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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 4:1-5

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

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

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

“They shall not enter my rest.”

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur sums it up well (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary elaborates:

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

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

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

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

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

St Paul prayed unceasingly.

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

Henry explains further:

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Hebrews 4:6-11

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

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

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

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

Numbers 21:4b-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm

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

Psalm 98:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm — alternate

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

Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epistle

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

1 Corinthians 1:18-24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel

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

John 3:13-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 3:15-19

15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

————————————————————————————————————–

In last week’s reading, the unknown author of Hebrews passionately encouraged his/her audience to waste no time in exhorting each other in the Christian faith. The word ‘today’ appears in verse 13:

13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Tomorrow might never come, therefore, it was up to them — and it is up to us — to seize the day. Carpe diem!

The author quoted Psalm 95, concerning the rebellion in Egypt.

Another verse from Psalm 95 appears (verse 15), warning against hardening one’s heart against the Lord as so many of the Israelites did in the desert. God saved His remnant who heard, believed and obeyed His laws.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Observe, (1.) Though the majority of hearers provoked God by unbelief, yet some there were who believed the report. (2.) Though the hearing of the word be the ordinary means of salvation, yet, if it be not hearkened to, it will expose men more to the anger of God. (3.) God will have a remnant that shall be obedient to his voice, and he will take care of such and make mention of them with honour. (4.) If these should fall in a common calamity, yet they shall partake of eternal salvation, while disobedient hearers perish for ever.

The author asks who those were who rebelled: the very same people who left Egypt, led by Moses with divine guidance and miracles (verse 16). Yet, how quickly they either forgot or were so self-absorbed — as were some of the Hebrews audience — in their temporary travails that they forsook the Lord their God forever.

Was the fallen Israelite experience a mere historical one? The author of Hebrews says God’s judgement prevails throughout the ages, hence, the strong exhortation to the new Christians. Henry interprets it for us in a contemporary manner:

While it is said, To-day if you will hear, &c.; as if he should say, “What was recited before from that scripture belonged not only to former ages, but to you now, and to all who shall come after you; that you take heed you fall not into the same sins, lest you fall under the same condemnation.”

John MacArthur is of the same opinion:

People always say to me – and we preach this so many times, but it’s all over the Bible. People say to me, “What about so-and-so? He used to come to church. He used to say he believes and now he’s gone.” I say to you, “That’s proof pudding that he never was saved to begin with, because the Bible says that if you’re for real you stay there.” “If you keep My commandments, then are you My disciples for real.”

The true branch does what? John 15. What does a true branch do? Abides. That’s the whole point of John 15. The true branch doesn’t go like this, disconnecting itself. The true branch abides. That’s the point. And so it is that a real believer stays there. He remains.

Go back to verse 6, the same thing. “Whose house are we? We’re the house of Christ if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope for Him to the end.”

Some people would come along and say, “Well, I believe that stuff. I believe it.” And he’s saying to them, “Well, you never committed yourself to it so that you secured that faith permanently.” It’s not enough to come up and say, “Yeah, I believe all that stuff.” The point is if you really believed it, you wouldn’t be being pulled back. You’d be in there, staying there, abiding there. That’s the point.

And when somebody departs from the faith, when somebody backs away from the faith, I quote you what the Bible says in reference to them in 1 John 2:19. It says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out that they might be made manifest they were not of us.”

When somebody leaves they aren’t for real. And he says, “Oh, it’s so strategic for you Jewish people. It’s so strategic for you who hear the gospel. You know the truth. Now don’t go back, but be the for real ones that commit yourselves to Christ and abide permanently, and thus truly can be said you are partakers of Jesus Christ.”

Oh, there’s such a great danger in hearing and hearing and hearing, and never receiving Christ. I say to you, my friend, if you keep coming and keep hearing and hearing and hearing and not receiving, better that you should get out of here and run the other direction and don’t go near a church, lest by hearing and hearing and hearing you become harder and harder and harder. And some day you wake up imperceptibly to discover that grace is over and you are an apostate.

The author then goes on to discuss what happened to the Israelites with hardened hearts by asking three questions (verses 17, 18). Were they not those who provoked Moses (and God) so terribly for 40 years? Were they not the people who died in the wilderness? Were they not the same ones that Moses warned would not enter into his rest?

MacArthur says:

verse 16: “For who when they had heard did provoke?” Did not all that came out of Egypt by Moses? The whole pile of them did. Who was it that didn’t believe God and was striving and putting God to the test? The whole group were. Two exceptions: Joshua and Caleb that we know about.

Verse 17: But with whom was he grieved 40 years? Was it not with them that had sinned whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? God was angry with the whole group of them who had been unbelieving. And God called them in Deuteronomy 32 – I think it’s verse 20 – He called them, “A very perverse children in whom there is no faithfulness.” God was angry with a whole nation. God was angry with a whole generation of people, and He sentenced that whole generation so that they could not enter into His rest.

And I’ll tell you something, friends, as God judged apostate unbelief in the wilderness, He’ll judge it today. They rejected the 40 years of evidence, added to the evidence they’d seen in Egypt and the evidence they’d seen in the Exodus, and that is knowing and willful unbelief. That is apostasy, that is falling away, and that is damning to the soul. And it didn’t even matter to God that a whole generation of them had to be set aside if they didn’t believe. That’s what God had to do, because that’s the principle on which the universe is built. You violate God’s principles, you are failing to believe, you bring upon yourselves the consequences.

Verse 18: “To whom swore He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not.” There’s the key, friends. There’s the key …

The author concludes by stating those hardened hearts and souls could not enter into eternal rest because of their unbelief (verse 19).

MacArthur has this:

… and that leads us to the issue, which is the fourth point, verse 19. The illustration, and the invitation, and the instruction point to this crux. “So we see that they could not enter in because of” – what? – “unbelief, unbelief.” We’re saved by faith.

MacArthur went on to say, especially to people who define themselves as empiricists, that they put a lot of blind faith into everyday things without claiming empiricism. Do people have a blind faith that their highways and byways are safe? Yes. Do they have a blind faith that a good restaurant will serve them hygienically prepared food? Yes. Perhaps that faith is misplaced, too.

And if we have such blind faith about everyday things, why should we, therefore, not believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour? If we do not, then we have a disconnect in our thinking, because we’re putting our trust in things — not to mention ideas and concepts — every day of our lives.

