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One interesting aspect about people watching is observing how Christians present themselves to others.

Several of the churchgoers in my area look permanently miserable, angry even. They are eager to talk about their problems and illnesses. Their conversations revolve around them. Rarely have I heard from them a friendly hello or a sincere ‘How are you?’ Smiles are nowhere to be seen.

They do not seem to have purpose.

They seem devoid of hope.

One wonders about their faith.

If I were not a believer, they would not be the ones bringing me to Christ Jesus, that’s for sure.

‘Church is a hospital for the sick,’ they say.

Yes, the spiritually sick, so they can be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Churches and related committees — meant to serve the congregation — should not overly indulge or encourage personal psychodrama and moaning.* If they do, something is wrong somewhere.

Navel gazing denies the lordship of Christ. It prevents loving one’s neighbour. It’s spiritual darkness.

If such ‘Christians’ think they are evangelising, they’re giving a poor example to everyone they encounter.

A number of these people have spouses and children who shy away from attending church. I’m not surprised, based on what they experience at home. It’s no wonder secularists are winning the battle for hearts and minds.

Self-absorbed pewsitters would do well to pray honestly for our Lord to show them purpose with regard to others, starting with their own families. Along with that should be a private study of the Bible with the aid of a sound commentary. Too many programmes, like Alpha, encourage a non-judgemental ‘Scripture is what I think it says’ outlook, which can often hinder faith.

Navel gazers should focus on divine grace which would allow them to progressively leave their self-preoccupation behind and become a more responsible spouse, parent and church member. Those in my area should also give thanks for their God-given blessings: a comfortable house, good neighbourhood, patient family members and much more. Millions in Britain would love to be in their shoes.

It’s hard to know whether such self-obsession results from a lack of faith, a surfeit of pride or both. Whatever it is, it isn’t good or helpful for these people — or others.

The best ambassador for Christ I can think of lives in our street. She is an elderly lady who suffers from a debilitating illness. Sometimes she needs a zimmerframe (‘walker’, for my American readers). Often, a friend has to accompany her to church. However, she stops to talk to her neighbours and actually converses with them. She’s perpetually cheerful. I’ve never heard her discuss her ailment, even though she’s probably in chronic pain. She shows interest in other people and things. She and I had a lengthy conversation about the ornamentals in our front garden one day.

She is a delightful woman and a good Christian.

Would that more emulated her fine example.

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*  I have seen it first hand, and it’s put me off serving on church committees for good.

slipperyMany thanks to loyal reader Llew, who sent in the link to the Spiked article cited below!

The UK Parliament will be debating assisted dying in September 2015. Over the past few years, several high profile cases have come to light of older Britons who have ended it all with professional help. Sometimes this was because of terminal illness, however, not always.

Secularist supporters

In August 2015, university lecturer and author Kevin Yuill wrote an article for Spiked — the UK’s libertarian, secular humanist/atheist site — about the curious case of retired nurse Gill Pharaoh.

Pharaoh was 75 and relatively healthy when she died on July 21, 2015, at the LifeCircle clinic in Switzerland. Yuill says she was ‘healthy’, but her final entry states that, in recent years, she’d suffered an attack of shingles, ongoing tinnitus and joint pain. A lot of other older people have these ailments, too. But she wanted to end her life her way.

Yuill cites Pharaoh’s blog. She wanted

people to remember me as I now am – as a bit worn around the edges but still recognisably me!

But how was she to know what she would be like in five or even 15 years’ time? Only the Almighty knows that. Maybe she would have continued to age gracefully apart from physical complaints which are entirely normal, albeit annoying, aspects of growing old.

Pharaoh had no faith. She objected to British law with regard to assisted death because it

originates from a god in whom we have no belief.

Pharaoh blogged about her decision-making regarding ending her own life. She also gave a interview to The Times (Murdoch paper, ergo paywall), summarised in the Daily Mail. Yuill says she was searching for validation and recognition. He introduces his article with a précis of Christopher Lasch‘s excellent 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism. If you can buy or borrow a copy, it will be more relevant today than when it was written. I read it in the early 1980s in the US and was shocked. Needless to say, my work colleagues told me the man was talking out of his hat. Yet, how correct he was. His book warns about attention-seeking behaviour which demands that everyone else acquiesces to one’s wishes. What Pharaoh wanted was a change in the law.

The Daily Mail article quotes Pharaoh as saying that her mother had dementia and that, if she could have done so, she would have helped her mother die. My family members and I have had parents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, for shorter and longer periods of time. None of us, even the agnostics, ever thought of putting them to death.

