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In 2008, many voters who did not cast a ballot for Barack Obama were disappointed but philosophical.

Life must go on, we figured.

We then hoped that a Republican would defeat him in 2012, but such was not the case. Again, we were disappointed but philosophical.

Now, finally, a Republican has won the election. Donald Trump’s voters are cautiously optimistic about the Electoral College vote despite the Jill Stein recounts and look forward to a safe inauguration in January.

Trump voters bear no ill will towards Hillary voters. We understand that some people are lifelong Democrats who still romanticise the party, recalling the days of FDR and Harry Truman. That’s okay.

However, Hillary’s voters are still apoplectic. The_Donald has a full list (language alert in comments) of the violence angry leftists have committed against people of all ages — including children — who like Trump. There were also leftists who didn’t physically or verbally lash out but lied about Trump supporters attacking them.

One of the incidents on the list concerns a news item published on December 1 in the Observer-Reporter in Washington County, Pennsylvania. A 27-year-old man brutally assaulted his 69-year-old neighbour in a block of flats. This took place just a few days before Thanksgiving (emphases mine):

Matthew Pugh, 27 … was arrested Wednesday on a warrant obtained by Donora police on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment.

Borough police were called to the apartment complex Nov. 20. Witnesses told police that Pugh and the woman, also a Donora Towers resident, were in the lobby when they got into a disagreement about politics, particularly the recent presidential election.

Pugh reportedly became enraged. He allegedly picked up a chair and hit the woman over the head, knocking her to the floor. The chair opened a gash on her head that bled severely, police said. The woman also suffered other injuries in the fall

The woman was taken to Monongahela Valley Hospital for treatment of her injuries. Police said Pugh was taken to the same hospital for an evaluation.

Pugh was arraigned before District Judge Larry Hopkins and placed in Washington County jail on $50,000 bond. He is scheduled for a Dec. 14 preliminary hearing before District Judge Mark Wilson.

An article by Dennis Prager for Townhall described the madness surrounding Thanksgiving celebrations. A number of Hillary voters decided to not participate with Trump-voting family members. This affected all generations and, yes, some parents disowned their Trump-supporting children.

This will probably recur at Christmas. I highly recommend everyone read Prager’s ’10 Reasons Left-Wingers Cut Trump Voters From Their Lives’. Excerpts follow:

… conservatives were not one whit less fearful of Clinton and the Democrats than Democrats were of Trump and Republicans.

Yet virtually no conservatives cut off contact with friends, let alone parents, who supported Clinton.

Exactly.

Here are 10 reasons left-wingers cut Trump voters from their lives.

1. Just like our universities shut out conservative ideas and speakers, more and more individuals on the left now shut out conservative friends and relatives as well as conservative ideas.

2. Many, if not most, leftists have been indoctrinated with leftism their entire lives …

There are far more conservatives who read articles, listen to and watch broadcasts of the left and have studied under left-wing teachers than there are people on the left who have read, listened to or watched anything of the right or taken classes with conservative instructors.

3. Most left-wing positions are emotion-based. That’s a major reason people who hold leftist views will sever relations with people they previously cared for or even loved. Their emotions (in this case, irrational fear and hatred) simply overwhelm them.

This is why I occasionally make the plea for less emotion, especially crying. It interferes with a rational thought process.

4. Since Karl Marx, leftists have loved ideas more than people. All Trump voters who have been cut off by children, in-laws and lifelong friends now know how true that is …

5. People on the right think that most people on the left are wrong; people on the left think that most people on the right are evil

That is a very important distinction: wrong versus evil. Wrong has to do with thoughts and beliefs. Evil implies dark immorality.

The next point elaborates on that notion further:

6. The left associates human decency not so much with personal integrity as with having correct — i.e. progressive — political positions. Therefore, if you don’t hold progressive positions, you lack decency. Ask your left-wing friends if they’d rather their high school son or daughter cheat on tests or support Trump.

That is an erroneous way of thinking — one that affects how leftists see others, including centrist or conservative family members.

There is more at the link.

Prager strongly encourages Hillary voters to make amends with those they have defriended and disowned.

I couldn’t agree more. Christmas is only a few weeks away. Advent is a time of preparation for Jesus’s earthly birth. John the Baptist exhorted his followers to repent and to exercise charity during this time. May we follow suit.

Hand of God leedsacukThe Second Sunday in Advent is December 4, 2016.

Now is the time to find out more about Advent and also make sure your children can better appreciate this time of anticipation of and preparation for the Christ Child.

This post of mine has updated resources for Christians of all ages. My favourite for the children is the Road Trip film at the Paperless Christmas page (link in the post):

Advent resources for Catholics and Protestants

The following posts explore the themes of Advent and the pivotal presence of John the Baptist:

Advent reflections: John the Baptist and the Apocalypse

Advent: Make straight a highway

Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance

Advent: Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

And finally, for those who enjoy history and traditions, there is this one:

Advent and Christmas in colonial America

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 26:26-29

Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

———————————————————————————————

Now we are in Thursday of our Lord’s final Passover Week, which corresponds to the Christian Holy Week.

Before discussing this transition from Passover to the Sacrament, we can be sure this feast took place on a Thursday. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

at that time in the history of Israel, Passover was celebrated both on Thursday and on Friday because the customs in Galilee differed from the customs in Judea.  And so, the Lord on Thursday evening celebrates a Galilean Passover Day, and yet there is another Passover Day on Friday which means that Jesus can keep the Passover one day and die during the Passover as the Passover lamb the next day.  And God had arranged history and tradition and custom and circumstance to make that a reality.

