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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 19:16-22

The Rich Young Man

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

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Two other accounts of this story are in the Synoptic Gospels: Luke 18:18-23 and Mark 10:17-22. Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary.

I wrote about Luke’s in 2014 and looked at the differences in the three versions.

What can we deduce by ‘rich young man’? My post on Luke’s account says he was the leader of a synagogue because Luke used the Greek word arche to describe him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Matthew’s words in the original manuscript imply that he is a magistrate, or justice of the peace. Henry also points out:

it is probable that he had abilities beyond his years, else his youth would have debarred him from the magistracy.

We are looking at a brilliant young man who is highly respected and comes from money.

He approaches Jesus — Mark says he ‘ran and knelt before’ Him — and asks what he must do to have eternal life (verse 16). The words he uses to address Jesus are of interest in the original manuscript. Henry explains (emphasis in the original):

He gives Christ an honourable title, Good MasterDidaskale agathe. It signifies not a ruling, but a teaching Master. His calling him Master, bespeaks his submissiveness, and willingness to be taught and good Master, his affection and peculiar respect to the Teacher, like that of Nicodemus, Thou art a Teacher come from God. We read not of any that addressed themselves to Christ more respectfully than that Master in Israel and this ruler.

John MacArthur has this (emphases mine):

Didaskolos, or master, or teacher. He acknowledges that He was a teacher of divine truth. Mark and Luke tell us he called Him “good.” It’s added here in the Authorized of Matthew, but it isn’t in the manuscripts of Matthew, but it is in Mark and Luke. And so he said, “good,” agathos. Kalos means good form, good on the outside; agathos means good on the inside, good inwardly, good morally, good in nature, good in essence. So he says I know that You are good. I know that You are a good person. I know that You’re moral. I know that You’re upright and I also know You teach and You teach divine truth. You perhaps know the secret of getting eternal life.

It is also noteworthy that the young man asked about eternal life. From that, we know he was not a Sadducee, who intellectualised theology and discounted the afterlife because it was irrational. He was more of a Pharisee in mindset, thinking of obedience to religious law and the next life.

Jesus responds initially to the way the young man’s addressed Him (verse 17). There was, He said, only One who is good, referring to God the Father. He is not revealing Himself as Christ Jesus here.

He then answers his question: obey the commandments and eternal life will follow.

The young man asks which commandments must be obeyed. Jesus mentions all those which concern the way we treat our fellow man and our parents (verses 18, 19): ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’.

The young man is certain he has maintained these all his life (verse 20), thereby setting himself up for a fall. Henry deduces the young man answered Jesus with a lack of respect:

By pride, and a vain conceit of his own merit and strength this is the ruin of thousands, who keep themselves miserable by fancying themselves happy. When Christ told him what commandments he must keep, he answered very scornfully

The manner of his response and its content indicate that he had no idea he was sinning in some way every day. He considered himself to be perfect.

For that reason, Jesus put him in his place by saying that if he would be perfect, he should sell his possessions and become a disciple (verse 21). Remember, Jesus is omniscient. He knew what the sticking point — the source of temptation — was here: materialism. Recall His earlier words (Matthew 6:24):

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[a]

The young man perceived he had kept the commandments towards his fellow men. Jesus was saying, in essence, ‘Okay, now keep the commandments honouring God: sell your possessions and give yourself to His service’.

The man couldn’t do it, because he ‘went away sorrowful’ (verse 22). In my exposition on Luke’s passage, I cited MacArthur’s sermon which explained that he would have been expected to maintain whatever property and money he had for his descendants or other family members. It’s a tough choice.

Perhaps the better — and humble — question would have been, ‘What must I do to repent and have my sins forgiven?’

As it was, he gave up God for Mammon. Henry asks:

What then would the sorrow be afterward, when his possessions would be gone, and all hopes of eternal life gone too?

Does this mean that all of us have to give up our possessions in order to be true Christians? MacArthur says no. This was a specific reply to a specific person, not an overall commandment:

The Lord didn’t say that to other folks. But do you have to be willing to do whatever the Lord asks you to do? Yes. And it may be different in different cases. But the Lord put the finger on the issue here. He took us right back to the principle of Luke 14:33, the people who are My disciples are the people who forsake all. And He says to the guy, “Look, are you willing to do what I tell you? And right now I’m telling you to get rid of everything.” And He knew right where He was talking because He knew this was most important to the guy. For some people it might be a car. For some people it might be a girl. For some people it might be a job or a career or a certain sin they want to indulge in. For this guy, it was his money and his possessions.

MacArthur goes on to contrast the rich young man’s response to that of Zacchaeus, the vilified tax collector who climbed into a tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus was not wanting materially, either. Yet:

Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “O behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor and if I’ve taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” You want to see the attitude of this guy? Boy, he knows he’s been doing wrong all the time and he says, “Oh, I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get it right. I’ve got to give everything back. And I’ve got to give all this stuff to the poor. And I’ve got to return to everybody four hundred percent.” This is the opposite, isn’t it? I mean, the guy want…the first thing he wanted to do was unload everything he had. And Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house, for he also is a son of Abraham.”

Here’s a true Jew. And, boy, this is real salvation. Why? Cause the guy can only think of what a sinner he is and he wants to unload all of the stuff that he’s taken unjustly from people and give them back, not only what they deserve but everything else he’s got. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our response to God’s requests says everything about us. May we, too, be able to release possessions, situations or relationships for His glory.

Next week’s reading continues this theme.

Next time: Matthew 19:23-30

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 19:13-15

Let the Children Come to Me

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

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This event has two parallel accounts: Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17. I wrote about Mark’s in 2012 and Luke’s in 2014.

Odd, isn’t it, that none of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship?

Surely, the future of the Church lies in parents, guardians and other responsible adults bringing children to Christ.

The word ‘then’ in verse 13 implies that our Lord’s blessing of children took place in the house where He had delivered His teaching on marriage and divorce to the disciples. Mark’s account makes this clearer (Mark 10:13):

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.

Therefore, it would appear that this followed soon afterwards, particularly if the disciples were trying to shoo people away.

The ancient Jewish tradition of blessing children arose from Jacob‘s — Israel’s — blessing of Joseph’s sons near the end of his life (Genesis 48:8-10):

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them.

The Jews of Jesus’s time carried on this beautiful tradition. As Jesus’s teachings and miracles were well known far and wide, especially at this point in His ministry, it was only natural that adults would seek His blessing of the children in their care. This was so that these children would lead a godly life. This tradition continues in the Christian faith. Matthew Henry explains:

If they cannot stretch out their hands to Christ, yet he can lay his hands on them, and so make them his own, and own them for his own.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for rebuking the adults with these children. He told them two things (verse 14): let the children come to Him and do not hinder them. John MacArthur analyses this for us (emphases mine):

Interesting that He uses two verbs and there’s a reasonThe first one is in the aorist tense, point action, permit right now this moment, let them come.  And then “forbid them not” is present tense.  And what He’s saying is right now let these come and from now on don’t ever make it a practice to stop them from coming.  So He takes care of the present and the future. 