I’ll close with this from his sermon:

You live by faith. And if you can put your faith in the Highway Department and the people that make your food, you can put your faith in the God of the universe. He’s worth your faith. And I say to you, you’ll never enter into God’s rest in this life, you’ll never experience blessing, you’ll never experience the unfolding of His love, you’ll never experience eternal life unless there is within you a soft, pliable heart that has committed itself to Jesus Christ in trusting faith. And, my friend, the longer you stand on the brink and say no to Jesus Christ, the harder your heart becomes, and the easier it is to say no to Him.

Jude said this: “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt afterward destroyed them that believed not.” Did you get that? To be unbelieving brings upon you the destruction of God.

I pray today that it is not too late for some empiricists to grasp that message. I pray that they open the Bible and read it, becoming grace-filled as they do so.

Hebrews 4 has more on entering comforting rest through a lively faith in God.

Next time — Hebrews 4:1-5

Readings follow for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity — the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 8, 2019.

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Readings from Jeremiah continue. The Lord tells the prophet that Israel is like clay in His — the potter’s — hands and risks judgement for disobedience, unless the people repent.

Jeremiah 18:1-11

18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:

18:2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”

18:3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.

18:4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

18:5 Then the word of the LORD came to me:

18:6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

18:7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,

18:8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.

18:9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,

18:10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.

18:11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Psalm

This Psalm, considered by many Bible scholars to be David’s finest, points out God’s omniscience. He knows our ways, for better or worse. We can conceal nothing from Him, for He created us.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

139:2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

139:3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.

139:5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

139:13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

139:15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

139:16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

139:17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

139:18 I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.

First reading – alternate

Moses exhorts the Israelites to obey God’s commandments and to stay away from false idols or suffer the consequences. Re verse 19, I remember tee shirts in the 1980s with the slogan ‘Choose Life’, made popular by Wham! as part of a safe-sex campaign about avoiding AIDS. It is a pity that the first part of verse 20, which continues the verse was forgotten then — and now — by so many people.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

30:16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.

30:17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,

30:18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,

30:20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm – alternate

In my humble opinion, this is the greatest Psalm of all, as it tells us how to live a godly life, delighting in the Lord. No wonder the probable Psalm compiler Ezra placed it before the others.

Psalm 1

1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Epistle

Writing from prison, Paul exhorts Philemon, a leader of the early Church (probably Colosse), to forgive his slave Onesimus his theft and subsequent escape, as he had since converted to become a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. This is the whole letter, minus the final greeting from others serving with Paul (all of whom are mentioned in the Book of Acts, which Luke wrote):

22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

This is a book about divine grace and human forgiveness.

Philemon 1:1-21

1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,

1:2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God

1:5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.

1:6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.

1:7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

1:8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,

1:9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.

1:10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.

1:11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.

1:12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.

1:13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel;

1:14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.

1:15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever,

1:16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother–especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

1:17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

1:18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

1:19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.

1:20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.

1:21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Gospel

Jesus lays out the terms of discipleship. Following Jesus means putting Him above all earthly comforts, including family, possessions — and our own lives. Being a Christian is a serious undertaking.

Luke 14:25-33

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,

14:26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

14:27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?

14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,

14:30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

14:31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?

14:32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

14:33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

No doubt, verse 33 will be at the centre of many Sunday sermons. However, verse 26 should come in for an equally strong mention.

Bible openThe 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 3:7-14

A Rest for the People of God

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

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Last week’s reading explained why Jesus is greater than Moses.

The one before that explained why Jesus is greater than all the angels.

Christians understand that intrinsically. However, the author’s Jewish audiences were reluctant to give up their reliance on the Old Covenant. There were also Jews, also addressed in Hebrews, who did not believe that Jesus is Messiah.

Hebrews addresses three different audiences at various times in various ways.

In order to understand Hebrews, we need to understand the Jewish mindset as it was and, in some cases, continues be to this day.

We do not know who wrote Hebrews. One thing we can say with confidence is that the Holy Spirit inspired the book, just as He inspired all the other books of the Bible.

Today’s reading is an urgent exhortation to have faith that Jesus is the Son of God.

The author begins by mentioning the Holy Spirit and His words (verse 7), which inspired David to write Psalm 95, paraphrased here (verses 7-11).

These are the relevant verses from Psalm 95:

7 For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.”

Serendipitously, they tie in with today’s readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.

The Psalm refers to the time when God’s people were in the wilderness after He enabled them to escape captivity in Egypt. He had given them so much through those miracles, yet they not only became discouraged, they actively rejected Moses — and Him.

Exodus 17:7 tells us what Meribah and Massah mean — ‘testing’ and ‘quarrelling’, respectively:

And he called the name of the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

They were on their way to the Promised Land — Canaan — but, instead of keeping their eye on the final destination, they rejected God.

The author of Hebrews tells his audience that they could fall into the same trap again by rejecting Christ. They were so absorbed with the persecutions that befell them for embracing Christianity that they wondered if their conversion had been the right thing to do.

Just as their ancestors had done, they were taking their eye off the prize: eternal life with Jesus Christ in the world to come.

Matthew Henry has an excellent exposition of these verses from Psalm 95 and their significance to the Hebrews of the author’s time. Both were falling into wilful sin. One thing that is always sure is God’s punishment of the thing He hates — sin. That is the one great lesson we should glean from the Old Testament as we read it (emphases mine):

3. The sins of others, especially our relations, should be a warning to us. Our fathers’ sins and punishments should be remembered by us, to deter us from following their evil examples. Now as to the sin of the fathers of the Jews, here reflected upon, observe,

(1.) The state in which these fathers were, when they thus sinned: they were in the wilderness, brought out of Egypt, but not got into Canaan, the thoughts whereof should have restrained them from sin.

(2.) The sin they were guilty of: they tempted and provoked God; they distrusted God, murmured against Moses, and would not attend to the voice of God.

(3.) The aggravations of their sin: they sinned in the wilderness, where they had a more immediate dependence upon God: they sinned when God was trying them; they sinned when they saw his works–works of wonder wrought for their deliverance out of Egypt, and their support and supply in the wilderness from day to day. They continued thus to sin against God for forty years. These were heinous aggravations.

(4.) The source and spring of such aggravated sins, which were, [1.] They erred in their hearts; and these heart-errors produced many other errors in their lips and lives. [2.] They did not know God’s ways, though he had walked before them. They did not know his ways; neither those ways of his providence in which he had walked towards them, nor those ways of his precept in which they ought to have walked towards God; they did not observe either his providences or his ordinances in a right manner.