Matthew’s account of the events of the Last Supper are briefer than Luke’s or John’s. We’ll look at Luke’s Gospel now. Incredibly, after this meal, the disciples got into another argument as to who was the greatest. Jesus once again brought them down to earth, telling them they were not to lord themselves over others. After all, He — the greatest of all — was serving them (Luke 22:24-27):

25 And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

John’s Gospel gives us the washing of the feet. For whatever reason, the Twelve neglected to wash their feet when they entered the room, a social norm as discussed in last week’s post. Jesus humbled Himself to do it. Remember that Peter objected, and, in His reply, Jesus said that not all were clean (John 13:3-11):

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,[a] but is completely clean. And you[b] are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Returning to Matthew, at this point, Judas admitted that he had betrayed Jesus (Matthew 26:21-25):

21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Matthew does not mention details of this moment, but John does. The Apostles asked Jesus who the betrayer was (John 13:26-30):

26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Many will want to know if Judas stayed for the main feast of the Last Supper. MacArthur says that he did not:

Jesus got rid of him before they actually ate the meal because he should have no part, should he, in the Lord’s Table.  So, he was dismissed.  What a scene of preparation as Jesus has the final Passover.  After that, of course, verse 26 says, “And as they were eating.”  They went back to the meal, back to the Passover.

Now on to today’s passage in Matthew. Verse 26 gives us the blessing and words still used today in Catholic and mainline Protestant prayers of consecration and remembrance. Christ’s giving of His own body meant that His ultimate sacrifice would replace the Jewish mandate of Passover. Matthew Henry explains:

Christ is to us the Passover-sacrifice by which atonement is made (1 Corinthians 5:7) Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. This ordinance is to us the passover-supper, by which application is made, and commemoration celebrated, of a much greater deliverance than that of Israel out of Egypt. All the legal sacrifices of propitiation being summed up in the death of Christ, and so abolished, all the legal feasts of rejoicing were summed up in this sacrament, and so abolished.

The words of Jesus in verse 27 are equally included in the aforementioned prayers of consecration and remembrance. Jesus went on to say that His was the blood of the covenant — the New Covenant — poured out for many — meaning Gentiles, too — for the forgiveness of sins (verse 28). This was not a one-time exclusive offer to the Apostles, but an everlasting one for those they would minister to and to the countless generations after them, wherever they were — and are — in the world.

Below are excerpts of Henry’s analysis of the Sacrament, the new ordinance.

First, of the bread, the body of Christ:

We have here the institution of the great gospel ordinance of the Lord’s supper, which was received of the Lord. Observe,

I. The time when it was instituted–as they were eating. At the latter end of the passover-supper, before the table was drawn, because, as a feast upon a sacrifice, it was to come in the room of that ordinance …

II. The institution itself. A sacrament must be instituted it is no part of moral worship, nor is it dictated by natural light, but has both its being and significancy from the institution, from a divine institution it is his prerogative who established the covenant, to appoint the seals of it …

1. The body of Christ is signified and represented by bread he had said formerly (John 6:35), I am the bread of life, upon which metaphor this sacrament is built as the life of the body is supported by bread, which is therefore put for all bodily nourishment (Matthew 4:4,6:11), so the life of the soul is supported and maintained by Christ’s mediation.

(1.) He took bread, ton aptonthe loaf some loaf that lay ready to hand, fit for the purpose it was, probably, unleavened bread but, that circumstance not being taken notice of, we are not to bind ourselves to that, as some of the Greek churches do. His taking the bread was a solemn action, and was, probably, done in such a manner as to be observed by them that sat with him, that they might expect something more than ordinary to be done with it. Thus was the Lord Jesus set apart in the counsels of divine love for the working out of our redemption.

(2.) He blessed it set it apart for this use by prayer and thanksgiving. We do not find any set form of words used by him upon this occasion but what he said, no doubt, was accommodated to the business in hand, that new testament which by this ordinance was to be sealed and ratified. This was like God’s blessing the seventh day (Genesis 2:3), by which it was separated to God’s honour, and made to all that duly observe it, a blessed day: Christ could command the blessing, and we, in his name, are emboldened to beg the blessing.

(3.) He brake it which denotes, [1.] The breaking of Christ’s body for us, that it might be fitted for our use He was bruised for our iniquities, as bread-corn is bruised (Isaiah 28:28) though a bone of him was not broken (for all his breaking did not weaken him), yet his flesh was broken with breach upon breach, and his wounds were multiplied (Job 9:17,16:14), and that pained him … [2.] The breaking of Christ’s body to us, as the father of the family breaks the bread to the children. The breaking of Christ to us, is to facilitate the application every thing is made ready for us by the grants of God’s word and the operations of his grace.

(4.) He gave it to his disciples, as the Master of the family, and the Master of this feast it is not said, He gave it to the apostles, though they were so, and had been often called so before this, but to the disciples, because all the disciples of Christ have a right to this ordinance and those shall have the benefit of it who are his disciples indeed yet he gave it to them as he did the multiplied loaves, by them to be handed to all his other followers.

(5.) He said, Take, eat this is my body, Matthew 26:26. He here tells them,

[1.] What they should do with it Take, eat accept of Christ as he is offered to you, receive the atonement, approve of it, consent to it, come up to the terms on which the benefit of it is proposed to you submit to his grace and to his government.” Believing on Christ is expressed by receiving him (John 1:12), and feeding upon him, John 6:57,58. Meat looked upon, or the dish ever so well garnished, will not nourish us it must be fed upon: so must the doctrine of Christ.

[2.] What they should have with it This is my body, not outosthis bread, but toutothis eating and drinking. Believing carries all the efficacy of Christ’s death to our souls. This is my body, spiritually and sacramentally this signifies and represents my body. He employs sacramental language, like that, Exodus 12:11. It is the Lord’s passover … We partake of the sun, not by having the bulk and body of the sun put into our hands, but the beams of it darted down upon us so we partake of Christ by partaking of his grace, and the blessed fruits of the breaking of his body.

