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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:33-37

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”


In last week’s reading (Matthew 12:22-32) Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit brings eternal condemnation.

He was speaking to the Pharisees, who accused Him of having satanic power. That, He said, was a grievous sin against the Holy Spirit.

In today’s reading our Lord continued His message to the Pharisees. He said that one knows a tree by its fruit (verse 33). ‘Make’ in this context may refer to a graft or tending the tree. Where people are concerned, Matthew Henry explains, our words manifest our true natures (emphases mine):

Where grace is the reigning principle in the heart, the language will be the language of Canaan and, on the contrary, whatever lust reigns in the heart it will break out diseased lungs make an offensive breath: men’s language discovers what country they are of, so likewise what manner of spirit they are of: “Either make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good get pure hearts and then you will have pure lips and pure lives or else the tree will be corrupt, and the fruit accordingly. You may make a crab-stock to become a good tree, by grafting into it a shoot from a good tree, and then the fruit will be good but if the tree be still the same, plant it where you will, and water it how you will, the fruit will be still corrupt.” Note, Unless the heart be transformed, the life will never be thoroughly reformed. These Pharisees were shy of speaking out their wicked thoughts of Jesus Christ but Christ here intimates, how vain it was for them to seek to hide that root of bitterness in them, that bore this gall and wormwood, when they never sought to mortify it. Note, It should be more our care to be good really, than to seem good outwardly.

Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers (verse 34), an allusion to Satan and evil serpents. He said this not only in front of them but also the crowd that was present. It’s a strong and damning statement. Earlier, John the Baptist used the phrase in his own ministry (Luke 3:7).

John MacArthur analyses this wording for us:

What does the phrase mean? A viper is the name of a poisonous snake, and that’s the perspective of the passage. The Lord would have been well-acquainted with the many snakes in the land of Palestine; they ranged from very small to large vipers. The majority of them were sort of small, and common in the desert. In fact, their color even hid them and they sometimes looked like dead branches, or like the soil around. Sometimes they would hide beneath rocks or trees, in the shade or in caves, and a man would unwarily come near. They would clamp their teeth into a man and sink them in, pumping in the poison and clinging to the individual’s flesh. That was the case in Acts 28:3, where the Apostle Paul had a viper bite and cling to him, unwilling to release itself. Job spoke of the tongue of the viper that will kill, and that’s the idea. They are dangerous, poisonous snakes.

Why does He select vipers? Because they were perhaps the most dangerous creature in that part of the world; they were the subtlest to be sure, the most deceitful. I also think that they represent the Old Serpent himself, Satan, the Devil – the original snake in Eden. He is the father of these other vipers, if you will. They descended from the Devil himself. They were filled with the poison of deadly legalism, self-righteousness, fatal hypocrisy, treachery, and moral filth. They pumped that into their victims.

The word ‘brood’ could also be translated ‘generation.’ It could mean generation in the sense that they were generated of Satan, or it could also be the idea of a brood. These snakes were produced out of their mothers at a rate of 12-50 in volume. Whenever this little group of Pharisees appeared, they looked to Jesus like a brood of snakes, all co-mingled together with evil, poisonous intent. So Jesus calls them subtle killers with poisoned tongues.

Jesus said that the mouth reveals what is in the heart. The speech of a good person will be good. An evil person’s speech will be bad: if not at first, eventually it will be (verse 35). Henry explains:

The complete Christian in this bears the image of God, that he both is good, and does good.

… It is the character of an evil man, that he has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it bringeth forth evil things. Lusts and corruptions dwelling and reigning in the heart are an evil treasure, out of which the sinner brings forth bad words and actions, to the dishonour of God, and the hurt of others.

Jesus then warned that on the Last Day, we will be judged by our words (verses 36, 37). Our words reveal our fruits of faith or otherwise. MacArthur says:

What this says is not to obviate or negate salvation by grace through faith, but simply to show you that salvation by grace through faith will demonstrate itself in good works and good words, so that they become the objective criteria by which God can make that judgment.

The words of men are accurate gagues of their hearts; if you have a transformed heart and Jesus Christ has come into your life and transformed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will justify you. If Christ has never changed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will condemn you.

This does not mean we’re not saved by grace. We are saved by grace through faith, that not of works, lest any man should boast. But the next verse says, Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

We are saved by grace through faith unto works and words. The works and the words prove that the faith has been there. So God can look objectively at your words and know whether you’ve been redeemed, and so can you. If you have any question about whether you’re saved, listen to yourself when you talk when no one is around, or when you’re angry, irritated, upset, or thoughtless. Words will reveal what is in your heart.

This also relates to idle, incessant talking that serves no purpose and often leads to gossip. Henry cautions us:

We must shortly account for these idle words[;] they will be produced in evidence against us, to prove us unprofitable servants, that have not improved the faculties of reason and speech, which are part of the talents we are entrusted with. If we repent not of our idle words, and our account for them be not balanced by the blood of Christ, we are undone.

We can pray for help in this regard. MacArthur says:

Our speech should be spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, loving, purposeful, edifying, gentle, truthful speech, and we should pray what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 141:3, when he said, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

In the 1970s, he said that a survey of speech showed the average person spoke 25,000 words a day, which, if written down, would amount to between 50 and 60 pages of written text!

If we were to read a transcription of what we said today, what would the content reveal?

The truth of the matter is that the Lord is aware of what each of us has said. May we repent of idle speech which does not serve Him or spread the Gospel message.

Next time: Matthew 12:38-42


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 (‘Blaspheming the Holy Spirit’ parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 12:22-32

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.


Last week’s post looked at the preceding verses to this week’s reading. In Matthew 12:15-21, Jesus left the area where He had healed a man with a withered hand in the local synagogue and went to another place where He continued to heal people and make them whole again. Matthew cited and paraphrased Isaiah 42:1-3 to show the Jews — and us — that Jesus truly is the prophesied Messiah and Saviour.

Now someone brought to Him a man who was blind and mute because of demon possession (verse 22). Our Lord healed the man who could then see and speak.

This is both a physical and spiritual healing. Matthew Henry says:

A soul under Satan’s power, and led captive by him, is blind in the things of God, and dumb at the throne of grace sees nothing, and says nothing to the purpose. Satan blinds the eye of faith, and seals up the lips of prayer.

The people watching this were beside themselves with astonishment. Immediately they asked if He was the long-awaited Son of David (verse 23). John MacArthur analyses this verse for us:

The word there means ‘to be totally astounded.’ It is existemi, and it means to be beside yourself with astonishment; it isn’t just saying, “Well, isn’t that something.” It is losing it. In fact, one translator says that it means to be literally knocked out of your senses. Another one says it is to be out of your mind with amazement. To put it in Junior High talk, it is to be blown away. They just couldn’t handle it; it was an overwhelming thing.

Yet, they were trying to reconcile His humble appearance with His magnificent healing power (emphases mine):

… they are saying, “This can’t be the Messiah, can it?” It’s like an 80-percent no but a 20-percent yes. The ‘no’ comes from the fact that He didn’t fit their bill, their design, their preconception; but the 20-percent ‘yes’ comes from the fact that they couldn’t explain His power.

