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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 (here and here).

Matthew 8:14-17

Jesus Heals Many

14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

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The miracles recounted thus far in Matthew 8 took place just after Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount.

We read about His cleansing of the leper and His healing of the centurion’s young servant from a distance. Both men exhibited great humility and faith. The leper said that Jesus had the power to cleanse him should He choose to do so. The centurion told Jesus that he was unworthy to have Him in his house but if He only said the word the servant would be healed.

Jesus then went to Simon Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law of fever. Afterward, He healed many who had demons and diseases.

Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels carry the same accounts. I have highlighted differences to Matthew’s below. First, Mark 1:29-34, a three-year Lectionary reading:

Jesus Heals Many

29 And immediately he[f] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Secondly, Luke’s verses, about which I wrote in June 2013 — Luke 4:38-39 and Luke 4:40-41:

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

In Matthew’s account, it was Jesus who saw that Peter’s mother-in-law was stricken by fever (verse 14). It is not necessarily a contradiction. It could be that Matthew wanted to get straight to the nub of the miracle.

Then there is the greater controversy of what happened when. Why does this miracle appear in a seemingly different chronology in the Gospels? This was debated even in the 17th century, when Matthew Henry lived:

They who pretend to be critical in the Harmony of the evangelists, place this passage, and all that follows to the end of Matthew 8:14-9:38 before the sermon on the mount, according to the order which Mark and Luke observe in placing it. Dr. Lightfoot [Bible scholar] places only this passage before the sermon on the mount, and Matthew 8:18, &c. after.

Wherever it occurs, the important thing is that it happened.

As I explained in my commentary on Luke’s account, mentioning the synagogue meant that it was the Sabbath and a lunch would surely have followed. John MacArthur made that observation and said the same when he preached about Matthew’s verses (emphases mine):

the other gospels tell us it was on the Sabbath, and they had been to the synagogue.  In fact, all of these, as I said, may have happened the same day. And they went over to Peter’s house.  You know, they do what we do.  They go to synagogue or church, and then they go home and have dinner, but they were having a problem there.  The other writer, Mark it is, tells us that Andrew was there, and James was there, and John was there; so you got Peter, Peter’s wife, James, John, Andrew, and Jesus.  You got six people, and they got a real tragedy.  How can you have Sabbath dinner when mother-in-law is sick?  Right?  That’s what mother-in-law’s for, right? How can you possibly have a decent meal?  Plus it puts a damper on the whole operationSo the others come to Jesus, according to Mark’s account, and they say, “Come on home with us and heal her so we can have dinner.” So, you know: first things first.  You know, why not?  Nothing wrong with service; give her an opportunity to serve.  “When Jesus was coming into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying and sick with a fever.”  Peter was married.  We know that, because 1 Corinthians 9, he says later on his ministry, Paul says, it’s not wrong for Peter in his ministry to lead about a wife, which means that she traveled with him in some of his ministry.  And so here is his mother-in-law.

Matthew says that Jesus touched the woman’s hand, she was healed and rose to serve Him (verse 15). The implication is that the healing was, as Luke says, ‘immediate’. We can assume lunch was a rather grand affair of relief and gratitude:

I’ll bet she whipped up bagels and gefilte fish or whatever … like they’d never had.  St. Peter’s fish, maybe, that comes out of that sea.  That’s what they call it now.  But they had a great time.

Not only did Jesus heal a relative of Peter’s, but that relative was also a woman — an inferior to the male. MacArthur explains that this miracle was a criticism of the thinking of that era, particularly among the Jewish leaders:

Now, the Jews used to get up, the Pharisees used to get up, and they said the same thing every morning.  This was their standard statement:  “I thank Thee that I am not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.”  They believed that lepers and Gentiles and women, sort of in the same category.  They had a very low view of women; and for Jesus to throw in a healing of a woman, you see, is just another indictment.  And a mother-in-law, I mean, you know, that’s even going beyond. So He is, He is really slapping in the face … all their tradition.

Some Christian men do not seem to have understood this, either. They, too, view women as less than human. Do an online search on Paul’s verses and others. You can read for yourselves. I find it hard to pray for such men.

Then began a rather charged evening of healing the sick, including those afflicted with demons (verse 16). Jesus spoke to rid the afflicted of their demons and healed all those who were sick. Whilst Matthew and Luke do not state where this took place, Mark says that the whole city was gathered at the door! It must have been Simon Peter’s house.

Matthew mentions a verse from the prophet Isaiah to indicate that Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Isaiah 53:4):

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

Before I go into the first half of the verse, observe how even today the world — unbelievers, agnostics — considers Jesus ‘smitten by God, and afflicted’. Isaiah is telling us that this is wrong. Still, how do we convince people of that?

MacArthur says that if there were no original sin, there would be no continuing sin, disease or death. This leads mockers — unbelievers and agnostics — to conclude that if one believes in Christ, one should never be stricken with the common cold or cancer.

Yet, that, too, is an incorrect conclusion. MacArthur says:

Christ died for our sins, not our sicknesses.  The gospel is good news about forgiveness, not health … Christ took away our sin, not our sickness.  He died on the cross for our sin. 

That said, by restoring people’s physical or mental health our Lord was providing a preview of the kingdom to come when we shall all be made perfect:

Matthew opens up to us the fact that the statement, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases,” extends from the sin problem to the sickness problem.  Yes, there’s healing in the atonement. Yes, there’s wholeness there, but only in so far as it comes to us in the fullness of salvation, the redemption of our bodies when we’re glorified in His eternal kingdom. And so we see here that what you have really is just a taste of the kingdom, just a preview of the kingdom.  Yes, someday He will bear our sicknesses away.  Someday He will carry our infirmities all away and this is a taste of that, which was said by the prophet IsaiahYou see?  The great Word!

However, as I have said before, our Lord also showed His infinite mercy in creative miracles. As He is all divine and all human, He knows how humanity suffers. MacArthur observes:

So there’s a sense in which He took our infirmities and took our diseases by feeling with us the pain that they bring.  Secondly, I think there’s a sense in which He took our infirmities and took our sicknesses in that He felt the root of them. 

I have highlighted MacArthur’s words on Christ’s miracles, faith and sin:

If you can deny that He’s God in the face of these things, it is not because there is no evidence.  It is because there is no faith in your heart, and there’s no faith there because your heart is bound by sin.

Enough said.

Next time: Matthew 8:18-22

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 8:5-13

The Faith of a Centurion

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,[a] ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel[b] have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

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A parallel account of this miracle is in Luke 7:1-10. I have highlighted the differences in bold:

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant[a] who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion[b] heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.

Whether the centurion sought our Lord in person or sent local Jewish elders is less important than the fact that this Gentile — pagan — had not only a deep humility but true faith that Jesus was fully capable of healing the sick from a distance.

To better appreciate this miracle and the centurion’s mindset, it is useful to try and place oneself in that era. A supplicant centurion, even via emissaries, was surprising as was Jesus’s agreement to heal the servant. Matthew’s passage also includes our Lord’s prediction about the Jewish people and Gentiles.

Looking at verse 5, the backdrop is Capernaum, which Jesus had just entered. It is likely that this, as well as the cleansing of the leper, occurred shortly after He had concluded the Sermon on the Mount nearby.

A centurion approached Jesus. This was every bit as astonishing as the leper who, a short while beforehand, told Jesus that He could cleanse him if He saw it appropriate. That appeal was an exercise in humility.

Just as the leper was an outcast, so was the centurion. The centurion, a Roman military officer, would have commanded 80 to 200 men. Rome stationed centurions throughout the empire’s territories. Their presence was a constant reminder of domination.