Of the cup, the Blood of Christ:

2. The blood of Christ is signified and represented by the wine to make it a complete feast, here is not only bread to strengthen, but wine to make glad the heart (Matthew 26:27,28) He took the cup, the grace-cup, which was set ready to be drank, after thanks returned, according to the custom of the Jews at the passover this Christ took, and made the sacramental-cup, and so altered the property. It was intended for a cup of blessing (so the Jews called it)

This cup he gave to the disciples,

(1.) With a command Drink ye all of it. Thus he welcomes his guests to his table, obliges them all to drink of his cup …

(2.) With an explication For this is my blood of the New Testament. Therefore drink it with appetite, delight, because it is so rich a cordial. Hitherto the blood of Christ had been represented by the blood of beasts, real blood: but, after it was actually shed, it was represented by the blood of grapes, metaphorical blood so wine is called in an Old-Testament prophecy of Christ, Genesis 49:10,11.

Now observe what Christ saith of his blood represented in the sacrament.

[1.] It is my blood of the New Testament … The covenant God is pleased to make with us, and all the benefits and privileges of it, are owing to the merits of Christ’s death.

[2.] It is shed[:] it was not shed till next day, but it was now upon the point of being shed, it is as good as done. “Before you come to repeat this ordinance yourselves, it will be shed.” He was now ready to be offered, and his blood to be poured out, as the blood of the sacrifices which made atonement.

[3.] It is shed for many. Christ came to confirm a covenant with many (Daniel 9:27), and the intent of his death agreed. The blood of the Old Testament was shed for a few: it confirmed a covenant, which (saith Moses) the Lord has made with you, Exodus 24:8. The atonement was made only for the children of Israel (Leviticus 16:34): but Jesus Christ is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, 1 John 2:2.

[4.] It is shed for the remission of sins, that is, to purchase remission of sins for us. The redemption which we have through his blood, is the remission of sins, Ephesians 1:7. The new covenant which is procured and ratified by the blood of Christ, is a charter of pardon, an act of indemnity, in order to a reconciliation between God and man for sin was the only thing that made the quarrel, and without shedding of blood is no remission, Hebrews 9:22

Jesus concluded this institution of the New Covenant by saying that the next time they will share ‘this fruit of the vine’ will be in His Father’s kingdom (verse 29).

Therefore, although He ate with the disciples after the Resurrection (Acts 10:41), this was a significant feast in which He instituted a new ordinance — the Sacrament — for the New Covenant.

MacArthur explains verse 29 this way:

there’s a reaffirmation in verse 29 of His Kingdom promise.  I’ll do it with you in My Kingdom.  And I believe when Jesus comes, and we enter into His Kingdom, we’re going to do this with Him.  We’re going to celebrate this with Him.  We’re going to remember His sacrifice together and I’m not sure that we won’t do that forever and ever and ever and ever throughout all eternity in some marvelous way that He has designed, for it’s an unforgettable and glorious redemption, never, never to be ignored, always to be celebrated.

So, He says, do this, in effect, until I do it with you in My Father’s Kingdom.  But the emphasis is: I’m going to come back and drink it with you again.  All three gospels, by the way, state that the Lord said that.  This is a wonderful, wonderful thing that He assures us all that He’s coming to set up His glorious Kingdom.  And then, in verse 30 it says they sung a hymn.  Literally, the Greek says they hymned, they hymned.  What was that?  Well, they had already sung Psalm 113 and 14.  They probably sung another 15 maybe, 16.  Then, there was a fourth cup and then they might have sung 117, 118 and went to the Mount of Olives.  And so, the final Passover; and so, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. 

Receiving the Sacrament, Communion or the Supper — however we might refer to it in our respective churches — is the most powerful and greatest available means of grace Jesus Christ gave us through His one, sufficient oblation on the Cross.

Having asked forgiveness of our sins and reconciled with our neighbours as necessary, let us not hesitate to receive this divine nourishment for the soul on a regular basis with humility and thanksgiving.

Next time: Matthew 26:30-35

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 26:6-13

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

—————————————————————————————

Matthew 26 begins in Wednesday of Jesus’s last Passover Week, which corresponds to the Christian Holy Week.

Today’s passage, however, is a flashback. It recounts an event that took place on the Saturday before, after Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Verse 13 gives us the reason for inserting this flashback — in Jesus’s own words.

Jesus was dining at Simon the Leper’s house (verse 6). Jesus had already healed him, otherwise, Simon would have been living outside of Bethany away from healthy people. John MacArthur tells us that this was a very special occasion (emphases mine):

Leprosy in that day was incurable. The only cure for leprosy was Jesus Christ. So it’s pretty obvious that Simon was a recipient of the healing power of Christ. And one way he could show his loving gratitude to Christ was to offer Him a supper. Oh the excitement would be unspeakable. You wouldn’t even believe it. Simon a former leper, outcast of outcasts, now having the Healer, God in human flesh, in his own home and hosting Him and inviting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to be a part and all twelve of the disciples. This is a good group for supper, approaching twenty people. And there may have been others, we don’t know. But Mark writes of it, and Matthew writes of it, and so does John, because it is a very important occasion.

With Lazarus alive once again as well, the atmosphere must have been one of unspeakable joy and gratitude.

As everyone reclined at dinner, ‘a woman’ approached Jesus to anoint him with a precious ointment in an alabaster flask (verse 7).

There are a few things to explain about this verse.