Another high profile case in Britain was that of 68-year old Bob Cole, who ended his days at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland on August 14, 2015. Cole’s wife Ann Hall, who suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy, had died at the clinic 18 months before.

Cole had mesothelioma, a lung cancer, which left him doubled over — in his words, ‘crouching like an animal’. He, too, wanted a change in the law. The Telegraph reports (aforementioned link) that he told The Sun (another Murdoch paper, like The Times) in an interview:

I should be able to die with dignity in my own country, in my own bed. The law needs to change. How do you change the law? People have got to take a stand. So that’s what I’m doing today. 

The politicians need to have the guts to change this law. Just bite the bullet. Accept that the British public want this change. If they don’t it will be forced upon them because the public feeling is overwhelming.

Is ‘public feeling overwhelming’ on this issue?

In any event, there are British organisations promoting legalised assisted death. Dignity in Dying were informed once Bob Cole died. Gill Pharaoh had been a member of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS). What role do such groups play in encouraging personal publicity for past and future high profile assisted suicides?

Yuill has a point when he says that people who want to terminate their lives through assisted dying should do so quietly with no publicity.

Judeo-Christian supporters

Only days after my reader Llew forwarded me the Spiked article, I read an article in The Telegraph which left me speechless.

‘”There is nothing sacred about suffering”, insist faith leaders in assisted dying call’ shocked me.

Among these faith leaders are

Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism and Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain a leading figure in Reform Judaism …

That is bad enough. However, there are Christians, too: Baroness Richardson, first female President of Methodist Conference, along with prominent Anglicans such as Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, The Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, and ‘a handful of Anglican clerics’.

It should be noted that the Church of England officially opposes euthanasia.

These men and women, Jews and Christians, are opposing the government — and God.

In a letter to The Telegraph, the article says, they wrote that:

far from being a sin, helping terminally ill people to commit suicide should be viewed simply as enabling them to “gracefully hand back” their lives to God.

There is, they insist “nothing sacred” about suffering in itself and no one should be “obliged to endure it”, they insist.

Wow. Just. Wow.

How can one ‘gracefully hand back’ one’s life to God by terminating it? He gave us life. Only He can legitimately end it. It is not up to us to decide when that moment is. Not so long ago, this sort of attitude would have been rightly condemned.

Well, Rob Marris (Labour) will have his Assisted Dying Bill debated within the next few weeks. May life-respecting and God-fearing heads prevail.

Why the law should stay as it is

The Telegraph article included the following rationale for maintaining the status quo:

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, co-chair of the Campaign group Living and Dying Well, which opposes a change, said: “The law exists to protect us, all of us and especially the most vulnerable among us, from harm – including self-harm.

“People who are terminally ill are especially vulnerable. As a society we go to considerable lengths to discourage and prevent suicide.

“Licensing assisted suicide for terminally ill people would fly in the face of that.”

I couldn’t agree more. In 2014, I pointed out that children’s euthanasia was already legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. There’s no minimum age in Belgium and in the other two countries a child only needs to be 12 years old before he can request his own death. These kids could be disabled, suffering from terminal illness or have a curable condition such as anorexia. This is a very slippery slope.

Returning to the Spiked article, Kevin Yuill pointed out that, on the other end of the age spectrum, a Dutch citizen’s initiative Uit Vrije Wil (Out of Free Will) received 117,000 letters of support in 2010 for a relaxation of the Netherlands’ law which would allow persons over the age of 70 to end their own lives just because they were tired of living!

And this isn’t a European phenomenon, either. My aforementioned post from 2014 gave these statistics:

In 2005, Gallup’s poll on the subject found that a majority of Christians in the United States support euthanasia: 75% of Catholics, 70% of Protestants and 61% of Evangelicals. A majority of Catholics and Protestants also support physician-assisted suicide, PAS — 60% and 52%, respectively — although only 32% of Evangelicals do.

It’s pretty clear that the rise of secularism in the 1960s, possibly before, brought about legalised control over life and death, beginning with abortion. A person can be his own god, making decisions only the Almighty rightly has control over.

Does God pardon Christian suicide?

John MacArthur’s Grace to You (GTY) ministry team wrote a worthwhile article, ‘Can one who commits suicide be saved?’

It’s short and well worth reading. On the one hand, as Christians are saved, in principle, suicide

can be forgiven like any other sin.

HOWEVER … on the other hand …

GTY say that this would be (emphases mine) only 

in a time of extreme weakness.

They explain:

… we question the faith of those who take their lives or even consider it seriously–it may well be that they have never been truly saved.

In which case, there is the issue of the second death at Judgement Day leading to eternal condemnation.

