselves as followers of Christ. The author of Hebrews wanted them to make that commitment.

John MacArthur explains that the author’s intent was to save both groups from apostasy (emphases mine):

Sprinkled among these believing Jews were some who hadn’t even yet been saved. And they had identified superficially as professing Christians with this Jewish community of believers, and they were there in name only, not in truth. And they were in danger of turning around and going back to apostate, to be apostates, to apostatize if you want the verb. They were in danger of saying, “Oh, this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough of this; I’m going back to Judaism.” And had they done that, they would have been locked in unbelief forever because they would have rejected against full information. And that’s what apostasy is.

These verses are addressed to faltering believers. Therefore, the author exhorts them to get themselves in position for the endurance that faith demands (verse 12), an analogy used elsewhere in the Bible, including the Old Testament:

What he’s really saying in athletic metaphor is get your second wind. Sure, the outward man is perishing, but what did Isaiah say? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their” – what? – “their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a promise of God.

These converts, like any other Christian throughout history, needed to be stronger spiritually. Poor spiritual positioning could cause them to become spiritually lame, when they should be healed (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the running analogy based on his own personal experience at school. The upper case ‘He’ below refers to the Holy Spirit, who inspired the author of Hebrews along with every other author of the Bible:

You know, if you’re an athlete, and you’re going to train for a track meet, you’re going to discipline yourself or you’re not going to be any good in the track meet. Can you imagine a guy coming out to run a mile who’s never worked out? You see, the discipline isn’t meant to slow him down; the discipline is meant to speed him up. It’s meant to make him faster in the race. And God brings things into our lives in order that He might speed us, not slow us down.

You know, in any kind of a race, you can always tell when a guy gets tired. I ran enough track to know this. And you can always tell two things automatically happen. I know this from my – I’m telling you, personal experience; this has happened to me many, many times. The first thing that happens to a good runner, when he gets tired, is his arms drop. One of the first things you learn in running is the motion of your arms is very important and very strategic to the movement of your body. And the rhythm is all – all needs to be in congruity. It has to be going together. And you can always tell when a guy gets tired, because his arms start dropping, and that breaks his rhythm. You see, your arms are powerful enough to pull you into your stride. And any good runner works very diligently on the motion of his arms. And as he gets tired, his arms begin to drop, and then he begins to lose the drive.

The second thing that always happens to a runner, when he gets tired, is his knees begin to wobble. Now any of you guys that have run track, you know this; you know what it’s like to say, “Go, leg, go,” and it doesn’t. Right? And your knees are just going like this. Well, I can – I can remember so many times running a 440 and coming around to the 380 mark, with 60 yards to go, and saying, “Go, knees, go,” and they just – you just have to go – “Mmm” – like this, and just put one out in front of the other, almost forcing each leg individually.

And so, this is a very graphic illustration that He has here. The arms begin to droop, the rhythm is lost, and pretty soon he’s fighting against the growing numbness in his legs. And you know what happens then? If he begins to concentrate on the numbness in his legs, he’s finished. There’s only one thing that a runner can do at that point, and that is to look at the goal line. To look at that goal line and tell himself, “I am going to make that goal.” It’s the only thing he can do.

So, it is with a Christian. There may come times in the Christian life when your arms begin to droop, and your knees begin to wobble, and you don’t know if you can get one in front of the other one again, where you don’t look at your wobbly knees, and you don’t start looking at your drooping arms, and you just look at that finish line. And better than any guy who ever ran a race, you have the about guaranteed condition that you’re going to be the victor. And with that in the back of your mind, you fire on.

The author says that the converts must not only strive to make peace with everyone but also be holy, because without holiness, none of us will ever see God in the life to come (verse 14). Both of those are very difficult to do, especially when we spend so much time in the world of work and leisure outside the home. Temptations are everywhere.

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, First, It is the duty of Christians, even when in a suffering state, to follow peace with all men, yea, even with those who may be instrumental in their sufferings. This is a hard lesson, and a high attainment, but it is what Christ has called his people to. Sufferings are apt to sour the spirit and sharpen the passions; but the children of God must follow peace with all men. Secondly, Peace and holiness are connected together; there can be no true peace without holiness. There may be prudence and discreet forbearance, and a show of friendship and good-will to all; but this true Christian peaceableness is never found separate from holiness. We must not, under pretence of living peaceably with all men, leave the ways of holiness, but cultivate peace in a way of holiness. Thirdly, Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The vision of God our Saviour in heaven is reserved as the reward of holiness, and the stress of our salvation is laid upon our holiness, though a placid peaceable disposition contributes much to our meetness for heaven.