MacArthur says that these children were probably infants, even though Matthew’s manuscript used the generic Greek word for children, paedia:

But if we were to compare the other passages and go to Mark, we would find that he uses the term brephos.  And so, whereas Matthew just generally says little children, Mark tells us how little, brephos, and that word means a suckling, a nursing baby, an infant.  They were bringing in their arms their infants.  And we know they must have been infants by our Lord’s response because the Bible says in Mark that He took them in His arms and blessed them.  They were bringing babies to Jesus.  They wanted Him to pray for them with His unique divine power, with His unique proximity to God, they felt, they wanted His prayers on the behalf of their little ones.

Jesus blessed these little ones — laid hands on them — and left afterwards (verse 15). Henry explains:

As if he reckoned he had done enough there, when he had thus asserted the rights of the lambs of his flock, and made this provision for a succession of subjects in his kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why Jesus was so angry with the disciples:

He was furious with them.  Only two or three times He really got mad at them.  Frustrated with them a lot, disappointed a lot, but really angry, just a few times.  This is one of them.  And the only time that particular word of indignation is used of Jesus in reference to them.  But He was very angry with them for trying to stop these parents from bringing their children …

Reason number one, He loved babies.  He loved them.  And He knew they were a creation of God, a creation of His.  And He felt a tender affection for them. And He felt a sympathy for them for the world in which they were born.  And it seemed, of course, that the disciples were utterly deficient in such an attitude.

Secondly, I think He is angry with them because He also loved adults and He knew full well that if you say no to people’s children, you’re going to have a tough time getting their attention.  Politicians learned that long ago.  I mean, He knew the first and foremost way to a parent’s heart was through their baby and He wanted to demonstrate the genuineness of His tender love and care for the little ones.

Thirdly, I think He was angry with them because no one is outside the care and plan and love of God, not even a baby.  No one is outside the concern of God, not a baby.  No one ever coming to Jesus Christ intrudes on Him.

Fourthly, I think He was angry because children provided Him a tremendous picture, a tremendous illustration, a tremendous analogy for salvation.  And He took advantage of it every time He could.

Fifthly, I think He was angry with them because He needed to set them straight about something.  And that something was this, you don’t ever say who can or cannot come to Christ.  That’s not within your prerogative.  If you follow the life of Christ, you will find that He refused some people they brought and He sought some people they rejected.  And it is a lesson of who’s in charge, again.  And so, He really was eliminating their misunderstanding, their lack of concern for little ones.

Note that Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children (verse 14). It belongs to them and to believers who have their innocence of the world and dependence on God the Father. If that sounds familiar, it is because Matthew recorded it in the previous chapter (Matthew 18:1-4), verses which I covered in May 2016.

Parents and people in charge of children close to them — family friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents — do well to begin religious instruction of some sort from an early age. My mother taught me how to pray by the time I was three years old. The sooner adults begin, the sooner the child begins to know Jesus Christ and God the Father. Furthermore, the sooner that begins the longer that journey in faith progresses and continues.

MacArthur gives us the following advice about children:

if God made them and God gave them and God gave them to be a blessing, then God wants them “returned” to Him for His use.  And that is why Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he’s old he won’t depart from it.”  That’s why Ephesians 6:4 very clearly says, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Because the task that you have is to give your children back to God, that’s your stewardship.  So remember, where they came from, and to where they are to return.

Go back to the Pentateuch, I’m thinking of Deuteronomy 6 for a minute.  Let me give you just a look at a pattern that you need to understand if you’re going to effectively teach children.  We must remember whose they are, where they came from and where they’re to return and we must teach them…we must teach them.  And here is how.  I believe God gave this to Moses in the very beginning with His people because it’s so basic, it hasn’t changed, the principles are here.  Verse 4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”  In other words, if you’re going to teach your children, it all begins with you worshiping the right God in the right way.   No idols.  You cannot teach them unless you commit yourself to the true religion.

Secondly, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart.”  What does that mean?  That means internalize what you believe about God.  Not only have the right theology, but the right heart.  You’ve got to commit to your children not only truth but truth in an uncompromising heart of conviction, truth in a pure heart, truth in a holy life so that you see God in everything.  You love Him with your heart, your mind, your soul, your power, everything.  If you’re going to teach your children, you’ve got to have the right God and the right faith and it’s got to come right out of your heart.  It has to be internal with you, not just external.

And then verse 7, I love this, “Teach them diligently unto thy children and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.”  What does that say?  That simply says that you have to teach from life situations.  You have the right faith in God, you’ve internalized it, your heart is filled with love, your passion is toward God, you love Him with your heart, mind and strength and now out of every vicissitude, every trial, every struggle, every moment of life, you teach the truth of God….when you stand up, sit down, walk in the way, lie down, every time you’ve got an opportunity.  It isn’t enough to sit down with your kids and read them a Bible story and then go on and live a worldly life the rest of the day.  You’ve got to draw God into every analogy, into every aspect of life.  They have to see the Lord in everything.  All of life becomes a blackboard in which you teach the truth of God.  And it’s unending, unceasing, constant.  Teach it diligently all the time, sitting down, walking, lying down, rising up so that it’s the flow of life.

Bedtime Bible stories, a religious bedroom wall plaque, simple prayers for toddlers, the Lord’s Prayer by the time the child starts nursery school, conversations about God’s creation when looking at plants or animals, saying Grace before meals in thanksgiving of His provisions are just a few ways parents, families and other guardians can convey the reality of divine truth.

Don’t wait for Sunday School or Christian school teachers to do it. Start with yourselves — today. Teaching a child about God’s love for him or her will be more effective than their hearing it from someone they see once a week for an hour. Patience, faith and a pure heart will benefit children enormously in their religious journey.

Next time: Matthew 19:16-22

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 19:10-12

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

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Today’s verses conclude Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple. He then reiterated that divorce was a permission, given man’s fallen state, and refuted that it was, as the Pharisees taught and practised, a commandment. Divorce is only to be used in case of adultery, He said, thereby reinforcing Old Testament law. By saying this, He humiliated the Pharisees and made them look like the law-breaking adulterers they were.

John MacArthur explains that the Pharisees disappeared afterward, because we are left with Jesus addressing the disciples (emphases mine):

The reasons they disappeared is they had just been made into adulterers because they were standing there having had to face the reality that any divorce for other than adultery causes you to become an adulterer when you remarry[;] the fact is they had done that, perhaps myriad times, represented by the groups that were there and they were nothing but a lot of adulterers and they just fade.  We don’t see them anymore.  But by this time, the disciples are enraptured with this teaching of our Lord.  And the scene moves into a house, in verse 10.  And the Lord sits down with the disciples and I’m sure they followed up on that discussion with a lot of other discussion about marriage.