Their article cites Scripture saying that a true Christian has hope and purpose in his life. As such, suicide would not enter into the equation. And:

Furthermore, one who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in his heart (Proverbs 23:7), and 1 John 3:9 says that “no one who is born of God practices sin.” And finally, suicide is often the ultimate evidence of a heart that rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ, because it is an act where the sinner is taking his life into his own hands completely rather than submitting to God’s will for it. Surely many of those who have taken their lives will hear those horrifying words from the Lord Jesus at the judgment–“I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

The article concludes:

So though it may be possible for a true believer to commit suicide, we believe that is an unusual occurrence. Someone considering suicide should be challenged above all to examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Bible verses against suicide and assisted death

There are many web pages with notional Scripture verses against suicide which includes assisted death. However, most of the verses are not very helpful.

The best page I have found is Adrian Warnock’s on Patheos.

Warnock is a physician and author. He also serves as part of the leadership team at Jubilee Church London.

Any Christian who is considering ending his own life through assisted dying would do well to read Warnock’s selection of Bible verses, meditate on them then pray fervently and frequently.

Here are the first three (emphases in the original):

This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (John 11:4).

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10).

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10.)

His page has several more.

Conclusion

Christians who listen to their clergy and leaders who advocate for euthanasia or assisted dying are in danger of dying an everlasting death. As they are making a considered, premeditated decision, they are guilty of murdering themselves.

Clergy advocating assisted dying would do well to examine their hearts humbly before the Lord, repent and publicly say they were wrong. They could be sending Christians — and themselves — to an eternal death. Theirs is such an irresponsible and reprehensible position to adopt.

No one knows why the Lord sends us debilitating and lengthy illnesses. However, He works everything to His purpose. In these situations, Christians must have hope, faith and pray whilst seeking palliative relief.

The basic problem is — and this seems to include certain clergymen, too — lack of faith, a love of self and pride in one’s own abilities and decision-making. I’ll return to these themes soon in another context.

Apostleship is priceless.

However, it cannot be bought.

Unfortunately, one minister, C Peter Wagner (please read the posts at the link) makes apostleship sound like a club membership: pay and you’re in.

John MacArthur’s Grace to You (GTY) ministry unpacked this in 2013. Please do not follow anyone who says that you can buy apostleship. If you do have such a membership, please do not renew it.

Excerpts follow from Cameron Buettel and Jeremiah Johnson’s GTY article, ‘The Apostles Who Don’t Do Anything: the New Apostolic Reformation’ (emphases mine):

The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a movement pioneered by C. Peter Wagner. This is what charismatic and continuationist doctrine looks like when taken to its logical conclusion. The NAR claims that not only the gifts, but also the office of apostleship still continues today. And as apostles, they pretend to speak for God and wield His divine authority—but it is all merely a pretense

Wagner even goes so far as to describe this era as “The Second Apostolic Age.” His “studies indicate that it began around the year 2001,” although he doesn’t bother to  explain or define what those studies were. [5]

In this new age of apostles, several apostolic networks have been established. Wagner’s is called the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). Its website contains a global map to help locate the apostles in your part of the world. According to the network, there are more than 150 apostles in the U.S. alone …

According to the ICA website, the aspiring apostle must be nominated by two existing apostles who can show that he meets the ICA’s criteria. There are some fees, too.

The pricing table for apostleship is curious. The ICA charges an annual $450 fee to be an apostle. However, Native Americans receive a $100 discount. There’s also a couple’s rate of $650, just in case your wife also happens to be an apostle. And you want to stay on top of your dues, because failure to renew your membership on time results in a “deactivated” apostleship—it’s not clear if that includes the deactivation of any spiritual gifts as well. All is not lost, however—a deactivated apostle can be reactivated for an extra $50.

Put simply, becoming an apostle with the ICA is only slightly more difficult (and expensive) than purchasing a season pass to Disneyland.

It is worth noting:

People believe in Wagner’s apostleship simply because he had the temerity to claim it. But you won’t find delusions of grandeur and audacious whimsy in the list of biblical requirements for apostles

Just a simple reading of the book of Acts is enough to illustrate how impotent and unfit these modern apostles are, and how their fanciful assertions have perverted and distorted the office of apostle beyond recognition.

Please do not follow people like this. Think about the logic about buying apostleship. It cannot be done. It was never done in the New Testament. It’s merely a moneymaking scheme. Disregard it.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 8:23-27

Jesus Calms a Storm

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

——————————————————————-

The events in Matthew 8 occurred following our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

We have read of His cleansing of the leper, healing of the centurion’s servant from a distance, curing Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, followed by healing people of demon possession and disease.