The Pharisees addressed them and alleged that our Lord was in league with Satan (verse 24). No Jew of the time was going to argue with these men considered to be the paragons of God’s people. And the Pharisees were so wrapped up in their own prestige that they were permanently hard of heart, so much so that they accused Him of getting His power from Beelzebul.

MacArthur explains the name:

That is the old word that originally was the name of a Philistine god, Beel comes from Baal. You’ve heard of worshiping Baal, and that is just the ancient pagan word for ‘lord.’ ‘Zebub’ or ‘zebul’ is best connected in translation to the word ‘flies.’ So we go all the way back to the lord of the flies, or the god of the flies.

The Ekronites worshiped the god of the flies, if you can imagine. It was a play on words, because there is another word ‘zebel’ which means ‘dung.’ So apparently, they even called Beelzebub ‘Beelzebel,’ which was a derisive thing, saying, “Your lord of the flies is nothing more than the lord of the dung.” It would be easy to do that play on words, because flies tend to hang around, well, you get the picture. So that is probably what they had in mind.

Through the centuries, this lord of the flies or lord of the dung title for this deity became a very common title for Satan. So to be the prince of demons or Beelzebub is simply using one of the titles of Satan. Jesus recognized this, because in verse 26, when He answers, He uses the word ‘Satan’ in response to their word ‘Beelzebub.’

Jesus pointed out the absurdity of that accusation (verses 25, 26), effectively asking how and why Satan could be working against his own demons, his servants.

Note that the Pharisees were not addressing our Lord. He was going to talk to them, however.

It is likely that the Pharisees were standing closer to the crowd than to Jesus, so He might not have been in earshot but, because He is omniscient, He knew what they had said.

Jesus went further, asking them how their sons were casting out demons (verse 27). Were they, too, in league with Beelzebul?

Or, He asked them, was He healing through the Spirit of God (verse 28)? If so, then the kingdom of God was present among them. Henry explains:

This casting out of devils was a certain token and indication of the approach and appearance of the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28) … Other miracles that Christ wrought proved him sent of God, but this proved him sent of God to destroy the devil’s kingdom and his works. Now that great promise was evidently fulfilled, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, Genesis 3:15. “Therefore that glorious dispensation of the kingdom of God, which has been long expected, is now commenced slight it at your peril.” Note, [1.] The destruction of the devil’s power is wrought by the Spirit of God that Spirit who works to the obedience of faith, overthrows the interest of that spirit who works in the children of unbelief and disobedience. [2.] The casting out of devils is a certain introduction to the kingdom of God. If the devil’s interest in a soul be not only checked by custom or external restraints, but sunk and broken by the Spirit of God, as a Sanctifier, no doubt but the kingdom of God is come to that soul, the kingdom of grace, a blessed earnest of the kingdom of the glory.

Jesus expanded on that further by alluding to a break-in (verse 29). If someone is going to plunder the house of a strong man, he’d better be able to overpower that man and bind him first. Therefore, who is the only one strong enough to bind Satan? Jesus.

Henry analyses the verse:

The world, that sat in darkness, and lay in wickedness, was in Satan’s possession, and under his power, as a house in the possession and under the power of a strong man so is every unregenerate soul there Satan resides, there he rules. Now, (1.) The design of Christ’s gospel was to spoil the devil’s house, which, as a strong man, he kept in the world to turn the people from darkness to light, from sin to holiness, from this world to a better, from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18) to alter the property of souls. (2.) Pursuant to this design, he bound the strong man, when he cast out unclean spirits by his word: thus he wrested the sword out of the devil’s hand, that he might wrest the sceptre out of it

Then our Lord said that anyone who was not with Him was His enemy and that anyone who did not gather — spread His message — would scatter, or be lost (verse 30).

He went on to say (verses 31, 32) that many forms of blasphemy can be forgiven — including those against Himself as the humble Son of Man — once one repents but that against the Holy Spirit cannot be pardoned.

MacArthur says that this is because blaspheming the Holy Spirit is doing what the Pharisees have done: allying the Spirit with Satan.

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

He is saying, “You can speak a word against the Son of Man, and that would be forgiveable because you may speak against Him, seeing nothing more than the humanness.” In other words, your perception may not even allow you to be dealing with deity as a factor. And it is not His power on display, so you may be speaking against Him as Son of Man; you are condemning what you perceive in His humanness (even though you’re wrong), you can understand that you can do that without making a comment on His deity at all, because it is the Spirit who is working, not Him, technically.

Another thought is important here, and that is the fact that this is His humiliation. There is a sense in which He is in a mode of humiliation which invites that kind of criticism. In other words, you might say, “If that is the Second Person of the Trinity, I’m not impressed. I mean, He’s a carpenter from Nazareth.” You could speak a word against the human Jesus in His humiliation, that’s forgiveable; you may just not know the facts, who He really is. You may not have seen the evidence, and are just talking at the human level, without a perception of the divine. That’s what He’s saying.

Nevertheless, when you speak against the Holy Spirit, that will not be forgiven you, not in this time period or in the time period to follow, because when you begin to speak against the Spirit, then you are saying, “I recognize the supernatural, I see the supernatural, only I think it’s Hell, not Heaven.” For that, you won’t be forgiven.

Ultimately — and this is important to be able to explain to people, because these are not easy verses to understand:

If you’re looking on the human plane and that’s all you perceive and understand, you can be brought along to believe and understand. But if, when you have seen the supernatural and the ministry of the Spirit of God through Christ, and you conclude that it is of the Devil, you can’t be forgiven because now, you are speaking against the Spirit of God, the power of God, the energy of God, as made manifest through Christ. So, in a real sense, you’re speaking against His deity, His divine nature, and calling it satanic.

It is easier to understand this in the context of the Pharisees, prime examples of the condemned. They spent a lot of their time following our Lord around, witnessing His miracles and hearing His teaching. Yet, as we saw in Matthew 9:32-34 and in this passage, they accused Him of being in league with Satan. They denied the divine source of His power, the Holy Spirit, and — worse — called it satanic. That cannot be forgiven.

Henry explains:

This is such a strong hold of infidelity as a man can never be beaten out of, and is therefore unpardonable, because hereby repentance is hid from the sinner’s eyes.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit which began working through the Apostles starting on that day enabled them to spread the Gospel message, preach, teach and heal in Christ’s name. This is why Confirmation — a sacrament for Catholics, an ordinance for Protestant denominations — is so important. Unfortunately, it seems to be the last time many adolescents ever see the inside of a church. Families agree that once their children are confirmed, they do not have to attend Sunday services any more.

This is, I think, in part, because Confirmation classes are not what they used to be. They are rather watered down. Consequently, adolescents do not understand the nature and importance of the Holy Spirit. Another factor is parental. Mum and Dad have forgotten, or never understood, the Holy Spirit, either. Were their clergy to blame, too? Or was it that they drifted away from worship and the faith?

Those of us who have been confirmed or ‘born again in the Spirit’ would do well to consider how we are using the Holy Spirit’s gifts in our relationship with Christ Jesus and in our daily lives.

In closing, parallel verses for today’s passage are in Luke 12:8-10. It is a pity that neither of these was included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

Next time: Matthew 12:33-37


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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:15-21

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”


Last week’s reading ended with Matthew 12:14:

But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

As Jesus is omniscient, He knew their intentions and He left (verse 15). The time of His destruction had not yet come. He had more teaching and healing to accomplish.