John MacArthur says that Israel’s centurions were local men — Gentiles — therefore, pagans (emphases mine):

The soldiers of the Roman occupation army were not really sent from Rome.  They were trained in the community or the area where they were being occupied. And what they did, according to history, what they did in Palestine was they found non-Jewish people in that area and they drew them into the Roman army and trained themThis man in Capernaum was, no doubt, a soldier under the troops of Antipas. And if he was a non-Jew living in this area, it is highly likely that he was a Samaritan. And if it was bad to be a Gentile, the worst kind of Gentile was a Samaritan, because a Samaritan was a Jew who had intermarried into Gentile lines, and that was to sacrifice his Jewish heritage, the worst imaginable kind of Gentile half-breed.

So here you’ve got a guy who’s a Gentile.  He’s the worst kind of Gentile, a Samaritan.  He’s the worst kind of Samaritan.  He is a member of the occupation forces of the Roman army who are oppressing Israel.

Yet, this man, as Luke tells us, built a synagogue for his local congregation. MacArthur says the ruins of the temple still exist, even if Capernaum as a town no longer does:

He loved their nation, and he built them a synagogue in Capernaum.  I’ve been in Capernaum.  I’ve stood in the ruins of the synagogue there.  They say the footings of the synagogue came from this day, and maybe they were purchased by this very centurion.

Now back to Matthew’s account. In verse 6, the centurion appealed to our Lord, telling Him that his servant is at home ‘suffering terribly’ from paralysis.

The ESV defines ‘servant’ here as ‘bondservant’, someone who owed a debt to the master which was to be paid off through slavery. MacArthur says that the servant could have been a child:

“Lord, my, [He used the word pais in the Greek, which means my child] my child lies at home sick of the paralutikos.”  He’s a paralytic, sick of the paralysis, grievously tormented, or suffering tremendously or suffering severely.  Now, the word pais is used here, and it means child.  Luke uses the word doulos, which means bond slave. And the question comes up: Was he his child or his bond slave?  The answer is it was rather common to have a child slave in the house, a young boy. And that’s what it was, a boy servant, a boy slave. And so he says, “My boy slave is at home sick of the paralysis.”  We don’t know whether it was polio or whether it was a nervous system or brain disorder or a tumor.  We just don’t know; but he was paralyzed and in tremendous pain.

Jesus immediatly responded that He would go to the servant and heal him (verse 7). This was unthinkable in view of the Jews’ impressions of Gentiles, the lowest of the low who would never inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus would have been in the midst of a crowd, so onlookers must have been shocked or confused. MacArthur explains:

They believed that, before the kingdom came, all the Gentiles would be destroyed.  That’s right.  If you read the, some of the apocryphal literature like 2 Baruch, chapter 29, it pictures the, what they believe is going to be the great feast, where all the Jews will sit down with Messiah … The great messianic banquet; and never, for a moment, did they believe that Gentiles would be reclining at the table with them.

Furthermore:

They wouldn’t … use—a Gentile utensil.  They, they believed that Gentiles aborted their babies and threw them down the draft in the house.  Therefore, the house was polluted by a dead body, and they had all kinds of strange things that the rabbis had invented to keep them apart from the Gentiles.

For this reason, and also out of profound personal humility, the centurion declined Jesus’s gracious offer (verse 7).

Instead, he said that Jesus needed only say the word in order for the servant to be healed (verse 8).

The centurion was in awe of Jesus. He discusses his own situation — commanding soldiers — and, in this (verse 9), is saying that he recognised His authority. The unspoken subtext is that Jesus’s power and authority are infinitely greater than his own. Hence, the humility of his appeal. He dared not to invite Jesus to his home. He did not feel worthy.

Jesus immediately contrasted this Gentile’s faith and recognition with what He had found among His own people whom He came to save (verse 10).

He then issued a strong warning that many, unknown to the Jews, would inherit the kingdom of heaven (verse 11), whilst those expecting to be there would instead be cast into ‘outer darkness’ where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (verse 12).

And, as we read in John MacArthur’s analysis of the first several chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus left the Jews in order to teach and heal the Gentiles, establishing His Church among their number.

Returning to the centurion, Jesus instructed him to return home where he would find the servant healed — just as he believed (verse 13):

And the servant was healed at that very moment.

As Christians we can take several lessons from this, if not for ourselves, for others. Citations below are from Matthew Henry’s commentary.

1/ God owes us — miserable sinners that we are — no favours. May we therefore approach Him and His Son in humility and supplication for divine mercy and grace. The centurion, like the leper, recognised this. Note how they both approached Jesus. The leper: should You see fit to do so, You can heal me. The centurion: I am not worthy of Your presence in my house, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.

The centurion came to Christ with a petition, and therefore expressed himself thus humbly. Note, In all our approaches to Christ, and to God through Christ, it becomes us to abase ourselves, and to lie low in the sense of our own unworthiness, as mean creatures and as vile sinners, to do any thing for God, to receive any good from him, or to have any thing to do with him.

2/ Our Lord recognises our caring about others. The centurion’s servant was a slave who could have been put out of the house or neglected. There were many others who could have replaced him. Yet, the centurion was careful to seek Jesus’s help, even though the slave was on the bottom rung of society.

A charitable regard to his poor servant. We read of many that came to Christ for their children, but this is the only instance of one that came to him for a servant [he] sought out the best relief he could for him the servant could not have done more for the master, than the master did here for the servant.

We can extrapolate ‘servant’ for others who are equally deserving of our charity.

3/ This is also a spiritual analogy, relating to the state of the souls in our care.

We should thus concern ourselves for the souls of our children, and servants, that are spiritually sick of the palsy, the dead-palsy, the dumb palsy senseless of spiritual evils, inactive in that which is spiritually good, and bring them to the means of healing and health.

4/ May we never neglect the virtue of humility before Christ and our fellow man.

He does not say, “My servant is not worthy that thou shouldest come into his chamber, because it is in the garret ” But I am not worthy that thou shouldest come into my house. The centurion was a great man, yet he owned his unworthiness before God. Note, Humility very well becomes persons of quality. Christ now made but a mean figure in the world, yet the centurion, looking upon him as a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, paid him this respect. Note, We should have a value and veneration for what we see of God, even in those who, in outward condition, are every way our inferiors.

5/ Personal humility ties in with deep faith.

The more humility the more faith the more diffident we are of ourselves, the stronger will be our confidence in Jesus Christ.

6/ The centurion showed us that power of Christ knows no bounds.

This centurion believed, and it is undoubtedly true, that the power of Christ knows no limits, and therefore nearness and distance are alike to him. Distance of place cannot obstruct either the knowing or working of him that fills all places.

7/ Christ answers the call, whatever social status, of those with faith: leper or centurion.

Christ’s humility, in being willing to come, gave an example to him, and occasioned his humility, in owning himself unworthy to have him come. Note, Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, should make us the more humble and self-abasing before him.

8/ As was true with the Jews of Jesus’s time, not everyone who considers himself a member of the Church will be saved. We are in for some surprises:

Note, When we come to heaven, as we shall miss a great many there, that we thought had been going thither, so we shall meet a great many there, that we did not expect.

9/ Do we put our temporal comforts above our relationship with Christ? Are we in danger of putting ourselves in peril for eternity, a concept which is difficult for us to understand?

They shall be cast out from God, and all true comfort, and cast into darkness. In hell there is fire, but no light it is utter darkness[:] darkness in extremity the highest degree of darkness, without any remainder, or mixture, or hope, of light not the least gleam or glimpse of it it is darkness that results from their being shut out of heaven, the land of light they who are without, are in the regions of darkness yet that is not the worst of it, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 1. In hell there will be great grief, floods of tears shed to no purpose anguish of spirit preying eternally upon the vitals, in the sense of the wrath of God, is the torment of the damned. 2. Great indignation: damned sinners will gnash their teeth for spite and vexation, full of the fury of the Lord seeing with envy the happiness of others, and reflecting with horror upon the former possibility of their own being happy, which is now past.

With our busy schedules, let us ensure we make time to pray, even in the most unlikely places: the walk to a bus stop or railway station, when crossing the car park on the way to the office, whilst we are preparing dinner or doing household chores.

May we also develop the faith and humility of the centurion.