Jesus’s words perplexed the disciples. They had seen so many divorces in their lifetime that to hear those breakups defiled men and women seemed unthinkable. Therefore, they countered that it would be better never to get married at all than have no recourse to divorce only in the case of adultery (verse 10). A lifetime commitment would be too risky.

They sound like men and women today who operate under one of two scenarios. One says it is better to live together for fear a lifetime commitment could be living hell. The second is to get divorced for any variety of reasons — e.g. incompatibility, irreconcilable differences — once things go pear-shaped.

Perhaps the Jews of Jesus’s time, led by their hierarchy, thought similarly to us. Maybe, like them, the majority of us are looking for great sex and shimmering romance every day of the week. Once married life fails to deliver, we’re outta there.

Some people go on to marry serially. Zsa Zsa Gabor once said the reason she got married so often was that she wanted to consummate relations in a spiritually legal way. In her case, as in many others, once the emotional thrill and initial romance faded, she or her husband wanted to divorce. On a positive note, happy 30th anniversary wishes go to her and her husband Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. They were married on August 14, 1986. I am very glad this union has been a blessing to them both.

The uncertainty of the future is why marriage scares people. This is why sensible parents advise their children to take their time in choosing a lifetime partner. There are many secularist families in Britain who are proud of their no divorce records which stretch beyond the generations and into the extended family. By contrast, there are notionally Christian families where any number of couples have divorced for trivial reasons; they simply ‘grew apart’ or ‘didn’t like each other anymore’. Hmm.

Before I go on to verses 11 and 12 in today’s reading, may I remind those contemplating marriage to consider that there will be times when sexual performance wanes as quickly as it waxes. Employment and financial insecurity are two main causes. Today’s economy is hardly conducive to non-stop virility and desire. Therefore, couples should be aiming to marry their best friend of the opposite sex.

Of their successful marriage, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband said:

It was a friendship, but when you’re with someone over a certain time you fall in love.[8]

On that note, I haven’t seen one of these plaques for years, but when I was growing up, they were in every American curio shop. This is truer than engaged couples realise:

Image result for kissin don't last cookin do

(Photo credit: Pinterest)

A truly loving union is a daily blessing from on high. MacArthur tells us:

Marriage is a sacred thing and it is the greatest gift that God can ever give.  I can only tell you that from my own experience as you can from yours that when you have two people who love Jesus Christ and love each other and live a life together under God’s leading and direction and in the power of the Spirit, it gets so good sometimes you have to pinch yourself to think it’s real and that’s as God intended it

It really does get that good!

Jesus responded to the disciples’ caution by saying not everyone is called to a life of celibacy (verse 11). Staying single is fine for some, but the majority will not be able to cope long term. MacArthur analyses Jesus’s response this way:

He says, that’s a nice idea.  That’s a nice sentiment.  You’ll just stay single, that way you won’t get into something you can’t get out of.  You’ll just say single, but he says, look, not everybody can handle that.  Not everybody can handle singleness, except those two whom it is given.  May I suggest to you that singleness is a gift of sorts, it’s given to a person.  That’s what Jesus said.  Unless you can handle singleness, singleness isn’t going to be the best thing for you.  You might say, in don’t want to get married, because I don’t want to make a commitment and all you are going to do is be left with a rollercoaster of emotions and find yourself being tempted in and out of all kinds of illicit thoughts, if not acts the rest of your life.

Jesus went on to discuss eunuchs (verse 12). He said there are eunuchs from birth, referring to congenital malformation of sexual organs. Then there are manmade eunuchs, referring to castration at the hands of another. Finally, there are eunuchs who do so for godly reasons. MacArthur says He meant becoming asexual and turning off desire, not actually castrating oneself. St Paul was asexual but he did not advocate that state for his converts for the aforementioned reasons that it would eventually lead to tortured emotions and/or fornication.

Jesus concluded by saying ‘let him who is able to receive this receive it’. MacArthur says He referred to heeding His teachings on divorce and celibacy. Ultimately:

marriage is the norm and I want you to hear that and receive it. 

And:

… if you can receive it, you better receive it.  In other words, if you have the life of God in your soul and you find yourself loving the Lord Jesus Christ and if you find yourself under the authority of the Word of God, then you better receive this teaching and the teaching is, you are married for life or you are single for the glory of God or for some other physical reason, not just so you can just play around.

In closing, Matthew Henry has the following pearls of wisdom about marriage and mankind’s flawed appetites:

Note, 1. Corrupt nature is impatient of restraint, and would fain break Christ’s bonds in sunder, and have a liberty for its own lusts. 2. It is a foolish, peevish thing for men to abandon the comforts of this life, because of the crosses that are commonly woven in with them, as if we must needs go out of the world, because we have not every thing to our mind in the world or must enter into no useful calling or condition, because it is made our duty to abide in it. No, whatever our condition is, we must bring our minds to it, be thankful for its comforts, submissive to its crosses, and, as God has done, set the one over against the other, and make the best of that which is, Ecclesiastes 7:14. If the yoke of marriage may not be thrown off at pleasure, it does not follow that therefore we must not come under it but therefore, when we do come under it, we must resolve to comport with it, by love, and meekness, and patience, which will make divorce the most unnecessary undesirable thing that can be.

Also, for those who are not interested in marriage :

they who have the gift of continence, and are not under any necessity of marrying, do best if they continue single (1 Corinthians 7:1) for they that are unmarried have opportunity, if they have but a heart, to care more for the things of the Lord, how they may please the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), being less encumbered with the cares of this life, and having a greater vacancy of thought and time to mind better things. The increase of grace is better than the increase of the family, and fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ is to be preferred before any other fellowship.

For both groups of people:

Note, That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and stuck to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to the preparing of us for, and the preserving of us to, the kingdom of heaven.

For those wondering if they will find the right partner, be patient and pray on it. Sometimes God wants our edges a bit smoother or in a different locale before He provides us with one.

I know many people who got married for the first time in their 30s and 50s. They are all very happy, contented couples.

Interestingly, either the husband or the wife from each often says s/he would not have been ‘ready’ for their spouse had they met them decades earlier. How true!

Next time: Matthew 19:13-15

Bible read me 2The 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 19:7-9

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

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This week’s verses continue our Lord’s discussion on divorce with the Pharisees.

There is much to unpack here.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple.

This week’s verses are the middle of Jesus’s teaching on divorce. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18. Therefore, it is interesting that they interpret Moses’s position on divorce as a ‘command’ (verse 7), when our Lord clearly saw it as something which is ‘allowed’ (verse 8).

The passage the Pharisees were referring to was Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

In short, John MacArthur says that ‘indecency’ (verse 1) refers to something just short of adultery. Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, it had nothing to do with burnt dinners, sloppy housekeeping or disagreements with the mother-in-law. Under Mosaic Law, adulterers were to be stoned to death, although there were many who never received that sentence. MacArthur surmises that there were too many adulterers at the time; therefore, handing out death sentences would have been rank hypocrisy. It would certainly have thinned the population, if true.