This is why God gives us trials and tribulations, so that we endure them and come out as stronger Christians.

The author continues, exhorting the converts to make sure that everyone can obtain God’s grace. He also tells them not become bitter people, because bitterness takes root all too easily (verse 15). This verse concerns our personal behaviour and the example we must set as Christians.

MacArthur says that everyone who encounters us is affected in some way by the example we set. MacArthur tells us:

Christians, so often this is true – isn’t it? – when you say, “When I sin, it’s only my business.” No, it’s not. When you fall, somebody’s watching.

And our example to others will give either a good or a bad impression to them of Christianity.

MacArthur relates a true story about a father who was fond of strong drink and his young son:

I always think of the story my dad used to tell about the father who went out to get drunk again, and he was walking through the snow to the bar. And he hadn’t gone very far from his house, and he thought something was following him. And he turned around, and here was his little boy, six years old, stretching as far as he could to make sure he put his feet in his dad’s footsteps in the snow. And his dad said, “Where are you going?”

He says, “I’m just following your footsteps, Dad.” And as the story goes, his dad went home and broke down and cried, and some – through some other instrumentation, God sent somebody, and that man became saved and later told that story.

Therefore:

Well, you know, somebody’s walking along, just putting their feet right in the spot you’ve made. And if you’re wobbling around, knocking into everybody’s lane you’re going to mess up a lot of Christians. Make our paths straight, stay in your own lane. Run a smooth, clear, straight path. The Greek word here is a smooth, straight path. Now there’s a – this again is an Old Testament concept. I’m thinking it’s Proverbs 4 – I might be wrong – 25, yes, “Let thine eyes look right on” – that’s good; you didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you? – “Let thing eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look” – straight ahead – “straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Make a straight path and go. Don’t wander from side to side, looking over the edge, seeing what the world’s doing. You’re going to mess up some other Christians.

Now, I like the term that is used here for paths, trochias in the Greek, and it means the track left by wheels. You know, the cart would go down in a straight line; it would leave tracks. And the point is that you’re not only running, you’re leaving a track. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? You’re leaving a pattern for somebody to follow. And there’s – somewhere back there are Christians who are either going like this after your life or like this. See? Knowing over other Christians while they follow you.

And so, continuance, beloved, isn’t just for your sake; it’s for whoever’s looking at you. It’s so that you can provoke each other to love and good works that you’re to run a straight path. It affects other people.

The author tells his audience not to engage in sexual immorality or to be unholy, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (verses 16, 17). Esau could find no peace after that.

Henry explains the seriousness of Esau’s sin. God passed judgement on him and gave him no inner peace for his foolishness. Henry also picks up on this as a way for the author of Hebrews to warn about apostasy:

The apostle backs the caution with an awful example, and that is, that of Esau, who though born within the pale of the church, and having the birthright as the eldest son, and so entitled to the privilege of being prophet, priest, and king, in his family, was so profane as to despise these sacred privileges, and to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Where observe, First, Esau’s sin. He profanely despised and sold the birthright, and all the advantages attending it. So do apostates, who to avoid persecution, and enjoy sensual ease and pleasure, though they bore the character of the children of God, and had a visible right to the blessing and inheritance, give up all pretensions thereto. Secondly, Esau’s punishment, which was suitable to his sin. His conscience was convinced of his sin and folly, when it was too late: He would afterwards have inherited the blessing, &c. His punishment lay in two things: 1. He was condemned by his own conscience; he now saw that the blessing he had made so light of was worth the having, worth the seeking, though with much carefulness and many tears. 2. He was rejected of God: He found no place of repentance in God or in his father; the blessing was given to another, even to him to whom he sold it for a mess of pottage. Esau, in his great wickedness, had made the bargain, and God in his righteous judgment, ratified and confirmed it, and would not suffer Isaac to reverse it.