(5.) The just and great resentment God had at their sins, and yet the great patience he exercised towards them (Hebrews 3:10): Wherefore I was grieved with that generation. Note, [1.] All sin, especially sin committed by God’s professing privileged people, does not only anger and affront God, but it grieves him. [2.] God is loth to destroy his people in or for their sin, he waits long to be gracious to them. [3.] God keeps an exact account of the time that people go on in sinning against him, and in grieving him by their sins; but at length, if they by their sins continue to grieve the Spirit of God, their sins shall be made grievous to their own spirits, either in a way of judgment or mercy.

(6.) The irreversible doom passed upon them at last for their sins. God swore in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest, the rest either of an earthly or of a heavenly Canaan. Observe, [1.] Sin, long continued in, will kindle the divine wrath, and make it flame out against sinners. [2.] God’s wrath will discover itself in its righteous resolution to destroy the impenitent; he will swear in his wrath, not rashly, but righteously, and his wrath will make their condition a restless condition; there is no resting under the wrath of God.

With this in mind, the author warns and encourages the Hebrews not to commit this same, serious sin leading them away from God (verse 12).

He stresses the urgency of the situation, exhorting them to bolster each other in the faith — ‘today’ — in order to avoid falling into serious sin (verse 13). As Henry’s commentary says, we do not own tomorrow:

Since to-morrow is none of ours, we must make the best improvement of to-day.

Serious sin comprises many things, one of which is unbelief. Repeated sin leads to sins of a greater nature. When the Bible says that consciences become ‘seared’, that means that they become hardened against goodness. It is as if they had scar tissue on them.

John MacArthur explains:

When I was in college I was thrown out of a car going about 75 miles an hour and I slid about 100 yards on my southern hemisphere, and I was thrown out and I slid. And of course, initially, I had third-degree burns because of the friction. And then from then on my back was just cleaned out about a half inch deep – 64 square inches of it. And all of the scar tissue that has replaced that is now insensitive, it’s been seared.

And, you know, it’s what happens so many times to somebody who hears the gospel repeatedly. The today my friends – watch it – the today only lasts as long as your conscience is sensitive to the Spirit of God. Then today is over, it’s tomorrow and it’s too late. That’s what He’s saying. Today if you’ll enact your will to hear God’s voice, don’t harden your heart. And your heart gets harder every time you say no to Jesus Christ when you know the truth.

When your heart is soft, and when your conscience is convicted, and when the intellect is sensed to Christ, and when the understanding admires Him – and that’s the time to move when you’re still pliable, when you’re still responsive, because some day you may experience that kind of hard heart that Proverbs 21:29 talks about, that kind of hard, stiff, stubborn, rebellious insensitiveness, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t mean anything.

And there are people who because of their wife brings them or because their wife wants them to, they may come to church; or there are kids because their parents bring them. They sit here, they’ve heard the gospel so many times, they can’t respond to it because their conscience has been seared, and there may be only little places of sensitivity the Spirit of God has left to appeal to. And so says the Spirit of God, “Don’t harden your heart. You know the truth. Respond to Christ.”

In addressing the Jewish converts, the author reminds them that he and they share a common bond through Christ — provided they continue to believe in Him and encourage each other so to do (verse 14).

This holds true for Christians today. MacArthur tells us:

If the evidence was in to Israel in that day, the evidence is in to us in this day that Jesus Christ is Lord, is it not? The evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died on the cross, rose again the third day, lives and saves men. The evidence is in. The evidence is secure. Christ has manifested God, the only begotten Son of the Father. He hath declared Him. He’s displayed His love. He’s displayed His grace. He sent the Holy Spirit. We don’t need any human Moses. We have the third person of the Trinity to reveal Christ on top of all historical evidence; and unbelief in the face of such overwhelming evidence is tragic indeed. And so He says to these Hebrews who know the gospel and have even made an intellectual assent to the gospel, “Don’t harden your hearts.” It’s so easy to grow cold and to grow callous to what God is trying to do in your life.

With that, however, comes the urgency to persevere every day, in spite of any persecution that might befall us as believers. And, these days, that is not something that occurs only in developing countries, either. It is also now alive and well in the West — even in the United States, where Christianity was once unshakeable.

Let us make every effort to keep our faith alive and deep. Let’s pray as often as we can. Let’s study the Bible regularly, including on our own.

May we always stay close to our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord — beginning today.

Next time — Hebrews 3:15-19

Readings follow for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity — Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost — September 1, 2019.

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Last week’s reading described how the Lord called Jeremiah, a boy, to prophesy. This was probably Jeremiah’s first sermon. Even in faraway lands, no people had changed their gods as God’s people had changed theirs. They had wilfully rejected the true God, for which He would place a severe judgement upon them.

Jeremiah 2:4-13

2:4 Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.

2:5 Thus says the LORD: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?

2:6 They did not say, “Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?”

2:7 I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.

2:8 The priests did not say, “Where is the LORD?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

2:9 Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD, and I accuse your children’s children.

2:10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing.

2:11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.

2:12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD,

2:13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Psalm

The Psalm ties in well with the reading from Jeremiah. Those who reject God will find He leaves them to their own devices.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16

81:1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.

81:10 I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

81:11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.

81:12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.

81:13 O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!

81:14 Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.

81:15 Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.

81:16 I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

First reading – alternate

Sirach is one of the books in the Catholic canon. The theme of pride and sin is akin to the deliberate rejection of God in the First Reading and Psalm.

Sirach 10:12-18

10:12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.

10:13 For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely.

10:14 The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place.

10:15 The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place.

10:16 The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.

10:17 He removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth.

10:18 Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.

Proverbs – alternate

These two verses tie in well with the Gospel reading.

Proverbs 25:6-7

25:6 Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great;

25:7 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Psalm – alternate

The faithful have assurance in the Lord forever.

Psalm 112

112:1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.

112:2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

112:3 Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.

112:4 They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

112:5 It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.

112:6 For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

112:7 They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD.

112:8 Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

112:9 They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

112:10 The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Epistle

Readings from Hebrews continue. It is a sublime book. Two of my favourite verses are here: 2 and 8.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

13:1 Let mutual love continue.

13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

13:3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

13:4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.