Last week’s post looked at two of His notional disciples, both of whom He turned away. That passage began with this verse (Matthew 8:18):

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.

Today’s reading sees Him and the disciples sail across the Sea of Galilee (verse 23), which is more like a large lake.

This storm also features in Mark 4:35-41 — included in the three-year Lectionary — and Luke 8:22-25, which I wrote about in 2013. That post provides detail about the Sea of Galilee, the nature of its storms and the type of boats used. Jesus and some of the disciples were in a larger, sturdier boat. The other followed along in smaller vessels.

Jesus was weary after having preached the Sermon on the Mount and then healing many people. He sought rest before reaching Gadara, which will be the subject of next week’s post. Whilst He slept, a great tempest arose (verse 24).

Fearing for their lives, the men in the boat roused Him, pleading for Him to save them (verse 25). Matthew Henry observes (emphases in bold mine):

Imminent and sensible dangers will drive people to him who alone can help in time of need. Their prayer has life in it, Lord, save us, we perish. (1.) Their petition is, Lord, save us. They believed he could save them they begged he would, Christ’s errand into the world was to save, but those only shall be saved that call on the name of the Lord, Acts 2:21. They who by faith are interested in the eternal salvation wrought out by Christ, may with a humble confidence apply themselves to him for temporal deliverances … Note, Christ will save none but those that are willing to take him for their Lord for he is a Prince and a Saviour. (2.) Their plea is, We perish which was, [1.] The language of their fear they looked upon their case as desperate, and gave up all for lost they had received a sentence of death within themselves, and this they plead, “We perish, if thou dost not save us look upon us therefore with pity.” [2.] It was the language of their fervency they pray as men in earnest, that beg for their lives it becomes us thus to strive and wrestle in prayer therefore Christ slept, that he might draw out this importunity.

Yes, our Lord could have made the situation such that the storm never arose. However, this is an exercise in faith for His disciples. They go to Him in desperation.

John MacArthur explains:

They’re not so much convinced that He is God at this point, as they are hoping that He is.  But they were right where God wanted them.  Sometimes God has to bring us to desperation to get our attention, doesn’t He?  They had run out of human solutions; they had run out of human answers; they wanted a divine answer.  That was their hope, that the miracle worker who could handle sickness maybe could handle the sea, and they had fear mixed with faith.  You see, if they had total faith they’d have been asleep like Him, confident in the Father’s care, because they were just as tired as Jesus was, perhaps.

Jesus responds by asking the men why they have so little faith that they are stricken by fear (verse 26). They are in His presence. How would or could He let them die? It wouldn’t happen.

Henry gives us the lessons we should learn from this episode:

Christ may sleep when his church is in a storm, but he will not outsleep himself: the time, the set time to favour his distressed church, will come, Psalm 102:13

Note, [1.] Christ’s disciples are apt to be disquieted with fears in a stormy day, to torment themselves with jealousies that things are bad with them, and dismal conclusions that they will be worse. [2.] The prevalence of our inordinate fears in a stormy day is owing to the weakness of our faith, which would be as an anchor to the soul, and would ply the oar of prayer. By faith we might see through the storm to the quiet shore, and encourage ourselves with hope that we shall weather our point. [3.] The fearfulness of Christ’s disciples in a storm, and their unbelief, the cause of it, are very displeasing to the Lord Jesus, for they reflect dishonour upon him, and create disturbance to themselves.

I put that last sentence in purple because it merits rereading and committing to memory. So often we are tempted to cry like Chicken Little: ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling!’ The Chicken Little story teaches children not to be alarmist about life.

Some Christians continually panic about what is happening in our fallen world. To be sure, society is worse in many ways morally than in our childhood. However, Christians in most countries have no reason to fear these events or people. Continually banging on about such things in fear and alarm — and stirring up the same feeling in others — is, as Henry says, a sin. It reflects a deep lack of faith, as if our Lord is distant and powerless to defend us against men and situations.

Jesus calmed the storm immediately by rebuking the winds and the sea. All was calm at that moment, which Henry says differs from a usual aftermath following a storm, when:

there is such a fret of the waters, that it is a good while ere they can settle …

Yet:

if Christ speak the word, not only the storm ceases, but all the effects of it, all the remains of it. Great storms of doubt, and fear in the soul, under the power of the spirit of bondage, sometimes end in a wonderful calm, created and spoken by the Spirit of adoption.

This was a great revelation to the disciples, who marvelled at His power (verse 27). MacArthur explains:

You see this is Matthew’s message to usThis is the one who can conquer disease.  This is the one who can handle nature and later He’ll tell us He is the one who controls the demons. He is the one who forgives sin.  He is the one who raises the dead.  Think about it, beloved, He is the one who lives in your life.