Everyone in the ancient world reclined to eat. An article from ScienceNordic tells us that this might have been to aid digestion. It’s a bit like stretching out on the sofa but propping yourself up enough to eat and drink while watching television:

“We think pressure on the antrum – the lower portion of the stomach – has a lot to do with discomfort after a meal,” says [Jørgen] Valeur, a senior resident at Oslo’s Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital …

According to the researchers, if you recline on your right side, the lower part of the stomach expands so you feel stuffed, but if you lie on your left side, the load on the antrum is reduced.

“It’s fair to assume that a person can actually alleviate the discomfort after a meal by lying on the proper side,” says Valeur.

Matthew left the woman unidentified, which poses difficulties for readers after his time, as we can see from Matthew Henry’s commentary:

The woman that did this, is supposed to have been Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. And Dr. Lightfoot [Bible scholar of the era] thinks it was the same that was called Mary Magdalene.

However, MacArthur says she is Mary — Martha and Lazarus’s sister — and not Mary Magdalene. A similar story in Luke 7:36-39 features another woman and a different Simon. Simon was a common name in that time. The Simon in Luke 7 was a Pharisee:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

MacArthur says:

it’s a different incident in chapter 7. And the woman who does the anointing is different. It isn’t Mary; it’s a wicked, sinful woman, in that case. But Matthew, Mark and John record this incident.

The parallel accounts are Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:1-8, both of which are included in the three-year Lectionary. So, yes, this event is included in readings for public worship. Mark and Matthew did not name the woman, but John did. Mark has the scene at Simon the Leper’s house but John has it at Martha, Mary and Lazarus’s home.

Here is Mark’s version:

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Here is John’s:

Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound[a] of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it[c] for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

About the mention and non-mentions of the woman’s name, MacArthur has this:

Matthew doesn’t tell us, and I don’t know why; we have no reason to know why he didn’t tell us except the Holy Spirit knew what John was going to say and it wasn’t repeated here for whatever reason. Some say it wasn’t mentioned by Matthew because he wrote so early in 50 that he was afraid there might be repercussions on Mary for what she had done. John, who wrote 40 years later, didn’t care because the scene had changed and she wouldn’t have been in such a difficult position. But that’s speculation.

Mark’s Gospel was written first, so Mary would have been alive and well, as she was when Matthew wrote his subsequently.

The alabaster ‘flask’ is translated as ‘box’ in older editions of the Bible. Some foreign languages, such as French, use ‘box’ (boîte) for a squat jar, e.g. of jam or olives.

The flask’s ointment was very expensive. MacArthur tells us:

It’s really a bottle made out of alabaster, very thin, and it would be a very fat or round bottle with a very narrow neck, and it would be corked or plugged at the top. And inside of it was very precious perfume. How precious? A year’s wages, Mark tells us, 300 denarii, which would be a year’s wages…very, very costly.

You say, “Why did they even have it?” Well, they must have been a somewhat wealthy family to even have something like that …

Because of the lack of hygiene, hosts put this on their guests before eating in a group so no one would offend others with their odours. Recall that when people entered a house the first thing they did was to remove their sandals and wash their feet. The next thing would have been the application of a perfumed oil or ointment, or nard, as Mark and John wrote.

It is possible that the nard in all four accounts was so highly concentrated, hence the expense, that a little went a long way. Perhaps the contents in the flask would have lasted for years. Therefore, to put all of it on Jesus’s head looked wasteful and extreme (verse 8). Naturally, the disciples reacted the way we would today (verse 9): ‘That could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor!’

Jesus disapproved of their reaction, praising the woman (verse 10). We would do well to highlight verse 11:

For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

The woman was worshipping her Lord and Redeemer. We should be worshipping more rather than putting all our effort into serving the poor. While we can lessen the effects of poverty, we will never be able to eradicate it.

What does every catechism say about our purpose on earth? My childhood catechism says: ‘God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world.’ Before service we have the concept of worship in ‘know Him’ and ‘love Him’. Service comes third. Matthew Henry says:

Sometimes special works of piety and devotion should take place of common works of charity. The poor must not rob Christ[;] we must do good to all, but especially to the household of faith.

Note in this story that Mary performed an act of worship in her anointing of Christ. Henry explains:

1. As an act of faith in our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed. To signify that she believed in him as God’s anointed, whom he had set king, she anointed him, and made him her king. They shall appoint themselves one head, Hosea 1:11. This is kissing the Son.

2. As an act of love and respect to him … Note, Where there is true love in the heart to Jesus Christ, nothing will be thought too good, no, nor good enough, to bestow upon him.

MacArthur explains this generous worship:

Most of us worship…let’s see, what can I afford this week; I’ll give that, that won’t affect me. We know very little about this, this unrestrained adoration where you just crush the narrow neck of that alabaster bottle and pour its contents all over Jesus effusively, profusely. She was pouring out her love, her heart of compassion, her devotion. She was honoring the One that was going to die and rise again for her salvation, to bear her sin. She did it for you, for me; we all should have done it. We all, if we had been there, knowing what we now know, would have poured out everything on Him, too. She understood what the disciples didn’t want to understand. She wasn’t bound up in wanting to get right into the kingdom and have the glory. She apparently understood more of Jesus’ teaching then they did. She symbolizes the effusive, profuse, magnanimous outpouring of love that God desires.

Jesus went on to say that Mary was preparing Him for burial (verse 12). Did she really know that He was going to die very soon?

I mean, why shouldn’t she know He was going to die and rise, His enemies knew that. His enemies said, “Look out for this guy. He says He’s going to die, and He says if He dies in three days He’ll rise.” If they knew it, why shouldn’t she know it? She knew. She couldn’t prevent His death, she wouldn’t prevent His death. His death was for her and for all other sinners, so she poured out her love. And the word “half poured” is a very strong term—lavish, profuse.