13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

13:6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

13:15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel

This parable ties in well with the two proverbs above and with the Epistle.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;

14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

We have much to consider in these readings. I hope they inspire great sermons on Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 3:1-6

Jesus Greater Than Moses

Therefore, holy brothers,[a] you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s[b] house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.[c]

——————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed Hebrews 2, in which the author explained why Jesus is superior to angels.

Christians understand that intrinsically. However, the author’s Jewish audiences were reluctant to give up their reliance on the Old Covenant. There were also some Jews, also addressed in Hebrews, who did not believe that Jesus is Messiah.

Hebrews addresses three different audiences at various times in various ways.

In order to understand Hebrews, we need to understand the Jewish mindset as it was and, in some cases, continues be to this day.

The author is passionate about putting forward the case for Christ being superior and all-sufficient. The New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant of Moses.

For those of us who were brought up as Christians, Hebrews is a thrilling book to read. It makes us rejoice that Jesus redeemed us and sits at the right hand of the Father.

Hebrews is written with passion, as Matthew Henry’s commentary says of the unknown author inspired by the Holy Spirit (emphases mine):

In how fervent and affectionate a manner the apostle exhorts Christians to have this high priest much in their thoughts, and to make him the object of their close and serious consideration; and surely no one in earth or heaven deserves our consideration more than he.

Are we thrilled about our Christianity? Do we truly delight in Jesus as Saviour? Possibly not as much as we should. Henry says:

Here observe, 1. Many that profess faith in Christ have not a due consideration for him; he is not so much thought of as he deserves to be, and desires to be, by those that expect salvation from him. 2. Close and serious consideration of Christ would be of great advantage to us to increase our acquaintance with him, and to engage our love and our obedience to him, and reliance on him. 3. Even those that are holy brethren, and partakers of the heavenly calling, have need to stir up one another to think more of Christ than they do, to have him more in their minds; the best of his people think too seldom and too slightly of him. 4. We must consider Christ as he is described to us in the scriptures, and form our apprehensions of him thence, not from any vain conceptions and fancies of our own.

That cannot be emphasised too much.

John MacArthur says the same thing:

Listen, Christian, I say to you what the Spirit says: Consider Jesus. I mean, when the stuff gets rough and the problems come, and everything goes bad, and you start thinking about certain things that are tempting you and so forth and so on, put your gaze on Jesus and keep it there intently until all that He is begins to be unfolded before your eyes. And that’s just the reason that so many Christians are weak and worried, is they don’t really know the depths or the riches of Jesus Christ. Do you know that? They don’t know it.

Jesus made a classic statement. He said, “Learn of me.” He didn’t say, “Learn about me.” He said what? “Learn of me.” Let me ask you this. Do you really enjoy your Christian life? Do you just eat it up? Do you get up every morning and say, “Lord, I just can’t wait to get out of this place and see what you’re going to do?” I mean, do you just love your Christian life? I mean, is it so exciting you can hardly stand it? It ought to be. Do you enjoy Jesus Christ? Do you just go through the day, “Lord, your fellowship and your presence is thrilling”? Do you just sometimes want to stand up and shout? You ought to enjoy Him like that.

Many Christians don’t enjoy Jesus. Not at all. They’re miserable, unhappy. Don’t know anything about joy. The only thing the Lord’s good for is to cry on. And the reason is, they don’t know Him experientially, they don’t know Him richly. They need to learn Jesus, you see.

This is why Hebrews is one of my favourite books of the Bible. We couldn’t get more encouragement than this to experience Jesus more personally and fully.

The author addresses the Jews who have become Christians (verse 1). We know this because instead of calling them ‘brothers’, as Peter and Paul addressed the Jews in Acts, he calls them ‘holy brothers’: those ‘who share in a heavenly calling’.

He exhorts them to ‘consider Jesus’. If that seems a lukewarm exhortation, MacArthur explains why it is just the opposite:

Now, the word “consider” is fantastic. The word does not mean it’s flighty. The word does not mean take a glance. The word means set yourself to gaze intently on Jesus. You say, “Well, what’s He saying this to Christians for? We already know Christ.” Listen, no one needs that message any more than I do, do you know that? God can say to me right now, “MacArthur, consider Jesus,” because I’m a long way from really discovering all of his glori[e]s, all of his beauties, all that He is.

So He says to these believers, “Just gaze on Jesus. Will you just keep gazing on Him and don’t keep looking around at all these rituals, and all these problems, and all these persecutions. Just consider Jesus. You don’t need anything else. He’s sufficient for everything.”

The author calls Jesus ‘apostle’ and ‘high priest of our confession’ of faith. Henry explains the importance of these titles which the Jewish Christians — and we — must consider:

2. The titles he gives to Christ, whom he would have them consider, (1.) As the apostle of our profession, the prime-minister of the gospel church, a messenger and a principal messenger sent of God to men, upon the most important errand, the great revealer of that faith which we profess to hold and of that hope which we profess to have. (2.) Not only the apostle, but the high priest too, of our profession, the chief officer of the Old Testament as well as the New, the head of the church in every state, and under each dispensation, upon whose satisfaction and intercession we profess to depend for pardon of sin, and acceptance with God. (3.) As Christ, the Messiah, anointed and every way qualified for the office both of apostle and high priest. (4.) As Jesus, our Saviour, our healer, the great physician of souls, typified by the brazen serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness, that those who were stung by the fiery serpents might look to him, and be saved.

The author goes on to discuss obedience (verse 3). Jesus was faithful to His Father in accomplishing His will, just as Moses was a faithful servant to His people.

The Jews regard Moses as the greatest human who ever lived. It is true that the Lord appeared to Moses more than any other person in the Bible and that Moses was a great leader. MacArthur enumerates his blessings and accomplishments. That said, Moses was but a faithful servant:

Moses was faithful. He carried faithfully God’s plan. He came out of in Egypt, into the wilderness. God refined him. It took 40 years for Moses to make something out of himself; 40 years for God to wreck him, and then 40 years God could use him. But 40 years in the wilderness, God broke him, made him the man he wanted him to be. Then he took the children of Israel out of the land. He was faithful. He believed God. He got to the Red Sea. And I’ve often thought to myself, “If I got to the Red Sea and somebody said, ‘Wave a stick and it’ll part, ‘ I would have said, ‘Catch that again?’“ But he did. I mean, he believed God. He was faithful. He led the children of Israel through. And then he was faithful to the time in the wilderness.

Though there were times when he was unfaithful. There were several times, even in Egypt when he slew the Egyptian, even in the wilderness when he smote the rock instead of speaking to the rock. But Moses for the most part was faithful. And so here the Holy Spirit emphasizes similarity, so as not to isolate the Jewish person.