Fear not. Believe in Him, especially in adversity.

Mark’s and Luke’s accounts of this storm state that the men were afraid afterward. MacArthur analyses this fear:

You know what’s more fearful than being in a storm?  Realizing you’re standing in the presence of the living God.  That’s awesome.  What an experience to know that God is in your boat.  That was far more terrifying than any storm.

This storm did not give the disciples perfect faith, but it served two purposes: one, it exposed their doubt about our Lord’s omnipotence and, two, He was able to reveal that power to them so that they might believe in Him.

Next time: Matthew 8:28-34

When my better half and I were on holiday in Cannes this year, after dinner we went back to our hotel room to sit on the balcony and enjoy what was going on below at street level as well as above in the sky.

On June 18, 2015, we saw something neither of us had ever witnessed: a disappearing new moon.

That day, incidentally, marked the beginning of Ramadan for some Muslims. As is true for Jews, certain feast days begin in one 24-hour period or the next, the Last Supper being one example. In any event, these periods of religious fasts or feasts are dictated by the moon’s movement.

Anyway, we sat watching the moon. I thought I was seeing things when, within five minutes, the crescent began approaching the horizon. Cautiously, I asked SpouseMouse who said, ‘It’s definitely going downward.’ Within another five minutes the moon was no longer visible.

Watch for the moon to move up past the bright planets Venus and Jupiter - and the star Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion - from about June 19-21.I tried taking pictures but our camera just wasn’t powerful enough to capture this phenomenon. The other interesting thing was seeing Regulus, Jupiter and Venus in all this. Keep Talking Greece has an explanation as well as a graphic (reproduced at left) from EarthSky.org:

the night sky has to offer an amazing cosmic show. From June 19th to June 21st, the crescent Moon is playing games with Venus and Jupiter offering stargazers a once in a lifetime experience.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac observed that, between June 19 and 20, 2015, the crescent moon joined Venus and Jupiter.

We suspected that the further south one was in the Northern Hemisphere, the better the visuals. This phenomenon is a dark moon, different to a blue moon.

SpouseMouse said, ‘It’s not surprising that so many cultures took a great interest in nature and the skies. What else was there to do?’

MoonConnection has a great illustration of the phases for June 2015. Entirely normal but fascinating nonetheless.

Stones of Wonder explains what the moon in its various cycles must have meant to our ancestors so long ago (emphases mine):

The most important is probably that the twelve or thirteen full moons over the course of the year do not rise and set in the same positions on the horizon. The full moons in summer rise and set much further to the south compared with those in winter. This means that the full moons of summer are in the sky for a shorter period than those of winter, and reach a lower altitude in the sky. From the perspective of a pre-technological society, it would seem very lucky that the winter full moons rose earlier and set later, providing light through the long winter nights just when it was needed most. In fact, it probably seemed miraculous. The full moon nearest to midwinter is always the highest and longest shining full moon of the year, and everyone has experienced bright moonlit frosty nights around the winter holiday.

Once this seasonal difference in the full moons had been noticed, a further fact would probably have been observed as well, as the years passed. This is that from year to year the rising and setting positions of these winter and summer solstice moons themselves change. The change from one winter solstice or summer solstice to its equivalent a year later is about 3°. (This is the same as the width of six moon diameters, and the change would be plain to any careful observer.) This is the most obvious way in which the other cycle of the moon’s movement reveals itself. The moon goes through a cycle of horizon positions which repeats itself every 18.6 years. Fundamentally, the cycle is of a widening and narrowing band of rising and setting positions which the moon at any phase can attain. At one extreme point of the cycle, called the ‘major standstill’ (following Alexander Thom), the moon will rise and set far to the north, well beyond the position of the sun at the summer solstice. Two weeks later, the moon will be rising and setting far to the south, only appearing in the sky for a very short period.

I can understand why early Doctors of the Church transformed events such as Summer Solstice into religious feasts.

Regarding Summer Solstice, Crystal Links tells us that Saint Eligius, who lived in the 7th century:

warned the recently-Christianized inhabitants of Flanders against these pagan solstitial celebrations. According to the Vita by his companion Ouen, he would say:

No Christian on the feast of Saint John or the solemnity of any other saint performs solestitia [summer solstice rites] or dancing or leaping or diabolical chants.”