In any event, a woman’s former husband cannot remarry her if he’s divorced her (verse 4). That is the real takeaway message here — and the one command!

Divorcing for anything other than adultery defiles the woman. Therefore, the ex-husband may not remarry her on those grounds. This is why verse 4 speaks of not bringing sin upon the land that the Lord has given in inheritance.

No Old Testament passages on divorce command it. In fact, in some instances it was strictly forbidden. Where a man has sexual congress with a virgin to whom he is not married (Deuteronomy 22:18-19, emphases mine):

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip[b] him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels[c] of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin[d] of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

Later on, it says the same in verses 28 and 29:

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

We read in Leviticus 21:7 of priestly marriage:

They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.

And, again, in verse 14:

A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin[b] of his own people,

Going back to Deuteronomy 24, MacArthur sums it up this way:

Deuteronomy 24 does not command divorce.  It commands that you not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.  It’s a very strong word, my friend.  You don’t want to marry an illegitimately divorced person because you’re marrying someone who is defiled

This is because God intended for the holy covenant of marriage among His people:

Now, you see, God is protecting marriage.  And He’s saying this: you can’t just divorce your wife for anything you want, or you’re going to turn her into an adulteress, whoever marries her into an adulterer, yourself and who you marry into one, so just know that, and that ought to help you when you think about getting rid of your wife.  Because you’re just going to become an adulterer, and whoever you marry is going to fall into that category, and so is everybody else.  And you see, God is, in a sense, trying to insulate that one man, one woman, monogamous, lifelong relationship by making the alternative one of disaster.  And so, this text does not command divorce; it commands that you do not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.

Some may ask if the Bible explains how Moses decided, with God’s help, to allow divorce as a realistic way of dealing with the Israelites’ ‘hardness of heart’ (verse 8). There is no such verse:

Frankly, dear friends, we don’t know where in the Old Testament Moses actually permitted it because it doesn’t say that, but we do know that it must have been permitted for a legitimate basis or it wouldn’t have been discussed for illegitimate basis in Deuteronomy 24.  But the Old Testament does not give us a text where it says I permit you to get a divorce on the basis of this.  So, we have to sort of draw that out.  And I think there’s a reason for that.  I think God avoided saying it.  It is a permission, but it’s sort of way behind the scenes, it’s not overtly stated lest people hurry to that passage to justify themselves

God is also merciful and does not want to see innocent parties penalised by forbidding them to remarry:

… when there was an irreconcilable problem, in other words, you’ve got a partner in a marriage who is in an adulterous relationship and will not sever it and will not sever it, and there’s no way to bring it back, there’s no way to restore it.  God may be gracious to that adulterous person, but where that hard heart is not softened, God permitted divorce for the innocent party to be free to remarry.  I believe where you have an unrepentant, irreconcilable adultery, you have a hard heartAnd you are pursuing your adultery in a hard-hearted way, then Moses allowed, not condoned, not commended, and not commanded, but allowed divorce, when God was gracious and didn’t bring death.  That’s all we can understand about it, otherwise nothing makes sense. 

We cannot give any more latitude than the Word of God does.  It was a concession on account of sin to make life more bearable for one sinned against

In the case of death, the marriage covenant comes to an end. As such, the widowed party can remarry:

In other words, let’s say in the Old Testament your husband commits adultery, he’s dead.  He has no chance to repent.  If he’s unredeemed, he’s in hell forever.  Are you free to remarry?  Sure, because death breaks the marriage

There were, however, times when divorce was allowed. Ezra 10 describes what happened when men of Israel married pagan women then repented. They came up with the idea to divorce them: they were not of their culture which was known to be adulterous. They were defiled women in the first place. Ezra gave the men his permission to divorce.

MacArthur says:

They had temple prostitutes, both male and female.  And when they went to worship, for example, the people who worshiped Baal would go in and actually engage in sex orgies.  And I believe the reason that the reason there can be legitimate grounds for divorce here, is because their spouses were pagan adulterers and idolaters, okay?  And on that basis, God is permitting them to shed those wives, or husbands, who are engaged in that incessant, unceasing worship of false gods connected not only with idolatry, but with adultery.  And so, you see implied here then that they were to be divorced because of the spiritual intermarriage with idols, and the physical union they were having with the prostitutes who carried on the idolatrous worship.  Now this is a hint, then, at the fact that there is legitimate divorce where there is adultery involved, a very important text. 

Isaiah 50 is interesting as it records God’s asking Israel for her divorce certificate for adultery — sinfulness via idolatry. That ‘certificate’ does not exist. Only God can make that decision. And, because He is loving and merciful, He did not divorce Himself from Israel.

He threatened it later, only after 700 years of continual hardness of heart and worse behaviour from Judah, as chronicled in Jeremiah 3. Even then, God called his adulterous (sinful) people to repentance!

Returning to Matthew 19, this is what Matthew Henry has to say about the ‘hardness of heart’ that Jesus — and Moses — referred to:

their being hardened against their relations they were generally violent and outrageous, which way soever they took, both in their appetites and in their passions and therefore if they had not been allowed to put away their wives, when they had conceived a dislike of them, they would have used them cruelly, would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps have murdered them. Note, There is not a greater piece of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be harsh and severe with his own wife. The Jews, it seems, were infamous for this, and therefore were allowed to put them away better divorce them than do worse, than that the altar of the Lord should be covered with tears, Malachi 2:13. A little compliance, to humour a madman, or a man in a frenzy, may prevent a greater mischief. Positive laws may be dispensed with for the preservation of the law of nature, for God will have mercy and not sacrifice but then those are hard-hearted wretches, who have made it necessary and none can wish to have the liberty of divorce, without virtually owning the hardness of their hearts. Observe, He saith, It is for the hardness of your hearts, not only theirs who lived then, but all their seed. Note, God not only sees, but foresees, the hardness of men’s hearts he suited both the ordinances and providences of the Old Testament to the temper of that people, both in terror.

Henry adds an excellent concise explanation of the difference between the messages of the Old and New Testaments:

The law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s hearts, but the gospel of Christ cures it and his grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. By the law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel was the conquest of it.

That’s a marvellous way to explain the Bible. So many unchurched and unbelievers press the importance of Mosaic Law, when, in fact, Christ lifts that burden from us and brings us to life — in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Jesus repeats what has been written throughout the Old Testament (verse 9). He knew the Pharisees were divorcing their wives wrongly, thereby defiling them. This is MacArthur’s take:

He silenced the Pharisees.  In fact, He made them appear as adulterers.  So, when they came to Him, they really walked into a buzz saw.  They were trying to discredit Him and before the conversation is half over.  They’re standing there, a whole stack of adulterers in public gaze.

Next week’s post concludes Jesus’s teaching on divorce.

Parallel passages for today’s verses are Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:10-12 and Luke 16:18.