The Jewish converts were in danger of throwing away the birthright they had been given when they became Christians. The worst thing that a Christian can do is to spit in the face of that birthright, denying Jesus Christ and God the Father only to embrace the world and sin.

Henry explains:

We may hence learn, [1.] That apostasy from Christ is the fruit of preferring the gratification of the flesh to the blessing of God and the heavenly inheritance. [2.] Sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the divine blessing and inheritance as now they have. The time is coming when they will think no pains too great, no cares no tears too much, to obtain the lost blessing. [3.] When the day of grace is over (as sometimes it may be in this life), they will find no place for repentance: they cannot repent aright of their sin; and God will not repent of the sentence he has passed upon them for their sin. And therefore, as the design of all, Christians should never give up their title, and hope of their Father’s blessing and inheritance, and expose themselves to his irrevocable wrath and curse, by deserting their holy religion, to avoid suffering, which, though this may be persecution as far as wicked men are concerned in it, is only a rod of correction and chastisement in the hand of their heavenly Father, to bring them near to himself in conformity and communion. This is the force of the apostle’s arguing from the nature of the sufferings of the people of God even when they suffer for righteousness’ sake; and the reasoning is very strong.

This is the second half of Hebrews 12, designed to put a holy fear into the converts. This passage is in the Lectionary and read on one of the Sundays in the season after Pentecost:

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

People don’t believe that. It’s an analogy, they say. Or they say that it was true at the time it was written, but no longer.

No. If Scripture says that God is a consuming fire — and similar phrasing occurs throughout the Bible — then, we should take it on board as truth.

In closing, returning to verse 15, we need to watch out for others, too, lest they stumble. MacArthur explains the Holy Spirit’s intention in that verse:

Here’s a guy who comes to the church, sees Christianity, sticks around, sticks around sticks around — falls away into apostasy. Hebrews chapter 6, classic definition. Now He says, “Hey, people, take the oversight; don’t let that happen. Don’t let that guy go.”

You say, “Well, I don’t want to say anything. I-I-”

That’s the stupidest remark you could ever make. Ridiculous you don’t want to say anything.

“Don’t want to offend.”

Offend! Offend! Go offend! Wow, the cross itself is an offense, and let’s do a little offending. I mean if a guy’s going to go to hell just because we’re afraid to offend him, that’s the worst offense imaginable. And these people – you know, grace is available. He says, “They’re going to – grace is available, but they’re going to fall back from grace.” He says, “You take the oversight, and you watch and don’t let it happen to them.”

There is much to consider in these six verses. We have great responsibilities as Christians. This is why God is continuously training us to be better, holier people. He wants us to persevere in patience, with our eyes on the reward to come in Heaven.

Next time — Hebrews 13:9-14

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 12:4-7

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

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Last week’s reading discussed the faith that Moses displayed. The rest of Hebrews 11 described the travails and trials other persons in the Old Testament endured; despite them, they never faltered in their faith.

In Hebrews 12, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes that steadfastness in faith from the Old Testament and encourages the Hebrew converts to apply it to their own Christian journey.

These are the first three verses (emphases outside of the subtitles mine):

Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do Not Grow Weary

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

This chapter, John MacArthur says, is dedicated to the new converts who have been persecuted by their families and friends. Their joy and confidence in Christ is faltering. Some regret the choice they made:

the primary target of these words, as we shall look at them, is to the saved who are going through some terrible trials, some real sufferings, some tribulation, some anguish, some affliction. Unless they think that this is something bad within Christianity, and unless they begin in their minds to disqualify Christianity on the basis of trouble and say, “Well, I thought Christianity was a happy thing; I thought there was supposed to be joy; I thought there was supposed to be peace; I thought God was supposed to take care of us and supply our needs and give us answers for our questions, and smooth a way, and etcetera, etcetera. Now I’ve got all this trouble and worse than I had before. I’ve got everybody I used to love hating me.”

That holds true today, doesn’t it? A convert among agnostics or atheists is sure to lose some of his family and friends during his Christian journey.

That can also happen when one formally changes denomination.

However, we have to weigh our tribulations in these circumstances against what God’s people endured in the Old Testament. Granted, some Christians are being physically persecuted and put to death. However, millions of others are not. Therefore, we need to keep a perspective on personal trials and tribulations when they are not that severe.