Now, you’ll notice that it says he was faithful in all his house. What house are you talking about? Well, this means household, oikos. And Moses is seen as a faithful steward in God’s household. You say, “Well, what is God’s household?” Well, you go to the Old Testament and you about the house of David and the house of Israel. Who then is God’s household? Believers. The Old Testament believers, Israel, and any proselytes who may have been involved. Old Testament believers. Moses was faithful in God’s household.

He was a steward. Now, it says in 1 Corinthians, “Moreover, brethren, it is required in stewards that a man be found” – what? – “faithful.” Now, a steward is somebody who doesn’t own the house; he manages it for the owner. God owns the house of Israel; Moses was in charge of management. He was in charge of dispensing the facts and the things that God committed to his trust, to the people of Israel. And Moses was faithful.

However, Jesus is far greater than Moses. Jesus is both apostle and high priest. No one can claim that of Moses. MacArthur tells us:

At best Moses was an apostle. Who was the high priest? Aaron. So in this sense, Jesus is superior in his office, for he is both; Moses was only one. He is the sent one, sent from God. Apostolos means sent from God. In the Greek, it would refer to an ambassador. And Jesus is the supreme ambassador of God, sent to earth.

And what are the characteristics of an apostolos or an ambassador? Well, number one, he has all the right and all the power and all the authority of the king in the country who sends him, and so did Jesus. He came clothed with the power of God. He came with all of God’s grace, all of God’s love, all of God’s mercy, all of God’s justice, and all of God’s power.

Secondly, an ambassador has to speak with the voice of the one who sent him. And so Jesus came and said, “I speak not that which I decide to speak. I speak only what I hear the Father say.” So Jesus was the perfect sent one from God. He came with all of God’s power, and with God’s voice He spoke. But beyond that, He was always the high priest of our profession.

Now, we’re not going to spend time on the high-priest concept, because that unfolds in the whole later section of Hebrews. Suffice it to say that the word “priest” in the Latin is the word pontifex, which broken into two words, means bridge-builder. And Jesus was the one who built the bridge from God the man. He was the one who connected God and man. And so Jesus is not only the sent one from God, with all God’s power and speaking with God’s voice, but He is the one who takes man and God and brings them together. He’s the bridge-builder. And He’s also the bridge.

Then it says that He is the apostle and high priest of our profession. That is, He’s the one we confess. And don’t you see the point of the verse? Listen to this. “If you profess Christ, if you confess that He is your Lord, then you certainly ought to gaze on Him”, right? That’s what He’s saying. “You Jews, you have received Christ, you’ve confessed Him as apostle and your new high priest, you’ve received all that He has. Now gaze on Him intently.” What sense, having confessed Him as Lord, not to gaze on Him as such?

The author then states that, for these reasons, Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house is esteemed more highly than the house he built (verse 3). Did Moses build the community of God’s people? No. He managed that community — and very effectively — but he did not create it. God did (verses 4, 5). And Jesus — the Alpha and Omega — has always existed with His Father.

Furthermore, Moses served God by managing the community of the Old Covenant, preparing them for the Messiah. Jesus is the High Priest of the Church, the New Covenant, which carries with it the promise of eternal life.

MacArthur explains:

Who is Christ’s household? I’ll read it to you. It’s in Ephesians chapter 2, verse 19. “Now therefore you are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.” The household of God. Who is this? It’s the church. We’re [of the] new household. And Jesus is the one who cares for us. In 1 Peter 1 – pardon me, 2:4, it says “To whom coming is unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house.”

So as the believers of the Old Testament are called “The house of Moses,” the believers of the New Testament are called “The house of Christ.” And as Moses was faithful to an earthly household, Jesus was faithful to a heavenly household. As Moses was faithful to the house God gave him, Jesus was also faithful to the house that God gave Him. And Jesus could say at the end of His life, “Father, I have finished the work which you gave me to do. I’ve told the house all that you instructed me to tell them.” He was faithful. And so the Holy Spirit delicately then begins by comparing Moses with Jesus on the basis of their faithfulness to a God-given task.

The author states that Christ — meaning Lord — is the Son who is faithful to His Father’s house (verse 6). Therefore, His position is superior to that of Moses, a servant.

MacArthur analyses verses 3 through 6 as follows:

Moses was faithful, but he’s a piece of the house. Jesus made the house. That’s the difference. Jesus created Israel. All things were made by him, Hebrews 1 – or John 1. And without him was not anything made that was made.

Moses is only a member of the whole spiritual household which Jesus himself built. Jesus created Israel; Jesus created the church. You say, “Boy, in order to do that, you have to be God.” That’s verse 4. “For every house is built by some man, but He that built all things is” – what? – “is God.” And who built all things? Jesus did. So who is Jesus? He’s God. He’s God. Every house is built by some man. I mean, somebody – a human instrument is used.

For example, you’re here today. You’re a part of God’s house. Somebody shared Christ with you, did they not? Somebody did that. Somebody introduced you to Jesus. Somebody introduced maybe several of you to Jesus Christ. And they’re responsible in a human sense for part of the house. But who really created the house? God did. It was God through them, wasn’t it? And so the distinction is just that clear. Moses is just part of the house; Jesus made the house. So you see, to hang on to the forms of Judaism doesn’t make any sense, because the greater than Moses is here.

All right. Then we see, first of all, His office is superior and His work is superior. Thirdly, the superiority of His person. His person is superior, verses 5 and 6. And here’s the climax. And before we look at it, let me just give you the distinction. In this passage you’re going to see that Moses is by person a servant; Jesus is by person a son. Did you get that? And there’s a lot of difference, friends, between a servant and a son, is there not? And it reminds me of John 8, because in John 8 – I think it’s in John 8:25, yes. “And the servant abideth not in the house forever, but the son abideth forever.” In other words, there’s a certain ranking for the son. Servants come and go; sons are sons for life. And so there’s a difference.

Look at verse 5. “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house” – what? As what? – “as a servant.” As a servant. He conducted himself as a servant. And this is kind of a dignified word. Thereupon, it also is used of angels. In the Septuagint, it’s used of prophets. This is a ranking word. He was a faithful, obedient, ministering, caring servant, and he was a good steward of God. In Exodus 40, eight times – in Exodus chapter 40, eight times it refers to Moses’ obedience to all that God commanded him. That’s pretty good. In Exodus 35 to 40, 22 times it refers to Moses’ faithfulness to obey all that God commanded him. Can you say that about your life? Can God say of you, “Twenty-two times he obeyed all that I commanded him”? Moses was – he was up there. As exalted as he was, Jesus was more exalted.