Next time: Matthew 19:10-12

Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgOne of last week’s posts featured Charles Haddon Spurgeon‘s insights on eternity.

Today’s entry throws the spotlight on his assessment of the Church of the 19th century and how she — and we today — can achieve unity. There are several quotes at the link. This is one of them:

It is not likely we should all see eye to eye. You cannot make a dozen watches all tick to the same time, much less make a dozen men all think the same thoughts. But, still, if we should all bow our thoughts to that one written Word, and would own no authority but the Bible, the Church could not be divided, could not be cut in pieces as she now is. 307.167

The Bible — divinely inspired — is read and heeded by too few Christians. Some of us prefer delving into religious self-help books, others poetry or modern church music.

Making a silent, personal commitment to reading and studying the truths of the Bible is the best way we can improve our relationship with Jesus, God and our fellow man.

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 19:3-6

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

—————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the first two verses of Matthew 19, which introduce Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

He was now in Judea, beyond the Jordan, in a region called Perea.

As last week’s post explained, the crowds continued to gather around Him. Among them were the usual groupings of the Jewish hierarchy.

The Pharisees approached Jesus with a question on the legality of divorce for any cause (verse 3). This question was designed to trap and discredit Him.

There was also another angle. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18.

Briefly, two schools of Jewish thought existed on the matter. Rabbi Shammai said that divorce was strictly forbidden. Rabbi Hillel said that any trivial reason provided grounds for divorce. Not surprisingly, Hillel’s argumentation was the more popular with the Pharisees.

There is also a third aspect regarding not only the institution of marriage but also the location of this confrontation. John MacArthur says that John the Baptist was held prisoner in Perea, at or near Herod Antipas’s summer home in Machaerus. John the Baptist had warned Herod Antipas about his adulterous relationship with Herodias, who grew very angry with his pronouncements. Her daughter was the one who requested the beheading of this last great prophet of the Bible.

Instead of debating the Pharisees on schools of rabbinical thought, Jesus answered by going straight to the creation story (verses 4 – 6). He cited Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

He asked if they had never read those verses before. They, of course, would have done. Therefore, it was time for Him to remind them of their meaning and import. As Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

Note, It will be of great use to us often to think of our creation, how and by whom, what and for what, we were created. He made them male and female, one female for one male so that Adam could not divorce his wife, and take another, for there was no other to take. It likewise intimated an inseparable union between them Eve was a rib out of Adam’s side, so that he could not put her away, but he must put away a piece of himself, and contradict the manifest indications of her creation.

Subsequent formal marriage ceremony rites symbolise the reuniting of man with woman into one, indissoluble body. This makes the bonds of marriage the strongest of family relationships:

a man must leave his parents, to cleave to his wife. See here the power of a divine institution, that the result of it is a union stronger than that which results from the highest obligations of nature.

it is in a manner equivalent to that between one member and another in the natural body. As this is a reason why husbands should love their wives, so it is a reason why they should not put away their wives, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, or cut it off, but nourishes and cherishes it, and does all he can to preserve it. They two shall be one, therefore there must be but one wife, for God made but one Eve for one Adam, Malachi 2:15.

Note that God did not make more than one male and one female. His plan and His purpose in doing this should remind us of the fundamentals of couples and their loving bond.

John MacArthur points out what God did and did not do:

He did not make provision for polygamy.  He did not make provision for divorce by making any spare people

When he made them, he made them a male and a female, and that was it.  Not a male and two females, not four folks who could work it out the best way.  Very basic.  So, in the case of Adam and Eve, divorce was not only wrong, it was inadvisable.  Not only that, it was impossible.  It was absolutely impossible.  There were no alternatives.  There was nowhere to go, no one else to talk to, nothing.  That’s the way God meant it.  If it isn’t you two, it isn’t anything.  This is God’s intended creation, a non-optional, indissoluble union …

And just because spares came along as time went on didn’t change God’s original intention, you understand?  It didn’t change it at all.  And God never intended two people to be married and be poking around seeing if they like somebody better.  That is not an alternative that God ever intended, and that’s obvious by virtue of his creation. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘cleave’:

It means basically “to have a bond that can’t be broken.”  It’s a word that’s used really for glue.  It means “to be stuck”  …  It’s a happy stuck and not a sad stuck.  That’s the idea here.  But you’re stuck.  You are cleaving, the idea of glue.  In fact, there’s a translation … where it even uses the word “glue” in Genesis 2 to refer to this.  “A man should be glued to his wife.” 

There also is inherent in the word another thought that takes it into the heart a little more, and it’s sometimes used to speak of pursuing hard after something.  And so you have the idea then of two people who are stuck together, and are so because they pursue hard after each other.  So you have two hearts diligently and utterly committed to pursuing one another in love … Glued in mind, glued in will, glued in spirit, glued in emotion

Malachi 2:16 is relevant in this context, likening divorce to attacking oneself physically:

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[b] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Henry considers that verse and the Greek word used in the ancient text of Matthew 19:6:

From hence he infers, What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Note, (1.) Husband and wife are of God’s joining together synezeuxenhe hath yoked them together, so the word is, and it is very significant. God himself instituted the relation between husband and wife in the state of innocence. Marriage and the sabbath are the most ancient of divine ordinances. Though marriage be not peculiar to the church, but common to the world, yet, being stamped with a divine institution, and here ratified by our Lord Jesus, it ought to be managed after a godly sort, and sanctified by the word of God, and prayer. A conscientious regard to God in this ordinance would have a good influence upon the duty, and consequently upon the comfort, of the relation. (2.) Husband and wife, being joined together by the ordinance of God, are not to be put asunder by any ordinance of man. Let not man put them asunder not the husband himself, nor any one for him not the magistrate, God never gave him authority to do it. The God of Israel hath said, that he hateth putting away, Malachi 2:16. It is a general rule that man must not go about to put asunder what God hath joined together.

Next week’s entry will explore why divorce came into being during Moses’s time.

For now, perhaps these verses and this type of explanation should be made more a part of courses undertaken in preparation for marriage. We normally think of the marriage ceremony in church as defining the indissoluble character of such a union.

The greater headline to take away is that the ceremony is secondary in importance to the symbolic fusion of husband and wife in the same way that Adam and Eve were bonded together as two people, the rib once again ‘united’ with the rest into one ‘body’, functioning as one entity together in love.

That pertains to secular wedding ceremonies, too, whether those couples believe it or not.

This is why it is so important we make a careful, deliberate decision before undertaking the commitment and consequences of the marital contract.

Next time: Matthew 19:7-9

Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgCharles Haddon Spurgeon was a Victorian preacher and founder of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

He was a Particular Baptist, meaning that he allied himself with the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith which is essentially Calvinist, outside of adult baptism.

He is still widely quoted today and is known as the Prince of Preachers.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Spurgeon admirers may already be acquainted with Spurgeon.US, which is a repository of over 4,000 quotes from this great man. The topics are categorised alphabetically. This is truly a treasure trove of Protestant Christianity.