Indeed, as Saint Eligius demonstrates, Mid-Summer has been Christianized as the feast of Saint John the Baptist: notably, unlike all other saints’ days, this feast is celebrated on his birthday and not on the day of his martyrdom, which is separately observed as the “Decollation of John the Baptist” on 29 August. That more conventional day of Saint John the Baptist is not marked by Christian churches with the emphasis one might otherwise expect of such an important saint.

As for his solsticial birthday, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24) as a Solemnity, which is the highest degree a liturgical feast can have. It is even one of the few saint’s feasts that is celebrated even when it falls on a Sunday; typically the feast of a saint is superseded when it falls on a Sunday. There is hardly any way that the feast of St John the Baptist could be given more emphasis in the liturgical calendar.

The celebration of Midsummer’s Eve was from ancient times linked to the summer solstice. People believed that mid-summer plants had miraculous and healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southwards again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other evil powers.

In Sweden Mid-summer celebration originates from the time before Christianity; it was celebrated as a sacrifice time in the sign of the fertility.

The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times. The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the pre-Christian beginning of the day, which falls on the previous eve. In Sweden, Finland and Estonia, Midsummer’s Eve is considered the greatest festival of the year, comparable only with Walpurgis Night, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve.

Secular celebrations still take place on Midsummer’s Eve. A former employer of mine in England held a dinner-dance on or around June 21.

In France, a feast and a bonfire are still part of the celebrations held on June 24 rather than the day of the Solstice itself. An excellent site on the best of the Bordeaux region, My French Heaven, described the events in 2015 accompanied by marvellous photographs:

On or around the date of the Summer Solstice, every year, in the French countryside, villagers light up a big fire in a field and dance around it until the last flame has gone. We call this « Fête de la Saint Jean » or « Saint John’s Feast” in reference to Saint John the Baptiste. But the Christians actually hijacked this tradition. It was originally a pagan rite meant to celebrate the sun.

Is it wrong that clergy turned pagan rituals into Christian feast days? Personally, I do not think so.

Is it wrong that we still regard the skies and seasons in a state of wonder and celebration? Not as long as, in doing so, we marvel at what is God’s creation.

Bible oldThe 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 8:18-22

The Cost of Following Jesus

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

—————————————————————————

The events in Matthew 8 take place following our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

We have read of His cleansing of the leper, healing of the centurion’s servant from a distance, curing Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, followed by healing people of demon possession and disease.

It is difficult to imagine just how intense this time — indeed, the whole of Jesus’s ministry — was. Clamouring crowds, pleading, exclaiming and, among them, those who would profess to follow Him.

We have two such men in this passage.

First, Jesus was preparing to go ‘to the other side’ of what Matthew Henry calls the Sea of Tiberias (verse 18):

… his ordering his disciples, whose boats attended him, to get their transport-vessels ready, in order to it, Matthew 8:18. The influences of this Sun of righteousness were not to be confined to one place, but diffused all the country over he must go about to do good the necessities of souls called to him …

Then a scribe approached Him, pledging his unqualified allegiance (verse 19). Henry surmises the man was wrapped up in the moment or, possibly, thought this was the coming of the great temporal kingdom of Israel ruled by the Messiah (emphases mine below):

either he did not consider at all, or not that which was to be considered he saw the miracles Christ wrought, and hoped he would set up a temporal kingdom, and he wished to apply betimes for a share in it. Note, There are many resolutions for religion, produced by some sudden pangs of conviction, and taken up without due consideration, that prove abortive, and come to nothing: soon ripe, soon rotten.

Jesus saw through this man, attached to comforts, and gave him a fitting rebuke by describing His own way of life (verse 20): with nothing, not even a regular bed at night. Even nature had more shelter than He.

John MacArthur says the man only wanted to add Jesus as a bolt-on — as do many notional Christians, let’s be honest:

He could read his mind and He knew what the guy’s hang-up was.  The guy was saying, “Man, my life is full and rich and I got all I want and my lifestyle satisfies me and I just want to add you to my lifestyle.  I just want to take my whole gig and drag it along and follow you.”  Jesus refuses to cash in on a moment’s popularity.

As students of the New Testament know, Jesus did not need a fickle follower. He knew that He had many already. He also had Judas. With friends like that …

MacArthur paraphrases a quote from the Lutheran theologian Richard C H Lenski which describes the scribe’s state of mind:

He sees the soldiers on parade.  He sees the fine uniforms.  He sees the glittering arms and he’s eager to join; and he forgets the exhausting marches, the bloody battles, the graves, perhaps unmarked.

Afterward, a notional disciple asks Jesus for permission to bury his father (verse 21). This is a confusing verse, because we wonder why He would not allow that. However, MacArthur explains that ‘burying the father’ was a euphemism in the Middle East which meant staying at home until one’s father died and receiving the subsequent inheritance.