Jesus spoke of Moses during His ministry. Moses did indeed testify of Him (verse 5), which is why the Jews expected the Messiah. MacArthur elaborates:

… let me just show you John 5:46. “For had ye believed Moses,” Jesus said, “You would have believed me, for he wrote of me.” Jesus said, “Moses wrote all about me.” So you see, to accept Moses and not Jesus isn’t really to accept Moses.

Then also recorded for us in Luke 24:27, and beginning – this is Jesus on the road to Emmaus. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself.” He took Moses and said, “Now, watch what Moses says about me.” In Acts chapter 3 verse 22, “For Moses truly said unto the Father, a prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatever he shall say unto you.” And Peter went on to say, “And Jesus Christ is that prophet.” He is that prophet.

So you see, Moses pointed to Jesus. In fact, in Acts 28:23, yes, “And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets from morning until evening.” That means there was a whole lot of stuff there about Jesus in Moses’ writings.

The author concludes by stating that we — the faithful — are that house provided we believe in Christ without faltering and without losing our hope in Him. These ‘holy brothers’ were losing confidence in their conversions. Yet, despite all the hardship via persecution that they were experiencing, the author of Hebrews encourages them to stand firm in the faith, to be bold and confident about their new life in Christ.

This is why the author encourages them to ‘consider Jesus’, to think deeply about Him, thereby developing a greater relationship with Him.

As MacArthur says, this means putting navel-gazing and problems aside to focus on the future — eternal life:

If you’re going to run the Christian race, where are you going to look? Jesus.

I used to run the 100-yard dash at 2:20 in college. And one day we learned very soon that they don’t know it was – you can’t run when you watch your feet. Have you ever tried to do that? You can’t do it. I mean, you’ll run into a wall. You can’t do it. When you’ve got to stay in a lane, it’s amazing how your body works. You set your sight — just like when you drive — on something way down there, and you run right at that target. And when we used to run the sprints, we used to set our eyes on the tape. And we kept the eyes on the finish. That was not only motivation, but that’s what kept your sense of direction.

And when you’re running in the race as a believer, get your eyes off your feet. Get your eyes off yourself. You’re going to run into wall after wall after wall. You’ll be like the bruised and bleeding Pharisees that we talked about, who got that name because they thought it was a sin to look at a woman. They kept closing their eyes when they saw them, and they ran into all the buildings. There’s no sense in that.
You set your eyes on the tape. You look unto Jesus, the author and – the what? – the finisher of our faith. And you look at him and then you run. So many Christians run with their head down. It’s no wonder they run into everything.

That is a practical — and good — way of considering our Christian life. Truly considering Jesus — deeply, continuously — will turn us into long distance runners for that eternal, heavenly prize at the finish.

Next time — Hebrews 3:7-14

Below are readings for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity — the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost — August 25, 2019.

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Jeremiah explains how God chose him as a boy to be a prophet, not only to his own nation but also to the neighbouring pagan nations. Jeremiah’s time came years after Isaiah’s. He prophesied for forty or fifty years. Whereas the Lord purged Isaiah’s mouth with a hot coal, He chose a gentler method for the young Jeremiah, possibly because, as a boy, Jeremiah had committed fewer sins. Matthew Henry’s commentary adds further insight to a dramatic and exciting account of the Lord equipping the notionally unqualified. Verse 5 is one of my favourites. God has a purpose for each of us. Therefore, let us not turn our backs on Him.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

1:4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,

1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

1:6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

1:7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.

1:8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”

1:9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.

1:10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Psalm

David probably penned this Psalm in his later years. He wrote it at a time of personal suffering caused by others, but it is intended for everyone in giving praise to the Lord.

Psalm 71:1-6

71:1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

71:2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

71:3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

71:4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

71:5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

71:6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

First reading – alternative

Isaiah tells the people what they must do in order to truly repent and find favour in God’s sight once more. Note that these concern loving one’s neighbour and loving the Lord.

Isaiah 58:9b-14

58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

58:13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;

58:14 then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Psalm – alternative

This Psalm encourages us to praise the Lord, thanking Him for His many blessings and for His steadfast mercy.

Psalm 103:1-8

103:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits

103:3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

103:4 who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

103:5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

103:6 The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.

103:7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

103:8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Epistle

Readings from Hebrews continue. The author exhorts the Jews of his time not to ignore that Jesus is Messiah. Should they dismiss Him, they will come in for great judgement from the Lord, just as their ancestors did for wilful disobedience.

Hebrews 12:18-29

12:18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest,

12:19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.

12:20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”

12:21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)

12:22 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,

12:23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,

12:24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

12:25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!

12:26 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 heaven.”

12:27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;

12:29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Gospel

The hypocrisy from the Jewish leadership is once more on view as Jesus mercifully heals a disabled woman on the Sabbath.

Luke 13:10-17

13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

13:13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

13:14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

13:15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?

13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

13:17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

How merciful and loving is our Lord Jesus! I pray that many more souls will be converted in His Holy Name!

Bible and crossThe 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 2:1-4

Warning Against Neglecting Salvation

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

———————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed Hebrews 1, in which the author set out scriptural reasons why Jesus Christ is superior to the angels and how He is the only begotten Son of God.

It is also useful to know that the Book of Hebrews was addressed to three different audiences.

Hebrews 2 begins where Hebrews 1 ended. Note ‘Therefore’ in verse 1.

In verse 1, the author exhorts the audience to pay close attention to the content of the previous chapter, ‘lest we drift away from it’. In older translations it is ‘let them slip’.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that humans are weak and our brains do not retain everything they should (emphases mine):

Learn, (1.) When we have received gospel truths into our minds, we are in danger of letting them slip. Our minds and memories are like a leaky vessel, they do not without much care retain what is poured into them; this proceeds from the corruption of our natures, the enmity and subtlety of Satan (he steals away the word), from the entanglements and snares of the world, the thorns that choke the good seed. (2.) Those meet with an inconceivable loss who let gospel truths, which they had received, slip out of their minds; they have lost a treasure far better than thousands of gold and silver; the seed is lost, their time and pains in hearing lost, and their hopes of a good harvest lost; all is lost, if the gospel be lost. (3.) This consideration should be a strong motive both to our attention to the gospel and our retention of it; and indeed, if we do not well attend, we shall not long retain the word of God; inattentive hearers will soon be forgetful hearers.