MacArthur elaborates, revisiting the second half of Hebrews 11:

11:37, “They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The Holy Spirit has already shown them the great heroes of the faith. Great men and great women, of years past, lived amidst terrible suffering, terrible affliction, excruciating pain, and faced it victoriously because they faced it – watch this – with the right attitude. With the right attitude.

Now, having shown this at the end of chapter 11, that there were some who faced it with the right attitude, He then calls upon the Hebrews to do the same. And He says to them in verse 1 of chapter 12, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – in other words, so many people to testify of the victory of faith over adversity – “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Listen we have enough people to prove to us that faith endures, that faith is victorious, that suffering may come, and suffering may go, but there’s still victory. We have enough witnesses to confirm that; let’s get in the race and let’s run it with the same endurance that they ran it with.

And then He gives the key to running it the right way. Verse 2, “Looking unto Jesus.” Looking unto Jesus.

The author reiterates this by telling them they were not in danger at that point of ‘shedding blood’ for their faith (verse 4). MacArthur says this means they needed to look at the example of Jesus:

Verse 3 and 4, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.” You think you’ve got troubles, look at Jesus. “You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” None of you have died for the sins of the world yet. None of you know what it is to be absolutely pure, pristine to the very core, without a possibility of defilement, and then to have poured out on you all the sins of all the ages. You don’t know anything about that. Don’t cry about your troubles; look at Jesus. He endured, and His was victory.

And so, already, you see, He begins to move into the subject of suffering and how to handle it. Jesus suffered far beyond what we will ever suffer, and He endured. And you and I can endure as the Old Testament saints did, as we look at Jesus. Every Christian needs to remember that life is a marathon. The Christian life is a marathon, and there are obstacles all along the course. It’s like the 3,000-meter steeplechase. There are water hazards, and there are hurdles, and we have to go over. It’s not just flat ground. And we must face it, and we must run it with endurance.

Then the author addresses the subject of divine discipline (verses 5 and 6), citing Job 5:17

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.

Psalm 94:12

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,

… and Psalm 119:67:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

The author then says that God disciplines us because we are His children (verse 7). If He did not discipline us, it would show that He does not love us as His own.

MacArthur explains that discipline — ‘chastisement’ in some translations — does not mean punishment, but, rather, refinement:

Now, to begin with, we’ve got to understand some introductory things. Here we go. There is a word that repeats itself in the passage. It is the word “chastening,” “chastising,” “chastisement.” You see, chastening in verse 5; you see chastening in verse 6 – chasteneth in verse 6; chastening in verse 7; chastisement in verse 8; chastened in verse 10; chastening in verse 11. You get the idea that’s an important word. You’re right.

What does the word “chastening” mean? Well, most people think it means God’s browbeating us or punishing us for sin. That’s not what it means at all. The word “chastening” comes from a Greek word, a Greek verb – really, the noun form is paideia, and paideia has to do with children. It is the word that means to train and educate your children. Get that. The word should not really be translated chastisement; it should be translated discipline. Discipline. I think the New American Standard does translate it discipline. But the word means simply a very broad term; it speaks of whatever – now watch this – of whatever adults use toward their children to cultivate their souls, to correct their mistakes, to curb their passions that they might mature in the most positive, effective, mature, disciplined way. It is a very broad word. It speaks of instruction that will increase virtue. It’s not just punishment. That – if it was only punishment, it would be a different word. It is – it is instruction through discipline. It does not have only the idea of punishment in it. Punishment is part of discipline, isn’t it? But that’s not all of it. But it has the idea of corrective measures and preventative measures that bring up a child in the right path. And the word is used repeatedly to speak of a parent working with his children.

So, what we’re talking about tonight is not God punishing the Christian; it is God disciplining the Christian into maturity. And so, we’ve entitled our study, “The Discipline of God.” And the figure changes here in chapter 12 from a race to a family: a loving Father disciplining his beloved children. And the obstacles in the race are now the disciplines of the Father training His children.

Did we — will we — ever suffer as God’s only begotten Son Jesus did? No, never. He endured the greatest suffering in the world — for our sins. He took our punishment for us.