I enjoyed reading what Spurgeon had to say on eternity. A few gems follow. The numbers at the end of the quotes are the sermon numbers. Emphases mine below.

When the wheel turns, those who are lowest rise, and the highest sink. Patience, then, believer, eternity will right the wrongs of time. ME280

Time tries most things, but eternity tries all. 1736.465

Certain men in these days declare that “everlasting” does not mean everlasting, but indicates a period to which an end will come sooner or later; I have no sympathy with them, and feel no inclination to renounce the everlastingness of heaven and other divine blessings in order to gratify the tastes of wicked men by denying the eternity of future punishments. 1186.438

A new way of reading the Bible has been invented in these highly enlightened days. I used to get on exceedingly well with the book years ago, for it seemed clear and plain enough, but modern interpreters would puzzle us out of our wits and out of our souls, if they could, by their vile habit of giving new meanings to plain words. Thank God, I keep to the old simple way; but I am informed that the inventors of the new minimizing glasses manage to read the big words small, and they have even read down the word “everlasting” into a little space of time. Everlasting may be six weeks or six months according to them. I use no such glasses; my eyes remain the same, and “everlasting” is “everlasting” to me whether I read of everlasting life or everlasting punishment. If I clip the word in one place I must do so in another, and it will never do to have a terminable heaven. I cannot afford to give it up here when its meaning is joyous to the saint, and therefore not there when its sound is terrible to the sinner. 1413.271

What saith the Scripture? “Eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord”—not, a moment, and then it is all over; but eternal destruction. The Scripture has put the two side by side, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” The same word applies to both. As long as heaven shall shine so long hell shall burn. As long as the saints are happy, so long shall those whose impenitence has made them castaways be wretched. 3324.497

We could do with thousands of Charles Spurgeons today.

Sadly, our seminaries aren’t quite up to creating great evangelists.

Still, let us be thankful we have plenty of Spurgeon material at our disposal.

Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomPeople are leaving the Church for a variety of reasons.

Micah J Murray has a post exploring those reasons. The commenters have more. This one says, in part:

I am weary of going face-to-face and having others think there is something wrong just because I look down or am not smiling. Could it be possible that in my despair or quietness, I am closer to God than ever before?

Precisely.

Yet, it seems that going to church now has to be a psychoanalytical, therapeutic exercise with the pastor or vicar silently summing up a newcomer or the occasional attendee after the service. Everyone is assumed to be an emotional cripple, and the clergyman is the guy (or gal) who will make that decision.

Why can’t we go back to the old days when we went to church to worship God? Why do we have to join at least one group or committee in order to be considered proper church members? Yes, I know there are verses from St Paul’s letters which encourage that, but his converts were also establishing fledgling Church communities. The Church grew into huge national and international denominational organisations.

Therefore, not everyone has to be ‘active’ in order to be a church member in good standing. Priests and ministers will disagree, but this is yet another reason why people shy away from either church worship or attending too often. They don’t want to be too well acquainted with clergy or other members. It could lead to further involvement.

Clergy and elders should really leave people alone and let them decide whether to get involved in groups and committees, most of which are surrogate forms of therapy.

Church is primarily for worship — spending structured time with God and Christ Jesus.

For many churchgoers, true worship is all that they want. Please let them be.

Although writing about a secular subject, author John M Barry wrote the following in his book The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. His words could also be applied to the church congregations of yesteryear:

They are simply a loose confederation of individuals, each of whom remains largely a free agent whose achievements are independent of the institution but who also shares and benefits from association with others. In these cases the institution simply provides an infrastructure that supports the individual, allowing him or her to flourish so that the whole often exceeds the sum of the parts.

Many would like to see a return to that kind of outlook.

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 19:1-2

Teaching About Divorce

19 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

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Matthew 18 records Jesus’s teaching session with His disciples at Peter’s house in Capernaum.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say in Matthew 18:7-9 that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

Then, He gave them the Parable of the Lost Sheep — Matthew 18:10-14 — as an example to follow once they become evangelists and leaders of the fledgling Church. They did not understand it as such as they had no comprehension of what would happen to Jesus.

Jesus concluded with two lessons on the necessity of forgiveness, following the divine example of God the Father.

The first concerns what to do if someone sins against us (verses 15 to 20). Verse 18 says:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven.

Whatever we hold against someone in this life will be held against us in the next unless we mend our fences with that person.

Verses 21 to 35 relate the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. It begins with this exchange:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The parable concerns a merciful master who forgave his servant’s debt. The servant, however, did not forgive someone who owed him. Not only did he choke the man, he had him put in prison. When the master found out, he became angry with the servant for not showing mercy to his debtor:

34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Now we come to Matthew 19:1, which tells us that when Jesus finished ‘these sayings’ He left Galilee for Judea ‘beyond the Jordan’.

Although the next two entries will concern divorce, it is important to understand that Matthew 19:1-2 are not incidental verses but mark an important point in our Lord’s ministry.

Matthew Henry tells us that Galilee was a region that was looked down upon and that Jesus’s attire reflected its humble character (emphases mine):

it was an instance of his humiliation, and in this, as in other things, he appeared in a mean state, that he would go under the character of a Galilean, a north-countryman, the least polite and refined part of the nation.

Although He moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, both towns were in Galilee. Therefore, He stayed in the land of His upbringing until He completed His preaching and healing miracles to and for His immediate people. Henry says that He had accomplished all that His Father had wanted him to do. Those in ministry today can also take a lesson from this:

Note, As Christ’s faithful ministers are not taken out of the world, so they are not removed from any place, till they have finished their testimony in that place, Revelation 11:7. This is very comfortable to those that follow not their own humours, but God’s providence, in their removals, that their sayings shall be finished before they depart. And who would desire to continue any where longer than he has work to do for God there?

Jesus drew a line under Galilee at this point. Although He returned there, it was on the way to other places.

It is important to understand that the Galileans might have followed Him in fascination, but very few believed He was their Messiah.

The Nazarenes tried to kill Him. He read a scroll with verses from Isaiah and announced that He was their fulfilment. The Nazarenes asked each other, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ They were unsettled by His words. Here is Luke 4:24:

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.

He then related the story of Elijah to illustrate that just as the prophet cleansed the Syrian leper — an enemy and a foreigner — so He would minister elsewhere. His townspeople became angry with Him, chased him out of town and attempted to throw Him from a cliff. Luke 4:30 says:

But passing through their midst, he went away.

Nazareth would neither know nor experience His miracles and His teaching.

Recall that, even though He had been living in Capernaum with Peter and his family, the townspeople rejected Him. Because the people in Capernaum actually saw and heard Him, yet disbelieved or were indifferent, Jesus says their punishment would be greater than that of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon.

His next — and final — ministry concentrated on Judea and Jerusalem, including areas that were near the Gentiles:

Thus Christ intimated, that, while he kept within the confines of the Jewish nation, he had his eye upon the Gentiles, and his gospel was aiming and coming toward them.