Although the Pharisees wanted our Lord destroyed, note how the ordinary Jews followed Him. In His mercy, He healed everyone who had need of it. He ordered them not to make Him known (verse 16).


Matthew Henry offers these reasons (emphases mine):

1… in suffering times, though we must boldly go on in the way of duty, yet we must contrive the circumstances of it so as not to exasperate, more than is necessary, those who seek occasion against us[:] Be ye wise as serpents, Matthew 10:16. 2. It may be looked upon as an act of righteous judgment upon the Pharisees, who were unworthy to hear of any more of his miracles, having made so light of those they had seen. By shutting their eyes against the light, they had forfeited the benefit of it. 3. As an act of humility and self-denial. Though Christ’s intention in his miracles was to prove himself the Messiah, and so to bring men to believe on him, in order to which it was requisite that they should be known, yet sometimes he charged the people to conceal them, to set us an example of humility, and to teach us not to proclaim our own goodness or usefulness, or to desire to have it proclaimed. Christ would have his disciples to be the reverse of those who did all their works to be seen of men.

Matthew says this was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy (verse 17):

The scope of it is to show how mild and quiet, and yet how successful, our Lord Jesus should be in his undertaking …

He refers to Isaiah 42:1-3:

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.

I say ‘refers’, because he reinterprets a few of the verses.

Remember that Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience, to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

John MacArthur explains:

Matthew wants us to know that it is not only the Messiah, but the very Messiah prophesied by Isaiah. So he says, “All this in order that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet.” Isaiah said He would be like this, and the key is in verses 19-20. “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory.”

That’s the heart of what Isaiah wants to say as the defense of Christ in prophetic literature, but he also adds the beginning of verse 18 and the end of verse 21, so we take it all. It’s one of the most strikingly beautiful descriptions of Jesus Christ in Scripture, taken from Isaiah 42:1-4.

God was speaking to Isaiah, referring to His Son — His chosen servant with whom He is well pleased (verse 18). This is a recurring phraseology in the Gospels:

What did He say at the Son’s baptism? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What about at the Transfiguration? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” What did He do when Jesus died and rose again but exalt Him, place Him at His right hand, and put all authority under Him, and gave to Him to send the Holy Spirit, which is the ultimate act of His commendation. He was commended by the Father. Doesn’t that show you how far off the religious leaders were? The one whom God was commending, they were condemning; the one whom God made alive, they killed.

“Behold My servant, whom I have chosen.” ‘I have chosen’ is a marvelous phrase; it’s a word that is only here in the Greek New Testament and appears nowhere else. It indicates great firmness of choice. For example, it is used in secular Greek to speak of adopting a child, really taking them in in a firm commitment. He has chosen the Son. In Hebrews 1, it talks about how He chose the Son to fulfill this role. In Isaiah 49:1, it says the same thing in the wonderful verse about how the Father has chosen the Son. So much was this a part of the Messianic identity that the Messiah became known as ‘the Chosen One’ in the Jewish mind, so when Isaiah says, “My servant, whom I have chosen,” he is designating a title for the Messiah that the Jews in Jesus’ time would know. They would know that as Matthew is quoting this, he is quoting a Messianic passage; they know that he is saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One.

The Spirit was upon Him from the beginning. For mankind, God the Father demonstrated this after Jesus’s baptism, when:

the Spirit of God descended like a dove. But I don’t believe that is when it started; I believe that Jesus Christ was indwelt by the power of the Spirit of God from the time He was conceived. It says of John the Baptist in Luke 1 that he was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. If that was true of a human being, believe me, it must have been true of the God-Man. It also says in Matthew 1:20 that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew uses ‘Gentiles’ instead of Isaiah’s ‘nations’. Our Lord came for them — the Chosen — first, then for the Gentiles.

Verse 19 speaks of Jesus’s gentle, quiet manner. Indeed, the preceding verses tell us that He left quietly and told people not to speak of Him when talking of their healing. ‘Cry aloud’, MacArthur says, refers not to an agonising cry as at the Crucifixion but an animalistic noise like a bark or shriek. Furthermore, Jesus was not a rabble-rouser, calling for revolution, despite what some misguided theologians purport today.

Verse 20 speaks of His gentleness. Unlike mankind, He would not break a limp reed nor put out a fading light. MacArthur interprets the verse as meaning the hurt, the injured, the spiritually weak:

This is a picture of the hurting people, the ones everyone else steps on, discards, throws away, the bruised reeds that don’t play the tune anymore, the smoking flax that can’t give any light to illuminate the situation. This is the weak, powerless, helpless, ones destroyed by sin and suffering, those bowed down with care, the unworthy, the ones without spiritual resources, the whole world of trampled, despised, ignored, suffering, hurting people. These are the kind of people that human conquerors have no time for, those that the Pharisees walked all over, the broken people. But those are the ones the Lord goes to; He doesn’t break those kind of bruised reeds or put out what’s left of the smoldering flax.

In fact:

He strengthens them. He picks up the reed and plays a melody through it that has never been heard. He will fan the flame that is smoldering on that wick so that it brightens and lights the room. He will pick up the sick and tax collectors and prostitutes and sorrowing and fearful and doubters and hungry and sinners, and meet their needs. That’s the kind of Savior He is, and He is the antithesis of the religious leaders around Him. That is the indication of Isaiah, that He is indeed God with us, Emmanuel, because that is the heart of God.

Ultimately, He will bring justice:

He will win the victory and consummate the victory …

One writer put it this way, “Down in the depths of the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore. Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness, cords that are broken will vibrate once more.” Jesus came along and put a new song, fanned the fading flame, reached out to those who suffered. Christ has come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, not to heal those who are well, but those who are sick and face it. How different He is from other religious leaders; He ought to be – He is God.

Therefore, we have hope because of — and thanks to — Him (verse 21).

Despite our suffering in this life, He will wipe away our tears and heal our broken hearts. He will save us and bring us to everlasting life. What a beautiful promise!

Next time: Matthew 12:22-32



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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:9-14

A Man with a Withered Hand

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”— so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.


Not one of the three Synoptic Gospel accounts of our Lord’s healing of the man with the withered hand is included in the three-year Lectionary.

I wrote about the other two accounts a few years ago: Mark 3:1-6 in 2012 and Luke 6:6-11 in 2013.

The first verses of Matthew 12, the subject of last week’s post, concerned the Pharisees stopping Jesus to ask if it was lawful on the Sabbath for His hungry disciples to pluck grains to eat as a snack. Jesus firmly rebuked them, stating that He was the Lord of the Sabbath. Therefore, it was He who made the observance rules, not they.

In today’s reading, Jesus, the disciples and the Pharisees are in the synagogue — immediately following the grain incident. Hence, verse 9: ‘He went on from there …’

A man with a withered hand was in the congregation and the Pharisees, by now well acquainted with Jesus’s compassionate miracles, asked Him if He planned on healing the man on the Sabbath (verse 10). So, even after He told them He was the Lord of the Sabbath a short while earlier, they persisted in making their Sabbath everyone else’s Sabbath. They refused to bow down before our Lord. They refused to admit they were wrong. They refused to see Him as their Messiah. They believed His healing powers came from Satan. We will see this accusation again later in Matthew 12.