Next time: Matthew 8:14-17

hiding thebreakthroughorgOne of the most disappointing things believers encounter online are Christian sites that further conspiracy theories.

It is one thing to alert others about evil in this world which comes from corrupt and powerful people. It is quite another to continue to encourage those vulnerable in the faith to think that they should be living in fear because of it.

Certainly, there are places in the world — Africa and the Middle East — where Christians are suffering and dying for their Saviour.

We in the West, on the other hand, are keyboard warriors for real or extrapolated scary events and threatening people. If have fallen into this trap whilst professing to be Christians, aren’t we putting man above our Lord?

Encouraging other believers to be afraid is a denial of Christ. In fact, it is one of the Devil’s best works. By cloaking conspiracy theories as being biblical, those new to or shaky in Christianity see a bogeyman around every corner. They forget Christ’s power over sin and sinful man. Instead, they gravitate towards unbelief by feeding on conspiracy theories.

The Sola Sisters, two women who came to the faith in adulthood, explore falsehoods connected with Christianity. In 2015, they wrote extensively about and against conspiracy theories.

In one of these posts, ‘Christians and Conspiracy Theories: Witnessing, Romans 1 and An Appeal (Part 4)’ they say (emphases in the original, purple one mine):

What is the end-game for it? What lost people need is not a dissertation on evil. They need Christ. They need the gospel message. They need to be helped to understand what sin is, and then told that they need to repent and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Let’s keep our eyes on the Christ, and make sure we’re keeping our hearts pure, and making sure our time is being spent on a BALANCED study of the Scriptures.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17) 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

“The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18)

So let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. And when souls are saved through the preaching of the gospel, those new believers WILL leave behind the trappings of the world of their own accord, because He who has begun good work in them will bring it to completion, will He not?

A few other Bible verses come to mind (emphases mine):

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. (Psalms 33:10, NIV)

Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. (Isaiah 8:12, NIV)

And of whom have you been afraid, or feared, that you have lied and not remembered Me, nor taken it to your heart? Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me? (Isaiah 57:11, NKJ)

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness … (Matthew 6:33, KJV)

Those of us alarming others about conspiracy theories would do well to realise that every moment we spend concentrating on them removes our focus from Christ Jesus.

We would do well to ask ourselves if we are doing the Lord’s work or Satan’s.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 8:1-4

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

—————————————————————————-

This miracle took place after Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, not far from Capernaum. It also resumes the widespread healing recorded at the end of Matthew 4, which I covered in April 2015.

As we saw last week, the crowds were in awe of His authority. They followed Him afterward (verse 1). That did not indicate that all — even most — of them were going to follow His teachings. Most were merely intrigued and curious.

A leper approached our Lord (verse 2). This was unheard of. Those diagnosed with leprosy had to isolate themselves from the rest of the population and when anyone walked past say, ‘Unclean’.

Leviticus 13 details what the Lord told Moses and Aaron about leprosy. A priest had to diagnose the condition and attempt to cure it. Not every skin condition was leprosy, hence the lengthy descriptions therein of what it is and what it is not.

As a disease Matthew Henry explains leprosy’s severity, its connection to personal sin in the Old Testament and how Christ is the only One who can heal and save us (emphases in bold mine):

This is fitly recorded with the first of Christ’s miracles, 1. Because the leprosy was looked upon, among the Jews, as a particular mark of God’s displeasure: hence we find Miriam, Gehazi, and Uzziah, smitten with leprosy for some one particular sin and therefore Christ, to show that he came to turn away the wrath of God, by taking away sin, began with the cure of a leper. 2. Because this disease, as it was supposed to come immediately from the hand of God, so also it was supposed to be removed immediately by his hand, and therefore it was not attempted to be cured by physicians, but was put under the inspection of the priests, the Lord’s ministers, who waited to see what God would do. And its being in a garment, or in the walls of a house, was altogether supernatural: and it should seem to be a disease of a quite different nature from what we now call the leprosy. The king of Israel said, Am I God, that I am sent to, to recover a man of a leprosy? 2 Kings 5:7. Christ proved himself God, by recovering many from the leprosy, and authorizing his disciples, in his name, to do so too (Matthew 10:8), and it is put among the proofs of his being the Messiah, Matthew 11:5. He also showed himself to be the Saviour of his people from their sins for though every disease is both the fruit of sin, and a figure of it, as the disorder of the soul, yet the leprosy was in a special manner so for it contracted such a pollution, and obliged to such a separation from holy things, as no other disease did and therefore in the laws concerning it (Leviticus 13:1-14:57), it is treated, not as a sickness, but as an uncleanness[;] the priest was to pronounce the party clean or unclean, according to the indications: but the honour of making the lepers clean was reserved for Christ, who was to do it as the High Priest of our profession he comes to do that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, Romans 8:3.

Note that the leper knelt before Jesus and said that He had the power to cleanse him, should He see fit to do so (verse 2). It is possible that, even though he was not allowed to go anywhere or interact with anyone, he overheard conversations about Jesus from passersby.

Jesus responded by touching the leper (verse 3). This was also unheard of. Leprosy is highly contagious. He then verbally agreed to the man’s request: ‘I will; be clean’.

The man was completely cleansed straightaway. This was true of all of our Lord’s healing — what theologians refer to as creative — miracles. People were restored to immediate full health.

From a physical and social perspective, the Gospels show us our Lord’s temporal mercy. The leper, and others, had disorders which prevented them from engaging with life and people.

From a spiritual perspective, the appeals from the afflicted and resulting creative miracles show that only Christ has the power to deliver us from sin.

Matthew Henry explains:

Sin is the leprosy of the soul[;] it shuts us out from communion with God, to which that we maybe restored, it is necessary that we be cleansed from this leprosy, and this ought to be our great concern. Now observe, It is our comfort when we apply ourselves to Christ, as the great Physician, that if he will, he can make us clean and we should, with an humble, believing boldness, go to him and tell him so. That is, (1.) We must rest ourselves upon his power we must be confident of this, that Christ can make us clean. No guilt is so great but that there is a sufficiency in his righteousness to atone for it no corruption so strong, but there is a sufficiency in his grace to subdue it. God would not appoint a physician to his hospital that is not par negotio–every way qualified for the undertaking. (2.) We must recommend ourselves to his pity we cannot demand it as a debt, but we must humbly request it as a favour “Lord, if thou wilt. I throw myself at thy feet, and if I perish, I will perish there.”

Jesus instructed the cleansed man to go to the priest, without talking to anyone else beforehand, and offer the requisite sacrifice (verse 4).

Did the man do so? Mark 1:40-45, a three-year Lectionary reading, tells us that he couldn’t stop himself from telling others about his cleansing.

Luke 5:12-16, which I wrote about in July 2013, does not say whether the leper went to the priest or whether he told anyone else about it. In any case, word spread rapidly, necessitating Jesus’s retreat to desolate areas as He was besieged by crowds. My post on Luke’s account of the leper’s cleansing cites John MacArthur’s sermon in which he surmised that Jesus might have wanted the man to go to the priests for some breathing space. It would have taken them a week, in line with Leviticus 13, to pronounce the man as being cleansed.

John MacArthur gave his sermon on Matthew’s account of the leper in the 1970s. He says that what we call leprosy today is actually Hansen‘s Disease. Whilst the two are somewhat different, they are also similar:

Diseases can take different forms.  Some can be eliminated altogether, and so we don’t really know if it was exactly the same. But it seems best to assume, from the description of Leviticus 13 … that it was extremely similar; and the only real comparison that we can draw to whatever this disease was will come from our understanding of the disease of leprosy.  Throughout the history of study of these things, most people have drawn that parallel

This disease, leprosy, as it’s called in the Bible, was no doubt picked up in Egypt.  Most of the classic writers feel that leprosy originated in Egypt and, by the way, it is caused—they now know in medical science—by a bacillus or bacteria called mycobacterium leprae.  And this disease has been found in at least one mummy that’s been uncovered in Egypt and it’s manifest on the physical body (because of the mummification) that this particular person did have leprosy. So we know it stretches way back into ancient times.  This disease then, of course, as the children of Israel were in the land of Egypt, was transmitted to them; and when they came into the Promised Land, they carried this disease with them.