He travelled south. John MacArthur describes the geography:

He came into the region, or area, or borders of Judaea beyond the Jordan.  Now you know the land of Palestine, don’t you?  It’s split down the middle, really, by the River Jordan.  It runs from the very far north into the Lake of Chinnereth or the Sea of Galilee, and it runs down from there to the Dead Sea

And the Jordan River is a very important point in the center of Israel.  Galilee is in the north and Judah is in the south.  Galilee is a rural area.  Judah is the more populated area where Jerusalem is

Jesus took a particular route:

… instead of going straight down to Judah he goes east, crosses the Jordan River, goes down the back side of the Jordan on the eastern side, and the will cross again south by Jericho, ascend up the mountain to Jerusalem.  That’s the route that he takes. 

As verse 1 tells us, He was going ‘beyond’ the Jordan. MacArthur says the Jews called that locale Perea, from the word peran, which means ‘beyond’.

Matthew 19 and 20 cover His ministry in Perea.

Jesus went there for historically religious reasons — to avoid the Samaritans, whom the Jews considered defiled:

Also, any Jew traveling from the north to the south would go that way, because if he went straight south, he would have to go through the land of the Samaritans, and they didn’t want to do that because they thought the Samaritans to be a defiled people, and also a rather dangerous people

Another reason for going to Perea was Passover, which was imminent:

So they would go east and down that area of Perea, which meant that this close to the Passover and the feast season, there would be a lot of pilgrims going that way, as well.  So the Lord would be able to minister to the inhabitants of Perea, as well as to the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.  So it was a very careful thing the Lord did as he approached Jerusalem from this route.

So he goes east and down towards Jerusalem from the back side of the Jordan.

This explanation helps us to put verse 2 in a more meaningful context. Large crowds followed Him in Perea and He healed them there.

A parallel verse can be found in Mark 10:1, which I wrote about in 2012. The only difference is that Mark used the word ‘taught’ and Matthew ‘healed’.

MacArthur says:

These healings were the manifestation of his Messianic credentials.  They showed his power and his compassion …

So it’s very much like the Galilean ministry:  A crowd gathers, he teaches, and he heals them, giving them the Word of God, and affirming its truthfulness and Himself as the spokesman of God by his miraculous compassion and miraculous power. 

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus knew His death was imminent. However, instead of being preoccupied with the horrifying crucifixion to come, in His infinite mercy and love, He taught and healed people.

As Matthew’s Gospel enters its concluding accounts of our Lord’s ministry:

we have the final presentation of the king, and the final rejection by the nation of Israel.  So we’re moving into the final section.  He presents himself, and is ultimately, finally rejected, crucified.  While that seems to be the sweeping focus of this final phase of Matthew, keep in mind, too, that all the while, he is teaching his disciples.

So you have Jesus presenting himself in Judea and Jerusalem, you have him moving toward his passion, the crowds are there, the people are there, the popul[ace] is there, but interspersed and woven through all of that lessons, and more lessons, and more lessons for the disciples who are to carry on the ministry.  So it’s a great time of transition for the Lord

These two verses made me think about the way I learned about Jesus at home and at school in my youth. Whilst I have little to criticise, if I were teaching an adolescent about our Lord in either place, I would intersperse the big picture of His ministry with the reality that people, by and large, rejected Him. Sure, He had huge crowds but they did not ensure His ‘success’ on earth. In fact, their disbelief and yearning for political salvation led to His death — for their, and our, sins. Yes, it was destined to happen, but, by the time we get to Good Friday and Barabbas, teens should no longer be surprised or puzzled by the mob’s decision.

Teens can understand nuance — just about — so, it is important to present Jesus’s ministry as fully as possible.

The same holds true for adults. It’s only because I’ve been doing this series that I have come to understand the complexity of Jesus’s ministry, His people and His enemies. The mob’s reaction on Good Friday is no longer a mystery, which it was for many years. I also understand that Jesus did not come to earth to deliver His people politically but spiritually.

His message was never going to be popular. Our world is of a similar mindset today. We want a utopia, which is never going to happen. People say, ‘Oh, if only we practised Christianity properly, we would have world peace, an end to poverty and complete happiness.’ That can happen only in small measure, and, whilst Western civilisation is based on Christian values (even for secular humanists) and has improved the lives of countless millions over many centuries, we still live in a fallen world.

Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins and rose again to bring us to life everlasting: a totally different proposition. Yes, we are to love and care for our neighbour, do the right thing and improve our world — but, in doing all those things, we are to focus on the life beyond the present. That is where our eternal future lies. May it be with Him.

Next time: Matthew 19:3-6

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 18:10-14

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.[a] 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my[b] Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

——————————————————————————————–

From Matthew 18:1 through to today’s verses, Jesus spoke of ‘little ones’ — childlike believers, not children — and avoiding temptation.

In Matthew 18:1-4 He says that believers must become as humble as children. He was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter, incidentally, is in the three-year Lectionary.

Matthew 18:5-6 deals with the gravity of people causing believers to sin. Jesus said it would be preferable for them to have a millstone around their neck and drown in the middle of the sea. As my post explains (see link), drowning was a horrifying punishment that was unknown to the Jews until the Romans came to rule over them.

Jesus went on to say in Matthew 18:7-9 that it would be better to remove an eye or a limb that causes us to sin rather than be condemned to hell.

He gave them the Parable of the Lost Sheep as an example to follow once they become evangelists and leaders of the fledgling Church. They did not understand it as such as they had no comprehension of what would happen to Jesus.

Jesus warned them not to ‘despise’ the believers who would soon be in their care (verse 10). Clergy and lay leaders can also draw something from that. They are not to laugh at believers, nor are they to treat their flock with condescension. They are not to ignore them or to debase them. They are not to behave towards those in their spiritual care as the Jewish leaders did with the devout Jews of modest means.

Matthew Henry tells us (emphases mine):

We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them we must not say, “Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?” Nor should we make a slight matter of doing that which will entangle and perplex them. This despising of the little ones is what we are largely cautioned against, Romans 14:3,10,15,20,21. We must not impose upon the consciences of others, nor bring them into subjection to our humours, as they do who say to men’s souls, Bow down, that we may go over. There is a respect owing to the conscience of every man who appears to be conscientious.

Jesus’s warning also includes leading innocent believers into temptation and sin.

Jesus said that the believers’ angels ‘always’ see the face of God the Father in heaven (verse 11). These angels are guards for the faithful.

That said, both our commentators say that this does not mean each person has a specific guardian angel. Henry explains:

Some have imagined that every particular saint has a guardian angel but why should we suppose this, when we are sure that every particular saint [believer], when there is occasion, has a guard of angels? This is particularly applied here to the little ones, because they are most despised and most exposed. They have but little that they can call their own, but they can look by faith on the heavenly hosts, and call them theirs. While the great ones of the world have honourable men for their retinue and guards, the little ones of the church are attended with glorious angels which bespeaks not only their dignity, but the danger those run themselves upon, who despise and abuse them. It is bad being enemies to those who are so guarded and it is good having God for our God, for then we have his angels for our angels.