Therefore, we will never have to endure that same pain, the same torture or the same humiliation. That isn’t to say that people aren’t dying viciously in attacks on their homes or churches or in prisons under dictatorial regimes, but it will never match what Jesus endured for His father for our sakes.

MacArthur explains:

Christ has already borne the full punishment of God. Right? And God will never exact double payment for the same sins. So, the punishment end is finished in terms of punishment as regards guilt for sin. John said, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” He completely bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Neither the justice of God nor the love of God would ever permit God to exact payment for what Christ has already paid in full. Okay? So, in no way does a Christian suffer the punishment that redeems him from sin. That’s already been done.

However, God will bring corrective action our way because we are His children. He wants to direct us from sin to holiness:

Now, mark this, friends. Mark this, and mark it well, the difference between that kind of punishment – listen – and discipline lies not in the nature of the pain, but in the purpose of the pain. You see? In other words, the suffering of an unbeliever and the suffering of a believer may not be too much different. Both can get cancer. Both can have loved ones that die. Both can lose their jobs. But in one sense, a man is being punished for his sins; in the other sense, he is being disciplined by God. The pain may be the same, the purpose is different.

In punishment, God is the judge; in discipline, He is the Father. In punishment, the object is His enemy; in discipline, the object is His child. In punishment, the goal is condemnation; in discipline, the goal is holiness.

I know. It’s hard to grasp. However, think of it as God driving us away from sin, something that could only be relieved through blood sacrifice. That is how much God hates sin.

Matthew Henry has a more encouraging explanation, even though he wrote it centuries before we were born. He tells us of the objective of the author of Hebrews, which was to strive against sin:

1. He owns that they had suffered much, they had been striving to an agony against sin. Here, (1.) The cause of the conflict was sin, and to be engaged against sin is to fight in a good cause, for sin is the worst enemy both to God and man. Our spiritual warfare is both honourable and necessary; for we are only defending ourselves against that which would destroy us, if it should get the victory over us; we fight for ourselves, for our lives, and therefore ought to be patient and resolute. (2.) Every Christian is enlisted under Christ’s banner, to strive against sin, against sinful doctrines, sinful practices, and sinful habits and customs, both in himself and in others.

2. He puts them in mind that they might have suffered more, that they had not suffered as much as others; for they had not yet resisted unto blood, they had not been called to martyrdom as yet, though they knew not how soon they might be. Learn here, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, does not call his people out to the hardest trials at first, but wisely trains them up by less sufferings to be prepared for greater. He will not put new wine into weak vessels, he is the gentle shepherd, who will not overdrive the young ones of the flock. (2.) It becomes Christians to take notice of the gentleness of Christ in accommodating their trial to their strength. They should not magnify their afflictions, but should take notice of the mercy that is mixed with them, and should pity those who are called to the fiery trials to resist to blood; not to shed the blood of their enemies, but to seal their testimony with their own blood. (3.) Christians should be ashamed to faint under less trials, when they see others bear up under greater, and do not know how soon they may meet with greater themselves. If we have run with the footmen and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? If we be wearied in a land of peace, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5.

II. He argues from the peculiar and gracious nature of those sufferings that befall the people of God. Though their enemies and persecutors may be the instruments of inflicting such sufferings on them, yet they are divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to serve by all; of this he has given them due notice, and they should not forget it, Hebrews 12:5.

If this is still difficult to grasp, think of it as training in sport or in the military. What does the coach or the drill sergeant ask his subordinates to do? Try harder, work harder, get rid of the flaws. Be a better athlete. Be a better soldier. Put up with gradually increased training and, through it, become a professional athlete or a professional soldier.

What are the objectives of training? Perseverance and endurance. We want to win sports matches or athletic competitions. We want to win battles so that we win a war.

Discipline from God works along the same lines. He wants us to be with Him at the end of our Christian race. He’s training us to endure, to persevere — and to be victorious.

The subject continues next week, but if we keep these thoughts in mind, next week’s verses will be easier to understand.

Next time — Hebrews 12:8-11

Bible readingThe 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 11:23-28

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

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Last week’s reading discussed the faith of more of the earliest men in the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The reading prior to that discussed the first heroes of faith in Genesis: Abel, Enoch and Noah.