Now, it was a problem, because of the horror of the disease itself. And so God, as he built in many laws to the life of Israel to protect them from plagues and things, gave them laws to deal with leprosy, so they would not contract this disease. 

MacArthur also told his congregation that Hansen’s Disease exists in the United States. This was its status in the 1970s:

By the way, you might also be interested to note that it is on the rise in the United States of America, and the state that leads America in incidents of leprosy is CaliforniaTen years ago, we had thirty to forty new cases a year, and now we’re over 300.  So it can be controlled also today by what is called DDS Dapsone, I think it’s called.  It’s some kind of a drug that is used, and it can only control the superficial elements of leprosy.  It can’t eliminate it altogether, because it’s one disease that you can’t kill.  It’s there till you die, as far as they can tell.  There may be some cases, but normally, that’s the way it runs.

His sermon explains how it is contracted today:

Leprosy is passed—and I read this just in an up-to-date LA Times journal thing on, on the, on the medical analysis of Hans[e]n’s disease—leprosy is passed when it is inhaled through the airIt comes from the mouth into the mouth.  That’s one way it is passed, and that’s why, when he goes around, he covers his mouth.  Also, they found that people have contracted leprosy when they have both touched the same object; that the bacillus can exist on the same object.  For example, they have cases where people have gone in to get tattooed, and when they were tattooed by the same needle, they came up with the same kind of leprosy

This is what happens:

The first thing that leprosy does, it attacks—apart from its physical symptoms, what you see, the patchiness and so forth—it attacks the nervous system and immediately anesthetizes the limbs.

People say, “Well, their noses just fall off, and their fingers fall off.”  Not really.  Part of the problem is, when they lose all their feeling, they literally rub their extremities off.  They found in the leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, in the United States, that when they’ve studied people who have leprosy that this is what happened.  For example, a man who has leprosy has ill-fitting shoes, and because he can’t feel that they’re ill-fitting at all, they rub his toes off.  And a woman who works with her hands finds that she rubs her fingers off, because she has no sensitivity to what’s happening to her hands.  And they rub their faces the same way; and you add to that that leprosy further attacks the bone marrow.  It infects, then, the blood supply. The bones begin to shrivel, and as the bones shrivel, they draw the skin and the tissue in so that they appear to have fingers like claws and feet like claws that do the same thing.  And there is then that oozing that occurs, as well as the skin disease has its infection; and all of that combined when, when you use those infected, atrophying fingers, results in rubbing them off.  Horrible thing.  They literally lose their limbs.

It attacks the eyes and brings blindness, the teeth, and they fall out.  It attacks the internal organs so that sterility occurs.  Frankly, it’s not that painful. It’s just the most ugly thing imaginable in the world.  Starts with a white or pink patch on the brow, the ear, the, the nose, the chin or the cheek.  Then it begins to spread and becomes spongy, tumorous, bulbous, swellings all over the face.  Then it becomes systemic, and that’s when it begins to come into the liver and the bone marrow, the blood supply.  You lose your feeling, blindness.

Leprous suppurations emit a strong, unpleasant odour, repulsive to those around them.

We can well understand how it is seen to be a curse. Sin, too, is a curse. Our only Physician is Christ our Lord:

I see in this an analogy.  This text, to me, is analogous to a conversion.  Follow this thought in conclusion: leprosy, ceremonial unclean, demonstration of sin, it’s just like sin.  Sin is pervasive.  Sin is ugly.  Sin is loathsome.  Sin is communicable.  Sin is incurable.  Sin makes you an outcast. But the leper came with confidence.  Why?  Because he got desperate enough over his leprosy, right?  That’s how conversion happens.  People don’t get saved unless they get desperate over the loathsomeness of the disease of sin.  And, beloved, that is so missing in the evangelism of our time.  The man came.  He lost all the social stigma.  He lost all of the fear of being ostracized.  He didn’t care about that anymore.  He was overwhelmed with the loathsomeness of his disease.  Coming to Christ is not getting on the bandwagon.  It’s being wretched and knowing it.

Next time: Matthew 8:5-13

Matthew HenryAlong with the instruction to build our spiritual houses upon rock, another passage in Matthew 7 from the Sermon on the Mount which bears close scrutiny is our Lord’s teaching on who will be turned away from the kingdom of heaven.

I Never Knew You

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

It is in the three-year Lectionary. One can only wonder about the sermons preached on it. Any number of clergy — as well as congregants — are guilty.

Matthew Henry’s commentary unpacks this passage brilliantly. Excerpts follow. Emphases in bold are mine.

We have an exhortation to sincerity in prayer and use of our Lord’s name:

I. He shows, by a plain remonstrance, that an outward profession of religion, however remarkable, will not bring us to heaven, unless there be a correspondent conversation, Matthew 7:21-23. All judgment is committed to our Lord Jesus the keys are put into his hand he has power to prescribe new terms of life and death, and to judge men according to them: now this is a solemn declaration pursuant to that power. Observe here,

(1.) That it will not suffice to say, Lord, Lord in word and tongue to own Christ for our Master, and to make addresses to him, and professions of him accordingly: in prayer to God, in discourse with men, we must call Christ, Lord, Lord we say well, for so he is (John 13:13) but can we imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven, that such a piece of formality as this should be so recompensed, or that he who knows and requires the heart should be so put off with shows for substance? Compliments among men are pieces of civility that are returned with compliments, but they are never paid as real services and can they then be of an account with Christ? There may be a seeming importunity in prayer, Lord, Lord: but if inward impressions be not answerable to outward expressions, we are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. This is not to take us off from saying, Lord, Lord from praying, and being earnest in prayer, from professing Christ’s name, and being bold in professing it, but from resting in these, in the form of godliness, without the power.

Then the call to obey Christ:

(2.) That it is necessary to our happiness that we do the will of Christ, which is indeed the will of his Father in heaven. The will of God, as Christ’s Father, is his will in the gospel, for there he is made known, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: and in him our Father. Now this is his will, that we believe in Christ, that we repent of sin, that we live a holy life, that we love one another. This is his will, even our sanctification. If we comply not with the will of God, we mock Christ in calling him Lord, as those did who put on him a gorgeous robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews. Saying and doing are two things, often parted in conversation of men: he that said, I go, sir, stirred never a step (Matthew 21:30) but these two things God has joined in his command, and let no man that puts them asunder think to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Some of us — ‘hypocrites’ — try to substitute legalism, ‘healing’, speaking in tongues and other wonderful works for obedience. This is a particularly sharp warning not to do so which bears rereading:

2. The hypocrite’s plea against the strictness of this law, offering other things in lieu of obedience, Matthew 7:22 … They put in their plea with great importunity, Lord, Lord and with great confidence, appealing to Christ concerning it Lord, does thou not know, (1.) That we have prophesied in thy name? Yes, it may be so Balaam and Caiaphas were overruled to prophesy, and Saul was against his will among the prophets, yet that did not save them. These prophesied in his name, but he did not send them they only made use of his name to serve a turn. Note, A man may be a preacher, may have gifts for the ministry, and an external call to it, and perhaps some success in it, and yet be a wicked man may help others to heaven, and yet come short himself. (2.) That in thy name we have cast out devils? That may be too Judas cast out devils, and yet was a son of perdition. Origen says, that in his time so prevalent was the name of Christ to cast out devils, that sometimes it availed when named by wicked Christians. A man might cast devils out of others, and yet have a devil, nay, be a devil himself. (3.) That in thy name we have done many wonderful works. There may be a faith of miracles, where there is no justifying faith none of that faith which works by love and obedience. Gifts of tongues and healing would recommend men to the world, but it is real holiness or sanctification that is accepted of God. Grace and love are a more excellent way than removing mountains, or speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, 1 Corinthians 13:1,2. Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace. Observe, That which their heart was upon, in doing these works, and which they confided in, was the wonderfulness of them. Simon Magus wondered at the miracles (Acts 8:13), and therefore would give any money for power to do the like. Observe, They had not many good works to plead: they could not pretend to have done many gracious works of piety and charity one such would have passed better in their account than many wonderful works, which availed not at all, while they persisted in disobedience. Miracles have now ceased, and with them this plea but do not carnal hearts still encourage themselves in their groundless hopes, with the like vain supports? They think they shall go to heaven, because they have been of good repute among professors of religion, have kept fasts, and given alms, and have been preferred in the church as if this would atone for their reigning pride, worldliness, and sensuality and want of love to God and man. Bethel is their confidence (Jeremiah 48:13), they are haughty because of the holy mountain (Zephaniah 3:11) and boast that they are the temple of the Lord, Jeremiah 7:4. Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

That’s quite a slap in the face of legalism, sensationalism and outward appearances! Sadly, however, these things are all the rage in our time. This bears repeating:

Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace.