These men knew Scripture inside and out. That knowledge should have penetrated into their hearts and revealed something to them. Yet, they had extreme hardness of heart.

Jesus further explored Sabbath rules with them, asking if it was lawful for an observant Jew of the time to rescue a sheep on the day of rest (verse 11). He told them that a man is worth much more in God’s eyes than a sheep, therefore, it is lawful for Him to heal on the Sabbath (verse 12). By extension, the inference is that we are obliged to follow His example in compassion, mercy and kindness.

John MacArthur tells us that the reason the Pharisees allowed the rescue of a sheep was that the animal would bring in money when sold. Therefore, it was a matter of making one’s livelihood. On the other hand, they would have considered the man’s withered hand to be what today’s health industry would call ‘a pre-existing condition’. Therefore, his healing could wait until after the Sabbath.

MacArthur takes a brief detour in his sermon to discuss the Hindus’ attitude towards humans and animals. Their belief in reincarnation causes them to not harm rodents and other pests consuming their food supply whilst India is full of starving humans at the bottom of the caste system (emphases mine):

They won’t kill a fly because it is the incarnation of someone who is trying to get out of that karma. They won’t kill a rat, a mouse, or a cow. Two-thirds of their food supply is eaten by those things, and that is why they have starvation problems. They let people die all over the place and don’t help them, because it’s their karma. They won’t give money to beggars or help the destitute because they feel they must endure that suffering to earn their way to the next level. So cows are worth more to them than people; cows are sacred, for whatever reason. It’s the same in Judaism, but not quite so religiously defined, and sheep were more important to them economically than people. Ethical conduct is the issue, and the Lord makes it very clear at the end of verse 12, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

This was to illustrate that when we come to belief in Christ, through God’s grace, we will appreciate that humans are more important in His sight than animals, although we have an obligation from Genesis to care for them and nurture them. God created every living thing.

MacArthur says:

By the way, Mark and Luke tell us that all the while He is talking, He has brought the man with the paralyzed hand and sat him in front of the entire synagogue, and it is very dramatic. He is confronting them and saying, “You tell me. You rescue a sheep; would you rescue a man? Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” What can they say? If they say it is lawful to do good, then they are stuck. He would say that it would be good to heal the man. If they say it is not lawful to do good on the Sabbath, then what have they said? What is the alternative, evil? So He asks the question, but they don’t want to answer, so they don’t.

And after the healing, they left to plot against our Lord (verse 14).

In mercy, Jesus asked the man to extend his hand. He did so.

Immediately, Jesus completely restored it. It was the same as his other hand (verse 13).

MacArthur gives us this insight on the healing and on the meaning of the Sabbath:

Was that a good thing to do for that man? If there was ever any meaning in the Sabbath, wouldn’t it be to do good? Sure. And to know to do good, and have the ability to do good, and not to do good is to do evil. If ever there was a time for blessing, it was the Sabbath …

Jesus connected the Sabbath with the heart of God – benevolence, mercy, kindness, goodness. That is the purpose of it all. Jesus came that we might enter into a relationship with God in which He pours out to us grace, goodness, mercy, kindness, peace, benevolence, and tenderness. The Pharisees had completely obliterated that illustration in the Sabbath. Jesus’ lesson is very clear: we broke the ceremonial law to meet our need, but that is the heart of God. We broke a traditional law of not going more than so many feet to serve God; that is the heart of God. God wants mercy to be shown, not ritual. The only function that ceremony ever has is the illustration of a right attitude. If you corrupt the illustration without having the right attitude, you miss the whole purpose.

Matthew Henry has a fascinating insight into the background of the man with the withered hand. Because scholars from centuries ago had not only read writings of the early Doctors of the Church but also valued them, Scripture had more meaning than perhaps it does today.

Of the man, Henry cites St Jerome:

St. Jerome says, that the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites, adds this circumstance to this story of the man with the withered hand, that he was Cæ mentarius–a bricklayer, and applied himself to Christ thus “Lord, I am a bricklayer, and have got my living by my labour (manibus victum quæ ritans) I beseech thee, O Jesus, restore me the use of my hand, that I may not be obliged to beg my bread” (ne turpiter mendicem cibos).

That is something which we can all include in the teaching of this miracle to others.

Henry draws these lessons from this miracle with regard to animals, people and the Pharisees:

Note, Man, in respect of his being, is a great deal better, and more valuable, than the best of the brute creatures: man is a reasonable creature, capable of knowing, loving, and glorifying God, and therefore is better than a sheep. The sacrifice of a sheep could therefore not atone for the sin of a soul. They do not consider this, who are more solicitous for the education, preservation, and supply of their horses and dogs than of God’s poor, or perhaps their own household.

This is something to bear in mind, particularly today. There are many in the world — including ‘Christians’ — who erroneously place animals and the environment above human need. Our fellow man is worth much more than either. Let us, therefore, focus on man’s needs first.

Next time: Matthew 12:15-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”


According to the three-year Lectionary schedule, the corresponding reading of Mark 2:23-28 is to be read on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B. However, I checked the Vanderbilt University Lectionary site as well as those for the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod for 2014. That reading was not among those listed. The number of Sundays after Pentecost may depend on when Easter falls, with readings adjusted accordingly.

Before I go into a verse-by-verse study, this episode in Christ’s ministry is important for churchgoers to understand. John MacArthur makes an interesting point on Sabbath observance (emphases mine):

Although God rested on the seventh day, God did not command men prior to the Mosaic Law to rest on the seventh day; it was in the Mosaic Law that the requirement was first articulated. Then it became, in the Mosaic Law, a special, covenantal sign between God and Israel. Listen carefully, because many misunderstand this. The Sabbath commandment is one of the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20; it is the only commandment that is a non-moral one, the only one that is a ceremonial command. It is the one of the Ten Commandments that was uniquely between God and Israel as a ceremonial rule; all the other nine are moral absolutes. The reason we know this for sure is because when you get to the New Testament, every other command is repeated. Every one of the Ten Commandments is repeated except the one regarding the Sabbath. It is not repeated in the New Testament because it was a unique covenantal sign, much like circumcision was, between God and Israel.

At the time of Jesus and His disciples, the Sabbath was in fact the ceremonial law of God. It is not a binding law for the church, but it was for Israel. So the Lord would honor the Sabbath, as would His disciples, insofar as God intended it to be honored.


Romans 14 says, “Some people want to keep the Sabbath and some don’t. It’s no big deal; if they want to, it’s because the are doing it traditionally from their Judaism, don’t offend them, let them go. If you don’t want to do it, don’t worry about it.” That’s why Paul says in Galatians 4 and Colossians 2, “Don’t let anyone impose upon you days or Sabbaths.” We have the reality; the shadow is gone. Christ fulfilled it.

That’s why He rose on the first day of the week. The disciples met together on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1), regularly breaking bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and they were to collect their offerings when they came together on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:1). Why? Because that was the day that commemorated and celebrated the resurrection. That’s why we meet today, because it’s resurrection day! It’s the new covenant.

Now onto the text. I wrote about the parallel account — Luke 6:1-5 — in 2013. That post gives all the background to what is otherwise a puzzling reading for those who are not well acquainted with the Old Testament.