It is ironic that the Twelve, who spent three years with Him, did not understand this. Yet, Mary did.

You would have thought that the Apostles would have been the ones worshipping Jesus to the extreme. They did not. They thought of the waste of fragrant ointment.

Mary was the one who worshipped Him more fully than can be imagined.

And even afterwards, they still did not grasp what she had done in that sense — or what was about to happen in a week’s time.

Jesus concluded by saying that wherever the Gospel is preached, this story will be told in her memory (verse 13), meaning that hers is the example Christians are to follow. This is why the Epistles all emphasise worship of Jesus Christ over everything else.

If we truly and fully understood what our Lord Jesus did for us via His death and resurrection we, too, would be worshipping the way Mary did that evening.

That’s something for many of us, myself not least, to seriously think about.

We can worship outside of church as well, in our private devotions. I can better understand why some great preachers got up at dawn to pray for four hours before beginning their day. It was not a tick-in-box activity of ‘doing something’ but something they wanted to do — every day. The Holy Spirit was working through them, revealing the Eternal Truth. Perhaps we shut out the Spirit a bit too much. We’re too busy or too distracted by worldly things.

Until today, I never really grasped what Jesus said about Mary and His criticism of Martha earlier in His ministry. To my mind, ensuring Jesus had something to eat and drink was just as important as sitting in His presence. Now, thanks to this event, which happened days before the Crucifixion, I understand. MacArthur reminds us:

In chapter 10 of Luke, and verse 42 it is, Jesus said about Mary that Mary has chosen the better part. You remember that. Worship is better than service. Learning better than doing. Sitting at the feet of the Savior, better than business.

If only more Christians — especially clergy in their sermons — explained Mary in this manner, we would all understand. May we learn and follow her example.

Next time: Matthew 26:26-29

Lectionary lectionaryorgThe season of Advent means the beginning of a new Church year, which, in 2016, starts on November 27.

Those churches following the three-year Lectionary will be using readings for Year A.

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library maintains a helpful page of Sunday Lectionary readings by season. It is useful for both personal and teaching purposes.

Bible read me 2Matthew 24:1-36 was one of my early Forbidden Bible Verses postings, dating from January 2010, before I began studying each of the Gospels methodically.

It is unfortunate that the three-year Lectionary compilers omitted this passage from the set of readings for public worship.

While verses 1 and 2 and 15 to 22 pertain to the destruction of the temple, the rest of the verses concern what will happen in the world until the end of time: wars, natural disasters, famines, plagues (pestilences), earthquakes and persecution.

Jesus also warns us against false prophets, including those who say they are He.

People ask why terrible things happen. Jesus says these are inevitable until the end of time (verses 27-36), which no one can predict:

35Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

36But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

The parallel entry is Mark 13:3-13 — also excluded from the three-year Lectionary! Unbelievable. These are essential readings for everyone.

Next time: Matthew 26:6-13

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 23:27-28

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

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This is the sixth of seven woes Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth and fifth.

Jesus condemns them, calling them whitewashed tombs: brilliantly white on the outside but full of decay on the inside.

That analogy described the state of their hearts and souls. These men looked holy and pious but were filled with the worst kinds of sin (verse 28). By steering the faithful away from Jesus, whom they so hated, they were also keeping them from knowing God. In addition, they had their temple racket, described in the aforementioned woes, which was nothing short of extortion. Matthew Henry explains:

God is jealous for his honour in his laws and ordinances, and resents it if they be profaned and abused.

… they were at this time plotting to murder Christ, to whom all the prophets bore witness.

The Jews had a practice of whitewashing tombs, because touching one meant that person was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16):

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

Painting them white was akin to a huge ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ sign.

Henry tells us (emphases mine):

And it was part of the charge of the overseers of the highways, to repair that whitening when it was decayed. Sepulchres were thus made remarkable, 2 Kings 23:16,17.

John MacArthur has more on this practice, especially important before Passover. A person travelling to Jerusalem for that feast could not participate in certain rituals if he accidentally touched a tomb, because that act would have made him unclean:

On the 15th Avadar, which is the month of March in Israel in the time of our Lord, there was a very unusual custom. It was right after the spring rains and the rains that came washed away many things. One of the things they washed away was white-wash. You say where was white-wash used? It was on walls, it was on houses sometimes, but most specifically the Jews used to white-wash the tombs. They would white-wash those limestone caves and limestone tombs where people were buried, the more prominent people were buried that way. And the reason they did that was because in preparation of Passover, along the roads and the hillsides where people would be traversing, they feared that people might inadvertently touch a tomb and thus be defiled. And because of the ceremonial cleansing process necessary, they could void out certain activities in the Passover season.

And so to accommodate the Passover visitors who might not know where the tombs were and also just to keep the rest of the people clear of them, they went around the city of Jerusalem with white-wash. In some cases, they white-washed the entire tomb, historians tell us. In other cases, they just painted white-washed bones on the outside so that people wouldn’t touch them lest according to Numbers 19:16, they’d be ceremonially defiled.

The lesson here is to pray often for divine grace so that we remain pure in heart and mind. A pure interior will reflect itself in our outward behaviour and demeanour.

Similarly, we must avoid false teachers — and other leaders — who present themselves as being holy yet have dark souls and depraved hearts.

Satan doesn’t present himself as being evil. He masquerades as being respectable.

Henry warns against hypocrisy, which he saw as the worst sin of all:

Hypocrisy is the worst iniquity of all other. Note, It is possible for those that have their hearts full of sin, to have their lives free from blame, and to appear very good.

He reminds us that God sees and knows all things.