As does this:

Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

It gets worse for people who base their lives on outward piety and hidden sin:

How it is expressed I never knew you [;] “I never owned you as my servants, no, not when you prophesied in my name, when you were in the height of your profession, and were most extolled.” This intimates, that if he had ever known them, as the Lord knows them that are his, had ever owned them and loved them as his, he would have known them, and owned them, and loved them, to the end but he never did know them, for he always knew them to be hypocrites, and rotten at heart, as he did Judas therefore, says he, depart from me. Has Christ need of such guests? When he came in the flesh, he called sinners to him (Matthew 9:13), but when he shall come again in glory, he will drive sinners from him.

Ultimately:

They that would not come to him to be saved, must depart from him to be damned. To depart from Christ is the very hell of hell it is the foundation of all the misery of the damned, to be cut off from all hope of benefit from Christ and he mediation. Those that go no further in Christ’s service than a bare profession, he does not accept, nor will he own them in the great day. See from what a height of hope men may fall into the depth of misery! How they may go to hell, by the gates of heaven! This should be an awakening word to all Christians. If a preacher, one that cast out devils, and wrought miracles, be disowned of Christ for working iniquity what will become of us, if we be found such? And if we be such, we shall certainly be found such. At God’s bar, a profession of religion will not bear out any man in the practice and indulgence of sin therefore let every one that names the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity.

This is such a stark and pointed truth — ‘convicting’, as Americans would say.

I have read Henry’s passage several times over the weekend. I hope that you, too, will find it beneficial to your Christian walk.

hiding thebreakthroughorgOur Lord’s final teaching in the Sermon on the Mount concerns our spiritual foundation (Matthew 7:24-27):

Build Your House on the Rock

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

This reading is included in the three-year Lectionary. However, it bears close examination.

True conversion and obedience have been an intractable problem since the earliest days of the Church. Heresy entered quickly, some (Simon Magus) thought it was magic, others applied legalism instead of grace and, for many decades now, some Christian leaders have attempted to make the Church a worldly institution.

Matthew Henry explains how Jesus set out this teaching to the multitude (emphases mine). Henry died early in the 18th century and in his ministry encountered the same mindsets as clergy do today:

The hearers of Christ’s word are here divided into two sorts some that hear, and do what they hear others that hear and do not. Christ preached now to a mixed multitude, and he thus separates them, one from the other, as he will at the great day, when all nations shall be gathered before him. Christ is still speaking from heaven by his word and Spirits, speaks by ministers, by providences, and of those that hear him there are two sorts.

(1.) Some that hear his sayings and do them: blessed be God that there are any such, though comparatively few. To hear Christ is not barely to give him the hearing, but to obey him. Note, It highly concerns us all to do what we hear of the saying of Christ. It is a mercy that we hear his sayings: Blessed are those ears, Matthew 13:16,17. But, if we practise not what we hear, we receive that grace in vain. To do Christ’s sayings is conscientiously to abstain from the sins that he forbids, and to perform the duties that he requires. Our thoughts and affections, our words and actions, the temper of our minds, and the tenour of our lives, must be conformable to the gospel of Christ that is the doing he requires. All the sayings of Christ, not only the laws he has enacted, but the truths he has revealed, must be done by us. They are a light, not only to our eyes, but to our feet, and are designed not only to inform our judgments, but to reform our hearts and lives: nor do we indeed believe them, if we do not live up to them. Observe, It is not enough to hear Christ’s sayings, and understand them, hear them, and remember them, hear them, and talk of them, repeat them, dispute for them but we must hear, and do them. This do, and thou shalt live. Those only that hear, and do, are blessed (Luke 11:28; John 13:17), and are akin to Christ. Matthew 12:50.

(2.) There are others who hear Christ’s sayings and do them not their religion rests in bare hearing, and goes no further like children that have the rickets, their heads swell with empty notions, and indigested opinions, but their joints are weak, and they heavy and listless they neither can stir, nor care to stir, in any good duty they hear God’s words, as if they desired to know his ways, like a people that did righteousness, but they will not do them, Ezekiel 33:30,31; Isaiah 58:2. Thus they deceive themselves, as Micah, who thought himself happy, because he had a Levite to be his priest, though he had not the Lord to be his God. The seed is sown, but it never comes up they see their spots in the glass of the word, but wash them off, James 1:22,24. Thus they put a cheat upon their own souls for it is certain, if our hearing be not the means of our obedience, it will be the aggravation of our disobedience. Those who only hear Christ’s sayings, and do them not, sit down in the midway to heaven, and that will never bring them to their journey’s end. They are akin to Christ only by the half-blood, and our law allows not such to inherit.

The first group builds a spiritual house on the rock of Christ. The second on sand, where they fall prey to temptation and experience problems with faith.

John MacArthur examines the latter group in detail. Note that some appear to be saved and, in reality, are not:

apart from hypocrites, there are two categories of the deceived in the church, the superficial and the involved.  The superficial are the ones who call themselves Christians because when they were little they went to church or Sunday School or they got confirmed or made a decision, quote/unquote, “for Christ”  …

Then there’s the involved who are deceived and they’re a much more subtle and serious group.  They’re in the church up to their neck involved, and they know the gospel, they know the theology but they don’t obey the Word of God.  They live in a constant state of sinfulness.  Now, how does a deceived person know he’s deceived?  How can we spot such a person?  Let me give you some keys, and I want you to think these through

Now, not everybody in these keys that I’m going to give you is really deceived but these are good indicators that someone might be deceived.  If you want to spot someone who’s deceived, look first of all for someone who’s seeking feelings, blessings, experiences, healings, angels, miracles.  Why?  Chances are they’re more interested in the byproducts of the faith than they are the faith itself.  They’re more interested in what they can get than the glory God can get.  They’re more interested in themselves than in the exaltation of Christ.

Secondly, if you’re looking to see who might be deceived, look for people who are more committed to the denomination, the church, the organization than to the Word of God.  Their kind of Christianity may be purely social …

Thirdly, look for people who are involved in theology as an academic interest.  And you’ll find them all over the colleges and seminaries of our land.  People who study theology, write books on theology, absolutely void of the righteousness of Christ.  Theology for them is intellectual activity.

Fourthly, look for people who always seem stuck on one overemphasized point of theology.  This is the person who bangs the proverbial drum for his own little area, some crazy quirk.  And it usually is not some great divine insight.  They’d like you to think that they are so close to God they have a great divine insight no one else has.  The fact of the matter is they’re seeking a platform for the feeding of their ego.  Watch for people with a lack of balance

And one other thought.  When you look for somebody who might be deceived, look for someone who is overindulgent in the name of grace, overindulgent in the name of grace.  Lacks penitence, a true contrite heart, and so forth.  Now, they all may be deceived and on the broad road to destruction, thinking all the while they’re going to heaven

This is a pretty wide net. I’ve fallen foul of at least one of these in years past!

Those of us with websites presenting a ‘Christian’ perspective, even in a secular context, bear a heavy responsibility.