Matthew 12 begins with this story. MacArthur says Matthew might well have wanted to draw a connection between it and the preceding chapter’s final verses (Matthew 11:28-30):

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In Matthew 12:1, Jesus and His disciples were walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. Hungry, the disciples began picking grains and eating them. They would have rubbed off the chaff and eaten the inner portion, which would have been a bit of a snack. MacArthur says:

They did this commonly. Some of you have lived on a farm and done this; maybe you’ll take the head of the wheat or barley and roll it in your hands to clear the kernel out, then you throw it in the air and the chaff is blown away, and then, as if eating nuts, you eat the grain.

Students of the King James Version will say that these were cornfields. MacArthur tells us why later versions refer to grain:

Some Bibles say ‘corn fields’ but they were probably wheat and barley fields. The grain was likely ripening because of what occurs in the incident in verse 1. If they were there in Galilee, in the Jordan Valley, that would mean that it was around April, nearing Passover season, perhaps, because that’s when grain usually ripens there: in the spring. As you go east from there, the farther east you go, the later it is, until finally, at the eastern parts of that area, it doesn’t ripen until August. But in the Jordan Valley, it would be around April. The harvest must have been very near.

The Pharisees voiced their objections to Jesus (verse 2). Removing chaff from grain was not allowed in their many burdensome Sabbath laws. However, Mosaic law, which God revealed to Moses, said that, in case of hunger, people were allowed to pick, but not harvest, grain on the Sabbath:

The Lord had made a wonderful provision for the traveler in Israel in Deuteronomy 23:25. It says, “When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain.” In other words, there weren’t any restaurants or truck stops or McDonald’s anywhere, so as you were moving along, you would get hungry. So the Lord provided, in Deuteronomy 23:25, within the nation of Israel, that you could take your hands and pluck some of the grain.

In verses 3 and 4 Jesus countered the Pharisees by reminding them of what David and his companions did when they were fleeing for their lives, became hungry and approached the priest in the tabernacle for something to eat. The priest in charge gave them the showbread which only the priests were allowed to consume. The story is in 1 Samuel 21. MacArthur summarises it:

He had been rejected by his people as king, and he was fleeing for his life. He was going south to Gibeah, as it says in I Samuel 21, and Saul was after him. He came to the land of Nob, just north of Jerusalem, where the tabernacle was. He didn’t have any food and he and his men were very hungry. So he went in to Ahimelech, who was ministering in the place of Abiathar, the high priest, and told him that he was hungry. David even told a lie about what mission he was on, but he nonetheless told him that he was hungry. You know what they gave him to eat? The showbread from off the table in the tabernacle.

What was that? Every week, they baked 12 loaves of bread and each loaf was baked with six and a half pounds of flour; these were big, big loaves. They were put in two piles of six each, and represented the 12 tribes of Israel, and placed on the table. Every Sabbath, the loaves would be taken away and new ones put down. When the loaves were taken away, according to Leviticus 24:5-9, they were to be eaten by the priests and no one else. The word ‘showbread’ literally means ‘the bread of presence,’ or ‘the continual bread,’ and it was the representation of God’s perpetual relationship to His people, and it was to be eaten only by the priests. It was sacred, never to touch the lips of a common person, even a person like David, because he wasn’t a priest.

Still, David ate the showbread

Why did God let him do this? Because God never invented any law that was intended to overrule human need. Ceremony takes a backseat to the meeting of a need. God not only allows necessity to overrule ritual, but the ritual in David’s time, and in our Lord’s time, had lost its meaning anyway, because the people were so unholy. God will even violate one of His own ceremonies, not moral laws, but ceremonial law if He has to to meet a need, because God is all about loving men and meeting their needs. The Pharisees didn’t understand this, “That the Sabbath was made for man,” so he could rest and have his needs met. Not man for the Sabbath. David violated the ceremonial law to meet the heart of God, which is to meet needs.

Jesus then went on to ask how priests in the temple could get away with working — e.g. lighting fires for the animal sacrifices — and not be declared guilty of breaking Sabbath law (verse 5).

Jesus said that this concerned something greater than the temple (verse 6), which the Jews highly venerated. At that moment, the field was much more sacred because He was standing in it.  The Pharisees would never understand that, as the events of Matthew 12 and 13 make clear.

Our Lord sharply reminded them that God prefers mercy to sacrifice (verse 7). Hosea 6:6, which Jesus quoted, says:

6For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
   the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

He ended His rebuke by telling the Pharisees that the Lord of the Sabbath — the Son of Man — was in their very presence (verse 8). He would make the rules, not they.

As we will read next week, Jesus and His disciples were on their way to the synagogue.

Matthew Henry concludes:

This intimates, that those labours are lawful on the sabbath day which are necessary, not only to the support of life, but to the service of the day as tolling a bell to call the congregation together, travelling to church, and the like. Sabbath rest is to promote, not to hinder, sabbath worship

That law, as all the rest, is put into the hand of Christ, to be altered, enforced, or dispensed with, as he sees good. It was by the Son that God made the world, and by him he instituted the sabbath in innocency by him he gave the ten commandments at mount Sinai, and as Mediator he is entrusted with the institution of ordinances, and to make what changes he thought fit and particularly, as being Lord of the sabbath, he was authorized to make such an alteration of that day, as that it should become the Lord’s day, the Lord Christ’s day. And if Christ be the Lord of the sabbath, it is fit the day and all the work of it should be dedicated to him. By virtue of this power Christ here enacts, that works of necessity, if they be really such, and not a pretended and self-created necessity, are lawful on the sabbath day and this explication of the law plainly shows that it was to be perpetual ...

Some Protestant denominations still make Sunday a day of restrictions, possibly more than necessary. They have that freedom as long as they do not impose it on others or criticise others for being less observant than they.

Next time: Matthew 12:9-14

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 11:20-24

Woe to Unrepentant Cities

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”


The parallel passage for today’s verses can be found in Luke 10:13-15, about which I wrote in 2014. That means that neither reading is part of the three-year Lectionary.

That’s a pity, because the lesson Jesus is impressing upon us is that if we do not heed the Gospel message once we hear it, we are condemned for eternity.

Verse 20 begins with the word ‘then’. If you read my post on Matthew 11:16-19, you will recall that Jesus criticised those who rejected both John the Baptist and Him. Today’s reading records His words of rebuke to those who were rejecting His ministry. The people from these cities have seen His miracles and heard His teachings yet refuse to repent.

Our Lord names the cities (verse 21). My post on Luke 10:13-15 gives more detail on the cities, however, today neither Chorazin nor Bethsaida exist. Coincidence? Or divine judgment?

Chorazin was a village near Capernaum, where Jesus lived. The residents knew Him and the Apostles. Yet, they did not accept Him as Lord and Saviour. Bethsaida was a small town northwest of Capernaum. Bethsaida’s residents also actively chose not to accept Him.

The expression ‘woe to you’ means ‘may you be cursed’. Our Lord emphasised His condemnation of those towns by saying that even the cities of Tyre and Sidon — known to be evil, pagan places — would have repented had He gone there. Not only that, they would have donned sackcloth and ashes in the process.

Sidon and Tyre were powerful trading centres. Sidon was a Phoenecian port city, mentioned in Genesis 10. Egyptians sent their wheat to Sidon, where it was then shipped out to other countries along the Mediterranean. Tyre was a fortified city nearby, mentioned in Judges 19. It was known for providing the famous cedars of Lebanon for Solomon’s temple. Regardless of their commercial power, however, Jesus’s audience would have known the bad moral and spiritual reputation both cities had.