Nothing is hidden from the Almighty:

what will it avail us, to have the good word of our fellow-servants, if our Master doth not say, Well done? When all other graves are opened, these whited sepulchres will be looked into, and the dead men’s bones, and all the uncleanness, shall be brought out, and be spread before all the host of heaven, Jeremiah 8:1,2. For it is the day when God shall judge, not the shows, but the secrets, of men. And it will then be small comfort to them who shall have their portion with hypocrites, to remember how creditably and plausibly they went to hell, applauded by all their neighbours.

Next time: Matthew 23:29-33

A human heartbeat comes earlier than previously thought.

This is further evidence against the popular ‘pro-choice’ belief that a foetus remains a ‘lump of cells’ for months on end.

From Breitbart:

A study finds an unborn baby’s first heartbeat occurs as early as 16 days after conception.

A research team funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at the University of Oxford says a baby’s first heartbeat is now far earlier than was previously understood, reports the Daily Mail.

The objective of the research is to help treat congenital heart disease. However, this points out how early the human foetus begins to develop.

The Daily Mail article explains that researchers (emphases mine):

have demonstrated earlier beating of the heart in mouse embryos which, if extrapolated to the human heart, suggests beating as early as 16 days after conception.

In the study, published today in the scientific journal eLife, researchers studied the developing mouse heart and found that the muscle started to contract as soon as it formed the cardiac crescent – an early stage in heart development

In mice, this crescent forms 7.5 days after conception, which is equivalent to day 16 in the human embryo.

Previously, it was thought that the heart started to contract a stage later, when the heart appears as a linear tube.

Congenital heart disease is diagnosed in at least 1 in 180 births, which equates to around 4,000 each year or 12 babies each day, in the UK. 

The researchers ultimately hope that by understanding more about how the heart forms in the womb they will one day be able to prevent heart conditions that arise as a foetus develops.

God has the development of His creatures — including mankind — planned as only He can.

We begin functioning very early. This should put a big question mark around abortion in everyone’s mind.

Abortion is the taking of human life.

The ancient Jews never practised abortion. This is why it is not mentioned in the Bible.

When the early Church began to expand into Greece and the Roman Empire, provision had to be made to condemn the practice.

This is how the document known as the Didache (‘did-uh-kay’) came to be written. Excerpts follow from my post from 2009 (emphases mine):

There appear to be no records or treatises on abortion for social reasons prior to the ancient Greek Empire in its decline

Hippocrates — he of the oath which doctors take — made the first mention of the procedure and instructed physicians of the day not to give an expectant mother drinks or potions fatal to the child in the womb.  By the time he devised the Hippocratic Oath, social abortion was becoming more commonplace among the ancient Greeks.

Social abortion continued when the Roman Empire was in its decline.  They were the first to legalise against it.  The Romans ordered the mother into exileThose involved with procuring or administering the necessary potion were exiled to an island if they were from the upper classes or sentenced to work in metal mines if they were from lower social classes

The early fathers of the Christian Church wrote the Didache which dealt not only with abortion but also other sins, e.g. witchcraft, which were unknown to the Jews.

Author and lecturer Dr Paul L Williams explains the early opprobrium regarding abortion and how it became infused into Roman society:

‘You shall not kill an unborn child or murder a newborn infant.’ This equation of abortion with homicide was upheld by Tertullian, the father of Latin theology. In his treatise ‘On the Veiling of Virgins’ (206 A.D.), this Church father railed against women who ‘conceal their sinful failures’ by committing ‘homicide’ by means of procured abortions. In 250 A.D., St. Cyprian maintained that abortion represented a crime far worse than ‘parricide’.

A century later, the Church in Spain declared abortion a sin of ‘double damnation’ when it was the result of fornication (pre-marital sex) or adultery.  The guilty woman was forbidden from taking Holy Communion for the rest of her life, including on her deathbed.

Later penalties included those for murderers.  Eventually, any society which had converted to Christianity, like the Visigoths, prohibited abortion.

But, these days, it’s a legal ‘right’. Some ‘progressive’ thinkers would like to extend that ‘right’ to infancy.

Very wrong. Very wrong.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 23:16-19

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

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Last week’s entry discussed the first of the seven woes that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees for their ungodly, false teaching which prevented people from entering the kingdom of heaven.

In today’s passage, Jesus takes them to task for their — not Scripture’s — tradition on oaths. It was called the Corban, which means ‘given to God’ and involved a gift or sacrifice on the altar of the temple.

Jesus criticised the Corban (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this practice. In the first woe (Matthew 23:13-15), he called them ‘hypocrites’. Here he calls them ‘blind guides’ (verse 16) and ‘fools (verse 17).

‘Blind guides’ is easily understood in the literal sense but Jesus primarily meant it as being spiritually blind, leading faithful Jews to perdition. In Matthew 15:10-20, He talked about what defiles a person:

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

The Pharisees were offended. Jesus told His disciples:

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

The spiritual condition of good people following spiritually blind leaders is bad. However, even worse is the condition of such leaders who deliberately deny, scorn or block out the truth from their followers. Their punishment and condemnation will be much the greater.

Jesus pronounced woe on these blind guides for honouring an oath made by the gold of the temple but dismissing one made by the temple (verse 16).

He called them fools because valuing an oath made by gold over one made by the temple made no sense (verse 17). An oath made by gold was only worth anything because it was made in the temple (verses 18, 19).

What they were doing was wrong on three counts. Matthew Henry explains.

First, Corban was not following God’s law. It was:

the work of men’s hands …

An oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice and to make this appeal to any creature is to put that creature in the place of God. See Deuteronomy 6:13.