John MacArthur emphasises the choices that each man made. They chose to follow God, difficult and lonely though it was (emphases mine below):

All men make a choice. All Christians live in the process of making choices. Abel chose God’s way, a more excellent sacrifice. His brother didn’t; his brother was cursed. Abel was blessed.

Enoch chose God’s way, to walk with God. The rest of the world didn’t. Noah chose God’s way, to obey God and do what God said. The rest of the world didn’t; they drowned. Abraham chose God’s way, to live a life of faith. The people in whose land he dwelt didn’t, and they were destroyed. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph chose God’s way, to believe God for what they couldn’t see, and in it they conquered death. The heathen refused to believe God, and death conquered them.

MacArthur says that the decisions we make determine not only our temporal life but also our eternal one:

Now, Christian maturity, people – and here’s one angle on a definition of it – Christian maturity is making right decisions. That’s what it is. You can always tell a mature Christian by the decisions that he makes. And you can always tell an immature Christian by the decision that he makes. He makes wrong ones.

I’ll put it another way. Holiness is making right decisions. Carnality is making wrong ones. All of life is decisions, and all of the Christian life is decisions. And really, your Christian life rises or falls in terms of maturity and holiness on the basis of the decisions that you make.

When Satan tempts, you either decide to say no or yes. When opportunity calls, and you have a time when you can communicate some – to somebody the truth of Jesus Christ, you either take it or you don’t. Everything is decision. The time comes for you, and you have a few spare moments you might spend reading the Bible, you make a decision. You either read the Bible or you don’t. You get up on Sunday morning, you have an opportunity to come to a seminar class, study the Bible, you make a decision. Either you get up or you don’t.

And invariably, sooner or later, it’s going to touch your whole Christian life the decisions that you make. In business you have a decision. You have an opportunity to make a lot of money or to do what’s right. And sometimes you have those kind of decisions, believe me; we all do. Even in the ministry we do – not usually related to making a lot of money, but situations that could be beneficial to us, or we do what’s right. And we either grab that opportunity for the glory of God, or we lose it.

The author of Hebrews is impressing upon his audience the faith of these men who never saw the fulfilment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ. Yet, they believed that God had a greater promise — the Messiah — for mankind, even if they were centuries away from it. Yet, they believed God was their Father and they were determined to believe that obeying Him was the right and wise thing to do. They believed that God would take care of them.

The Hebrews, on the other hand, were living in the years after Christ’s ascension, His return to Heaven. Some had converted to Christianity and experienced all manner of hardship because of it. They wanted to return to the comfort of Judaism for a quiet life. Other Hebrews knew the story of the Good News but were reluctant to commit themselves to Christ.

The author is telling them how blessed they are to have lived in the era after Christ fulfilled the law through His death and resurrection. He is trying to encourage them to gratefully accept — and believe — that Jesus’s time on Earth was the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for mankind.

The author of Hebrews moves on to the life of Moses, the iconic figure for the Hebrews. He begins by saying that Moses’s parents were not afraid of Pharaoh’s edict to kill every first born of the Israelites (verse 23), which was a form of genocide.

Matthew Henry points out that they, too, had faith in God:

They were not afraid of the king’s commandment, Exodus 1:22. That was a wicked and a cruel edict, that all the males of the Israelites should be destroyed in their infancy, and so the name of Israel must be destroyed out of the earth. But they did not so fear as presently to give up their child; they considered that, if none of the males were preserved, there would be an end and utter ruin of the church of God and the true religion, and that though in their present state of servitude and oppression one would praise the dead rather than the living, yet they believed that God would preserve his people, and that the time was coming when it would be worth while for an Israelite to live. Some must hazard their own lives to preserve their children, and they were resolved to do it; they knew the king’s commandment was evil in itself, contrary to the laws of God and nature, and therefore of no authority nor obligation. Faith is a great preservative against the sinful slavish fear of men, as it sets God before the soul, and shows the vanity of the creature and its subordination to the will and power of God.

Moses’s mother, as we all know, hid him for three months until she put him in a little rounded boat made of bulrushes — papyrus reeds — and sent him down the river (Exodus 2:2-3).