MacArthur says the expression is still used in some Arabic-speaking and Muslim societies:

Recently a Doctor Waldmeyer was conversing with a Turk— Waldmeyer is a missionary in the Middle East—and he was talking with a rich, young Turk and he advised this Turk to go on a certain trip to Europe, and along with him, the missionary. And he thought he could disciple him and accomplish certain things with him, and after he finished his education, to go along, to which the Turk replied, “I must first of all bury my father.”  And the missionary Waldmeyer said, “Oh, young man, I had no idea he’d died.  I just am so sorry.  I hope I wasn’t insensitive.”  He said, “Oh no.”  He said, “He isn’t dead.  He’s not dead.  That’s just a phrase we use.  My father is very much alive.  I just have to stick around and fulfill my responsibility till he passes on.  And then, of course, I will receive my inheritance.”  Oh, I see.  “I must first go and bury my father who isn’t even dead” means, “I’ve been waiting a long time for my inheritance.  Can I just hang around?  The guy is tottering at this point and [“]when I get it all, think of how I can be used in the movement.” See?  The guy had the money on his mind.  He was playing with trivia and it took the courage and commitment out of his discipleship.  His father wasn’t even dead.

This is why Jesus dismisses the young man with what appears to be a perfunctory statement: ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead’ (verse 22). MacArthur explains that Jesus meant it was more important to follow Him than to worry about the eventuality of burying one’s own parent:

this is a proverb again just like the one about the foxes and birds.  The first one meant, “Look I don’t have any personal comforts.”  This one means, “Let spiritually dead people bury their dead.  Let the secular world take care of its own issues.  You have been called to the kingdom of God.”  See the difference?  What he’s saying is, “You are functioning on the wrong level.”  In other words let the system take care of itself.

He’s not saying Christians are forbidden to go to funerals.  He’s not saying if you’re a Christian you’re not supposed to make sure your father or mother gets buried.  It’s a proverb, and what he means is the world’s passing affairs, the coming and going of people, the passing of fortunes from one to another is all part of a dead system.  You are called to a living kingdom; go and preach the kingdom.  You see the man’s priorities are fouled up.  Secular matters belong to the people who are secular.  The human system takes care of itself. But this man, what does it say he did?  It’s not there either.  He left somewhere between verse 22 and 23.  He disappeared.  Why?  Personal possessions were the big thing to him.  He had waited a long time for his piece of the action.  He wasn’t bailing out now.  Hey, he liked the thrill and the charisma and the wonder and the miracles, and this was fabulous stuff and he wanted to get on the bandwagon, but there was no commitment there.  He wanted his money.

The New Testament has many references to the hardships that His true followers would encounter. MacArthur shares some of these verses and their meanings:

In Matthew 10:16, He said, “Now I’m going to send you forth.”  Later on He tells His apostles, “I’m going to send you forth.  I’m going to send you like sheep in the midst of wolves.”  Now that’s not a very inviting thing, is it?  You’re going to send us out like sheep in the midst of wolves?   “And just remember, beware of menThey’re going to deliver you up in councils, and scourge you in synagogues, you’ll be brought before governors and kings, and they’ll deliver you.  Don’t worry I’ll give you [the words] to say.” Verse 22: “You’ll be hated of all men for my name’s sake.”  Verse 23:  “You’ll be persecuted.”  Verse 24: “And don’t think you’re going to be above your teacher.  I’ve been getting it and you’re going to get it.”  In John 15, He said, “Don’t be surprised when men hate you.  They hate me.”  “Don’t be surprised when they kill you and think they’re doing God’s service.”  Persecution: “In this world you shall have tribulation.”  He said it to them:  “All that will live godly…” II Timothy 3:12: “All that will live godly in this present age will suffer persecution.” Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Hebrews 11: They just suffered and suffered, all those heroes of the faith, and at the end it says, “of whom the world was not worthy.”

To end on possessions and money, some might draw the conclusion that all Christians should adopt our Lord’s way of life. MacArthur says that we should not make that assumption except in the sense where we might one day be required to do so:

You see the Lord may not want to take away your personal comforts.  He may not want to take away your personal possessions.  He may not want to take away your personal relationships.  But you have to be willing to let him if He wanted to, you see?  That’s the affirmation of His Lordship in your life.  If you come, saying, “I’ll come, but I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this, I’m hanging on to this,” and you give Him half a heart, you get nothing.  If you offer Him everything, He may allow you to keep the portion.  He may give you more than you have.  It’s the willingness that is the issue.