Secondly, they placed a higher obligation on oaths made by gifts and sacrifices to enrich themselves than on an oath by the temple, which brought them no material gain. That said, neither should have been made in the first place:

Here was a double wickedness First, That there were some oaths which they dispensed with, and made light of, and reckoned a man was not bound by to assert the truth, or perform a promise. They ought not to have sworn by the temple or the altar but, when they had so sworn, they were taken in the words of their mouth. That doctrine cannot be of the God of truth which gives countenance to the breach of faith in any case whatsoever. Oaths are edge-tools and are not to be jested with. Secondly, That they preferred the gold before the temple, and the gift before the altar, to encourage people to bring gifts to the altar, and gold to the treasures of the temple, which they hoped to be gainers by

Thirdly, they lured many faithful people into their deceitful tradition:

Those who had made gold their hope, and whose eyes were blinded by gifts in secret, were great friends to the Corban …

Looking at Jesus’s statement and question about this, we see that He is telling them that without the oaths being made in the temple — God’s house — the gold or gift has no meaning. Therefore, how can an oath made by gold be more important than one made in the temple? It is the location — the altar in the temple — that renders the gold holy:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Henry tells us:

The temple and altar were dedicated to God fixedly, the gold and gift but secondarily.

Henry gives a practical Christian application of this lesson, warning us not to place our good works above or on a par with justification by faith:

Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13:10), our temple (John 2:21) for it is he that sanctifies all our gifts, and puts an acceptableness in them, 1 Peter 2:5. Those that put their own works into the place of Christ’s righteousness in justification are guilty of the Pharisees’ absurdity, who preferred the gift before the altar.

Where making promises and taking oaths are concerned, John MacArthur cautions us to take them seriously:

Keep your promise. Keep your word. God hates lying. So many Old Testament texts in the Psalms particularly. Let me just call your attention to several just as a point of contact. In Psalm 50, verse 14, “Offer unto God thanksgiving and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Promise to God, keep your promise. Psalm 56:12, “Thy vows are upon me oh God, I will render praises unto thee. I’m bound by my promises to you oh God. I won’t break my word.” Psalm 61, verse 8 and these are just samples, “So will I sing praise to thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 66:13, “I will go into the house with burnt offerings. I will pay thee my vows.” Psalm 76:11, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” And it goes on like that a lot of places in the Old Testament. Keep your word to God. Keep your word to men.

Next week’s entry will Jesus’s final words on this woe.

Next time: Matthew 23:20-22

Bible GenevaThe 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 23:13-15

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[a] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

——————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry on Matthew 22:23-33 ended with the final verse of that chapter. The Jewish leaders finally stopped challenging Jesus (emphases mine):

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 23 has Jesus’s Seven Woes to the scribes and Pharisees, His damning response to them.

Some translations have Eight Woes. Today’s verses show two instead of three. The bone of contention is verse 14, which appears in some Bibles, e.g. the King James Version — Matthew Henry’s — but not in others, e.g. John MacArthur’s:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation

As true as it is, John MacArthur tells us why it is excluded:

… the older manuscripts of the New Testament do not include verse 14, which is to say that if in the early manuscripts you don’t have this verse and it shows up in the later manuscripts, it’s usually evidence that it was added later. That it wasn’t in the original. What is said in verse 14 is true about the Pharisees and scribes. In fact, it looks like a scribe took it out of Mark Chapter 12 and also Luke Chapter 20. Both of those Chapters mention the same kind of things. And probably a well meaning scribe thought that it fit in so well he just took it from Mark and Luke and put it here.

Matthew Henry offers an interesting explanation for this: that the eight woes are

in opposition to the eight beatitudes, Matthew 5:3.

Matthew 23:1-12 recounts our Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees. He does not want His disciples to either follow them or act like them. This can be applied to false teachers in the Church:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

In verse 13, Jesus pronounces the first woe on them. MacArthur explains woe:

The word woe in the Greek is a most interesting word. It’s this word, lie, which doesn’t even sound like a word. It sounds more like a painful guttural cry … It’s an onomatopoetic word. That is it sounds like its meaning. It is a word that just utters similar to the Hebrew word to howl, which is the word hoi. It’s a word used, for example, in the Septuagint to express grief, despair, sorrow, dissatisfaction, pain, and the threat of losing your life. It’s used in the New Testament to speak of sorrow, to speak of judgment. It’s the mingling of punishment and pity, cursing and compassion.

You could almost translate with the word alas; alas. And that’s the word you find in Revelation talking about Babylon in Chapter 18; alas. It’s as if to say inevitable judgment is coming, but oh how sad is that inevitable judgment. Judgment then is mingled with pity in the word woe.

In the same verse, He calls them hypocrites, from:

the word hupokrites. It originally came from a term which meant actor. Someone who played a part on a stage. Someone who pretended to be something he wasn’t.

And it was a good word that I guess etymologically in its origination, but it came to be a very bad word and finally it came to mean deceiver; deceiver. One who pretends in an evil sense, who acts evilly.

MacArthur has an excellent quote from the late professor of Divinity, William Barclay (1907-1978), who taught at the University of Glasgow:

someone who manifests what he calls “theatrical goodness who parades an outward goodness but inwardly is evil. Who wants people to see him give.”

Jesus said that these men were shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. Henry tells us:

that is, they did all they could to keep people from believing in Christ, and so entering into his kingdom.

Jesus added that they do not ‘enter’ — or believe in Him — but, even worse, prohibited others from doing so. This went all the way back to John the Baptist’s ministry, when many Jews were baptised and repented of their sins. The religious leaders never did this and, so, when Jesus began His ministry, dogged him with quarrels and accusations from the start. All of these were designed to discredit Him and discourage the faithful.

MacArthur says:

In other words, this mass of people in Israel were moving toward the kingdom … Repenting of their sin and trying to get their lives right and listening to the preaching of this prophet who confronted their evil lives and called them to obedience. In fact, it says in Chapter 3 of Matthew verse 5, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about the Jordan and they were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.”