Pharoah’s daughter was barren, as Henry tells us. She was his only child. Moses, whom she adopted, was her only child:

Pharaoh’s daughter is said to have been his only child, and was herself childless; and having found Moses, and saved him as she did, she resolved to take him and bring him up as her son; and so he stood fair to be in time king of Egypt, and he might thereby have been serviceable to Israel. He owed his life to this princess

MacArthur describes Moses’s early life:

And so, Moses had grown up in the society of Egypt, the wealthiest, most advanced civilization in that part of the world. And to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter meant technically that you were the prince, and in a technical sense had the right some day to even rule in the land. Boy, you didn’t get any higher. The greatest ruler in the world was the pharaoh. And Moses was in line.

Yet, in his adulthood, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and preferred to endure the sufferings of his fellow Israelites (verse 24).

This was because Moses’s mother, Jochebed, was her son’s wetnurse and was able to raise him as her own son. Therefore, he learned about God and His love of Israel which included His promise of a Messiah for them:

Now, go to Exodus chapter 2, and let’s look at the story and just pick up a few points of interest. Exodus chapter 2 verse 5, “Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags” – reeds – “She sent her maid to fetch it.

“When she had opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the babe wept.” Par for the course. “And she had compassion on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’” Here she discovers little Moses.

Verse 7, “Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and’” – isn’t it interesting that the little baby’s sister has run along the river to make sure that little Moses was going to be okay? Miriam. So, when she – verse 7, “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?’” She knew just the one.

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ And the maid went and called the child’s mother.” Jochebed. “And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, ‘Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child and nursed him.” That’s quite a recovery process that God brought about, wasn’t it? Just fantastic.

Now, it says there – and this is the point that I want to pull out of here – “‘Take this child away and nurse it for me.’” Jochebed took the child and weaned the child. There’s a possibility that this was a three-year period, according to some. Some scholars feel that it was as many as 12 years that she kept Moses in her own home. And during that time, he would receive the full training of the Jewish home. He would be instilled and engrained with the Messianic hope. I kind of lean toward more than three years. Somewhere maybe between 3 and 12, long enough so that they could have taught him Messianic truth. Long enough so that he would have the great promise of Abraham that had been reiterated to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph reiterated to him so that he knew what God had planned for His people, because it’s apparent later on that he did know it. So, however long he stayed, however many years Jochebed was able to raise her own son, it was long enough to instill him with the great truths that were Israel’s promises from God that they not only would leave Egypt, but that God had promised them a great deliverer some day, and that he knew well the great Abrahamic covenant of a great nation, a great seed, and through them the world would be blessed, and the land would belong to them. And all of this undoubtedly was drilled into little Moses.

But after the training period was over, he rejoined the royal court. And when he rejoined the royal court, he was in the position as the prince of Egypt. He was in the position to receive everything that Egypt had to offer. You couldn’t get any higher than that unless you were the Pharaoh himself. The name given to him was Moshe. It means “because I drew him out of water.”

Moses had everything at his disposal, including an excellent education as well as rubbing shoulders with the great and the good.

MacArthur says that Moses’s education fit into God’s plan:

The formal education of Egypt, which included the reading and the writing of hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts, the copying of texts, the language of Canaan – undoubtedly he learned several languages. All of this was refining his God-given ability to be a leader and to write the Pentateuch, which he wrote the first five books of the Bible. All of this education went together to make him God’s man. Forty years in Egypt, God trained him and made him something. Then 40 years in the desert, He broke him back to nothing. Then for 40 years He used him.

Moses chose to be part of the persecution of the Israelites, rather than the easy life of ‘sin’ (verse 25).

MacArthur elaborates:

Now our text here tells us, in Hebrews 11, what he did with the honor of the palace. And in simple words, he chucked the whole thing. I love it. What it says is this, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years” – what’s the next word? – “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Moses did not seek the world’s prestige. He sought that which was the will of God. He knew God had a better kingdom. He knew God had a better reward. Prestige and honor and fame is a powerful thing. Most people live all their lives dreaming about attaining it. You know that? Sure we do. We put ourselves in the position of famous people. Most people live trying to get up higher on the social ladder. Moses gave it all up.

That happened when Moses turned 40. The author of Hebrews said that Moses looked towards his eternal reward, not an earthly one (verse 26).