How are we representing Christianity? Are we repelling people unnecessarily through legalism or a misreading of the Bible? Are we discussing the grace and peace of Christ?

Or are we placing the power of man above the power of God? Some of us do by dwelling on things that cannot be fully substantiated. Some of us alarm others unnecessarily about the world, whether that be climate change or conspiracy theories. Others write as if they are carrying a king-size banner of faith when they actually have deep-rooted personal unbelief or issues to resolve.

Are we permanently angry or fearful? Are we banging on about the same earthly thing all the time and not moving on to speak of our Lord? Are we reading the Bible, the Reformers and men of true faith or are we studying what panicked sect leaders have to say? Are we seeking the eternal truth or a dark thrill?

How have our inner lives changed over the past five years? The past ten? Are our preoccupations dark or are they of hope in Christ?

Is ours a foundation of rock or is it one of sand?

May we:

Pray for balance.

Pray for personal faith.

Pray for sanctification.

Pray for increase of all of these.

Pray, pray, pray.

In closing, a thought from John MacArthur on conversion in this sermon from the 1970s:

Christianity has become so superficial.  It just galls me to hear some of the presentations of Christ that are supposed to be legitimate.  Sermons that have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel, and then you give an invitation at the end and people are accepting who knows what. 

There’s no deep plowing, there’s no spadework, there’s no foundation, there’s no brokenness of heart.  Arthur Pink says, “If I have never mourned over my waywardness then I have no solid ground for rejoicing”  …

Dig deep, the one who digs deep empties himself of self-righteousness, empties himself of self-sufficiency, knows he has nothing, knows he’s not commendable, overwhelmed with his sin …  He makes the maximum effort to place the Word of God in his heart that he might not sin

He is interested in a genuine love relationship with Jesus Christ, not a routine of spiritual activity.  He does not build on visions.  He does not build on experiences.  He does not build on supposed miracles.  He builds on the Word of God, and he builds for God’s glory not his own.

Listen.  Many people want spiritual power, look at Simon [Magus] in Acts 8.  He wanted to buy the power of the Spirit of God.  And Peter says, “Your money perish with you,” you phony.  Many people want the power.  They just aren’t interested in living according to God’s standards.  They’re a sham; they’re building on sand.  They want to know what Jesus can do for them.  They want the goodies, chasing signs and wonders, not committed to Christ at all.

May we carefully consider the state of our souls and our personal faith in a humble, contrite way.

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 (‘Beware of False Prophets’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 7:15-20

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

————————————————————————-

These verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of which is in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

This passage ties in with and follows on from last week’s, which concerns the narrow gate.

Jesus tells His audience to beware of false prophets (verse 15) who come in an agreeable appearance — sheep’s clothing — but who are, in reality,  ravenous wolves, evil and soul-destroying.

John MacArthur unpacks what our Lord means. ‘Beware’ is (emphases mine):

a severe word.  Literally, in the Greek it means, hold your mind back from.  Don’t ever expose your mind to the influence of a false prophet.  Don’t pay attention to, give heed to, follow, notice, devote yourself, don’t even put your mind in his vicinity.  They’re dangerous, they pervert the mind, they poison the soul.  You see, we see the results of what they do in 2 Peter: “Many people follow their pernicious ways.” 

He explains ‘sheep’s clothing':

The wool of the sheep, when it was sheared, was made into cloth for garments; the mark of a shepherd was he wore a wool cloak.  Israel is much like California; the evenings are very cold, even in the summer it cools down, and they needed that.  The idea is not that he comes dressed like a sheep; the idea is that he comes dressed like a what?  Shepherd, wearing the garment made from the sheep. Sheep’s clothing is just another term for wool.  And so as the false prophet wore the garment of the prophet, the false shepherd wears the garment of the shepherd.  It isn’t that we’re dealing with a sheep who’s infiltrated, it is that we’re dealing with a shepherd who has infiltrated. 

Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society has a stained glass window which has a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing (image here, above the globe the men are forging). Admittedly, that is a secular image, yet they’re being honest about themselves! Avoid them and all their works, including the Labour Party and London School of Economics! But, I digress.

In verse 16, Jesus says that we will recognise them by their fruits and asks His audience, by way of simple illustration, whether grapes can be gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles. It is impossible. He develops this further by discussing good and bad fruit (verse 17), the former coming from healthy trees and the latter from diseased ones (verse 18).

Diseased trees are cut down and burned (verse 19). In other words, false prophets will be eternally condemned.

Therefore, we can judge prophets — these days, clergy — by their fruits (verse 20). Those bearing bad fruit might be greedy or lustful.

Just as bad if not worse, and increasingly common these days, are those who lead us from the narrow gate. Are they preaching salvation? Are they telling us to repent? Are they encouraging us to examine our sin? Are they preaching Christ crucified? Are they presenting Christ biblically in their sermons? Are they teaching us about the doctrines of grace and mercy? If not, they are wolves.

Liberation theology, economic justice, environmental worship, syncretism (combining other deities with Christianity) and many more postmodern aberrations are signs of wolves.

We have many wolves in our midst, sometimes whole denominations full of errant clergy taught at seminaries which promote false, worldly, un-Christian, unbiblical teachings.

In many ways, many clergy of our era are rather similar to Christ’s era with self-righteous, false, dangerous Pharisees and scribes. Whilst the Jewish leaders of our Lord’s day prescribed legalism for everyone but had lax rules for themselves, our clergy teach us that anything goes. Both are equally bad. Our errant clergy are responsible for leading their flocks to eternal condemnation, unless those people pray for discernment and leave for another congregation with a true shepherd.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this advice for evaluating clergy:

What do they tend to do? What affections and practices will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces but if, on the contrary, the doctrines these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly, and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations, unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace if it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude, that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Galatians 5:8. This wisdom is from above, James 3:15. Faith and a good conscience are held together, 1 Timothy 1:19,3:9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and to the testimony do they speak according to that rule?

It’s not a sin to walk away from a church with a false prophet — pastor — at its head. In fact, one is doing the right thing provided one continues to pray often and study Scripture during a search for godly preaching.

Ignore false teachers who say you must stay with their churches or you are condemned. They will try to intimidate members of the congregation who see through them. I once knew someone like that. Fortunately, he retired not long afterward. We now have a vicar who preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Next time: Matthew 7:28-29

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 7:12-14

The Golden Rule

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

—————————————————————————–

Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

‘So’ in verse 12 follows on from what Jesus said in verse 11, covered in last week’s post:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

It also ties in with His words in the first two verses of Matthew 7, which I also wrote about:

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Matthew Henry explains our Lord’s use of the Law and the Prophets in this context (emphases mine):

It is the summary of that second great commandment, which is one of the two, on which hang all the law and the prophets, Matthew 22:40. We have not this in so many words, either in the law or the prophets, but it is the concurring language of the whole. All that is there said concerning our duty towards our neighbour (and that is no little) may be reduced to this rule. Christ has here adopted it into this law so that both the Old Testament and the New agree in prescribing this to us, to do as we would be done by.

Whilst we often hear Matthew 7:12 quoted, even by secularists, we hear the next two verses much less often. It is easy to forget them in an era when everything goes in today’s churches.

Verses 13 and 14 are particularly crucial and pertinent to those notional Christians who say that everyone will be saved. That is not what Jesus says. He tells us to enter by the narrow gate. The broader way is easier and ‘leads to destruction’ — eternal condemnation.

Also worth noting is His statement that the way leading to life is ‘hard’ and ‘those who find it are few’.

Does that sound like ‘all are saved’?

A similar passage is Luke 13:22-30, which begins as follows. (Similar wording is also in Matthew 7:21-23, part of the three-year Lectionary readings.)

The Narrow Door

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

There is no excuse to be made for heresy, syncretism, sin, ‘lifestyle choices’ and whatever else today’s churches are wrongly advocating. Powerful, apostate clergy will be among those crying out for the Lord to open the door on Judgement Day and His response will be that He never knew them.