And right then the Pharisees showed up and the Sadducees and he said “oh generation of snakes,” you snakes, “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bring forth the fruit of repentance.” That’s pretty confront[ational] stuff. But He knew why they were there. Here were all these people getting ready to move toward the kingdom and here came the very guys who would slam the door in their face. The false religious leaders. So the picture is one of movement of flow toward the kingdom and these people slammed the door in the faces.

This is the pursuit of the person who’s looking for religious answers, who’s searching for God, who’s searching for some spiritual reality. And they shut up the kingdom. How’d they do that? By denying the word of God, misinterpreting the word of God, denying that Jesus was the Messiah. Denying His deity. Denying salvation by grace. Denying the need for repentance. They shut it in the faces of the people with a works righteousness system that had no place for Jesus Christ.

Now the point that its making here is that false spiritual leaders damn peoples’ souls to hell. So you don’t deal with this lightly.

In verse 15, Jesus pronounces ‘woe’ on these ‘hypocrites’ a second time, this time for travelling far and wide to make converts to the works righteousness system that He came to abolish by fulfilling the Law.

There were two types of proselytes, or converts, in Jesus’s time. One was a proselyte of ‘the gate’, which meant that the person took part in religious worship with the Jews. The second was a proselyte of ‘righteousness’, which meant that he fully adhered to Mosaic Law and became a full convert, which included circumcision. There were more proselytes of the gate than those of righteousness for obvious reasons. However, this is why the Pharisees widened their net to travel so extensively in search of those who would enter fully into their religious system.

Jesus fully condemned this because of all the zealotry it brings with it:

you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

MacArthur explains:

Have you ever noticed that a convert to a cult is more zealous and aggressive for the cult than somebody raised in it? That’s pretty much routine. That’s almost true of anything. That can be said of Christianity. Very frequently people saved out of the world and brought into Christ from an ungodly, un-Christlike background are more zealous for their newfound faith than people that are raised up in it.

There’s something about that tremendous transition that is made. That euphoria of coming into the movement that gives you a great amount of zeal. And so here this new convert is filled with more fanatical zeal for his newfound system than even the ones that brought him in. And naturally there’s a euphoria about having discovered what he thinks is the truth and the newness and he’s not been in long enough to find out all the problems with it. And he becomes a double son of hell in the sense that he is perverted even beyond his teachers. And more zealous even than they are. And so they make a spiritual convert who turns out to be perverted instead of finding God, instead of finding heaven, he becomes a son of hell.

This extended into the Apostolic Age, the time of the Apostles’ ministries. Henry reminds us:

In fury against Christianity the proselytes readily imbibed the principles which their crafty leaders were not wanting to possess them with, and so became extremely hot against the truth. The most bitter enemies the apostles met with in all places were the Hellenist Jews, who were mostly proselytes

However, St Paul was a Pharisee by upbringing and was every bit as zealous. He took his persecution to distant places before his Damascene conversion, effected directly through Christ Himself (verses 14, 15). Acts 26 records his testimony before King Agrippa:

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Then Paul’s dramatic conversion occurred:

21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

It’s difficult to imagine how dire that period, with its physical violence, must have been for those early Christians, suffering at the hands of zealots.

In closing, I wanted to look at the Pharisees’ treatment of widows, often taken advantage of. This occurs today as well, including in the Church. Who is more vulnerable than a woman alone, especially one grieving the loss of her husband?

Henry explains what the Pharisees did under the cloak of religiosity and law. They ingratiated themselves to these vulnerable women to gain use or ownership of their property for their own personal gain:

What their wicked practices were they devoured widows’ houses, either by quartering themselves and their attendants upon them for entertainment, which must be of the best for men of their figure or by insinuating themselves into their affections, and so getting to be the trustees of their estates, which they could make an easy prey of for who could presume to call such as they were to an account? The thing they aimed at was to enrich themselves and, this being their chief and highest end, all considerations of justice and equity were laid aside, and even widows’ houses were sacrificed to this. Widows are of the weaker sex in its weakest state, easily imposed upon and therefore they fastened on them, to make a prey of. They devoured those whom, by the law of God, they were particularly obliged to protect, patronise, and relieve. There is a woe in the Old Testament to those that made widows their prey (Isaiah 10:1,2) and Christ here seconded it with his woe. God is the judge of the widows they are his peculiar care, he establisheth their border (Proverbs 15:25), and espouseth their cause (Exodus 22:22,23) yet these were they whose houses the Pharisees devoured by wholesale so greedy were they to get their bellies filled with the treasures of wickedness! Their devouring denotes not only covetousness, but cruelty in their oppression, described Micah 3:3, They eat the flesh, and flay off the skin. And doubtless they did all this under colour of law for they did it so artfully that it passed uncensured, and did not at all lessen the people’s veneration for them.

This reading gives us two practical takeaways for our era.

First, let us not do anything by coercion, forcing people to give their money, property or time to the Church. Leave it for church members to decide if that is what they wish to do. Coercion is no different to works righteousness and legalism.

Secondly, new converts quite rightly are ‘on fire for Christ’, as I so often read online. However, those who are ‘all in’ — another commonly used expression — should take care how they present this to their families, especially wives and children. Many who have come to the church from the occult or addiction display an off-putting tendency to push their faith down other people’s throats. Their approach in its mildest form looks nutty but, when extreme, has the potential to become threatening and violent.

Coercion and threatening behaviour is not in His Name nor is it evidence of the Gospel of Grace. In fact, it often leads to cultlike allegiances and alliances.

Pray for guidance, discernment and a cool head.

Next time: Matthew 23:16-19

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