However, no matter how sinful Tyre and Sidon were, Jesus said that their fate at judgment would be nothing compared with that of Chorazin and Bethsaida (verse 22). Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Though the damnation of all that perish will be intolerable, yet the damnation of those who had the fullest and clearest discoveries made them of the power and grace of Christ, and yet repented not, will be of all others the most intolerable. The gospel light and sound open the faculties, and enlarge the capacities of all that see and hear it, either to receive the riches of divine grace, or (if that grace be slighted) to take in the more plentiful effusions of divine wrath. If self-reproach be the torture of hell, it must needs be hell indeed to those who had such a fair opportunity of getting to heaven. Son, remember that.

That is why these passages from Matthew and Luke should be in the three-year Lectionary!

Jesus went on to condemn Capernaum, where He based His ministry. He said the town would be brought to Hades (verse 23). He said that if He had performed mighty works in Sodom, the people there would surely have repented and the city would not have been destroyed. That is a very strong condemnation, and the Jews would have understood it as such. They knew Sodom was an abominable city that deserved — and received — divine wrath for its sinfulness.

Yet, the residents of Capernaum who had the blessings, grace, miracles and mercy of Jesus among them will be punished more severely for having rejected them (verse 24).

Henry says:

Sodom will have many things to answer for, but not the sin of neglecting Christ, as Capernaum will. If the gospel prove a savour of death, a killing savour, it is doubly so it is of death unto death, so great a death (2 Corinthians 2:16) Christ had said the same of all other places that receive not his ministers nor bid his gospel welcome (Matthew 10:15) It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for that city.

For us, this means:

We that have now the written word in our hands, the gospel preached, and the gospel ordinances administered to us, and live under the dispensation of the Spirit, have advantages not inferior to those of Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and the account in the great day will be accordingly.

If we reject Christ, having heard the Gospel message, we are just as condemned as those cities.

Incidentally, Capernaum was later destroyed. For centuries, it was impossible to know where the city stood, the destruction was so complete.

However, divine judgement did not fall on the city alone. A condemnation had been passed on all the inhabitants who ignored our Lord in their self-righteousness. They did not have the morality issues that the people from Sodom did. Yet, their condemnation is the greater because they refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

John MacArthur has two observations which help us to interpret this passage more fully.

The first is on the use of Hades in verse 23:

… that word is a word that basically is a neutral word, sometimes refers to waiting place, sometimes just refers to sort of darkness, or the place of death, or the grave. But it is used sometimes with more specificity, or more exactness. And, I believe, Matthew uses it here in the sense of torment, in the place where Satan and his demons and the condemned will dwell. He uses it in the sense of hell. That is Matthew’s pattern. He uses Hades one other time and that’s in chapter 16 verse 18 and he talks about the gates of hell. And I think he means in both of these cases, consistent, the place of torment. Matthew also commonly in referring to this same place uses the term Gehenna, which was a word that meant a burning fire; actually it was the term for the dump in Jerusalem which never went out, the fire burned continually. And he uses that twice in chapter 5 and once in chapter 10.

Also, it’s interesting to note that in Luke 16:23 it talks about the rich man being in Hades and being in torment. So, Hades can be a word that reflects torment. And in consistent with Matthew’s approach, that’s what I think he is saying. You are going to a place of torment. And the torment of Capernaum will exceed the torment of Sodom.

Since the 17th century, if not before, some scholars and intellectuals, especially those favouring universalism, have presented us with the neutral connotation of Hades. Yet, it is worth keeping MacArthur’s explanation in mind: that, in some contexts, Hades may well refer to a place far worse — one of torment.

The other point MacArthur made was on sackcloth and ashes:

Sackcloth was the coarse … camel hair, like John the Baptist wore, that turned black. It was a symbol of mourning. And when you wanted to mourn or show humility, you put on sackcloth and then in an oriental custom, threw ashes all over yourself. Or else, you could have a big bed of ashes and just dive in and wallow in it. That was another way you expressed your sorrow. That is not necessarily a biblical custom that was an oriental one. But Job did it, in Job 42:6, he repented in dust and ashes. And so did Daniel in 9, when he prayed that great prayer to God on behalf of his people in captivity, he put ashes on himself.

In closing, we need to exercise caution when we see lax interpretations of Scripture. The explaining away of torment — i.e. the meaning of Hades — is one of these. Some of my readers will find this warning unsophisticated. So be it. What does Jesus say in Matthew 11:25-26?

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

The chapter concludes with one of the best known and best loved Bible verses:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

May we contemplate this in the week ahead.

Next time: Matthew 12:1-8

One of John MacArthur’s Grace to You elders, Cameron Buettel, wrote an excellent article warning Christians about the ‘whole Gospel’ teaching which focusses on socio-political works.

In ‘Is the Social Gospel the Whole Gospel?’ we discover that, not only are today’s celebrity evangelists promoting something St Francis of Assisi never said, they are also abusing the context of the Gospel of Matthew, turning it into a socio-political one.

Tony Campolo is a primary mover in this regard, advocating the ‘whole Gospel’. Yet, as Cameron Buettel explains, this is not only inaccurate but it also confuses believers who think that by doing charitable work they are effecting their own salvation which comes only through divine grace through faith.

If we are grace-filled and obedient to Christ, we will automatically be drawn to give of ourselves in charity to others. Such acts are the fruits of our faith.

However, we must not expect charity to deliver us to the pearly gates if we lack faith.

Buettel unfolds the argument (emphases mine):

Advocates of the social gospel … appeal to Matthew 25 as their apex argument:

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:34–46)

Was Jesus saying that our eternal destinies hinge on feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, and visiting the oppressed? And how would that square with salvation by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9)?

Buettel explains that Campolo:

is implying that proclamation of the good news is only a partial gospel and must be accompanied by social action in order to become a complete or “whole” gospel. But his imbalanced emphasis betrays his mishandling of Matthew 25:35–40.

The Bible repeatedly teaches that good works are ultimately God’s works because they are the natural fruit of salvation; never the cause (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; James 2:14–17). And in Matthew 25 you don’t see judgment based on works, you see works revealing who is truly saved by faith.

No doubt with the refugee crisis these verses are at the forefront of European Christian activism. However, it is worth remembering that throughout the New Testament the predominant message was exercising charity to fellow believers as well as non-believers. We are not meant to put non-believers above our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Buettel expands on this in a comment (#18) to a reader:

… if you read the post through you’ll see that I also mention our responsibility to love our neighbors and our enemies. My point is that Matthew 25 is not an argument for social responsibility to unbelievers. Scripture is also clear that Christians must have a greater priority on caring for fellow believers than unbelievers. Note that I did not say only priority.

“So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:10).