Laypeople would also do well to ensure they do not fall into the same fatal trap, in particular, telling their children that the Lord loves everyone and will save them. It isn’t going to happen.

Henry sums it up this way:

There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil the way to heaven, and the way to hell in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity.

Henry and John MacArthur explain more about the narrow gate. In the King James Version the words used are ‘strait’ — small, tight — and ‘narrow’.

Henry states:

First, That the gate is strait. Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way, in which we begin a life of faith and serious godliness out of a state of sin into a state of grace we must pass, by the new birth, John 3:3,5. This is a strait gate, hard to find, and hard to get through like a passage between two rocks, 1 Samuel 14:4. There must be a new heart, and a new spirit, and old things must pass away. The bent of the soul must be changed, corrupt habits and customs broken off what we have been doing all our days must be undone again. We must swim against the stream much opposition must be struggled with, and broken through, from without, and from within. It is easier to set a man against all the world than against himself, and yet this must be in conversion. It is a strait gate, for we must stoop, or we cannot go in at it we must become as little children high thoughts must be brought down nay, we must strip, must deny ourselves, put off the world, put off the old man we must be willing to forsake all for our interest in Christ. The gate is strait to all, but to some straiter than others as to the rich, to some that have been long prejudiced against religion ...

Secondly, That the way is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we have got through the strait gate, nor in Canaan as soon as we have got through the Red Sea no, we must go through a wilderness, must travel a narrow way, hedged in by the divine law, which is exceedingly broad, and that makes the way narrow[;] self must be denied, the body kept under, corruptions mortified, that are as a right eye and a right hand daily temptations must be resisted duties must be done that are against our inclination. We must endure hardness, must wrestle and be in an agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation. It is hodos tethlimmenean afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant.

Thirdly, The gate being so strait and the way so narrow, it is not strange that there are but few that find it, and choose it. Many pass it by, through carelessness they will not be at the pains to find it they are well as they are, and see no need to change their way. Others look upon it, but shun it they like not to be so limited and restrained. Those that are going to heaven are but few, compared to those that are going to hell a remnant, a little flock, like the grape-gleanings of the vintage as the eight that were saved in the ark

John MacArthur likens this small, narrow way to a turnstile, through which only one person can enter at any time. This reinforces the idea that families and groups will not be saved, rather individuals. He says that Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees and the Jewish people of His time:

… many commentators would say that the best expression of this in a contemporary way would be a turnstile.  One of those things which you have to go through all alone; the metal is very close and there’s a little arm there that you push, and you go through.  Now, I know our family, when we go to the zoo, or we go to get on a train somewhere, or go somewhere on an airplane, every once in a while you’ve got to go through something like that, a turnstile. 

And everybody is in a big hurry, and we always realize when we get there that we can’t all go through together, can we, children?  We must go through one at a time.  That’s the way it is with a narrow gate.  You don’t come to the kingdom of Christ in groups.  The Jews believed hey, we’re in the kingdom, we’re all on the road together, we all came through together, based on Abrahamic heritage, based on Jewish ancestry, based on circumcision, we’re all here together.  And I think there are people who think that they’re on the right road to heaven, they got on when they got to church.  They came to church, we’re all in the church and the whole church got on together.  There are no groups coming through the turnstile, folks

You go through all alone.  Salvation is individual.  People have never been saved in pairs.  Oh, when one believes it may influence another to believe, but everyone’s salvation is exclusive and intensely personal.  It admits only one at a time.  And that’s kind of hard, you know.  Because all our life is spent rushing around with the crowd.  All of our life is spent doing whatever everybody else does, being a part of the group, being a part of the gang, being a part of the system around us, being accepted.  And all of a sudden, Christ says, “You’re going to have to come, and you’re going to have to come through this deal all by yourself.”  And to a Pharisee, that meant you’re going to have to say goodbye to those people and that system, and step out alone.

There’s a price to pay, a real price.  It isn’t enough to claim your Abrahamic ancestry, it isn’t enough to go back to your circumcision, it isn’t enough to say, “I was born in a Christian family; I’ve been in the church all my life.”  You don’t come into the Kingdom in groups.  You come in an individual act of faith.  You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone.  Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty … 

He acknowledges that this encourages unbelievers to be hostile to Christianity. It is interesting to note that he preached on Matthew’s Gospel in the 1970s. Even then, there was hostile opposition:

People say, “You know, Christianity doesn’t give room for anybody else.”  That’s exactly right.  We don’t do that because we’re selfish, or because we’re proud, or because we’re egotistical; we do that because that’s what God said

If God said there were 48 ways to salvation, I’d preach all 48 of them.  But there aren’t.  “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be” – what – “saved.”  None other name.  Jesus – Acts 4:12.  “I am the bread of life – I am the way the truth and the life – I am the door – anyone who comes in any other way is a thief and a robber,” John 10.  “There is,” I Timothy 2, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”  Only one, no other name, Christ and Christ alone, it is that narrow, it is that prescribed.  There are no alternatives.  You must enter.  By an act of the will, an act of faith, you have to enter on God’s terms through God’s prescribed gate; and Christ is that gate.  He is that way.  And holy God has the right to determine the basis of salvation, and He has determined that it is Jesus Christ and Him alone, and that’s the way it is

For this reason — and because many cannot give up their attachement to the world — it is hard to accept our Lord’s teachings. MacArthur cited one pertinent example:

A West Indian who had chosen Islam over Christianity said this: “My reason is that Islam is a noble, broad path.  There is room for a man and his sins on it, and the way of Christ is far too narrow.” 

Hmm. It seems to me that man knew very little about Christianity before he converted to Islam. Whilst he was right in saying Christ’s way is very narrow, he misunderstood the concept of abundant divine grace and mercy with regard to our sins. However, Christ, with His love and forgiveness, makes no allowance for sin.

In closing, MacArthur has good observations about the Sermon on the Mount, which many people misinterpret:

Let me suggest to you there are two things you cannot do with the Sermon on the Mount.  One of them is you cannot stand back and admire it.  Jesus is not interested in bouquets for His ethics.  Jesus is not interested in folks who want to just admire the virtues of the ethical statement of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus wants a decision about your destiny.  I believe there is a second thing you can’t do with the Sermon on the Mount, and that is to push it into some prophetic tomorrow.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that this is for some far future era. 

I think He is demanding a decision now, in this time …  What Jesus demanded was a choice, an act, an ultimate decision, to be made at that time and that moment, on the basis of what He had just said.  A deliberate choice has to be made.  Christ came to bring a kingdom.  He was a king.  He was the King.  He was the King of kings.  And He came with a kingdom that was unique, and special, and separate, and different from all the kingdoms of the world

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than ethics; it is about following Christ our Lord, the eternal King of Kings.

Next time: Matthew 7:15-20

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 7:7-11

Ask, and It Will Be Given

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

———————————————————————

Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

I wrote about selected ‘forbidden’ passages as follows:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Sermon on the Mount, Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the eye as lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – Sermon on the Mount, judging others, speck v log in eye, hypocrisy

Jesus continues His discourse by telling us that, if we ask and seek things from God, He will provide them (verses 7, 8). However, John MacArthur explains that this is not automatic nor applicable to everyone (emphases mine):

asking — you have to be a child of God to receive, and an obedient child of God, and a selfless child of God. And, finally, you have to submit it all to His will. I John 5:14 and 15, “In whatever we ask, we know we receive of Him if we ask according to His will.” That’s not a blank check. It’s just that when the conditions are right — you’re His child, you’re His obedient child, you’re His unselfish child, and you ask according to His will, in order that He may be glorified — He’ll do it.

When we do not receive what we ask for, it is possible — and this often becomes apparent later — that better things lie ahead. We shouldn’t try to force situations.

MacArthur gives us an example of seeking:

Ask is very simple. A child does that. There’s no involvement in it. There’s no participation in it. You just ask. Seek is stronger than an asking. There’s a participation in it. At least you’re moving your eyes. Knock, you’re banging away. There’s a greater participation. So that even though we know everything comes from the Lord, that does not assume that we are not actively, aggressively, perseveringly involved in its fulfillment.