The author returns to angels in verse 2. Angels were the next closest beings to God for the Jews. They delivered divine messages, God’s laws and also judgements.

Therefore, the author asks (verse 3), if angels serve God in all those ways, who are we to escape judgement if we do not accept the great salvation that Jesus Christ has for the faithful? After all, the author says, it was the Lord Himself who declared His Son and the audience of Hebrews knew about Jesus from the Apostles and others.

Let us look at the importance of angels in the Old Testament, via John MacArthur:

If a man couldn’t neglect the revelation that came through angels, how much can he neglect the revelation which came through the Lord himself? Now I want you to notice the word if. “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast,” and this is what we call in Greek, a fulfilled condition. In view of the fact that the word spoken by angels was steadfast, it’s not an if maybe. It’s an if absolutely. It’s a since, or in view of the fact that.

Now let me look at specifics with you for a minute. You’ll notice that it says, “the words spoken by angels. Now why is it that the Old Testament commandments, particularly the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue in Moses’ tablets, why is that so connected with the angels? Why does it say that the angels mediated the old covenant? Well, because the angels were instrumental in bringing the Ten Commandments, and I’ll show you that from several passages, Psalm 68:17.

Now Psalm 68:17 just kind of barely scratches the surface of this. 68:17, “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” Now where did Moses get the law? What mount? Sinai. This verse says the Lord is in Sinai with twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. So the angels evidently were there at Sinai, which was the mount upon which Moses received the law, the Ten Commandments.

Now in Deuteronomy 33:2, I read you this. This is Moses, and he said, “He said:

“The Lord came from Sinai and rose up from Seir under them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of holy ones, angels. From his right hand went a fiery law for them.” Now we believe that this is an indication that angels were involved in the bringing of the law.

The New Testament also has references to this effect:

Now in the New Testament, Acts, for example, chapter 7 gives us the same indication, verse 38. “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him in the Mount Sinai.” Now here is a specific designation that when Moses was in Sinai an angel spoke to him.

In verse 53 of the same chapter, it says, “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels.” So angels were at Sinai. Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament we are told that. They were very instrumental in the bringing of the law. That’s what is indicated here in what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Angels had a place in bringing the law. The law which they brought, the word spoken by angels, and we believe this refers primarily the Ten Commandments, was steadfast.

And breaking religious law brought about swift retribution and judgement:

Now what it means there is if you broke that law, that law broke you. Right? I mean there wasn’t any out. That was it. I mean if a person committed adultery, what happened to him? They stoned him. And so forth and so on. If a person worshiped false gods, and blasphemed God, they stoned him. That was it. The law was inviolable, it was sure, it was certain.

And it says in verse 2, “Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompensive reward.” That means the law punished every sin.

Now there are only two kinds of sin, and they’re indicated by those two words, transgression, parabasis, it means to step across the line. That’s a willful act of sin. That’s an overt sin of commission. You know, that’s just going right out there and sinning. God says, “Here’s the line, and over there is a no no.” And you say, “No. Over there is a yes yes.” See, and you go. That is a sin that is active, overt, a sin of commission.

The word disobedience is a different word. This word means imperfect hearing, like a deaf man. This is the deliberate shutting of the ears to the commands, warnings, and invitations of God. This is the sin of neglect or omission. This is standing there doing nothing when you should do something.

There’s only two kinds of sin, what you do and what you don’t do. They’re covered by those two words. And so every sin, whether it was a do it sin or a don’t do it sin, was covered by the law. And both types and categories of sin were breaches of the Old Testament law, and they received a just punishment. And I mean the punishments were severe.

In Leviticus, for example, chapter 24, I’ll illustrate some fantastic things here to you, and you’ll see how severe punishment was. Leviticus 24:14, “Bring forth him who hath cursed outside the camp; and let all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, ‘Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him. As well the sojourner as he who is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.’”

Now that’s pretty severe law, but God wanted to make sure that Israel’s purity was maintained and all false prophets and blasphemers were dealt with immediately to maintain the purity of His people.

Now in Numbers 15:30, “But the soul that doeth anything presumptuously, whether he is born in the land or a sojourner, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off. His iniquity shall be upon him.’ And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day.” You say big deal.

“And they found him with gathered sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron and unto all the congregation they put him in prison, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, “The man shall be surely put to death. All the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, stoned him with stones, and he died, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

You say, “Died for picking up sticks on the ____.” As the principle of the issue, he was defying the law of God. God set the law, and the punishment was inviolable.

Numbers 25, at the beginning of the verse, “Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” Here they are getting involved with Moabites sexually. “And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods,” – they begin to worship false gods – “and the people did eat and bow down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.’ And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, ‘Slay ye every one his men who were joined unto Baal of Peor.’ And behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman through her abdomen.’ Just stuck them both. ‘So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.’”

See, God didn’t like it when they broke His law.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 17, and you see, God had to do to this to maintain purity in Israel. He defended them and he kept them from these false people. The ones who were being slain here were those who were not of God, but of Satan. And God dealt strictly with them.

Deuteronomy, chapter 17, verse 2, “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman who hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God in transgressing His covenant, and hath gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it and inquired diligently, and behold, it is true and the thing certain that such abomination is wrought in Israel, then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman who hath committed that wicked thing unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones till they die. At the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses shall he that is worthy of death be put to death, but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” This was protecting them.

“The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people. So shalt thou put the evil away from among you.” But why did God do all this?

Verse 13 said, “And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.” If you make the consequence strict enough, maybe the people will obey.

In Deuteronomy 27, and this is the last one we’re going to read in the Old Testament, 27:26, sum up is this, “‘Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Now that’s inviolable law that God set, and it was strong.

In Jude in the New Testament, verse 5, “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.” That’s strong judgment on unbelievers. Even under the old economy there was tremendous judgment on unbelievers.

Now you don’t think for a minute that such unbelief was punished in such a way under the old covenant that it will not be punished in such a way under the new covenant, for indeed it will. And that’s the whole point of verses 2 and 3 here in Hebrews. “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, inviolable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.”