Ultimately, Matthew 25 warns against false beliefs — and this ‘whole Gospel’ misinterpretation of it may well turn out to exemplify what our Lord referred to:

the division Christ makes is not between the church and the pagan world, but between true and false Christians. While the pagan lives in open unbelief, the false Christian is an imposter who has blended in among God’s people. False Christians are the recipients of Christ’s most terrifying judgment:

So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:20–23)

Matthew 25:34-46 makes a similar division between those who have genuine faith and those whose faith is false, according to the evidence of their works. Note carefully that both groups of people think they are Christians because they address Jesus as “Lord” (Matthew 25:37, 44). Both groups are also surprised by the verdict. The surprise reveals humility among Christ’s people (“when did we,” Matthew 25:37–39) and self-righteousness among those who are faking it (“when did we . . . not,” Matthew 25:44).

Let us give careful consideration to how and why we are performing charitable works and getting involved in political activism.

Above all, may we pray for the wisdom and grace to care for our own — less exciting? — Christian brethren: the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. They are right on our doorstep. They deserve our love first and foremost.



A recent development in the new syncretic New Age Contemplative Christianity movement is to use a saying which St Francis of Assisi used:

Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.

Many Catholics and Protestants are adopting this approach to evangelisation.

There’s a problem with that. According to St Francis’s biographer Mark Galli, he never said such a thing.

In a 2009 article for Christianity Today, ‘Speak the Gospel‘, Galli tells us (emphases mine):

Francis of Assisi is said to have said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

… The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age.

In fact:

no biography written within the first 200 years of his death contains the saying. It’s not likely that a pithy quote like this would have been missed by his earliest disciples.


Second, in his day, Francis was known as much for his preaching as for his lifestyle.

Galli’s book reveals that Francis began preaching early in his ministry, in the Church of St George, the church of his childhood and adolescence. He went on to preach regularly in the Cathedral of St Rufinus:

He usually preached on Sundays, spending Saturday evenings devoted to prayer and meditation reflecting on what he would say to the people the next day.

He then became an itinerant preacher, openly proclaiming the Gospel to rich and poor alike:

sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to serfs and their families as well as to the landholders, to merchants, women, clerks, and priests—any who gathered

It’s time we put away the romantic, ethereal ideal we have of St Francis. No doubt the millions of statues, beautiful though they are, portraying him with a bird in his hand have gone some length over the past several decades to reinforce a notion that he was a mystical, silent, holy man who cared more for nature than preaching.

However, we would be mistaken. He loved an active ministry — as well as all of God’s creation.

So, let’s ensure that we put away false ideas of St Francis’s ministry. He was very much oriented to people and to preaching. Instead, we would do better to imitate what he actually did — spread the Gospel message in words to rich and poor!

Ed Stetzer has a good article, also in Christianity Today, on how to do this: ‘Preach the Gospel, and Since It’s Necessary, Use Words’. In short, use words people can understand, be sincere, evangelise outside of church as well as inside it! He says:

The gospel requires, demands even, words. So, let’s preach the gospel, and let’s use words, since they’re necessary. May they be clear and bold words that call those inside and outside the church to follow Jesus.

Last week, I examined Christian conversion to Islam and Muslim conversion to Christianity in France.

Today’s story comes from the UK and concerns a Jewish entertainer who became a Christian.

My thanks to Pastor Ashcraft’s Mustard Seed Budget and his Godreports news site for this story. The original source is Assist News, acknowledged on both sites.

In the early 1960s, Helen Shapiro was at the top of the British music charts with hits such as ‘Don’t Treat Me like a Child’ and ‘Walking Back to Happiness’. She was so popular that an unknown band of mop-tops from Liverpool, the Beatles, actually opened for her on tour in 1963! One result for them was that their ‘Please, please me’ reached Number 1. The rest is history.

As the 1960s progressed, styles in music and dress changed dramatically. The public viewed Helen as a nice enough transition singer from the 1950s to the early part of the next decade. She was eclipsed by younger, hipper stars such as Dusty Springfield, Lulu and Cilla Black (who died in 2015).

By the 1970s, she was still appearing live at concerts but no longer as a headliner. She also appeared occasionally on television and in London’s West End as Nancy in Oliver!

Throughout her career, she felt an inner emptiness. When New Age and spiritualism became popular, she turned to both, leaving the Judaism of her childhood behind for good. However, even modern mysticism could not fill the void. Even worse, by the time she turned 40, Helen

doubted the existence of God.

A male acquaintance gave her a copy of Stan Telchin’s Betrayed, a book which traces his own spiritual journey from Judaism to Christianity. Telchin was angered — feeling ‘betrayed’ — when his daughter announced she became a Christian. He went through the Bible attempting to prove to her that Christ Jesus is a fraud — only to discover for himself that He is the Jewish Messiah.

Helen read Betrayed in amazement (emphases mine):

Isaiah 53 was about how He took our sin. I was gobsmacked,” Shapiro told Assist News. “And Daniel prophesied that the Messiah had to die before the temple was destroyed. It all seemed to point to Jesus.”

Acquiring a copy of the Bible:

Shapiro ventured into dangerous territory. She read “the chunk on the end I’m not supposed to read,” she said, referring to the New Testament.

She was hesitant, remembering a boy from her childhood accusing her of crucifying Jesus. What would the Gospels tell her?

She was still half-expecting “anti-Jewish poison” based on her previous encounter with false Christians. Instead, she found that the Gospel of Matthew was “the most Jewish thing outside the Old Testament,” she said. She was shocked to discover it was not an anti-Jewish rant.

Jesus rose up out of the pages of the New Testament to me and I fell in love with Him,” said Shapiro, born Jewish. “I was so taken with Him. He looked at people’s hearts and saw all the rubbish and yet still loved them. Even in his agony, He came out with gracious, comforting words. I saw that He was fulfilling one Messianic prophecy after another.”

However, her search did not stop there. She adopted a Berean-type approach to it and went back to the Jewish texts, the Tenach,

to verify the translations, and she saw for herself that the Scripture was handled accurately, she said.

There they were in all their glory,” she told ASSIST News.

How marvellous that divine grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit were at work within her!

She studied all the Gospels:

By the end of John I knew without a shadow of doubt that Jesus was the fulfillment of every Messianic prophecy,” Shapiro said. “I knew that He was the Jewish Messiah.”

She met up with the man who gave her the copy of Betrayed. He was her witness when she formally became a Christian on August 26, 1987.

She said that conversion was not exciting — good! — but that faith is sustaining:

There were no lightning flashes, but somewhere inside I knew that I knew, and that there was no turning back,” Shapiro said. “The Creator and sustainer of the universe came to live in my life. I didn’t get religion. I got Jesus, and I love him.”

What an encouraging, wonderful story!

Speaking personally from past experience, several of my Jewish acquaintances were skittish about befriending a Christian. Some of their friends told them not to build a relationship with me because, eventually, all of us are fair-weather friends who will turn anti-Semitic. Jewish people often say of Gentiles, ‘You have only to scratch the surface before you see them turn against you.’

I do not think that is true these days, however, this attitude does explain why we should be on our guard against making ignorant comments. Note how Helen Shapiro was put off from the New Testament by the remark the boy made when they were children.

It’s important for us to train the loved ones in our family not to make hurtful statements which may be remembered for decades. A surprising amount of anti-Semitism, especially through age-old conspiracy theories — often started by the anti-Semitic Left, by the way — comes through online, including a few past comments to my own site. Please, cease and desist.