I mean, I don’t just sit at my office and say, “Lord, I want to preach a great sermon Sunday. Please, I ask you, give me a great sermon.” No, what I do is I ask the Lord all week for that, and then I seek that by going through the Word of God and reading and reading. And then I begin banging on the Lord, in a sense, by saying, “Lord, I’m struggling with this thing and I want to understand it,” and this one this morning, which isn’t so hot, anyway, I rewrote three times. And on and on you go, struggling with it. But the point is, I realize that God is the only one who can produce through me, but at the same time, I’ve got to be involved in that.

Matthew Henry has a marvellous exposition of these two verses:

Here is a precept in three words to the same purport, Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7) that is, in one word, “Pray pray often pray with sincerity and seriousness pray, and pray again make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it. Ask, as a beggar asks alms.” Those that would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging, and they shall find it a thriving trade. “Ask represent your wants and burthens to God, and refer yourselves to him for support and supply, according to his promise. Ask as a traveller asks the way to pray is to enquire of God, Ezekiel 36:37. Seek, as for a thing of value that we have lost, or as the merchantman that seeks goodly pearls. Seek by prayer, Daniel 9:3. Knock, as he that desires to enter into the house knocks at the door.” We would be admitted to converse with God, would be taken into his love, and favour, and kingdom sin has shut and barred the door against us by prayer, we knock Lord, Lord, open to us. Christ knocks at our door (Revelation 3:20; Song of Solomon 5:2) and allows us to knock at his, which is a favour we do not allow to common beggars. Seeking and knocking imply something more than asking and praying. 1. We must not only ask but seek we must second our prayers with our endeavors we must, in the use of the appointed means, seek for that which we ask for, else we tempt God. When the dresser of the vineyard asked for a year’s respite for the barren fig-tree, he added, I will dig about it, Luke 13:7,8. God gives knowledge and grace to those that search the scriptures, and wait at Wisdom’s gates and power against sin to those that avoid the occasions of it. 2. We must not only ask, but knock we must come to God’s door, must ask importunately not only pray, but plead and wrestle with God we must seek diligently we must continue knocking must persevere in prayer, and in the use of means must endure to the end in the duty.

In verse 9, Jesus makes this more easily understood by discussing the parent-child relationship. Does a parent give his child a tooth-breaking stone instead of bread or a serpent instead of fish (verse 10)? Of course not, unless he or she is perverse or completely unhinged. Instinctively, a parent wants to feed his children. They are his flesh and blood.

Good parents love their children and want the best for them. With that in mind, our Lord then says that God will care even more deeply for our needs and desires (verse 11). He says ‘you then, who are evil’, meaning prone to sin by nature. God, who is perfect in everything, especially love, will provide even more if only we ask, seek and knock.

Henry unpacks this for us:

First, God is more knowing[;] parents are often foolishly fond, but God is wise, infinitely so he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is fit for us. Secondly, God is more kind. If all the compassions of all the tender fathers in the world were crowded into the bowels of one, yet compared with the tender mercies of our God, they would be but as a candle to the sun, or a drop to the ocean. God is more rich, and more ready to give to his children than the fathers of our flesh can be for he is the Father of our spirits, an ever-loving, ever-living Father.

MacArthur takes this a step further:

And the point is this. If evil, unregenerate, sinful fathers give their kids the basics of life, don’t you think God’ll do that? And the idea that I see here is that God is the absolute giving Father, who gives to all what they need, knowing full well they could never give back to Him anything, in kind or measure. And if that’s the way He is, then isn’t that the way we, His children, should be toward others? See?

We will see in the next passage!

Next time: Matthew 7:12-14

 

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 7:1-6

Judging Others

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

—————————————————————

Matthew 7 is the third and final chapter containing the text of the Sermon on the Mount.

It opens with our Lord’s instruction not to judge others, because we, too, can be judged — accused — of various faults (verse 1). The vehemence with which we judge others will be applied to us in this life and the next (verse 2).

Sadly, too many ‘judges’ really do think they are blameless. In reality, they have many faults but are in denial. Some of them appear to be sociopaths or narcissists.

So, then, how are we to judge? Jesus said (John 7:24, another Forbidden Bible Verse):

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

In that instance, He was criticising the Pharisees who made superficial and wrong judgements. In Luke 16:15, yet another Forbidden Bible Verse, we read:

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Sometimes we do the same when we judge hastily on appearances or speech alone. May we be charitable and discerning with others.

Before we judge with righteousness, we are to examine and rectify our own faults first (verses 3, 4), lest we act in a hypocritical manner (verse 5). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

I must first reform myself, that I may thereby help to reform my brother, and may qualify myself to reprove him. Note, Those who blame others, ought to be blameless and harmless themselves. Those who are reprovers in the gate, reprovers by office, magistrates and ministers, are concerned to walk circumspectly, and to be very regular in their conversation: an elder must have a good report, 1 Timothy 3:2,7. The snuffers of the sanctuary were to be of pure gold.

In verse 6, Jesus tells us to use discretion when evangelising, informally or formally, lest it makes people hostile to the Gospel, the Church — and us. Henry says:

This may be considered, either, (1.) As a rule to the disciples in preaching the gospel not that they must not preach it to any one who were wicked and profane (Christ himself preached to publicans and sinners), but the reference is to such as they found obstinate after the gospel was preached to them, such as blasphemed it, and persecuted the preachers of it let them not spend much time among such, for it would be lost labour, but let them turn to others, Acts 13:41. So Dr. Whitby. Or, (2.) As a rule to all in giving reproof. Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels, and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners, to whom it will certainly do no good, but who will be exasperated and enraged at us. Throw a pearl to a swine, and he will resent it, as if you threw a stone at him reproofs will be called reproaches, as they were (Luke 11:45; Jeremiah 6:10), therefore give not to dogs and swine (unclean creatures) holy things.

Note that our Lord never preached to Herod Antipas. Paul stopped preaching to the Jews after they blasphemed and ridiculed him in Acts 18. He told them he would focus on preaching to the Gentiles instead.

John MacArthur explains:

This is a tremendous truth, people. We have to learn in our ministry to be discriminating. You don’t say everything to everybody. Paul even said to the Corinthians, “I could not speak unto you certain things because you were carnal. I wouldn’t waste them on your misunderstandings. I wouldn’t waste them on your sinfulness.” Jesus to His disciples could only reveal certain things, and He had to hide other things. And to the world it says, “And He hid them from them and revealed other things unto the babes.” Jesus didn’t say everything to everybody. When Jesus rose from the dead He never one time appeared to an unbeliever. Never once.

In closing, we know the Old Testament’s injunctions against swine. However, MacArthur describes the status of dogs in Jesus’s time:

Dogs in those days were not the little nice smelling, painted nails, rhinestone collars, funny little sweater things that flip flop around the houses today. They were not the little lap dog, pet dog things that we spend a fortune on and all. Dogs in those days, apart from the dogs that worked with the flocks, and, of course, in Job it talks about the dog of the flocks, it would be a trained dog that worked with the sheep, but the dogs in the cities were a mongrel, ugly big bunch of dogs that scavenged around the city and ate the garbage, and they were a horrible, ugly bunch of wild dogs.

The Jews believed them to be filthy. The Old Testament talks about that. Unclean. The Psalms say they threaten, they howl, they snarl, they are a greedy, shameless group. They are called contemptible in I Samuel. Dogs were an ugly kind of a being. They weren’t anything like we have today, except for those that worked with the sheep. They would be pariahs, savage, mongrels. Lived in the garbage heaps. And holy things were not to be thrown to the dogs.

Final word: I’m surprised that these verses are not in the three-year Lectionary. (It is in the two-year one.) A clergyperson could get a number of sermons out of this passage which would be most helpful to many churchgoers.

Next time: Matthew 7:7-11

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