Henry analyses what ‘the reproach of Christ’ in that verse means:

See how Moses weighed matters: in one scale he put the worst of religion–the reproaches of Christ, in the other scale the best of the world–the treasures of Egypt; and in his judgment, directed by faith, the worst of religion weighed down the best of the world. The reproaches of the church of God are the reproaches of Christ, who is, and has ever been, the head of the church. Now here Moses conquered the riches of the world, as before he had conquered its honours and pleasures. God’s people are, and always have been, a reproached people. Christ accounts himself reproached in their reproaches; and, while he thus interests himself in their reproaches, they become riches, and greater riches than the treasures of the richest empire in the world; for Christ will reward them with a crown of glory that fades not away. Faith discerns this, and determines and acts accordingly.

Therefore, he left Egypt, unafraid of Pharaoh because faith in the unseen — God — drove that decision (verse 27).

MacArthur explains:

All through those 40 years, he’d never wavered, apparently, in his faith in God. For 40 years he had enjoyed the privileges, the prestige, the status, the honors of a prince in Egypt with all the royal rigmarole that went with it. But the time came to face the biggest decision of his life. And it’s very apparent that God came to him, and God spoke to him somehow. God indicated to him that he wanted him to go back to his people Israel and lead them out to the Promised Land. He had to make a choice whether to throw aside everything that he had in the palace and go live with slaves, or to forget the call of God and grab what he had.

In Acts chapter 7, again going back to Stephen’s sermon which deals so interestingly with the character of Moses, just pulling out a couple of things, it says in verse 23 of Acts 7, “And when he was full 40 years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian” – he killed him – “for he supposed his brethren would have understood” – watch – “how that God, by his hand would deliver them. But they understood not.”

You see, he knew that God had already called him to be the deliverer. And he thought, “If I go in there and show that to them, and I’ll smite this Egyptian, I’ll kill him, that’ll prove to them whose side I’m on. They’ll know that I’m to be their deliverer,” but they didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy it, but he knew what God wanted out of him.

When it came time for the great Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the faithful Israelites followed the command to daub their front doors with lamb’s blood so that their first-born children would be saved (verse 28). That was the first Passover. Henry reminds us that while the first-born among the Israelites were saved, their Egyptian counterparts were not:

The passover was one of the most solemn institutions of the Old Testament, and a very significant type of Christ. The occasion of its first observance was extraordinary: it was in the same night that God slew the first-born of the Egyptians; but, though the Israelites lived among them, the destroying angel passed over their houses, and spared them and theirs. Now, to entitle them to this distinguishing favour, and to mark them out for it, a lamb must be slain; the blood of it must be sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop upon the lintel of the door, and on the two side-posts; the flesh of the lamb must be roasted with fire; and it must be all of it eaten that very night with bitter herbs, in a travelling posture, their loins girt, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand. This was accordingly done, and the destroying angel passed over them, and slew the first-born of the Egyptians. This opened a way for the return of Abraham’s posterity into the land of promise.

Also note the significance of the sacrificial lamb and Christ. Henry’s analysis makes this lesson come alive for us:

The accommodation of this type is not difficult. (1.) Christ is that Lamb, he is our Passover, he was sacrificed for us. (2.) His blood must be sprinkled; it must be applied to those who have the saving benefit of it. (3.) It is applied effectually only to the Israelites, the chosen people of God. (4.) It is not owing to our inherent righteousness or best performances that we are saved from the wrath of God, but to the blood of Christ and his imputed righteousness. If any of the families of Israel had neglected the sprinkling of this blood upon their doors, though they should have spent all the night in prayer, the destroying angel would have broken in upon them, and slain their first-born. (5.) Wherever this blood is applied, the soul receives a whole Christ by faith, and lives upon him. (6.) This true faith makes sin bitter to the soul, even while it receives the pardon and atonement. (7.) All our spiritual privileges on earth should quicken us to set out early, and get forward, in our way to heaven. (8.) Those who have been marked out must ever remember and acknowledge free and distinguishing grace.

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted his audience to understand those same points through faith.

The penultimate set of verses in Hebrews 11 concerns the miracles but also the persecution that God’s people of the Old Testament endured.

The chapter ends with a final message on faith:

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Those heroes — and heroines — of faith did not see the Messiah, yet they fervently believed that God, in His enduring love, would send Him to us, which He did at the appointed time, according to His plan.

Next time — Hebrews 12:4-7

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