For those engaged in mission work, it is worth noting that St Matthew’s Gospel was the one which most resonated with Helen Shapiro as being ‘the most Jewish’. As most clergy know, Matthew wrote it with the Jews in mind, starting with our Lord’s genealogy and moving to miracles, all the while proving the truth of the Old Testament prophecy as being fulfilled in Him.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 11:12-15

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,[a] and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear,[e] let him hear.


The context of Jesus’s words here are in response to John the Baptist’s followers asking on his behalf if He is truly the Messiah, the One he foretold.

John could not ask in person; Herod had placed him in prison.

The more detailed parallel account of Matthew 11:2-14 is in Luke 7:18-23 and Luke 7:24-30 which I wrote about in 2013. Those posts explain more about the background to John’s question and his imprisonment.

Both Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels include Jesus saying that John the Baptist was the greatest human being that ever lived. At least the Lectionary editors incorporated Matthew 11:11 into the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent in Year A (emphases mine):

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

We now understand John the Baptist’s greatness in the words of our Lord. But what of the second sentence?

Matthew Henry says that some scholars have interpreted it in three ways. The ‘least in the kingdom of heaven’ can refer to the saint made fully perfect in wisdom once with Christ or that He was referring to Himself, being regarded as second to John by his followers. However, Henry says there is a third meaning which refers to the Apostles:

it is rather to be understood of the apostles and ministers of the New Testament, the evangelical prophets and the comparison between them and John is not with respect to their personal sanctity, but to their office[;] John preached Christ coming, but they preached Christ not only come, but crucified and glorified. John came to the dawning of the gospel-day, and therein excelled the foregoing prophets, but he was taken off before the noon of that day, before the rending of the veil, before Christ’s death and resurrection, and the pouring out of the Spirit so that the least of the apostles and evangelists, having greater discoveries made to them, and being employed in a greater embassy, is greater than John. John did no miracles[;] the apostles wrought many.

The next verse (12) appears disconcerting, perhaps disturbing, as Jesus says that from the beginning of John’s ministry the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, with the violent taking it by force.

The meaning here is twofold. On the one hand, John was languishing in prison for having spoken spiritual and moral truths to Herod, thereby angering him and his family. At the same time, the Jewish hierarchy was following our Lord, actively opposing Him. On the other hand, John the Baptist brought many people — Jew and Gentile — to repentance in preparation for the Messiah’s coming. The only ones who did not follow his instruction for baptism and turning away from sin were the Jewish religious rulers, who believed they were perfect already.

Both Henry and John MacArthur say the violence of John the Baptist’s ministry in a personal sense meant that his followers began an intense spiritual struggle against sin and desire for God’s holy kingdom. Henry tells us:

Note, They who would enter into the kingdom of heaven must strive to enter that kingdom suffers a holy violence self must be denied, the bent and bias, the frame and temper, of the mind must be altered[;] there are hard sufferings to be undergone, a force to be put upon the corrupt nature we must run, and wrestle, and fight, and be in an agony, and all little enough to win such a prize, and to get over such opposition from without and from within. The violent take it by force. They who will have an interest in the great salvation are carried out towards it with a strong desire, will have it upon any terms, and not think them hard, nor quit their hold without a blessing, Genesis 32:26. They who will make their calling and election sure must give diligence. The kingdom of heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers, but to be the rest of them that labour. It is a blessed sight[.] Oh that we could see a greater number, not with an angry contention thrusting others out of the kingdom of heaven, but with a holy contention thrusting themselves into it!

MacArthur looks at the ministry of John the Baptist, then Jesus’s, saying:

In other words, he’s going to go with a great effect and turn many hearts to God. So if you take it reflexively then the kingdom is moving ahead vigorously. And our Lord was continuing, then, to mark out the greatness of John. Through him the kingdom was vigorously moving ahead. He was God’s tool to purify the people. He was God’s tool to get them ready. And when Christ came the kingdom could be seen, the sick were healed, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were raised, the sinners were forgiven and the kingdom was moving. Yes, many refused but look the end of the verse would read this way: Violent men are taking possession of it. There were the vigorous, violent, forceful who dared to step out, who dared to break with tradition, who dared at all costs to separate themselves from the system, who came and took possession of the reign of God, who enthroned Jesus Christ as Lord.

And that, by the way, beloved, is the meaning of a parallel statement in Luke 16:16, where it says: “The law and the prophets were until John, since that time the Kingdom of God is preached and every man presses into it.” And because of that parallel passage, I think, we’re safer to say that this is a reflexive use of biazō. That it is saying – that the Kingdom is moving ahead under the power of this marvelous man John, and vigorous, aggressive, forceful people are taking that kingdom.

You say, “Well, does that express the proper perspective on salvation?” Yes. In Matthew chapter 7 it says that if you’re going to enter into the narrow gate, you’re going to have to realize that it’s hard to enter, that there must be a striving. Listen to what it says. “Because the gate is narrow and the way is hard which leads unto life and few there be that … what?… find it.” No, you don’t just easily take Jesus Christ, you don’t just easily enter the kingdom, there is a striving. Jesus said if you’re going to come unto Me then you must deny yourself, take up your…what? … your cross and follow Me.

Striving does not mean via must-do works but by spiritual yearning through the discipline of prayer, turning away from sin and keeping Holy Scripture alive in the heart and mind. It is a struggle. It is much easier to take a sinful approach to life, conducting ourselves in a self-satisfying, impulsive, temperamental way that makes us feel better but hurts others as well as our Lord.

Jesus then compared John the Baptist to the prophet Elijah (verses 13, 14). Henry explains:

First, Christ speaks of it as a great truth, that John the Baptist is the Elias of the New Testament not Elias in propria persona–in his own person, as the carnal Jews expected he denied that (John 1:21), but one that should come in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17), like him in temper and conversation, that should press repentance with terrors, and especially as it is in the prophecy, that should turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. Secondly, He speaks of it as a truth, which would not be easily apprehended by those whose expectations fastened upon the temporal kingdom of the Messiah, and introductions to it agreeable. Christ suspects the welcome of it, if ye will receive it. Not but that it was true, whether they would receive it or not, but he upbraids them with their prejudices, that they were backward to receive the greatest truths that were opposed to their sentiments, though never so favourable to their interests. Or, “If you will receive him, or if you will receive the ministry of John as that of the promised Elias, he will be an Elias to you, to turn you and prepare you for the Lord,” Note, Gospel truths are as they are received, a savour of life or death. Christ is a Saviour, and John an Elias, to those who will receive the truth concerning them.

Finally, Jesus wanted His listeners to pay attention to what He said and keep it in the forefront of their minds (verse 15). His message was not to go in one ear and out the other. Henry analyses it as follows:

“Let all people take notice of this, if John be the Elias prophesied of, then certainly here is a great revolution on foot, the Messiah’s kingdom is at the door, and the world will shortly be surprised into a happy change. These are things which require your serious consideration, and therefore you are all concerned to hearken to what I say.” Note, The things of God are of great and common concern: every one that has ears to hear any thing, is concerned to hear this. It intimates, that God requires no more from us but the right use and improvement of the faculties he has already given us. He requires those to hear that have ears, those to use their reason that have reason. Therefore people are ignorant, not because they want power, but because they want will therefore they do not hear, because, like the deaf adder, they stop their ears.

May those who waver in their faith reread the Gospels, noting their historical significance — yesterday, today and always.

Next time: Matthew 11:16-19

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