MacArthur also quoted the Anglican Archbishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, who lived during the 19th century. What Ryle said then is every bit as true today:

The saddest road to hell is the one that runs under the pulpit, past the Bible, and through the middle of warnings and invitations.

Therefore, when we devote ourselves to Christ may we not do so half-heartedly with excessive ties to family or possessions, such that we cannot give them up. May we give Him — our Saviour, our only Mediator and Advocate — our full attention and obedience, come what may in this transient life.

Next time: Matthew 8:23-27

R Scott ClarkReformed minister and professor, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog is running a series about the Heidelberg Catechism and authority.

The first essay — ‘Heidelberg 104: Authority and Submission (1)’ — is particularly pertinent to Christians who mistakenly advocate Mosaic Law, theonomy and male supremacy.

It is unfortunate that the Reformed churches are affected by these scourges. I suspect it is because a significant number of Americans attending such churches as new members came from highly conservative congregations with erroneous ‘Christian’ teachings.

What follows is a summary of his excellent explanation, supported by the Heidelberg Catechism and Scripture. Emphases mine below.

Mosaic law

Civil punishments prescribed in Mosaic law:

expired with the death of Christ. This is how the civil punishments are interpreted in Reformed theology.

Theonomy:

or the teaching that the Mosaic civil laws have a bi[n]ding validity in exhaustive detail is contrary to the Reformed faith.

And Christianity in general.

The notion of a Promised Land is also no more:

There is now no national people of God and there are no more national promises. There is no earthly promised land and therefore the nature of the promise has changed. Believers are the Israel of God but we have no land promise since Christ is the land, the rest, and the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down (Eph 2:14).

John Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians 6:2 says:

And that thou mayest live long on the earth. Moses expressly mentions the land of Canaan, “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exod. 20:12.) Beyond this the Jews could not conceive of any life more happy or desirable. But as the same divine blessing is extended to the whole world, Paul has properly left out the mention of a place, the peculiar distinction of which lasted only till the coming of Christ.

Home life

Reactionary Christians have an extreme interpretation of Ephesians 5 and 6 regarding authority in the home.

Clark unpacks what Paul meant:

This is not patriarchy nor the ontological (i.e., as a matter of being) subordination of females to males because Paul warns fathers not to be abusive and instructs them to be gracious and kind and patient with their children just as God has been gracious kind and gentle with us.

As Christians seek to re-assert creational and biblical patterns of living in our late-modern age, it is imperative that we do not over-react as some have done. I have heard and read discussions of “federal headship” of males over females in the new covenant. For example, some have inferred that, e.g., females may not or should not vote in a congregational election. Such an inference requires a series of assumptions that must be questioned. Most of the argument seems to rely on a degree of continuity with the Mosaic (old) covenant that is not exegetically or theologically defensible. Some of the arguments (e.g., that females are inherently inferior) that I have seen and read over the years are not worthy of Christians. These sorts of over-reactions to aspects of modern and and late-modern feminism do us no credit as we seek properly to insist that:

• There is a creational, natural order

• Creational order can be determined by looking carefully at creation

• There are two sexes (male and female)

• The two sexes are distinct and complementary

As for ‘federal headship’:

Paul did not invoke the “federal headship” principle nor did he invoke a male Patriarchy in order to justify his teaching. Christ is the only federal head of believers. A husband is just that, a caretaker. A father may be said to be the head of the house but only as a matter of administration not as a matter of being. As we saw above, for Paul, the father’s role in the house to be like Christ, to lead gently and self-sacrificially not abusively and most certainly not high-handedly.

Church life

Clark makes it clear that certain restrictions on women do not actually exist in Pauline teaching:

he nowhere implies that females may not vote in a congregational election.

As for women’s silence in church:

The problem was speaking up inappropriately. The problem was disorder in the worship service. The solution was order.

Creational order, not extremism

Clark concludes by noting that Paul and Peter acknowledged the order of creation, which we are still obliged to follow, but not to drastic extremes.

On the one hand:

Paul was not a sexist nor was he “hopelessly patriarchal” as one polemicist said in the 1990s. Nevertheless, we should not confuse Victorian prejudices with biblical teaching. Paul does not argue that men are inherently smarter or more rational than females. Peter recognized differences and similarities between men and women (1 Pet 3:7). We are both the heirs of the “grace of life.”

On the other:

Paul, like Peter, does teach a creational order. We are not free to disregard his instruction because it puts us at odds with the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age) or widely held assumptions.

Gentlemen favouring extremes would do well to take it easy on their wives and children.

Be Christlike in family relationships.

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.”

———————————————————————–

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.

———————————————————————

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.

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