Now you’ll notice in verse 2, and I must point it out the word just. People like to accuse God of not being just. God is just. God’s never done anything unjust in His existence. In every punishment and everything that He ever did was a deterrent to the sin that He wanted to stop. And He only punished those that were already determined to abide without Him, and to defy Him, and He removed them for the sake of those who were pure and holy and wanted to live for Him.

Concerning God’s announcement of His Son Jesus Christ, the author addressed this question in Hebrews 1. God delivered His message through the many Old Testament prophets. Then, Jesus came to Earth. Now we have His words and deeds to heed via those who were His disciples and later those who knew them:

The Supremacy of God’s Son

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

All that Jesus did on Earth came via God according to His holy will as well as via the gifts of the Holy Spirit (verse 4). However, during the Apostolic Era those men also performed miracles to increase the growth of the Church and to bring new souls to Christ.

MacArthur explains:

So you see, Jesus confirmed his own ministry by his own miracles. And of course, that was the message of Peter on the day of Pentecost. I think it’s Acts 2:22, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you by miracles, wonders, and signs,” do you see? Jesus was approved, or his word confirmed by signs, wonders, and miracles. Do you know that the very same things that Peter talks about there or talked about here as the same confirming signs for the second generation preachers? Did you know that? …

And so God bore them witness by giving them the ability to do the same things that Jesus had done, right, signs, wonders, miracles. And Jesus himself even made the statement to his own disciples that greater works than these shall what? “Ye do. ‘Cause I go to my Father.”

And they performed astounding miracles. They performed the raising of the dead, the healing of people, all kinds of miracles. And so it was that God confirmed them. Now when you’re arguing with the gospel of Jesus Christ, coming from the mouths of these apostles, then you’re arguing with the confirmation of God. This is not human philosophy right here in the New Testament. This is not some little guy’s little brainstorm rolling out of his little pea brain. That isn’t what it is.

This is divine truth substantiated by signs, and wonders, and miracles. And if you don’t think so, just start in chapter 5 of Acts and just read right straight through chapter 19, and you’ll just read about one after the other of miracles that attended the ministry of these men.

You say, why the miracles? God was saying believe them, they’re from me, and it’s proven by the ability they have to do miracles. Now the words, signs, wonders, and miracles are really synonyms. They’re referring to all these marvelous supernatural things that these apostles did. But then one other thing, not only did they confirm the Word with signs, and wonders, and miracles, and we’ll make mention of that again in moment, but also by gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do you see it there in verse 4? Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now watch this gentle, but powerful conclusion, “according to his own will?” Now the question mark doesn’t belong in that statement. The question mark belongs with the How shall we escape? What is it saying? It’s saying, gifts [from] the Holy Spirit come according to who’s will? His will. Now that’s almost shoved in there just to keep some people from getting messed up about how to get certain gifts. Subtle, isn’t it?

The Apostolic Era has passed. We have recorded Old and New Testaments which provide the revelation we need.

MacArthur says:

They have no need to exist today, because there is no need to confirm the Word. If a guy comes along and says, “Thus said the Lord. Thus said the Lord. Thus said the Lord,” and you say, “Hey, how do we know he’s for real?” You don’t need a miracle, what do you need? You match him up with the Word, right?

When that which is perfect has come, then that which is partial is passed away. We don’t need any more confirming signs. [BB] Warfield, a great scholar of the Bible said, “These miraculous gifts were part of the credentials of the apostles, as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the apostolic church, and they necessarily passed away with it.”

The main message is this:

Three classic reasons that a man is a fool to neglect salvation – the character of Christ, the certainty of judgment, and the confirmation of God. This gospel is a gospel that God has attested to with signs, wonders, miracles, gifts, and now He attests to it in the miracle of His written word.

My friend, let it not be said of you that you neglected Jesus Christ. History tells us that three hours’ neglect cost Napoleon Waterloo. And the neglect of Christ’s salvation will cost you eternal blessing, eternal joy, and bring you damning judgment. Don’t be so foolish as to drift past God’s grace.

The rest of Hebrews 2 says that, for a time during His earthly ministry, Jesus was lower than the angels, however, He now sits at the right hand of the Father forevermore.

The closing verses are particularly moving. Jesus is our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father. The fact that He, of divine nature, humbled Himself to also take on human form shows He understands our weaknesses and helps us to overcome them:

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

That’s something to think about and remind ourselves of as we go about our daily lives this week.

Next time — Hebrews 3:1-6

What follows are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity — Tenth Sunday after Pentecost — August 18, 2019.

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

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is a parable about the judgement of God’s people to come in Isaiah’s time. These verses are about the blessings that God gave them. They rejected those blessings by falling into sin.

Isaiah 5:1-7

5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.

5:2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

5:3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.

5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5:5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

5:6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

The next few verses, not part of this reading, are as follows:

Woe to the Wicked

Woe to those who join house to house,
    who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
    and you are made to dwell alone
    in the midst of the land.
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
    large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres[d] of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
    and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”[e]

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
    that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
    as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp,
    tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
    or see the work of his hands.

Psalm

The Psalm also has the imagery of a vineyard and a request for God’s mercy. There is also a prophecy of Jesus Christ, the ‘Shepherd of Israel’.

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19

80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.

80:9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.

80:10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;

80:11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.

80:12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?

80:13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.

80:14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,

80:15 the stock that your right hand planted.

80:16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

First reading – alternative

Jeremiah prophesies that the Lord is angry with false prophets turning the people away from Him. This ties in well with the Gospel reading.

Jeremiah 23:23-29

23:23 Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off?

23:24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.

23:25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!”

23:26 How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back–those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?

23:27 They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.

23:28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD.

23:29 Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

Psalm – alternative

This Psalm instructs magistrates and the Sanhedrin on how they should govern.

Psalm 82

82:1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

82:2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

82:3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

82:4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

82:5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

82:6 I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;

82:7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

82:8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

Epistle

Here we have an exhortation to faith even in the face of persecution, especially as Christ Jesus reigns forever and ever.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

11:29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.

11:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.

11:31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

11:32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–

11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,

11:34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.

11:36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.

11:37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented–

11:38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

11:39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised,

11:40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

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.

Gospel

This reading concludes Luke 12. Jesus foretells the division and persecution to come as a warning to prepare oneself spiritually by making peace with God now.

Luke 12:49-56

12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

12:50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

12:51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

12:52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;

12:53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

12:54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.

12:55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.

12:56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Christ’s words are just as true today. We think we know so much. Yet, of God’s ways, we know so very little unless we have faith in His Son, our only Mediator and Advocate.

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