John MacArthur says:

It doesn’t mean that every little baby has a guardian angel for two reasons. First of which, it doesn’t say that. Second of which, it isn’t talking about physical babies. It also does not mean that every single Christian has his own personal angel. Doesn’t say that either. It just says their angels, collectively, are in Heaven standing in the very presence of God. They are the angels of His presence. They are the holy angels who have access to His throne. They behold His face, and those angels have as their special assignment the care of God’s little ones. That’s all it’s saying. You can’t conclude from that text that every single baby has his own angel, every single Christian has his own angel. That…that theory grew up, but it’s silly, because angels wasting their time when we were asleep just sitting around twiddling their celestial thumbs. I mean it wouldn’t make any sense at all. Plus there are times when some of us need a whole bunch of ’em, and we’d have to borrow them from somebody else. That’s not taught in the Scripture.

It did become believed in Judaism, however. The Jewish tradition and superstition, it appears in the beautiful story called Tobit, where everybody, every little child has his own angel. In fact, the Jews did believe this in the time of our Lord, and that’s why, in Acts 12:15, you remember when they were praying for Peter to get outta prison? And the Lord delivered Peter, and he banged on the door, and the little girl came to the door and came back and said, “It’s Peter.” They said, “No, no, he’s in prison.” They were praying for him to get out. They just believe he would. And so somebody says, “Oh, it is his angel.” Now, that wasn’t necessarily theologically correct. What it did was articulate a superstition at the time, and the superstition was that everybody had an angel, and that, when you died, it was very likely that your angel would then appear to the people who loved you after your death to let them know that you had gone. And so they’re saying, “Oh, this means Peter’s dead.” So they articulate that common superstition that is not taught in Scripture at all. All it’s saying in that verse is that God has all these angels standing in His presence, indicating their infinite holiness, and they are dispatched for the care of His little ones.

The eagle-eyed reader might wonder what happened to verse 11, which is in some Bible manuscripts but not in others. It is this beautiful verse:

For the Son of Man came to save the lost.

The parable which follows has its parallel passage in Luke 15:4-7:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

MacArthur says that Luke’s passage relates to unbelievers. Matthew’s concerns the faithful.

As I mentioned above, Jesus gave the disciples this parable in order that they would care for the converts and not neglect them like the Jewish leaders did. MacArthur tells us:

The Pharisees and the scribes, when they found somebody that was lowly or somebody that was insignificant or uneducated, untrained, not intellectual, not well-born, no influence, no money, they despised. They crushed. They stomped on those kinds of people.

However, this is not Jesus’s way, nor the way He wanted His disciples to treat the faithful:

… it is said of the Messiah in Matthew 12:20, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench.” A bruised reed trying to stay up in the wind, but bruised and about to bend and fall over, smoking flax trying to stay lit. The fire trying to be alive, but all that’s left is a small, little indication of light, and the smoke is coming that indicates its flickering out. When Jesus finds one who is broken and one whose life light is flickering, He doesn’t break it further and stomp out the flame that is remaining as the Pharisees did. He doesn’t break the bruised reed, and He doesn’t quench the smoking flax. Rather, He strengthens the bruised reed, and He fans to flame the smoking flax. The weak and the helpless, the powerless, those destroyed by sin and suffering, those bent with care, those lacking resources, those that the world pushes aside and tramples and despises and crushes and treated…and treats with contempt, the Lord loves and gathers the broken people to His heart. He heals the sick. He raises the outcasts. He cheers the fearful. He strengthens the doubters. He feeds the hungry; forgives the sinners. Not only that, He takes on their sorrow, takes on their woes, takes on their pain and exchanges His love.

Therefore, He gave them the parable of the shepherd — ‘the man’ — who owns one hundred sheep and goes to find the one that strays (verse 12). When the man finds his lost sheep, he rejoices and treasures it more than the ninety-nine which are together (verse 13).

Jesus concluded by linking that to God’s will for those who believe in His Son (verse 14) — let no believer go astray.

The Jewish leaders did not go looking for Jews who were not going to temple or for those who were broken spiritually or emotionally. They did not care. Jesus wanted the disciples to know their flock and minister to them as individuals. They were to know the faithful and their circumstances.

Of the shepherd, MacArthur says:

I think the idea here is very, very beautiful. I think a shepherd was so well acquainted with his sheep that he missed the presence of one because of its uniqueness, not because it didn’t add up when it was mathematically charted. It wasn’t a question of counting all day long. It was a question of missing one, because you didn’t see the inimitable characteristics of that one sheep that you knew well being acted out on the stage of the field. The shepherd really knew every sheep. In fact, most of the shepherds would know every little idiosyncrasy about every sheep, every little quirk, every little thing that the sheep did that was unique to that sheep, because they would inspect them every night as they were taking into the fold for the night; and so the shepherd would miss the one sheep.

He points out that the Bible has several verses about God’s love of the humble believer, among them:

1 Peter 5:7, “He careth for you.” And He cares for every single one of them. The Bible says repeatedly, “There is no respect of persons with God.” He doesn’t play any favorites. He doesn’t say anything about the sheep. He doesn’t say His fattest sheep, His best sheep, His most valuable sheep, His pet sheep. Didn’t matter. It was just one of the sheep; but every one of them was equally important to the Lord; because there’s no specific valuation given to one over another.

I love what it says in Job 34:19. Talks about God, and it says, “How much less to Him that accepteth not the person of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor! For they are all the work of His hands.” God is not particularly fancied by princes, nor does He fancy them to be better than paupers; and even in Matthew 25, when men are judged, sent into eternal hell for what they have done, He says, “Because you have not done it unto the least of these, My brethren.” There is no respect of persons with God.

This divine approach towards all believers is something which should reassure us. God loves us in our humble circumstances, our infirmity, our brokenness. May we show others the same generosity of spirit.

In closing, the remainder of Matthew 18 is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. I wanted to call attention to the verses on forgiveness. The first concerns what to do if someone sins against us (verses 15 to 20). Verse 18 says:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[f] in heaven.

Whatever we hold against someone in this life will be held against us in the next unless we mend our fences with that person.

Verses 21 to 35 relate the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. It begins with this exchange:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The parable concerns a merciful master who forgave his servant’s debt. The servant, however, did not forgive someone who owed him. Not only did he choke the man, he had him put in prison. When the master found out, he became angry with the servant for not showing mercy to his debtor:

34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Let us not bear grudges. Let us make up with those who have wronged us in the past. Let’s put away our family feuds. Let’s do this as soon as we can. Any day could be our last on this earth. We do not want to die only to find that our grudges will be held against us in the world to come.

Next time: Matthew 19:1-2

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